Though Social Security plays a pivotal role in helping seniors pay the bills, many retirees continue having a difficult time keeping up. Most seniors, therefore, will be happy to learn that Social Security is about to get a sizable raise. The cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for 2019 will be set at 2.8%.
This translates into about $40 more per month for the average beneficiary. And while that's certainly better than nothing, it's hardly a life-changing sum for those who are already struggling.
Social Security's shortcomings
There's a common misconception about Social Security, and it's that those monthly benefits alone are enough to sustain seniors. The reality, however, is that Social Security will only replace about 40% of the typical worker's pre-retirement income. For above-average earners, it will replace an even smaller percentage. Most seniors, meanwhile, need closer to 80% of their previous earnings to maintain a reasonably comfortable lifestyle in retirement. Therefore, those benefits alone don't do the trick.
Furthermore, despite the fact that the upcoming COLA is the most generous one in recent years, COLAs, in general, have been doing a poor job of keeping up with inflation -- despite the fact that they were introduced for the key purpose of helping seniors keep pace with it. In fact, since 2000, Social Security recipients have lost 34% of their buying power, or so reports the Senior Citizens League. Therefore, while it's encouraging to see a sizable COLA going into 2019, those who rely on Social Security for the bulk of their income should actively take steps to better manage their finances rather than sit back and wait for an extra $40 a month.
Give yourself a raise
While an extra $480 a year is hardly meaningless, it's also not enough to spell the difference between struggling financially and living a life devoid of financial worries. If you'd rather get closer to the latter, take steps to give yourself a raise.
First, take a long, hard look at your budget and find ways to cut back on expenses you really can't afford. That could mean selling your home if it's costly to maintain, downsizing your rental unit to a smaller space, or relocating to a less expensive part of the country where your benefits will go further. Or it could mean making a series of smaller changes, like cutting back on restaurant meals, getting a cheaper cable plan, or canceling a gym membership you rarely use. Chances are, all of these changes will put more than $40 a month back in your pocket.
Next, look into working in some capacity. Retirement is actually a great time to start a business, so if the idea of stocking shelves at the local grocery store to earn money doesn't appeal to you, do something you'll actually enjoy.
A relatively substantial Social Security raise is certainly nothing to scoff at. At the same time, don't use that incoming boost as an excuse not to take financial matters into your own hands. Chances are, you have the ability to make lifestyle changes that will work wonders for your bank account -- regardless of the extra money Social Security gives you next year.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.