You've spent decades saving for retirement, and you may think that once you finally leave your job and start this new journey in life it will be smooth sailing. But saving for retirement is only half the battle: Once you've built a solid retirement fund, the next challenge is to ensure your money lasts the rest of your life.
One third of Americans turning 65 years old today can expect to live past age 90 according to the Social Security Administration, and one in seven will likely make it past age 95. As healthcare technology improves and life expectancies continue to increase, older adults will likely spend more and more time in retirement.
That's why it's more important than ever to ensure you're spending your savings wisely. If you don't want to risk running out of money in retirement, you'll need to pace yourself and make the most of every dollar. Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to make sure your savings last as long as possible.
1. Figure out how much you can safely withdraw each year
It may be tempting to splurge during your first few years of retirement, taking vacations every other month and signing up for all the fun classes and activities you've been yearning to do for years. But if you don't pace yourself, your savings won't last nearly as long as you may have hoped.
One common way to figure out how much you can withdraw from your retirement fund each year is to use the 4% rule. This guideline states that if you withdraw 4% of your total savings during the first year of retirement, then adjust that number each following year to account for inflation, your savings should last roughly 30 years.
For example, say you have $800,000 stashed in your retirement fund. Using the 4% rule, you can withdraw $32,000 during your first year. Keep in mind you'll also be receiving Social Security benefits, and they can help cushion your income so you're not completely reliant on your personal savings alone.
Once you've figured out how much you can withdraw each year, try your best to stick to that number. Even one or two years of overspending can throw off your entire plan, leaving you with less money than you expected during your final years of retirement.
2. Keep a separate emergency fund
Unexpected expenses will always be a part of life, regardless of whether you're working or retired. When you have hundred of thousands of dollars in savings stashed in your retirement fund, that may seem like the perfect place to pull money from when you need to cover an unexpected cost.
However, that would likely mean withdrawing more than you'd planned from your retirement fund. A few thousand dollars here and there may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but if you're repeatedly pulling too much money from your savings, you're running the risk of emptying your retirement account prematurely.
To avoid this problem, establish an emergency fund separate from your retirement fund. A high-yield savings account is an ideal place to stash this money, because you'll be earning interest on your cash but can still access it quickly when needed (and you won't have to pay taxes on it like you would if withdrawing it from a 401(k) or traditional IRA). The best time to create an emergency fund is before you retire, since it's easier to save when you're still working and earning money. Ideally you will have already had an emergency fund from when you were working, so you won't need to establish a new one for retirement.
Most experts recommend having enough saved to cover three to six months' worth of expenses, but you may want to aim for the higher end of that suggestion. Once you retire and start living on a fixed income, it will be harder to replenish your emergency fund if you need to withdraw from it. So the more you have saved before you retire, the less likely it is you'll run out of cash and need to pull money from your retirement fund to cover unexpected expenses.
3. Account for healthcare costs as well as possible
Like unexpected expenses, healthcare costs are a necessary evil. While Medicare will help cover some of these costs, you're still responsible for all premiums, deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. These costs add up, and the average retiree spends around $4,300 per year on out-of-pocket healthcare expenses according to a study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Nobody can predict exactly what they'll owe in healthcare costs in retirement, so it can be tough to plan for these expenses. But the more you understand about what Medicare does and doesn't cover and how much health insurance will cost during retirement, the better prepared you'll be.
Also, don't forget about long-term care for when you're older. Around 70% of retirees will need long-term care at some point according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the average nursing home stay costs nearly $7,000 per month. That's roughly $84,000 per year. On top of that, Medicare doesn't usually cover long-term care. Long-term care insurance can help cover the cost so it's not entirely out-of-pocket, but you'll need to enroll early (ideally before you retire) to avoid paying sky-high premiums.
There are plenty of factors to consider when preparing for retirement, but the ultimate goal is to ensure you have enough saved to last the rest of your life. The work doesn't end once you leave your job, though. To make sure your savings last as long as possible, you'll need to spend wisely and stretch every dollar.