Chances are, you're looking forward to retirement and the chance to escape the daily grind. But if you're not careful, a few seemingly minor mistakes on your part could turn into major sources of financial stress over time. Here are a few such blunders you should make every effort to avoid.
1. Not following a budget
Without a budget, you may have a hard time keeping your spending in check. And when you're retired and on a fixed income, that's problematic.
Even if you never followed a budget during your working years, setting one up is easy. Just list your expenses (keeping in mind that some may not recur monthly), figure out what they typically cost by reviewing your bank and credit card statements, and make sure your total costs don't put too much of a strain on your retirement savings.
What exactly does that mean? Well, you don't want to withdraw from your nest egg too aggressively, because if you do, you'll risk depleting your retirement savings prematurely.
Many financial experts recommend withdrawing about 4% of your savings balance annually, but that assumes your investments are generating decent growth and you're looking at an average retirement, not a longer one. Depending on your circumstances, a lower withdrawal rate may be more appropriate. But either way, if your expenses are such that they're causing you to draw down, say, 8% of your savings on an annual basis, then consider it a sign that you're spending too much and need to cut back.
2. Signing up for Social Security at the wrong time
Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on the wages you earned during your 35 highest-paid years on the job. If you file for benefits at your full retirement age (which is either 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on your year of birth), you'll get the exact monthly benefit your earnings history entitles you to.
You can file for benefits sooner, though -- as early as age 62. But for each month you claim benefits ahead of full retirement age, you'll reduce them for life. On the flip side, if you delay benefits past your full retirement age, you'll boost them by 8% a year in the process, up until age 70.
There are numerous factors that should go into your filing decision, so weigh your options carefully, because if you claim benefits at the wrong time, it could wind up hurting you financially. For example, if you jump the gun and claim Social Security at 64 when your full retirement age is 67, you'll reduce your monthly benefit by 20% on a permanent basis. On the other hand, if your health is poor, filing early is actually recommended, since it could help you get more money from Social Security in your lifetime.
If your health is great, so much so that you expect to live a longer life than most, then delaying benefits until 70 could be your best bet. Keep these points in mind so you don't make a bad choice and regret it later.
3. Enrolling late in Medicare
You're eligible for health benefits through Medicare once you reach 65, and your initial seven-month enrollment window begins three months before the month of your 65th birthday and ends three months after that month. If you don't enroll in Medicare on time, you'll have a chance to sign up during the program's general enrollment period of January 1 through March 31 of each year. But if you delay your enrollment too long, Medicare could end up costing you more -- for life.
Though Medicare Part A, which covers hospital care, is free for most enrollees, Part B, which covers outpatient services and diagnostics, charges a premium that's paid monthly. If you sign up for Medicare too late, you'll face a 10% premium surcharge for each yearlong period you were eligible for coverage but didn't enroll. That's a lot of extra money to pay throughout retirement, so pay attention to enrollment dates. The fact that you can sign up for Medicare online makes the process extremely quick and easy, so there's no excuse to be late.
The wrong financial moves could turn your retirement into one extended period of stress. Avoid the above mistakes at all costs and you'll have less to worry about as you navigate your golden years.