Social Security benefits are supposed to replace around 40% of the income you earned while you were working. This means they aren't meant to be your sole source of support in retirement, with most financial experts recommending you'll need to replace 70% to 80% of what you made while you worked. And many seniors end up spending 100% or more of what they were earning prior to leaving work. 

Unfortunately, millions of Americans lack pensions or have too little saved to supplement Social Security. Many are over-reliant on their benefit checks, with their quality of life likely suffering as a result. 

Older couple looking at financial paperwork with calculator.

Image source: Getty Images.

How much income do retirees get from Social Security?

According to a Vanguard study, Social Security provides 90% or more of income for 35% of retirees, and between 50% and 90% of income for another 29%. Just 36% of retired seniors rely on their benefits to produce less than half of all income. 

For those relying on Social Security as their exclusive or primary means of support, it can be very difficult to make ends meet. If you receive the average Social Security benefit (about $1,431 per month), relying on that for 90% of your income could leave you with around $19,000 annually. This is far too little to live on in most parts of the country, especially when you factor in high healthcare costs many seniors face. 

Even if Social Security makes up about half your annual income, you'd be left trying to survive on around $34,000 a year. While this is definitely more doable, it can be a challenge considering that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported mean expenditures for Americans 65 and older were $50,860 in 2018. 

What should current and future retirees do?

You don't want to end up struggling to survive because you have too little income outside of Social Security. To make sure this doesn't happen to you, contribute as much as possible (ideally around 15% of your income) to retirement savings throughout your working life. 

If you're very close to retirement age, you may want to work longer, so you can save more and increase your monthly Social Security checks. While you can start receiving your benefits as early as age 62, benefits increase each year you wait up until 70. If you're going to depend on Social Security to make up a big portion of your income, you want to get the largest monthly checks possible

And if you're already retired and rely on Social Security, look into downsizing your home and moving to an area with a lower cost of living as soon as you can so your money will go as far as possible. Doing this early allows you to withdraw less from any savings accounts that you do have so your money is more likely to last. Moving to a cheaper area can also allow you to enjoy a better quality of life on the benefits Social Security provides. 

Your goal should be to join the minority of Americans who depend on Social Security for less than half their income as retirees. If your benefits are just a small portion of the funds you have to live on, you'll be able to enjoy your life more without worrying about how to stretch your checks.