Disaster-proofing your budget is important at any age, but this is particularly true for retirees, who are typically living on a fixed income. All it takes is one major life-shattering event to drain your budget, and then your time of freedom and fun is over. You might struggle to pay your bills or end up buried in costly debt. No one wants that life.
We may not be able to stop some financial emergencies from happening, but we can improve our ability to handle them by planning for the worst-case scenario. Here are five of these unexpected events that you should be ready for.
1. A large medical expense or long-term care
Healthcare costs are already high, and will likely climb even higher. A major medical expense, whether an illness or an injury from an accident, could easily cost you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Medicare will cover some of these expenses, but you'll still have a premium, a deductible, and a co-pay to worry about. And you could still rack up a lot of out-of-pocket costs if you require services that Medicare doesn't cover, like long-term care.
Making your health a priority at every age can help minimize the medical issues you experience as you age. You should also have a plan for filling in Original Medicare's gaps. This might include purchasing a Medicare Advantage or Medicare supplement plan to pay for some of the things that Original Medicare does not. If you think there's a chance you may need long-term care, consider adding an insurance policy for it.
2. A large home repair
A tree could fall on your house. Your furnace could go out in the middle of winter. Your roof might be getting old and need replacing. There are many ways your home could cost you in retirement, and there isn't much you can do to prevent these things. Make sure you have adequate homeowners insurance for a fire or natural disaster. You should also keep some money in reserve for replacing major appliances or your roof, especially if you know they're getting old.
Renting is another option if you don't want to worry about home expenses in retirement, although you'll have a regular monthly payment that you may not have with your home if it's already paid off.
3. Investment losses
We can't control what the stock market does, and if it takes a turn for the worse, your investments might not grow as quickly as you had hoped (or you could even lose money). But this doesn't have to devastate your budget. The most important thing you can do to prevent a significant loss is to spread your money among many investments and sectors. That way, one of them performing poorly won't hurt you too much, because your other investments can pick up the slack.
You might also have to reevaluate your retirement withdrawal strategy if your investments are doing poorly. This might mean reducing your discretionary spending for a while, but hopefully it'll only be temporary. Even if it's not, it's still better than spending without care and running out of money prematurely.
No one likes to imagine when they get married that they might end up divorced someday. If it happens in retirement, it could force you to completely rewrite your retirement plan. Rather than planning for joint living expenses, you might now have to divide up your savings to pay for two separate retirements -- no easy task.
You'll have no choice but to make a new retirement plan if this happens to you. Hopefully, both partners have a roughly equal portion of retirement savings in their names, but if one partner was primarily saving for both, the partner with the smaller nest egg should consider negotiating for retirement benefits as part of the divorce to avoid being left with nothing.
With people living longer, it's not crazy to think that you could enter retirement with parents who are still alive. If they burn through their retirement savings too quickly, they might fall back on you for support. It's also not uncommon these days for adult children to move back in with their parents for a period of time.
You can minimize the blow to your budget by helping your parents apply for government assistance programs, establishing clear ground rules about what you will and won't cover for them, and sharing the burden with siblings if you have any. You could also charge adult children rent to help offset some of the additional costs they bring into the household, like higher food and utility bills.
You can't stop emergencies, but they don't have to destroy your financial security. Think through the scenarios above and plan for how you'd handle each if they happened to you. If your retirement plan isn't equipped to deal with one of them, make adjustments now before it's too late.