You'll often hear that Social Security won't pay you enough to live on, and for many seniors, that's true. The average recipient in 2021 will collect just $1,543 a month when we account for the 1.3% cost-of-living adjustment that'll apply to benefits next year. That equates to an annual income of $18,516.
You may not want to live on Social Security alone. But unfortunately, you might need to if you don't have independent savings or a pension and you're unable to work in some capacity. If that's the case, here's how to get the most from your Social Security benefits.
1. Move somewhere with a low cost of living
Some parts of the U.S. are far more affordable than others on all fronts: housing, healthcare, and general living expenses. If you're limited to Social Security as your sole source of retirement income, you'll need to be strategic about where you settle down. But if you find the right place, you may find that your benefits go a lot further than anticipated.
2. Commit to a frugal lifestyle
When you're looking at retiring on $18,516 a year, or something in that vicinity, finding the right place to call home is only part of the equation. You'll also need to prepare yourself to spend judiciously to ensure that you have enough money to cover your essentials.
That poses a problem, because once you're retired, you'll have many hours of your day to fill, and that can cost money -- money you don't have. But if you get creative and efficient at finding free entertainment, you can stay occupied without dipping into your bank account. Hobbies like reading, hiking, and volunteering are all free, so you'll need to embrace those rather than plan to spend your senior years dining out and going to live performances (unless those happen to be free as well).
3. Choose the right health coverage
Healthcare is a huge expense for seniors, but the right Medicare plan could help you keep your costs more manageable, thereby avoiding a scenario where they eat up a huge chunk of your Social Security income. During Medicare's fall open enrollment, spend some time exploring your options. Enrolling in a low-cost Medicare Advantage or Part D plan could result in serious savings, as could choosing a plan that offers the best coverage for you given your specific needs.
4. Delay your benefits as long as you can
Maybe it's too late in life to stash money in an IRA or 401(k) plan. But if you're able to work a few extra years, you can grow your Social Security benefits so they pay you more. For each year you delay your filing past full retirement age, your benefits increase by 8%. For a $1,543 monthly benefit, filing one year after full retirement age means collecting $1,666 a month instead, and that could make a huge difference.
Living on Social Security alone in retirement is not ideal, but if that's the boat you're in, there are ways to salvage your senior years. It'll take sacrifice and smart choices, but with the right approach and attitude, you may be able to make it work after all.