17 Tips for Living Comfortably With Just a Social Security Check
August 15, 2022
According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, 24 percent of people over 65 live in families that rely on Social Security benefits for 90% or more of their income. With an average monthly benefit of $1,523, retirees who depend on Social Security to pay for all of their living expenses have very tight budgets.
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There are plenty of discounts and benefits that seniors can take advantage of once they retire, allowing them to live a rich life with limited resources. Take the right measures to stretch your benefits as far as possible and live comfortably.
Postponement of taking your Social Security benefits
Retiring and starting to collect Social Security are two reasons to celebrate getting older. While you can start collecting Social Security at age 62, if you wait until you reach full retirement age, which ranges from 65 to 67, depending on the year you were born, your monthly benefits will be significantly higher.
For example, if your full retirement age is 67, but you start collecting Social Security at 62, your benefits will be 30% less than if you waited the extra five years. If possible, wait to collect until even after you have reached full retirement age. If you delay Social Security collection until age 70, you will receive your maximum Social Security benefit.
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If you filed for Social Security early, consider withdrawing your claim
Did you apply for benefits early and now find yourself shocked at the true cost of Social Security retirement? If you applied for Social Security in the past 12 months, you can withdraw your claim and start over at a later date if you want to increase your benefits. However, it is important to note that if you choose to withdraw, you will be required to repay any benefits you have received up to that point. Still, it may be worth it in the long run to maximize your Social Security benefits.
Plan your Social Security benefits
If you are married, it is important to discuss how to maximize Social Security benefits if either spouse dies. When a person dies, the widow or widower may receive the deceased spouse’s benefits in lieu of their own if the benefits exceed what they previously received. So it makes sense for the highest-earning spouse to retire later, so that when two Social Security checks coming to the household become just one, the surviving spouse will receive the greatest possible benefits.
Moving to an area with a lower cost of living
Your Social Security benefits will stretch further when your cost of living is lower. If you live in an expensive location, consider moving to a place where you can only live based on a Social Security check. Cities like Tuscon, Arizona and Reno, Nevada have warm weather and plenty to do for retirees, plus their cost of living is low.
Pay off debt before you retire
To get the most out of your Social Security income, it’s best to pay off all debt, including credit card bills and mortgages, before you retire. This way, you can focus on spending your benefits on what you need on a daily basis, rather than spending it on things you’ve bought in the past.
Moving to a tax-friendly state
Most states and Washington, DC do not tax Social Security benefits, but you can extend your benefits even further if you live in a state with even fewer taxes. Alaska and New Hampshire do not tax sales or income, and Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming do have sales taxes but do not impose state income taxes or retirement income taxes, according to AARP.
Find a roommate
Splitting the cost of living with a roommate or flatmate is a great way to stretch your dollars further, and it can avoid the loneliness that often comes with being retired. A SmartAsset study found that in some major cities, renters who split a two-bedroom with a roommate save more than $800 per month versus those who only rent a one-bedroom. Even if you’re not renting, having a roommate can lower the amount you spend on utilities, internet, cable, and energy.
Enjoy free entertainment
You don’t have to spend your Social Security check to keep busy and have fun. Visit a museum with free admission or check out a library book to keep you entertained during the day. You can also attend open mic nights at a local coffee shop or theater, where often no entrance fee is charged. Other free activities include attending book readings, attending a lecture at a local college or university, and attending free outdoor concerts.
Of course, these benefits may have to wait until after states fully reopen after the coronavirus shutdown.
Invest in an AARP Membership
An AARP membership costs $16 per year, but the discounts can get you the membership fee and more. AARP members receive savings on health and wellness costs, dining, entertainment, shopping and community memberships beyond regular senior discounts.
Moving to a retirement community
If you’re planning to move, moving to a retired community can be cheaper than buying a new home in the area. “They are often cheaper than the surrounding houses on the market that are open to everyone,” says retirement coach Sara Zeff Geber. Plus, living in a retired community makes it easier to socialize with other people your age. However, you need to be realistic about what you can actually afford with your Social Security check, as some luxury retirement communities can be very expensive.
Go to restaurants that offer senior discounts
Living on Social Security means you’re on a pretty tight budget, but it’s okay to eat out once in a while, especially if you’re going to a restaurant that offers senior discounts. Many popular chains offer up to 25% off meals for over-55s, even with takeout. For example, Chili’s offers a 10% senior discount every day, and Uno Pizzeria & Grill has a 25% discount for seniors on Wednesdays, according to TheSeniorList.com.
Save while you shop
Redecorating your wardrobe doesn’t have to take up a huge chunk of your Social Security check. Many major retailers offer discounts to senior shoppers: Banana Republic gives a 10% discount to shoppers 50 and older, Kohl’s gives shoppers 60 and older a 15% discount every Wednesday, and Ross has a 10% discount on Tuesday for everyone 55 and older, according to TheSeniorList.com.
Don’t pay too much for recipes
Medication costs can be quite high. To save money on your recipes, always opt for the generic whenever possible. And consider joining a prescription membership program where you also purchase your medication to receive discounts and earn rewards. For example, the Rite Aid Rx savings program gives members a 15 percent discount or more on medications, and a 30-day supply of most generics costs just $9.99 with the plan.
An easy way to stay active for free is to take a daily walk or hike. Make a morning walk through your neighborhood part of your daily routine, or visit a local hiking trail to enjoy the wildlife in your area. Going for a walk during times when most people are working will save you the hassle of dealing with crowds so you can really enjoy the peace and quiet of the great outdoors.
One of the best ways to feel good is to give back to those in need. Dedicate your time to a cause that matters to you — it’s a free way to use your time that benefits others.
go back to school
Many local colleges and universities allow seniors to attend classes for free thanks to tuition waivers for residents 60 and older. Even if your local higher education institution doesn’t offer tuition waivers, you may be able to take classes for free. This means that you can attend all classes and lectures, but you will not receive credit for the classes you take. An advantage of auditing is that you are not bothered by exams and homework assignments.
Try a new gym class (free)
You may not have had time to hit the gym regularly while you were working, but now there’s no excuse not to be active. Medicare members can participate in the free SilverSneakers program, which gives seniors access to more than 14,000 gyms and fitness centers nationwide. Not only do you have full access to participating gyms, but SilverSneakers members can also enjoy free classes in the gym and beyond. If you’ve never tried yoga or want to dance your way to health, you can do so without spending a dime.
Unfortunately, this benefit may have to wait until all gyms are fully open again and safe to go to.
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