We all hear that we shouldn’t rely on Social Security to get us through retirement, and I want to make sure you understand why.
According to the TransAmerica Institute, 48% of the American workforce worries that Social Security benefits will be reduced or nonexistent in the future. While I do think Social Security will continue to exist, benefits may decrease or ages of eligibility may increase. The future is all but certain.
Maybe you’re the 1 out of 5 Americans saving less than 5% of your income for retirement, and you are counting on Social Security to fund your lifestyle. Here are some thoughts I hope will convince you to beef up your retirement savings so that you aren’t depending on Social Security alone.
1. Social Security keeps up with inflation… but not for most retirees.
The average monthly Social Security benefit for retirees is only $1,471. Over a year, these benefits are only about $5,000 above the poverty line, so the income base is low to begin with.
Social Security’s cost of living adjustment (COLA) is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. Technically, Social Security income does increase with inflation. However, note that urban wage earners and clerical workers aren’t retirees, whereas most people receiving Social Security benefits are. Working adults spend money differently than retirees, so why is Social Security COLA based on working adults’ expenses instead of retirees’?? We may never know…
Most notably, retirees spend nearly 3 times as much on healthcare as working adults. Unfortunately, healthcare costs have been rising much faster than the general inflation rate. Due to this rise in healthcare costs, retirees’ expenses have increased by 100.3% since 2000.
If you don’t have a retirement savings portfolio to make up the difference in income, you might find your wallet feeling a little thin.
2. If a spouse passes away, you lose significant income
Married couples often enjoy economies of scale. Sharing a home, groceries, property taxes, etc. can lead to a lot of cost savings. In addition, a retired couple receives two Social Security checks. It is easy to become very financially co-dependent; however, I would caution against this dependency when it comes to Social Security.
Let’s say a husband worked outside the home and the wife worked inside the home (earning no paycheck). The husband’s Social Security check was $2,000 per month, so the wife was entitled to her own check of $1,000. Together, they created a comfortable life where they cautiously spent only the $3,000 each month. With their economies of scale, they were just able to make the budget work. Then, the husband passes away. The wife receives the husband’s $2,000 check, but $1,000 of monthly income is lost. Now, she bears the full expense of managing the home with $12,000 less each year. How will she make ends meet when the budget was tight before?
Retirees depending solely on Social Security may not be prepared to meet this change in income if they lose a spouse.
Alternatively, if a couple builds a portfolio that provides their retirement income, their monthly cash flow will not be affected if a spouse passes away. If the assets are jointly owned or list the other spouse as beneficiary, the surviving spouse will have the same portfolio supporting them as before.
My goal is not to make you fear retirement, but to encourage you to improve your future life by making intentional decisions now. If you choose to increase your 401(k) contribution by 1% today, future you will reap the benefits! Don’t limit the potential of your retirement years by depending on a monthly Social Security check.