Living Just on Social Security: 6 Changes You’ll Almost Definitely Have To Make

Senior couple uses a laptop and a credit card while sitting at a table in their house.
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Many of us look forward to the day that we can finally retire, get out of the rat race and enjoy our golden years at a more leisurely pace.

While some people have retirement savings accounts or personal savings, some folks find themselves in the position to retire on Social Security alone. The maximum Social Security benefit for a person retiring at the full retirement age of 66 in 2023 would be $3,627 per month, and $4,555 at age 70, according to the Social Security Administration.

A good number of people find themselves in a position to retire earlier than at full retirement age, however, and may not be eligible for the maximum amount, thus living on an amount that is significantly less than when they were working. Such dramatic income changes lead to necessary lifestyle changes.

According to experts, here are the 6 changes you’ll almost definitely have to make in order to live on just Social Security.

Look Into Affordable Housing

Unless you own your home outright at the time of retirement, if you’re relying only on Social Security, the largest chunk of your expenses will most likely be housing and utilities, said Brian Quigley, founder of Beacon Lending.

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“If you’re still paying a mortgage or live in a high-rent district, you may need to consider downsizing or relocating to a more affordable area,” he said. He explained that shared living situations, like renting out a room or moving in with family, can also offset costs. “Moreover, utilizing programs such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) can help reduce utility expenses.”

Get Frugal With Food and Household Items

On a solely Social Security income, eating out frequently, if at all, isn’t feasible, Quigley said, and even eating some of your favorite brands or food items may have to radically change.

“Adopting a frugal grocery shopping strategy is vital. Shop sales, use coupons and consider local food banks or programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for assistance. Buying in bulk and preparing meals at home will save you significantly in the long run,” he said.

Consider Public Transportation

Transportation will also start to be quite expensive on a Social Security income.

Quigley suggested, “If you own a car, evaluate its necessity. Can public transportation, carpooling, or walking serve your needs? Maintaining, insuring, and fueling a car is expensive. If you can do without one or can downsize to a more fuel-efficient model, you’ll save a bundle.”

In general, Quigley said, of living on Social Security, “Navigating this journey requires sacrifice, adaptability, and a keen awareness of your spending habits. With careful planning, it’s feasible to lead a fulfilling life on Social Security alone.” 

Take Advantage of Non-Profit and Community Resources

Trying to navigate life on Social Security alone is difficult.

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According to John Grace, president and founder at Investor’s Advantage Corporation, you may need to “Explore local non-profit organizations and community resources that provide assistance to seniors. These organizations often offer services such as free or low-cost home repairs, transportation assistance, and food delivery programs. Connecting with these community resources can help alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with aging.”

These may also be good places to meet other retirees and develop connections.

Consider a Medicaid Spend-Down Strategy

By the time you need to take Social Security, you may have significant healthcare needs that your healthcare premium isn’t able to cover.

Grace suggested considering a “Medicaid spend-down strategy. Medicaid can provide essential healthcare coverage for low-income individuals, but it typically has strict income and asset limits. By working with an elder law attorney or financial planner, you can legally spend down excess assets on approved expenses, such as home modifications for aging in place, prepaid burial arrangements, or medical equipment. This can help you meet Medicaid’s eligibility requirements while ensuring you have essential healthcare coverage.”

Get Comfortable With Budget Changes

Trying to live on Social Security alone requires significant cutbacks in most people’s budgets, Jake Hill, CEO of DebtHammer, said. “For example, multi-car households will likely need to sell all but one car or start using public transportation to save money on repairs and insurance. You will also have to forgo large entertainment expenses, such as vacations and high-ticket purchases.”

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