This Is the Biggest Expense You’ll Have After You Retire

Shot of a senior man looking stressed while doing the household finances on a laptop in his kitchen.
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Expenses change as you grow older, and they keep changing even after retirement. This creates numerous challenges figuring out how big a nest egg to build while you’re still working. It’s almost impossible to predict what kind of medical care or housing you’ll need in your senior years — and when you’ll need it.

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However, you can get a pretty good idea of the biggest expense you’ll face in retirement based on precedent. Although healthcare costs take up an increasingly large chunk of overall expenses in retirement, for most retirees the biggest expense is the same one they faced throughout much of their adult lives: housing.

Overall housing costs don’t just include monthly mortgage or rent payments. They also include utilities, insurance, property taxes, maintenance/repairs and, in some cases, homeowners association fees.

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Nationally, U.S. retirees spent an average of $17,454 a year or $1,454.50 a month on housing costs in 2021, Entrepreneur reported. That was up from $16,880 a year or $1,406.67 a month the previous year.

One thing to keep in mind is that housing costs don’t remain flat in retirement. As Entrepreneur noted, the first 10 years of retirement are typically linked to higher housing costs. Younger retirees ages 65 to 74 spent an annual average of $18,027 in 2020. For all other retirees, those costs were a little more than $15,000 a year.

According to a recent Harvard University study, nearly half of retirees 65 to 79 still pay a mortgage, Entrepreneur reported. That figure drops to about 25% for retirees 80 and older.

Location plays a big part in how much you can expect to spend on housing in retirement. If you retire in a pricey city like San Francisco or Boston — or even a retirement hot spot like Hilton Head, South Carolina — you can expect to spend well above the average for housing. Conversely, retiring in a cheap locale will lower your housing costs considerably, which is why many retirees choose to spend their golden years living abroad, away from the high prices back in the United States.

Retire Comfortably

No matter where you decide to retire, there are ways to lower your housing costs. Paying off your mortgage can eliminate a huge monthly expense. You could also downsize to a smaller, less expensive home to free up more money for your nest egg. Not only will this lower your mortgage or rent payment, but it can also lower your utility, maintenance and tax bills, U.S. News & World Report noted.

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If you do significantly lower your housing costs, you might find that healthcare becomes your biggest expense in retirement. According to the AARP, the elderly spend 12.2% of their income on medical care compared with 7% for the overall population, the Realized website reported. Research from Fidelity Investments found that a couple retiring in 2022 could spend $280,000 or more on medical care over the course of their retirement.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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