There are plenty of articles in the financial press about how Americans are woefully unprepared for retirement. Many of these stories mention how the average retirement balance is only a few hundred thousand dollars and that to “live a comfortable retirement,” you’ll need $1 million or more socked away in your accounts.
However, you don’t necessarily have to be alarmed if you aren’t sporting a seven-figure balance in your retirement nest egg. In fact, there are plenty of retirees that not just survive but actually thrive with much less in savings. Here are some of the signs that you might be better prepared for retirement than you think.
You’ve Paid Off Your Mortgage
Housing is the biggest monthly expense for most Americans. If you’ve paid off your mortgage by the time you retire, however, you eliminate that huge expense from your monthly budget. Rather than paying thousands of dollars to your loan company — the average payment on a mortgage initiated in 2023 being $2,317, according to The MReport — you get to keep that in your pocket.
This can make a tremendous difference in the quality of your life in retirement. If you so desire, you can even tap the equity in your home to generate even more cash flow. Just be aware that taking out home equity can have consequences as well, and you should discuss them with your financial and/or tax advisors before you take that step.
You Have No Consumer Debt
Debt is the albatross around the neck of many Americans. When you accrue interest on outstanding credit card balances, your cash flow is going to a bank rather than to fund your own lifestyle. Even worse, the interest rates on credit cards are so high that it’s very easy for your debt to quickly grow out of control.
But if you’re retiring with no consumer debt, you’re ahead of the game when it comes to your finances. Rather than simply flushing that money down the toilet, you can use it for everything from paying for your daily expenses to enhancing the quality of your life.
For some seniors, healthcare can be the biggest expense they face in retirement, even if they have insurance. While you can’t eliminate all healthcare costs, if you’re a healthy individual, you may be able to avoid some of the big-ticket items that plague many seniors, from expensive surgeries and hospital stays to specialized medications and long-term care costs.
You Live in an Inexpensive City or State
If you live in the most expensive locations in America, like Hawaii, Manhattan or Los Angeles, it’s obviously going to be harder to stretch your retirement savings. But there are plenty of desirable locations across the country that have a cost of living 40% or more below these pricey areas.
According to Numbeo, you would only need about $5,500 in Cleveland to maintain the same standard of living that would cost you $9,500 in New York City. While there are certainly arguments to be made about how living in some cities is different than in others, saving $4,000 a month by simply moving from New York to Cleveland could make a huge difference in terms of how prepared for retirement you are. And this is just one example of literally hundreds.
If you prefer to live in a warmer location with unique Southern charm, you could spend a whopping 75% less in rent by living in Charleston, SC, instead of New York City.
You Don’t Have a Car Payment
The average monthly car payment reached a staggering $725 in Q1 2023, according to Experian. That’s more than some Americans pay for their mortgage. If you’ve managed to pay off your car, it means you’re keeping hundreds of dollars in your pocket — or $8,700 per year using just the average car payment. That can substantially improve your quality of life in retirement.
Savings in Black and White
Imagine you have no mortgage payment, no credit card debt, no auto loan and you move from a high-cost to a low-cost area. You could be saving over $7,000 per month, using the average monthly costs for all of these items.
While it’s true that not all Americans have a brand-new car, carry credit card debt, took out a mortgage in 2023 and live in New York City, this is just a mathematical example of how getting your financial life in order can make a huge difference in terms of being prepared for retirement. If you can eliminate these excess costs and live a happy life in a less expensive area, you can get by in retirement with a much smaller account balance.
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