Social Security was never meant to replace a worker’s entire paycheck, but for some retirees, it remains the only source of income. With the average retirement benefit at just $1,657 per month as of January 2022, seniors living exclusively on Social Security may only have about $20,000 per year of income. However, there are plenty of retirees who manage to get by just on their Social Security checks. Here are some steps you can take to stretch your Social Security check as far as possible.
Live In an Affordable Area
If you can’t find a way to increase your income, you’ll need to trim your expenses if you want your Social Security check to last. The easiest way to do this is to live in an affordable area. The cost of living varies so greatly across America that simply moving to or living in a cheaper area of the country can cut your cost of living in half, or even more. While your Social Security check isn’t likely to fund a lifestyle in Manhattan, for example, it may be more than sufficient in any number of cities in the Midwest or South.
When dollars are scarce, it’s more important than ever to track where they go. Crafting a detailed budget will allow you to assign a place for every dollar that comes in. This can help you avoid going into debt, which is a financial disaster if you’re living on a fixed income. Creating a good budget will also show you where you’re spending more than you should. With limited income, you can’t afford to spend more than your monthly allowance in various budget categories, and that’s easy to do if you aren’t keeping track.
Even within the same city, the prices of goods and services can vary tremendously. A $100 grocery cart at one store may cost $150 across town for the exact same items. Since your budget won’t be very flexible if you’re living on a Social Security check, take the time to comparison shop at various stores in your neighborhood.
Local apps and websites may offer tips as to where you can shop more affordably. Signing up for loyalty programs will give you access to coupons at various stores and give you a heads-up as to when certain items go on sale.
In many cities, no single store is the most inexpensive across the board, so it may actually save you more money to shop in more than one location. Bear in mind that you’ll have to factor in transportation expenses if you plan to shop at multiple places, however.
If you’re living on any type of fixed income, particularly Social Security, you’ll have to learn how to be flexible. The hard truth is that on a Social Security check, you may not always be able to get what you want or live the lifestyle you desire. To make your payments stretch, you may have to take steps that may be outside your comfort zone. For example, you may have to move to a lower-cost area, keep the thermostat a bit higher or lower in various seasons, shop in certain stores and limit your discretionary spending in general. All of these steps can help keep you within your budget and prevent you from spending more than you receive via Social Security.
Check Out Additional Government Programs
Social Security isn’t the only source of income for seniors in need. The Supplemental Security Income program, or SSI, might be better known for providing income to low-income children and adults with a disability or blindness. However, it also provides additional income to those in need who are 65 or older without any disabilities.
For 2022, the maximum allowable income to qualify for SSI is $1,767 per month for singles or $2,607 per month for couples, although the unearned portion of that income can’t exceed $861 per month for singles or $1,281 for couples, respectively. The federal limit for SSI payments is $841 and $1,261 for singles and couples. However, states like California offer additional assistance, boosting potential maximum payments for retirees without disabilities to $1,040.21 and $1,765.64.
People who are receiving SSI may also qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Formerly known as food stamps, the SNAP program provides additional funding so singles and families in need can purchase healthy, nutritional food. Most SSI beneficiaries can also qualify for Medicaid to help cover medical expenses as well.
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