On the House

Spring Cleaning for Your Retirement Budget

Guest Post
by Jack Wallace, Director at Yrefy


While retirement might be something we all look forward to, during economically challenging times such as now, it can be difficult to continue living on a fixed income without missing payments, sacrificing needs and wants, or having to begin working again.

According to a 2023 study, retirees have an average of $70,000+ in debt for their mortgage, student loans, car loan and credit cards. Spring is not only the perfect time to clean your house and garden, but also update your household budget. Here are five ways to spring clean your retirement budget.

Review Income and Expenses
The first step is to review and analyze your retirement budget including your current income and expenses. Review your income and expenses line by line. Compare your first quarter 2023 income and expenses (January 1 to March 31, 2023) to your income and expenses for the first quarter of 2024 (January 1 to March 31, 2024). Chances are, given the inflation environment we have experienced, you may need to make some lifestyle adjustments for the remainder of 2024 which you would much rather figure out sooner rather than later. Give yourself some leeway in calculating your monthly expenses and how much you’re spending each month. It is important given the last two years of high inflation and interest rates.

Essential vs. Non-essential Expenses
The next thing you need to do is to review what you consider essential versus non-essential expenses, aka needs versus wants! How much of your monthly spending is discretionary as compared to necessary expenses? How much could you save making more meals at home? Could you cut back on your entertainment expenses and look for more, free and/or senior discount things to do around town? Budgeting for your housing repairs, health care (particularly medications), transportation and food are the priority expenses not to mention essential, so be sure you’ve allocated enough for your essentials before budgeting for discretionary expenses.

Take Advantage of Discounts
Whether you’re an AARP member, a member of the Association of Mature American Citizens, or simply want to enjoy a discounted meal at your favorite restaurant from the 55+ menu, taking advantage of senior discounts whenever and wherever you can, is a great way to save money and still do the things you like. Don’t forget to enjoy the retirement stage of life – you’ve earned it! Check out free activities at your local community center, save money on traveling, and some pharmacies even offer prescription card discounts on certain medications. You’d be amazed at the money you can save by searching for deals.

Consolidate Your Debts
A November 2022 Lending Tree survey found that around 65% of credit card holders don’t pay off their credit cards monthly and carry debt from month to month. Given inflation and the high interest rate environment we are experiencing, many people are barely able to make the minimum monthly payment. If you have a lot of credit card debt and other loans that you’re struggling to make payments on, consolidate the credit card debt into one credit card with the lowest interest rate possible (pay attention to the fine print for those teaser rates), so you can factor in paying down this debt each month and don’t have any unexpected surprises when your bill comes in. This can give you peace of mind, and help you set a goal. If you have time before retirement, try setting aside extra money each month to pay down more debt than the minimum that’s due so you can get the mountain of debt down before you retire.

Pay Off Big Debts
If you have high floating rates or fixed rates of interest on any of your debt obligations such as your auto loan, credit cards, private student loans, or mortgage, shop around and see if you can get a lower rate. Make sure you are paying by ACH since most banks will reduce your interest rate 25 basis points or more. Paying this way may also increase your credit score since you will not have any delinquent payments. You should see an increase in your credit score which could put you in a better credit score category that will get you a lower interest rate. If you still have Federal student loan debt that you are repaying for your education or for one of your children or grandchildren, go to www.studentaid.gov to see what Income-Driven Repayment Plan works best for you to lower your monthly payment.

Good luck!

Jack Wallace is the Director of Governmental Relations at Yrefy. With over 40 years’ experience in corporate, education and housing finance, Jack has and continues to collaborate with clients and the financial community to develop debt and equity funding sources for new and existing asset classes and businesses.

Image by Andreas Lischka, Pixabay.com

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The Boomer's Gift: Giving Back

OntheHouse United-nations-covid-19-response-g4z85Zc-ZqI-unsplashAmerican poet Louis Ginsberg wrote, "The only things we ever keep, Are what we give away." I've always liked this quote because I think it suggests that giving back can do so much for the giver. It also reminds me that older Boomers who have left the traditional workforce have the gift of time -- a gift they can use, if they so choose, to give back. Those Boomers who have been fortunate enough to accumulate wealth, no matter how modest, might also choose to give back financially.

Not all Boomers are in a position to give back right now. The pandemic may have created a difficult health or financial situation that precludes generosity. For others, however, this is a time when Boomers recognize that the world is hurting and needs our help. Look around in your own community and you may see the ravages of the pandemic in food bank lines, closed schools and homelessness. If ever there was a time to give back, this is it.

For Boomers, "giving back" is also a way of showing gratitude for what we have accomplished in life. It could mean adopting a cause we feel passionate about, helping others less fortunate than us, getting involved with an alma mater, or doing something else for the good of society. Personally, I think the "what" is less important than the "why."

There are so many ways to give back that it may actually be somewhat intimidating. I think this article, "How to Help Make the World a Better Place This Year" from the Eblin Group is a good place to start. It does an excellent job of outlining some of the strategies for making a difference in your life, including picking a cause and leveraging what you have to offer.

There are those who believe the Boomer generation is defined by selfishness, but I believe the opposite is true. I think we are a generation that indisputably created positive change in our society, particularly through protesting against an unjust war, advocating for racial and gender equality and pursuing environmental justice. That passion remains with many of us today. Today, plenty of Boomers exhibit kindness to others and give back in any number of ways small and large -- through financial donations, volunteering, mentoring and more. Giving back is truly the Boomer's gift to society and the world.

Image: Kindness Contagion. Image created by Adam Niklewicz. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives - help stop the spread of COVID-19.

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Stay Informed in the New Year

OntheHouse Screen Shot 2020-12-22 at 11.32.49 AMOne of the best things Boomers can do in 2021 is stay informed about aging and longevity. Our generation is living longer than previous generations and the implications are significant. Probably the two most important aspects of increased longevity for Boomers are our health and our finances. Our primary concerns are remaining healthy and being able to live comfortably (i.e., without serious financial worries) in our later years. Some of us are likely to live well into our 90s, so these are of vital importance.

One very valuable source of information is the Longevity Project, whose mission is:
"We foster research and public conversation to build awareness of the implications of longer life, and bring together leaders from business, government, and the social sector to plan for the transitions in healthcare, retirement planning, the future of work and more. Together with our lead content collaborator, the Stanford Center on Longevity and other leading universities, think tanks and media organizations, our goal is to support a new awareness of the longevity challenge and support change so that people around the world can live healthier, more secure and more fulfilled lives."

This past December, the Longevity Project, in collaboration with Stanford Center on Longevity, sponsored the "2020 Century Summit," a four-day virtual symposium (free of charge) featuring world-class speakers who discussed "the implications of the 100-year life." Numerous panel discussions provided rare insight into longevity. The four days featured the following broad areas:

  • Rethinking Longevity in the Age of Pandemics
  • Longevity & the New Map of Life
  • Funding the 100-Year Life
  • Longevity Next

I attended several of the sessions and found them to be fascinating. The speakers were outstanding and in many cases they shared visionary ideas about aging and society, both in the United States and worldwide. Whether you are concerned about aging in place, working in your later years, financial security or what the "longevity economy" will look like globally, you are bound to benefit from the information that was shared during the 2020 Century Summit. All of the sessions were recorded and are available here: https://www.longevity-project.com/century-summit

The Longevity Project is a leading example of the kind of information gathering and sharing that will help our generation make better decisions and be able to live more successfully in our later years. As the world's population grows older, more research organizations are focusing on aging. In addition, more products and services will increasingly become available to Boomers. Staying informed is one of the best weapons we have as we age.

HappilyRewired.com is a Wearever Top 20 Senior Blog and a Top 75 Baby Boomer Blog

Read about 156 best and worst brands of the 50s and 60s! 

The Power of Mentoring

OntheHouseI've long believed in the power of mentoring. I remember mentors who helped me as I advanced in my career, some of whom were my bosses. I think back to when I ran a direct marketing agency and decided to bring on a partner with more experience than me. He, too, became a key mentor in my professional development.

When I retired from marketing, I wanted to mentor others in the same way. For ten years, I was a volunteer marketing counselor to small business owners, mostly one-person operations, through a local college's small business center.  While I had expertise in marketing, I had to keep up with current marketing practices, so mentoring forced me to stay on top of things and continue to learn. This is a part of mentoring that some people overlook -- mentoring can be as much a learning experience as a teaching experience. For me, mentoring was extremely gratifying, especially when I received the occasional thank you note from a person I helped. I got pretty pumped up when I saw how some local entrepreneurs were applying my advice to grow their businesses.

I have a feeling there is huge mentoring potential in retired and soon-to-be retired Boomers, and so does Marc Freedman, the founder of Encore.org. In his new book, How to Live Forever, Freedman discusses the value of an older generation mentoring younger generations. In an interview with Jane Brody of The New York Times, Freedman said, “Older people are uniquely suited for a mentoring role. The critical skills for nurturing relationships — emotional regulation and empathy — blossom as we age.” 

As for what it takes to be a mentor, Freedman commented that any Boomer could be good at it by following a few basic ground rules. “You don’t have to be a charismatic superhero," Freedman said. "You don’t need an advanced degree. It’s more about the relationship than imparting sage advice. The key is not being interesting. The real key is being interested — being present and paying attention.”

For Boomers who have special expertise in a particular discipline, as I did, mentoring through a small business center or through SCORE, the nation's largest network of business counselors, is the way to go. But there are many other types of mentoring opportunities that don't require a professional background, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, one of the country's largest youth mentoring organizations.

It turns out that mentoring, like volunteering, really does improve your quality of life in your later years. In her article, Brody cites research from a four-decade study that suggests "middle-aged and older people who invested in the well-being of the next generation were three times as likely to be happy as those who didn’t make such an effort. They also lived longer."

Mentoring worked for me, and it seems to work for many other Boomers. Maybe it can work for you.

Have you heard about the new book, Boomer Brands?

What You Need to Know About Social Security in 2019

OntheHouseWhether or not you have filed for Social Security benefits, every Boomer should be aware of how Social Security operates. The best source of information is the SSA, the Social Security Administration (www.ssa.gov). There you will find everything you need to know about how and when to apply for benefits.

Boomers tend to have a lengthy work history, which generally means monthly benefit amounts will be higher. According to the SSA, to qualify for benefits in general, an individual must work for at least ten years while earning at least $5,280 per year. However, benefit amounts are also affected by the age at which you start to draw Social Security.

You should be aware of the three most important ages as far as Social Security is concerned:

  1. Age 62 - This is the earliest you can draw Social Security, but the benefit amount will be reduced.
  2. "Full retirement age" - This is the age at which you receive full Social Security benefits. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, that age is 66. After 1954, that age is 67.
  3. Age 70 - This is the age at which Social Security benefits reach the maximum amount. Between your "full retirement age" and age 70, your monthly benefit may increase the longer you wait to draw Social Security.

Also, you can still draw Social Security while you are working if you are age 62 or older.

As you can see, drawing Social Security is a financial decision that should be carefully considered, ideally with the help of a financial advisor.

Most Boomers know that Social Security is completely different from Medicare, a government-funded health insurance program that covers individuals age 65 and over. The inter-relationship with Social Security is simply that Medicare payments can be automatically deducted from Social Security benefits.

There are some important changes to Social Security coming in 2019.

  1. The good news is that there will be Cost of Living Adjustment (often called "COLA") to the monthly benefit payment of 2.8 percent beginning in January 2019. That may not sound like much, but the COLA has been next to nothing for many years, so it is a marked improvement.
  2. If you are still working between the ages of 62 and your full retirement age, you can still draw Social Security benefits; however, if you earn more than $17,640 per year during that time, the SSA will deduct $1 for every $2 you earn from your monthly benefit. The year that you reach full retirement age, the SSA will deduct $1 for every $3 you earn from your monthly benefit if you earn $46,920 in that year. Once you reach your full retirement age, you can earn any amount without reducing your Social Security benefit.
  3. During your earning years, Social Security tax was deducted from your paycheck on earnings up to $128,400 annually. If you made more than that per year, you were only taxed for Social Security purposes on that amount. In 2019, Social Security tax will apply on earnings up to $132,900.
  4. Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is available to those with special conditions (blind and disabilities, for example) will also see a modest increase.

The SSA now offers anyone the ability to set up a personal online account with two-factor security authentication. Once you set it up, you can get personalized information about your potential or actual Social Security benefit and interact with SSA as necessary. Check it out here: https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/

Two Helpful Resources: Eating Right and Moving

OntheHouseI'm pleased to say the "Happily Rewired" blog has attracted enough attention that I periodically receive unsolicited input that could be helpful to my readers. Here are two such resources that I think you will find of interest:

  1. A Senior's Guide to Healthy Eating
    The website "Nifty Benefits" has put together a helpful infographic. According to the creator Brenda Snow, "My goal with this guide is to help seniors live a fulfilling life, starting with a foundation of good nutrition. From the limitations that can cause seniors to have poor nutrition, to easy tips to incorporate healthy foods into your lifestyle or the lifestyle of your loved one, this guide has a lot of information that I hope will be valuable to you." The informative guide covers observing good basics and special considerations for older adults.
    Find it here: https://niftybenefits.com/seniors-guide-healthy-eating/
  2. The Senior Citizen's Guide to Moving
    The website "Hire a Helper" has created a comprehensive free guide to moving. The six helpful chapters are:
    - Popular moving options for seniors
    - Planning out your new home
    - How to downsize
    - The emotional impact of downsizing
    - Moving tips for senior citizens
    - Staying connected in a new city.
    Find it here: https://blog.hireahelper.com/senior-citizens-moving/

Encore's "Generation to Generation" Campaign Has Its Heart in the Right Place

OntheHouseIf you're a Boomer who's not familiar with Encore.org, you should be. Encore is a nonprofit that focuses on "second acts for the greater good," which is something many of us are thinking about or have already started to pursue. Now Encore has launched a new campaign called "Generation to Generation" with the goal of getting older generations to help younger generations.

Writing for Next Avenue, Richard Eisenberg says Generation to Generation’s five-year goal is "getting one million adults over 50 to 'help young people thrive' by volunteering and working with needy children." Eisenberg references a survey conducted by Encore in which 80 percent of respondents said “making the world a better place for the next generation is important or very important.” In addition, 77 percent of respondents 60 and older said life after age 60 is a time of mostly “freedom, growth and giving back.”

The first push for the Generation to Generation campaign will be mentoring, which can be accomplished through the campaign's numerous partners, including the AARP Foundation Experience Corps, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and VolunteerMatch.org.

Generation to Generation sounds like a campaign that is very well targeted to Boomers who want to give back. I can tell you from personal experience that helping younger generations can be fulfilling. As a volunteer, I have counseled budding entrepreneurs in branding and marketing. Knowing I helped them start or improve their small businesses was rewarding. 

To learn more about the Generation to Generation campaign, visit this website: http://www.generationtogeneration.org/

Surprising Benefits of Volunteering

OntheHouseMy post about being a volunteer in retirement generated several comments on LinkedIn. In the post I discussed some of the reasons I have found volunteering to be gratifying. In his article for Next Avenue, Mark Horoszowski details "5 Surprising Benefits of Volunteering." It not only reinforces the value of volunteering, it makes for an interesting read.

For one thing, Mark talks about the fact that volunteering actually gives you the impression that you have more time, not less of it. That's because spending time in a worthwhile pursuit makes your time generally feel of greater value.

Other surprising benefits? Volunteers who use their skills to help an organization may find that they are developing entirely new skills during their volunteer commitment. Volunteering can continue to hone your experience. It can offer you experience in a new area, or provide you with the experience you need to transition from the business world to the nonprofit sector. Volunteering can also lead to an unexpected part-time paid position.

Interestingly, research has shown that people who volunteer share the love -- they are generally happier than people who do not volunteer.

Even if you volunteer a few hours a week or just once a month, don't underestimate the value of volunteering -- especially at a stage of life where personal validation and satisfaction can be so important.

Should You Volunteer?

OntheHouseSome Boomers find satisfaction doing volunteer work, while others may question whether it is the best way to spend their time. The first question to ask about volunteering is simply, Can you afford it? Not every Boomer is in a financial position to be able to volunteer, which almost always means working without pay. If you have to generate some income and still want to volunteer, however, you can often reach an acceptable compromise by working part-time and volunteering part-time.

Volunteering is very personal. You can pursue a passion or an interest by volunteering for a nonprofit organization whose cause is important to you. You can help the disadvantaged or under-privileged through literacy, public health, and welfare programs. You can help change the world for the better by working with an environmental organization. You can care for animals by volunteering at your local animal shelter. You can support culture and the arts by volunteering for a local museum or theatre company. You can use your business expertise as a volunteer counselor or consultant to students and entrepreneurs. Those are just a few examples. There are likely to be numerous volunteer opportunities like these and others right in your own community.

Volunteering can also uncover unexpected opportunities. I have volunteered for a local nonprofit for many years in a variety of ways. In addition to helping the organization, I have made a number of valuable contacts; for example, one of the organization's donors knew I was a semi-retired marketing professional and recommended me to a startup company. This resulted in my doing several paid consulting projects for the company.

Volunteering can give you a sense of purpose. It can offer you a personal reward because you'll feel good about helping others. It can also provide you with social interaction and act as an anchor when you need the structure of a scheduled activity. And in some cases, volunteering can even lead to unanticipated income.

Boomers Looking to Give Time and Money in Retirement

OntheHouseA recent study conducted by Merrill Lynch in partnership with Age Wave tells an intriguing story about how Boomers want to give back in retirement -- to the extent that the study portrays the phenomenon as "America's Longevity Bonus."

According to the study, which suggests there will be a surge in giving over the next two decades, almost two-thirds (65%) of retirees say retirement is the best time to give back. In fact, when contributions of both money and time are considered, retirees lead the nation in giving, responsible for 42% of the money given to charity, and 45% of the total volunteer hours given to charity. This translates into about $6.6 trillion of charitable contributions and $1.4 trillion of value in volunteer hours that retirees will contribute in the U.S. from 2016 to 2035.

Giving improves a Boomer's self-worth, too. According to the study, 59% of retirees who give or volunteer say they have a strong sense of purpose versus 43% of those who do not give or volunteer. Of those who give or volunteer, 57% say they have high self-esteem vs. 51% of those who do not give or volunteer, and 66% of givers say they are happy vs. 52% of those who are not givers. A resounding 85% of retirees say "being generous" better defines success in retirement vs. 15% who say "being wealthy" defines success.

There is a gender difference: Women are more likely to say giving is a high priority in retirement than men, and women are more likely to give in retirement than men.

When it comes to making giving decisions, 77% of married retirees say it is "very important to have in-depth conversations about giving with their spouse."

My wife and I can bear testament to the above data. We have both given money and volunteered our time for years, even agreeing on one primary organization to which we devote most of our efforts. We consider ourselves part of that organization's mission and feel good about giving back at this stage of our lives.

This study is fascinating and should provoke thoughtful consideration and discussion. You can read it here.