7 Out of the Box Ideas for Surviving a Retirement Savings Shortfall

Category: Financial and taxes in retirement

February 22, 2017 — A lot of baby boomers are facing a very difficult retirement. The Employee Benefits Research Institute’s (EBRI.org) 2014 survey reported only 55% of retirees are very or somewhat confident they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement. A Topretirements.com survey was even less optimistic; only 46% of our Members said that their expected retirement income will allow them to continue their pre-retirement lifestyles.

The Wall Street Journal recently profiled a baby boomer in this situation who took a surprising solution to solve the problem – “With $15 in the Bank, A Baby Boomer Makes Peace with Less (article might be behind a paid wall). Kathleen Wolf lived in the San Francisco area until recently. During her working life in real estate she made – and spent – a lot of money on fancy cars and big houses. But when the time for retirement came her savings and income just weren’t there – in fact at one point her bank balance was just $15. After she filed for bankruptcy, staying on in expensive Monterey, California, wasn’t going to be possible. Read on to find out how she coped with her reduced circumstances.

Think out of the box
While Kathleen’s financial ups and downs are more extreme than usual, there are millions of boomers in the early stages of retirement who have very few resources other than Social Security (average 2016 monthly benefit – $1348). Whether it is a result of poor planning or plain bad luck, this is not a good situation to be in. If this describes you, it is time to take drastic action. Here are some of your options – and we can’t wait to hear other suggestions from our Members:

1. Do what did Kathleen did – move to a Iowa, a state with much lower housing prices. Kathleen moved to a small town in Iowa, a state she never imagined living in. Sounds radical, but the difference in price in amazing. The Zillow Home Value Index in Monterrey was $725,200 recently, whereas in Des Moines it was $121,900. Kathleen’s condo wasn’t worth what a larger home was, but she did have a positive cash flow. If you are fortunate enough to have home equity in one of the hot real estate markets in the USA, you can trade that for a great home and still put quite a bit of money in your retirement savings account. Almost anywhere in the interior of the country is a lot less expensive than on the coast. For that matter, even Central Florida is way cheaper than along the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.

2. Downsize now! Even if you are not retired yet, get out of that big house you might be living in. The extra dollars you spend every month for taxes, utilities, maintenance, etc. could be going right into your retirement savings account.

3. Share a House. Do you have a relative or a close set of friends you think you could live with? If so you can create your own co-housing community, although of course you must choose carefully and set up legal protections. It might not cut your housing expenses in half, but it could come close!

4. Move to an unconventional house. Manufactured homes are usually very good quality and far less expensive than traditional “Stick-Built” homes. Mobile homes are about the least expensive type of housing you can buy, often available for $10,000. Many are in really nice communities in great locations (e.g.; there are many such communities in Jensen Beach, FL.), but be careful about places where the annual lot rents go up significantly every year. The Tiny House Movement (also known as Pocket Homes) is very popular with homes sized less than 1000 sq.ft, even as small as 80 sq.ft.!

Tiny House, courtesy of Wikipedia and Tammy

You can usually move tiny houses from place to place, which is a big advantage. Finally, why buy a house at all? In some parts of the country you might be better off renting. Or buy a big RV and travel around the country with the seasons. There are lots of ideas if you look around.

5. Be part of the Sharing Economy. Lots of millennials survive by participating in the sharing economy – and you can too. Drive on Uber, rent out a room in your house with Airbnb or HomeAway, or get part time work with Taskrabbit (there are many other sites that do the same thing). You can pet sit, run errands, do minor repair work – the higher your skills the better the pay. Work when you want to and earn enough to avoid a drastic downgrade of your lifestyle.

6. Work longer and save more. If you are still working and your retirement savings are meager, don’t quit! The Social Security longevity credits you get by delaying to age 66 or even 70, and every extra dollar you save, will make your retirement that much easier. The median couple in their late 50s or early 60s has saved only $17,000 in a retirement savings account according to the Economic Policy Institute. That amount is not enough to fund a retirement, obviously, as even a 3% annual distribution would amount to a paltry $510 per year!

7. Pay off your debts before you retire. OK, this is not really an out of the box idea, but it is still a really good thing to do. Everyone in retirement will face unplanned emergencies – medical, home or car repairs, or family. When that happens to you it could be the straw that wrecks your retirement, if you are already stretched by your monthly debt payments. There is a surprising amount of baby boomer debt. According to economist Monique Morrissey of the Economic Policy Institute, just under half of retirees are concerned about a problem with their debt levels. Take whatever measures you can to retire this debt; whether it is credit card, consumer, or home mortgage, before you quit working.

Bottom line
Just because you haven’t saved enough doesn’t mean you can salvage your retirement – if you take decisive action. It is time to think out of the box and turn a worried retirement into a comfortable one!

Suggestions and Comments
We would love to hear what creative solutions you are using to survive a financially challenged retirement. Please share them in the Comments section below.

For further reading:
Pre-Retirees Underestimate How Soon They Will Retire by up to 7 Years
You Retire Next Month and You’re Dead Broke – What’s Next?
Survey Results: Many People Expecting a Healthy Retirement Income
Our Members Give Their Ideas for Saving Money Once You Are Retired
Sites to Find Side Gigs and Earn Money

Posted by Admin on February 21st, 2017


  1. Same here…..leaving California for the coast of Oregon where a couple can live on $1600 per month! !

    by mary11 — February 22, 2017

  2. I would say be very wary of a Mobile Home Park. A friend of mine pays around $550 a month for lot fees and that is $6,600 a year and more than my taxes on an average home here in CT. I do believe sewer is included and plowing of the roads, not her parking spot. She has to pay for water, snow removal, mowing too. The mobile home (manufactured home) is hers so all inside and outside repairs she has to pay for. The upside is that it is a bit more private than an apartment but lot size is very small. I would be more inclined to find a private lot to buy and put the manufactured home on it.

    by Louise — February 22, 2017

  3. Hi Mary11, where can you live for so cheaply on the coast? Also can you live well–or does it feel like cheap living? will you feel deprived?


    by Jennifer — February 22, 2017

  4. I would suggest anyone who is in their early 50’s to start analyzing their financial status. Savings (401K, IRA’s, bank accounts). Analyze money owed on cars, mortgages, credit cards, college loans. It might be overwhelming and what you owe might feel like there is no solution. I am not a financial expert but I might be inclined to sell the house, pay off the bills and then find a smaller home. Or if there is no mortgage, I might take out a home equity loan and pay off all debt. Then work like hell to pay that amount down. Taking a part time job with the income going towards the home equity pay off. Once that is all paid off, sock as much money into 401K, IRA’s and savings as possible. I am saying this because you never know when your employer will pull the rug out and wham-mo, you are out of a job. It happened to me in my late 50’s and I could never find an equivalent job. However, my Hub and I saved diligently, had no bills and survived. If we had had debt and low savings, we would have ended up in dire straits. Employers do not want older employees in many cases. Be prepared to get laid off in your mid to late 50’s. It happens so often. The employers try to make it like a reward and give you money as a severance package. I ended up with two severance packages. I lost one job at age 51 after working for 18 years at one company. They were extremely generous. However, after all the severance money was gone and unemployment checks gone, still had no job, no benefits. Then I got another job and worked there 4 years and got laid off at age 58. This severance package was small but expected due to only working there 4 years. Lucky for me I was able to get 73 weeks of unemployment. That is when unemployment in the country was extremely high.

    by Louise — February 22, 2017

  5. Another way to pay off balances is to use 0% credit cards: https://www.lendingtree.com/info/powerful-2-step-method-pay-off-credit-cards?esourceid=6234956&cchannel=bd&csource=huffpo&cterm=FastestWay&cproduct=cc&ccreative=CoffeeShopGirl&ctype=CPC&cname=huffpo&ccontent=FastestWayLP&cmethod=desktop#^eyJocmVmIjoiaHR0cDovL3d3dy5odWZmaW5ndG9ucG9zdC5jb20vIiwiYWRVbml0Ijp7InNlcnZlciI6Im12ZGlyZWN0IiwiaWQiOiJwcm9tb2ZlZWRfNDg0N2ViNjIxOTM4NGViMTg3NTcyNjhkNGUwNjVjMDAifSwicHJvcGVydHlJZCI6Ik5BLUhVRkZQT1NUVVMtMTEyMzg0MzQiLCJsYWJlbCI6IkRlc2t0b3AgZnJvbnQgcGFnZXMgLSByaWdodCByYWlsIDIiLCJzZWxlY3RvciI6IiNtdi1uYXRpdmUtYWQiLCJjcmVhdGl2ZSI6IjQ0ZDZjNTNhMTI4MDQ3OTY4NDFlNDY2Yzk2MTA3MmU2IiwiZXhwZXJpZW5jZVR5cGUiOiJpbmJvdW5kIn0%3D

    by Louise — February 22, 2017

  6. What are your thoughts on this. Let’s say you get a zero percent credit card and were to pay yourself $10,000 from the card. Then make payments to pay it off. In the meantime you could invest that money into something. Like a Roth IRA. It would kind of be like a forced savings that you would have to commit to pay off and in the end you would have $10,000 or more depending on what you borrow.

    by Louise — February 22, 2017

  7. Jennifer. …we have lived on less than $2000 even living in expensive sandiego ca….if you don’t have a car payment or alot of credit it can be done. We didn’t feel deprived either. Of course we didn’t take any long distance vacations but that was fine because I had done all of my worldwide travels when I was younger. Concerning Oregon, outside of Portland rentals can be had starting at $600 . Mfg homes start at $25000 with lot rentals of $400 monthly and that includes everything except for electricity. If you want to buy a lot that can cost you $40000. They have many apts for seniors starting at $300 even. You can rent a house for $800. Studio condo’s on the beach run $100000….so there are many options.

    by mary11 — February 22, 2017

  8. The article should have been titled “Six out of the box ideas …”. Paying off debt prior to retiring is hardly an out-of-the-box idea.

    by Ron Manuel — February 22, 2017

  9. Before moving to the midwest consider what you want to do in retirement. If you don’t mind cold winters, and staying home, the Midwest might not be a bad choice. However, if you enjoy being outdoors, Midwest winters can be long and limits what you can do outdoors. Even if you are a cross country skier, skiing when it’s 25 below and blowing, isn’t fun. If you want to visit national parks, they are few and far between in the Midwest, you’ll end up driving long distances or flying everywhere.

    by Matthew Asai — February 22, 2017

  10. Matthew I live in Ohio. We have fantastic metro park systems. They offer year round quality entertainment. People from other areas come here to enjoy our well maintained parks, museums and libraries. If someone is bored living here that’s because they aren’t taking advantage of what’s right in their own backyard. We have many options for free entertainment.

    by Kate — February 23, 2017

  11. If you want a simple, straight to the point analysis of your retirement situation , check out a book on amazon by Darrow Kirkpatrick. He also has a website, can I retire yet dot com that has many articles that speak to other retrement issues.

    I have no financial interest in any of his ventures.

    by Gary — February 24, 2017

  12. If you’re interested in reading the full Wall Street Journal article but don’t have a subscription, you can find it here:

    by J-Dog — February 25, 2017

  13. I’m worried about living on $5000 a month. I find it
    hard to believe you can live on $2000 a month.
    I’m assuming you stay home 24/7?

    by Skip Pepe — February 26, 2017

  14. Thanks for the article….that’s pretty much what our plans are for the future retirement.

    by mary11 — February 26, 2017

  15. Skip Pepe, I agree. There are some expenses that just cannot be cut back on. Health insurance and realestate taxes. As the article says, you can downsize your home which would lower your RE taxes. Food is another items that is important so your health doesn’t decline. However, most of us can’t affort lobster, king crab, filet mignon every night of the week. Here is an interesting article on getting healthy food at a low cost: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1210&utm_source=sparkpeople&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=best-of-sparkpeople&utm_content=F2

    There are ways to lower your monthly costs to help the pinch. Call your insurance company to see if they can lower your rates, if not, call a few others. The insurance company I was with for probably 25 years wouldn’t lower my rates and we never had an accident! I lowered mine by at least $850 thru AARP. Car insurance and house insurance plus an umbrella policy. My insurance was upgraded to a better policy too. Then when we retired, I called again to find out what mimimum we could pay due to putting low mileage on our cars from no longer commuting. They lowered it again. We had 3 vehicles and sold one which lowered the insurance again plus no more town taxes on that vehicle. Go thru all your bills and see if they can be lowered. Shop the sales at grocery stores. It doesn’t have to become drudgery, think of it as bargain hunting! We bought ground beef this week 80/20% at $2.99 a lb and cooked it all up with onions. I separated it into 3 vacuum sealer bags and will add the meat into different meals such as spag. sauce, taco’s, poor mans beef stroganoff. Buy a Blu Ray player and subscribe to Netflix and you will have more movies than you will ever watch if you like movies for around $10 a month. Our grocery store offers 7% off your grocery bill on Tuesdays. Look into your stores to see if they have that. I return soda cans and bottles and put that money into my piggy. I also have a Costco Visa I charge everything possible on, pay off the bill each month, and at the end February expect to get a rewards check of $440 just for buying the normal things I would buy or pay for with a check. Pinch your pennies, it can be fun and sometimes rewarding! How do you all pinch your pennies?

    by Louise — February 27, 2017

  16. Our mobile phone bill is down to $25 monthly for unlimited everything without a data plan through Tmobile. We do everything by WiFi. Our car insurance is only $30 a month through Farmers. Contact your cable company several times until you reach the best person to speak to in receiving the best discount. Rent an apt….no property taxes. Give up your car and live in the city. Go to the senior center to get free food. Move to a smaller town where cost of living is much cheaper. Have higher deductible on your health insurance plans. You can accomplish that with under $1800 per month. Travelled the world already so don’t need to do that, just happy not having to work anymore!

    by mary11 — February 27, 2017

  17. Another thing would be to move to a lower cost state. Georgia, in certain localaties, does not charge school tax to those 65 years and older. Plus, taxes on homes are lower to begin with. Some of you have reported taxes on a average size home in GA at $1,500. Whereas my average home in CT is about $5,000. So right there would be a savings of $3,500 before senior discount (school tax) kicks in. If the Senior discount chops off $600 then RE Tax would be $900 on your home then the savings would be around $4,100. Jim C from GA reported his Medicare costs as:
    Part B $109.00
    Part D $55.00
    Part F $161.00
    Total $325.00 (individual cost)

    My Hubs costs now in CT:
    Part B $134.00
    Part D $67.30
    Part F $241.50
    Total $442.80 (individual cost)

    If we moved to GA I believe the Part B would stay the same $134.00 but two people could save a couple thousand a year on Medicare Part D and Part F by moving to GA. So between Medicare/Medigap and real estate costs we could save around $6,000 a year or more by moving. Kiplinger lists Georgia as one of the most tax friendly states in the union. http://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/retirement-Georgia-benefits/2015/06/04/id/648609/

    by Louise — February 27, 2017

  18. Louise, I’m with you. I will be moving to Athens, GA in a few years from New York City. Can’t wait!

    by Stacey — February 27, 2017

  19. Louise & Stacey,
    Are you moving away from your children? That’s a sacrifice I just can’t make, no matter how much lower the cost of living might be.

    by J-Dog — February 27, 2017

  20. J-Dog, I have no children so that isn’t an issue. We have not even begun a plan to move anywhere and even though we have no children, living for 53 years in one town and its familiar surroundings makes moving a bit scary. Changing doctors, dentist, stores, car repair places. Everything new but that can be exciting too!

    However, a move is becoming more of a possibility each day. The State of CT is not senior friendly. CT has serious financial problems and our governor keeps coming up with more and more price increases. The latest is a study on taxing us on how many miles you drive in CT in a year.

    I would love to hear from Stacey and how you decided on Athens, GA! Here is a list of the ‘best’ places in GA and Athens is one of the towns. Have you visited Athens and what are home prices like? Why have you chosen Athens over other towns? http://www.movoto.com/blog/top-ten/best-places-in-georgia/

    by Louise — February 28, 2017

  21. J-Dog, I feel the same way that you do. Family is everything to me and I will not leave family and life long friends to save money. Some people don’t feel the same way. When my former in laws retired at age 60, they packed up and moved to Florida. They left parents, children ,and grandchildren behind and really never was part of their lives at all. They played a lot of golf and enjoyed it. My parents stayed and enjoyed many years with their children and grandchildren. It is a matter or personal preference and what makes you happy. For me, life is about family.

    by MaryNb — February 28, 2017

  22. I don’t have children but have an extended family that means the world to me. One of my nephews lives 45 minutes from Athens GA. In addition there are phones as well as skype to keep in touch. You never know where your family will end up and can’t make your own decisions on proximity to them. Anyway I can’t

    by Stacey — February 28, 2017

  23. My parents during the early part of retirement were snowbirds and had the best of both worlds. But, when they reached an age where traveling back and forth between Florida and Illinois was no longer possible, they chose to stay in Illinois. I think this was a big mistake. The northern winters are deadly for older folks. It is just too easy to get injured walking on ice and snow and driving in the bad weather, not an option. Older folks are literally stuck inside for months at a time.

    I would never even consider spending winters in a cold climate. Certainly during the early part of retirement, most of the people here in Florida can simply fly or drive back north for holidays and the like. Family love to visit in the winter. Once people age, there are many more resources for older people in Florida, since we have a lot of us. And really, just being able to go out onto your balcony every day to get some sunlight when you are 100 years old can be a treat! Try to do that up north!

    by Lynn — February 28, 2017

  24. I have said I was not going to spend my retirement years in Louisiana, as I was born in Mississippi, not going to retire there either., but I may reconsider as I have a few acres of land there. I am one of those whose money will run out before I die( I think), so I want to give up home ownership for an apartment. As much as hurricanes scare I am considering looking for a place in Florida; Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, or Jacksonville. I visited my son in Seattle, and it was beautiful, but It’s snowing now. That’s too far for me. I want to be able to drive within a reasonable amount of time to visit or get a quick flight w/o having to fly all over the place. Cold climates are not for me. I’ve experienced winters in Chicago and Beijing, China, impossible! My grandchildren are very young, so I must find the place with healthcare that helps me stay healthy, that’s not here. The thought of not being able to do the occasional ‘babysitting’ a bit disheartening. I have stopped trying to find the place where weather is predictable, since that can’t be done anymore.

    by missleorgiasgirl — February 28, 2017

  25. I agree that family can be more than just one’s children, siblings or parents. That said, for my husband and me, our children are as much our roots as we are theirs. We could leave the rest behind (although it would a difficult adjustment), but wouldn’t want to live a state away from our kids and grandchildren.

    We live in Southern California so our challenge is the high cost of living rather than cold weather issues.

    by J-Dog — February 28, 2017

  26. We don’t have any children either, but will be moving closer to friends and relatives. It’s nice to have some connections and people to enjoy retirement with. So moving from California to the Oregon Coast is an easy change and all better on the budget! !

    by mary11 — March 1, 2017

  27. I’m having issues trying to decide if we should buy a home or rent in retirement. Our income will be $1600 monthly. I would appreciate any input on this subject.

    by Babyboomer55 — March 29, 2017

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