How to cope when inflation wrecks your retirement budget
It’s no secret that the general cost of living is soaring these days. Consumers are paying more for everything from gas to groceries to utilities, and unfortunately we could be stuck in this wait pattern of runaway inflation for many more months before things ease up.
In December, the consumer price index rose 7% year-on-year, the highest increase since 1982. And while seniors received a 5.9% cost-of-living adjustment on Social Security to clearly offset the rising cost of consumer goods, that increase already falls short.
If you’re retired, you may be struggling to stay on budget with the recent surge in inflation. If that’s the case, here are a few steps you might consider.
1. Withdraw from your savings more aggressively
If you have a healthy amount of money in your IRA or 401(k) plan, you may be able to temporarily increase your payout rate to offset the higher cost of living. In general, it’s important not to overdo it with your retirement savings because the last thing you want to do is run out of your nest egg prematurely. But if you need to temporarily increase your payout rate from, say, 3.5% to 4% to offset the higher cost of living, it’s a far better choice than racking up credit card debt just to make ends meet.
2. Tap on your home equity
Many people retire when their homes are paid off or with a large amount of equity in their homes. This is especially true today. In the third quarter of 2021, home equity rose to $9.4 trillion, according to Black Knight, meaning homeowners are now sitting on more equity than before.
If you have home equity loans, now might be a good time to take out a home equity loan or line of credit (HELOC). You can then use that money to cover your higher living expenses until prices start to come down.
Of course, the danger with taking out a home equity loan, or HELOC, is that it is a secured loan. And if you default too far on your payments, you risk losing your home. At the same time, home equity loans and HELOCs are a very affordable way to borrow money, and given today’s levels of equity, they’re also fairly easy to qualify for.
3. Use your home as a source of income
If you’re sitting on a larger lot than you need, you may have a few options to turn your home into a source of cash to get you through these trying times. First, when you’re ready to downsize, you can sell your home and buy a cheaper one while using the proceeds from that sale to pay for your living expenses. However, this may not be a great instant fix as it can take months for a home to close and you may need an income boost now.
Another option is to rent out part of your home. That could mean having a renter come to you in a separate area of your home, like a finished basement. Or you may be able to rent out a storage space in your home or even a parking space in your driveway. Remember, you don’t have to do these things all the time—just until inflation dies down and you can manage your bills more easily.
Inflation is hitting a lot of people hard, and if you have a fixed retirement income, you may be struggling. These steps could help you manage your spending in the face of inflation — and minimize your financial stress during these tough times.