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10 Biggest Expenses in Retirement

Travel? Dining? Sure. Don’t forget the electric bill

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You may think that your big expenses in retirement will be for greens fees at golf clubs, spa charges at that resort in Crete, and taking the kids out for avocado toast on weekends. And that may well be true. But some of your biggest expenses may surprise you — because you pay them already. The combination of everyday expenses and extraordinary expenses are what people find difficult to balance in retirement.

“Lifestyle creep in retirement is a real thing,” says Nick Covyeau, a certified financial planner in Costa Mesa, California. The spending that most folks rack up during their working years does not suddenly change in retirement, he says. Planning years in advance to try to maintain a reasonable style of living in retirement requires a keen sense of how much you’ll need to save and accumulate.

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AARP wants to help take away the guesswork on something so critical to your financial future. So we reached out to four certified financial planners and asked them for their thoughts on the obvious — and not so obvious — things that retirees are most likely to spend their money on. We also asked them why — and how — to best plan for this spending.

Here are the 10 top things for which retirees are most likely to dig into their portfolios.

1. Health care

Of all the spending categories in your retirement, this one — over time — will likely be the big tamale. If you’re in reasonably good health, health care spending will typically be relatively low when you retire, then jump as you age into your 80s and beyond, says Eric Ross, a certified financial planner in Cincinnati. These expenses are often less for the husband, he says, because the husband typically dies first and sometimes relies on his spouse to take on many caregiving duties. That means the surviving spouse will often have to pay for their own caregiving costs, which tend to vary in different areas of the country.

At the same time, health care costs have seen — and will continue to see — faster inflation rates than any other spending category, says Craig Toberman, a certified financial planner in St. Louis. That’s why he projects that health care costs will climb about 5 percent annually over the next 30 years — about twice the rate of other expenses. He encourages clients to be mindful of their “lifestyle” retirement spending (like restaurant meals, travel and online shopping) in their 60s and 70s so that the money is still there to pay for increasing medical costs in their 80s and 90s.

2. Home maintenance

If you plan to stay in your home through at least a good chunk of your retirement, you’ll likely see your home maintenance costs jump considerably, says Ross. That’s because you’ll probably have to hire services to take over some of the tasks you’ve been doing for years. This includes hiring pros to do everything from lawn mowing and gutter cleaning to window washing and home cleaning. “Something as simple as using a ladder as you age often isn’t a good idea,” he says.

3. Travel

Travel costs in retirement will vary not only based on where you go and where you stay but on whom you bring along with you, says Ross. “Do your adult children join you on these trips, and are you paying the way for everyone?” he poses.

Typically, you should plan to travel much more in early retirement and much less — to not at all — in the later years of retirement, says Toberman. That’s why, he suggests, folks who have set aside money for travel throughout their retirement but then cut back on trips due to health reasons might find a small “safety net” they can dip into for medical costs.

4. Transportation

This is one of the most important areas of retirement spending but one of the least considered. As they age, retired folks often increasingly rely upon others to help them get from place to place, says Ralph Bender, a certified financial planner in Temecula, California. This might be an Uber ride to a doctor’s appointment or a cab ride to the grocery store and back. “Transportation is always going to be an expense,” he says.

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Even folks who purchase a new car before retirement will be faced with multiple transportation costs, ranging from payments on the car to maintenance to gasoline and insurance, says Bender. And if you choose to retire to a remote area, he says, your transportation costs will likely be that much higher — and you need to factor this in.

5. Utilities

Your utility costs are one of the few expenses that should head south in retirement. For one thing, you typically no longer have to pay for children taking long showers or cooking at all hours of the day and night, says Toberman. Also, folks tend to downsize their homes, which would require less heat and air conditioning, he says. Even then, the rates that utilities charge all customers will continue to increase annually. That’s why Bender notes that installing solar panels with batteries can reduce rising electricity bills.

6. Fitness and wellness

It there’s one area where financial planners agree retirees will get the most bang for their investment, this is it. People who invest in health and wellness typically have lower medical costs, says Ross. This can be anything from gym memberships to yoga classes to Peleton bikes to quality sneakers.

The more retirees spend on fitness and wellness, the less they spend on medical costs, says Toberman. He recommends that retirees allocate up to 10 percent of their total monthly spending for health and wellness, which he says can include anything from personal trainers to nutritional supplements to home exercise equipment. “It’s not hard to spend $500 per month on this, and there are a lot worse ways to spend money,” he says.

7. Kids and grandkids

Spending on kids and grandkids can be as simple as a Starbucks gift certificate, as lavish as a trip to Disney World, or as lofty as a fat contribution to your grandkid’s 529 college savings plan. In almost every case, it’s going to be more than you think, says Ross.

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It can also be unpredictable, says Toberman, because folks tend to overspend on their first grandchild. Then, when the next grandchild comes along, or perhaps several more, they are likely to try to match that same amount even if they can no longer afford it. So, Toberman advises, be particularly mindful of spending on that first grandchild.

8. Taxes

Even though it seems like taxes might decline when you’re retired, that’s not always the case, says Toberman. The key, he says, is to try to plan for taxes before you retire. What’s more, he says, as the federal government looks for ways to reduce the federal deficit, that will likely result in higher taxes.

It’s wise for retirees to keep their retirement funds in IRAs, Roth IRAs and brokerage accounts so that they have the flexibility to respond by paying taxes each year in the most tax-efficient way, says Ross.

9. Charitable giving

Some folks who consistently give to charity when they’re working tend to pull back from charitable giving once they retire, says Ross. Then, when they feel more secure in their retirement, they might pick up again and give more.

But others actually increase their charitable giving in retirement because with proper planning, after age 72, they can give directly to charities from IRAs on a pretax basis, which essentially allows them to give more, says Toberman.

10. Professional help

Then there are the pricey financial pros. These are the financial advisers, estate planning attorneys and accountants whose mission is to help retirees with their finances as they age. Yes, they are expensive, but it’s critical to piece these relationships together well before you retire, says Ross.

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