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How Does Inflation Affect Retirement Planning?

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

Inflation can have a big impact on retirement planning as it lowers the value of the dollars you save over time. It is likely that the cost of housing, medical, and everyday living will increase over time and the increase can surprise even the most prepared retirees.

Inflation and Retirement

Inflation in retirement can seem daunting. Take a person who is retiring at age 65 and expects to spend $50,000 annually. Assuming 4% annual inflation they would need over $109,000 by the time they are 85 to be living the same lifestyle. The increase can be intimidating for people planning for retirement.

If inflation rises these are two of the biggest impacts (one positive and one negative):

  1. Retirees could receive a much bigger cost-of-living increase in their Social Security benefits. Social Security remains a major source of income for most retirees. To counteract the impact of inflation, Social Security provides an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The COLA for 2019, 2.8%, was the largest in seven years. For 2020, Social Security benefits increased by 1.3% and will continue to increase as inflation rises.

  2. Retirees will continue to lose buying power. While the COLA improves the ability of Social Security benefits to keep up with inflation, the COLA calculation may understate the impact of inflation for many retirees. Social Security will likely not be able to keep up with all of the increases in expenses that consumers face. This is true even if inflation remains low because seniors are more likely than younger consumers to spend money on things that tend to increase in price faster, such as healthcare. In 2018, the CMS estimated that healthcare expenditures increased by 4.6% overall. Over that same period, overall inflation averaged only 2.4%.

How to Prepare for Inflation

  • Increase your retirement contribution to combat inflation

Increasing your retirement contribution each year offers an excellent way to protect your retirement savings from the effect of inflation. At a minimum, consider increasing your contribution by 3% each year to counteract the impact of inflation. If you contribute $6,000 to your retirement account this year, you would increase your contribution by 3%, to $6,180 next year.

  • Factor inflation into your investment choices

Savers must take on some risk. Returns on equities have averaged 10% since 1926, exceeding the average rate of inflation. Although in retirement your portfolio may shift to more conservative investments, a portfolio overly weighted towards bonds may have difficulty keeping pace with inflation, so it is important to remain diversified.

  • Be flexible to cope with inflation

The way people spend money during retirement changes. They might spend more on travel in their late 60s, less as years go by, and then see an increase in spending for healthcare costs near the end of their retirement. Inflation might impact some areas of spending more than others, and retirees must be willing to be flexible and adjust throughout their retirement.

  • Get rid of debt

Debt plays out in life as an anchor, especially when inflation rises. Ensuring that your debt is paid off as you enter retirement can increase the flexibility and discretionary income you have to spend during retirement.

  • Keep working in retirement

Many Americans have little choice but to keep working to support themselves. Even for higher-income families, part-time work can allow them to delay collecting Social Security to maximize its value. Other people, who have enough money for retirement, choose to continue working in retirement to stay busy and engaged. Health experts say that maintaining social connections and staying physically active helps slow aging, and working part time can help on both counts. Every dollar you earn in retirement is another dollar you don’t have to take from your investments. Even lower-paying jobs can make a big difference in how long your savings last.

Although inflation can be a scary topic for those nearing retirement, it doesn't have to be for those who take the time to develop a plan for beating it. Reducing spending, leveraging investments, or continuing to work, can all help soften the blow inflation may give to your long-term savings.

As financial planners, we help plan for the risk inflation poses so that you are well prepared throughout your retirement. If you have any questions, we are happy to help. Please contact us here or visit our website for more information.


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