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Published By Beth Lueders on December 20, 2016

If the thought of retiring and living solely on your Social Security benefits scares you, you may have reason to breathe a sigh of relief, or at least exhale enough to realize that it is possible to live a happy life in America on a senior’s fixed income. Let’s look at the possibilities.

The U.S. Social Security Administration reports the following:

  • Approximately nine out of 10 Americans age 65 and older receive Social Security benefits.
  • Fifty-one percent of workers in private industry have no private pension coverage.
  • Almost a third of workers report that they and/or their spouse have no retirement savings set aside.
  • Among elderly Social Security recipients, 21 percent of married couples and about 43 percent of singles depend on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income.
  • The average monthly Social Security retirement pension for an individual is roughly $1,300.

Social Security benefits reflect the earnings a person pays into the system over years of employment. Time out of the labor force because of unemployment, health issues, etc. reduces the total benefit amount upon retirement. With $1,300 the average pension for unmarried older adults, millions of senior Americans receive substantially less. But how can a U.S. retiree live just on a monthly Social Security check?

Do the math. To plan well for retirement, you need accurate numbers of actual monthly living expenses. You have regular fixed expenses and flexible, ideal expenses that allow for some leisure and spontaneous spending. A number of calculator tools are available online to help record expenses. Since monthly expenses typically outweigh a monthly Social Security pension, most retirees also rely on company retirement benefits, savings or a part-time job.

Learn to flex. Housing, transportation and medical expenses are the top three retiree expenses. Some seniors move to cheaper areas of town or even states with lower tax rates. Others live in subsidized housing or get roommates. Your state’s Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) can help with options for affordable medical coverage.

Purpose to enjoy life. Even with a limited income, older adults need not stay at home with the lights turned off, eating celery sticks. Take advantage of free community social events and senior discounts at restaurants, theaters and more. Sign up for no-cost classes offered by libraries and senior centers. Start an exercise group with neighbors. Share rides with friends. Volunteer at a hospital or school that buys your lunch.

And remember to contact the Social Security Administration or your Area Agency on Aging to help you with your expected retirement benefits and ways to secure your financial future to breathe easier.

What are ways seniors can stretch Social Security benefits and still enjoy life?

An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.

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