Retirement can last more than 20 years, yet many people don’t have enough money saved to get through one decade, let alone two. Consider this: working-age households have, on average, $3,000 saved for retirement, while people nearing retirement have $12,000, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security. In fact, the NIRS pegs the retirement savings deficit in the U.S. at anywhere from $6.8 trillion to $14.0 trillion. The result: millions of Americans who are woefully unprepared for retirement.

Much of what you’ll need in retirement depends on your unique circumstances, including your debt, housing costs, medical needs and discretionary spending desires. But whether you’ve saved a ton of money or only a little bit, you’ll want to see it last.

Stretching your retirement dollars takes many forms. There’s the drastic: downsizing your lifestyle. And there’s the savvy: taking advantage of senior discounts. Not to mention a whole bunch of strategies in between. With that in mind, here’s a look at five ways to ensure you don’t outlive your retirement savings.

1. Downsize Your Lifestyle

Having a steady cash flow in retirement is priority number one, but for many retirees achieving that comes at a cost: a downgraded lifestyle. Depending on your financial situation, downsizing may be the only option. It can be as major as selling your home and moving into a smaller apartment, or as minor as skipping that cup of java at the local coffee shop each morning.

“Key considerations include downsizing your home, eating out less and buying used instead of brand new vehicles. Evaluating certain insurance policies such as healthcare, auto and home are also important in making sure you are staying within your personal budget,” says Mark Hebner, founder and president of Index Fund Advisors, Inc. in Irvine, Calif., and author of “Index Funds: The 12-Step Recovery Program for Active Investors.”

There are a number of ways to cut discretionary spending, which can go a long way in freeing up cash each month. (For more, see: 7 Expenses You Can Ditch in Retirement.)

2. Stay Healthy

Retirees face a number of expenses when they exit the workforce and a significant one can be healthcare. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a couple with average drug expenses would need $158,000 for a 50% chance of having enough money for healthcare costs in retirement. If the couple saved $271,000, that increases the odds to 90%. That doesn’t take into account the cost of unexpected injuries or sudden illnesses. While some of those medical costs are out of your control, some aren’t. Living a healthy lifestyle will go a long way in keeping healthcare costs down. (For more, see: Planning for Healthcare Costs in Retirement.) Getting prescriptions for generic drugs instead of brand name ones, joining drug discount clubs and shopping around for your healthcare, are all ways to reduce your medical expenses. 

3. Take Advantage of Senior Discounts

There’s a huge range of discounts offered to seniors, including reduced travel rates, deals on dining and entertainment and even lower insurance premiums. Finding deals “is as simple as asking,” says Hebner. “While not everyone offers a senior discount, most seniors overpay for certain services just because they didn’t know a particular discount existed in the first place.”

The Internet is also a great resource. There are a slew of websites you can check out to see where the deals are. Senior Discounts So Soon? will give you some places to start. You can also save a lot of money on entertainment by utilizing your own community. Libraries and community centers often offer free or discounted entertainment, whether it’s a movie showing, live theater, or workshops and classes.

4. Keep Investment Fees in Check

With the prospect of retirement lasting 20 years or more, odds are you’ll keep your savings invested during your golden years. Because of that, you want to make sure your portfolio is invested properly and that you aren’t over paying in fees. Ideally, you want the expense ratio to be 1% or less. Pay more than that, and it could be a big drag on your retirement income. It’s also a good idea to take stock of your investment accounts to cut any redundant fees you may have. (For more, see: 4 Ways to Avoid Retirement Plan Fees.)

“Investment fees can potentially diminish your retirement savings by thousands of dollars. Apps such as FeeX search the market for low-fee alternatives with similar risk and better past returns. Financial advisors should conduct yearly reviews with their clients, give an overview of the costs by using their services and, if appropriate, be willing to negotiate a smaller fee or find lower cost alternative investments,” says Carlos Dias Jr., wealth manager at Excel Tax & Wealth Group in Lake Mary, Fla.

5. Delay Collecting Social Security

Delaying when you start taking Social Security beyond your retirement age may not seem like a smart way to stretch your post-working dollars, but the longer you wait to start drawing, the more you’ll get in the long run. According to the Social Security Administration, if you were born in 1943 or later and delay collecting Social Security benefits beyond your retirement age, you’ll see an 8% annual increase each year until age 70.

“Delaying Social Security and coordinating retirement accounts first is the most effective way to collect more. Not only are you growing your Social Security by up to 32%, taxation on benefits might either be minimized or diminished by using this strategy,” says Dias.

The Bottom Line

Retirees will increasingly need to stretch their savings. Not only do Americans need to be putting more money away, pre-retirement, but we're going to have to get creative to make that money last.

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