Budgeting for the 4 Financial Phases of Retirement

Different phases call for different strategies

If you're physically healthy and financially prepared, your retirement could last for decades. It may go through several distinct phases during that time, with changing income and expenses levels that require different budgeting approaches.

Of course, the comfortability of your retirement in part depends on your income stream. For low-income earners, retirement is vastly different than someone with access to income and affordable healthcare.

For Black Americans and other Americans of color, there may be a racial retirement gap caused by the economic inequalities due to a race-related wage gap. And let's not forget about gender inequities. According to U.S. Government Accountability Office, women's retirement earnings are approximately 30% lower than men's contributions. For some individuals, pre-and post-retirement obligations (caring for aging parents, children with special needs, etc.) can also affect retirement.

Despite these inequalities, for anyone retiring, there are stages for every age, although these retirement lifestyles will likely vary based on race, socioeconomic status, and gender, as mentioned above. While experts give these phases a variety of names and sometimes number them differently, here's what to expect, based on a four-stage model.

Key Takeaways

  • Retirement can last for decades if you're physically healthy and financially prepared.
  • One in four Americans has nothing saved for retirement, and many Americans cannot afford to retire completely from the workforce.
  • Race, gender, and economic factors like wage gaps, can all impact someone's retirement.
  • Retirement is often a succession of phases with different spending priorities and budgeting needs.
  • A four-phase model for retirement consists of pre-retirement (age 50 to 62 or so), the early period of retirement (age 62 to 70), middle retirement (age 70 to 80), and late retirement (80 and up).
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How Much Should I Save for Retirement?

Pre-Retirement (Ages 50 to 62 or So)

Pre-retirement (sometimes referred to as "peri-retirement") is the decade or thereabouts leading up to retirement. You’re still working, but retirement is approaching and you’re finally getting a clear picture of what your nest egg, (if you have one) income and expenses will look like. We put age 62 as the end of this period because it's the age when people first qualify for Social Security payments. But some people might retire at 55 or 60 while others keep working well past 70—or never retire at all. (Incidentally, starting to collect Social Security at 62 is usually a bad idea because if you do, your monthly benefits will be permanently reduced.) At this stage, it's key to assess your likely income and expenses after you exit the workforce.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • What will you receive from a pension or Social Security?
  • What are the balances in your retirement plans—such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, or IRAs—and how much will you be able to withdraw each month?
  • Will you have paid off your mortgage, and if not, how much do you still owe and for how long?

In your 50s and 60s, you may still have major expenses ahead, like putting kids through college, making a down payment on a new home, or paying for a wedding. Finally, you might want to trade your usual vacations for tryout trips to places you’ve envisioned yourself living after you retire. 

You may be in a strong enough financial position to consider early retirement seriously. Your employer might downsize, and you might find yourself considering whether to accept a buyout—or be forced to accept one. This is an opportune time to create a succession plan if you run a family business. And if you haven't reached your financial goals yet, it could be an excellent time to start saving more aggressively.

If you are one of the 15% of Americans who have nothing saved for retirement or among the 22% with less than $5,000 in retirement funds, or you are already a low-income senior, you may need to plan carefully as you head into retirement. By eliminating any wasteful spending, you can give your retirement budget some breathing room and make a game plan on how to generate income, like downsizing from your home or renting out a room, finding a part-time job, or simply staying put at the job you have for a few more years.

Early Period of Retirement (Ages 62 to 70)

Some of the most significant changes in your budget will occur when you first retire. You'll no longer receive a steady paycheck unless you have a pension. You'll need a plan for managing your income during retirement, and you'll need to decide when to start claiming Social Security benefits. You might also lose employer-sponsored health insurance, so make sure to plan how you, your spouse, and any dependents will get coverage if they are on your policy.

If you or your spouse won't be old enough to enroll in Medicare yet, you'll need to consider a private health insurance plan or buying a policy through the Affordable Care Act's Health Insurance Marketplace. If you are a low-income senior without a nest egg for retirement, you should try to have established a way to supplement your social security earnings, like working part-time. Taking a part-time or seasonal job, starting a business that gives you flexibility in your hours, or even transitioning into a new career—possibly one you passed up in the past because it didn't pay enough.

If you are financially secure when you retire, spending your money on a lavish trip or buying a high-value item can be tempting. Still, it is essential to remember that your retirement dollars need to stretch, possibly a long time. You may want to protect your retirement funds by balancing the more expensive activities you want to spend time and money on with inexpensive or free ones.

In addition, if you can afford it, this might be the time to move somewhere more desirable now that your job no longer ties you to a specific location. Depending on the cost of living where you currently reside versus where you're headed, moving could be a boon to your financial situation—or a major belt tightened.

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This is the mean expected retirement age for non-retirees is 64 years of age, according to a 2021 Gallup Poll.

Middle Retirement (Ages 70 to 80)

You'll likely be receiving Social Security benefits (there is no financial incentive to delay past age 70). At age 72, you'll have to start taking required minimum distributions from certain types of retirement accounts: profit-sharing, 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), and Roth 401(k) plans, as well as most types of IRAs (but not Roth IRAs). This is also a good time to revisit your asset allocation if you aren't in an investment that does this automatically, such as a target-date fund.

At this stage, you could see your expenses go down. You may want to travel less and stay home more, or your travel might be centered around less expensive trips to visit grandchildren and other friends or family. With luck, your kids are established enough in their careers that they no longer turn to you for money. Also, you may not need life insurance (or as much of it) anymore.

You might have created a will and estate plan when your children were younger because you wanted to make sure that, if something happened to you, they'd be taken care of. Now you may want to revisit those plans and see if they still express your wishes. You might also want to give someone financial power of attorney that kicks in if you become unable to manage your money and establish a healthcare power of attorney if you need someone else to make your medical decisions.

If you find yourself in middle retirement without a retirement fund or pension, it is a good idea to find ways to save a little money every month. You can do so by learning about all tax credits, signing up for senior discounts, and finding ways to stay thrifty. For example, If you cannot afford Medicare's premiums and co-pays, it is worth investigating Medicare Savings Programs designed to help seniors with a low income. If you own your own home but can't afford to move, you could consider taking on a roommate or, if you have somewhere else to stay, renting your house out via a home-sharing platform. A part-time job can be a great way to supplement your social security income, as well.

Late Retirement (80 and Up)

In late retirement, you will likely face increased healthcare costs because medical spending tends to be highest at that time of life. Medicare will cover many of your expenses, but you'll still have out-of-pocket costs for things like co-payments and deductibles. If you cannot afford Medicare's premiums and co-pays, it is worth investigating Medicare Savings Programs designed to help seniors with a low income.

You might have additional expenses in late retirement if you move to an independent or assisted living facility or if you need to move to a nursing home or hire a home health aide. Aside from a possible increase in healthcare costs, your other expenses could be similar in late retirement to what they were in middle retirement. If you cannot afford assistance, you may want to speak to a family member about potentially living with them.

At this stage, you may want to reassess your retirement savings and how adequate they are to see you through. If you're running low on cash and still live in your home, you could consider a reverse mortgage as a source of funds. Looking at what you have left, you'll need to think about what you want to spend during your lifetime and what you hope to leave to others, including any charitable bequests. 

How Do You Create a Retirement Budget?

Because your retirement income depends on a wide range of factors, making a budget can help you stretch your dollars. Write down and tally all of your essential monthly expenses, add up your expected retirement income streams, including social security. Subtract your expenses from your total amount of monthly retirement dollars. Don't forget to include an estimate on what you will need to spend on healthcare, as well. When your essential costs are covered, anything left over could be used for travel or entertainment.

How Much Should You Budget for Healthcare in Retirement?


According to an annual Fidelity Investments Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate report, a 65-year-old couple who retired in 2022 would be expected to spend $315,000 (after taxes) on medical expenses and healthcare during the rest of their lifetime. And that doesn't even account for the cost of long-term home-based care or in a facility.

What Is a Retirement Budgeting Calculator?

A retirement budget calculator is designed to show you how much you need to save for retirement using data like your income, retirement savings, and recurring debts.

The Bottom Line

Retirement is both an event and a process. In one plausible scenario, your benefits and savings will have to cover your expenses for three decades or more. The expenses at each retirement stage are associated with how you choose to spend your time, where you decide to live, and how your health holds up. If you take these factors into account and consider how they may change throughout your retirement, you can budget accordingly.

If you have not saved enough for retirement, you are not alone. One in four Americans does not have adequate retirement savings. Low-wage jobs, loss of pensions, racial and gender-based wage gaps, and the high cost of healthcare in the U.S. are all factors that impact your ability to retire.

Article Sources
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