Like all responsible adults, seniors should manage their finances with a budget. It is important for everyone to know just where they stand, how much they owe and what they can afford to spend. If anything, this is more important for seniors than it is for younger people. The National Council on Aging reports that many seniors are carrying large debts into retirement, making it difficult to keep pace with the cost of daily living.
Budget making is especially important if you or a loved one are having difficulty, but it is a good idea for all seniors. Having a firm grip on your financial situation will make many other areas of life easier to deal with. It can also alert you to situations and habits that may lead to serious problems in the future if they are not corrected.
Organizations like the National Council on Aging and the AARP offer help for seniors who are starting with budget planning. The AARP website has a guide to planning sheets, helpful advice and links to other aid programs if needed. Right now, let’s think about some general principles that are best practices for seniors making a new budget or adjusting an existing one.
First, get the involvement of your spouse or partner! Obviously, this does not apply to those seniors who are single, but if you are married or have a partner, this is RULE 1. If spouses or partners do not agree on budget details, it is bound to cause trouble. If your spouse or partner is not going to take an active part, make sure they are informed about budget details, giving them a chance to object or provide some input. A little extra time and effort now can save a lot of trouble in the future.
Second, make a complete list of all your current expenses. Years ago, this was easier to do; most expenses were paid by written checks and a person who kept good records could look through their check register and quickly isolate all expenses. Today, repeating payments may be made by automatic deductions, credit card charges or new systems like Paypal and Amazon. For example, you may pay homeowner’s insurance premiums via a debit card and overlook it when listing payments. It may take some time to make sure that you have done a complete job. If you are not certain about this, get someone to help.
Organizations like the AARP can provide a downloadable worksheet for budgeting. This will help you remember the many things that you must pay for monthly, quarterly or yearly. Common categories are housing (rent or mortgage payments), utilities (gas, water and electricity), or even internet, transportation (including auto payments, insurance and gasoline), food, entertainment, out-of-pocket medical expense, taxes, phones, etc. The point is that most of us have more repeating expenses than we might think.
Making a budget is a great opportunity to consider some of your expenses that may not be necessary. Having two cars may be a big convenience for a married couple, but even if they are both paid for, it also means two insurance payments and two sets of maintenance and operating expenses. Do you really need that super ultimate cable and internet package? Many people have subscribed to premium channels on cable or subscription-based channels like Amazon Prime, forgotten about it and continue to pay for the service.
Think about each item in the list of expenses and ask if it is needed. When looking at cutting some costs, remember RULE 1 above; it is not a good idea to eliminate your wife’s car or your husband’s internet sports package without consulting them. Budgets for couples cannot work unless both partners are involved, so talk it over.
After you have accounted for all expenses, you must match that total against your income. Many seniors are continuing to work after retirement ages and this income will surely make budgeting easier. Consider any possible additions to income such as a part time job or renting or selling property in which you do not reside.
These measures may produce higher income, but at the same time, seniors are now more likely to carry debt with them into retirement. It is not uncommon for seniors to continue to accumulate debt after retiring, a practice that must eventually stop. Budget making can serve as an early warning system to stop this process before it causes serious problems. If your budget is running a deficit, you probably need to cut spending. We say “probably” because some seniors elect to cover the deficit by depleting savings and other assets rather than reducing expenses. Each person or couple has a unique set of circumstances, but for most of us, this can go on for only a limited time. Budget making is an opportunity to think these issues out and make an intelligent decision.