Budgeting in Retirement: Making the Switch from Biweekly to Monthly Income

Getting ready to quit? Here’s a five-step action plan to make a smooth transition to living on your retirement income. 

Retirement brings many changes, not the least of which is a significant shift in how most people get paid. Rather than weekly or biweekly checks, retirees may find they get a single Social Security or pension payment that is intended to last them the entire month.

Financial planners say adjusting to a monthly income shouldn’t be too difficult for many seniors. “It’s a mental shift; it’s budgeting; its proper allocation,” says Patrick Meyer, director of wealth management client services for Unified Trust Company in Lexington, Kentucky.

Potential bumps in the road can be smoothed by taking the following five steps.

Plan early for a smooth transition. Planning is important for all pre-retirees, but particularly for those living paycheck to paycheck. Jared Snider, senior wealth advisor for Exencial Wealth Advisors in Oklahoma City, says starting early can identify where there might be problems in a budget and how best to address shortfalls. “Do expenses need to get dialed back when you hit retirement?” he asks. “Or do you need to dial back now?”

Create a cushion. As part of the planning process, pre-retirees should create a financial cushion to fill any gaps during the transition period from biweekly to monthly payments. Keith Bernhardt, vice president of retirement and college products for Fidelity, recommends all seniors head into retirement with a buffer in their bank account that will cover at least two to three weeks worth of expenses. “Think of that buffer as a bill to yourself,” he says, noting that people may need to budget for this cushion well in advance if they are living paycheck to paycheck.

Meyer recommends people continue to maintain a buffer even into retirement. “You hate to see people have to sell when the market is at a low point,” he says. By keeping extra cash in a liquid bank account, retirees can use that money rather than making withdrawals from retirement funds during a down market.

Consider your new income and taxes. For many people, switching to a monthly income is less of a problem than adjusting to a reduced income. Even more affluent people may find they need to budget for considerably less money once they reach their retirement years. To address this problem, “Take a real critical look at what’s mandatory spending and what’s nice to have,” Bernhardt says.

Taxes can also be different in retirement. Ryan Moore, a principle in the firm Ryan the IRA Guy in Corpus Christie, Texas, notes that retirees may no longer be eligible for certain write-offs such as college tuition or mortgage interest . That doesn’t mean seniors are destined to pay high taxes though. Many retirees become eligible for new types of tax breaks. However, Moore says retirees need to be careful about when and how they pull money from retirement funds.

Align bills to income. While many forms of retirement income come only once a month, many retirees get payments from multiple sources. “Most people don’t get [only one] once-a-month check,” Moore says. That can make budgeting around monthly income significantly easier. The key, financial planners say, is to line up your bills so they are due around the same time the income arrives. This can be achieved by asking creditors to change due dates, if necessary. Some retirement funds will allow account holders to name their withdraw dates as well.

Even those who are living solely on Social Security or a pension can replicate the experience of being paid biweekly or weekly. Retirement checks can be deposited into a savings account and then automatic transfers can be set up to send money to checking at regular intervals. “If someone likes seeing that money moving into their account on a weekly basis, by all means do that,” Snider says.

Limit fixed expenses to guaranteed income. To ensure a smooth transition to monthly income in retirement, make sure your mandatory expenses don’t exceed guaranteed income. “You can’t rely on rental income,” Moore says. “You can’t rely on a percentage gain in the market.”

Social Security and pension benefits, as well as annuity payments, are reliable sources of income. Moore and others recommend seniors keep fixed expenses such as mortgage or rental payments, utilities and insurance within the amount received through these guaranteed sources. Then, money from IRAs, dividends, interest and similar types of income can be used for discretionary spending such as travel, dining and gifts.

Transitioning from the workforce to retirement can be challenging, but making the switch to monthly income doesn’t have to be difficult if you prepare for it.

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