Right now, inflation is top of mind for everyone, perhaps especially retirees.
Inflation is important. But it is only one of the risks that retirees have to plan for and manage. And like the other risks you have to manage, you can build an income plan so that rising costs (both actual and feared) do not ruin your retirement.
Inflation and Your Budget
Remember that in retirement your budget is different than when you were working, so you will be impacted in different ways. And, of course, when you were working your salary and bonuses might have gone up with inflation, which helped offset long-term cost increases.
Much of your pre-retirement budget was spent on housing — an average of 30% to 40%. Retirees with smaller or paid-off mortgages will have lower housing costs even as their children are busy taking out loans to buy houses, and even home equity loans to pay for home improvements.
On the other hand, while health care looms as a big cost for everyone, for retirees these expenses can increase faster than income. John Wasik recently wrote an article for The New York Times that cited a recent study showing increases in Medicare Part B premiums alone will eat up a large part of the recent 5.9% cost of living increase in Social Security benefits. As Wasik wrote, “It’s difficult to keep up with the real cost of health care in retirement unless you plan ahead.”
Inflation and Your Sources of Income
To protect yourself in retirement means (A) creating an income plan that anticipates inflation over many years and (B) allowing yourself to adjust for inflation spikes that may affect your short-term budget.
First, when creating your income plan, it’s important to look at your sources of income to see how they respond directly or indirectly to inflation.
- Some income sources weather inflation quite well. Social Security benefits, once elected, increase with the CPI. And some retirees are fortunate enough to have a pension that provides some inflation protection.
- Dividends from stocks in high-dividend portfolios have grown over time at rates that compare favorably with long-term inflation.
- Interest payments from fixed-income securities, when invested long-term, have a fixed rate of return. But there are also TIPS bonds issued by the government that come with inflation protection.
- Annuity payments from lifetime income annuities are generally fixed, which makes them vulnerable to inflation. Although there are annuities available that allow for increasing payments to combat inflation.
- Withdrawals from a rollover IRA account are variable and must meet RMD requirements, which do not track inflation. The key in a plan for retirement income, however, is that withdrawals can make up any inflation deficit. In Go2Income planning, the IRA is invested in a balanced portfolio of growth stocks and fixed income securities. While the returns will fluctuate, the long-term objective is to have a return that exceeds inflation.
- Drawdowns from the equity in your house, which can be generated through various types of equity extraction vehicles, can be set by you either as level or increasing amounts. Use of these resources should be limited as a percentage of equity in the residence.