How to Retire on Social Security — Can It Be Done?

How to Retire on Social Security — Can It Be Done?

Television news shows are constantly telling us that 70% of Americans haven’t saved enough to fund their retirement.s

If that’s you, what can you do?

Move In with your kids

You might think this is not a very attractive idea — for you or your kids! But you could be wrong!

In a 2008 article, US News and World Report called the phenomenon “baby boomerangs” for the Baby Boomer generation moving back in with their kids. The practice, they said, was up 67 percent in the prior eight years.

Reasons for the increase included the financial advantages of combining two families, dual income streams. But they also cited intergenerational closeness, to a degree otherwise not experienced in our culture. Further, household chores can be shared among a larger group of adults, such as a built-in babysitter! As you age and increasingly need additional care your kids and grandkids can be there for you, as well.

This arrangement can cause problems, however. “Built-in babysitter” can get to be a chore if it is too frequent or becomes automatic or underappreciated. Arguments can erupt over the “right way” to do the simplest of tasks: proper parenting, yard maintenance or even how to fill a dishwasher! And carefully laid financial plans can easily get out of balance and lead to the worst of all possible fights: “you’re not paying your fair share!”

Move to a Cheaper Locale

It’s clear that some places are more expensive than others. Typically, the northeast has a higher cost of living and the sunbelt states are generally considered much less expensive. Many organizations exist to provide this kind of information to retirees. One of the most respected,, created this map in March 2017 to summarize their finding, state by state.

Many criteria are used to create “Best Retirement” rankings. Climate, healthcare options, safety and taxes also factor in to Bankrate’s calculations. But for most seniors, the overriding concern is affordability, and that is the main component of the findings shown in the map.

Naturally, circumstances can differ markedly city-by-city. Imagine the cost of living in New York City, for example, compared with a small, rural area closer to Canada than Manhattan. You can see how that operates.


This may seem obvious, especially since many nearing retirement age feel that they are already doing it: major purchases tend to slow down as we age. New dining room suites, redecorating the family room, turning the garage into a third bedroom are all expenses typically made while families are younger, as the kids grow up.

But the downsizing after retirement would need to be much more radical than just slowing spending patterns. Tiny HouseConventional wisdom claims that retirement expenses will average 70% of pre-retirement requirements; several sources claim that should even be higher! What can you do to cut your costs below those marks?

Although the “tiny house” movement may not be to your liking, you can sell the home where you raised your family, the one with all those rooms that are no longer required. Real estate prices are up and down, of course, but swapping your big home for a smaller house or condo could provide a nice investment portfolio to supplement whatever Social Security and pension income you will have.

Hit the Road

One way to downsize would be to become full-time RVers! Yes, the amount of space in your “home” would shrink, but so would the cost of that home: the average home price in the US is just under $190,000 right now; the average purchase price of a new RV depends on what type of RV you plan to buy. Yes, there are different types of RVs out there. It also, of course, depends on whether you want to buy new, or previously owned.

One website based the cost of buying an RV on how much you gained from the sale of your house. For example, if your house sold for $195,000 you would buy a used mobile for $45,000. Were you to gain $800,000 you could go more top end, at around $200,000. In other words, your choice of the type of RV to be purchased would be dictated by the sale price of the home you left.

A different calculus starts by choosing your vehicle type. A popup camper, used, can be purchased for $8-$20,000; a fifth-wheel or travel trailer between $10,000 and $50,000. Truck-chassis Class C vans should start around $50,000 and could go into the mid $100,000 range. Top of the line Class A motorhomes can be found at $60,000 up to a million dollars.

Hit the RoadOn a Social Security budget, full-time RVing should be affordable. A retiree who has reached the fully vested age (currently 66) and has maximum income during his/her working life should receive $2,687 a month. Realistically, however, the national average for 2017 was only $1,342 per month. With no additional source of revenue, it would require a dual-retiree family to afford the roughly $1.800 to $2.400 estimated by RV bloggers. One couple tallied the high end of that range over several years of roaming the 50 states in their new, high-end Class A coach. Traveling with a smaller, less spacious Class C home, a different couple averaged slightly under the lower end of that range. Popups, travel trailers and fifth wheel trailers could be expected to cost slightly less to operate.

Move to a Cheaper Country!

Really? Leave the country? Yes, for many it is a serious option, with a wide variety of advantages. Cost of living, of course, is our topic, and that is a big plus. But in fact there are many, many others.

Estimates of how many Americans become expatriates each year are hard if not impossible to determine. The US government does not track citizens living overseas, so the various estimates are all indirect, based on extrapolations from such things as overseas social security new birth registrations, foreign tax credits received, etc. By those guesses, there are anywhere from 2.2 to 6 million of us living, whether permanently or temporarily, at any one time.

Trying to pull the number of retirees from those estimates is even less reliable. One portion, those collecting Social Security, is available from that agency, which says that 400,000 are receiving checks in countries other than the US. Retirees not collecting? Retirees too young to collect? No one knows, no estimates exist. However, there are surveys that solicit reasons for living outside our country

The most popular reason is the cost of living. According to retiree blogs, depending on the country you could gain anywhere from a 30% to a 60% reduction in monthly expenses compared with a similar lifestyle back home. Housing, taxes and food often cost much less than what retirees are accustomed to paying, and in many areas food is fresher and healthier than typical US supermarket offerings.

Surprisingly, healthcare is also highly ranked among expats. Even though Medicare is not usable Another Country!outside the US, the cost of doctor and hospital visits is so low in some countries that Americans do without insurance for their health needs. Further in several countries US retirees who meet certain minimal requirements are eligible for full membership in free (or low cost) national health plans. In addition, several retirement havens (Ecuador, Costa Rica) often rank higher than the US in the quality of available health care.

Your Choice!

Can you retire on Social Security, alone? It seems the answer is YES!

There are several ways to accomplish this goal. The choice can be based on your budget, your preferences for family, your lifestyle interests or any combination of these considerations.

What’s your choice?

2 Replies to “How to Retire on Social Security — Can It Be Done?”

  1. This is a great list of options for retirees. I really would have never thought of moving to another country. But you’re right. There are ones that are cheaper to live in! (And probably warmer too compared to where I live. haha) These are ideas I’ll certainly keep in mind for the future!

  2. Your breakdown of the issues is very well done. As a retiree myself, I can follow every argument, although I may not agree with them all. Your page layout is clean and eye-catching. I notice you have no ads on your page although several ads may help your monetization. As for adding pictures to your pages, that should be easily accomplished by using the “set featured pictures” widget on the lower right , during the edit stage of your post. Hope this helps. Keep up the good work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *