Financial agility improves with age

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(BPT) – When it comes to retirement, practice makes perfect.

Retirees become increasingly adept at managing their expenses and income as they age, according to new research. Retirees report becoming better at controlling spending, feeling more financially secure and finding creative ways to cut expenses without giving up activities they enjoy, according to the study sponsored by MassMutual.

“Satisfaction with life in retirement actually increases, indicating a high degree of adaptability by most retirees,” says Elaine Sarsynski, executive vice president of MassMutual Retirement Services. “Retirees typically adjust their spending as well as their sources of income, relying more on Social Security and qualified savings such as IRAs and pensions as they spend more time retired.”

The study is part of a larger research project conducted on behalf of MassMutual by Greenwald & Associates. The research culled information from 905 responses from retirees within 15 years of retirement. Respondents had a minimum of $50,000 in retirement savings.

Of the study respondents who retired 11-15 years ago, 83 percent say they feel financially secure and 62 percent report being “very satisfied” with their lifestyle, the study found. Comparatively, 77 percent of respondents who retired fewer than five years ago say feel financially secure and 56 percent report being “very satisfied” with their lifestyle.

In most instances, retirees’ expenses are about what they expected or lower than expected before they retired, according to the study. In general, 40 percent of retirees say their expenses are lower than expected, with 30 percent reporting “much lower” expenses. One in five (22 percent) retirees report higher than-expected expenses, reinforcing the importance of sound financial planning. Sarsynski encouraged pre-retirees to work with a financial advisor to project their expenses and income in retirement to ensure they are not left with a gap.

Retirees say their ability to manage expenses improves the longer they are retired. Of those retired 11-15 years, nearly four in 10 (38 percent) report doing an “excellent” job of managing expenses compared to 23 percent for those retired for fewer than five years. Seventy-seven percent of longer-term retirees say they are doing an “excellent” or “very good” job handling expenses compared to 58 percent of more recent retirees.

“Retirees adapt to living on a fixed income by finding creative ways to cut expenses without forgoing activities they enjoy,” says Mathew Greenwald, president of Greenwald & Associates, which conducted the research. “During our focus groups, for example, retirees mentioned taking part-time jobs at theaters or with orchestra groups in order to get free tickets. Many also seek out cheaper alternatives of activities, such as events at senior centers or community theaters.”

Sources of income shift for retirees the longer they are retired, the study shows, and few retirees report actually working, especially in later years. Only 36 percent of survey respondents who retired within five years report working as compared to 21 percent of respondents who retired 11-15 years ago.

Many retirees say they deferred taking Social Security retirement income until 10-15 years into retirement, according to the study. Deferring Social Security benefits increases payments by 8 percent a year until age 70.

Sarsynski recommended that pre-retirees take steps to realistically project their expenses before retirement:

* Connect with retirees to better understand their lifestyles and how they fill their days.

* Track all purchases, especially when on vacation, to better understand the cost and feasibility of activities you enjoy.

* Look for alternative ways to participate in activities you enjoy at lower costs, such as taking in local community theater in lieu of professionally produced shows.

* Reconnect with your spouse, children and friends to help bolster your social networks.

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