Unexpected retirement expenses are one of the biggest, baddest boogeymen of financial retirement planning. Settle in, because I’m going to tell you a story about two brave retirees who faced this terrible, retirement ogre.
Joey and Jane Charmin, ages 65, retired after over 40 years of work and toil at a toilet paper factory. While their social security and investment income would more than cover their monthly expenses, they still felt financial anxiety.
“What happens if there is a big expense we weren’t considering?” Jane lamented. “You never know what might happen. Who knows? I read a frightening article on the internet explaining how many seniors are hit with unexpected expenses.”
Joey agreed. “Well, I guess we should try to live on a strict budget. That way we can save as much as possible… just in case. I guess we won’t get to live out some of our dreams in retirement. We will probably have to watch our friends travel, dine, and spoil their grandkids. But it’s Spaghetti-Os and Spam for us.”
Joey and Jane’s fears came true, in a sense. They ran into nearly every big “unexpected” expense a retiree could face.
Dental care. Joey never listened to his Mom as a kid and didn’t brush and floss every day. At age 74, he needed a root canal and crown, and again at age 82.
Medicare doesn’t cover dental care. Believe it or not, I would say teeth are just about the largest unexpected expense retirees face. No wonder dentists are so rich. $3000 for a crown? Seriously?
Hearing Aids. Joey also required a hearing aid at age 74, which is generally not covered by Medicare. The average price of a pair of digital hearing aids is about $1,500, according to the National Institutes of Health. High-end devices can be as much as $5,000.
Major Health Event. At age 83, Jane needed complex surgery to remove some melanomas from her back. The bill they received in the mail totaled nearly $80,000.
Luckily, as long as you receive Medicare and have purchased a supplement, the maximum out-of-pocket expense in any given year is $6,500. “That was a close one,” sighed Jane. “I didn’t realize how much Medicare actually covers.”
Prescriptions. Jane developed rheumatoid arthritis at age 68. The injections she received each month were extremely expensive. But, considering Jane was enrolled in both Medicare and an appropriate Medicare supplement, she was only liable for a maximum of $5,100 a year out-of-pocket.
There are also a myriad of options lower-income retirees can utilize to receive deeply discounted medications. Surprisingly, in my experience, prescription costs are lower in retirement than most expect.
Car Repairs. Joey and Jane, like most retirees, purchased cars far less often, and put on less miles (after a couple road trips around this beautiful country). Considering the warranties only lasted five years, Joey was upset when his transmission blew at age 78. While the $2,500+ bill wasn’t welcomed, it did not upset their financial lives.
Home Repair. The Florida weather took a toll on Joey and Jane’s home. During their retired years they needed to replace the air conditioner twice and get a new roof. The air conditioners cost them $4,000 a piece, and the roof set them back almost $15,000. This is one of the most common one-time expenses I see.
Helping Kids and Grandkids. Joey and Jane’s third child, Jessica, had a messy divorce, leaving her and their two cherished grandkids in a tough spot. “Joey,” pleaded Jane, “We need to help them. Maybe we can set aside $1,000 a month to keep them on their feet. Maybe they can even move in for a while, until things settle.”
While not common, in my professional experience, this can be the most expensive “problem” once retired. But it’s no reason to skimp and live small now. If it happens, it happens, and you adjust.
Some of you may disagree with my prices, as you may have a bigger roof or really bad teeth. But I’m trying to make a point here. Hopefully as I lay out all the normal “unexpected” expenses, you realize that there are fewer unknowns than you thought.
Beyond this list I haven’t seen much in the way of surprise costs. I’ve consulted with many retirees, and these represent the vast majority of expenses.
The solution? I always recommend my clients keep $10,000 to $30,000 in an emergency fund. Keep the money in the bank and maybe utilize a short-term CD or a money market. This will allow you to absorb these kinds of expenses. In addition to your portfolio of stocks and bonds, it makes sense to have a bit of a cushion.
The other option is to finance these expenses as they come, and simply add the payments into your monthly budget. While not ideal, as long as your monthly spending plan has room, you’re still in the clear.