Inflation creeps into many aspects of retiree spending, including grocery bills, gas and medical equipment – it can also hurt their retirement income too, even if they’re lucky enough to have a pension.
The inflation rate, hovering at a 40-year high around 7.5%, has Americans worried. Households are already spending an extra $3,000 a year because of inflation, according to one report, and the poorest of Americans are suffering most by the increased prices.
Although many companies have moved away from pensions, the lucky workers who do still have one might not want to rely so heavily on that income in their retirements. The best strategy would be to have multiple sources of income in retirement.
All pensions are not created equally. Many private pensions do not adjust for inflation, which means that as inflation rises, retirees’ payouts remain the same. Some public pensions, such as those issued by local and state governments, do have a cost-of-living adjustment, but they may barely keep up with inflation, thus reducing spending power for retirees.
And not all public pensions account for inflation – Kansas hasn’t issued a COLA in more than two decades, which means some workers are operating with checks in 1990s dollars, said Bridget Early, executive director of the National Public Pension Coalition.
States may issue a “13th check,” which accounts for inflation, but there have only been a handful in the last few years, Early said, and the rules for approving one vary from state to state. A lack of protection against inflation can create a dire situation for many retired public employees, especially those who are not eligible for Social Security, Early said.
Regardless of the type of pension, retirees without a cost-of-living adjustment should look to diversify and amplify their retirement income sources. This may be in the form of a retirement account, such as a 401(k) or IRA, or through part-time work in their golden years. Social Security is adjusted for inflation, but arguably never as much as retirees actually need (in part because it is tied to the Consumer Price Index for urban workers, not older Americans).
Try the “Rule of 72” to calculate how inflation might affect retirees, said Thomas Blackburn, a Certified Financial Planner at Mason & Associates. This tool roughly estimates how long it will take something to double in value. For example, if an item costs $100 today and inflation is 2%, it will take 36 years for the item to double in price to $200 (after dividing 72 by 2). If inflation was 7%, it would take about 10 years to double.
The rule can also be applied to a pension without a cost-of-living adjustment. If inflation is 7%, it will be half as valuable in 10 years – so a $50,000 pension today would be $25,000 in a decade.
Retirees should consider balancing the income from their pensions with income from investment portfolios leaning toward equities, in an attempt to beat – or at least meet – inflation. “We generally advise clients that have a pension to keep a healthy amount of their assets in stocks so that they have an upside that should outpace inflation over time and allow them to supplement their pensions as their spending power falls,” said David Shotwell, a Certified Financial Planner at advisory firm Shotwell Rutter Baer.
Of course, the stock market is also a stressful place for retirees these days. The market has been volatile, and trending downward, in response to global tensions among Russia and Ukraine. Investors in or near retirement shouldn’t be too heavily exposed to equities unless they can afford it, as it could otherwise take years to rebuild those investment losses.
Options along with equities include commodities or hard assets, such as real estate, said Dennis Nolte, a Certified Financial Planner at Seacoast Investment Services.
Some near-retirees, or retirees, may want to consider working with a financial adviser who could help weigh the costs and benefits of various asset allocation strategies, so that they’re seeing returns that can beat inflation but aren’t putting too much of their retirement savings at risk. “Historically, stocks have outpaced inflation although stocks never come with a guarantee,” said Larry Luxenberg, a Certified Financial Planner and principal with Lexington Avenue Capital Management.
Also, some workers might want to try to delay their Social Security, since benefits increase about 8% for every year delayed up until age 70.
In essence: Diversify your investments, as well as the types of income sources coming in during retirement.
“Do some research in terms of what worked in the last inflation-oriented market, the 1970s and 1980s,” Nolte said. “History may not repeat itself exactly, as they say, but it rhymes.”