Can You Change Your Spending Habits in Retirement?

Sandy Adams Contributed by: Sandra Adams, CFP®

Can you change your spending habits in retirement?

I recently had some interesting conversations with clients, many of whom have been exceedingly good savers during their entire adult lives. These clients most often grew up in households that modeled frugality and modesty in spending, and they have followed suit. As they plan to enter the ranks of the retired, they find themselves with more saved than they are likely to spend, based on the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. So now what?

In our conversations about “what could you spend” and “spending on things that would bring value and meaning to their lives,” these clients still struggle in many cases to imagine needing or wanting to spend even a fraction of the excess that they have accumulated. Why? I like to say it is because changing your spending “stripes” later in life is just hard to do.

When clients have learned to live a certain way with money, making significant changes may simply not be comfortable. Clients have shared stories about the challenge of hunting down the best clearance deals, something they do to compete with friends, or the fun in finding the best travel deals, even though they can afford to pay top dollar. And while circumstances may dictate how they spend their wealth in the future, these clients wouldn’t spend it now any other way. They have built the lives they want and enjoy. 

On the flip side, we work with clients who have developed lifestyles that are extremely “high-end” and keeping up with that lifestyle in retirement can take an extreme amount of saving and planning, particularly with longevity in the mix. Conversations with these clients about what expenses can be cut in retirement can be difficult. Even though some expenses go away (mortgages get paid, etc.), added expenses like travel, hobbies, etc., might come into play, especially in early retirement. Once you have become accustomed to a lifestyle, it is hard to cut back. I have found that many clients, given the choice, will work longer or save more prior to retirement rather than take less retirement income (i.e. cut back on their retirement lifestyle).  

So the answer to the question: Can you change your spending habits in retirement?

Probably not. Habits developed over a lifetime are very difficult to break.

My best suggestion:

Work with a financial advisor earlier rather than later to develop a retirement savings plan that allows you to spend whatever you want for your retirement lifestyle. The earlier you start your plan, the better your chance for success. If you or anyone you know needs assistance with developing a retirement savings plan, contact our Center Planning Team. We are always happy to help.

Sandra Adams, CFP®, CeFT™, is a Partner and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® She specializes in Elder Care Financial Planning and serves as a trusted source for national publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Research Magazine, and Journal of Financial Planning.

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