Top 5 Expenses that Go Down in Retirement

In order to safely plan for a successful retirement, it’s imperative to have a general idea of what your spending needs will be when retired. We cannot calculate whether or not our anticipated withdrawal rate would be considered safe (in the range of 3% to 4%) without knowing the size of the annual withdrawal.

That number can be difficult to pin down, as there are many variables. It can be informative to budget (we don’t) or track spending (we do), but this year’s spending might not look like last year’s, and could be entirely different than what we will end up spending in retirement.

Fortunately, there are a number of categories in which your annual expenses can be expected to drop when you give up the day (and sometimes night) job. Presenting:

 

The Top 5 Expenses that Go Down in Retirement

 

1. The Cost of Commuting

 

Commuting costs many of us not only time, but money, and perhaps more money than we realize. I tend to think of the cost of driving in terms of the price of gasoline, but that ignores so many periodic expenses, including but not limited to oil changes, new tires, brake work, and repairs stemming from collisions with reckless deer.

The IRS reimbursement of about 55 cents per mile is probably a better reflection of the financial costs of commuting. A typical commute of 20 to 30 miles a day costs $11 to $16 a day or $55 to $80 a week. In a year, you could easily be spending $2,000 to $4,000 a year commuting, and that assumes you live within 15 miles of your job and only drive back and forth to your job five times a week. I often commute back and forth more than five times in one weekend.

In our household, we have limited our commuting expenses in a number of ways, including:

If you’ve made some of these same decisions, or use public transportation, carpool, or walk to work, you may not gain as much in this category upon retirement. On the other hand, if you live 30 to 50 miles from your workplace, as some people in “bedroom communities” actually do, retirement could save you up to $10,000 a year in car commuting costs alone.

 

2. The Cost of Retirement Savings

 

This may be quite obvious, and I don’t count retirement savings as “spending,” but if you believe in the benefits of the Live on Half challenge, you will be directing as much money to your retirement and brokerage accounts as you spend on everything else combined.

When the New Year arrives, I’ll begin frontloading my various retirement accounts, including the HSA, 401(k), and 457(b). Although that money is still mine, I certainly notice the difference when the much smaller direct deposits hit my savings account.

Once your retirement is fully funded, and you stop working for a living, you no longer have that perceived outflow. You may be taking from your accounts rather than adding to them, but if you’ve played your cards right, you should be in good shape to do so.

 

3. Taxes in Retirement

 

Our current biggest annual “expense”  is our retirement savings. Taxes represent our number two.

Taking advantage of geographic arbitrage while working in a high income specialty but living in a high-tax state, we’ve found ourselves in the mostly fortunate position to pay six-figure tax bills throughout much of my career.

Once we are fully retired and no longer earning an income, I expect to be done paying federal income taxes. If we were to rent a home in a no-income-tax state, we could also avoid property and state income taxes. We probably won’t do that; it’s worth paying a few thousand dollars to lay down roots where we want them to grow, but if taxation were a driving factor, we could engineer a life in which sales tax would be the most significant form of taxation we endure.

Proposed tax reform appears to maintain the 0% capital gains bracket, which means it will likely continue to be the case that one can live well on tax-free dividends and capital gains from a taxable account. Roth contributions are available for withdrawal at any age, tax and penalty free.

If the bulk of your retirement savings is in tax-deferred accounts such as traditional IRA and 401(k), you may not have the option to live a tax-free retirement. There is a real benefit to some tax diversification among your retirement assets, a topic I previously covered in My Money is Worth More Than Your Money.

 

4. Mortgage Payments

 

This isn’t directly related to retirement. You can still work and be mortgage free like me or be retired with a monthly mortgage payment for many years. However, there is something to be said for the freeing feeling of being completely debt free, and I do recommend making a strong attempt to eliminate your mortgage prior to cutting off your sole income source.

The math can certainly work out in the favor of keeping a mortgage and investing the difference, but once the mortgage is gone, you’ll notice an enormous difference in your living expenses. At one point in the past, we held mortgages on two different properties at the same time, and we put as much money towards retiring those mortgage payments as we spent on all other living expenses combined.

Now that we are free of both student loan debt and mortgage debt, we live a great life on about $5,000 a month.

When planning your anticipated retirement expenses, knowing that you are (or eventually will be) mortgage-free makes your monthly cash outflow much lower.

 

5. The Cost of Raising Children

 

Like the mortgage, this is a cost that some people will never bear, some will be wrapping up, and some will have indefinitely. But I do know for a fact that children do get older with each passing year, and with any luck, will one day become more or less self-sufficient when it comes to money matters.

 

boys fighting

let’s live with mom & dad forever!

 

The Department of Agriculture estimates each child will cost you nearly a quarter million dollars to raise to the age of 18. And if you’ve heard of this thing called college, you know that the payments don’t necessarily stop when the high school graduation caps fly.

Eventually, though, you will find yourself spending less and less on your kids. They will one day pay for their own meals, buy their own clothes, and either spring for their own beer or sneak yours in a way in which you’ll never notice. They might even pay for their own auto insurance or cell phone plan, but I wouldn’t count on it.

The bottom line, though, is that the bottom line will change. You can’t (or you shouldn’t) provide for your offspring forever. Supporting a household of one or two will cost a lot less than you might spend on a household of four or five… or seven.

 


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Honorable Mention: The Cost of Professional Clothing

 

I had this one on my original outline, but it didn’t make the final cut. My annual budget for professional clothing is less than ten dollars, or the cost of a few V-neck tee shirts I wear underneath my hospital-issued scrubs.

If, on the other hand, you have to dress up for your job or to look respectable at conferences, you may realize some significant savings here. Like my colleagues in the E.D., I have no need for a tailored suit, but those guys and gals in the in-flight magazine’s Top Doctors pages sure do dress sharp.

 

What did I miss? In what ways do you expect to spend a lot less in retirement? And stay tuned for a list of things that can actually cost more in retirement.

 

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57 comments

  • Perhaps not a huge one, but depending on your line of work, the cost of ongoing professional development and licensing would go down.

    I’ll be jumping for joy once the kids are in college and hopefully contributing half of their expenses.

    I’m interested to see what you have in your upcoming Top 5! I know my travel expenses would start rising quickly. 🙂

    • Spoiler alert! You figured out one of the five already. There are ways to travel more affordably, but we anticipate doing a lot more of it. In fact, we already are traveling more now that I’m down to part-time work.

      Stay tuned for a post next week on what we were up to the last three weeks!

      Good call on licensing and development. My employer reimburses me for those expenses, but for those in private practice or other fields, that’s a big one.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Yes, our expenses would significantly go down if we were to RE:
    -Taxes: $100K+/year
    -Daycare: $20K/year
    -Mortgage: $100K+/year
    -Second car: Maintenance, insurance, gas
    -Time & money wasted commuting 900hrs/yr
    -…

    Life would be great!

  • Jacq

    Some commutes include tolls too!
    I was going through a box of old cards and letters, and my grandparents were going to visit people all the time! I’m not sure what that did for their car expenses, as they spent their working careers in New York city, walking or using public transport for their commutes.
    Part of my ideal job would be flexibility to work from home 1+ days a week, to avoid the commute. I have had a few chances to do so with this job (snow day, day before a holiday to extend my long weekend without taking a vacation day), and I feel more productive. Plus I like the coffee here better, and don’t have to over hear some ridiculous gossip like I did yesterday. (I’m baffled how some people get work done when they seem to be talking to someone else about not work topics for so long.)

    • Tolls. What a drag. That’s another one we don’t deal with here Up North. I pay enough in state income tax to build miles of roads, so I guess I pay in one way or another.

      Cheers to earning money from home!
      -PoF

  • hatton1

    Another expense that goes away is disability and life insurance. Some people think food expenses go down but that would mean more from scratch cooking which will not happen for me. I have also noted as a part timer that I have more time to compare prices for food and clothing rather than just buying what I need because I am exhausted.

    • Good point on the food and clothing. I’ve always found / made the time to bargain shop, but it’s much easier when not pressed for time.

      I have mentioned dropping costly insurances in posts on financial independence, but didn’t repeat them here. I guess I see those as costs that are connected to not being financially independent, and not directly related to retiring. I dropped both a few years ago when I realized I was FI. No need to wait until retired.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Hatton1 beat me to the life and disability insurance payments.

    We would also eliminate the “luxuries” of a house cleaning service and dog walker in retirement. Currently, we have decided our time isn’t worth the amount we can outsource these undesirable (to us) chores.

    But in retirement, the cost of our time will be whatever we decide it is. I doubt we will be able to justify paying for these services when we each have an extra 50 hours a week on our hands.

  • Great points! I can’t wait to pay off our mortgage and for our kids to go to school for free. Mortgage and daycare are our two biggest monthly expenses. Hubby and I have also thought about moving to a cheaper place (not DC) when we retire. We could move back to Asia or a cheaper state. 😀

  • I would keep the house cleaner depending on how big my retirement home is…somethings are worth the cash.

    As for kids…they are an expense worth having….

    I would add travel costs bc if you are not working you can opimize the costs.

    • Good thoughts, Triple-D. Travel is one that could go up or down. It can also be more difficult to define.

      We just wrapped up a 3-week family trip. I wouldn’t call it a vacation. We were just living our lives in a different place for awhile. In retirement, we plan to do much more of that. Can’t wait.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Good topic. Several I can think of:
    – Definitely the commute expense goes down.
    – Probably the lunch costs much less, as you don’t eat out that often as earlier. Also lunch is healthier and better if cooked at home.
    – Lawn care: you don’t have to pay someone to cut the grass. Even John Boehner is cutting his own grass now.
    – Cost to shave the beard: David Letterman chose to grow his beard after retiring. That’s a huge saving.

    • Ha! Letterman does have quite the new look. Maybe Boehner can trim Dave’s face in his spare time.

      I don’t know many physicians who get much of a lunch break, but in other fields, you’re definitely on to something. I’m usually scarfing down a sandwich I brought or last night’s leftovers, enjoying lunch 5 minutes at a time on my workdays.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Stephen

    One of our top five would be a reduction in charitable giving.
    We have continued to give proportionately to income. Though we hope to be able to increase as we age, it had been one of the hardest aspects of retirement. Having to reduce or stop donations that on some cases have been given for decades.

    • Good call – that is very common.

      I took a different approach, building up the DAF while working so I could continue to give over a lifetime after I stop working. But I’ve never been one to donate 10% of my income like a lot of people I know. Instead, the DAF is about 10% of our retirement savings.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • The cost of doing anything… since you can pick the off times to do it. This is both the actual cost (like off-peak prices) and the added time it takes because other people are doing it. I cannot go to the grocery store at a busy time anymore, it drives me nuts.

    • Excellent point, Jim. Now that I have most weekdays off, there are certain things I try to avoid doing on weekends when everyone else is wanting to do the same thing.

      I still enjoy a good beer or two on the weekends, though. That part hasn’t changed. 🙂

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • One cost I really enjoyed missing this first year out of medicine was not having to take ACLS & ATLS. Their biggest cost was not financial, but the time taken to study and attend the course. They were both due at the same time this year and I was so glad to skip them.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

    • No kidding. Those cost not only money, but time.

      I’ve taken ATLS and NRP in the past, and still maintain ACLS and PALS. Each of them is an initial 2-day course, a one-day refresher every two years, plus study time and money.

      I won’t miss those one tiny bit.

      Best,
      -POF

  • I think you got most of it. Commune expenses are hard to knock when I bike already.

    We won’t have a mortgage. But rent will drop if we leave this super expensive area. So that would be a huge one since that’s a large majority of our expenses currently.

  • A big one would be that my mortgage should be paid off by then, which is a HUGE savings.
    We talk a lot about the 3 parts of retirement with our clients:
    The Go-Go years
    Slow-go years
    No-go years.

    Go-go – Time in early retirement when you are traveling and moving around a ton. Doing everything you’ve ever wanted to do in retirment.

    Slow-go: you are beginning to slow down from all the traveling and you are focusing more on family and traveling to and from them more than travel for yourself.

    No-Go years: these are the years where you fall into your routine and you barely go anywhere at all. Your expenses either drop tremendesly if you are healthy or they spike if you are unhealthy by this point.

    Thanks for the awesome post!

  • This is a time in life where life and disability insurance aren’t necessary. The senior discount can be found in many places and there are some significant time saving costs associated with retirement.

    I can think of anything else that hasn’t already been mentioned din the comments.

  • Our expenses situation is very similar with taxes, saving, kids, single income, and a similar wardrobe. Most of that would drop with retirement. I might have to actually buy more clothes since I won’t get the free scrubs.

    Our kids drive much of our variable expenses – schooling/activities and often travelling in the peak seasons at higher cost. That won’t change until they get bigger and I am in no rush for that. We’ll also likely sell and downsize our house when the kids are out. We won’t need the space and probably best to not make it too comfortable for them – our son has similar career aspirations to your children I think 😉 I have also discovered that I tend to spend way more on my hobbies when I am off.

  • Definitely big ones. Knocking out the mortgage will feel great – even if we aren’t fully FIREd at that time, we’ll be close enough that I think we should be able to cut back to 2-3 days a week at work and coast the rest of the way. My goal is to be able to work 20-24 hours a week for 26 weeks a year. Based on what I think at that time I’ll be able to bring in as a consultant, that’ll cover all of our expenses (or at least VERY close) so we should be able to just let our accounts grow while doing that for a few years.

    Thankfully we don’t have kids to worry about that expense right now 🙂

    • That would be a very part-time schedule and easily manageable. Even better if you can do it in a field that would allow you to work from anywhere with an internet connection.

      I’m reminded of Will Ferrell doing his GW Bush impression. Working 24/7. That’s 24 weeks a year, 7 hours a week. Or something like that.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • I’m looking forward to being done with the mortgage, as well. Another exciting part of retirement will be no more college savings hanging over our head. We’ll have either finished saving for that goal or kids will be done with college (I hope it won’t be that long). I suspect food costs will go way down too, as we’ll be able to be more discriminating shoppers.

  • For the longest time, I didn’t think about the fact that you lose the “expense” of saving when you retire (assuming you’re done working completely). As obvious as it probably is to a lot of folks, it wasn’t something on the forefront of mind until I got serious about FIRE. So, I think that’s a great one you pointed out.

    I was actually just thinking about how if you’re semi-handy, but currently pay someone to handle repairs or improvements around the house, that’s a cost that could go down. I have a towel bar that started to come out of the wall a number of months ago. It’s been sitting because I don’t have the time to do the work involved (remove, patch, replace, paint). But I feel silly that I’m going to need to pay someone to do something that’s a relatively easy task to do.

    Great post to get you thinking, PoF!!

    — Jim

    • That’s a good one — MMM is a great example of that. My Dad, too. They build structures, do a lot of finish work and repairs on their own, etc…

      I’m comfortably with DIY investing, and hope to be more handy (and have the time) to do more DIY projects in retirement.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • It has been touched on (sort of) already but snowplowing costs will not be part of our budget in retirement. I will be investing in a Snowblower in the post-winter sales next April and learning not to throw snow at the house or at any member of the PIE household.

    Currently we pay about $30 per plow for two homes and in a NE winter, that racks up a princely sum in dollars. Not even counting additional costs if they come back to plow a 2nd/3rd time and deal with a major Nor’Easter.

    It will certainly get me out of bed in the morning to clear the NH home driveway such that I can drive down to the local legion for bridge club by mid morning…….. :>) ……Unless, I can convince Mrs. PIE to do the SnowPlow duties while I handle the much tougher task of prepping the small PIE’s for school.

    • We do the snowblowing currently, but when we were stuck with a home two states away, we had the driveway plowed for $20 a pop. The first invoice I got, it had been plowed like 10 times in a month.

      After that, I told him no more than once a week. We just didn’t want the place to look abandoned.

      Bridge club? You really are taking on the role of retiree. 🙂

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Yeah, my car has been sitting in the garage for weeks at a time. I’d get rid of it, but still need it to make a few trips on my own. I’ve also saved a lot on clothes, only bought underwear, socks, and a couple t-shirts this year. More polo shirts are about to get donated 🙂

  • Nice list PoF, I think the cost of work (lisence, CME, books, journals) and also life and disability insurance should be in the top 5 and are probably higher than commuting unless you sell the vehicle outright and factor in that cost, which I will never do.

    Not paying taxes will feel so good. I can hardly wait. 6 figure taxes is hard to stomach. I rationalize it by knowing that I treat mostly Medicare patients as an oncologist so I’m paying about 25% of my taxes to healthcare, which funds my salary.

    I love knowing I could pay zero income tax.
    Agree will you completely on the mortgage, paying it off is psychologically worth the cost of interest rate arbitrage that may not exist.

    • If you pay your own CME and licensures (I did the first half of my career), it certainly adds up. I

      didn’t include the insurances because those are tied to FI but not retirement. I’m still working, but dropped term life and disability insurance about three years ago.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • I can’t wait to be able to stay in the mountains all week! In addition to dropping the expense (and agony) of that 100-mile commute, I’ll also be able to cancel my “City Apartment” at the end of my the current lease, and it’s burden of a $1,500/month in rent cost!

    May 2018 will be my final apartment rent payment. Did I mention that I can’t wait?

  • Kids-related costs would be a huge one for me. Man are they expensive. Let’s hear it for scholarships!

    • I didn’t pay a penny in tuition for undergrad. Let’s hope our kids also qualify for some solid merit-based aid. For better or worse, need-based isn’t going to be an option for us.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Travel costs less, because you can take advantage of last minute travel deals and you don’t need to travel during peak times (i.e. Christmas/New Years).

    WSP

    • Travel could cost less; travel could cost more. It depends on how long you like to be gone, how you travel, and what your ongoing expenses are at home.

      Having more time to investigate options with travel rewards via credit card points and miles can certainly help you save.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • I’ve retired early and found that I can save money on various things simply because I now have the time to do so.

    For example:

    I grocery shop at a lower cost store – It’s slightly less convenient, but I have the time so that doesn’t matter.

    I have time to find better deals in insurance, utilities, travel etc. When I was busy working, I often took the quick option, which mostly wasn’t the best value.

    In my early retirement I’ve become more value aware. When I was earning, I bought stuff because I could. Now I buy something only if I’m really going to appreciate it.

    These are in addition to the items you raised, and I’m sure there are other too.

  • CM

    We don’t have a mortgage, kids, life insurance, or disability insurance. My commute is a couple of traffic-free miles and I spend almost nothing on work clothes.

    Savings and taxes aren’t “expenses.”

    I spend some money on licenses, CME, professional society dues, etc., but never more than my annual stipend.

    We might not replace our second car when it dies. Not sure about that.

    Given the above, I expect our expenses to go way up in retirement–because of healthcare. Kamban (over on WCI forum) wrote that he paid $40,000 out-of-pocket recently. Given the rate of healthcare inflation, that may look like a bargain before I pull the plug again.

    • You guys are writing the followup post for me. Thank you, CM! Health care is absolutely on the list of expenses we can all expect to increase after retirement.

      I’m in a very similar boat as you. Minimal work clothes, minimal commute, reimbursed licensure and CME, no mortgage, and no disability or life insurance. I do have the kids, though, and they’ll be with us for a decade or so in retirement. We’ve saved up for college, but we’ll spend plenty on them between now and then.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

      • CM

        I’m not sure where we go wrong actually. We have no kids in a LCOL area and don’t really travel, yet still manage to spend about as much as you.

        We do spend money on our parents and nieces/nephews. Maybe that’s it, but we don’t track our expenditures in sufficient detail to be sure.

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