How to Survive as a Retiree in a Down Market

With the coronavirus pandemic causing fluctuations in the stock market, many people fear an extended economic downturn. It can be especially nerve-wracking if your portfolio valuations are down, or your retirement income is less than you planned for. Follow these financial to-dos to get through a market decline.

Try these ideas for retirees to cut costs and make it through a stock market slump:

— Eliminate unnecessary costs.

— Adjust the thermostat.

— Save on health care.

— Exercise for free.

— Negotiate with lenders.

— Put off projects.

— Be diligent about discounts.

— Check investment fees.

— Move to a cheaper place.

— Give time to family members.

Eliminate Unnecessary Costs

Look at your current living expenses and make sure they line up with what you’re receiving in retirement income each month. “Track exactly where money is going,” says Gillian McCarthy, a financial advisor at J. H. White Financial in Royersford, Pennsylvania. You may find some areas where you can cut back on expenses, like subscriptions you don’t use and cable connections you don’t watch.

[See: 10 Costs You Can Eliminate in Retirement.]

Adjust the Thermostat

To trim energy bills, make a conscious effort to keep your place a bit warmer in the summer and a little cooler in the winter. If you leave for an extended period, adjust the thermostat to further reduce energy use. You might even get a smart thermostat you can control with your phone to adjust the temperature from anywhere.

Save on Health Care

If you’re worried about going to the doctor because of the medical bills that might result from the visit, review your current health policies. Check what is covered through Medicare and whether you have all the supplemental coverage you need. “Make sure you have the appropriate Medicare selections in place,” McCarthy says. “If you aren’t sure, meet with a Medicare expert to review your options.”

Exercise for Free

You don’t have to pay for a gym membership or expensive equipment to get in some exercise. Many communities provide free or low cost exercise classes for seniors. Senior centers frequently host activities to help retirees stay active. You can also get outside to take walks or test out the hiking or biking trails in your area.

Negotiate With Lenders

If you have a mortgage on your home and are having a hard time making the payments each month, you can call the bank and ask about assistance. See if your mortgage lender will “let you just pay the interest on your mortgage loan until the balances in your retirement portfolio recover after the economy improves,” says Timothy Wiedman, a retired associate professor of management and human resources in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

However, keep in mind that this arrangement usually isn’t a feasible long-term solution. “Only do this as a short-term fix,” Wiedman says. Plan to pay the full mortgage payment again as soon as possible.

For credit card debt, you could ask if the credit card company is able to offer a lower minimum monthly payment on a card. Another option: check if you qualify for a lower interest rate. If you’re able to switch the balance to a card with a lower interest rate, you will save on interest charges while paying off the loan.

[See: 9 Ways to Avoid 401(k) Fees and Penalties.]

Put Off Projects

While some problems like a broken sink or leaky roof may need immediate attention, you might find that other home tasks can be postponed. If you had planned to take a large withdrawal from a retirement account to redo the kitchen, put in a new patio or refresh your landscaping, try waiting until the market recovers. Once you recoup any losses, you can think about fixing up the house.

Be Diligent About Discounts

Make it a habit to always ask about a senior discount. Many retailers offer a discount or special deal for those who are older than 50, even if they don’t advertise it or make it well known. “Always ask for the senior discount,” says Lamar Brabham, CEO and founder of Noel Taylor Agency, a financial services firm in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Check Investment Fees

If you don’t know what you’re spending each year to have your retirement accounts managed, it can be worth investigating the cost. Some funds have an annual fee of 1% or more. “This can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of retirement,” Brabham says. If you think the fee you’re paying now is too high, look for other account management options that come with a lower fee.

[See: The Most Affordable Places to Retire]

Move to a Cheaper Place

Relocating to a place with a lower cost of living could help your fixed income stretch further. “An underused, but extremely effective way to reduce your cost is to move to a cheaper country,” says Marco Sison, who has been living abroad since 2015. Sison spent some time in the Philippines, where his monthly expenses were about $1,500 a month. After witnessing the stock market pass through rough months at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, he decided to move to another country with even lower expenses. After researching, he settled in Turkey, which he felt would decrease his monthly living expenses to between $800 and $1,000 per month.

Give Time to Family Members

Rather than spending hefty amounts of cash on presents for children and grandchildren, look for ways to create an experience. Ideally the gift will cost little to nothing. You might plan a special day to go to a park together or eat a homemade meal around the table. “Particularly in an economic downturn, creating memories together will be much more impactful than an item,” McCarthy says.

More from U.S. News

The Financial Perks of Growing Older

New Retirement Account Rules in Response to Coronavirus

How to Skip Your Required Minimum Distribution in 2020

How to Survive as a Retiree in a Down Market originally appeared on

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