Q: I never came across a talk or statistical data clarifying the average monthly income needed for a retired couple. One side is saving. This part is clear, the more, the better. However, planning requires a definition of monthly spending, on average. This question is particularly important for immigrants of a small community, who have no one to ask, and no “baseline” to compare to — since it is a personal matter of high significance, everybody is “quiet” about it. Would you please give me advice how to get information about retired couple spending per month, official statistics? And some details of the itemized spending which would reveal the couple’s lifestyle.

Christian, 60

 

A: The best data is your current necessary monthly and annual expenses, as well as your discretionary spending. How much people spend in retirement is also shaped by their desire to leave an inheritance (or not) and how worried they are about running out of money (or not).

Expenses are met through a combination of income — Social Security, retirement savings, savings and (increasingly) part-time income. A classic rule of thumb is that retirees need about 80 percent of their pre-retirement income in retirement to maintain their standard of living. But the 80 percent figure is only a starting point.

You can find plenty of data on spending looking at the Consumer Expenditure Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For instance, for people 65 and older annual average spending was $44,664 in 2015. Looking at several major categories, that sum includes annual spending on food of $5,506 ($458 monthly), housing $15,529 ($1,298 monthly), transportation $6,846 ($571 monthly), health care $5,756 ($480 monthly) and entertainment $2,464 ($205 monthly). Of course, these are averages.

Studies find that most people spend less in retirement than when they were working. David Blanchett, head of retirement research at Morningstar Investment Management, calculates for households needing $50,000 in spending at age 65, their inflation-adjusted spending declines by about 20 percent by age 80.

Discretionary spending counts in any calculation. You will want to take inflation into account, too. Even modest increases in the overall price level erodes the value of a dollar.

 

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.