Precision isn’t always possible when it comes to retirement planning. That doesn’t mean you have to wing it and hope your savings don’t expire before you do.

Looking at the income, living expenses and life spans of today’s retirees can help you make the right financial moves so your golden years aren’t tarnished by an unexpected shortfall.

Government and Gallup data reveal a lot about what retirement is like for Americans today. 

It starts at age 61, even though many tell Gallup they planned to work longer. And based on some morbid math — the average remaining life expectancy of someone who’s made it to their early 60s (23.3 years), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — you should plan to be retired for at least a few decades.

Your mileage may vary based on things such as your work (accountant vs. rodeo clown, for example), diet, family health history and participation in extreme sports leagues.

The average budget for a retiree, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, provides even more color on what to expect when you are expecting to retire. Older households, defined as ones headed by someone 65 or older, spend $46,000 annually, vs. the $57,000 average spent by all U.S. households combined. The top three monthly expenses for those 65 and older are housing ($1,322), health care ($500) and food ($484).

On average, about half of a retired household’s income comes from Social Security and private and government pensions, according to the BLS, with personal savings and investment and rental income providing 6.9 percent.

An online retirement calculator can project a more accurate picture of your retirement readiness.

It will use your current saving, spending and investment profile and some rules of thumb about historical investment returns, reasonable withdrawal rates and, yes, life expectancy.

If the calculator shows that you will outlive your retirement and you are not yet retired, consider postponing your retirement party. This strategy is especially valuable for those in their peak earning years.

Besides reducing the number of years you will need to live off your savings, working longer allows more time for your investments to grow.

Plus, the additional time contributing to Social Security could mean a bigger benefits paycheck down the road.

 

Dayana Yochim is a writer at NerdWallet. E-mail: dyochim@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @DayanaYochim.