Retirement on Social Security Is Possible

I just saw an article on Retirement on Social Security Alone that is simply shocking in its stupidity. And it was published by AARP. Here are the heading and author.

Tips for Retiring on Social Security Alone by Eileen Ambrose, AARP

Sounds good right? They are AARP. I mean, if anyone knows the answer, it must be AARP! Unfortunately, Ms. Ambrose and her editor don’t have a clue. They are probably 20 years or more away from retirement. They aren’t even thinking about the problems of today’s seniors.

This is just one of the thousands of bits of misinformation seniors are faced with. These writers don’t have the solutions. I doubt they even understand the questions.

So let’s examine the “tips” and see if we can learn anything. But don’t get your hopes up.

The First 5 Tips From AARP and My Comments

  1. Delay taking Social Security. [Since people asking this question do not have any other source of income to cover their living expenses, this “tip” says KEEP WORKING. Thanks for nothing, Eileen.]
  2. If you think you messed up and claimed SS already, and it’s not too late, pay it all back, get your old job back and KEEP WORKING. Then delay taking SS until later. [Wow, Eileen, your second tip sounds like the first one. And of course, she is assuming that your old job is waiting for you – good luck getting your old job back!]
  3. Maximize survivor benefits. [This means the spouse who makes more must KEEP WORKING (preferably until age 70!) At least one of you is happy. Do you all notice a trend, here? None of these “tips” tell you how to retire on Social Security alone!]
  4. Eliminate debt. [Another great suggestion, Eileen. Since we probably don’t have any savings, we KEEP WORKING until we pay off debt. Now, why didn’t we think of that?]
  5. Move to a less expensive locale. In this one, she compares the cost of living in Boston to that of Augusta, Georgia. Supposedly, you can find a job in Augusta that pays the same as you made in Boston and save the difference. Of course, that means you still KEEP WORKING. And good luck changing jobs in your 60s and finding a job that pays the same as you made in Boston.]

So Let’s Summarize AARP’s Tips for Retiring on SS Alone

Don’t Retire. And Keep Working.

Where Do They Find These Writers? And what editor allowed that garbage to be published?

Let’s Get the Rest of the Bad News Out of the Way

It seems to me that for Retirement on Social Security Alone to be possible, the number 1 answer is to find a place where your retirement income will cover your living expenses. But in the opinion of many authorities, that place does not exist in the USA. I’m sorry if this is bad news to you, but it is the truth. We have done the research and even tried it ourselves.

What About Those Articles About Cheapest Places to Retire in the US?

I bet like us, you have seen the articles that talk about the cheapest places to retire in the US. But have you noticed that every one of those articles makes some really big assumptions?

  1. They assume that you have a home you can sell and take the proceeds and pay cash for a home in one of these new locations. That is why their estimated costs don’t include monthly rent or a mortgage payment. Adding $1,200 or more in rent expense or payment will by itself make it impossible to cover all of your living expenses with your SS checks.
  2. They assume that you don’t have a car payment. When you look at their estimate of transportation expenses, they include fuel, maintenance, repairs, and even insurance, but never a car payment.
  3. They also assume that wherever you are headed will be your home for the remainder of your life. There is no consideration of moving costs. But what happens if you get there and don’t like it? It’s too hot, or too cold, or there are too many or too few people. Or the promised benefits aren’t real or cost too much to afford. Your monthly SS checks are just barely keeping you afloat. Where is the money coming from to sell your house, and move to another place?
  4. And what about entertainment and expenses for just plain fun? How are you going to make new friends and have any kind of life if you can’t afford to socialize?

Shocking Headlines Appear Every Day

These are Baby Boomers we are talking about. We are supposed to be the wealthiest generation ever in history. And yet it sounds like many of us will enter retirement with nothing more than a Social Security check. I say “us” because my wife and I are also “Boomers”. Is there any hope? Are there any solutions out there? Where can we go for answers?

Real Tips For Retirement on Social Security Alone

Answer #1 – Whatever Your Means Are, Live Within Them. Please don’t shoot the messenger, but stay with me a few more minutes.

  • If you can’t afford to own a car, find a place to live where you don’t need one.
  • If you can’t afford health insurance and healthcare expenses, you must find a place to live that has high-quality healthcare that you can afford. You can’t take chances with your health!
  • Can you afford a reasonable home or apartment where you live currently? If not, look somewhere else until you find the right place at the right price.
  • Are there places, groups, and activities that offer the possibility to meet and make new friends?
    We cannot live like hermits. We need friends and social activities. So this is a requirement of any place we will live.
  • Are you willing to do whatever it takes to live within your means? If so, you would be surprised at the possibilities.

A Few Examples of Places Where This is Possible

Cuenca, Ecuador

Paulette and I tried living there for 3 months. It is a beautiful city in the mountains with an incredible history and culture. One of the most beautiful landmarks is the “New” Cathedral with its three blue domes. It was finished in 1870! The “Old” Cathedral was completed around 1650 and still stands across the main square from the New Cathedral. We attended a concert in the Old Cathedral, so it is still in use today.

Our furnished 3 bed/3 bath apartment was on the 2nd floor of a relatively new brick Condominium complex 3 blocks from the largest hospital in Cuenca. The cost was a modest $650 per month plus $160 for utilities and high-speed internet. We have friends who rent a large house for about $450 per month.

Transportation costs are ridiculously cheap.

You don’t need a car. Taxis generally cost less than $2. But buses are everywhere and run frequently. I was able to use my bus card to ride for 12.5 cents USD per ride. Paulette wasn’t old enough, so her rides cost 25 cents. But the air is clean, the weather is great, and we walked to many places. And there was an active community of North Americans. There is actually a neighborhood called “Gringolandia”.

An hour bus ride will take you to 13,500 feet and a beautiful National Park. On Christmas Eve, there is an all-day parade that seems to include almost every resident of Cuenca. There are many excellent large markets that sell every kind of food product. The cost of living is about 1/4 of the cost in the USA. A couple can live comfortably on $2,500 per month or less.

Lake Chapala, Mexico –

Have you ever heard of Ajijic (Ah-he-hek)? It is a town heavily populated by North Americans in Mexico. It is located about 1 hour south of Guadalajara and only 40 minutes from the Guadalajara International Airport with its nonstop or 1 stop flights to many destinations in the USA.

Lake Chapala is the largest lake in Mexico. The communities of Chapala, Ajijic, and others on the north side of the lake claim a population of 30,000 Expats mostly from the US, Canada, and Europe. The elevation of 5,000 feet cools the weather down and provides comfortable living conditions year round. And this area of central Mexico gets much less rain than Panama and Costa Rica.

Rental costs appear to be rising due to the increasing number of Expats. But the total cost of living is still much less than in the US and Canada. But the lifestyle appears to be very easy-going, and the Expat community is as close as it has been for many years. There are lots of great articles and videos available on the web. A good keyword to start your search would be Lake Chapala. I don’t know if a car is necessary, so that might be something to check out.

Panama City, Panama

The headquarters of the famous Panama Canal is a large modern-looking city with lots of high-rise Condos, Apartments, and Hotels. The skyline is absolutely breath-taking. There are two airports, but Tocumen (PTY) is by far the largest with direct flights to many international destinations.

Panama City is also known for its excellent restaurants, and history dating back to 2500 BC. But Spanish colonization started in the early 1500s. Panama City is located on the Pacific Coast at the entrance of the Panama Canal. It is a very large city of over 4 million people. Given its location at Sea level, the temperature can get very hot. But on the other hand, you won’t worry about snow.

Cost of living in Panama City will be higher than other places you might consider. However, Panama uses the US Dollar as its main currency, so you need not worry about currency fluctuations as in other parts of Latin America. A car is not required as there is excellent public transportation, and taxis and Uber cars are inexpensive.

Summary – Retirement on Social Security Alone is Possible if you consider places outside the USA.

Part of the answer could be to increase income, but…

Traffic jam every day makes you long for retirement on social security alone.

If retirement on Social Security alone is not possible for you, then you need more income. For the moment, let’s just ignore income taxes. Because if income tax becomes a problem, then you will have no problems covering reasonable living expenses.

If you need more income, I’m not talking about a commuter job. Jobs cost money. Yes, that’s right. In my case, that meant I had to live in a big city and have a reliable car. I also needed a better wardrobe, ate out much more frequently, and took expensive vacations. Finally, I hired people to do at home what I couldn’t do because I was too busy working. And I spent 11 hours a day getting ready for, driving to, working at, and driving home from my workplace. That didn’t leave much time for anything else.

All those additional expenses make it very hard to save. And working at our age gets harder and harder. It takes longer to do things, and even though we have been doing our jobs for a very long time, it seems like some new program, or app or software, or company reorganization throws new challenges our way just as we are supposed to be slowing down.

So not a traditional job? What else is there?

How about working from home? You have a lifetime of experiences to share. So why not do what more than 500 million people are doing – start a blog. If you do it right, you will have fun, and possibly create an income stream that will take care of you for the rest of your life.

If you want to learn more, please click here to read my article on How to Start a Blog for Beginners.

12 thoughts on “Retirement on Social Security Is Possible”

  1. Those are some excellent “real” tips you gave. I kind of figured that Panama City was a good place to retire, but I never would have guessed Ecuador. Around $800 per month in a three bedroom is really good actually. When you say utilities, are you including internet/cable? Just curious. 

    Thanks for writing this up!

  2. Thank you for your candor and realistic review of the article from AARP and your realistic suggestions for retiring on social security. I find it a little discouraging that the only places that someone can go to live off of social security are outside the US, but that is the reality. I’m about 20 years away from hard retirement so these issues are starting to weigh heavy on my mind.

  3. Hello Nate.  I’m very glad you focused on the real tips.  I’m still upset that AARP would publish such garbage, telling senior citizens “Don’t Retire – Keep working”.  

    And yes, that includes water, gas, electric, and high-speed internet.  Most of these places in the mountains never get cold or hot.  So hardly any places are built with air conditioning or heat.  We don’t even have problems with flies or bugs.  So we leave our windows and balcony door wide open all the time except when it is raining.  And no screens.

    When you do the math with housing at $800 and no car you quickly see how you really can live very cheaply outside the USA.  Panama City would be more expensive, but still very doable.  We lived in Boquete, Panama for 17 months.

    Cuenca Ecuador is really high at 8,500 feet.  It is a beautiful city, we lived there for 3 months, and I never noticed a problem with thin air.  On the other hand, people complain all the time about the air in Denver at only 5,300 feet.

    If you would like more detail, please read my much longer article on the 10 Cheapest Countries…

    https://retireoutsideusa.com/10-cheapest-countries-to-retire-without-leaving-the-americas/

     

  4. I never really thought of retiring outside the US, but the reality is there are cheaper places to live on, but we do have them here in the US. For instance, the region I live in has very cheap housing and rent rates and the places are in fantastic condition (Greater Pittsburgh Area). 

    However, I’d definitely like to have another stream of income coming in, just like creating and monetizing a blog, as you mentioned toward the end of the article. My biggest fear is whether social security will be there when I reach retirement age in about 40 years from now, so working on creating my own products and affiliate marketing blogs now is key. 

  5. It’s not easy to live on social security when you’re retired.

    But you have some valid points as far as being able to afford it.

    It is a better idea to hold off collecting social security if you can but some folks can’t.

    Eliminating debt is a great idea and you should think about doing this way before you retire.

    We moved to Florida because it’s much more affordable than New York.

    Do you think it’s good to have a rainy day account too?

  6. Todd, they aren’t just cheaper.  If it was just for the money we would probably be very miserable.  But for us, this is the best time of our lives.  We do many things here that are just impossible to do at our home in Houston.  Part of the reason is everything is so spread out.  There were no restaurants within 5 blocks of our home except for a Jack-in-the-box.  So you have to have a car.

    According to Social Security, an average couple receives $2,448 per month.  Then they withhold $270 for Medicare.  So they have a net of less than $2,200 per month to cover everything.  Do you still think that couple could live comfortably in Pittsburg?

    And thanks for the shoutout about my ending about starting a blog.  That is what I am doing to supplement our retirement income.  Making provision for your needs without relying on government is always the best solution.  And making money online is the best hope I have found to accomplish that.

  7. It’s really sad, but it’s so … compared to Europe, there is a really big problem with health in America, which is really expensive. I can confirm that I have already heard of Ecuador, a lot of people praised living there. I like your approach to the subject, it’s sober and really useful, much to think about, I think this article outlines the right way.

  8. Hey Rob.  You have obviously been thinking and learning about the realities of what you get versus what you spend.  Retiring and seeing the bottom lines of income and expenses is a giant wake-up call.  You have to take it seriously.

    But we didn’t come here just to save money.  From the very beginning, it was all about new adventures, making new friends who shared our new lifestyle, going places for months, not weeks and really getting to experience new places and new things.  Our lives are much richer for the experience, and at the same time, we are saving money.

    We just celebrated one year living on a different continent.  Spirit has very inexpensive nonstop flights from FLL to Medellin, Colombia.  Perhaps you didn’t go quite far enough south!  Come over and see for yourselves.

    Do I think it is good to have a rainy day account?  Absolutely!  But the problem is that it rains a lot down here.😉

  9. Thank you for shedding light on AARP’s misinformation. Unfortunately seniors are a group that are targeted by scammers. I like how you pointed out the obviousness of AARP’s article and seniors should be reading articles like yours here to be in the know when it comes to finances. Great pointers. I like your ways and means of finding a lower cost of living. I’m glad to hear that Cuenca has an active community of North Americans. Fantastic referral here to Wealthy Affiliate, one of the best platforms and communities out there, and a perfect option for seniors!

  10. Thank you, Lee, for taking the time to read and comment on my article.  I put a lot of research into the writing and it is satisfying to hear that my comments are helpful to others.  As our friend Kyle always says, we are first about helping.

    Quite frankly, I was intending to write an article on this subject, and during my research, I came across this stupid post from AARP.  It really hacked me off!  And I realized it was the perfect intro to what I wanted to say.  So I guess I owe Eileen and her editor a small thanks for the inspiration.

    Please don’t be discouraged.  Paulette and I are having the best times of our lives.  We lived 2+ years in Central America and now almost 1 1/2 years in South America (Ecuador and Colombia).  It is a great life, and I highly recommend it.

  11. Isn’t blogging fun?  I love writing these articles.  This one is 2,000 words, and it just flew by in one day.  We Seniors must stick together to get the real story out.  There are solutions, but sometimes we have to “think outside of the box”.  I believe moving to a more affordable place is doing just that.

    But once you get here, see how beautiful it is, meet and make many new friends, and relax and enjoy, you realize what a great decision you just made.  And if the first place doesn’t work out, you pack your bags and move to the next place.  I have loved everywhere we have lived and visited with one exception, but no need to mention that.  You could probably easily figure it out by reading some more of my posts.

    You simply won’t know without trying it.  There are lots of choices.  Pick one, pack your bags for a 3-month stay and check it out. 

  12. Michael, I’m grateful for you reading and responding to this important post.  Seniors need to come to grips with and make some hard choices.  I read an article that estimated Seniors would pay around $245,000 in healthcare costs from the time they retire through the remainder of their lives.  I have no idea where this money will come from.  It is a ridiculous amount of money.

    There are so many more practical solutions available.  All I want to do is help.  Help Seniors understand the problem and see the solutions that so many of us have chosen.  And in so choosing, we get a much higher quality of life.  We would not trade it.  I doubt we will ever return to the US to live. about:blank#blocked

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