Making it work while living well

Is It Possible to Retire on Social Security Alone?

by Randolph B. Schiller


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What if:

  • you're nearing retirement age
  • you've read the doomsday scenarios about needing 80% of your present income to retire and maintain your lifestyle
  • you have no pension, no 401K, no savings to speak of

Are you facing the prospect of working forever? No, you can do what I'm doing: living well solely on my Social Security income.

editor's note: Costs of living mentioned in this article are now slightly higher than when first published but the advice still holds true.

In my mid-60s, I faced the fact that after spending most of my adult life as a manufacturer's representative, putting three children through college, recently divorced, and without much "put away," I needed to figure out how was I going to sustain myself.

Living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I knew it was impossible to live there without working to supplement my Social Security. Extensive research on the Internet led me to believe it might be possible elsewhere.

Here's my criteria for a retirement locale:

  1. a place where the cost-of-living was considerably less than South Florida
  2. where I could rent a nice apartment with amenities in a safe neighborhood
  3. a community with adequate medical care
  4. somewhere without potential disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc.)
  5. accessible to a major airport
  6. anywhere less congested, preferably with mountains and water nearby
  7. a place where I could work as I transitioned to full retirement

I researched various areas online by requesting Chamber of Commerce materials, reading numerous online daily and weekly local newspapers, checking classified ads and websites for apartment rentals, requesting insurance rate quotes, and studying demographic and climate data.

I was intrigued by an article in Sunset Magazine about North Idaho (the northernmost 100 miles of the Idaho panhandle just east of Spokane, WA), an area I had not even considered. Further research seemed to indicate that this might meet all my criteria. A phone call to the Idaho Department of Labor confirmed that several in-bound call centers hire constantly and age is no barrier.

At 67, I decided to try North Idaho and made the move "sight unseen" in the summer of 2006. I can now reflect back on a wonderful transition to a retirement funded solely by my monthly Social Security check. I did, in fact, work at a Call Center for nine months until I was comfortable that my plan to live on SSI alone would work.

Related: Moving Away from Kids and Grandkids to Better Afford Retirement Living Expenses

The biggest key, of course, is the substantially lower cost of living here. My one-bedroom apartment is less than $500 a month (compared to $1020 that I paid in Fort Lauderdale). The 250-unit complex has two swimming pools, tennis courts, a sauna, gym, recreation room, etc. Wildlife such as deer, quail and wild turkeys often roam the 12-acre grounds! (North Idaho is a land of pristine lakes and mountains.)

Supplemental health insurance (AARP) is $143 a month here compared to the $241 I paid another insurer in Florida. My auto insurance is $64 monthly compared to the previous $120. Electricity averages $55 a month instead of $65. Incidentals such as haircuts, oil changes, car washes run about a third less. My second biggest monthly expense is food and by watching the ads at the six supermarkets within five miles of me, I am spending less here.

The local 200+ bed hospital has won national acclaim and I was duly impressed on my two overnight stays there.

Will you leave
thousands of dollars on the table
by taking Social Security
at the wrong time? Find out.

I don't shill for the Chamber of Commerce and I'm not advocating anyone moving here. What I am saying is location is the key to living inexpensively in retirement. Obviously, many wouldn't want to move as far away as I did, but I did it to live within my means, keep my independence and not become a burden to others. My budget follows.

Social Security Monthly Income: $1490

Monthly Expenses:
Rent: $465
Food:$180
Loan Repayment: $148
AARP Supplemental Health Insurance: $143
Cable/Internet: $88
Gasoline: $75
Auto & Renters Insurance: $64
Miscellaneous Cash: $60
Electric: $55
Cell Phone: $33
Dental Insurance: $28
Prescription Co-pays: $28
Fitness Program: $21
Dining Out (2X): $20
Newspaper: $ 14
Carwash: $8
Miscellaneous: $60

Monthly Total: $1490

My automobile is paid for. Any travel over and above my 12,000 miles a year locally is paid out of my small reserve funds.

Barring any medical catastrophes, I see no reason why I can't continue living on my Social Security alone here!

Expert Interview: Controlling Medical Costs in Retirement

As a final note, after living for over 35 consecutive years below the Mason-Dixon Line, I was somewhat apprehensive about again living in a colder climate. Suffice to say, snow removal (all 80" of it last winter!) is a high priority here. I never had any trouble getting around locally; the schools rarely close and today's clothing kept me warmer than my memories of 60s winters in the East. Also, very seldom is it windy here!

Reviewed June 2017


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