Retirement Costs That Could Surprise You

To safely retire, you need to be sure you can cover your expenses. Don't let these costs catch you unawares.
Liz Weston, CFP®
By Liz Weston, CFP® 
Edited by Rick VanderKnyff

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Before you can safely retire, you need to know that your income will cover your expenses. But many of the following costs can catch retirees by surprise. Anticipating these common budget-busters could help you prepare for a more comfortable and less stressful retirement.

Home repairs

Most Americans say they want to “age in place,” or remain in their current home as they get older. But homes age as well, and the repair bills tend to increase as they do. A home inspection before you retire could alert you to looming problems and give you some idea of the costs you can expect. (Home inspections typically range from $278 to $391, according to contractor matching site HomeAdvisor.)

On average, households spend about $1,000 a year on home repairs and maintenance, according to the 2018 Consumer Expenditure Survey. You’d be smart to budget at least that amount, and consider saving additional cash in your emergency fund for larger expenses. A home equity line of credit also could come in handy.

Home renovations

The vast majority of U.S. houses aren’t designed with aging in mind. Only about 1% of the national housing stock can be considered truly accessible if you need a wheelchair, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Even if you don’t, your ability to live safely at home could be thwarted by stairs, narrow hallways and knobs instead of levers on doors and faucets.

You may be able to adapt your home to safer aging if your place has (or could have) at least one bedroom on the same level as the kitchen, a full bathroom and the laundry room. Ideally, you would also have a no-step entry, wide hallways and doorways, smooth, carpet-free flooring and ample room in the bathroom to accommodate an aide, if necessary.


You may be giving up a commute, but you’re probably not giving up your keys just yet. The average household headed by someone age 65 to 74 spent $8,810 a year on transportation in 2018, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey. Those 75 and older spent $5,098.

You may be giving up a commute, but you’re probably not giving up your keys just yet.

You may save money by driving less or winnowing down from a two- or three-car household to just one vehicle. You also may own cars longer since they’re getting less wear and tear. But even if you replace cars every eight to 10 years, you still have substantial costs ahead you need to estimate and budget for.

Family members

It’s now the norm for parents to give cash to adult children or pay some of their bills, and the help doesn’t necessarily end at retirement. About half of parents 60 and over provided financial support to an adult child in the previous 12 months, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study. Seven percent of adults 60 and over were helping to support a parent.

If you have able-bodied adults relying on you for financial infusions, it may be time to close the Bank of Mom and Dad. Otherwise, financial support needs to be factored into your post-retirement budget.

Medicare premiums

Some people don’t realize Medicare has premiums, while others don’t know the premiums can vary according to income.

Medicare Part A, which covers hospitalization, is premium-free for most people. The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B, which covers doctor’s visits, is $144.60 for 2020. Medicare Part D premiums averaged about $40 a month in 2019. Many people also pay premiums for supplemental policies, also known as Medigap, or for Medicare Advantage plans, an all-in-one private alternative to federally administered Medicare.

Individuals with yearly income above $87,000 and married couples with incomes above $174,000 pay more for Medicare Part B, with the additional amounts ranging from $57.80 to $347 per person per month. The surcharges for Part D start at $12.20 and top out at $76.40 per person per month.

Other health care costs

Medicare won’t cover all your health care expenses in retirement. How much you’ll pay out of pocket depends on your health, where you live and what coverage you buy, according to Vanguard and Mercer Health and Benefits, which released a study on typical medical costs last year. The study estimated that a typical 65-year-old woman in 2018 could expect to pay $5,200, but her costs could range from $3,000 to $26,200.

You can use NerdWallet’s retirement health cost estimator to see how much you might pay.

Taxes and the earnings test

The money you take out of IRAs and 401(k)s is typically taxable, as is your pension income. About half of Social Security recipients pay income taxes on their benefits because their incomes are above certain limits. Furthermore, if you start Social Security early and continue to work, your benefits can be reduced by your earnings.

Some strategies, including delaying the start of Social Security, may help you minimize taxes and maximize your lifetime income. Consulting with a tax pro before you retire can help you determine the best strategy.

Long-term care

Your costs for long-term care could be catastrophic, nonexistent or somewhere between. About half of the elderly won’t have to pay for long-term care, the Vanguard study estimated. This group either won’t need help or will have unpaid caregivers such as a spouse or adult child. Another quarter can expect to incur costs of less than $100,000, while 15% can expect to pay more than $250,000.

Long-term care insurance may be one solution if you can get it and afford it. Otherwise, consider keeping some money in reserve, says Jean Young, senior research associate with Vanguard Center for Investor Research. Retirees could earmark some of their investments or their home equity for this purpose.

A previous version of this article misstated the standard monthly premium in 2020 for Medicare Part B. This article has been corrected.

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