Balance your retirement income & expenses

Key Points

  • A cash account can help you deal with your day-to-day expenses.
  • Monitor inflows and outflows to help ensure your money will last.
  • Reduce expenses and/or increase income to help prevent a shortfall.
  • Short- and long-term investments can provide cash and growth.

Government benefits, pensions and your savings are generally your main sources of income in retirement. They need to cover essential living expenses, extras like travel and hobbies and any legacy that you wish to leave to family or institutions.

Your retirement income sources

Most people in retirement need to draw income from several sources. Even if you receive guaranteed income from both Social Security and a pension, it may not be enough to cover all your expenses and support your lifestyle. You may also need to draw on your savings, investments and supplemental retirement income sources to generate income.

Government and guaranteed income sources Personal retirement savings and supplemental retirement income sources
  • Social Security. While it may not cover all your expenses, Social Security can provide some income. If you are not yet receiving Social Security, you can contact the Social Security Administration at www.ssa.gov to get started or to request an estimate of your future benefits.
  • Pension plans. If you are fortunate enough to be covered by a traditional pension plan, you probably receive a steady income every month.
  • 401(k) or other workplace retirement plan
  • IRAs
  • Annuities
  • Savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs)
  • Stocks, bonds and other investments
  • Part- or full-time work
  • Rental property

Understanding retirement withdrawal strategies

Do you have a strategy for withdrawing the money you need? Social Security and pensions may provide a fixed amount every month, but you'll need a plan to make the most of your other assets. Consider working with a financial advisor to develop the right strategy for you.

Timing when you withdraw money can have a significant impact on the taxes you pay.

The order in which you withdraw money also matters. While everyone's needs are different, the general guideline for tax-efficient withdrawals is:

  • Taxable accounts first
  • Tax-deferred accounts next
  • Tax-free accounts last

This order may vary based on your individual goals and tax bracket, so it's wise to consult a financial advisor.

Generating income in retirement

Once you have the timing and order for withdrawals down, you'll need a plan for generating cash flow while keeping some assets growing. Your financial advisor can show you how to provide income using three basic elements:

  • A cash account for day-to-day money
  • A short-term reserve to cover emergencies and generate consistent income
  • Long-term assets for potential growth

Cash account

A cash account is your primary access point for day-to-day money. It provides a convenient way to manage your income and expenses. Typically, a cash account includes checking, savings or money market accounts. Most assets in this category are liquid, so you can draw from them at any time without loss or penalty.

Short-term cash reserve

You'll also need short-term assets to serve as a cash reserve and create consistent and predictable income. Short-term assets are investments that generally have guaranteed principal, such as:

  • Certificates of deposit (CDs)
  • Treasury bills
  • Mid-term assets such as bonds

As these assets mature, the money may be moved to your cash account. This way, your short-term cash reserve can serve as a reliable source of income for several years, regardless of how your long-term investments are performing.

Long-term assets

The third element is long-term assets. Their primary goal is to provide growth that will help meet your financial needs throughout retirement as well as help build assets for your legacy. You may also draw from long-term assets to create income, which can be transferred as needed to your short-term reserves or directly to your cash account.

Long-term solutions may include:

  • Stocks and bonds held individually or in mutual funds
  • Fixed and variable annuities
  • Real estate and real estate investment trusts (REITs)
  • Hedge funds and commodity investments
  • Life insurance cash value

When you begin drawing on your assets, it's critical to remain aware of the effects of market volatility and inflation. Placing some of your assets in bonds and other fixed-income vehicles can help reduce your portfolio's overall volatility, and mitigate the impact of inflation and stock market downturns.

Estimating how long your money will last

With careful planning, your sources of income should be enough for a long, comfortable retirement. But if your expenses are more than you expected, or your investments haven't performed well enough, you may need to bridge a gap between your costs and income.

While it's impossible to predict the future, there are tools that can help you make a reasonable estimate of how long your money will last. For example, by plugging your numbers into a retirement planning calculator, you can see how long your money will last in thousands of possible market scenarios. If you find that your money might run out too soon, you may need to make some adjustments.

Strategies to reduce expenses or increase income

  • Find lifestyle expenses that you can cut. Keeping an expense diary can help you evaluate your current expenses.
  • Consider shifting money from low-interest savings accounts into investments such as long-term bonds that pay higher interest rates — if you are comfortable with the additional risk.
  • Reduce your mortgage and living expenses. Downsizing to a less expensive home or area can help you save on taxes, maintenance and other costs.
  • Go back to work, at least part-time, to earn extra income and enjoy the benefits of remaining active.
  • Consider a reverse mortgage, which allows you to borrow against the value ("equity") built up in your home if you are 62 or older. For more information about evaluating a reverse mortgage, read Reverse Mortgages: Avoiding a Reversal of Fortune, published by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

Using a variety of investments, an Ameriprise financial advisor can help you turn your assets into a stream of income. This includes choosing appropriate investments for your cash reserve and long-term assets, as well as setting up a central cash account for your day-to-day expenses.