Retirees cutting back, taking part-time jobs to beat inflation

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When Pamela Pommer sees how much her retirement funds have dropped in value, she tries hard not to panic.

The retired human resources administrator instead put off window and driveway repairs and may get a roommate to help make her retirement funds last a bit longer while inflation and the stock market run amuck.

“I stress,” said Pommer, 68. “My Social Security only covers half of my average annual expenses.”

The Bloomington resident is among the thousands of retirees and soon-to-be retirees doing what they can to navigate historic 9% inflation, rising interest rates and a brutal bear market — all while living on a fixed income.

Nearly 830,000 Minnesotans receive an average of $2,116 a month in Social Security retirement benefits.

Many fear their retirement income is not enough.

Only 22% of 60- to 67-year-olds felt they had saved enough for retirement, Schroder Investment Management found in its annual U.S. survey.

Their biggest worries? Soaring prices. Staggering health care costs. And the slumping stock market.

Financial advisers say they are fielding calls from anxious clients, many of whom are reining in expenses, hiking 401(k) contributions to stave off shortfalls during their golden years and resisting the urge now to sell off crushed IRAs. Other clients, they say, are delaying retirement while some retirees are getting part-time jobs until the economy gets back on its feet.

Pamela Hoppe, a 75-year-old north Minneapolis resident, retired 15 years ago as a benefits administrator for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 653. She now works 15 days a month selling shirts and stocking shelves during Twins Games at Target Field — all so she can afford skyrocketing arthritis medication that costs her $7,600 a year.

The job is a joy but the paycheck has frankly been a godsend, she said.

“Without the additional income, I would literally be dipping into retirement savings,” Hoppe said.

Hoppe, who only buys groceries on sale, advises other retirees to avoid raiding their retirement savings by getting a job, but one that’s enjoyable.

“There can be joy in retirement even with all this stuff going on,” she said. “I believe that from the bottom of my heart.”

More people are starting to dip into money previously set aside to fund retirement in the years to come. Voya Financial found in a March survey of 1,000 adults that 43% had tapped into their retirement accounts.

John Schmitz, 65, has been preparing for retirement since 2013 and expected to leave his electrical engineering job when full Social Security kicked in at 66.

But, along with lower market returns and inflation, he had a few surprise expenses: $1,000 for tires, emergency vet bills and a bill to take care of a precociously overgrown tree.

Now he is considering staying in his job longer.

“It is unfortunate that we are right at that retirement point” when the economic forces are going askew, he said. “So my own advice to myself, and maybe others, is to consider working a little longer if you can.”

It is advice that Ameriprise financial planner Lisa Tuttle applauds.

She has clients who delayed retirement or who retired but took on “hobby jobs” to get through the “turbulence.” With the extra spending money, the clients can keep annual withdrawals from their retirement accounts at the recommended 4%, she said.

Still, Tuttle admits talking a few clients off the ledge.

Some are so upset by market conditions they want to stop 401(k) and IRA contributions — or worse, cash out of stocks and lock in losses that recently hit 20%.

“We see that too many times, where people get panicked and want to stop the bleed,” Tuttle said. “The reality is that they’re losing so much money by doing that.”

One client refused to listen during the 2020 downturn, selling all the stocks in her portfolio when the markets were low. She jumped back into the market a year later, when stocks cost 170% more.

“That mistake will easily cost $1 million over her lifetime. It’s just really sad,” Tuttle said. “Remember what Warren Buffet would say. ‘Buy low. Sell high.'”

Thrivent Financial is also getting calls for advice and handholding, said Dave Kloster, president of Thrivent Investment Management. “Market volatility and the presence of significant inflation is a definitely significant issue for retirees.”

It’s why many are looking to income diversification strategies, including purchasing bonds or annuities — vehicles that are often more stable though less rewarding than stocks long term.

Others are pushing some retirement savings into vehicles called treasury inflation-protection securities (TIPS), as a way to hedge against inflation, said Theresa Adams, an adviser with the 300,000-member Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Many soon-to-be retirees are electing to participate in their companies’ “target-date” 401(k) retirement plans, which allocate a chunk of contributions into TIPS, she said.

“There are always jitters for people who are getting ready or close to retirement. Certainly the current economy is increasing that,” Adams said.

But with the recent accelerated fears, more employers are letting older workers delay retirement by going part time and bringing in financial experts for pre-retirement readiness reviews.

About 81% of firms now automatically enroll all their employees in company 401(k) plans to start the saving process at a younger age, according to SHRM.

A pre-retirement review “is a very good idea. I did it myself and was surprised. It was pretty thorough,” Adams said. “They even asked me to bring in my Social Security [estimate] statements. Knowledge is power and helps reduce stress.”

For those who already retired, though, like Bill Westervelt, 77, they can’t save more or delay retirement. He’s just trying to make the most of a fixed pension and Social Security.

The retired Ramsey County child abuse investigator recently paid $5.19 a gallon to fill his truck. That’s $124 a tank.

So Westervelt and his girlfriend combine gas discounts from shopping and coupons for food and other purchases. They eat at home more and gave up junk food. They also swapped Costco’s ribeye steaks for $4.99 sale bags of chicken and stocked their freezer.

This month, the couple took a defensive driving course for those 55 years and older to knock 10% off their auto insurance.

“It’s all to save money,” Westervelt said. “I’m on a fixed income.”

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