The # 1 Overlooked Retirement Expense

Bob Carlson

There’s a major retirement expense that’s overlooked or downplayed in most retirement planning.

It is one of the largest expenses in the budgets of those 65 and older, yet it is taken for granted by both individuals and finance professionals alike.

The expense?  Transportation.

Transportation accounts for 16% of annual spending by Americans 65 and older, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only housing takes a higher percentage of annual spending. That means transportation spending exceeds medical spending and taxes.

Keep in mind, these are aggregate statistics, so the percentages will vary for individual retirees.

Transportation costs include vehicle purchases, finance charges, gasoline, oil, insurance, maintenance, repairs, public transit, taxis, rentals and leases.

Of course, the cost of purchasing or leasing a vehicle is the largest annual transportation cost for those 65 and older. Next in line are gasoline and insurance.

The cost of buying or leasing a new vehicle often surprises retirees. They don’t buy a new car every year, so it often isn’t factored into retirement spending plans. Many also remember their parents owning the same cars through their senior years and assume they, too, won’t need new transportation.

Retirement lasts a long time now for many people, so you’re likely to need to replace vehicles during 20 or 30 years of retirement, though you also could be driving less than you drove during the career years.

In your retirement planning, the best way to incorporate transportation costs is to turn vehicle purchases into an annual budget item.

One way to do that is to determine the monthly cost of leasing a vehicle similar to what you now have or would like to have next. Include that amount in your monthly spending estimate.

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Another method begins with estimating how often you will replace a car in retirement.

Let’s say you’ll replace a vehicle every five years and it costs $40,000 today. If you assume 3% inflation in the vehicle price, it will cost a little over $46,000 in five years. Divide $46,000 by 5 to arrive at $9,200 per year. Divide by 12 to arrive at $767 for your monthly cost of acquiring a vehicle.

You might not spend the money until you need the vehicle, and you might pay in a lump sum. But adding the cost to your spending estimate through one of these ways ensures you’ve accounted for new vehicles in your spending plan, and created a cushion so that the money is available when you need to buy a vehicle.

Some people approaching retirement are paying leases or auto loans, so they should assume those costs will continue as part of their monthly expenses in retirement. But factor in inflation. The cost of buying or leasing a vehicle is likely to increase over the years.

Vehicles are important to retirees. They’re important emotionally as a sign of independence. They’re also important as a practical matter, because 79% of those 65 and older live in areas where cars are a necessity or close to it, according to a group called Transportation for America.

After budgeting for transportation costs, consider ways to reduce the cost of transportation in your retirement spending.

Some people live in communities that allow them to drive golf carts or similar vehicles on their streets for local trips, visiting friends, and the like. That reduces the need for and costs of operating an auto.

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As people age, they also take fewer trips and drive less. At some point, you might consider eliminating a car from your life, even when you don’t live in a center city area that has everything within walking distance.

There are often options such as taxis (and similar businesses), public transportation, and car pooling with friends. There might also be a bus or shuttle service for seniors through your local government or a charitable organization.

You give up the convenience and spontaneity of being able to jump in the car whenever you want. But you save a lot of money by not owning or operating a car. When you’re not leaving the home on a daily basis for work or other activities, not owning a car can be a smart financial move. At some point it also becomes safer.

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