How to Retire During a Period of High Inflation

ByGeoff Williams
Reviewed byDoug Milnes, CFA

Updated: November 14, 2022

ByGeoff Williams
Reviewed byDoug Milnes, CFA

Updated: November 14, 2022

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Inflation and retirement are two words that don’t go well together. Given the current economy, you might be convinced that you’ll never retire and will work until the Grim Reaper comes knocking on your door. In fact, many Generation X’ers suspect that this will be their fate.

However, if your body or brain is saying, “Enough is enough,” you may feel like you have no choice but to retire during these inflationary times.

So what should you do if you need to retire with inflation? Many financial advisors suggest retiring – but to do it carefully and use several strategies in the process.

Try to Put Off Collecting Social Security

Did you know that you can retire and stop working long before you collect Social Security? If you can swing it, waiting until you're 70 to collect your Social Security check is a smart financial move.

Basically, the earlier you take your check, the smaller it will be. If you start taking Social Security at the earliest age (which is 62), you could see your check reduced by 30%.

The best time to collect Social Security is when you are 70. There is no upside to waiting longer.

But why is it best to wait until you are 70? Basically, if you wait longer than your full retirement age, Social Security will add an 8% delayed retirement credit to your future monthly check. This means that you’ll ultimately have a check that is 132% of your monthly benefit.

"If one is retiring in a period of high inflation, probably the most important thing that people can do is to delay taking their Social Security as long as possible,” says Todd Steen, a professor of economics at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Pay Off Consumer Debt

This is a good idea for everybody, no matter how old you are. However, it’s a must for retired people, says Lamar Brabham, CEO and founder of Noel Taylor Agency.

With inflation pushing interest rates higher, your debt will become more expensive. In turn, this means you'll have less money going to necessities and the fun stuff.

“The only reasonable debt to carry at retirement age is mortgage debt. Zero is your hero. Zero debt should be your goal, and that obviously means don’t incur any new debt,” Brabham says.

One great thing about your existing mortgage is that it will not rise with inflation if you have fixed payments (for example, a 30- or 15-year mortgage).

Reduce Your Expenses

This is always a good idea, even in times of low inflation. That said, smart spending in retirement is a must when prices are eating away at your monthly budget.

You might want to find a cheaper grocery store to frequent or make more affordable substitutions when you shop. Consider shopping for cheaper car insurance or driving less. Or, cancel your cable contract and replace it with a streaming service.

“Every chance you get, question every expenditure,” Brabham says. “Instead of eating out two days a week, make it one. Ask for a senior discount every time you make a purchase. You will be shocked at the number of businesses that offer senior discounts, but you have to ask.”

Don’t Hang Onto Too Much Cash

“While holding lots of cash may sound like a good idea, remember that your cash is losing value at the rate of inflation,” says John Hunter, the MBA program director and a professor of practice at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York.

Someone who is 65 has an average remaining life expectancy of 15 years. If you have a nest egg saved up, don't keep it all in cash starting at 65.

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Many experts suggest that you keep a few buckets of cash for different periods, including:

  • 12 to 24 months of needs in cash earning interest
  • Three to seven years in shorter-term, stable investments
  • 7+ years to continue to grow in the future

Don’t Panic

Yes, the financial world is scary. Inflation is going through the proverbial roof, and you might be wondering if your tree bark could be a cheaper substitute for croutons or potato chips.

Luckily, there’s no need to go that far or take on a doom and gloom mindset, according to Hunter. The reality is that psychology plays a huge role in building wealth. If you are worried about inflation hurting your retirement, it’s not going to help your finances at all.

“We've been here before and survived. Anyone who is retired or nearing retirement lived through inflation of about 12% in the early ‘70s, about 15% in the early ‘80s and even saw a brief spike above 6% as recently as 2008. In all these cases, the surging price of oil was a major contributor,” Hunter says.

This, of course, is part of what is currently driving inflation. It's a cycle, and things will eventually stabilize.

Don’t Give Up on Investing

While the market may seem like it’s not heading in a great direction, don’t let inflation keep you from investing.

Acquiring and maintaining assets that are always working and compounding for you is critical to building wealth and thriving in retirement. You need to figure out how to make your retirement income go up with inflation.

“There are always investment opportunities in all economic conditions. High-quality companies can do well in inflationary periods,” Hunter says.

He advises working with a financial advisor to lower the risk in your portfolio and find good companies to invest in.

“Even in steady economic conditions, retirees should have a measurable part of their total portfolio in stocks,” Hunter says. “Historically, it is the best way to keep pace with inflation and ensure a portfolio lasts for your lifetime.”

The Bottom Line

The combination of inflation and retirement can make for some scary times. However, much of what we fear is the unknown. We can either let our overactive imaginations take charge and fill our minds with worst-case scenarios, or we can decide that we're the ones calling the shots.

Focus on what you can control. You’ve already had a lifetime of practice when it comes to searching for ways to stretch your budget and living within your means.

Many retirees deal with inflation. With the right mindset and proper planning, you can join the ranks and enjoy retirement in spite of tough economic times.

About Geoff Williams

Geoff Williams headshot

Geoff Williams has been a personal finance journalist since around the time of the Great Recession of 2008. He's been writing professionally since the 1990s about a variety of topics, including personal finance, credit cards and loans.

Williams is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever" and "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America."

Born in Columbus, Williams now lives in Loveland, Ohio, with his two teenage daughters.