This original article was written by Sari Harrar for AARP The Magazine.
THE LOWDOWN: As the kids move out, many 50-somethings splurge on homes, vacations, cars. But with retirement years looming, that could be a mistake. Welcome to your most critical financial decade.
… rule America’s wealth … Over-55s have $1.6 trillion in spending power — controlling 75 percent of the nation’s wealth and 70 percent of U.S. disposable income.
… yet have major money worries. That wealth isn’t evenly shared. Just 1 in 4 people in their 50s feel confident their savings will last through retirement.
You took a huge hit in the Great Recession of 2007–2009 … The average net worth of 50-something households topped $200,000 by 2007, then plummeted to $140,000 in 2008. Recovery has been modest.
… and plan to work a long, long time … Fifty-nine percent of 50-somethings expect to hold down a job until 65 or older — and 26 percent plan to work until at least 70 — according to a 2016 survey.
… but may be too optimistic. Reality check: Nearly half the retired women and men in one national survey said they had to stop working sooner than expected — 41 percent due to a health issue, 26 percent due to their employer’s decision.
You may have stopped saving for retirement … A record 30 percent of people in their 50s say they no longer contribute to their retirement accounts; 16 percent have withdrawn money prematurely.
… and may be carrying historic credit card debt. Credit card debt is highest in the nation — $9,096 per person — among those in their early 50s. One in 7 may not get out of debt in their lifetime.
You spend a lot … Today’s 50-plus consumers spend at a rate two and a half times that of younger consumers. “People tend to kick up their heels in their 50s when the kids are gone,” notes Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
… especially on vacations. Adults over 50 spend almost half of all vacation dollars and account for 80 percent of luxury travel — over $120 billion a year.
You love home renovations … Age-55-plus households account for nearly half (47 percent) of all spending on home renovations, about $90 billion a year, one survey found. The most popular projects: a home office, jazzed-up curb appeal, and kitchen or bathroom upgrades. Meanwhile, 37 percent plan to move into a new home. The fallout: The average mortgage of a boomer today is $186,240.
… but also face rising household expenses … Between 2013 and 2014, 55 percent of 50-somethings spent more on groceries and 44 percent spent more on utilities.
… yet are helping kids and aging parents. One in 5 people in their 50s say they’re assisting an older parent financially; 62 percent do the same for a grown child.
In your 50s you’re still working, investments still have time to grow, and your mental prowess for making financial decisions is at its peak. Here’s what to do now.
Pay off credit card debt.“With investments earning 2 to 5 percent, it makes no sense to be saving for retirement if you’re not also paying off your credit cards,” says Michael Finke, chief academic officer at the American College of Financial Services.
Bump up automatic contributions. “If your employer offers a plan with automatic withholding, increase the withdrawal by at least a few percentage points,” Finke suggests.
Beware the call for cash. Your future security is more important than a lavish resort wedding for your daughter. Make sure you’re taking care of your financial needs, too, Finke says.
Have a plan. Having a financial plan could help you increase your retirement income by 20 percent or more, research has found.
Hold out. By working longer, you can smartly delay Social Security payments. Waiting until age 70 to start collecting gives you monthly benefits 76 percent higher than you’d get at 62.