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Your Financial Future

Can anyone afford to retire in Massachusetts?

Spending your golden years in the Bay State comes at a steep price. Here are four ways to ease the sticker shock.

Images from Adobe Stock/Globe staff photo illustration

In Greater Boston, home sweet home can feel more bitter than sweet — even in retirement. Evaluating how much money you’ll need to retire is one key to unlocking your prospects for living comfortably in your later years.

The Elder Index, a metric developed by the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, proposes the annual amount required to cover the basic necessities during retirement based on where you live. In 2019, the index calculated that Massachusetts was the second most expensive state in which to retire. A couple renting their home and in good health will require $45,252 a year, while a couple that owns their home will need $38,424. And those numbers only account for the bare minimum: housing, food, transportation, health care, and a small stipend for miscellaneous expenses.

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The Elder Index is missing the lifestyle expenses that make retirement enjoyable, says Jennifer Sirois, a vice president and financial consultant with Fidelity Investments. Eighty percent of your pre-retirement income is a better evaluation of what you’ll need in retirement. “Every family I work with has their own lifestyle that they want to support,” she says.

Alicia Munnell, an economist and the director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, says, “It costs a lot to live in Boston, and the reason is primarily housing.” The center’s research shows that Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement, but the gap is manageable for many. Small steps can make a big impact on your future retirement — even during a recession.

1. Keep working (for a little while).

While it might not be the ideal answer for people who are itching to exit the workforce, some experts believe that the best way to boost your retirement savings is to work longer. The Social Security Claiming Guide, which was published by BC’s Center for Retirement Research, says the monthly benefit will increase by 7 to 8 percent every year Social Security benefits are delayed. The longer you work, the more money you can squirrel away for retirement, especially if your employer offers a matching program on a 401(k) plan, Sirois says.

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2. Start socking away money early — even during a financial crisis — if you can.

While retiring might be far from the minds of millennials, it’s imperative to start saving for retirement as young as possible. Some workers might be considering reducing their 401(k) payments to increase their income due to the pandemic, but that’s not a good idea if you can avoid it. Sirois advises the younger workforce to always take advantage of their workplace 401(k) plan, try to pay down debt, and build up an emergency fund.

“Right now there’s tension between saving for retirement and your net take-home pay,” says certified financial planner Karen E. Van Voorhis, who is the director of financial planning at Daniel J. Galli & Associates in Norwell. “Every dollar that you’re [contributing to retirement] is a dollar that you’re not getting in your paycheck.” She cautions workers to avoid suspending contributions to their 401(k) plans, and advises anyone who does reduce or eliminate contributions to schedule a time in the next few months to re-evaluate.

3. Consider deferring property tax payments.

A property tax deferral program is a viable option for retirees living in Greater Boston, according to Munnell. The program allows lower income homeowners to defer paying their property taxes until they die — at which time the taxes become the responsibility of their beneficiaries — or their houses are sold. The property tax is then paid with interest. “Since the burden is on the towns, many towns really feel like they can’t afford it, and don’t publicize it,” Munnell says.

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She’s been advocating for the program to be state-funded and more widely accessible, regardless of income.

4. Have you thought about moving?

There’s no way around the fact that it’s just expensive to retire in the Boston area. Consider moving to a less pricey location when you leave the workforce and reduce your cost of living. The Elder Index estimates that a retired couple that owns their home in Connecticut, for example, will need around $37,920 a year, and in Pennsylvania they’d need $31,884. If you’re a homeowner, selling and moving to a cheaper location with less expensive housing means you can benefit from the equity of your current home, too.

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Brianna Bell is a freelance journalist who writes about personal finance. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.