The best way to increase the size of your Social Security check is to earn more while you're working and then defer claiming until age 70. If you've already retired and your Social Security check is set, that opportunity has passed.
But just because you can't raise your payout anymore doesn't mean you can't get added value from what you receive. Here are some steps you can take to stretch your Social Security money further, which is the next best thing to increasing the size of your check.
Retirement is often the perfect time to downsize. During your working years, you may have had a house full of children who have moved away, or perhaps you even held elaborate parties that required a large, expensive home. After you retire, any children you have are likely in their own homes, or at least away at school, and you may be able to scale down the large-scale festivities you used to host. Switching from a four-bedroom country estate to a 1- or 2-bedroom apartment may not be glamorous, but it will certainly save you a lot in terms of rent and/or upkeep. If your home was already paid off, as it is for many retirees, you could significantly boost your nest egg if you sell it and live off the proceeds.
If You're Still Earning, Move To a Tax-Free State
For many Americans, Social Security payments are tax-free. But if you earn money from an outside gig or some other source, up to 85% of your Social Security check could be taxable. If you find yourself in this position, moving to a tax-free state could help your Social Security check stretch further. Although you may still be liable for federal tax, moving from a high-tax state like California to a tax-free state like Florida or Texas could keep more dollars in your pocket.
Relocate to a More Affordable Area
Even if you're not looking to beat the taxman, moving to a different state could also significantly lower your cost of living. Average costs in New York, for example, run more than 48% above the national average, while states like Iowa, Kansas, Georgia and Missouri sport costs more than 10% below the national average. Simply moving to another state could end up stretching your Social Security dollars another 50% or more.
Learn How To Cook
If you've spent most of your working life eating out, dialing down this expense could make a huge difference to your Social Security check. Not only is eating at home much less expensive than eating out, but it's also generally much healthier, which may enable you to live a longer life. Learning a new skill like cooking also offers numerous ancillary benefits, such as keeping your mind sharp and opening up social opportunities. You may also find it to be a joyful, engaging activity.
Check for Additional Benefits
If you simply filed for Social Security benefits based on your own work record, you may be short-changing yourself. If you still have a living spouse, you may be entitled to a spousal benefit equal to as much as 50% of his or her payout. If your spouse has died, you may be entitled to survivor's benefits that may be even higher. Even if you are divorced, if you were married for at least 10 years you may still receive the same benefits. Check with the Social Security Administration to ensure that you are earning as much as you can in terms of your legally available Social Security benefits.
Consider Moving Overseas
If relocating in the United States isn't your cup of tea, consider moving overseas. Yes, it will cost more to relocate, but the change could be a dramatic improvement, both in your lifestyle and in terms of how far you can stretch your Social Security check. Numerous American expats receive their Social Security checks in exotic locations like Portugal, Thailand or the Philippines, where the cost of living can be less than half that in the United States. Places like these also afford an exciting lifestyle of beaches, good food, beautiful views and historic landmarks.
Trim Your Budget
No one likes to trim their household budget, especially in retirement, but if you really need your dollars to stretch further, it's a time-tested method. Even in retirement, you likely have monthly expenses that aren't 100% necessary, and dropping them from your budget can help stretch your Social Security dollars. For example, now that you're retired, you may no longer need monthly subscriptions to work publications. You could also consider dropping cable in favor of cheaper streaming services, some of which offer free TV channels that rival the lineups of cable companies anyway. Check every line item of your budget and see if you can drop what isn't actually necessary if you want to free up some extra cash from your Social Security checks.
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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 7 Ways To Stretch Your Social Security Money Further