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How to Cut Your Largest Expense in Retirement

Kailey Fralick, The Motley Fool

Housing is most retirees' largest expense, as it is for most working adults. The average household headed by an adult 65 or older spends nearly $50,000 per year, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, and of that, nearly $17,000 -- 34% -- goes toward housing.

It isn't difficult to figure out where all that money goes: rent or a mortgage payment, then there's insurance, property taxes, maintenance, and utility costs. Even the most frugal among us can't avoid spending thousands of dollars per year just to keep a roof over our heads, but there are ways you can lower these costs.

Senior couple standing outside of home

Image source: Getty Images.

Reducing your housing costs today frees up extra cash you can put toward your retirement savings, and reduces how much you need to spend on housing once you do retire. Here are four strategies to try.

1. Pay off your mortgage before retirement

Getting rid of your mortgage before retirement can cut living expenses dramatically, leaving more money for food, healthcare, and things you love. And it improves your financial security because you don't have to worry about losing your home if an unexpected expense blows up your retirement budget.

Take steps to pay off your mortgage early if you otherwise won't have it paid off by retirement. You could make one extra payment per year or make a half payment every other week, which adds up to 13 full payments each year. You could also put any year-end bonuses or tax refunds toward your mortgage.

You may have to make some adjustments to your budget to free up cash for extra mortgage payments, like cutting discretionary spending. If this is not feasible or appealing to you, try one of these other strategies.

2. Downsize

You may not need as much space in retirement as you did while you were raising a family. Moving to a smaller home may make sense if you're not strongly attached to your current home. But before you do, make sure downsizing is actually cheaper than remaining where you are. There'll be closing costs if you need a new mortgage and you could pay just as much -- if not more -- for a new, smaller home if housing costs have risen in your area since you bought your first home.

Price out both options, including estimates of home insurance, property taxes, maintenance, and utilities to figure out which is more affordable for you in the long run. If the prices aren't significantly different, you're better off staying in your current home than moving. But if downsizing proves to be much cheaper, it's worth considering.

3. Relocate to a more affordable area

You can take this as a separate suggestion or use it in combination with the suggestion above. If you're considering moving, think about a more affordable neighborhood. This will bring your mortgage or rent payment down and could also lower your property taxes. If you're willing to change where you live more drastically, consider a move to one of the most tax-friendly states.

But again, if you're purchasing a new home, you have to factor in closing and moving costs, any potential upgrades you plan for the home, and whether or not you'll end up carrying that mortgage into retirement.

4. Rent out your home

Renting out your home can offset housing costs and bring a welcome source of income for snowbirds and frequent travelers. You could rent out a spare room or mother-in-law suite if you have one, or rent out the entire house while you're away. It's possible to make money above and beyond your mortgage payments this way, but it depends on where you live and how often you're renting it out. Some people are also not comfortable allowing strangers into their home.

It's up to you to decide which of the above strategies work with your lifestyle. But whether you plan to stay where you are, move, or travel frequently, there are ways to cut housing costs so you have more money for what you love.

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