As Inflation Continues to Squeeze Americans, Here Are 3 Ways Retirees Can Cope With Higher Prices

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Americans are spending hundreds of dollars more every month due to inflation.

For those in their golden years, it could mean trying to stretch an already tight retirement income.

Consumer prices jumped 8.5% in March from a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That includes food, which is up 1% from last month and 8.8% from a year ago, and gasoline, which rose 18.3% from February and 48% from last March.

Shelter prices rose 5% in the past year.

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"What makes this challenging is we are dealing with inflation, we are dealing with low interest rates and we are dealing with stock market volatility," said certified financial planner Marguerita Cheng, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

"These three challenges are all colliding," she added.

On the other hand, there are areas where retirees may not be as badly hit as the general population. Since personal spending changes in retirement, it reduces the impact of some rising costs, according to J.P. Morgan's 2022 Guide to Retirement.

"[Retirees] have more flexibility in the sense that if fuel prices are going up or airline prices are rising, they can choose not to go on vacation this year," said CFP Michael Finke, professor of wealth management at The American College of Financial Services.

"Business travelers don't have that same flexibility," he added.

Social Security is also adjusted for inflation. Next year, seniors may get a cost-of-living adjustment as high as 8.9%, according to the latest estimate from The Senior Citizens League, a nonpartisan senior group. The bump for 2022 in January was 5.9%, the highest in 40 years.

With that in mind, here's how retirees can navigate inflation.

1. Wait to collect Social Security

The best thing senior citizens can do to protect their income from inflation is delay claiming Social Security, which will, in essence, buy more Social Security income, Finke said.

After you reach full retirement age, you may increase your benefits by 8% for each year you wait to retire, up to age 70.

"If they wait until age 68 or 69, that's a huge improvement in the amount of inflation-protected income they can get," Finke said.

2. Review your budget

Account for the rise in prices in your budget, advises Cheng, a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council. This way, you can see what you are actually spending and where you may need to cut back.

For instance, putting off vacations or scaling back on unnecessary driving can help cut down on gas costs.

When food shopping, it may mean buying less red meat and more chicken, or going to a farmer's market for produce instead of the grocery store. Using coupons and comparison shopping can also help you save money.

3. Keep your portfolio balanced

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Having a mixture of cash, stocks, bonds and other assets is key, Cheng said.

Cash on hand will actually help you stay invested, so you don't have to divest of any assets if you need money, she explained. All cash, however, is a losing bet against inflation, since the purchasing power of that money decreases as inflation rises.

To focus on longevity so you can sustain your financial independence in retirement, consider dividend-paying stocks, growth stocks and real estate, Cheng said.

"These are assets that are going to fluctuate in the short term but they are designed over a longer period of time to give retirees diversification and protection against inflation risk," she said.

When it comes to dividends, focus on rising-dividend stocks over high-dividend ones, Cheng advises. Those that have high payouts may have to cut them later, while those with rising dividends have a history of continual increases. Look for a fund that has a basket of familiar names.

Also have a mix of different bonds. While bonds are considered a "safe" asset compared with stocks, there is also risk involved, because when interest rates go up, the price of a bond can go down, Cheng explained. The Federal Reserve, which raised interest rates last month, is anticipating six more hikes this year.

Retirees may also consider Treasury inflation-protected securities, or TIPS, which are issued and backed by the U.S. government like typical Treasury bonds. However, they come with protection against inflation. Again, there are exchange-traded funds dedicated to TIPS.

I bonds are also a hedge against inflation. Investors can buy up to $10,000 per year but can't access the funds for 12 months.

At the end of the day, it's important to be aware of the risks of inflation.

"Inflation is stealth; it kind of sneaks up on you," Cheng said. "You just want to be proactive about it so it doesn't become problematic."

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