Retirement Living Expenses for the Frugal Senior

Hopefully, our retirement living expenses will be significantly less than our pre-retirement living expenses. 

When we retire, we stop saving for retirement.  We will not pay taxes or if we do pay taxes, they will be much lower than before retirement.  Hopefully, we will have our mortgage and other debts paid so we will not be paying our mortgage payment or interest on other debts in retirement.

Have you ever wondered how your expenses compared to other retirees?

We need some data as the basis to study our expenses against other retirees.

Bureau of Labor Statistics Logo

In the United States, the U. S. Government is the best source for this information.  The United States Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) compiles a consumer expenditures survey each year.  The information is released each October for the previous calendar year.  The website for this information is

When I first started publishing this information in 2008, I thought that the best statistics for a retired couple would be in the table Composition of consumer unit.

In that table, there is a column Husband and wife only. This was the column I first used for my information. However, as I learned more about all the data that is available on the BLS site, I found other information that is very helpful for retirees. This is found in a table Age of reference person that shows information by various age brackets. The brackets of interest to retirees are 55 – 64 years, 65 – 74 years, and 75 years and older.

Retirement Living Expenses

Here is a summary table that compares each of these four groups:

Item Husband and
wife only
75 years
and older
Number of consumer units (in thousands) 27,386 23,466 16,648 12,559
Income before taxes $82,947 $75,241 $52,366 $35,467
Income after taxes 70,555 63,703 47,779 34,056
Age of reference person 59.1 59.3 68.8 81.4
Average number in consumer unit:        
People 2.0 2.2 1.9 1.6
Children under 18 NA .2 .1  
Adults 65 and older 0.8 .1 1.4 1.4
Earners 1.2 1.3 .7 .3

Here is what this summary tells us:

  • How many units are in each group.

  • The average income before tax for the unit.

  • The average after tax income for each unit.

  • The average age of the reference person in the unit.

  • The number of people in each unit ranges from 1.6 to 2.2.

These groups seem like good references since they are close to or in retirement age. If they have any children, they have very few under 18 years. Their life style and living costs should approximate a couple starting retirement or in retirement.

You can find these tables at You will find the two tables referenced above in the section named CURRENT COMBINED EXPENDITURE, SHARE, AND STANDARD ERROR TABLES.

Your income and spending habits may not exactly match our reference couples, but your expenses as a percent of your income will probably be close to the percentages of the reference couples.

The percentages are what we will use for comparison.

The tables on the BLS website are not easy to read since they list the total for a category first followed by the detail. BLS has also added statistical terms for each expense which complicates the table for the average person trying to understand what the retirement expenses really are. I have extracted the columns for the four groups and made some format changes to make the tables easier to read.

All total lines are bold.

If a total covers several detailed level items and/or subtotal items, the item is highlighted in yellow.

The table shows the percent of income of each expense.

I added two additional columns, Basic Costs and Discretionary Costs. These classifications are debatable so feel free to change the classification as you please.

Bottom line: Using my suggested classifications, you can see what the basic costs and the discretionary costs are for the average couples in the four groups.

I have created tables on this website for each of the four groups for your use. Look at the summary table above and decide which group best fits your situation. If you want a more detail comparison, use the Full comparison of all four groups table listed below.

The tables will not fit in the normal format of this website so click the link below to view the desired table in a larger window. When you are on the page for the table, you can download the table in Excel format for your own use.

Retirement Living Expenses Tables

Full comparison of all four groups (Not downloadable in Excel)

Husband and wife only

Age 55 – 64

Age 65 – 74

Age 75 and older

One other thought to consider is some of the retirement living expenses that are included in the itemized living expenses will actually be lower after retirement.  These include clothing, cleaning bills for work clothes, fuel costs for commuting, parking fees at work, business gifts, etc.  These are not taken out of any of the costs.

Health insurance may also be reduced when both members of the couple go on Medicare at 65.  However, Medicare premiums are projected to rise in the future so plan for increased health care costs in the long term.

You can work through these expenses and decide what your real retirement living expenses are (or will be).  This gives you a good comparison to measure your retirement living expenses as compared to the US average.