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12 Sep 2021

Retirees' emergency savings falling short: six ways to save in retirement

Almost half of retired savers don't have enough to cover unexpected expenses

Despite one in five retirees thinking they have plenty of money saved, around half don't have enough emergency savings, according to research from Hargreaves Lansdown.

While savers still in work are advised to build up easily accessible emergency savings to cover three to six months of essential expenses, for retirees this increases to one to three years' worth of expenses.

This is because retirees don't have the opportunity to top up their savings accounts each month, as those who are still working do.

Here, Which? looks at why retirees need to have a larger emergency savings stash and how to build yours up if you're no longer working.

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What are emergency savings?

An emergency savings account can mean different things to different people. In an ideal world, it would be a pot of easily accessible money that you can keep separate from your other finances and leave alone unless you really need to use it.

The 'emergencies' you might spend it on include anything that's an unavoidable, but also unexpected, expense. This could be things such as car repairs, a new boiler or new glasses, for example.

You should think about how much you need to aim to save and how much you'll realistically be able to put away.

While it's sensible to have some savings in an instant-access account, it's unlikely that you'd need to withdraw the full recommended one to three years' worth of spending at short notice.

With that in mind, it could be worth splitting the full amount into a couple of different accounts, putting some in an instant-access account and some in a fixed-term account or several accounts. That way, some of your money will be there if you need it quickly, while the rest can earn more interest until you need it in future.

Six ways to save money in retirement

If you're one of the many people who thinks their savings might be lacking, there are plenty of things you can do to increase the size of your savings pot - despite no longer receiving a monthly salary.

From making the most of your government-backed retirement perks, to cutting down on your spending and making extra money - here are our top tips.

1. Save little and often

The prospect of saving for one to three years' of expenses may seem a little daunting, but this doesn't need to be put aside all at once.

Instead, take a look at your spending and see what you could shave off each week, each month or each day. Savings of just £1 a day would give you an extra £365 in a year - and that buffer is still better than none at all.

Many banking apps have 'round-up' features, which round up the few pence to the nearest pound after each debit card transaction and transfer the surplus cash into a separate savings pot. So, if you bought a coffee for £2.50, the transaction would be rounded up to £3, and the extra 50p would go into your savings.

In this way, your savings could be built up without you really noticing.

2. Avoid unnecessary spending

Obviously, cutting back on your outgoings will leave you more money to save.

If you're not sure where you could cut corners, it's worth looking at a few months' bank statements to see where your money is going. Some easy fixes are cancelling any services you no longer use and identifying non-essential purchases that you might be willing to reduce.

While you're assessing your outgoings, it's also worth checking whether you could find cheaper deals for things such as your energy bills. Which? Switch can help you compare gas and electricity prices.

3. Save money on household bills

Once you retire, you may be entitled to receive a number of financial perks, that could leave you with more cash to funnel into your savings.

Perhaps the most obvious of these is the state pension, although what you get depends on how many qualifying years of National Insurance Contributions (NICs) you made during your working life.

If you're on a low income, you might also be eligible to receive Pension Credit, which tops up the state pension payments to £177.10 per week in 2021-22 for a single person or £270.30 for a couple.

If you receive pension credit and you're old enough, you'll also be eligible for a free over-75s TV licence; this had been offered to everyone over the age of 75 until August 2020, but is now only available to pensions on a low income.

You may also be able to get financial help with household bills. The Winter Fuel Payment is automatically paid to retirees who receive the state pension or certain other benefits; you'll receive a tax-free annual amount that varies depending on your circumstances.

An extra £25 Cold Weather Payment - paid for each seven-day period of particularly cold weather - can also be claimed if you're eligible for certain benefits such as Pension Credit.

4. Look out for entertainment discounts

A large number of companies, facilities and attractions offer discounts to senior citizens, so it's worth checking to make sure you're not paying over the odds. These include museums, National Trust sites, cinemas, leisure centres and theme parks.

Some restaurants also offer cheaper dining offers. Some of the Greene King and Hungry Horse pub chains offer a separate menu for older diners, with slightly smaller portions at cheaper prices.

Last, don't forget about free and discounted travel perks. Free travel passes can be claimed in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London from the age of 60; elsewhere you'll have to wait until you reach state pension age.

You can also get a Senior Railcard from the age of 60, which costs £30 a year and can save you a third on train fares.

5. Make money from your home

Your home could be the key to reinstate or increase your monthly income.

If you have a spare room, you can let this out and receive up to £7,000 income tax-free through the rent-a-room scheme - as long as you're still living in the property.

Alternatively, you could rent out a spare parking space, or make extra cash from allowing your house or garden to be used for filming or photo shoots. For these sorts of income, you'd be able to benefit from the £1,000 tax-free property allowance.

6. Consider bank account switching perks

Taking advantage of bank account switching incentives can help give your savings pot a lift by up to £125.

While there aren't a huge number of switching offers available at the moment, providers do update their offers fairly regularly.

So, if you'd like to change up your current account, it might be worth choosing a provider that rewards you for it.

Of course, make sure you check to see whether the account will suit you first - for instance, whether it offers your preferred method of management (such as telephone or branch access), how it's rated on customer service and whether or not it's signed up to the voluntary APP code to protect you against fraud.

How much do you need for retirement?

If you've not yet reached retirement age and don't know how much you might need to save, our experts on the Which? Money Podcast can help.