Rebuilding Your Retirement After a Big Life Change

By Emily Starolis

You’ve had your plans for retirement set in motion for years: consistently funding your retirement account and happily discussing numerous travel destinations with your partner or spouse.

But what happens when life throws you a curveball?

If you’re at or near retirement age, a divorce, market crash, job loss or serious medical issue might threaten your nest egg. But tackling certain steps quickly can keep you on track.

“Don’t panic, but don’t bury your head in the sand either,” says CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and USAA Advice Director Robert Steen. “There is still a lot that can be done by folks who get a late start on saving toward retirement, but the key is having a plan of attack.”

Loss of Income

Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario involving someone — let’s call him David — near retirement and finding himself in a tough spot he wasn’t quite prepared to handle. David and his wife of 13 years are in the middle of a divorce, and he’s wondering how he’ll live comfortably without her Navy pension. After his initial shock and sadness, the former stay-at-home dad is ready to pick himself up and start the process of rebuilding his life, with the goal of improving his financial state at the forefront.

He can start by reducing expenses through a variety of tried-and-true methods — using coupons at the grocery store, taking public transportation instead of paying for gas and parking, using marketplace apps to sell things that have been hanging out in his garage for far too long and canceling his cable subscription, opting for less expensive streaming services. He can also get a full-time job.

If you find yourself in a situation similar to David’s, don’t panic. You have time to set a backup plan in motion.

First Steps

  1. Cut big expenses. Consider downsizing your living arrangements or moving to a state with lower living costs. Cutting back on incidental expenses will help, but really, it’s changing the big-ticket outlays such as housing and cars that will have the biggest impact. Use the USAA Real Estate Rewards Network to get a monetary reward when you buy or sell a home. 
  2. Increase income. Consider working longer hours at your current job or pick up part-time work if you’re retired. There are so many great ways to make extra money these days: You could work for a ride-sharing or grocery delivery service. You could also take on odd jobs around your neighborhood. Additionally, consider some ways to tap equity in the house via a reverse mortgage (if you’re at least 62), or a home equity line of credit. Just be aware that your home could be on the hook if you fail to repay the loan.
  3. Adjust expectations. With lifestyle adjustments like the ones mentioned above, most people can get by with less. It all comes down to reframing your mindset. Maybe your life won’t be exactly the same as before, or what you had envisioned, but it’s still going to be a good life!

You don’t necessarily have to overhaul every aspect of your life, but choose a few areas that aren’t as important to you — and you might even realize a simpler, low-frills lifestyle suits you just fine.

Finally, don’t forget your friend the internet! There are tons of online resources that offer sound life and financial advice. You have many tools at your disposal. Life may change, but it doesn’t have to affect your joy.

If you can relate, and it’s time to take a look at your expenses, check out our free online calculators and planners to start making changes today.

About the Expert: Robert Steen is the USAA enterprise advice director for Retirement & Complex Financial Planning and serves as the advice expert on retirement and complex planning topics such as maximizing retirement savings, establishing a retirement income plan, managing financial needs during retirement, estate/trust/inheritance tax planning, charitable gifting and distribution of assets.


USAASee note® Real Estate Rewards Network is offered by USAA Residential Real Estate Services, Inc., a licensed real estate broker and subsidiary of USAA Federal Savings Bank. Program may be unavailable for employer-sponsored relocations. Not available for transactions in Iowa or outside the United States. This is not a solicitation if you are already represented by a real estate broker. Reward offer limited in some states. Reward amount is based on sale price of home sold or purchased and cannot exceed $24,000 per transaction. To receive the maximum amount offered of $24,000, the sale price of the home sold or purchased must be $4 million or more. In 2017, the average member closing in the program received $1,230. Real estate agent fees still apply. The reward is not available in Alaska, Oklahoma or Louisiana. In Kansas and Tennessee, a loyalty card will be issued that is accepted at specific retailers. In Oregon and Mississippi a credit or commission reduction may be available. In New Jersey, a commission reduction or rebate may be available at closing. Please check with the program coordinator for details. You must be enrolled in the program and be represented at closing by an approved agent with a participating real estate firm in order to qualify for the reward. Reward not available to sellers in a short sale transaction. In certain states, buyers may need seller cooperation in order to participate in the reward program. Availability restrictions apply.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ in the United States, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete the CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

USAA means United Services Automobile Association and its affiliates. Financial advice provided by USAA Financial Advisors, Inc. (FAI), a registered broker-dealer, USAA Investment Management Company (IMCO), a registered broker-dealer and investment adviser, and for insurance, USAA Financial Planning Services Insurance Agency, Inc. (known as USAA Financial Insurance Agency in California, License # OE36312). Investment products and services offered by IMCO and FAI.  Life insurance and annuities provided by USAA Life Insurance Co., San Antonio, TX, and in NY by USAA Life Insurance Co of New York, Highland falls, NY. Other life and health insurance from select companies offered through USAA Life General Agency, Inc. (known in CA (license #0782231) and in NY as USAA Health and Life Insurance Agency). Banking products offered by USAA Federal Savings Bank and USAA Savings Bank, both FDIC insured. Trust services provided by USAA Federal Savings Bank.






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