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. Downsize your home or move to a state with lower living costs. Cutting back on 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, if you wind up getting the house via divorce a reverse mortgage or home equity line of credit may provide the funds to help you through a tough time.
  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.


USAA 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.

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.

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