The Great Inflation Squeeze: Here's How Retirees Can Navigate Higher Prices

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Americans are being squeezed by higher inflation.

That may have retirees on a fixed income concerned about getting by or running out of savings during their golden years.

Inflation rose 7.9% in February from 12 months ago, the highest in more than 40 years, according to the Labor Department.

Yet there is some good news for older Americans, according to J.P. Morgan's 2022 Guide to Retirement. Since spending changes in retirement, it reduces the impact of some rising costs.

"This inflationary period has not been as bad for seniors as it has been for workers," said certified financial planner Michael Finke, professor of wealth management at The American College of Financial Services.

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

Social Security is also adjusted for inflation. Next year, seniors may get as much as a 7.6% cost-of-living adjustment, according to a preliminary estimate from The Senior Citizens League, a non-partisan senior group. The bump for 2022 in January was 5.9%, the highest in 40 years.

That said, retirees are grappling with higher costs. For instance, food prices overall are up 1% from January and food at home rose 1.4%. The cost of rent and apparel are also higher.

"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 CFP Marguerita Cheng, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

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

With that in mind, here's how senior citizens can cope with inflation.

Adjust 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.

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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.

Delay Social Security

The best thing a retiree 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.

Have a balanced portfolio

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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 that 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 considered a "safe" asset compared to 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 just raised interest rates, is anticipating six more hikes this year.

Retirees may also consider Treasury inflation-protected securities, 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 and 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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