I want to retire in 4 years on $3,100 a month. Is this enough, and do I need a pro to help? 

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Question: I’m retiring in four years at $3,100 a month income, per my calculations. How can I stretch this amount as far as possible, and should I hire a professional planner to help me? (Looking for a financial adviser too? This tool can help match you with an adviser who might meet your needs.)

Answer: It’s good to see you’re asking this important question several years before you plan to retire. And $3,100 per month can be stretched for a single individual living in an inexpensive area who watches every single penny, says certified financial planner Jim Hemphill at TGS Financial. “We have a client whose situation is not entirely dissimilar,” he says, noting that she moved from a pricier spot in Philadelphia to “a much cheaper apartment in a nearby state university town and she has an old paid-up car.

That said, your situation could be different. “First, you’ll want to look at the sources of your retirement income. Will your income increase as the cost of living increases once you’re in retirement or will it remain at $3,100? Will you pay income taxes on any of the income or will the income be tax-free?” says certified financial planner Mark Humphries at Sentinel Financial Planning. Indeed, if that income goes up, it will be easier to stretch it down the road as prices rise; similarly, if the $3,100 is yours free and clear of taxes that makes it easier to live on than if not.

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The second thing Humphries points out is that where you live and the lifestyle you’re accustomed to matter. “If you reside in a lower-cost area you may fare better than in a high-cost area. If you live a modest lifestyle, you can potentially make the income suffice,” he says. You also need to factor in unexpected costs like healthcare, he adds. 

If all that has you feeling like you won’t make it with $3,100 a month, the biggest lever Hemphill says you can push is probably working longer, or working part-time in retirement. “If this is an option you consider, be honest with yourself about what type of work you do and how long you can perform the work,” says Humphries. 

If you can’t work in retirement, use “any savings or part-time work to try to delay Social Security claiming until age 70,” says Hemphill — which he adds “can make a huge difference.” 

Another great way to stretch your money, according to certified financial planner Steve Weiss at Buckingham Strategic Wealth, is to live below your means and be sure you’re saving up for any rainy day expenses. “Some costs such as a new roof and certainly medical care can be quite substantial. Since you don’t plan to retire for 4 years, you can test out your plan now and see how well you can do living off $3,100 per month,” says Weiss.

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There are other potential solutions to think about, such as a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), which is a type of reverse mortgage allowing seniors to convert equity in their homes into cash that’s insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). “While it’s important to fully understand the program to determine if it’s right for you, a HECM could allow you to tap the equity in your home to supplement income if needed, ” says Weiss. 

Basically, certified financial planner Lauren Lindsay at Beacon Financial Planning, says you have two options: “Make more or spend less. If you have reviewed all options to cut back, working to supplement that income might be necessary.”

Do you need a financial planner to help?

It may make sense to hire a professional planner to review the situation and determine if there are any glaring issues to address or opportunities to take advantage of. “There are planners who will create a one-time plan, which may be a good start to at least know if you’re on the right track,” says Weiss. (Looking for a financial adviser? This tool can help match you with an adviser who might meet your needs.)

As far as working with a planner, which may represent a sizable cost for you, certified financial planner Philip Mock at 1522 Financial says it may be beneficial to find a planner who works on an hourly or project basis so you can get help in the areas you need without having to pay for help in areas you don’t need it. “A planner would be able to do a cash flow projection of your income, expenses, taxes and inflation to give you a sense of if that income level is sufficient to meet your needs and goals,” says Mock. Adds Lindsay: “Someone who specialties in cash flow could be very helpful to work with on this but not all financial planners do.”

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