When it comes to retirement, there’s one question that is sure to get a lot of people to save: Could you survive if you only received Social Security?

But the fact is millions live off their monthly Social Security benefit check. How do they do it?

Barbara Woodruff, 65, of St. Louis told Grandparents.com how she manages.

Her check: $633 a month. This is much less than the national average.

As of June, the average Social Security benefit was $1,254.78 per month.

Woodruff is collecting less than many folks because health problems reduced her working years, she told Grandparents.com’s Daisy Chan. As Chan points out, Social Security benefits are based on your earnings during your working years.

Part of the reason Woodruff can survive on just Social Security is that she gets subsidized housing. She pays $189 for a one-bedroom apartment. She also receives $33 a month in food stamps.

Read more about how Woodruff gets by.

Woodruff has a lot of company in trying to survive on Social Security. As Rebecca Lake reported for Investopedia.com, 21 percent of married couples and 43 percent of single seniors count on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income.

“Social Security isn’t a substitute for building a solid retirement base, and if you’ve still got time before you retire, consider looking for ways to shore up your savings,” Lake wrote. “Start by chipping in as much as you reasonably can to your employer’s retirement plan, especially if it comes with a matching contribution. If you don’t have a 401(k) or similar plan at work, an individual retirement account (IRA) is another way to grow your savings. The more you set aside now, the less pressure you’ll feel to make your Social Security benefits stretch.”

If you think you’ll be relying just on Social Security, here are some articles with tips on how to make the money stretch.

Are you living on just Social Security? If so, how do you do it? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com.

Retirement rants and raves
I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement. Did you retire early and if so, how did you do it?

Is retirement everything you hoped for? Are you scared you’ll run out of money?

What you share might help others. So send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

One recent rant came from a friend.

“So, you worked hard, saved your money, cut off your adult children, and retired,” Maribel Soto of Burke, Va. “Are you prepared for retirement’s close companion: aging? The consequences of aging will have a monumental effect on your financial position. It will not be enough to have perfect adult children who did not deflate your retirement wealth. Do your adult children/loved ones have the competence and capability to navigate the health care, legal, and social services systems to ensure your well-being and quality of life?”

Soto asks some good questions considering her own experience.

“Try telling the Social Security Administration that the court has declared you as your mother’s legal guardian,” she wrote. “Show up with all your court records, and they will say, ‘We do not recognize the court’s assessment, we have to conduct our own, meanwhile we can’t tell you why her benefits have been stopped.’ Yet, the assisted living facility has to be paid. That is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Here’s Soto’s poetic take on aging:
Loving father,
Loving mother,
Loving son,
Loving daughter,
Only one faces Medicaid, Social Security, the court system, the banks, and the creditors.
. . . and she is not enough.

Retirement blog
I believe that wealth happens intentionally and for me this means reading as much as I can about all things financial, especially retirement.

Since we’re talking about retiring on just Social Security, here’s a blog post that you may find helpful: 5 American Cities Where You Can Retire On Just Social Security

Retirement assignment

There’s so much to know and keep watch on when it comes to retirement planning. So every week I’ll have a home assignment for you.

This week, if you haven’t done it already, set up your online Social Security account, which allows you to check your information, including how much you’ll get once you start collecting benefits. Knowing this information is key to retirement planning.

Here’s the direct link for my Social Security.”

Before you get started, watch the video created by Social Security on how to create your account. You’ll find it at the bottom of the page.

I also recommend you read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) posting by Social Security on setting up an online account.

I want to hear how your home assignment went. What did you learn? Did the assignment make you change any of your plans?

Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Retirement Assignment” in the subject line. I’ll also be open to suggestions for assignments.

Newsletter comments policy
Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)

Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more Color of Money columns, go here.

If you’re viewing this post online sign up to receive Michelle Singletary’s free newsletters right into your email box: “Your Retirement” on Mondays & “Personal Finance” on Thursdays

Read and share Michelle Singletary’s Color of Money Column on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Follow Michelle Singletary on Twitter (@SingletaryM) and Facebook