Retirement plan talk usually turns on things like Social Security benefits, a pension, and retirement savings, such as your 401(k) plan. Many people toil to pay off the mortgage prior to retirement. They want the expense off the table when living on retirement funds.

But the mortgage is only a piece – and not always the biggest piece– of the cost of shelter. Insurance, real estate taxes, utilities, services, repairs and maintenance remain. And don’t forget the bathroom remodel or the upgrade to energy efficient windows. Our shelter can consume a disproportionate chunk of the retirement budget, even after the mortgage is gone.

That’s why we should view shelter as a strategic part of our retirement plan…in the same category as Social Security and the 401(k). It can offer surprising flexibility in retirement. It can stretch the monthly budget.

Right-sizing, or moving to a home that suits your daily needs, can free up funds in your budget in two ways. First, it reduces the costs of home-ownership. And the cash you clear in the move can help cover those costs.

A right-sized home can also allow you to age in place longer. It may postpone the need for assisted living when your knees don’t function as well as they once did.

Letting go of the family home can be hard. The key is to stop romanticizing the full house that may, or may not, materialize at Thanksgiving. Instead, imagine the daily life you want to live in retirement.

Do you want spend your retirement supporting a house? Or would you rather your house support the best retirement possible?