34 Tips for Enjoying Life on a Limited Income
Are you concerned about having enough money to enjoy a satisfying retirement?
At a more basic level, are you worried about having enough money to survive during retirement?
If so, you are not alone. Having enough money is the single biggest concern of most retirees.
When new people subscribe to Retire Fabulously!, I ask what their most pressing concern is. “Having enough money” is, by far, the number one concern.
While Retire Fabulously! is not a financial planning website, and I am not a financial planning professional, in this article I will offer a wide range of suggestions for enjoying your Renaissance years with limited financial resources.
Living a “fabulous” retirement does not necessarily mean having a large amount of money to spend lavishly. It means designing a life for yourself (and your spouse, if you have one) that is happy and fulfilling.
This doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money. It’s true that many of the best things in life are free. On my list of 100 Things You Can Do After You Retire, 62 of those are things you can do for little or no money. Some might actually make money.
Of course, two of the most significant steps you can take are downsizing to a smaller home and moving to a place where the overall cost of living is cheaper. There are plenty of articles on this website and all around the internet dealing with these topics. I’ll write more on finding good lower-cost places to live in an upcoming article.
In this article, I’ll suggest 34 steps you can take in your day-to-day life to reduce or eliminate expenses that won’t significantly impact your quality of life.
Many of these suggestions may seem obvious to you, but knowing something and actually doing it are two very different things. I hope that you are able to find at least a few ideas here that will help make your life better.
Do you know where your money goes?
Many people aren’t fully aware of where their money goes each month. During your working years, as long as your spending does not exceed your earnings, you can get by without having to worry too much about where your money goes.
If you don’t know where all of your money goes each month, the first step is to figure this out. Go back through your bank statements and credit card bills for the past six months to a year, and record how much you are spending for various categories of expenditures. You may need to closely track your spending habits for a three to six-month period. For more on how to do this, see this article.
This may be an eye-opening experience. You may not fully realize how much you are spending each month eating out, making impulse purchases, buying coffee at Starbucks, and so on.
What can you cut out?
The fact is, many of our expenditures are frivolous and provide only momentary gratification. You can eliminate these expenditures without significantly impacting your quality of life.
Here are several things you should consider reducing or eliminating:
- Cable TV. Too much television is bad for you anyway. There is some worthwhile programming on television, but most of it has little lasting value. Television is a passive activity. Get out and enjoy some activities with bring you physical activity, mental stimulation, human contact, and fulfillment.
For the TV you do watch, consider an internet streaming service such as Hulu ($7.99 per month), NetFlix ($7.99 per month), or Amazon Prime ($8.25 per month).
- Landline phone service. Consider ditching your landline and using only your cell phone. These days, 90% of the calls we get on our landline are unwanted. Besides, in the current era of email, texting, and Facebook messaging, people don’t talk on the phone nearly as much as they used to (sadly).
- Expensive cell phone plans. While I enjoy my cell phone and the capabilities it offers (maps, internet access, texting), I still think the money we pay to Verizon each month is greater than the value we receive. After all, we got along just fine in the pre-mobile era. AARP’s Consumer Cellular plans start at under $10 a month. However, these plans do not work outside the U.S.
- Gym memberships. If you use the gym regularly, this may be okay. But many people buy gym memberships with every good intention, but rarely go. Also consider which gym amenities you use, and consider whether you can achieve the same results elsewhere. For example, if you use the treadmill, you could gain the same benefit by walking outdoors. In inclement weather, you can walk through the local mall.
Some health insurance plans offer free or reduced gym memberships through the Silver Sneakers program.
- Cars. During your working years, owning two or more cars is probably a necessity if both spouses work and if you have teenagers who also work or have activity-filled schedules. But after you retire, you can probably get by with just one car.
In fact, you may be able to get by without a car! When you add up the cost of gasoline, maintenance and insurance, it becomes apparent that a car is a pretty expensive convenience.
If you are considering moving after you retire, consider locations that are highly walkable, bike-able, or have good public transportation. (See WalkScore.com)
Uber and Lync offer a good alternative to owning a car. The cost of Uber, Lync, taxies or bus passes may seem like a lot of money trickling out of your pocket, but when you consider the money you’re not spending on gas, maintenance, and insurance, it’s probably much less expensive.
When you want to take a weekend trip or have a special need for a car, you can rent one.
- Subscriptions. If you find that you don’t regularly read the magazines or newspapers you subscribe to, don’t renew them next time they come due. Most of their content is available online.
If you subscribe to anything else that arrives at some regular interval, such as books, music, or wine, take a critical look at how much value you are getting, and whether you would be better off buying these items when (and if) you need them. Subscription deals always work in favor of the merchants.
Become a smarter shopper!
- Shop online. It is often cheaper, and it’s easier to compare prices. While you can’t see and touch the item in person, you gain the benefit of reading other people’s reviews of the product and comparing prices and features from multiple sources side-by-side. Most reputable websites offer sufficient return policies.
You know how you often see a box for “Promotion code” or “Coupon code” during the checkout process? It can be disappointing to think that there might be a discount out there somewhere that you could be availing yourself of. Before you complete your purchase, open another browser tab and go to CurrentCodes.com or a similar site, or just go to Google and search for “<website> coupon code.” Read more on how to find and use online coupon codes here.
- Use coupons. I know it can be a hassle to cut out, collect, and track coupons, but they really do save money. I used to subscribe to the Sunday edition of our local newspaper just to receive the coupon inserts. But now you can go to websites such as Coupons.com.
That said, don’t get out of control. Don’t buy stuff just because it seems cheaper; buy only when it’s an item you regularly use or have a current need for.
- Stock up on things when they are on sale – as long as they are things you regularly use. Don’t stockpile things that may go bad before you get a chance to use them. Don’t buy things only because they are on sale.
- Check out grocery store loyalty programs. In Arizona, the Fry’s Foods loyalty program is pretty lucrative. Every Friday, they offer a free item to attach to your membership account, along with many other virtual coupons. Fry’s also offers discounts at some local gas stations (10 cents per gallon discount on every $100 purchased the previous month). Plus, they will contribute money to a non-profit of your choice based on your purchases. (Fry’s is owned by Kroger’s. Other Kroger-owned chains probably have similar deals.) I often leave Fry’s having saved more than I spent.
Other stores offer similar programs.
- Buy flour, spices, snacks, etc. from the bulk food bins. Plastic storage containers and ziplock bags are your friends!
- Buy store brands instead of name brands. The store brands are often made by the major producers anyway.
- Make a shopping list and stick to it. Don’t be swayed by impulse purchases.
- Plan your meals based on the weekly grocery store flyers.
- Check your receipt! Watch the monitor screen at the cashier station and check your receipt before you leave the store. Stores are three times more likely to overcharge than to undercharge. You might be surprised how often sale prices and loyalty card discounts are not applied properly. It happens to me once or twice a month.
- Visit dollar stores and discount outlets. Maybe it’s not elegant, but dollar stores and discount outlets such as Big Lots, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Home Goods offer fantastic values. The downside is that their inventory is not consistent; they stock whatever their buyers have been able to score deals on. Be careful not to buy things just because they are cheap; buy only what you know you need and are likely to use. You can find great values on clothing and appliances at Goodwill and similar stores, too.
- Avoid malls! Mall stores rarely offer good deals on anything. Rent in shopping malls is high, and they price their merchandise based on the convenience of having so many stores in one place. Malls thrive on price-insensitive shoppers who browse the stores for recreational shopping.
- Look for the best value. For most items you buy, whether it’s appliances, clothing, cars, food, or anything else, the best value is often not the cheapest option. Don’t just buy the cheapest model or brand you find; if it wears out or breaks quickly, you haven’t saved money. Conversely, the most expensive options are usually loaded with features and add-ons you don’t need. The sweet spot is usually somewhere in the middle. Value is where price meets quality.
Consumer Reports (either the magazine or the website) is an excellent resource for finding the best value for many items that you purchase. This is one subscription that is worth holding on to.
- Get insurance quotes at least every two years. Insurance companies know that once you sign on with them, you are likely to automatically renew each year. They often quote low rates when you initially inquire, but those rates slip up a little bit each year.
While it’s easy to get quotes online, it may help to speak to an agent to ask if there is anything else they can do to lower your rates – especially if you let them know that you have found better rates elsewhere.
- Buy eBooks books rather than physical books. eBooks are much cheaper. You don’t need to have a Kindle device to read Kindle books (although I love mine!); Amazon offers a free Kindle reader app for most modern computers, tablets, and smartphones.
Lower prices and discounts are everywhere, if you know where to look for them.
One of the best perks of growing older is the senior discounts! Don’t be bashful or self-conscious about asking for them.
- SeniorDiscounts.com is an excellent focal point for finding discounts.
- AARP offers a wide range of discounts and benefits, as well as informative reading and resources on their website. Visit their site occasionally to refresh your memory on everything they offer. I admit, I don’t use my AARP membership nearly as much as I could.
- Senior discounts at grocery stores. In the Phoenix area, the four major grocery chains offer a 10% discount to people over 55 on the first Wednesday every month. See what’s available in your area.
Why pay for what you can get for free?
- Libraries. Use your local library for books, music, and movies.
- Free wi-fi. If you are a light internet user, you may be able to get by without internet service to your home (although this advice conflicts with the advice above for internet streaming TV service). Starbucks is famous for offering free wi-fi, and many fast-food restaurant chains are following suit. Your local library may offer free wi-fi as well. Many cities are now offering wi-fi hotspots throughout the city.
Seek out discounts for local entertainment.
- Goldstar.com now operates in over 40 cities across the U.S. They offer substantial discounts to local productions and some national touring acts that run the gamut from the symphony orchestra, opera, professional theatre, and concerts to stand-up comedy.
- Colleges. Local colleges offer many types of performances that are usually free to the public. They are usually almost as good as professional performances, and the students will appreciate not performing to a nearly-empty house.
- Museums. Many museums have free days or evenings on a weekly or monthly basis.
- Theatres. Theatres may offer deeply discounted admissions to pre-opening night dress rehearsals or abbreviated lunchtime performances.
Other tips for enjoying a quality life while spending less
- Eat at home. It’s no secret that eating in restaurants is usually at least three times as expensive as preparing food at home. Plus, restaurant food is rarely dietarily responsible, so you can eat healthier at home.
- Eat out less expensively. Sometimes it’s nice to eat out, just to get out of the house and save yourself the effort of cooking and washing dishes.
When you do eat out, opt for restaurants without waiters or waitresses; you’ll save money on tipping.
Avoid appetizers, alcohol, and desserts; these are the higher mark-up items.
Eat out at lunch rather than at dinner; many restaurants have cheaper lunch menus.
Look for coupons, senior discounts, and deals through sites such as Groupon and Living Social.
Sign up for the mailing list of the restaurants you dine in most often.
- Consider solar panels. If you plan to stay in your current house for at least ten years, you will probably save money with solar panels. We have them, and we have never regretted the purchase. We save about $2000 per year on our electric bill. Some months, our bill is just $18.
If you are planning to stay in your house less than ten years, leasing solar panels may be a viable option.
- Own a stand-alone freezer. This allows you to take advantage of purchasing food when it’s on sale, and you can buy the larger quantities they sell at Costco and Sam’s Club.
- Consider renting rather than owning. Okay, this one may be controversial. It goes against everything we have been taught about the value of home ownership. If you currently own your home, it’s paid off, and you plan to stay there – great. But if you are going to relocate or downsize, it may be cheaper to rent.
When you own, you will occasionally have to cough up money for major repairs. For example, during my first year of retirement, we had to replace both of our air conditioners at a cost of $17,000. An expenditure like that or a new roof will take a big bite out of your savings. If you are renting, you just call the landlord.
The other reason why renting might make more sense is that a large chuck of your assets won’t be tied up in your house. If you sell your home when you move and then rent in your new location, you can invest the proceeds from the sale of your house and have more money to live on each month.
One strategy for living cheaply during retirement that you often read about is retiring overseas to a country where the cost of living is significantly cheaper than the United States (often Latin America or Southeast Asia).
Can retiring overseas really save you money? (Maybe, but not always.)
Is this option right for you? (For many people, it’s not.)
I will examine this topic in my next article. Stay tuned!
What are your tips for cutting costs? Please share in the comments below!
Other articles you may enjoy
16 Worst Things to Buy at Costco and Sam’s Club (Kiplinger)
Best Buys at Warehouse Clubs, Grocers and Big-Box Stores (Kiplinger)
The Cheapskate Guide: 50 Tips for Frugal Living (Zen Habits)
© 2016 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.
Money wallet: 401(K) 2012. Some rights reserved.
Calculator and money: 401(K) 2012. Some rights reserved.
TV remote: flash.pro. Some rights reserved.
Coupons: Chris Potter. Some rights reserved.
Library: Don Shall. Some rights reserved.