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Splurging in Retirement       

Deborah Jaffe | Botanica | Getty Images

Senior citizens typically live on fixed incomes, and if they haven’t planned wisely, they can even be in danger of outliving their savings.

But you can’t take it with you and what fun are the golden years without spreading around some gold?

Senior splurges tend to fall into a few main categories. What follows is a sampling of the items, experiences, and services retirees say are worth spending more of their stash.

Quality

Retirees hail from the era before products were made as cheaply as possible in China, so some will still pay extra for a product that’s still built to last.

Alan Canton of A.N. Canton Insurance, says “I find that seniors and Boomers will pay more for quality and for guarantees as well as for service. In finance seniors will buy whole life or universal life (if they can get it) over term insurance because they understand quality ... and they understand about paying more and getting it back as opposed to paying less and getting crap. They (we) understand it is better to own the house than to rent it.”

Stephanie Olsen of the Hartford York catalog, which serves a customer base that’s about 50-60% retirees, points to the example of hats, for which seniors make a large part of the market. A pricey leather hat by a respected maker is the catalog’s most popular cold-weather cap. Olsen observes, “Because [seniors] seek out quality pieces that will last for years, they will spend a little more than a fixed budget might suggest.”

Food

Whether dining at a restaurant or opting for pricier ingredients when cooking at home, some seniors are willing to spend more on good food.

Randall Shelton, author of “Life On Earth: The Game Manual for Those Who Didn’t Bring Theirs,” says “We definitely are on a fixed budget,” but he still enjoys taking his younger wife to dinner at one of the really nice places in Bend, OR, “because she routinely prepares our meals here at home and they are works of art.”

Rosalea Hostetler, founder of The Balmer Fund reports always splurging on great coffee, and Lillian Hammer says she values higher-end food, admitting she shops at a gourmet grocery store: ”I do go to like to buy fancy new items.”

The Better Homes and Gardens Food Factor 2010 Survey found that women in the 50+ age bracket are the ones most apt to increase their use of (pricier) organic foods. Why? They’re aware, and they care: When these women do buy organic food, about three-quarters of them do it in support of animal rights and 63% say they are motivated by environmental concerns.

The study also found that women older than 50 are also the group to exhibit the highest awareness of food benefit claims, that 52% of them want to reduce processed foods in their diet, and 47% are trying to buy food sourced locally.

Travel

It’s been claimed that seniors make up one of the fastest growing travel markets due to their increased life expectancy and anecdotal evidence suggests they do like to strap on their fanny packs.

Hammer counts travel on her list of splurges. “Cruising is my favorite, so I take the old guy friend of 6-1/2 years and we will cruise at least once a year.”

A major priority for retiree Benny Braddock is travelling to places he’s always wanted to see but never did before, as well as revisiting places he particularly enjoyed in the past or did not have time to properly tour while in town on business. “I’m trying to go to the more adventurous places while still in good health,” he says.

Pampering

Although she’s on a fixed income, Hostetler says “I will always splurge on quality Dead Sea Salts for my morning soak,” says, adding, “the minerals make me function like a lively senior all day long.”

Hammer admits to splurging on makeup, getting her hair done twice a week, and a slightly more pro-active beauty indulgence: Botox. “Started that a few years back and I am 84 but don't look it—I feel that Botox cheers me up when I look in the mirror—not that I mind getting old, but just still want to keep that youthful feeling.”

Gary Breslow, a Paramus, NJ plastic surgeon, attests to injecting the hands of elderly patients with Radiesse to fill in gaps that appear with age. "In the last year, I have had a record number of senior citizens come into my office to get Rediesse. The hands are the most telling sign of aging. I forsee this becoming a continually rising trend."

Family

John Boyd, creator of the networking website MeetingWave, says seniors will splurge on “anything relating to their grandchildren. Flights to visit, meals out, clothes, toys—no end. My kids have two maternal grandparents and one paternal (my mom) and all three go nuts over the kids.”

Another priority for Braddock is “Spending time (and money) to be with family. It’s particularly important as we do not live close by and thus do not see them as often as we would like.”

Snowbirding

“Snowbird” is the term used for seniors who migrate south to warmer climates for part of each year to escape the harsh winters in the other place they live during the summers, usually the Northeast, Midwest, and Canada. Some use RVs as their second home and others have second houses.

Braddock is one such snowbird, maintaining two residences, because one of his priorities is “Having a place to go in a nice location that allows me to enjoy temperate weather year round.”

Gadgetry

Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem M.Ed., a marriage and family therapist, counts among the indulgences in her group of senior friends, “A new camera because digital is so much fun and cheaper than older cameras, and a computer because it is so easy to connect with other people with e-mail and become part of communities online. This is great for blocking loneliness.”

Shelton recently bought the Dragon Speaking system of voice recognition to make a digital archive of articles he wrote over the past 25 years. “That was $250 and splurging, for us (I had to add a gig of RAM, too.)… now all I have to do is get it to understand my Kansas drawl.”

Everyday living

Hammer notes an unfortunate new contender for the splurge list: ”Buying gas for my car at $2.98 cents a gallon is a splurge as of today but we gotta keep on keeping on, and driving to and from has now become a splurge.”

More Money:

Update: A quote was added that did not appear in an earlier version of this story.

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