It can be a problem for some retirees to live on a fixed income. One potential solution is to lower your expenses. No one wants to surrender the things they enjoy – whether it's a sports activity, a trip to the mall or a warm home in winter – but sometimes we can achieve our objectives by going about things in a different way. Here are five ideas for retiring on less money, without feeling any pain.
1. Downsize. It's not difficult to find a cheaper place to live, but make sure you will want to live there. Your priorities are likely to change as you approach retirement. You might be compelled to hang onto an old suburban home because it's familiar, or in case the kids want to move back in. But familiar isn't always best, especially if the house is too much work and no longer fits your needs. And the kids might not want the house, while the work and expense of carrying your home is a certainty. You can always move to Florida or Arizona. But sometimes moving just ten miles away, to another county with fewer commuters, can save a lot in the cost of a house and the local taxes.
2. Decide when to travel. Travel is on the bucket list for many retirees. But if you don't like to travel, you shouldn't feel pressured into it by the adventure stories of friends. A lot of people would rather stay home and enjoy free local summer concerts and fall festivals or the social activities at a church or senior center. If you do want to travel, drive a few hundred miles, rather than fly a few thousand miles. You'll save money on airfare, rental cars, currency exchange and a host of other charges. You can also save money by staying with family. Spending a few nights with friends or relatives is a low cost alternative to an overpriced hotel, and they may also have tips about the sites you want to see. There's money to be saved if you don't go too far or else stay with family.
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3. Develop a support network. Almost anything we do in a group costs less than doing it by ourselves – and is usually more fun. Sharing expenses is one benefit of having a network of friends and family. Sharing work and responsibilities is another. When my mother-in-law got too old to drive, instead of giving up her car, she made an arrangement with a friend. The friend drives her to the supermarket and doctor appointments, and in return the friend can use the car whenever else she wants. Many people make these reciprocal arrangements: pet sitting for one another, sharing a vacation home or trading yard work for cooking. Beyond the financial benefit, having a network of people to socialize with and count on for mutual support opens up new opportunities to discover your strengths and participate in the joy of living.
4. Use community resources. You pay taxes to support your community, so instead of buying a book or DVD, borrow one from the library. Many towns offer adult education classes ranging from foreign languages to ballroom dancing. Don't hesitate to get your senior discount at the local movie theater or a state park. Play golf during the week for the weekday discount. Drive over to town hall and find out about perks your town offers senior citizens, such as real estate tax discounts. Check for programs like free transportation, low cost meals and special medical services. Many municipalities offer services that are underutilized because people don't know about them or are too embarrassed to ask.
5. Let go of your kids. It may be hard to say no to our own children, but they need to find their own apartment, cook their own food and learn to live on their own. There's no obligation to help them buy a new car, go on vacation or help pay for after-school activities for their kids. Of course, if you can easily afford it, go ahead. But don't let anyone guilt you into it. That means you can cancel the premium cable package, if it was the kids who insisted on it, downgrade your cellphone plan or close out your membership at the swim club. Now's the time to cancel the charges that are there for your kids and focus on activities that are important to you.
Tom Sightings is the author of "You Only Retire Once" and blogs at Sightings at 60.