Those of us who are retired know it's hard to live on a fixed income, especially since low interest rates have squeezed extra income from savings accounts down to a trickle. The alternative is to lower our expenses. No one wants to give up the things they enjoy, whether it's a membership to a fitness club, a trip to the mall or a warm home in winter. But sometimes we're paying for things we don't really use. Here are seven ideas for saving money without feeling any pain:
1. Insurance. Have you ever joked that you're worth more dead than alive? Then maybe you don't need life insurance, especially if your kids are grown up. Also, check the deductibles on your auto and home policies. You can save by increasing your deductible from $250 to $1,000. And if your kids are no longer driving your car, the chances of getting in an accident are diminished. If your car is over five years old, consider going without collision insurance. Since you're no longer commuting, maybe you can sell off an extra car as well.
2. Food. Do you find yourself scraping vegetables into the garbage, or throwing out moldy bags of unidentifiable leftovers from the back of the refrigerator? Approximately 25 percent of the food we purchase goes to waste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The answer? Serve smaller portions. Store leftovers efficiently and keep them in the front of the icebox. Eat leftovers for lunch, or put leftovers on the menu for dinner. Also, resist the call of bottled water, and turn to the kitchen faucet.
3. College tuition. Scholarships are increasingly difficult to obtain. But one way to save money is to send your children to a state university rather than a private college. According to many experts, there is no advantage to a good, but second-rate private college over a state university when it comes to landing a job or gaining admittance to graduate school. If your children insist on a private education, have them apply to several schools to see which ones will offer them the most money.
4. Vacation. When you're retired, you're flexible. Fly mid-week when air fares are cheaper, and go on vacation during the shoulder season when rates are lower.
5. In your community. You already pay taxes to support your library, so instead of buying a book or DVD, go borrow one. Many communities offer adult education classes, ranging from foreign languages to ballroom dancing. Don't hesitate to get a senior discount at the movies or state park, or an America the Beautiful senior pass for national parks. You don't have to be at the office from 9 to 5 every day, so go out to lunch instead of dinner to get the same benefit at a lower cost. Play golf on weekdays instead of weekends for a lower rate.
6. Go green. Those of us who grew up in the 1970s learned how to turn off the lights and dial down the heat. But maybe we forgot during the energy glut of the 1980s and 90s. So remember, sometimes you can open a window instead of turning on the air conditioning. Change your light bulbs to energy-efficient bulbs. And remember, according to government figures, it costs 40 to 50 cents per mile to drive your car. So maybe you can downsize your gas-guzzling SUV to a gas-sipping hybrid. But even with your old jalopy, you can save on gas and wear-and-tear by sticking to the speed limit and batching your trips.
7. Now you're the boss. You used to pay for the premium cable package, because the kids insisted on it. Maybe you don't need that anymore. Downgrade your cellphone service if you don't use the minutes. Cancel your membership to the swim club if you're not using it. Look through your credit card bill. What are you paying for that you no longer use? Now is the time to cancel the charges that are there for your kids, and focus on the activities that are important to you.
Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.