Many people spend their entire adult lives looking forward to the freedom of retirement, yet when the time finally comes, saying goodbye to one's steady source of income can be scary. Whether you're already retired or just planning ahead, you can mitigate some of the myriad financial worries by whittling down expenses with the following tips.
Many retired couples don't need the two cars they once did to commute to and from work. Selling a second vehicle can bring in several thousand dollars immediately, while also saving on car-note payments, insurance, and the next few years' maintenance costs.
Another option: Retired couples can sell all their vehicles and rely on public transit, provided they live somewhere with enough coverage. There's almost always a senior discount for regional transit services in major urban areas -- New York, for example, has a MetroCard for riders over 65 that charges only half the standard fare. For longer distances, Amtrak has a senior discount of 15 percent off their highest coach fares.
AARP is but one of many organizations seniors can join for a small fee to save bundles in the long term. A membership with AAA provides access to roadside assistance as well as discounts on car rental, vacations, dining, and other services. In addition to cheap groceries and other goods, Costco also offers vacation and car rental deals. But don't spend money to join unless you know you'll actually use the discounts.
No one dictates how you dress in retirement. Employees who spend hundreds each year maintaining a suitable wardrobe for work can finally stop spending money on clothes they may no longer want or need. Plus, ditching one's business wear may also mean never spending another cent at the dry cleaners.
The chief purpose of life insurance is to replace one's income in order to ensure the financial security of dependents in the event of one's death. Since most retirees have no dependents or employment income, life insurance isn't necessary, except maybe to cover funeral costs. This requires only a small policy, instead of the bigger, more-expensive policies required pre-retirement.
For many folks, retirement means traveling to make up for all the years spent working. Retirees can save on often-expensive travel costs by taking advantage of discounts for seniors on flights, hotels, car rentals, and cruises. Book lodging and tours in person or over the phone to inquire about senior discounts, or check AARP Travel for frequent deals on vacation packages and specific services.
America's many national parks make for awe-inspiring travel destinations, and they're especially affordable for seniors. Visitors 62 and older can buy an annual pass granting admission to the parks and several presidential homes for $20, or a lifetime pass for just $80 -- the price of an annual pass for younger visitors.
Most museums across the nation offer discounted ticket prices for seniors. Most movie theaters and repertory theaters do the same, making it easier for retirees to spend less while devoting more time to the arts. AARP members can enjoy a 25 percent savings on tickets at Regal cinemas.
Every state has at least one institution offering free or reduced-cost classes for senior citizens, while 21 states have tuition waivers that eliminate the costs entirely for students 50 and older who meet certain requirements. Either way, it's surprisingly easy for seniors to find institutions across the nation where they can continue to learn and expand horizons into their golden years for free.
Being retired also means there's no need to buy takeout at lunchtime. In retirement, seniors can devote their days to picking up old hobbies or learning new ones. One of the most cost-effective and rewarding activities to take up would be cooking, since buying one's own groceries is much cheaper than paying for food at restaurants. Even brewing coffee at home instead of picking up Starbucks can save a small chunk of money each month. Note, too, though that many restaurants like Denny's and IHOP do offer senior discounts.
Debt can follow one around their entire life. Don't let it keep happening in retirement, too. The wisest way to retire is debt- and mortgage-free, so no amount of retirement savings should be spent on paying off old possessions. Costs only accrue the longer one waits, so it's best to manage debts now to ensure a more financially stable retirement.
Every state has some sort of property-tax benefit for seniors, although the eligibility age varies. Six states have programs that freeze property taxes completely for seniors, and 10 limit how much a property's tax value can increase. Also, the homestead exemption can be larger when a homeowner reaches a certain age. (The larger the exemption, the lower the tax.) In Colorado, seniors 65 and older can exempt up to 50 percent of their residence's first $200,000 in value.
This can be a difficult one. A recent survey found more than half of Americans spend a lot of their money on "guilty pleasures" such as gambling, alcohol, tobacco, or fast food. Cutting down on one's vices -- whether that means skipping the bar or just grilling a burger at home instead of ordering from McDonald's -- is a surprisingly effective and healthy way to cut monthly expenditures. Plus, you may not even need them as much once relieved from the stresses of a 40-hour workweek.
If yours is one of the few households that still contain a landline, retirement may finally be the time to eliminate this recurring expense once and for all. As long as you can get passable cellphone reception at home, there's no reason to spend anywhere from $15 to $75 on something as unnecessary as a home phone.
Though they aren't always widely publicized, most cable companies provide special senior discounts that can be obtained by speaking with a company representative, and AARP members can score an additional 10 percent off qualified service plans. Alternately, retirement could be the right time to cut the cord entirely, so you can spend less time and money on TV and more on other hobbies.
HEALTH INSURANCE COSTS
Health insurance is one expense that can change dramatically when you retire, and being unaware of Medicare's rules is a serious pitfall to be avoided. One tip: Those who retire after age 65 can avoid spending extra by enrolling in Medicare within eight months of ending their employment. Otherwise, they risk losing eligibility and coverage, and face suffering a 10 percent late-enrollment penalty.
Auto insurance rates are known to rise as drivers become less dependable in old age, but seniors can maintain or even lower their rates by inquiring about mature-driver discounts, which generally require attending defensive-driving courses. The courses usually cost about $25 but are good for three years, and can save close to $100 a year.
Most states make it easier for seniors to enjoy the outdoors by offering discounts on passes to state parks, in addition to hunting and fishing licenses. Check your state's policies to see whether these recreational licenses are cheaper for seniors or entirely free.
A gym membership can be a convenient way to keep in shape if hectic work hours leave little time to get outside. There's no excuse to keep paying monthly fees, however, once you have near-unlimited free time to walk, jog, or bike around the neighborhood -- all rewarding, mostly free forms of outdoor exercise that do more to maintain mental and physical health than indoor workouts.
Giving up a long-time home may be difficult, but downsizing from the old family abode to something more suitable in size will make an enormous dent in expenses by lowering monthly payments and maintenance costs. Selling old furniture can bring in money to cover moving expenses, and a smaller home in a more affordable area will also shave away property taxes.
Before retiring, some people spend years setting aside as much as one-quarter of their income to serve as retirement savings. Of course, this can totally cease to be a consideration and an item in one's budget once a person actually retires and begins spending their savings.