Many Americans are in the process of reassessing their spending patterns, and boomers and seniors are no exception. Seventy-three percent of adults over age 50 started saving more or cutting back on spending last year, compared to 2010, according to a November 2011 report by the AARP.
In many cases, the new spirit of frugality is not necessarily born out of financial necessity, but also out of a desire to simplify life, avoid excessive consumption and focus on what’s really important – family, friends and community.
If you’re an adult over 50, maybe you’re exploring the hidden treasures of your own region instead of taking exotic vacations. Maybe you’re barbecuing with friends in the backyard instead of going out to eat. Maybe you’re spending more time playing with your grandkids instead of buying them the latest electronic gadgets.
In short, you’re trying to cut back on spending without sacrificing quality of life. Here are five tips to help.
Examine recurring expenses. It’s easy to overpay for utilities and other recurring expenses if you don’t periodically review your options and make sure you’re getting the best deal. Many utility companies offer senior discounts, for example, but you have to ask. Also consider a lower-cost no-contract cellphone plan. Consumer Cellular, for example, offers a variety of affordable no-contract voice and data plans that can be changed without penalty at any time. You’re never locked into a plan that forces you to pay for more service than you need, and complementary usage alerts mean you don’t have to worry about accidentally exceeding your maximum allowance. Flexible family plans where couples and families share minutes can save an additional $20 to $30 per month.
Increase energy efficiency. Another way to reduce your bills is by increasing the energy efficiency of your home. You can unplug battery chargers when not in use, turn off appliances rather than leaving them in standby mode, use energy-efficient light bulbs and turn off the lights when you leave a room. If you’re able to invest a little to ensure longer-term savings – whether through weatherproofing or upgrading aging appliances – you can schedule an energy audit to find out how to get the biggest bang for your home-improvement buck.
Be a smart shopper. If you’re not into clipping coupons, that’s OK. There are other ways to save. For example, try store-brand products rather than automatically reaching for the brands you’ve always purchased – in many cases, you won’t be able to tell the difference. Buy in bulk if you use large quantities of something. Watch for sales on items you purchase regularly, but don’t buy something just because it’s on sale – if you wouldn’t have bought it otherwise, you’re not saving money. For bigger-ticket items, be sure to comparison shop to make sure you’re getting the best price. Websites such as pricegrabber.com allow you to research numerous retailers without leaving your home.
Take advantage of free entertainment. Wondering what to do this weekend? Low-cost, or sometimes free, options are abundant. Check the events sections of local newspapers and websites to see what’s happening in the area – festivals, exhibits and other special events are often free, and high schools and colleges frequently host sporting events, plays, concerts and lectures that are open to the public. Libraries are also an excellent source of free entertainment – you can try out new authors, artists and genres with no risk by borrowing books, audiobooks, DVDs and CDs instead of purchasing them. You might even meet some interesting people while you’re out and about in the community.
Reassess your gift-giving habits. If you’ve ever found yourself rushing to the mall to buy a last-minute gift for a loved one’s birthday, chances are you’ve spent more than you originally planned, settled for something you suspected the recipient might end up exchanging, or avoided the decision by purchasing a safe but impersonal gift card. However, most of us don’t really need more things. Instead, consider giving your loved ones the gift of a shared experience. If your grandson loves animals, take him to the zoo. If your sister is into jazz, take her out for an evening at a jazz club. Of course, you might not end up spending less money this way – experiences come in all price ranges – so do keep your budget in mind. The point is that instead of wasting money on something that might just sit in the garage for years, you’ll enjoy a meaningful experience together. And that’s what quality of life is all about.