Savings Tips

How Retirees Can Lower Their Bills

Donna Freedman
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Donna Freedman
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May 20, 2022
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How Retirees Can Lower Their Bills

Running out of money before the end of the month? You’re not alone. Inflation has slammed many people since January 2022, but retirees are especially likely to feel the pain. Although the Social Security Administration does an annual cost of living adjustment (COLA), it hasn’t kept pace with inflation.

If the COLA isn’t doing it for you, it’s time to look for “extra” money in your budget. Some of the following tips could yield almost immediate, noticeable savings. Others save money in smaller but consistent ways, which will add up over time.

A mix of tactics can help you lower your bills across the board. Not only will this reduce budgetary stress, it will help you avoid dipping too deeply into your retirement savings. Here’s how to save money in most common budget categories.

[ Read: How to Budget for Retirement ]

How to lower housing costs

Look for a property tax cut. Some municipalities give retirees a break on at least some of the yearly tax burden.

Consider downsizing. The rents in professionally managed apartment buildings went up 16.8% year-over-year by the end of 2021, according to a new study from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. If you’re renting a two-bedroom place and using one room as an office or guest room, find out what it would cost to move to a smaller apartment. When looking for a new place, watch for “move-in special” deals; you might get a month (or more) for free.

If you’re a homeowner, downsizing might still be a good idea if your house is getting harder to maintain. Depending on where you move, you might also pay a lot less in property tax.

Get a roommate. This could mean moving someone in, or moving yourself somewhere else. Maybe a longtime friend is looking for a roommate. Perhaps a grandchild who’s recently graduated needs a place to stay.

Another possible source is the National Shared Housing Institute, which has a directory of member organizations (generally nonprofits) in 17 states and abroad. Some of those programs specialize in helping seniors find comfortable, compatible households.

How to lower transportation costs

Be smart about your car. Use an app such as Gas Buddy can help you find the most affordable fuel. Get better fuel efficiency by avoiding jackrabbit starts and speeding. Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule to prevent little problems from turning into expensive ones and to extend your car’s lifespan. Speaking of which …

Keep your car longer. Hang on to your vehicle instead of automatically trading in for a new one every few years. Imagine having extra years without car payments. Pro tip: Bank the money you would have spent every month for a bigger down payment when you do need to replace the vehicle.

Ditch a car. If you’re a two-vehicle household, discuss whether you could get by with just one. This might not be possible, but if it is, you’ll save a ton on insurance, gas and maintenance. 

Give up your car. This isn’t feasible in some places, especially rural areas or far-flung suburbs. But at least think about it. Maybe a combination of public transit and rideshares would get you from place to place, while delivery services such as Instacart could take care of groceries, drugstore orders and other necessary items.

How to lower utility costs

Ask about discounts. Some utilities offer income-based service rates.

Get an energy audit. Also known as a home energy assessment, this provides a picture of where your home is inefficient and how you might fix it. An energy audit (and the fixes) can be professional or DIY. The U.S. Department of Energy offers tips on both types.

Install a programmable thermostat. This lets you adjust heating and cooling to specific time frames. Why keep the place toasty-warm or frosty-cool during the hours when you’re at your part-time job or volunteer gig? Check with your local utility to see if it has any special deals; for example, NVEnergy offers a free programmable thermostat for its customers in northern and southern Nevada.

Look for rebates and incentives. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency is a source of city, state and federal energy efficiency programs. You might qualify for rebates or other financial assistance to make your home more energy-efficient.

Opt for automatic billing. Most wireless phone service providers will give you a monthly discount if you arrange for automatic payments. You could save anywhere from $5 to $20 a month, depending on the carrier and the number of phone lines.

[ See: How to Stay on Top of Your Bills ]

How to lower food costs

Check out meal deliveries. Programs such as Meals on Wheels and Mom’s Meals will bring food to your door. Many clients are eligible for free meals through their insurance or senior assistance programs.

Eat well for less. Food scholar Leanne Brown’s cookbook, “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day” is available as a free PDF in both English and Spanish. It offers healthy and delicious meals that can be prepared for very little money.

Shop carefully. Start by checking to see what’s on sale and making a menu based on those items. Sign up for grocery stores’ loyalty programs, which offer exclusive discounts and deals such as free food products. Look for coupons (many of which can be downloaded to your grocery store loyalty card). Remember that the store brand or even a generic brand is probably just as good. And never shop when you’re hungry.

How to lower your debt

Request a lower interest rate. If you have a good history with your credit card issuer, you might be able to negotiate a lower rate. If you have a credit card balance, you’ll be able to pay it off faster if the interest rate is lower.

Consider a balance transfer. If you have decent credit, you might qualify for a 0% balance transfer credit card. You’ll generally get up to 15 months to pay off the debt. Make sure you have an ironclad plan in place for paying it off, or you’ll be right back where you started.

Consider debt consolidation. You may qualify for a personal loan at a lower interest rate than your credit card has. Again, make sure you can pay it off on time—and read the contract thoroughly to identify fees and other issues that can make the loan pricier than it should be.

Ask for help. The nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling can put you in touch with an accredited counselor who can help you deal with your debt. This help is offered on a sliding-scale basis and might even be free because NFCC partners have to promise never to turn anyone away due to an inability to pay.

[ Read: How to Pay Off Debt in Retirement ]

How to lower health care costs

Take care of yourself. Eating well, getting plenty of sleep, and staying as active and engaged as possible are good ways to improve your health and also your quality of life. Remember that some Medicare plans include the free Silver Sneakers fitness program.

Use preventive health benefits. It’s best to catch a little problem before it becomes a major health issue. Medicare covers a variety of screenings and preventive care services. Medicare.gov has a list of these services you can use when discussing with your doctor which ones are right for you and to keep track of appointments you schedule for screenings. 

Fall-proof your home. Falling is the top cause of injuries (fatal and nonfatal) for older people. The National Institute on Aging offers tips on making your home safer.

Shed some bad habits. Cutting back on alcohol, quitting smoking and limiting junk-food intake are all big wins for your overall health.

[ Find Out: How Retirees Can Cut Health Care Costs ]

How to lower insurance costs

Whether it’s auto, homeowners or renters insurance, these tactics can help you cut costs:

Shop for a better deal. You may be able to save a lot of money on your monthly insurance premiums by reshopping your insurance. Online services such as Insure.com, NerdWallet and PolicyGenius can get you a new insurance quote in seconds.

Talk to your agent. Ask about any discounts you might qualify to receive. For example, you might qualify for a low-mileage discount if you’re not driving much anymore. Also ask if you can get a discount if you pay your insurance premium once or twice a year instead of monthly.

Increase your deductible. Your premiums will drop, although you’ll pay more out of pocket if you’re ever in an accident.

Ask for discounts. You might get them by bundling different kinds of insurance, or by being a good driver.

Reduce coverage. Some forms, such as collision, might no longer make sense financially. Talk to your agent.

How to lower miscellaneous costs

Trim subscriptions. Use an app such as TrueBill to highlight how much you’re spending on subscriptions services. Read your credit card bills carefully to spot any charges you don’t remember authorizing; for example, maybe you accidentally signed up for a recurring contribution to a charity instead of a one-time gift. An account-monitoring service such as Carefull also can catch recurring contributions and duplicate payments. 

Stop buying books. Instead, get them for free at the public library—which also should have a variety of magazines, so you can ditch your subscriptions. Public libraries also tend to have large collections of DVDs, which you can borrow instead of spending money on cable TV or movie streaming services.

Cut entertainment costs. Look for “pay what you can” or “pay what you will” performances in your area. See movies on the cheapest day of the week (which might not be “senior day,” incidentally) or visit second-run houses. Check out free streaming services such as Peacock, Pluto and Crackle. Look for other free entertainment, such as outdoor plays or concerts. See if the library has a book club, foreign language conversation group or some other fun activity.  

Do it yourself. Not everyone is super-handy. But you might be able to do some stuff on your own: planting flowers, washing your car, doing minor home repairs, bathing the dog. There are home improvement websites and loads of YouTube videos to show you how to do these things and more.

[ Keep Reading: How to Automate Your Finances ]


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman

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