Living Cheap for Seniors

Carrol Wolverton

Carrol Wolverton

Ever since I published Living Cheap & Loving It, I’ve been thinking about drafting a version for seniors. I firmly believe, if careful, that you can live on pretty much whatever income you have. Many have had to, particularly those who lost solid employment when they were in their fifties. As you may know, few employers want you once you are older unless you have an in-demand, employable skill. Add a down slide in the economy and a dismal drop in interest rates, and many of us found ourselves unwillingly living cheaply.

Let me begin with a story. My husband and I are in our seventies. We live in a large subdivision made up of homes mostly over thirty years old. One neighbor, a single man, lived here with his three daughters. They drained him dry. The house had been purchased new, was quite nice, and had an in-ground pool. It now sits vacant, in foreclosure, and is in need of some thirty thousand in repairs. This house should have been paid for years ago. They are all now living in an apartment and hiding from creditors. There has to be a better way.

Here are some of the mistakes I’ve noticed being made around me.

Number one is, obviously, don’t let your kids drain you empty. There are numerous multi-generational groups living around us. A daughter is divorced, so here she is with her three kids. “I can’t let my grandkids starve,” you might say. No you can’t, but you can insist that Mom is working and that the kids work as soon as they are old enough. There is a plan in progress to get that daughter self-sufficient. That is not what I see happening. The daughter may whine that her only option is the late shift at the convenience store on the corner. So? Taco Bell too lowly for her? What about the nearest grocery store bakery counter? The man above mortgaged and remortgaged his house until there was nothing left while a BMW and Mercedes sat in the driveway. We all remember Ed McMahan pitifully looking for work wearing a neck brace. “I want things to be right,” he said. They were far from right and he is no more.

Here are some other ideas.

Despite tragically low interest rates, still save money. There is nothing like money in the bank. That is what our current generation is not doing. The average American carries some $8,000 in credit card debt. “But it costs money to live?” you might say. It can cost a lot less.

Cut those costs like mad. Make that old car last longer. Walk to the store. Ride the bus, if possible.  Take advantage of food giveaways. Churches often do this. Too proud? Send that daughter and the kids. Ask what’s out there. Our local senior center serves inexpensive lunches daily. It’s free if you are low income. Saturday is free for anybody who shows up. Maybe volunteer. Very often, there is leftover food. Still too proud to do this? Picture yourself hiding out in that apartment complex.

Take advantage of senior discounts. This is particularly useful for coffee and drinks. Many Taco Bell locations offer free senior drinks with any food order. Always ask if there is a senior discount. One local McDonalds is full of seniors on their laptops drinking senior coffee. I have no problem going up to one of these guys and asking computer questions, and getting answers from another senior is far more palatable than asking some kid. Ask for discounts in retail stores and with other items. Do you have a senior rate?

Recycle, restore, reuse most everything. Some of our neighbors have five or six trash cans out every week. We have one, and it’s half full. Paper wrappers get recycled, and food waste goes into the compost heap. You may already know that eggshells are wonderful for plants.

Resale everything you are not using. This means consignment shops and a garage sale at least once per year. Our back patio is made up of discarded stepping stones from other people. I dug out an area, lined it with black plastic trash bags, put down the broken stepping stones, and filled in spaces with pea gravel. I then poured a weak cement mixture over the whole thing. It looks great and will last forever.

Watch sales. More and more area stores are offering BOGO’s. These are buy one, get one specials. Take the ads to Walmart or any other cheaper store that does price matching. You have to be careful that it is the exact same item, or it won’t be honored. Walmart currently allows two matches per transaction. Hence, if canned tomatoes are BOGO, you can buy four. Use coupons, particularly if there is a BOGO plus the coupon.

Shop garage sales. This is now a national pastime. It’s fun, you meet great people, and you learn so much. Many times I have asked, “What is this used for?” and discovered items I didn’t know existed. Watch for inexpensive things that you might consign or resale yourself.

Hang out at the dollar store. Yes, there’s a lot of cheap merchandise, but there is also olive oil for a dollar and 12 oz. bags of frozen blueberries for the same price. Dollar sunglasses are a must because I keep losing or scratching even the expensive ones.

Buy summer in winter and winter in summer. Winter hoodies are dirt cheap in July. Do your Christmas shopping in July as well. Anticipate grandkid sizes and buy accordingly. If you guess wrong, resale the item. Buy toys this way as well. Buy a few extra if really on sale to donate to the local Toys for Tots program or your church holiday giveaway.

Have a sideline that produces food or income. Even I can grow cherry tomatoes – in Florida. Yes, they have to be watered but look great in big pots sitting out back. The pots came from garage sales at no more than a dollar each. A local man makes beautiful wooden furniture. Another makes fishing lures. We all know about the Duck Dynasty guys. It’s their father’s creation that made them rich.

Take care of yourself. Why are my husband and I the only ones out walking early every morning? Get moving and walk. Do yard work. Clean something daily. Refinish something. Use generics whenever possible. The church does a free exercise group. Yoga is a wonderful stress releaser.

Eat cheaply and healthy. Make those calories count. Eat a healthy cereal meal daily. If you can’t tolerate milk anymore, use soy or other substitute. Use artificial sweetener or none. Bake or broil everything, including veggies. Don’t touch calorie-laden soft drinks. They are worthless and put weight on. Make your own hot chocolate for breakfast by adding a tablespoon of cocoa powder to boiling water. Add 3 teaspoons of artificial sweetener and a teaspoon of vanilla. Add another teaspoon of coffee creamer. Drink this year around. Chocolate is full of anti-oxidants and very good for you.  This version has maybe ten calories.

Don’t want to do any of this? Remember the man at the beginning of this article, and don’t wait until it’s too late and you and the kids are running for cover.

I’m sure many of you have other worthwhile suggestions. Share them on Barbara’s blog.

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