Practical Money Skills for Life: Seniors: Take a Bite Out of Spending

Practical Money Skills for Life
Seniors: Take a Bite Out of Spending

Anyone who's retired or living on a fixed income knows how difficult it is to keep up with skyrocketing health care, fuel and food costs. And, with today's longer lifespans, many of us will need to keep our eye on the ball for much longer than our parents' generation did.
Here are a few strategies to rein in spending and make better use of the money you do have:
The No. 1 rule is to make a budget and stick to it. Know exactly how much money is coming in every month and how much is going out. First, add up all income sources including pensions, 401(k) or IRA payouts, savings account interest, stock dividends and so on. Then, tally all expenses, large and small: groceries, medications, insurance premiums, rent or mortgage - even coffee to go. You'll be surprised how much you spend each month.
If your expenses outweigh your income and you don't have sizeable savings to rely on, you must either increase your income or cut spending; otherwise, you'll run out of money. If you're not sure how to create or stay within a budget, visit Practical Money Skills for Life, Visa's free personal financial management site (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/budgeting). It features My Budget Planner, a comprehensive interactive calculator, as well as many other budgeting tools and tips.
Here are a few other suggestions that can save hundreds of dollars a year:
* You can lower your auto and homeowner/renter's insurance premiums considerably by raising deductible amounts. Also, rates typically go down when you reach age 50 or 55, especially if you take a defensive driving course, so be sure to ask.
* Many health insurers offer deep discounts if you order several months' worth of routine medications at once or order by mail. Also, online pharmacies often charge less than walk-in drugstores and may provide free shipping, so comparison shop.
* Weatherproof your home and buy energy-efficient appliances to drastically reduce your utility bill. Go to www.energystar.gov for more information and check with your utility for rebate offers.
* Ask if your utility offers senior or low-income household discounts or subsidies.
* The U.S. Department of Agriculture's food stamp program helps millions of lower-income Americans buy nutritious food each month. Visit www.fns.usda.gov/fsp to see if you qualify.
* Consider joining AARP. For a $12.50 annual fee, anyone over 50 can take advantage of hundreds discounted products and services for members including insurance, hotels, restaurants, department stores and much more (www.aarp.org).
* AARP's website also features a Low Income Help page with tips on finding state, federal and private assistance programs for which you may qualify.
* Before purchasing anything, always ask if they have a senior discount. Many supermarkets, department stores and entertainment venues offer senior discount days or hours where you can save 10 percent or more.
* Always check your receipt for errors before leaving the store.
* For travel-related expenses, ask about senior discounts with hotels, car rentals, airlines and buses and tourist attractions. But compare with other discounts to ensure it's the best deal.
* Lower entertainment costs by using the library for books, magazines, music and movies.
* Many colleges offer free or reduced tuition for seniors. Also, check out www.elderhostel.org for travel and learning adventures, worldwide.
You've worked hard for your money - make sure it lasts a long time by watching how you spend.

Jason Alderman directs Visa USA's financial education programs. To sign up for a free monthly personal finance e-Newsletter, go to www.practicalmoneyskills.com/newsletter.