10 Tips to Stretch Your Retirement Savings

Those of us living the retired life are lucky in so many ways. We have the freedom to spend our days doing what we most enjoy. We are no longer subject to the stress of maintaining a full time job. Our children are beginning to discover the joy of independence as they head off to begin their own lives. We are finally able to focus some attention on the wants and needs of someone often overlooked during the day to day struggle to make ends meet – namely ourselves.

Although we may feel a measure of relief having made it to the promised land of retirement not everything is perpetually peachy. Since we are no longer working our income is limited to whatever savings and investments we have accumulated plus social security and any pensions. This nest egg needs to last us through the coming decades, ideally remaining intact in good and bad times. It is not always easy to stay on top of things. As many learn the unexpected can happen.

Now a veteran of three years retired (yeah!) I am learning the ropes when it comes to spending wisely. I am committed to making the most of my second act without living over the top. Our guiding principle has been to try to live below our means. In other words spend less than we have coming in. Here are a few ideas that help us live the life we enjoy without throwing money out the window:

(1) Dining out

Many of us like to occasionally celebrate special occasions with a meal at a nice restaurant. And we deserve it. The good news is it is possible to have an exciting dining experience without breaking the bank. Instead of ordering big individual meals that drive up the bill, try sharing a variety of hor d’oeuvres. You will get a little bit of everything and can even identify favorites for return visits. Instead of going with expensive cocktail options try a glass of the house wine. Many times these are good quality vintages from local vineyards well worth the cost. And of course you can always look for the early bird specials to get better pricing if you are okay with eating dinner while the sun is still high in the sky. You can have a memorable evening on a reasonable budget.

(2) Watch for the “real sales price” on commonly used items

I shop at a few stores on a regular basis and am familiar with their pricing. I have even discovered a useful pattern. On a day to day basis you pay the normal price – nothing special, basically what it is. Then there is the sales price – a bit cheaper than normal. But if you time it right you can pay what I call the real sales price. This price is a bit better than the standard sales price and makes its way to the shelves at regular intervals. It pays to be vigilant especially when it comes to those commonly used items you do not need to buy immediately. Once you get used to what are the real best prices you can hold out until they hit the shelves and pocket the savings.

(3) Look for reward cards that really reward

Some rewards cards have restrictions, expiration dates and are generally more hassle then they are worth. Fortunately not all are so difficult. Safeway has a program that allows you to select online items you commonly purchase to receive an additional discount. Instead of having to collect and remember to bring coupons these e-discounts are automatically applied when you check out. No fee, no hassle just price savings. It makes sense to shop around before you commit to carrying more plastic in your wallet.

(4) Viva la vinegar

Rather than spend good money on cleaning solutions try a little vinegar to make things sparkle. Vinegar and water do excellent job of cleaning glass including mirrors and windows. For those harder to clean glass shower doors, we use a mix of one part dawn soap and three parts vinegar. Throw in a little vinegar to dirty laundry to help remove unwanted odors. Many a workout shirt has been rejuvenated by a spray in all the right places. And vinegar is cheap so no need to scrimp.

(5) Walk instead of drive to nearby destinations

If you live within walking distance to grocery stores, restaurants, and your local post office, try breaking out the walking shoes instead of the car to run errands. Not only will you save on gas but you will get a little exercise as well.

(6) Keep it cool

We lower the thermostat to cut back on our electricity bills. It is not uncommon to find me wearing my jacket indoors. We also heat one room where we spend the majority of our time rather than the whole house. The family room has a fireplace so it is the natural spot to generate a little warmth right where we are.

(7) Stay on top of your water usage

We live in California so the drought is a way of life. If you use more than your monthly allowance you can expect to pay a hefty fine. Since we love our garden we would rather share water with plants than have it run down the drain. Our list of water conscious actions include a bucket in shower to catch water as it warms, turning off the shower while soaping, turning off the tap while brushing our teeth, and low flow toilets and shower heads throughout the house. I also check the drip irrigation regularly to be sure they hit the target and do not send water running down the street. The little things can add up to savings.

(8) Consider generic prescriptions unless your doctor advises otherwise

Pricing for prescription drugs can be downright scary. Anything to help the cause is worth considering. Generic prescriptions save us a significant amount each month. Also try COSTCO for those medicines not covered by insurance.

(9) Do it yourself (if you can and if you want)

Being retired allows me to try my hand at fixing where needed around the house. I avoid electrical as well as plumbing and you will never catch me working on the car. That said I love beginning my day with a walk in the garden. I can count on discovering something requiring my attention whether watering, weeding, transplanting or pruning. We save $165 per month with me taking on gardening duties. I also like to vacuum and clean the floors so we do without a cleaning person, saving another $130 per month. Of course we call on the experts when needed believing it is better to get it done right than try to MacGyver our way beyond our limitations.

(10) Comparison shop gas prices in your neighborhood

The difference in price per gallon can be significant from one block to the next. Find the best price near you and save a few additional dollars come fill up time. We have one station that charges 50 cents more per gallon for premium than regular while three blocks away the difference is a more reasonable 20 cents.

Treat yourself to your favorite things

When it comes to our favorite things a little loosening of the purse strings is in order. I love bread and am willing to spend a bit more on the really good fresh stuff. We do not penny pinch when it comes to chocolate (with a Swiss wife it is not even an option). That relaxing oh-so-comfortable leather couch will fit perfectly in the family room. If you really love something get creative. You can cut back elsewhere.

Living within a budget is a challenge but there are things you can do to further your cause. It is even kind of fun to discover new ways to save some money. These ten things help us stay ahead to the game. What are you doing to maximize your retirement savings?

Retirement Relocation Realities

A few years back my wife and I began exploring the possibility of relocating in retirement. We have lived in the Bay Area for most of our adult years dutifully contributing to the frantic world of Silicon Valley while raising the family. For that time in our life living here was ideal. The kids went to good schools, there was plenty to do on the weekends, and should the job situation change there were all kinds of companies to work for.

Although the Bay Area has a lot to offer, there is a cost. Before you journey anywhere you must consider the traffic situation. In my mind there are few places so attractive as to entice me to get on the freeway – any freeway – around commute time. Over the years the “commute window” has expanded to encompass more and more of the morning and evening hours. Maybe I am just getting older, a bit less tolerant but it seems popular spots are typically overcrowded, parking is a perpetual nightmare, public transportation is insufficient, and there are just too many people! You get the idea why we have been looking into other possible areas to retire to.

After careful consideration over a number of years of possible locations across multiple states, we made our decision. We purchased a place about 80 miles from here near the ocean in a quiet, friendly and minimally trafficked neighborhood. We rented the retirement-house-to-be for a year while finishing off job commitments and getting our ducks in a row. And now our patience is to be rewarded as we are a few months away from making the move.

It is exciting to realize we are about to start a new chapter in our lives together. We are ready to get to it. We have begun decluttering in preparation for our pending move making good use of our “big pickups” offered by the garbage service. We often visit furniture stores on the weekends in search of that perfect dining table and family room couch. And we are doing all the myriad of little things you must as we get our current home ready for sale.

As we prepare our way we find ourselves reflecting on the whole transition, on what we hope lies ahead and what we will leave behind.

The kids will not be able to drop in for a quick catch up

Three of our four children live within 20 minutes of our current home. It is easy to pop on by for a dinner or movie or Sharks Game. Although 80 miles is not THAT far away, it will put an end to the impromptu get togethers that we have come to love. My parents live about 80 miles in the opposite direction – a manageable distance that allows us to share time regularly. This move doubles that distance. The folks are both in their early eighties and fear driving that increased distance will not always be an option. I have made it clear I will happily pick them up and drive them to our place as often as we want. But the bottom line is it will not be as convenient as it is today.

Decluttering is not that easy

As we work our way through years of accumulated possessions it is not always simple to decide what to keep. Can we really throw away those annual school pictures of the kids accumulated throughout their school careers (even though there are so many)? Although I haven’t used that particular do-hickey for the past 10 years, who is to say I won’t need it at our new home? Our daughter is helping us with sage advice gleaned from a recent book. When her mom explained her challenges she suggested she ask herself: Did it give you pleasure in the past? If the answer is yes, wonderful. Then ask, will it give you pleasure in the future? If the answer is no away with it. We are making progress – slowly. Once done we will have a much more manageable compilation to bring to our new abode.

Change can be challenging

Having lived here as long as we have we know the lay of the land – where to find the best baguette, the best Chinese food, the most reliable car repair service, that perfect cup of Cappuccino, the best movie theater, and the most perfect hiking trail. We will have toWaves at HMB relearn all of these at our new digs. Where will we start? What about doctors and repairmen and dentists and public transportation? We are fortunate in that we met two native couples who are well versed in the general goings on in the area. They have offered to help us get under way as soon as we arrive. And we are discovering there is a variety of social events and activities on a regular basis nearby. With so much to choose from we just have to decide which we want to explore.

What is most exciting to me is along with these challenges comes the opportunity to discover new things. I look forward to heading out the door and walking in whatever direction, not sure what is ahead. An intimate downtown is a mere one mile walk from our door patiently waiting for my exploration. The bigger downtown is a 10 mile drive but offers many new restaurants to sample and shops to browse and little known hole in the walls to uncover. And 15 miles from our doorstep is some of the most beautiful coast line in the world. I can’t wait to stroll and take it all in. Side by side we plan to do exactly that. Relocation has it’s challenges but I think we are ready.