7 Painless Ways to Cut Expenses in Retirement

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Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images
By Tom Sightings

Those of us who are retired know it's hard to live on a fixed income, especially since low interest rates have squeezed extra income from savings accounts down to a trickle. The alternative is to lower our expenses. No one wants to give up the things they enjoy, whether it's a membership to a fitness club, a trip to the mall or a warm home in winter. But sometimes we're paying for things we don't really use. Here are seven ideas for saving money without feeling any pain:

1. Insurance. Have you ever joked that you're worth more dead than alive? Then maybe you don't need life insurance, especially if your kids are grown up. Also, check the deductibles on your auto and home policies. You can save by increasing your deductible from $250 to $1,000. And if your kids are no longer driving your car, the chances of getting in an accident are diminished. If your car is over five years old, consider going without collision insurance. Since you're no longer commuting, maybe you can sell off an extra car as well.

2. Food. Do you find yourself scraping vegetables into the garbage, or throwing out moldy bags of unidentifiable leftovers from the back of the refrigerator? Approximately 25 percent of the food we purchase goes to waste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The answer? Serve smaller portions. Store leftovers efficiently and keep them in the front of the icebox. Eat leftovers for lunch, or put leftovers on the menu for dinner. Also, resist the call of bottled water, and turn to the kitchen faucet.

3. College tuition. Scholarships are increasingly difficult to obtain. But one way to save money is to send your children to a state university rather than a private college. According to many experts, there is no advantage to a good, but second-rate private college over a state university when it comes to landing a job or gaining admittance to graduate school. If your children insist on a private education, have them apply to several schools to see which ones will offer them the most money.

4. Vacation. When you're retired, you're flexible. Fly mid-week when air fares are cheaper, and go on vacation during the shoulder season when rates are lower. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Many Florida vacation spots offer discounts until the season heats up at Christmas. Take advantage of destinations close to home, and save on airline tickets and car rentals. Use some of the savings to pay for a nicer hotel. Or check out websites offering alternative accommodations, such as Airbnb or Cyber Rentals. And don't forget, you can always go visit the kids.

5. In your community. You already pay taxes to support your library, so instead of buying a book or DVD, go borrow one. Many communities offer adult education classes, ranging from foreign languages to ballroom dancing. Don't hesitate to get a senior discount at the movies or state park, or an America the Beautiful senior pass for national parks. You don't have to be at the office from 9 to 5 every day, so go out to lunch instead of dinner to get the same benefit at a lower cost. Play golf on weekdays instead of weekends for a lower rate.

6. Go green. Those of us who grew up in the 1970s learned how to turn off the lights and dial down the heat. But maybe we forgot during the energy glut of the 1980s and 90s. So remember, sometimes you can open a window instead of turning on the air conditioning. Change your light bulbs to energy-efficient bulbs. And remember, according to government figures, it costs 40 to 50 cents per mile to drive your car. So maybe you can downsize your gas-guzzling SUV to a gas-sipping hybrid. But even with your old jalopy, you can save on gas and wear-and-tear by sticking to the speed limit and batching your trips.

7. Now you're the boss. You used to pay for the premium cable package, because the kids insisted on it. Maybe you don't need that anymore. Downgrade your cellphone service if you don't use the minutes. Cancel your membership to the swim club if you're not using it. Look through your credit card bill. What are you paying for that you no longer use? Now is the time to cancel the charges that are there for your kids, and focus on the activities that are important to you.

Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.

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7 Myths of Long-Term Care
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7 Painless Ways to Cut Expenses in Retirement

While the only sure things in life are death and taxes, it's worrying about the quality of life that can really be a buzzkill.

Roughly 70 percent of Americans over 65 will need some form long-term care at some point in their lives, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Once you hit 65, you have a 35 percent chance of entering a nursing home. The odds that you'll have to stay there for five years? About 20 percent.

With statistics like these, it's no wonder that the idea of purchasing long-term care insurance keeps popping up. Unfortunately, if you don't purchase coverage when you're in your 50s, it may be too expensive to buy once you're in your late 60s or early 70s. And if you suffer from certain illnesses, the truth is that long-term care insurance coverage may not be available to you.

The first hurdle is getting past the hype so that you can evaluate whether you need coverage -- not everyone does. Here are seven commonly held myths about long-term care.

The fact is, the vast majority of Americans will need some sort of long-term care services as they age, particularly help with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), including getting in and out of bed, walking, bathing, dressing, and eating.

Even if you're healthy, the aging process unfortunately includes a natural decline in eyesight, hearing, balance and mobility.

It's easy to confuse "long-term care planning" with long-term care insurance, but they're not the same. In fact, making that mistake could literally send you into bankruptcy in your senior years.

Long-term care planning means developing a personal strategy and making decisions now about how you want a range of things to be handled when you or a loved one needs long-term care services down the line.

Insurance is just one of many options people consider for covering the costs of long-term care. If you buy an insurance policy but don't plan appropriately, your care could be compromised. If you develop a plan but never buy the appropriate insurance coverage or execute an advanced care directive, living will, and powers of attorney for health care and financial matters, you could wind up leaving all of your care decisions to others without the means to pay for them.

I lost my father when he was just 49 years old. But his mother lived to be 98 and was fairly vibrant and lived alone until the last year of her life.

There's no telling when you'll need your fully-realized long-term care plan to kick in, so the sooner you plan the better off you'll be.

If you're over 50, the best time to plan is now. It will make you a more informed consumer of long-term care services and will help you stay in control of tough decisions.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Medicare does not cover the custodial services that help with ADLs. It will cover rehabilitation, home health care and durable medical equipment as long as they're deemed "medically necessary."

Medicaid may pay for your long-term care, but you need to meet strict eligibility requirements, which differ by state and often involve extensive documentation of assets. And don't think you can simply transfer all of your funds to your heirs and then apply. There's a five year "look back" rule that will require you to document where all of your money has gone.

There may be some government help if you're a veteran suffering from a service-related disability. To check your eligibility, go to VA.gov for details.

Have you priced long-term care costs lately? They're pretty darned expensive, and even with long-term care insurance, you'll be responsible for paying for some or all of the care you need.

Go to http://longtermcare.gov/costs-how-to-pay/costs-of-care-in-your-state/ to estimate what your costs could be. Then, think about the different ways you'll be able to meet that cost, either through an insurance policy, annuity, reverse mortgage, savings, pension benefits, social security benefits, or other personal income.

If there's a shortfall, long-term care insurance benefits could kick in.

Have you tried to be a 24/7 caregiver? It's pretty hard work, even for a devoted family member who loves you. No one person can be there for you every hour of every day and provide all of the care you'll need.

As part of your long-term care strategy, look into caregiving services in your area, including in-home providers, elder daycare centers, elder shuttles, meals on wheels, and other low-cost services offered in your area.

Managing a rotation of 24/7 caregivers is itself nearly a full-time job. You'll want your unpaid family members to spend their energy helping you manage your way through your need for assistance rather than resenting your lack of planning.

Really? What does your home look like?

Stairs, narrow doors, steps in odd places, low bathtubs, showers without handholds are the kinds of architectural obstacles that won't work if you have limited mobility or failing eyesight. And living alone won't help if you slip and fall and no one checks on you regularly.

At some point in time, living in a community or facility may make sense, and as part of your long-term plan, you'll want to consider it sooner rather than later.

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