10 things that cost retirees a ton of money

Many people look forward to retirement in all of its budget-friendly glory. But in reality, retirement may not be the bargain you'd expect it to be. If you're not careful, these 10 items in particular might really break the bank.

1. Healthcare

To keep your healthcare costs to a minimum, be sure to take advantage of Medicare's free preventative care program. Enrollees can benefit from a wide range of no-cost services, from wellness visits to glaucoma screenings. Women are also eligible for free mammograms every year. Getting in front of potential health problems could save you money down the line, so consult this guide to see what free services are available to you.

And speaking of Medicare, be sure to enroll on time. Signing up late could cause your Part B premium to increase by 10% for every 12-month period you were eligible but failed to enroll.

2. Housing

The average American retiree spends $15,528 a year, or $1,294 a month, on housing. Given the large number of Americans that enter retirement mortgage-free, that's a pretty large number, and a lot of it has to do with the peripheral costs of homeownership. Property taxes, for example, have historically proven to rise over time, even during periods when home values drop. Furthermore, homes get more expensive to maintain as they age. The typical homeowner spends 1% to 4% of his or her home's value on annual upkeep, and since retirees often own older properties, their maintenance costs are likely to lean toward the high end of that range. Of course, not everyone owns a home in retirement, but renting can be equally expensive -- not to mention that renters lose out on the opportunity to tap their home equity as needed.

Since housing is the average retiree's single largest expense, it pays to look for ways to lower your costs. For starters, consider downsizing if you no longer need as much space. Maintaining a 3,000-square-foot home is bound to cost more than maintaining one half the size. Furthermore, you might think about relocating to a more inexpensive neighborhood, city, or even state. This list of property tax rates by state can help you pinpoint a more affordable locale, but keep in mind that a cheaper home with higher property taxes might end up costing less than a more expensive property whose taxes are lower. You'll need to look at the big picture before making a move.

3. Transportation

The average retiree spends $6,852 per year, or $571 per month, on transportation. And while your transportation costs are likely to go down once you no longer have a job to commute to regularly, if you own a car, your annual spending might well exceed that figure. According to AAA, it costs about $8,700 a year to own a vehicle, but just as your healthcare costs might climb as you age, so too might automobile maintenance get pricier along the way. And don't forget that your auto insurance might go up as well -- Esurance says that rates tend to climb for drivers 70 and older.

If you're a two-vehicle household, it often pays to get rid of one automobile and pocket the extra savings. And if you live in or near a city with public transportation, you might consider giving up car ownership and sticking to trains and buses. According to LendingTree, the average monthly train commute across all U.S. cities costs just over $100. And while that figure is higher in some cities, it tops out at $237 in Washington, D.C. -- which is far cheaper than the $725 per month it costs to have a vehicle of your own.

4. Food

Retirees need to eat, so it's no wonder they spend an average of $459 per month on food. But believe it or not, the bulk of that money goes toward groceries. Seniors only spend about $170 a month on restaurants and takeout, which means if it weren't for those early bird specials, those numbers would be even higher.

To limit your food-related spending, start cutting back on the latter. Food establishments typically charge a 300% markup, so if you're like the average senior household spending $170 a month on food outside the home, slashing that figure in half would save you over $50 a month, or $600 a year.

5. Clothing

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), seniors aged 65 to 74 spend an average of $1,417 on clothing per household, compared to $1,789 for those 10 years younger. Now you don't need to update your wardrobe regularly if you don't have a job to go to, but you should still factor clothing into your budget nonetheless.

That said, there's no need to pay full price when you can get much of what you need on sale. Time Magazine reports that the best time of the year to score the lowest prices on clothing is the week starting the day after Christmas. If you're willing to battle the crowds, you might benefit from some pretty major deals.

RELATED: Take a look at 30 fun hobbies to take up in retirement:

30 Awesome Things to Do in Retirement
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30 Awesome Things to Do in Retirement

1. Be a campground host

An army of older Americans moves among state, national and private parks and campgrounds, staying for extended visits. In exchange for free camping, they help park managers and campers with chores like leading nature walks, tidying campsites, collecting fees and offering a friendly welcome to other campers. Chores, responsibilities and lengths of stays allowed vary by park. SnowbirdTrails has links to many of these “workamper” (work camper) jobs.

Some campground hosts do it for fun. For many others it is a way of stretching tight retirement incomes. If you’re a “people person,” you may love this gig. If you’re not the social type, keep looking for something else to enjoy. The job requires constant socializing and interaction with others.

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2. Help in the classroom

If you’ve always enjoyed the company of children you might really love being a teacher’s aide. Teachers’ aides are paid to help in classrooms in many ways — tutoring, for example, or supervising play or grading papers. Aides take simpler tasks off teachers’ hands so they can focus more on teaching. Ask at your local schools to find out the job requirements and how to apply.

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3. Join the Peace Corps

Have you always wanted to join the Peace Corps? You may think you’re too old, but you’d be mistaken. There is no age limit on becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. According to the Peace Corps:

Depending on the volunteer program you choose, your service can last from three months to two years. You can even choose what country you want to serve in, the type of work you do, and when you depart.

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4. Become a schoolteacher

You may not need a teaching degree to become certified as a K-12 teacher these days. “Alternative certification” programs help would-be teachers with degrees in other fields get into the classroom. Alternative certification has grown as a means of addressing teacher shortages, especially in certain content areas,” according to National Public Radio.

Requirements vary. And so does quality of certification programs. Contact your state’s department of education to learn how to get started.

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5. Join a chorus or choir

You’ve always been a singer. Warbling in the shower is not enough so, now that you have the time, get back to singing. If you are unsure where to start, do some reconnaissance by attending performances of various singing groups in your area. Also, learn what’s available by attending a choir meetup. These will give you an idea of the available groups and their flavor, size, expertise and repertoire before you apply to join. Some choirs are professional quality and deadly serious in their approach. Others are just lighthearted groups of people who meet to express a love of music. Many retirees find a calling in a church choir.

Jump-start your new avocation over the holidays by joining a community singalong of Handel’s “Messiah.”

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6. Get into the arts

Making art feeds the spirit. That’s why, soon after retirement, you’ll see many people seek out classes to acquire or relearn skills abandoned years ago. If painting, drawing and crafts are your thing, you might find it useful to sample a variety of classes, materials and approaches before settling on one.
Cities are full of academies and workshops that offer classes to beginners. Community colleges classes and arts and crafts stores have classes, too. These are an inexpensive way to try out a new medium. Or look for a “drink-and-draw” art classes where you and a few friends can spend some lighthearted hours catching up and creating.

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7. Set up regular “dates” with your favorite kids

If you are a grandparent whose time with grandkids has been hampered by work, it’s not too late to reconnect. If you are not a grandparent but know children you enjoy, reach out to them. Do not approach a child, though, without talking over your intentions and ideas with their parents and getting permission.
Make dates with each child individually, giving you both a chance to become better acquainted. After talking with their parents, ask the children for their ideas and winnow the list to ones that cost little or nothing. If possible, avoid passive entertainment like movies and video games and go for experiences instead. Examples: Visit the zoo, take walks and explore a different route each time, visit a museum, take a cooking class together, bake cookies and teach each other a skill. Find out if a college near you has a Grandparents University that puts kiddos and elders together in classes to explore hands-on subjects like astronomy or photography.

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8. Learn to cook all over again

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you are probably aware that cooking and eating are wildly popular pastimes. But have you considered joining in? Sure, you’ve been cooking all your life, but we’re talking here about forgetting what you know and trying something new — a class in Thai or French cooking, in knife skills or fermented foods or maybe holiday baking. Look for classes at community colleges, at higher-end grocery stores and food cooperatives and at kitchen supply stores like Williams Sonoma, which offers free in-store techniques classes and demos.

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9. Sell your crafts on Etsy

After you’ve learned a new craft you may find yourself with more pots, wooden bowls or hammered copper earrings than you know what to do with. That’s a clue it’s time to open a store on Etsy and sell your wares at the huge online arts and crafts marketplace.

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10. Build a pocket boat

If you’ve been bitten by the boating bug you may not be able to rest until you’ve built a boat yourself. Have you heard of pocket cruisers? These are lightweight sailboats meant for towing and for small sailing adventures. Make yours in a class or order the plans or a kit and build it independently. If a pocket boat’s too big, build a kayak from one of the many kits available.

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11. Drive a school bus

Driving schoolkids is a job that beckons to some retirees. Your school district can tell you its specific requirements. In general, you’ll need to get a commercial driver’s license with endorsements for driving a passenger vehicle and a school bus. You’ll also need to pass a physical examination, police records check, skills and knowledge tests, and other hurdles.

Do school bus drivers really have eyes in the backs of their heads? It could be. Tami Hatke is a bus driver for Tippecanoe School Corporation in Lafayette, Indiana, who shares her experience at School Transportation News. She says that maneuvering a 40-foot vehicle is only the beginning:

You have to love children and understand that children are learning and make mistakes. you have to be very consistent, be a good listener, show compassion, know how to tie shoes, reward good behavior, teach them how to turn their bad behavior into good behavior and be someone that they look up to.

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12. Explore your town’s history

One of the many gifts of being older is a sense of connection to the past. You’ve seen enough change in your own life that you are curious about what came before. A great way to explore the past is to start where you live, learning and writing a history of your town or neighborhood. Three tips from an excellent BBC article on writing local history (it applies to American history projects as well as to British): “Don’t guess, don’t invent, don’t try to cut corners.” The article also advises would-be historians:

• Learn as you go along.

• Be methodical in your work and your record keeping.

• Always think of context.

• Don’t assume that only the most glamorous history is worth knowing.

• Work on the basis of themes and subjects, not a chronological progression.

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13. Volunteer at your public library

When you give time to an institution like a public library you really are making a gift to your whole community. It’s also a great way to meet people and make new friends.

Financial cutbacks and staff shortages can mean public institutions are stripped to the bone. Volunteers let them enrich their offerings and stretch meager budgets. “The system could not offer the caliber of services currently provided to so many patrons without the hard work and dedication of our volunteers,” says the Volusia County (Florida) Public Library. It’s a refrain that echoes through libraries across the country. Check your library’s website — or ask your local information librarian — to learn about volunteer opportunities.

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14. Renew an old friendship

One crucial skill of aging is the ability to make new friends. And yet, a lesson aging makes clear is that the treasure of old friendships and connections cannot be replaced. Get on the internet to find old pals. Some will respond, others will not. No matter. Reach out to them on Facebook. Gather up your courage and attend a high school or college reunion. Or use 411.com to see if you can trace a lost friend.

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15. Rediscover spirituality

As the blurry speed of life in your 30s, 40s and 50s gives way to a somewhat slower existence, you may find yourself turning inward and inquiring what’s missing. For some, that’s an intellectual pursuit, done through books and perhaps meditation, personal prayer, service to others or time spent in nature. Others seek answers and connection in community — in a fellowship, synagogue, mosque or church. Whether it is organized religion that speaks to you or a purely spiritual journey, you’re not alone in the quest in older age.

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16. Move!

Independence and mobility — things we may take for granted in younger years — are crucial components of a good retirement. Get them from exercise, which is the closest thing to a miracle drug.

Exercise helps manage blood pressure, blood sugar, pain and chronic fatigue — to name a few benefits. Done strategically, it can even help boost memory. Exercise should be fun. If you don’t have a favorite activity, keep looking. Consider tai chi, swimming, yoga, walking, cross-country or downhill skiing, rowing, kayaking, bicycling or tennis. Make sure you get your heart and lungs pumping.

No need to kill yourself. According to The New York Times, only 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity is enough:

Walking briskly, at 3 to 4 miles per hour or so, qualifies. So does bicycling slower than 10 miles an hour. Anything that gets your heart rate somewhere between 110 and 140 beats per minute is enough. Even vacuuming, mowing the lawn or walking your dog might qualify.

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17. Go on a date

Leaving work behind opens a vacuum for many singles that only human companionship can fill. A surprisingly large proportion of Americans older than 65 are separated, divorced or widowed — 45 percent, according to AARP’s research.

Numerous dating sites focus on bringing 50-something, 60-something, 70-something and 80-somethings and beyond together for romance. SeniorPlanet suggests dating sites for seniors, and U.S. News & World Report tells about the senior dating scene. If online dating turns you off, there are many other ways to meet people. Volunteering, taking classes or joining a house of worship, to name just a few.

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18. Adopt a dog …

… or a cat. Or a gerbil. Finding an animal companion is decidedly less complicated than dating humans. A critter who would be thrilled to be your new best friend is as close as the nearest animal shelter. Find animals near you at PetFinder.com, which has photos and profiles of pets from shelters, foster care and other adoption and rescue organizations.

Tending to the needs of another helps push us out of unhelpful internal feedback loops. WebMD writes that having a pet helps with depression. Caring for a pet also enforces a soothing routine, gets you out of the house and walking, offers healing touch, warmth and companionship.

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19. Learn something new

Challenge your brain. But don’t expect much from brain training computer games. Instead, get off the computer and learn something that’s seriously hard, something out of your comfort zone. Building new neural pathways keeps a brain agile.

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20. Become a hospice volunteer

Helping people who are dying is not for everyone. But those who become hospice volunteers speak of the life-altering experience of helping — or maybe just sitting with — someone who is at the end of life. Hospice Foundation of America explains how to volunteer.

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21. Rediscover reading

Were you an avid reader before your life got too busy and complicated to pick up a book? Reading really does transport us to different worlds. It really can make us smarter and more interesting. Now that you are freer, visit the library, book sales and yard sales with your “to-read” list of all the books you can now finally get to. And then give yourself the gift of quiet hours curled up in a comfortable chair, reading.

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22. Get a roommate

Crazy, you say? If you are bored or lonely and have space in your home you could share with another, why not earn a little cash and share your home? If you are new to vetting potential roommates, read “How to Live Rent-Free (or Way Cheaper Than You Are Now)” for ideas.

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23. Try something you’ve put off

Now’s the moment to tackle things you’ve put off for a lifetime — a new skill, an apology, a round-the-world trip, a brave effort to connect with someone — things you have intended but postponed. No matter how hard or how silly it may seem, giving the tougher stuff a try is what living in our older years is all about.

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24. Learn a language

Can you say “neuroplasticity”? It means our brains are changeable — not set in concrete. Some aspects of acquiring a new language are harder for older adults and some are easier, writes The Guardian. And the payoff for the effort is huge because, according to the newspaper, “a number of recent studies suggest that learning a foreign language can slow (an) inevitable age-related cognitive decline or perhaps even delay the onset of dementia.”

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25. Usher at a theater or concert

If you love live theater and music but hate the insane ticket prices, you can often find opportunities to get in the door for free by volunteering as an usher. Policies on ushering vary by venue so contact theaters and concert halls near you to ask if they could use your help. Show-Score, a theater blog, tells how to be a volunteer usher and lists some opportunities in New York City. The bonus: You’ll get to meet others who love music and theater as you do. Find usher opportunities here, at VolunteerMatch.org.

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26. Become a zoo or museum docent

Another terrific volunteer gig is working as a docent at a museum. Perhaps you think museums are only about the arts and history? Wrong! You’ll find museums of flight, music, railroads, costumes, science and technology. Not to mention museums of anthropology, military history, natural history and stamps — for a few more examples. If you’ve got a passion, or even a vague curiosity, inquire whether a museum, zoo or art gallery that interests you welcomes and trains volunteer docents or guides.

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27. Run away from home

Wanderlust strikes. Seize it while you’ve got the energy, the mobility and the means. Sell or rent your home and head out onto the open road in a camper, trailer, RV or, heck, in a tent. Decide on a theme for your life on the road. A few ideas: Visit friends and family; follow Route 66, visit every state in the country.

Mobile retirees are single and they’re couples. Some choose a tiny trailer. Others buy a humongous rig with flat-screen TVs. Regardless, you’ll have adventures. You’ll make new friends, see new parts of the country, meet people you’d never encounter otherwise and get the kind of experience only life can deliver.

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28. Go back to school

When we were younger many of us wanted to attend college — or finish a degree — but could not for many reasons, money chief among them. Did you know that if you are age 50 or older many programs allow you to attend college for free? To learn more about schools and programs that help older students attend college or obtain a college degree, see options listed by U.S. News & World Report like scholarships for seniors, living on campus, auditing courses, tuition waivers and online courses. Consumer Reports also lists resources for seniors who want to attend college.

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29. Drive a big rig

Some seniors find that driving a truck for an encore career satisfies their wanderlust while giving them a way to earn extra income. Fred Hiebert, who runs United Transportation Driver Training in Manitoba, Canada, tells Forbes.com that retirees are taking his classes for the chance to see the world on their own terms: “The majority of retirees getting truck-driving lessons in Hiebert’s classes are men, but about 40 percent of those men are accompanied on their long-haul trips by their retired wives.” Mature drivers are in demand, Hiebert says.

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30. Mentor a small business

SCORE (formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives), a program staffed by volunteers who are experienced in running a business, offers free mentoring to entrepreneurs. SCORE is in partnership with the federal Small Business Administration. If you have business expertise to share, volunteer here. As the program says, it’s a way to “pass on your knowledge and expertise to the next generation of entrepreneurs in your community.”

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6. Entertainment

Seniors aged 65 to 74 spend an average of $2,988 per year on entertainment per household, or so BLS data tells us. That's well over $100 more per year than pre-retirees aged 55 to 64. And it makes sense. Retirees have more free hours to fill, and those senior discounts will only get you so far. According to Merrill Lynch, 58% of retirees fail to budget for leisure activities when they plan for retirement, but if you don't work entertainment into your budget, you might find yourself bored and unhappy.

Of course, if you're willing to do a little legwork and get creative, you can find loads of low-cost or free entertainment. Establishments like museums and movie theaters typically offer reduced rates to seniors. And if you're willing to invest in an AARP membership, you'll get loads of money-saving opportunities for as little as $12.60 a year.

7. Home renovations

You know that newfound free time we just talked about? If mahjong isn't your thing, you might throw yourself into sprucing up your home. And while that's certainly a rewarding way to spend your time, it can also be costly. It's estimated that 20% of senior homeowners do some type of remodeling project each year. In fact, baby boomers -- many of whom are already retired -- tend to take on projects costing twice as much as what their millennial counterparts are spending.

If you don't have the money to go all-out but still want to improve your home, focus on projects that are completely DIY (do it yourself), where you'll eliminate the need for outside labor. Also check out resale stores like the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, where you'll find a variety of materials on the cheap.

8. Travel

Many retirees dream of seeing the world once they stop working, but of all the hobbies you might pursue, travel is likely to be the most expensive -- by far. An estimated 7% to 8% of households aged 65 and up spend 25% of their income on travel, and Merrill Lynch projects that over the next two decades, retiree travel will grow into a $4.6 trillion industry. If you're hoping to travel extensively in retirement, you'll need to make that goal a major part of your retirement savings plan.

Now if you're smart about the way you book and pay for your travel, you can trot the globe without blowing through your life savings. First, avoid peak travel periods, such as holiday weekends, Thanksgiving week, and the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. In addition, the right credit cards can really help you accumulate points or miles, which can shave thousands off your travel costs. Finally, consider skipping hotels in favor of vacation rentals, which tend to not only be cheaper to start with, but come with fully equipped kitchens that can help you save money on meals.

9. Pets

With your adult kids grown up and, ideally, living on their own, you may find yourself focusing on the next best thing -- your pet. But don't forget to factor that lovable creature into your budget. Seniors 65 and up spend an average of $403 on pets each year, but if your animal is older or has health issues, your costs might go up.

If you'd rather not spend a small fortune on your pet, look into buying supplies, food, and medicine in bulk and online. Pet insurance might also save you a bundle if your pet has a costly condition or illness -- at least that's what Consumer Reports found after analyzing coverage under a number of major providers. But be careful, because not all plans cover existing conditions, and the last thing you want to do is pay more in insurance premiums than you actually save.

10. Grandkids

Those little bundles of joy might light up your world, but if you're not careful, they might also mess with your budget. According to an AARP study, 25% of grandparents spend over $1,000 a year on their beloved grandchildren. While much of that spending stems from gift giving, 53% of grandparents contribute toward educational costs, while 37% help pay for their grandkids' everyday expenses.

If you're intent on helping your grandkids pay for college, you might consider a 529 plan, which lets your money grow on a tax-deferred basis. And if you find that your grandchildren are zapping too much of your limited resources, you could always revert to the one gift that costs the least but they'll appreciate the most -- your time.

While some of these numbers might come as a shock, you can prepare yourself for what lies ahead by saving independently for retirement. Social Security isn't enough to sustain the average retiree by itself, so saving on your own will really allow you to live it up as a senior, Bingo tournaments and all.

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