We often think about our physical health as we age and what we can do to ensure we remain as healthy as possible. What many of us are less savvy about is our financial health and how to save money.
“When I’m working with people on budgeting, the first thing I ask is how much they are spending each year,” says Michael Ruger, a certified financial planner at Greenbush Financial Group in Albany. “Only about 5% know that answer. They know their mortgage and grocery costs, but when they look at their bank statement, there will be a lot of holes, such as car maintenance and insurance.”
An upswing in the number of people retiring early means many people need to plan for several decades ahead. “If you’re living off your pension and social security, you have to factor in inflation,” Ruger says. “You not only need to stay within your budget but to decrease your expenses. Now’s the time to start.”
The good news, even for those of us who haven’t saved as much as we’d like, is that saving money is easier than you think. Here are some tricks to help you have more money at the end of the month, whether you’re on a fixed income or not.
- Make a budget and stick to it. Whether you prefer a detailed spreadsheet or simply a pen-and-paper list of monthly income and expenses, write everything down. Separate your fixed expenses, such as paying the mortgage, heating costs, gas and groceries. These are known as your “needs.” Then, make a list of where your money goes for “wants.” This includes entertainment (dinner out at that fabulous new restaurant), recreation (a new bike to tool around the neighborhood) and Amazon impulse purchases like new pillows or dinner plates. Once you have a handle on your spending, work to decrease your “wants” list and put this found money into a savings account.
- Pay with cash, or pay off your credit card balance(s) every month. According to financial experts, a whopping 80% of Americans are in debt, with an average of nearly $40,000 amassed (not including their mortgages). Average credit card interest rates are 16.45%. Not paying interest means more money in your pocket.
- Look at your cable bill. Do you really need all those premium channels, or can you make do with the basic services? Perhaps it makes sense to pay for one app that gives you the most shows for your buck.
- Sign up for auto-pay for regular expenses. By doing so, you can rest assured all your bills are paid in full and on time.
- Lower your thermostat during the winter and raise it during the summer. Sure, it’s nice to bask in 70-degree temps in January, and keep cool in June, but adjusting your comfort zone can save you substantial energy costs.
- Vacation locally. Why book a trip to the Grand Canyon when you have beautiful parks, waterfalls and gorges nearby that you likely haven’t explored yet?
- Haggle over prices when you can. This ranges from the $12 vase at a garage sale to the vehicle you’ve been saving up for. Every dollar counts!
- Pare down your driving miles. With fuel costs through the roof and predicted to rise, it’s time to get out your walking shoes or consult the local bus schedule for trips to the grocery store, dental appointments and the library. Bonus: It’s good for your health and sometimes can yield a lower insurance premium as well.
- If you’re on Medicare, check to see if you qualify for a free annual wellness visit. Ask about tests including mammograms and colonoscopies, as well as recommended vaccinations.
- Research and use a prescription discount card. You can save as much as 75% off the costs of your medications with these cards. Google “Rx discount card” to see what’s out there.
- Make your coffee at home. A daily trip to Starbucks for a plain venti costs around $2.50. Women spend $2,300 per year on takeout coffee, while men fare slightly better, spending $1,900, according to a study by the Perfect Brew. If you make the switch to making your cup of joe at home, you’ll spend a paltry 27 cents per cup. So plug in that coffee maker that’s probably sitting on your countertop. As an added perk, you can drink it from your favorite mug.