8 Savings Tips for Older Consumers

Second straight year of zero COLA raises thriftiness to a national calling.


For the second straight year, there will be no annual cost-of-living increase for Social Security recipients. Coupled with anemic economic growth and gaping deficits at all levels of government, The Best Life Austerity Is a Virtue store has decided to stay open 24-7, 365 days a year. If you have discovered ways of saving money that work for you and that you think would work for others, please share them here. Our store will stock up on these thrifty items and include them in future Best Life stories.

[See 10 Costs That Could Increase in Retirement.]

In the meantime, here are some frugality tips. They build upon earlier lists: 20 Needless Expenses for Many Seniors and 7 Spending Cuts You Might Not Even Notice.

Renegotiate regular charges. As consumers, we are on the weak end of the negotiating scale. As we've seen during the barrage of corporate bailouts, there is something about being too big to fail. Our financial obligations, by contrast, are generally too small to notice. Still, in today's economy, no merchant wants to lose a customer. And while utility bills may be cast in stone, there may be regular payments you make to smaller companies that can be talked down. Before trying this, call competing companies and see if any offer lower rates for the kinds of goods or services you buy. If they do, that's ammunition you can use in talking down the charges at the places you shop. Or if it's not inconvenient, you can take your business elsewhere. But you might be surprised at how flexible some companies are with their fees these days.

Cut retirement fund fees. Be honest. Do you really know how much you are paying in management fees, brokerage charges, and other costs to the mutual funds in which your retirement nest egg is invested? It is not easy to find out, but you can get a good estimate by looking carefully at the investment prospectus of any fund you own. You should be able to find the prospectus online, and you should look for the section on fees and charges. If you don't have the patience to do this, you might consider seeing if the mutual funds you own have similar versions available as exchange traded funds, or ETFs. These funds generally charge much lower fees than more actively managed funds. Studies have shown that the lowest-fee funds have, over time, made the most money for investors.

Impersonate a Brit. You may not love all those earth-toned heavy sweaters on Masterpiece Theater but they do ward off the chills. So give some thought to keeping your home thermostat set very low this winter. That's particularly true if you have rooms in your home that are rarely, if ever, used. Identify the two or three rooms you use a lot and put room heaters in them. Keep the rest of the house cool, as in 60-ish. I expect to save at least $500 in lower heating bills this winter.

[See Zero Social Security COLA Again for 2011.]

Get cheap TV. It is getting easier all the time to do away with cable TV service. Video-on-demand services are growing that charge you only for what you watch. Microsoft's Xbox 360 can stream video and link you to a growing number of on-demand services. Digital antennas can pick up free local broadcasts, some of which are in high definition. And if you can handle watching video on your computer monitor, you can access lots of free video content, including delayed broadcasts of leading TV shows. You lose the convenience and, generally, superior quality, of the cable service. You also lose much of the price tag.

Do group gardening. Going it alone with a vegetable and herb garden is tough for those without the green thumb gene. Getting together with friends is better. So is growing your own organic produce. With a group, you can plant in larger quantities. Decide which of you has the best yard space. Someone buys the seeds, someone else the nutrients, any tools, and so forth. Divvy up the tending duty. Turn a money-saving activity into a social event.

Find free learning. Odds are that your community offers free lectures and a slew of other learning events. Maybe you can even be an expert speaker on a topic. Many community colleges offer price breaks for seniors. Use them.

Volunteer for free stuff. Figure out what you like to do and then volunteer at a place that offers it—perhaps a museum, community theater, public garden, or sports venue. Most will provide you free or reduced-price access as a perk for being a volunteer.

Sell what you don't need. Craigslist, eBay, and other online auction sites can generate income and help you get rid of things you no longer need. Do a ruthless inventory and decide what's expendable, group your things into categories, and then spend time online researching price trends. If doing it all yourself is too much, look for eBay merchants in your area. You will lose a lot of the income from your sales. But a smaller percentage of something is still more than 100 percent of nothing.

[Bookmark the U.S. News Retirement site for more planning ideas and advice.]