After retirement, you'll typically live on a fixed income from Social Security or pensions, and you might supplement that income with retirement savings. Those income sources are always helpful, but they might not provide enough to meet all of your needs — and they don't always keep up with inflation.
What can low-income older adults do to live comfortably and stay financially healthy? Here are five strategic tips.
1. Master Your Budget
The first step in managing your finances is understanding your income and spending. When you know where your money goes, you can decide if you're putting your resources toward things that meet your needs and matter to you.
Whether you use a pencil and paper or an app, track your spending for the last three months or so. Be sure to account for any annual expenses, such as insurance premiums or property taxes. Looking over your recent financial history can give you insight into how you earn, how you spend and where you face shortfalls.
2. Shop Around and Negotiate
It's easy to assume that you have no control over how much you pay for things. However, you might have more room to negotiate than you think, especially if you have a relatively low income.
Look out for senior discounts at retailers and restaurants, and ask about a sliding scale for any services you pay for, such as when you get health care that Medicare doesn't cover. It's also smart to get quotes from multiple vendors before you make a commitment.
3. Consider Downsizing
As you move through life, it might make sense to change where you live. A move provides the opportunity to declutter or sell things you own, in turn generating cash and simplifying your lifestyle. You may also find a home that's easier to maintain and safer to live in.
Plus, if you own a home that has gained value over the years, you could be holding on to substantial property value. If you move to an area that's less expensive than where you currently live, you may be able to save money on housing and everyday expenses — and you might even end up with some excess cash.
4. Take Advantage of Assistance Programs
Low-income older adults have numerous opportunities to save money. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of these resources, and you might be surprised to learn what you're eligible for.
For example, you may qualify for a senior property tax exemption, allowing you to pay less each year. Likewise, you may be able to get assistance when purchasing food or paying for health care and utilities. Check with local government agencies and nonprofits to learn more, or use the National Council on Aging's BenefitsCheckUp tool.
5. Make the (Comparatively) Easy Cuts
Cutting your spending is never easy, but some expenses are more problematic than others. If you're feeling squeezed, you can quickly reduce costs by reducing recurring costs like subscriptions. For instance, if you pay a substantial amount for cable, you might save money each month by using an online streaming service. If you have multiple streaming services, it could make sense to cancel one or two.
You might try out a few different approaches to limit unwanted spending in your daily life as well, such as making a list at the grocery store to avoid impulse purchases. If you're constantly tempted to spend money because of special offers in your mail or email, unsubscribe from those communications. You'll likely save money, and you won't feel like you're missing out on anything. "Out of sight, out of mind," as they say.
The Bottom Line
Living on a fixed income can be challenging, and that's especially true as you get older. You're probably not interested in returning to work, and you might not have time to recover from financial missteps.
Understanding your income and expenses allows you to make smart decisions about your money. Focus on finding outside resources such as assistance programs and putting what resources you do have to work for you. In some cases, it may be necessary to reduce your spending, but remember that spending cuts don't need to be permanent — they're one part of a larger strategy to put yourself on a strong financial footing.