by Pam Smith
Our golden years are often thought of as the time in our lives when homes, cars and credit cards are all paid off. A time when we get to spoil our grandchildren, take long trips, and generally indulge ourselves after years of hard work. Instead, many seniors find they are still working to make ends meet and those not working are living on a fixed income that may not support all their basic needs, such as rent, food, transportation and medications.
The reality is that if you are living on a fixed income you have to be very resourceful and diligent in managing your finances. It’s important to budget carefully and keep unnecessary expenses to a minimum. Finding creative ways to stretch your monthly income and taking advantage of government and community resources can cut expenses and help save money for other expenditures.
Following are some tips and resources to assist you.
Budget Carefully – When you know exactly how much money you have coming in on a monthly basis it’s important to develop a budget that allows you to make sure that the mandatory expenses are covered first. Once you have budgeted for necessities, you’ll be able to allocate any additional funds for the other items or services that you need or want. Once your budget is developed, follow it carefully.
Plan your trips – Keep a running list of items that you need frequently or items that you need less frequently. Don’t make 1-item shopping trips! You’ll save on gas and time if you make a once per week trip for instance and go to multiple stores.
Seek out senior discounts – There are many stores that offer senior discounts on certain days, some all the time. Don’t be shy. Find out how much you can extend your dollars by being proud of your age! Just ask! Restaurants, movie theaters, traveling, retail stores and more offer discounts.
Plan what you eat – The best way to save on food is to have a formulated plan. If you go out to eat that’s fine but don’t do it at the expense of throwing away food (or money). Come up with meal plans and then stick to them! Cook in larger portions and freeze if necessary so you will have variety and save money.
Learn for free – Look for free classes and activities that don’t cost a cent or are relatively inexpensive. Join clubs and participate in things you have always wanted to learn or do. You’ll find that there are many things you can do for free and have fun at the same time while getting to know other people.
Don’t fall prey to scammers and con artists – Beware of “guaranteed returns’’ or “limited time offers,’’ and don’t pay for “free gifts.’’ Never give your credit card, Social Security number or other personal information to a person or business you don’t know. Keep a close eye on your checking and savings accounts and report any suspicious withdrawals to the bank right away. For more tips on how to protect yourself, check out advice from the FBI at www.fbi.gov/majcases/fraud/seniorsfam.htm.
Government and community programs for which you may qualify:
Rental Assistance for low-income seniors is available from several U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development senior programs as well as other state and local agencies. Visit HUD.gov for more details.
Low-Income Home Energy Assistance programs provide grants to help pay utility bills. To see if you qualify, contact your local utility company. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/liheap/
Prescription Drug Assistance Programs. Most pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs that provide uninsured and low-income access to prescription drugs they couldn’t otherwise afford. Ask your doctor, pharmacist or health clinic for more details.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helps millions of lower-income seniors buy nutritious food each month. Visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/fns/ for qualification requirements.
Free Transportation. Some communities offer transportation programs to drive senior citizens to and from special events, doctor’s appointments and various other activities. These programs vary from city to city so you would need to check with your city website for transportation options for senior citizens.