The cost of living continues to climb, and many older adults are finding that their retirement income isn’t keeping up. Ever-increasing inflation might mean you’re dipping more deeply into savings than you planned.
There are just two solutions to a budget shortfall: Earn more, or spend less. Because many retirees don’t want (or aren’t physically able) to return to the workforce, it’s necessary to cut back on spending.
That sounds scary, but it doesn’t have to be. The following tactics can help you find “extra” money in your budget. Depending on how many of these tips you use, you could cut $100 or more—maybe a lot more—from your monthly spending.
1. Cut medical and prescription costs
If you’re on Medicare, you might save money by signing up for Medicare Advantage, which bundles Medicare hospital, outpatient and prescription drug coverage through private insurance companies. Monthly premiums can be as low as $0. However, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons before making that decision.
The government’s Medicare Savings Program helps eligible low-income recipients pay for some or all of their Medicare Part A and Part B premiums and sometimes deductibles, coinsurance and copayments. Another government program called Extra Help helps low-income Medicare recipients pay Medicare Part D drug coverage premiums, deductibles, co-insurance and other costs.
Signing up for a prescription delivery service might save you money on maintenance medications. Plus, when you sign up for automatic refills, there’s no danger of forgetting to call in your prescription each month.
Total medical and prescription savings: possibly $137 to $165 per month
Medical costs in retirement vary from individual to individual. But because the standard premium for Medicare Part B is $164.90 as of 2023, savinga could be that much if you qualify for 100% assistance.
Savings for switching to Medicare Advantage versus original Medicare also will vary, but a 2021 study from the Better Medicare Alliance indicates that Advantage patients pay $1,640 less in premiums and out-of-pocket costs each year (about $137 per month) than original Medicare patients.
2. Eliminate unused or under-used subscriptions
Magazines, monthly gift boxes, gym memberships, premium streaming channels—Americans spend a lot of money on subscriptions.
Often, that money goes to waste when subscription services are rarely used or are forgotten altogether. Month by month—and year by year, if you signed up for auto-renew—these subscriptions nibble away at the bottom line. Ask your bank if it offers a service that tracks your subscriptions, or consider an account monitoring service such as Carefull that flags recurring subscriptions and other money mistakes. That will give you a clearer idea where to cut.
Total subscription savings: up to $219 per month (or more)
How much you’ll save depends on how much you’re spending now. Once you’ve identified that amount, you might be horrified. Americans wildly underestimate how much these subscriptions cost, according to a 2022 study from C+R Research. On average, customers estimate that they spend $86 per month, but in reality, they spend an average of $219 per month on subscription services.
Depending on what you’re willing to drop, the amount you save could be more (or less) than that $219 figure. But it will be money in your pocket each month.
3. Reduce food costs
Here’s a sobering statistic: Almost half (44%) of our food spending is on meals away from home, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That adds up to $3,459 per year, on average, or about $67 a week.
It’s tempting to let someone else do the cooking, but there are plenty of ways to make meal preparation easier. For example: Pressure cooker appliances such as the Instant Pot, or even a slow cooker, make it possible to create affordable meals with relative ease. Both of these are good bets for turning tough meat cuts into tender feasts and for making it easy to cook beans (one of the most affordable and nutritious food options out there).
Depending on your retirement income level, you might qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). According to the National Council on Aging, as many as three out of five people who qualify don’t ask for SNAP. Visit the NCOA’s BenefitsCheckup.org site to learn more.
Feeding America website maintains a list of food banks where you can get free food. The list isn’t all-inclusive, though; other food assistance programs may be operating in your community. Ask about them by calling 211, a community services clearinghouse run by the United Way. While you’re on the phone, ask about meal delivery programs and groups that offer senior luncheons.
Total monthly food savings: $72 per month (or more)
If you could cut restaurant visits by even one-fourth, that would mean a savings of almost $865 per year, or about $72 a month.
Your savings would be even higher if you qualify for food stamps, visit a food bank, get meal delivery or start attending senior luncheons.
4. Get cheaper cell service
The bigger companies might seem to have the best deal for your household’s needs, but don’t count on it. Take a little time to check out companies such as Mint Mobile and Consumer Cellular.
Even if you stay with your current provider, make sure that you’re getting the best deal. It’s possible your company has a cheaper plan than the one you’re using but isn’t telling you about it.
Note: Be realistic about how much data and what kind of services you actually need. Why pay for more expensive features such as a high-speed mobile hot spot or high-definition video streaming if you won’t use them?
Total cell service savings: up to $30 per month (or more)
Each household’s phone needs vary, so savings will vary, too. But you might be pleasantly surprised by how much you’ll save. According to Consumer Reports, more than half its members saved money by shopping around, and almost one-third of them saved more than $30 a month.
5. Find affordable entertainment
At times, the amount of entertainment available to us can be overwhelming—and so can the cost of that fun. Here are a few options to cut the costs:
Cut the cable cord. Some streaming services are free, and others have free versions of their paid plans. Completely free ones include Crackle, Hoopla, Comet, IMDB TV, Kanopy, Redbox Free Live TV, Xumo, Globi and Sling Free. Be wary of the total cost of paid streaming services:. Take on too many and you’re paying as much as you did for cable TV.
Senior discounts. Ask for them everywhere, from ball games to a night at the opera.
Look for PWYC nights. Many performing arts companies offer a “pay what you can” night for plays, concerts, operas and comedy. Often this is a preview, before opening night, but some companies space PWYC performances at different points throughout a run. Do a search for “pay what you can/pay what you will in (your city)” to see what’s available.
Volunteer. Many theaters and performing arts centers use volunteer ushers. You’ll have to take tickets or show people to their seats, but you’ll get to see performances for free.
Socialize at home. Board games, potluck, bridge tournaments, movie nights—whatever you and your friends enjoy.
Total monthly entertainment savings: possibly $79 per month (or more)
Obviously, every situation is different. Someone who wants front-row seats on opening night is going to pay a lot more than someone who hits the PWYC preview. Those who already own a lot of board games won’t have to run out and buy them before inviting friends over. And so on.
Taking only the cost of television into account, you could save $78.58 per month, on average, by cutting cable. That’s based on a 2022 analysis by CableTV.com.
6. Reduce driving costs
With more time on your hands in retirement, you might be driving more to socialize, shop, dine out or visit relatives and friends. Rising gas and insurance prices make these days out a lot pricier.
According to the American Automobile Association, it costs anywhere from about 55 cents to 86 cents per mile to drive a new car, depending on make and model. If your car isn’t new, check out the AAA’s online driving costs calculator to get an idea how much it costs to take to the open road. Fortunately, there are pleny of ways to lower your driving costs.
Look for better insurance rates. Ask an independent insurance agent to do the legwork for you. Lots of websites will run the numbers, too, but some will ask for your phone number and other identifying information. The Insurance Information Institute offers tips on getting the best auto insurance deals.
Use an app. Smartphone apps such as Gas Buddy and Gas Guru can help you find the most affordable gas stations in your area.
Drive smarter. That advice your dad gave you—no jackrabbit starts, use the cruise control, check your tire pressure, don’t carry a lot of stuff in the trunk—will make a difference in how often you need to fill up.
Slow down. A Consumer Reports study showed that driving a car at 55 mph instead of 65 mph improved fuel economy by six to eight miles per gallon.
Combine trips. If you’re going to a medical appointment or heading out to the movies, pick up groceries or dry cleaning on the way back. Consider carpooling, too, if you and a couple of friends want to see a movie or visit a museum. Using one car instead of three or four also reduces environmental impact.
Use public transit. Not everyone is lucky enough to live in areas with good transit, but if you do, consider giving it a try. Even if you don’t feel comfortable using it at night, a bus or train might do for morning medical appointments or lunch out with friends. Be sure to ask about senior discounts or “seniors ride free” days.
Total vehicle savings: $70 per month (or more)
It’s hard to parse out exactly how much you could save because insurance rates for city dwellers tend to be much higher. Additionally, rural residents may need to travel many miles for medical appointments, shopping and entertainment.
Focusing only on driving costs: Those aged 65 and older drive an average of 7,646 miles per year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That’s about 637 miles per month. Cutting the number of miles driven by just 20% would mean savings of $70 to $109 each month.
7. Trim your energy costs
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average home’s utility bill is $2,000 per year. No single, sweeping change will slash your utility bills. Instead, consider a whole-house approach.
Keep your heating and cooling system running efficiently. The biggest expense is for heating and cooling, which makes up 54% of your annual utility costs. A furnace or HVAC unit that has the Energy Star label is best because it meets efficiency guidelines set by the Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Have the unit inspected regularly to keep it running at top efficiency and to avoid costly repairs.
Get a programmable thermostat. Some people like it very warm or very cool, but why heat or cool to excess when you’re asleep or not at home? A programmable thermostat lets you adjust the indoor climate based on when you actually need it.
Lower the water heater setting. Water heater temperatures can go as high as 140. However, having the water heater set to 120 degrees is good for most purposes, according to the DOE. Setting the heater lower can save you $36 to $61 each year. It also decreases the chances of an accidental scalding.
Find and plug leaks. The DOE’s “Energy Savers” publication offers tips on finding all the ways that cold air tries to get into your warm house, or that hot air tries to get into your air-conditioned house. These include sealing leaky windows with caulk or weatherstripping, making sure fireplace dampers are closed, and replacing attic insulation that has become wet or compressed.
Contact your utility providers to see if they offer a free “energy audit” to customers. These generally provide basic tips on things such as reducing air infiltration and using energy-efficient lighting and appliances. Some homeowners opt for a professional inspection done by a certified home energy auditor.The Building Performance Institute offers tips on finding a qualified inspector.
Air-drying saves energy. Hang laundry to dry on a clothesline, or on drying racks and hangers indoors. Not using the clothes dryer as often will shave dollars off the utility bill and add years to the life of your clothing. (Note: If you have allergies, it’s probably best to dry indoors.)
Air-dry your dishes, too. When the dishwasher gets to the “drying” cycle, turn it off and crack the door open slightly. Those plates and cups will dry eventually, just as they do in a dish rack next to a sink.
Total monthly utility savings: $18 to $45 (or more)
Heating and cooling are the big-ticket items, making up 54% of home energy use, or $1,080 per year. Using the tactics noted above, you can cut annual heating and cooling costs by 20% to 50%, according to the DOE. That could work out to $216 to $540, or $18 to $45 per month.
The more energy-efficiency tips you implement, the better your potential savings.
8. Watch your holiday (over)spending
It’s easy to get carried away during the winter holidays and other special times of the year. Before you know it, you’ve broken the budget on food, gifts or travel.
Make a list for any celebrations you plan to host (or even just be part of) this year. Be realistic about what you can afford. If you’re hosting, consider either scaling back or asking family and friends to chip in a few dollars. Or decide what you’re willing to spend, divide by 12 and set aside that amount each month so you can pay in full when the holiday bills come due.
The winter holidays are particularly fraught, according to a 2022 survey from the National Retail Federation. More than 4 in 10 Americans can’t afford to pay cash for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah or Kwanzaa celebrations; instead, they dip into savings or take on credit card debt.
Total holiday savings: $17 per month (or more)
Everyone celebrates differently, but based on the NRF’s data on the 2022 winter holidays, Americans spent an average of about $833 on food, gifts, décor and travel. Assuming you can cut costs by even one-fourth, you’d save about $208. Divided by 12, that’s a little over $17 per month.
With regard to non-winter holidays, here’s a pro tip: Watch clearance sales after the holiday or at the end of a season to scoop up bargains. That could save you as much as 50% to 75% on the things you need for the coming year’s celebrations.
Cutting $100 or more a month from your budget might not be nearly as hard as it seems. By taking at least some of the steps above, you should be able to free up more cash to cover essential bills, pay down debt or even save for that dream vacation.