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Budgeting Tips for Older Adults

By Tiffany Taylor and Julie Hayes | 10/11/2019

An older adult putting money into a piggy bank

We all know how important it is to save money, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. Everywhere we go, there are different demands on our wallet, from weekly grocery trips to exciting new films at the movie theater to self-care treats at the hair salon. Add those expenses to monthly bills, medication costs and gas fill-ups, and it’s no wonder our wallets can end up stretched thin.

Failing to budget can lead us into risky situations. If we spend a little too much on our cell phone and cable contracts, we may find ourselves coming up short when it’s time to make our credit card payments. We may have to make difficult choices between scheduling an important but potentially expensive health appointment and keeping our homes stocked with enough food. We may turn to loans for temporary relief, and wind up deeper in debt when it comes time to pay them back.

To avoid these harmful situations, we can look for ways to budget our expenses so we no longer run the risk of being unable to cover necessary expenses such as rent, medication, doctor’s fees, insurance and credit card payments. To get started, consider the following areas of your current budget:

1. Utilities

Utilities can often take up a big portion of our expenses, but the good news is that there are several ways to cut back on the amount of money we spend on electricity, heating, cooling and other fees associated with running a house. Here are just a few tips to consider:

  • Unplug electronics from outlets when not in use
  • Turn down the heat or air conditioning when not at home
  • Avoid turning on lights or television unnecessarily
  • Be mindful of how much time is spent in the shower or running sinks
  • Seal chimney flues, windows and doors to save on heating and cooling
  • Turn down water heaters set at the high 140-degree factory setting to the more comfortable 120-degree setting
  • Use the cold water setting when doing the laundry instead of high heat when possible
  • Use LED light bulbs
  • Clean out the filters and lint traps of appliances to keep them from losing efficiency 
  • Discuss Budget Billing plans with your utility compan(ies)
  • Look into programs offered by your state to help individuals on a fixed income, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

2. TV, Phone and Internet Fees

With the world become more and more plugged in, fees associated with cell phone, internet and television are hard to avoid. To cut costs, consider:

  • Bundling services rather than paying for each separately
  • Switching to a prepaid cell phone plan to prevent unexpected overage fees and set limits on talk, text and data usage
  • Cutting unused cable channels and packages. If we aren’t big TV watchers, it may also be worthwhile for us to drop cable entirely. 
  • Looking into and comparing prices between cable alternatives such as Roku, Netflix, Hulu and Fire Stick
  • Removing landline service if it is no longer used
  • Exploring discounts for older adults on a fixed income, such as AT&T Access, Spectrum Internet™ Assist and Internet Essentials

3. Shopping

Shopping is a necessary part of life, but it can also be a drain on our expenses if we don’t shop smart. To keep our shopping expenses manageable, we can:

  • Save purchasing unessential items for when there’s room in our budget to do so, or wait until they are on sale
  • Take small amounts of cash with us and avoid using credit cards to limit spending
  • Use coupons or promotion codes whenever possible
  • Leave a cushion in our budget in case we need to make an unexpected, emergency purchase
  • Explore prices at different stores so we’re not spending more when there are better deals elsewhere
  • Shop at discount stores or warehouse clubs like Costco where we can make inexpensive bulk purchases. However, we should remember not to buy things we don’t need just because the price is good!
  • See if stores we frequent offer savings clubs or senior discounts, and avoid opening charge cards at stores we do not visit often

4. Dining and Groceries

Food is an important part of maintaining our health and should by no means be neglected in the name of saving money. There are ways to cut costs, but we should make sure to never keep ourselves understocked or cut down on maintaining a healthy diet to budget.

When possible, cooking at home rather than going out to restaurants is the more affordable, and often the healthier, choice. To save money on our grocery trips, we can:

  • Plan ahead so we know what we need, and avoid buying things that are not on our list
  • Take a calculator and add up everything we put into our cart so we can be sure we aren’t spending more than we can afford
  • Bring coupons, or look for store coupons or special sales available at the grocery
  • Compare prices between brands. Sometimes it’s better to invest in a better brand if the taste and quality is better, but oftentimes the store or off-brands taste just as good or better for a lower price
  • Be mindful of the quantities we buy if the food can easily spoil
  • Avoid shopping while we are hungry, and avoid bringing along hungry guests such as children who may ask for unneeded snacks or junk food

5. Entertainment and Hobbies

Saving money is important, but so is living a full and enriching life filled with the things you love to do. Budgeting isn’t about sacrificing the things you care about, but prioritizing your expenses so you have enough for both necessities and what matters most to you. A sustainable budget should leave room for entertainment and hobbies, but to maximize on our savings, we should also keep in mind to:

  • Take advantage of free entry or discount days when going on outings, or go someplace without an entrance fee. If you’re not sure if a place you’re visiting offers discounts for older adults, don’t be afraid to ask!
  • Use a local library to access books, movies, audiobooks, music, games and other entertainment items free of charge
  • Choose activities everyone can enjoy when going out with friends or a spouse so no one is spending money on something they are uninterested in

If you need more help budgeting, consider getting in touch with a financial coach or exploring financial empowerment services such as Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging’s ESOP to examine your expenses and find more ways to save tailored to your unique needs.

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