The bad news: in 2016 there will be no Social Security increase, not a dime. More than 60 million Americans get those benefits, but the government has held fast to offering no jump in the benefit. That is just the third time in four decades that there’s been no increase.
And yet many seniors have been grumbling ever louder about rent hikes, more expensive grocery bills and steadily climbing health care costs. That is why a year of no Social Security increase will put many on the edge of despair as they struggle to balance their budgets. For 24% of Social Security recipients, the government dole is their only income. For 65%, it’s the majority of their income.
But there are many easy - painless - ways to take a whack at a senior’s monthly budget. From groceries to prescription drugs there are ways to cut costs that will not lower quality of life. Read on for a 2016 survival guide.
Forget brand names, buy generics and store brands, advised Alex Matjanec, CEO of MyBankTracker. He pointed to a 2014 study by economist Bart Bronnenberg at Tilburg University that found Americans spend an extra $44 billion per year on name brands when they could buy the same products for cheaper by going with a store or generic brand. In many cases a store brand - at a grocer or drugstore - costs just half as much as a name brand. Often there is no meaningful quality difference.
Shop around before filling prescriptions. Prices vary wildly. In Phoenix, a month’s supply of cholesterol medicine Lipitor is $10.30 with a free discount card at Walmart. At CVS it is $146, discounted down to $41.68 with a coupon. Blood thinner warfarin is $4 at Walmart. At Safeway it is $12.05 with a free coupon. A free website - GoodRx - makes it easy to track drug prices and to pinpoint the cheapest. Or just call around. Either way - and especially when a drug is not covered by insurance - comparison shopping is key to painless cost savings.
Borrow movies from your library, suggested Gary Weiner, a frugality expert at SuperSavingTips.com. That saves $7.99 per month at Netflix, and more than that per ticket at most movie theaters. Different libraries have different film strengths. Some are good at documentaries, less so at R-rated films. Others mainly only have kids' films. So this may not work everywhere. But a library card is free in just about all towns, so check out what’s available. That same card of course will bring you a supply of free reading material - so that means potentially huge savings at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Give up bottled water and drink tap water, which could save you hundreds of dollars a year, plus you won't have to lug those cases of water home from the supermarket, said Weiner. A bonus: tap water is a lot better for the environment than bottled water, plastic or glass. It tastes good too. In a test at Boston University, just one-third correctly picked out tap water from bottled - there is no proven taste advantage for bottled. Waters also were tested for safety and, no surprise, city tap water tested fine.
Cut your landline. “If you have a landline phone, you are paying too much, period,” said Ariel Pryor, a frugality expert and author of the "Ultimate Money Savings Ideas List." You don’t need both a landline and a cell phone, and, probably, you want the cell phone for its flexibility (you have a phone in your pocket wherever you go). Pryor added that, for hardcore cost cutters, it is very possible to cut the cellular costs too and go with Skype via WiFi. A Skype number for incoming calls costs $5/month. Calls costs 2.3 cents/minute in the US. A subscription for unlimited calling to U.S./Canada is $2.99 a month. Unlimited world is $13.99 a month.
Shop for clothing at thrift shops, said frugality author Bill Seavey. He itemized some of his scores: "perfectly good sports shirts for a couple bucks, leather belts for a dollar or two." You could pay $50 for a man's necktie - or get a serviceable one for $1 at a thrift shop. Similar discounts are found on women's clothing staples. And note - some of the most revered fashion trendsetters such as Iris Apfel (subject of the biopic "Iris") are dedicated thrift shop denizens.
Join your local senior center, urged Dean Ferraro, a tax practitioner and enrolled IRS agent. He added: “I sent a senior tax client of mine to her senior center after she had a legal issue with someone trying to defraud her. She got a free hour with a retired attorney with 40 years of experience. He recommended an active colleague attorney and it saved her thousands on legal fees and she recovered over $150,000. Wow, right?”
Most towns of any size have a senior center, sometimes membership is free, sometimes there’s a nominal cost. Many have free advice from other seniors on tap. Bonus: many offer very low cost lunches ($2.50 per meal in Phoenix at some centers, for instance). Many also offer - typically once a month - a free box of food and hygiene staples.
No one says it will be easy to balance one's retirement budget with no cost of living increase - but count your savings just taking the above seven steps.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.