May 17, 2012

Making Retirement Satisfying On a Limited Budget

It is easier to lead a satisfying retirement if you have few financial worries. While money certainly doesn't buy happiness, few would argue that your options for living how and where you choose are more likely to happen the fatter your investment portfolio. So, this post isn't for you.

On the other side of the issue, much of the popular press would have us believe we are doomed to a future of diminishing opportunities and darkening skies. I disagree. Yes, way too many seniors have been put in a very tough position by recent events and they will struggle. They may have to choose between buying some medicines and skipping meals. For the richest country in the world to allow that to happen is, in my view, criminal.

So, who am I writing for today? This is for those who have a retirement income that is sufficient for our needs and allows for satisfying an occasional want. The Great Recession affected what we can afford and how we live. We have likely downsized some of our expectations. The way we pictured our retirement may have looked different from our present reality. Still, compared to so many in the world, and even in our own country, we remain blessed. This time of our life continues to have the potential to be the most enjoyable stage of life, free of many of the obligations and restrictions that have filled our youth and working years.

That said, the post title tells it like it is: we probably have a limited budget when it comes to something beyond the necessities. What most of us are going through is an re-alignment of our wants with our available resources. Doing what we want, whenever we want is no longer a logical approach. if nothing else we should have learned that the bills do come due, regardless of how many credit cards and home equity loans we use.

So, what can we do to enjoy this time of life if cash flow is a problem? Are we doomed to nothing more than trips to the library or window-shopping at the mall? Absolutely not. The number of free or low cost ways to be entertained, stimulated, and renewed in mind and body are plentiful enough, if we just take the time and effort to find them.

From my own life here are a few examples. Then, it will be your turn. Saturday, May 12th was National Railway Day. You didn't know? Me neither until I ran across a press release. There is a tremendous railway museum in the Phoenix area that in 26 years of living here I had never heard of. Dozens of full size railway cars, cabooses, and engines are there waiting to be climbed on and through. Visitors are encouraged to blow whistles, ring bells, hang off the back step and yell "All Aboard."  On National Railway Day, there is no admission.

Suddenly, our family had the chance for a tremendous day together. Since the grandkids love trains the museum was a natural. It is located in a park that has a huge play area, walking paths, and picnic tables. So, to celebrate my birthday and Mother's Day we all met at the park for a day of play, eating, and exploring railroad cars. The cost? About $25 for subs for lunch for all eight of us. The memories? Priceless.

Betty and I enjoy hearing the symphony. With tickets between $35-$50 a person our entertainment budget doesn't allow for that very often. But, there is something called a brown bag lunch series. On selected Fridays at lunchtime, the symphony performs roughly half that night's concert for less than half price. It is a great chance for us to hear the music we like at a substantial discount.

One of the local community colleges has a twice a year film festival. Each series features half a dozen movies of a particular country or culture. These are films mainstream theaters wouldn't show. The college presents them, for free, in a comfortable performing arts center. Usually, the host gives the audience a little background about the movie and why it is worth screening. Betty and I make it a point to go to most of the showings.

While we have never done this, I know some folks who volunteer as ushers at one of the dozens of theaters in the area. For helping to seat people and hand out programs, they receive free admission to all the shows. They enjoy everything from Broadway performances to Shakespeare plays, all for just a few hours work.

Every once in awhile we will pick one of the historic districts in Phoenix and walk through it, snapping pictures of gardens, decorative walls, and interesting homes. Then, a stroll to a nearby park or a small lunch spot makes for an inexpensive, enjoyable afternoon. The trick? Treat your hometown like a tourist. Search out places nearby that you have never been to. Pretend you just moved to town and find hidden corners that delight and enrich you.


Now to the simple free stuff:
  • we live near a park with plenty of space for the dog to romp and us to enjoy a picnic.
  • we are surrounded by hiking trials through the mountain preserves that ring Phoenix. Even in summer if we start early enough it is fine.
  • every Wednesday night the Phoenix Art Museum is free. Once a month the Heard Museum opens it doors for no charge. Once a month our Bank of America Debit card gets us into one of a dozen local museums for no charge.
  • The Phoenix library system hands out free passes five days a week to twenty local museums and attractions. Just stand in line for 10 minutes and take the one you want.
  • Church concerts. Our church has a frequent schedule of free vocal and orchestral concerts. We miss very few.
  • movie night with friends at one of our homes. Except for the cost of popcorn and some soft drinks, a free time with our favorite people.

OK, enough from me. You get the idea. Making a satisfying retirement  is up to our ingenuity and creativeness. There are enough ways for you to be entertained and enriched to last a lifetime.

What have you found to do that fits your budget and is free or inexpensive? What special tricks to you employ to fill your days, nights, and weekend with interesting and enjoyable activities? I can't wait to get some fresh ideas.

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31 comments:

  1. Well I am not currently retired at this time, but one of my favorite things to do is visit our art museum in Raleigh, North Carolina. It's free for most exhibits, but donations are appreciated. The collections are fabulous! Also early movie matinees are still affordable. We also have a performing arts center that has reasonably priced season tickets for most budgets. There are high school performances and state parks here too. Oh and as soon as I figure out how to post with my real name, I'll do so. G.

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    1. Let me help you with the name part first. Where it says Comment as: when you click the down arrow you are given several choices. Pick Name/URL. Fill in whatever name you'd like to use and leave the URL section blank unless you have a blog address you'd like to promote. Hit "Publish" and you are all set.

      The Research Triangle area of North Carolina has as many things to do as anywhere in the country. You are lucky to be surrounded by solid universities, well-run cities, and beautiful mountains.

      My wife and I only go to the movies before 6pm. The prices are several dollars cheaper and the crowds are much smaller. Our local chain sells a T-shirt at the beginning of each year that gives you a free medium popcorn all year long every time you wear it to a show. They also offer a large soft drink in a special cup that allows for $1 refills all year, too. Unfortunately, the number of movies that appeal to us seems to diminish every year.

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  2. We regularly go to free concerts by faculty and students at Emory University which is 5 minutes away from us. Parking is free too. We have annual memberships to the art museum and botanical garden and utilized them fully to see exhibits, etc. The library has lots of free musical and other programs if we want to take advantage of them. We love to walk in the parks and around our neighborhood with and without our dog. Every week I check the listing in the newspaper of free events and see if there is anything we would like to go to. We usually go to a couple of arts festivals but there are outdoor movies and concerts available too. Actually there is more than we could ever take advantage of if we really focused on taking advantage of these resources.

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    1. Living in the Atlanta area you probably have more choices for free and low-cost opportunities than you could ever handle! The way you take advantage of memberships, free events, festivals, and using the paper to find out what is going on is exactly how we do it.

      Our puppy is finally at the stage where we are beginning to introduce her to walks in our nearby parks. After she is spayed in a week or two we will be a bit more comfortable introducing her to the joys of dog parks and meeting other pets.

      Have a great Hot-Lanta summer.

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  3. I write about free things to do in my area all the time. Here's a sampling of what I posted today:

    http://cindyonrhinebeck.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/a-weekend-of-freebies/

    I retired on a shoestring.

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    1. That's an excellent service for those that live in your area.

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  4. Two things in particular come to mind for me:

    1) We get together with a few friends/couples (sometimes four of us, sometimes as many as twelve) for "Friday Nite Takeout". Via email, we see who is coming (some weekends we are all busy and it just doesn't happen), what kind of food (Mexican is most popular and inexpensive), who is hosting, and when. Most times the cost is less than $8 a head (the hosts do a simple dessert), and the conversation is almost always stimulating (an important ingredient).

    2) I almost regularly go to a Wednesday night bluegrass jam. Lots of music and laughter - the cost for me is $2 a night (coffee or beer) and a couple gallons of gas to get there. And we certainly welcome those who just wish to listen and laugh along with us.

    Stuff that involves other people is among the most satisfying, though an evening of reading a public library book also has its attractions.

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    1. Before I start typing and forget, I have a post about guilt in retirement next Friday, based on a comment you left on a post. Thanks for the inspiration. i think it will generate some good disucsssion.

      "Friday Night Takeout" sounds like a tremendous idea. I'll see if that would work for us.

      There is a bluegrass jam every weekend in Flagstaff that was fun to attend and listen in when we were there a few months ago. If I search hard enough there is likely to be one closer to home.

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  5. One rather odd way I've wound up at several symphony concerts is to peruse Craiglist under Tickets. Virtually all the listings are for full price sales of country or rock concerts, but every once in awhile someone offers seats that they aren't going to be using for free. These are usually for lesser known concert artists (for example, I've seen three violinists I never heard of but NEVER Nadia Salerno!)

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    1. We have a web site, Showup.com, that has several pages of free and highly discounted tickets for concerts, shows, and open-mic nights. It is updated constantly and divides listings by location and type. It is a tremendous service that I admit I don't use as often as I should. Your comment reminded me of it!

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  6. We enjoy riding our bikes to the beach and back along a paved trail that stretches some 25 miles from beginning to end, plus another 15 miles or so of paved sidewalk upon reaching the ocean at the end of the trail. It's about a 30 mile round trip from our home, and we'll either pack a sack lunch to eat at the beach for free, or enjoy an al fresco lunch at the beach. Cost will be either $0 if we pack our lunch, or about $10-$15 if we buy and share something.

    We live at the apex of three cities, and are therefore within 3 miles of three free summer series concerts in the park. We look forward to attending at least one weekly, along with a picnic dinner from home.

    We have a presidential library within four miles of our home, which offers a series of fascinating lectures, most of which are free, and free classical concerts every Sunday afternoon.

    We have a series of designated wilderness areas and canyons all around us, and enjoy packing a sack lunch and going hiking as often as possible.

    We have a beautiful lap pool and spa that we've been paying for through our HOA dues for some 21 years now, but have been too busy to use for a good number of years. Now that we are both retired, we plan to make regular use of both.

    Our local university offers three different film series a week for retirees - one featuring the classics, one featuring current releases, and one featuring foreign films. We intend to start attending at least one weekly.

    We have a $3.00 movie theater within walking distance, which shows films that are just about ready to go to DVD. In the same shopping center is a Mexican restaurant that does a .99 cent Taco Tuesday special, so our plan is to blow $10.00 on occasion seeing an almost-first run movie and going out for tacos (two each!).

    If nothing appeals, the other option is to ride our bikes to our town's Tuesday night Farmers Market, followed by .99 cent tacos at a different Mexican restaurant that does same.

    We no longer take the newspaper because it got so skinny, but on the occasional Sunday we like to take our dog and walk down to our local coffee house and pick up two coffees and The New York Times. Under $10.00 for everything, plus we enjoy a nice three mile roundtrip walk together.

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    1. In reading through above, I'm struck with the realization that we live in a wonderful area and really, should never, ever move! (The first question we're usually asked after someone hears we're both now retired is whether we plan to move. I assume we're being asked because so many people feel they need to free up equity in retirement, but moving out of our current home has never been part of our early retirement plan.)

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    2. What is amazing about your list is not all the opportunities you have close by, but that you can do so many of them considering your RV lifestyle!

      I hadn't mentioned the $3.00 movie theaters but we have a few within 15 minutes. The films may be a little scratchy and the popcorn a little stale. but it beats the $15 at the first run house.

      One thing I want to check out is the university schedule. Most things tend to shut down in Phoenix until September, but ASU does have 10,000 students in town for summer school so I bet there are concerts and plays I am missing. Thanks for the reminder.

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    3. LOL! I didn't think I needed to clarify that we needed to be in town to do these things! Actually, many of them will translate nicely to our RV travels should we have any downtime needing to be filled. :-)

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    4. I should have clarified...when do you find time to do all you do? !!!! I don't think "downtime" is much of a problem for you and newly retired hubby! You are an inspiration for all the fun and opportunities you can squeeze into a day.

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  7. I'm lucky to live in a place that has many free delights--the biggest wilderness city park in the country, free days at the zoo and at museums, free outdoor concerts in the summer. One hour to the east puts you in the mountains. One and a half hours to the west puts you on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. But my favorite free entertainment is a cup of my favorite tea in the back yard with a good book.

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  8. Good post, and some good ideas. We went to a museum last week, and arrived before noon when it was supposed to be free. But the woman glared at us as she nodded to a bowl filled with dollar bills and said, yes, it was free before noon, as advertised, but we should really give a contribution. She guilt-tripped us into giving $5 each. What was the normal price of admission? $5! Oh well, it's for a good cause, I suppose.

    I've just found there's nothing more fulfilling, for a better price, than having friends over for a barbecue or a potluck dinner, and then maybe a movie shown on the TV -- a free DVD from the library.

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    1. Betty and I thoroughly enjoyed a dinner with 10 friends last night. Each couple and the two singles brought potluck. We spent three hours simply enjoying each other's company and some great food. The price for us? The cost of 8 baking potatoes turned into a platter of mashed potatoes.

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  9. Another not yet retired reader here. One not quite free thing I'd like to pass on is taking advantage of reciprocal memberships. I join a local Botanical Garden annually. In addition to free admission and reduced prices on lectures and classes, the membership gets me in to a lot of other gardens free. One year on vacation we saved at least double the membership cost by visiting several gardens nearby. Ditto with the local zoo membership, it gets us in to much larger zoos in nearby cities for free or reduced prices.

    We are also fortunate to have a lovely local amusement park that has free admission. You can pay per ride if you want to ride, but you can walk around and enjoy the lights and action for nothing. They even allow you to carry in your own picnic.

    Gardening can get expensive sometimes, but if you belong to a garden club for a nominal yearly membership fee you meet a lot of like minded people and there are often plant swaps or inexpensive plant sales.

    I think a lot of activities can be very inexpensive when spend your money wisely. You can go to church festivals and enjoy a good meal for a small price. You don't have to gamble. You can go to a county fair for the admission price, you don't have to buy the t shirts. My husband and I enjoy sharing food at events, especially some of the yummy things we shouldn't eat much of anyway. A funnel cake for two, bites of a sausage sandwich, shared licks of a gelato--these are part of the fun for us.

    Picking up local entertainment newspapers, you know the free ones that kick around at the coffee shop, is always a great way to find things to do inexpensively, as is checking out the local chamber of commerce or community website.

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    1. Reciprocal memberships is something I had not heard of. Great idea. I'll check to see if our membership to the local botanical garden gets us into others.

      A nice recap of things to check on, Cindy P. Thanks.

      Have a great, free weekend!

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  10. We have purchased a state park pass and it is good for the entire year. We are just three miles away from the nearest one which has a beach and wonderful paved trails to walk. We also can use it at any state park. Sweet deal!
    We have friends around the country who we can visit for two or three days at a time if we wish and know we would be more than welcome. We recently hosted a couple from Iowa and it was so much fun sharing our local area. We all know each other from time "down south" in the winter. These couples are like family to us.
    We very much enjoy getting together with friends to play cards or just prepare a simple dinner to share. Sometimes we just all bring a dish and have a potluck.
    We have a large pond on our country property which is also where our home is located. We host weiner roasts and fishing parties. Our country and town friends all seem to enjoy the relaxing and quiet atmosphere. The family and kids all think it is a hoot to reel in their own fish! We usually end the evening with S'mores. And if my brother is along, he plays his guitar and leads a sing-along.

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    1. I am old enough to qualify for the National Parks senior lifetime pass which is a screaming deal...$10 for the rest of my life. I should check into a similar deal for Arizona since we like to visit state parks on a regular basis.

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  11. Hi Bob, good question. We are perfectly located along the East Coast of Florida between West Palm Beach and Daytona. Our area is all about the water and outdoor living; water sports, golf, tennis and baseball donimate. In the spring we can catch a major league game for $5 and in the summer we play golf for around $20 on the public courses. We get Living Social and Groupon discounts for paddle boarding and kayaking on the river and we spend afternoons on the beach just enjoying the breeze. Senior day at the movies is $7 including popcorn & soda and we can get an Early Bird meal anywhere in town under $10.

    In "Season" as it is referred to down here, there are many, many festivals, art shows and free concerts to attend. We regularly check our Chamber of Commerce website for events and plan our calendars accordingly.

    You definitely don't have to be Midas to enjoy a Satisfying Retirement!

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    1. You are lucky spring training prices are so low. With 15 teams in the Phoenix area you might think there would be competition to keep prices low. But, spring games cost more than regular season Diamondback games. The cheap alternative is the Fall League, where top prospects from each team play a 7 week season in October and November for just $6 a game for seniors.

      Once the "snowbirds" leave in late April, restaurants will often drop prices to stimulate local traffic.

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  12. We travel, and often it's via a home exchange. They're at our house and we're at theirs. We may be using each other's cars. In February we spent three weeks in Ecuador. We used miles we'd been accumulating on our credit card for a couple of years, and the house was free. We also belong to the Evergreen Club, an online group of retired couples, where we can stay for $15 a night plus breakfast. We did that seven times on a recent road trip to Kentucky and Tennessee.

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    1. Yes, I read about the Evergreen Club on your blog. Didn't you also coachsurf? That was something I'd never heard of until I looked into it a bit based on your experience.

      I am interested in looking into the Evergreen Club.

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    2. Hi Bob, I joined the Evergreen Club - solely based on Linda's posts. At $75 for an annual membership, how bad can it be. We have not booked any visits yet and we have not had any requests. If and when that happens I will report back.

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    3. I just looked at the web site. I'm not interested in home exchanges so this seems like a great alternative to meet interesting people while staying at a real savings over regular lodging or B&Bs.

      Yes, please keep us all up to date, and thanks again to Linda for telling us about the Evergreen Club.

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  13. Fourth of July brings on loads of free events here- concerts and parades and mud bogs. Our Historical society has a number of events every year. Just the farmer's market provides entertainment on Saturday mornings.
    You ought to try the Farmer's market in downtown PHX or Flagstaff. Both have wonderful produce and more than enough entertainment than you might need on any given Saturday.

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    1. There is a farmer's market close to us that does have an excellent display of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with homemade salsa, honey, and crafts. It has doubled in size since we first started going to it a dozen years ago. It is a fun way to spend an hour on a Saturday morning.

      I must say to all the commenters, I have gotten several new ideas and the motivation to pursue ideas I knew about but had slipped my mind. Thanks to the BRITW (best readers in the world)

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