September 16, 2013

Playing Small Ball

If you are a baseball fan, you are probably familiar with the term, small ball. Usually, it means a team is concentrating on doing the little things right: stealing bases more often, bunting, forcing the opposing pitcher to throw more, attempting to walk when at bat, or using the hit and run play instead of depending on base hits and big plays to win a game.

For this post, I am using the term, small ball, to make the point that a satisfying retirement is very often putting together a series of small steps and simple decisions to create the life you want. Major life adjustments, inheriting a sizable estate from a long, lost uncle, or cutting food costs by eating mac and cheese for every dinner are rarely needed. Instead, by focusing on the little things, by playing small ball, we can be big winners.

What qualifies? Here are just a few things that come to mind. I am sure you can share some of your own examples:

1) We check the newspaper circulars (they come in the mail...don't even need a newspaper!) and on-line sites (like Cents' able Shopping) to pare our grocery bills. I am not talking about becoming an over-the-top coupon clipper, just looking for the best deals. The grocery store where we shop will match competitor's prices, so paying $1.89 for milk instead of $2.69 is just common sense. Betty and I spend no more than 30 minutes a week on this task and cut our grocery bill by $25 or so each trip.

2) We cut out the bloated cable TV package and dropped back to the basic channels while our youngest daughter is living with us. When she moves out next month, even the basic will go. We can pick up network HDTV signals for free using a simple antenna for the two or three shows a week that interest us. Specialty networks, like Discovery or PBS offerings can usually be streamed from their web sites. Netflix fills in all the gaps.

3) Betty has been using s smartphone for the past four months. She has determined that she never uses the data package and rarely texts. Yet, because she has a smartphone, Verizon insists she pay $40 a month for the "ability" to use data. She is going back to a basic flip phone, without a data package requirement, and save us $120 a year.

4) One of our cars is 10 years old. Maintaining full comprehensive and collision damage coverage is silly. We'd see nothing after a claim on a vehicle worth less than the $1,500 deductible. Dropping them saves us a few hundred dollars a year.

5) Arizona State University, several medium size colleges in the metro area, and an extensive system of community colleges offer a constant stream of free concerts, movies, lectures, and exhibitions. The Phoenix public library offers all sorts of artist talks and book discussions. We take advantage of as many of these events as we have time and interest.

6) I read a lot (again, I say, a lot). I used to help support Amazon. Now, my library card gets a full workout. Not only do I save close to $500 a year on books, but I don't need to buy more bookshelves.

7) Groupon...need I say more?

8) We bought an RV. Obviously, that isn't small ball. Actually, it is a 30 foot long, 12,000 pound behemoth. But, by eliminating those things in our budget that really don't make us happier or make our lives better, we freed up some of the money to fulfill a dream to hit the road and travel the back roads of America.

By playing small ball in part of our life, we can live large in another. And, that has been a tremendously positive trade off.

How about you? What examples of "playing small" can you share?


  1. When I grocery shop, I often buy the "club pack" of fresh chicken breasts at a reduced price. I take a day to cook multiple meals and freeze in portions to be enjoyed at a later date. Economical in time and money. Less waste as well.

    We enjoy an occasional glass of wine. A few months ago we discovered Bota Box wine. It has the equivalent of 4 bottles of wine, at a cost of ~ $17. It's surprisingly good! The packaging is such that it will stay fresh for up to a month. Easy to store, and no more waste of expensive wine when you just want a glass.

    Being voracious readers, we too, take advantage of free loans from our library for our Kindles. Just finished Washingotn; A Life by John Chernow. Great read for history buffs.

    I dropped my smart phone plan when I realized I wasn't using the data. Have a basic phone to talk and text, and it works fine. Saved a bundle.

    Great post!

    1. Boxed wine is something I used to buy but for some reason went back to bottles. With a new refrigerator it might make sense again.

      I have yet to use our library system for downloads to my Kindle but I have borrowed audio books for long driving trips.

  2. Like you, I use my library card much more often and save a bundle. My husband manages the grocery circulars, and he's become quite the expert.

    Our favorite "small ball strategy," though, is accumulating points at our local grocery store to save on gas. Combining good price shopping with the purchase of gift cards, recently at 4X the points (purchasing gift cards for things we were already going to buy), we've managed for the past 3-4 months to save $1/gallon on our gas! That really helped us save on a recent road trip.

    On top of the rewards points, we also get the credit card points for the purchase, which we turn to cash when we pay off our bill at month's end.

    1. The idea of buying gift cards for things you are going to use anyway to get extra points during promotions is a clever idea.

      I always turn my primary credit card points into cash and have that amount deducted from the next bill. That is worth several hundred dollars a year.

  3. Haven't thought about adjusting my car insurance. Thanks! I usher at the local theater. They save money and I get to see some pretty great plays for free!

    1. Your car insurer isn't likely to tell you you are wasting money!

      Betty and I gave some thought to ushering at one of the major theaters downtown but our schedule was too full to meet their minimum commitment of hours per month. Oh well, maybe sometime in the future.

  4. - We stopped buying meat. We did not do it for budgetary reasons initially, but it has turned out to be a big grocery bill saver. And as you know Bob, Mike and I still have plenty of energy even without meat in our diet!

    - We stopped ordering all liquids but water when we dine out. We now enjoy a glass of our favorite adult beverage here at home before we leave instead. It's fun - we relax, we talk, we enjoy our drink, all before we even get to the restaurant.

    - We use for most of our entertainment selections. We're seeing the musical Funny Girl this Friday at half price, matter of fact, thanks to Goldstar.

    - We save gas by walking or biking to do lots of our day to day stuff. In particular, we bike to our Lifelong Learning program, saving about five gallons of gas a week, considering we have different class schedules and would normally take two cars. It's also a good way to get a few extra calories burned, plus no parking hassles.

    - We rarely go to the movies anymore, very happily waiting till we can rent them from Redbox. By the way - we watched Amour last night. Wow! If we made more movies like that here in the US, maybe we'd actually go to the movie theater and pay full price!

    - We always search the internet for free or discounted offers on pretty much everything. For example, yesterday we were looking for the Suze Orman packet of financial docs that includes a will, healthcare directive and power of attorney. On her site it costs $29.95. I did a quick search, found a discount code, entered it on her site, and we were able to get the documents for free.

    - Practice patience! That's probably the biggest money saver. Having the patience to wait for a good deal saves us a bundle. Another example, I've been waiting to make a photo book of our recent overseas trip until the online photo book site I use offered a good deal. Well, last week for some crazy reason they offered a free photo book to prior customers for a limited time. I jumped on it, made my 20 page 8 x 8 book, ordered it, and ended up paying just $8.00 for shipping instead of about $25.00. (I use/like

    - We've been unplugging seldom used appliances, turning off power strips at our computer and entertainment centers, and slowly raising our thermostat to get used to a warmer home in the summer. Last month our electric bill was just $49.00, compared to $150.00 the prior year.

    - Like you, we are big library users, but we now use our library's e-book portal 99% of the time, eliminating reserve fees, late fees and the gas to get there and back.

    I love this topic (obviously), but I'll stop for now!

    1. Wow...what a bunch of great ideas. And, thanks for the tip on the movie, Amour. I just added it to our Netflix queue in the #1 position so we should have it by the end of the week.

      Like you two, I prefer a glass of wine at home before dinner. The charge for even a glass of house wine at most restaurants is as much as we generally pay for a full bottle.

      Lots here to think about, Tamara. Thanks.

  5. Dropped cable completely a couple of years ago. Use netflix. Find free entertainment all over the southeast valley--at libraries,parks, etc. Have a soup and homemade bread dinner once or twice a week. Eat mostly vegetarian, lots of beans and grains,healthy,inexpensive and we love the taste! I take cookbooks out of library instead of purchasing (used to also keep amazon in business!!) VERY stingy with gas. ALWAYS group my car trips. Do my own pedicures now. I am also finding out how to read magazines and books on my kindle through the library.We have " Nature " dates..outdoors activities like kayaking, hiking, or just a nice long walk that we look forward to and I often pack a picnic. Try to have a backrub night, no more fancy massages in salons! Upped our deductible on all insurance policies.

    We're inching towards retirement, getting our habits in order while our business up for sale.

    1. Every step sounds excellent. I really like the idea of soup and bread for dinner once or twice week. When the weather finally starts to cool here in Phoenix over the next month that will sound very good. Soups can be very rich in fiber, too if it is a bean and vegetable based soup.

      Have you looked at Pinterest for recipes? Blogger Suzanne (Life Out Loud) and her husband have a board with close to 900 different recipes.

  6. I'm considering ditching cable for netflix. Not sure if we can do it, but worth a shot.

    1. At least may be you cut back to basic cable and fill in with Netflix, Hulu, and Redbox.

  7. Playing "small ball" is something I have practised for most of my life
    *I often "shop at home" whereby I look to see what there is rather than decide on a menu and go shopping for it.
    *I have a simple land line phone package - no call waiting, call display, etc. And my cell phone is a pay-as-you go that costs $10/mo.
    *Living 13mi from the nearest town, I try to group car trips and errands as much as possible.
    *I watch the sale flyers and do the main shopping on 10% off day.
    *Air conditioning isn't necessary in this Alberta climate but heating is certainly a factor so the furnace gets turned down at night and when I'm away and power bars are shut off when I'm away and the water heater is turned down when I'm away. I also make use of the wood stove and get warmed up twice, once when I chop wood and again when it's burning.
    *The garden is a way of reducing costs, getting exercise and catering to the spirit. I've just been making salsa, pickles, freezing veggies, canning beans, etc. And I take advantage of people who want to give away their excess produce.
    *Bartering factors in. I am able to trade for service/products sometimes.

    1. Mona, you are a busy lady. With winter temperatures not all that far away in Alberta I hope this post didn't take you away from wood chopping!

      Before we leave on an RV trip we do the same "shop at home" thing: use up what we have in the freezer, frig, and shelves. Too often stuff gets bought and then sits unused for weeks or months. I bought a large can of baked beans three months ago and it is still in pantry!

  8. For our upcoming road trip, we booked three nights lodging using points accumulated on a credit card, plus two additional nights through a "stay and play" promotion at a resort community. The two nights, plus two rounds of golf and dinner cost a total of $249.

    Basic cable only. Love Netflix. When we go to the movies (rarely) we go on Tuesday afternoon and take advantage of senior citizen prices. One Iphone in the family is enough. Cut out our magazine subscriptions and use internet sites instead. We shop buy 1 get 1 at the supermarket, clip coupons, etc. Our favorite seafood market just sold gift cards at buy $50 get $25. We bought $100, got $50 for free. Love it!

    There are as many ways to be frugal as there are to be frivolous. So, I never feel guilty when I splurge. Fun topic. Love all these great ideas.

    1. We have a local market that has buy one get one free on meat every week. Since we only have meat once or twice a week, those deals can last us for the better part of a month.

      Even though Betty gave up her smartphone, the basic phone is still costing more than it is worth. At some point the pay for usage phones will make more sense for her.

      The gift card sales are something I rarely pay attention to. But since you and "Accidental Retiree" mentioned it I will be on the lookout.

      Have a great time on your road trip. When you get back maybe Malcolm will have another hundred recipes to try out pinned to his board!

  9. Well, I don't want to go crazy here Mona I have always played small ball and I am a coupon queen,ha!

    I admit that cable is not the area I save in per se. We have no pay channels but we have an upper tier not the basic. The football channel is a NEED.

    Just as when I had kids, I only shop loss leader sales on things like meats and I have a underneath and separate freezer. I cook double at least once a week and freeze the rest (more convenience than money saving. I cook from scratch most of the time (sometimes that roasted chicken is the best deal around).

    I agree with the other posters regarding gift cards especially around the holidays. My kids will want Itunes gift cards and they are now forty dollars for a fifty dollar one. Restaurants especially have things around the holidays where you get a gift card when you buy. last year I got two fifty dollar red lobster gift certificates as gifts and a twenty five dollar one for myself.

    I have not seen this mentioned but I buy gift cards at kroger (for things I use) and get double and triple fuel points. worth considering if yu have to drive. I generally get them for things like shell.

    I generally do errands once a week only.

    I tend to re purpose things and use what I have at home first in decorating, crafting or anything else (next blog post is how I do this without being a hoarder).

    whenever possible I make gifts, be they hostess gifts or Christmas gifts. With the exception of the college kids (who of course would prefer cash or cards) the rest of my family and friends generally have things they need and would rather receive a beautiful table runner or homemade food

    I shop the used market first, for everything that is not upholstered (this includes clothing). this does not mean I never buy new, just that it is a last resort.

    Like many of the other posters including yourself, I have an outlet of free and cheap entertainment as well as a newspaper that lists them and a website that shows things to do in denver under $10 each weekend. Groupon is also my friend. I'm not as enamoured with goldstar as some other folks. Actually, living social and a host of others as well. Try the website deal radar in your town.

    I have no shame in taking advantage of every senior discount and opportunity. I love going to the real movies, and go during their senior hour. Oh, guess I should write about email lists as well in my blog.

    Library, library, library....nuff said?

    1. Lots of good suggestions and affirmation, here Barb.

      In the Phoenix are we have Deal Chicken and Living Social in addition to Groupon. All do the same type of deals. I purchased a 50% off deal last week for a new Italian place Betty and I would like to try.

      I have gift cards on my radar for the holidays.

  10. I have not done such a great job of playing small ball. I live well within my means, and I don't have lavish tastes, but if I want something bad enough, I will spend the money on it. Best example is paying for NFL channel on cable so that I can watch the games that are only on NFL channel. An expense that I feel silly about off season, but then when I settle down to watch a game that I would otherwise miss, then it seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to spend money on! This is on my mind since the season just started!

    1. Simple living or playing small ball means we have what is really important to us and cut out the stuff that isn't that just wastes our energy and resources. If watching the NFL channel is pleasurable to you and fits within your budget, then no worries.

      Go Titans!

  11. Lots of good ideas, many of which I practiced for years (library, gas points at grocery store, and so on). A couple of others:

    1. Selective use of credit cards. I changed from the no annual fee AmEx Blue Cash to Blue Cash Preferred, since it pays 6% on all grocery purchases as an example. Even though it has an annual fee, which I normally avoid like the plague, the extra % on grocery will be worth something like $150 more than the annual fee. A no-brainer.

    2. While you can cut out a lot of Amazon books to purchase, they have a number of free books. For example, I wanted to read some more detail on WWI, and was able to download a free five volume series covering everything before, during and immediately after the Armistice. Thousands of book pages of reading, all for free.

    This would be a great blog post to periodically update, Bob. Everyone is interested in saving $, and helping others do the same.

    1. I use an Amex card as my Costco card because the annual cash back is much more than the fee. Much like you, it is the only one of my four cards that charges a fee.

      You are absolutely right about the free Kindle material from Amazon. I have 30 or 40 books on my device. If I could only find the time to read them.

      Good idea about doing a fresh version of this every once in awhile. I've already learned enough to pay for this post!

  12. Some great ideas ... I've GOT to cancel my collision and comprehensive ins. on the car -- as you point out, it's a waste of money if your car is more than 4 or 5 years old. Just one idea to add: the reward points from the credit cards. I'm saving 5% on gasoline for Sept. and Oct., and then 5% on amazon in Nov. and Dec ... just in time for Christmas presents!

    1. I bet I can find a credit card that does a better job than one of mine that gives no points or bonuses.

  13. One insurance question. Do any retired folks carry one of those "insurance umbrella premiums"? I think they are a con job, but am not sure. Thanks for any information anyone has.

    I am a recovering credit card addict, so am thinking of CAREFULLY stepping back into the credit card world to get the gift card deals. I have to be VERY cautious of these offers; I am one who thinks...but I have checks, or balances available on credit cards, therefore I MUST still have money! not always true!

    still adjusting for small ball...watching for the knuckleballs so I don't strikeout.


    1. I have never heard of an insurance umbrella policy. I did a quick search and found one answer that says it is a form of liability coverage in case there are claims against you. The other definition said these policies are meant to kick in if your primary policy doesn't cover everything.

      That is not very helpful I am afraid.

      Credit cards can be very addictive, even if the use is solid. Be careful!

    2. I have carried an umbrella policy for years. I would recommend it, particularly in today's litigious society, where one lawsuit can far exceed your existing insurance limits. It is not a scam and compared to your normal policies, it is surprisingly cheaper to secure either $1M or $2M in coverage (or more if you like).

  14. We have carried an umbrella policy since the 1980's when we had 3 teenage drivers in our family. Our friend's teenage son had a wreck and they were sued. Thankfully they had an umbrella policy. That prompted us to get one.

    1. OK, so senior moment. I had an umbrella liability policy when I ran my own business and a personal one to protect the family. The name insurance umbrella premium threw me for a minute.

      Both policies gave me a real peace of mind and were not terribly expensive when purchased in conjunction with my homeowners and other business insurance I already had.

    2. Thank you all! That helps!



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