January 12, 2017

A Satisfying Retirement 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 may still affect 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 some things 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 not 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. Each May there is a 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 31 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 last 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 several parks with plenty of space for the dog to romp and us to enjoy a picnic or to just stretch our legs.
  • we are surrounded by hiking trials through the mountain preserves that ring Phoenix or along the canals that flow through the Valley. 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 5 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 family 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.

16 comments:

  1. I host house concerts featuring folk artists from across North America through an organization called Home Routes, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. There are six concerts/year. My responsibility as a host is to provide "room & board" for one night to the artists and drum up an audience. In return, I get a concert right in my home and the opportunity to meet people from all over North America.
    I also like the idea of being a tourist in my own back yard. A friend and I often go on short road trips in the area, complete with a picnic lunch, exploring roads and destinations we haven't been to before.
    Book clubs, walking clubs, yoga classes, card/game nights, movie nights or afternoons, volunteering with organizations - I don't believe that activities need to cost a lot to be entertaining or worth while.

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    1. THere is an organization in our area that presents the home concert idea, though without the room and board aspect. I have always meant to attend but something keeps getting in the way. It sounds like a tremendous way to "get up front and personal" with an artist.

      Your comment about local road trips resonates with me. Even after 30 years in the Phoenix area, there are places to explore or revisit. I am going to look at some options.

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  2. Mother Nature provides a lot of our entertainment. Living in a climate that's nice all the time (hot summers just mean choosing our time to go outside carefuly..) There's Saguaro Lake,Usery Mt. Park and South Mt. for trails, paths for riding our bikes, and farm neighborhoods nearby for long walks while visiting the goats horses donkeys and chickens. No need to pay for a health club! We love our Library Day which includes lunch in Chandler at our favorite ethnic restaurant.. every two weeks.We like Vietnamese,Mexican,Thai.. I like doing a "Theme night" for supper for dates at home--Italian food night with Dean Martin on Pandora, candles,etc.. or Indian food night. Scheduling card games with girlfriends twice a month takes me to a gorgeous clubhouse at a friend's condo building where they even provide free coffee! We talk about EVERYTHING including sex,politics and religion!!!! Spending an afternoon visiting our son in downtown Tempe is always a treat and always includes a lot of walking around Tempe Town Lake. In just 2 hours drive time we can take a "real" vacation to Prescott,Sedona,Jerome,Cottonwood,Winslow, and rent a very inexpensive airbnb room or cottage, and enjoy looking at art in the galleries, and usually a hike.I often rent us a place with a kitchen and bring food to cook a nice supper at home. A lot of the money we spent when working was for convenience (save time and escape exhaustion of cooking and cleanup by going out to eat..) or escape.Now, I don't feel the need to escape very often, and I am wealthy in TIME! So, we spend less,very naturally. We enjoy the same museum freebies as you and Betty and I get season tickets to Hale theater in Gilbert,to save $. Ken attends a free meetup group for intelligent discussions every Wednesday night.When you are blessed with time, there is more to do out there than you can imagine-- I have a New Times app on my computer which tells me everything happening in the Phoenix and East Valley area every week.. And, a nice time at home by the pool,with a glass of iced tea and a good mystery novel on a weekday afternoon is quite satisfying too!! I can't wait to hear everyone else's activities!

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    1. Betty and I will attend our first Hale Theater presentation in March. The tickets were given to us as a Christmas present. I hear good things about that theater and the quality of its shows.

      A New Times app? I am on my way to find it right now.

      A great list, Madeline, for us budget-conscious retirees.

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  3. I have not paid for gym memberships and the like in decades. Running on the roads is free, and I am still using my in-home equipment that I have owned for years for anerobic exercise. We always attend shows, eat out, and similar activities at largely reduced prices (not free, but large discounts compared to large city dwellers and others). Probably the biggest difference we made was moving to a very low cost of living locale, certainly one of the lowest in the country.

    On the credit card front I made sure we have the best cash back cards for our needs. For example we get 6% on gas, 6% on groceries, 3% on meals and entertainment, and at worst 1-2% on everything else. I bring this up because what is better than free? Money back!

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    1. You reminded me to cash in some of the cash back credit on my primary card for balance credit on the next bill. Done. Thanks, Chuck.

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  4. I can play bridge for three hours every weekday afternoon at our local senior center for 50 cents, if I choose to. The system of parks and trails in my city is wonderful, and my dog enjoys the cold weather so we walk every day about 5 times. The Guthrie Theatre in downtown Minneapolis offers a "rush line" where you can arrive an hour early for a play performance and wait in line to buy half-price or less tickets that remain unsold. The many colleges and universities have student instrument and voice recitals that are often free. The St Paul Chamber Orchestra offers neighborhood concerts starting at $12 for a complete evening performance in a church or synagogue near you. The Mill City Farmers' Market is open year round - every Saturday during the summer and two Saturdays a month in the winter - and you can enjoy fresh produce, cheese samples, beautiful crafts displayed by vendors, live music, etc., all for free. You can buy something if you want to. The Metro Transit Light Rail and Metro bus system carries seniors for 75 cents for a two-hour period. And hundreds of other opportunities are available in the Twin Cities.

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    1. That all sounds excellent. I wish the Phoenix Light Rail system offered such a deal. While the $10 round trip to downtown still beats dealing with traffic and the cost of parking, when Betty and I both go it adds up.

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  5. Some great ideas. I have but one word to add to your list: Pickleball! It's the latest, greatest game for seniors (esp. former tennis and other racquet-sport players). Most places have drop-in times for $2 - $5 per session, which is cheaper than a movie, and more exercise. I'm running off to play right now.

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    1. I learned about Pickleball when we visited some friends at a retirement resort in Tucson. I gather it is quite popular. Now that I am aware of it, I see notices for Pickleball everywhere.

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  6. Hi Bob, I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy and learn from your blog. Thank you! My husband and I retired a couple of years ago and we are still learning the ropes when it comes to getting the most out of our retirement.

    We live in a suburb of Kansas City and we are finding many enjoyable free opportunities. The Nelson-Atkins Museum is free and a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. We also receive a free pass to the Zoo once a month in the warm months. We have a Stubs card to the AMC theaters and combined with senior discount can now see movies for $5 each and occasionally free when our points build up. I know there are many more opportunities out there that I just need to research and discover. You offer many great suggestions to check into!

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    1. Thanks, Bonnie. I appreciate your kind words.

      I have a brother who lives in the Kansas City area. He has mentioned the Nelson-Atkins Museum and I know he took his kids when they were younger to the zoo.

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  7. My wife and I have achieved what very few people ever achieve. We have--enough! People ask me about money. I tell them we have enough money to last us the rest of our life-but not so much we have to worry about. We have each other. Our kids are gainfully employed and doing well in their chosen fields. They have good spouses and good kids. All of us have our health. Our larders are full.

    If we get any more blessings, we are stealing blessings that were meant for others.
    Our budget is limited. But when I look at the above paragraph and look at my wife next to me, I can nod my head up and down. Thank you God!

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    1. I can't think of a better answer to my question, Jack. Being in love and content with what you have is the perfect recipe for a satisfying retirement.

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  8. I just found this Blog. Nice job with it Bob. I am thinking of retiring sometime soon. Very worried about shaking up my life but my drive is 82 miles and have a lot of traffic using up 2 hours and 30 minutes on a good day... at times it's 2 hours. Your blog will help me sort out ideas to make good decisions.
    Thanks

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    1. That is a very serious commute, Steve. Welcome, and I hope you find what you need here to take the steps toward retirement.

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