While surfing between the couch cushions isn’t likely to yield enough to alter the quality of your life, we feel with equal certainty that “winning the lottery” doesn’t exactly qualify as a retirement plan either. But there are some things you can do to save money, especially if you are older.
1. Claim who you take care of.
If you take care of your grandkids or support them financially, you may be able to claim them as dependents on your tax return. Ditto for your elderly parents. The IRS says you must have provided more than half of your parents’ support during the tax year to claim them as dependents. By the way, if you are 60 or older, you are eligible for free tax preparation help from the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program. The average cost for a tax preparation service is $273, which makes this a whole lot better than even finding dollar bills between the cushions.
2. Embrace FAFSA.
For those whose kids are not in college or applying to schools, Jan. 1 was just a day of football games and the Rose Bowl Parade. But every college family knows that Jan. 1 is the day the 2016-17 FAFSA form went live. FAFSA is the faucet from which all federal financial aid for education generally flows. So while you might prefer to amuse yourself by googling things like “college scholarships for Baptist gymnasts who want to study astronomy,” just know that when it comes to deadlines that really must be met, FAFSA is the Iron Maiden. Do FAFSA first. Estimate your 2015 taxes based on what you filed for the 2014 tax year and hit that send button. Without FAFSA, your student may not qualify for grants or loans and schools sometimes dole out their aid on a rolling basis. Some other ways to lower college costs: buy used textbooks instead of new ones and you can shave about a third to half off the typical $1,000 a year cost. In addition, sign up for the minimum meal plan offered knowing that a microwave in the dorm room is always cheaper and double-check that your employer’s health plan will be accepted by the college — that’s an easy $2,000 right there.
3. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for a senior discount.
Movies, many restaurants and even outlet malls sometimes give AARP-card bearers discounts. Hotels, cruise ships, rental cars and attractions too. In many cases, you won’t know if you don’t ask. If you think it doesn’t amount to much money, test it out for a few months by putting everything you saved using your AARP card or by claiming the senior discount into a shoe box. It adds up.
4. Don’t be financially lazy.
A lot of what we pay for is convenience. We pay to valet park instead of walking from two blocks away. We do the same thing with our finances. We pay a bank fee because we can’t be bothered to find an in-network ATM machine. We pay an annual fee for a credit card because we always have and don’t want to have to change all those bills being charged directly. We let our checking account balance slip below a minimum balance and get zinged for $35 when we could just hunt around for a bank with free checking. A little less lazy will put a little more jingle in your pockets.
5. Start thinking of food as a big-ticket item, because it is.
You shouldn’t have to rob a bank to afford to eat healthfully, but sometimes it feels like that’s sort of what you need to do. Food is expensive. Anyone notice the price of eggs lately? They are about 23.7 percent higher than they were in November 2014.
So what money-saving food suggestions do we have? To start: Eat in, not out. Restaurant food, where you are paying for the preparation and service, is always more expensive. If you do eat out, consider sharing an appetizer and an entree and stopping at the bakery for dessert instead of having it at the restaurant. Some couples have a cocktail at home before they go out to dinner to reduce the restaurant check. (Just don’t drink and drive!)
Waste not, want not. Buy what’s on sale (which generally means what’s in-season) but only buy what you will actually consume. Go shopping once a week with a list and plan meals ahead of time. Use leftovers wisely and tossing those sad veggies in a soup pot is a perfectly valid way to use them. Pay attention to coupons, but only when they are for items that you regularly use. From the manufacturer’s perspective, coupons are a great way to get consumers to try new products. Don’t fall for it.
Pack food for road trips so you don’t wind up stopping. Think about whether you really need bottled water or can make do with what comes from the tap. And lastly, know that hosting a pot luck dinner is a perfectly reasonable way to entertain without breaking the bank.