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Retiring on a Shoestring – And Loving It

Category: Financial and taxes in retirement

January 5, 2022 — With inflation going up and just about everything getting more expensive, retirement is getting even more difficult than ever. So the beginning of the year seems like a great time to come up with some ideas to help everyone spread their income a little further, possibly even increasing it, and not forgetting to have fun and enjoy life.

Some of the best ideas we have ever seen have come from Topretirements Members. Two previous articles (see Further Reading at end) generated over 200 Comments with many great suggestions. So in this article we provide some broad based tips, then encourage you to go over the Comments already made and mine them for things that could help improve your budget outlook. recently profiled a couple, Joan and Steve Reid, who retired and moved from the affluent New York City suburb of Pearl River, N.Y., to Vero Beach on Florida’s East Coast. They had a very limited budget, $30,000, most of which was from Social Security and some small pensions. By attending to the basics the couple was able live surprisingly well in a great Florida town. We love their attitude, shown best by a quote from Joan: “We are not rich except in friendships, our art, our families and our souls” .

They had no savings or investments, and about $4000 in credit card debt. Looking at their expenses, the apartment rent was less than $1000 per month. They drove an older model car. They eschewed restaurants for the most part, opting instead for home cooking or a picnic in the park. It is not hard to imagine that there are many people like them in the same situation – existing mostly on Social Security with no savings. Sometimes people make poor decisions, but many other times they are victims of bad luck , poor investments, early retirements, family difficulties, or unplanned early retirements. Ours is not to judge, merely to to suggest ways to improve the situation.

Here are some other basic tips to consider:


Move to a less expensive city, state, or neighborhood

Ditch the cable

Use your local library and free cultural resources

Find the least expensive cell phone plan

Drive an older car, or live where you don’t need one

Don’t use a credit card unless it’s an emergency. Or if you do, choose the one with the best rewards and never carry a balance

Find a part time job that you enjoy

Find a bank that doesn’t charge for a checking account

Camp or stay with friends on your vacations, or go off season. Get a National Parks Pass.

Barter for basic services whenever you can

Don’t eat out unless it’s a real deal

Sell your unwanted stuff. Craigslist can be amazing, if you are careful

Look for discounts (AARP, AAA, etc.) – but don’t buy anything unless you need it

Stay healthy

For further reading: (check out the hundreds of comments in these Blog posts!)

15 Ways to Live on a Shoestring and Retire in Style

Retire on a Tight Budget – Ideas from Members

Comments: What are your best tips for living in style on a shoestring budget? Please share your tips and ideas in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on January 5th, 2022


  1. Great way to start out the new year and love the suggestions. We have gotten into the habit of eating in, as many had to with Covid and found we did save money and I came up with the idea that we had to take turns cooking dinner every night which took awhile to catch on, but worked. We do use one credit card and pay for everything including groceries and utilities and pay off the balance every month (rewards balance paid for all Christmas presents this year). Downsizing by selling stuff didn’t appeal to me but a friend has an Ebay store and he takes care of anything I ask him to sell, and I give him 30% (the stuff would have gone to the trash or thrift store ). So this list is a good one and I can relate to a lot of the suggestions, not sure I can cut the cable yet, but probably should. One thing that I think parents should do is to tell their children their plan and how they are cutting costs in their retirement that’s what we did and haven’t ever been asked for money, whereas our neighbors tell us their kids, who are in their 40’s and 50’s, are asking for money all the time and so they can’t get ahead.

    by Darla — January 5, 2022

  2. To add to the above ideas: Ask for a tour of your public library and take advantage of everything they offer. Mine offers free fishing poles and tackle, tools, estate planning software, 3-D printer, access to a Green Wall to make videos, yoga and ballet classes, recording studio, forklift and other heavy equipment training on robotic machines, plays and musicals, and a whole lot more – including the usual books, kindle downloads, DVDs, streaming access, etc. Another idea is that if one wants a pet, but cannot afford one, there are rescue places that need people to foster pets and will pay for medical expenses, food, other expenses, and pets are older and trained. In my area, there is such a place asking for foster folks. I will do this in the future, but right now I have a full house. I look forward to hearing other ideas.

    by Elaine C. — January 5, 2022

  3. Great suggestion, Elaine! I will have to see what our library has going on besides books and movie rentals.

    I DID find out, accidentally, that our town has a Medical Library that loans out all kinds of medical equipment like wheelchairs, walkers, shower seats, crutches, etc. all to town residents for free – no time limit. We used it after husband’s hip surgery last year and I expect to again after my knee surgery in spring. That can be a big savings. It is run under the Parks & Recreation Dept.

    by HEF — January 6, 2022

  4. HEF we have a husband/wife team locally that run a non profit that loans out medical equipment such as you describe. They take equipment that would normally be thrown or end up at a thrift place. It is a great savings & makes you feel good to donate something that helps someone else. I found out about it from our Council on Aging which is a great source for all types of help to elder or retired people.

    by VTRetiree — January 6, 2022

  5. Thanks for mentioning libraries Elaine they are a great resource and many residents may not know what their library offers. We live in a small suburban town and our library is also a great resource for many things, they even have bike rentals during the summer months with very nice bikes.

    by Barb — January 6, 2022

  6. Thank you so much for the suggestions. My husband and I plan to retire and move south as soon as he can find a property mngmt post. I write formal letters on behalf of seniors who have difficulty navigating medicare and credit card companies so I can relocate almost anywhere. Housing prices are the biggest obstacle. We dont want to spend more than 1000.00 per month on rent. Thx again!

    by Deb Perry — January 9, 2022

  7. Here is a new cost savings pharmacy. Could be very helpful for those on a limited income.

    by Louise — January 23, 2022

  8. I read this article and it kind of makes me wonder what will happen if one of the spouses passes away. Their income now is $30,000 and if cut in half will only be $15,000. I was thinking, unless there are health reasons, this couple should both work around 30 hours a week and try to invest all their earnings into 401K’s. Whatever the maximum the company would allow, I would put all the earnings into 401K. Or maybe a Roth. The surviving spouse is going to need all the income they can get their hands on if one of them passes or has to go to a nursing home. Even Walmart has a savings program with a match. A friend of mine worked there and was able to save some money thru their program. I would consider a 5-year plan. They are 67 now and in 5 years would be 72. The whole idea is to save every penny of the part time jobs and live on the $30,000 they have now. Not an ideal retirement plan but their low income and no savings is scary too.

    I would also suggest this couple visit local food pantries to make sure they have enough nutritious foods to keep healthy. In Vero Beach there are 8 pantries: This would help stretch their food budget while ensuring that they get better nutrition.

    by Louise — January 29, 2022

  9. Just being free from the stress of a job and all that goes with it can be a luxury in itself in retirement even if a person only has social security and savings. So long as one has enough to cover their living expenses and an emergency fund, life can be good if not extravagant. Josh Scanlon on YouTube is a financial advisor and he talks about those who do indeed live on a shoestring in retirement among other things on his Heritage Wealth channel.

    by Jennifer — February 1, 2022

  10. I agree with Louise that this couple’s finances are more precarious than the article suggests. They’re barely scraping by now and will be in a world of hurt when an emergency arises (as they are wont to do, particularly with an older car) or when there’s a permanent income reduction after one dies.

    Not judging why someone entering retirement doesn’t have any savings. Difficult circumstances can happen to anyone. However, just as squirrels short of food must scavenge in the snow, if the profiled couple doesn’t work hard now to put a few nuts aside during this, the late autumn of their lives, at least one of them is likely to be in desperate straits when the dead of winter arrives.

    The poetic, “we are not rich except in friendships, our art, our families and our souls” won’t put food on their table, keep their power on, or pay their rent. Going to friends and family members with their hats in their hands will wear thin quickly for all parties.

    Nearly 70 years of life experience has taught me that hoping for the best without planning for the worst rarely ends well.

    by JCarol — February 5, 2022

  11. Most of us have at least some challenges in balancing income with expenses in retirement. It sometimes helps to put things in perspective. A lot of retirees would not consider themselves rich, but they are when compared to the poor in this country and around the world. The current median income (as many over that amount as under it) in the U.S. is $19,306 per person, both retired and working. Here’s the annual median for a few other countries:

    Portugal – $8439
    Mexico – $3315
    South Africa – $1624
    Madagascar – $398

    Out of 162 countries listed, only Switzerland, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates are ahead of the United States. Although it may not always seem to mean much, the old song and adage “Count Your Blessings” can be helpful to bring to mind.


    by Clyde — February 6, 2022

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