I've spent a bunch of time in the last few days looking over my due bills and trying to figure out where I can cut down. I hesitate to even write about this since I am so blessed - compared to so many people, I have so much to be grateful for. I keep hearing stories of people who have lost so much over the past few years of this damn recession and I am so grateful that it has not been as harsh on me.
I saw a few minutes of a 60-Minutes segment last night and the subject was long term unemployment and its effect on a person's self-esteem. It is sad but true that our purchasing power often dictates our self worth in our culture, but that is fodder for another post.
At 62, after a decade of one upheaval after another in my life, I do have my cash flow challenges to be sure. I am becoming semi-obsessed with cutting costs. I'm of Scottish descent, a culture known for our "thriftiness". This always seemed lame to me in better days, although never having been a big earner, I was not able to really afford a "lifestyle" similar to some of my Baby Boomer compadres. I always managed to live within my means, mostly, and my Dad in years gone by, would help me out with major unexpected stuff like car repairs. So I guess considering we Baby Boomers are the big spenders, I guess I do have that "thrifty" trait. It's all relative, as my Dad used to say.
It is easy to find articles and blog posts on shopping at the dollar stores or thrift stores, both of which have been my habit for years. I'm a lifelong thrift shopper - I used to go with my Mom and buy doll clothes, that's how little I was when I first started! All through the years, I've been a collector of various things, and in every city I've lived I find thrift shopping very entertaining and very productive! People give things away for many reasons and there are treasures to be had at a fraction of retail in all categories.
A friend and I have three categories of shopping - TS (thrift shop), GS (garage sale) and DS (dollar store). I have not been to the mall in years. But for my downwardly mobile semi-retirement life, I guess it doesn't matter. I shared with a twenty-something acquaintance that I used to think older people looked so bad - bad clothes, bad hair, old cars - now I get it! They're (we're) trying to get off the treadmill and hang on to what money we have. So our store-bought image goes out the window, instead of the money to maintain it.
Consolidating errands to save gas is another no brainer. My car is nine years old, and with the ever rising cost of gas, a new car with better gas mileage has great appeal. But I don't want a payment and higher insurance costs, so I just live with the dorky old Accord. I was thinking of eliminating the collision coverage but I better not go crazy with this thrifty thing. It only has 51K miles on it!
For years, I've cut fun and entertainment to the bone - I rarely drive all over the county the way I used to, attending various events. I do miss that. My world has definitely gotten smaller and more virtual. Perhaps that is age, perhaps it is a cultural trend.
I am on COBRA and medical insurance is one of my biggest monthly expenses. I recently had the chance to lower my coverage level and I took the risk to do so. It's not a big difference in routine coverage, but if I need to go to the hospital, I pay big time. I guess this kind of cost sharing is a good business model to encourage good health habits. So I'm on board with Kaiser's hope that I stay out of the hospital.
Last year I 86'd my landline - I miss having fax capability but otherwise, I'm not a big phone person and I don't miss it. I also left Verizon in favor of a no-contract provider. Just this past weekend, I ordered a $20 CDMA no-contract phone so I could go with a lower service plan than they allow for my smartphone. Right now, I'm in between clients, at home alot, and really don't need the unlimited everything on the higher service plan.
I stopped getting DVDs from Netflix and just get the minimum instant play subscription. I do think they were cold to their loyal customers in raising their rates for DVDs, but they are in business to make money not cater to customers like me who have TVs from 1999 and a VCR/DVD player from 2006. Would love to upgrade the TVs and get a new computer and printer, but while everything is still working fine, it stays, that's my rule lately.
I lowered the speed of my cable modem Internet connection, and cancelled my extended TV cable channels. I have received two great gifts recently to help me with some of these video cutbacks - my new Kindle Fire is great for watching stuff on the very small screen! It's funny to have my cat on my lap when I'm watching something on the KF, for him, it's a perfect size screen! I also have found some of my news shows that I miss on CNN on CNN radio which I get on the Kindle. The other wonderful gift is a Roku gadget that connects me to Netfilx instant play and other free and pay channels, on my ancient TV thru my wireless Internet connection.
Again this year, I'm using TurboTax and hoping for the best. I'm not smart enough to cook the books, if I make an honest mistake, the IRS can write me a letter. This is my fourth year using TurboTax. I'd much prefer to use a tax preparer, but the cost savings doing it myself is substantial, like $50 compared to $250 or more. And at my (shockingly low) level of income, I figure I have the time to spend to DIY.
And then there's home repairs, and this subject causes me a ton of angst. I have a long list of deferred maintenance on this old house, built in 1968, including needing a new roof. Not making the repairs is only a temporary fix. I've felt so stagnant here in this house - I've lived here ten years in March - longer than I've lived anywhere not counting my childhood. The housing market is so anemic - I'm not underwater - yet - but making big financial decisions like buying and selling real estate is not my forte - I do better with the little daily purchasing decisions.
At least I have the little decisions somewhat under control in my world. I am no math genius but I do get that cutting spending is only a tiny drop in the bucket, all things considered. It really is about earning more, not just spending less. I wish I got this message when I was 25 - I'm sure I was told, but I didn't "get it". I had no concept of being prepared for retirement, until I was in my 50's and took care of my Dad, who was well prepared. I've reflected on my options and my talents for a life reinvention at 62 - I note that most of what I'm good at doesn't pay...traditional "woman things". I've made my peace that being of service is my contribution in this life, but to date, the pay has not been good and the cost of living keeps going up! So it is a struggle not only to keep the bank account balanced, but to keep my head and heart from plunging into despair. Cutting monthly bills is easier than re-tooling my self-worth in a world gone mad.