Getting by on Less

Ron Wayne

I LEARNED TO LIVE a lot more cheaply after I lost my job at age 58—and that’s allowed me to retire with a less-than-average income.

After getting laid off, I spent 18 months searching unsuccessfully for a position that reflected my experience and education. I ended up taking an administrative office job at 40% less pay.

Although I was already a thrifty and cautious person, my life became a lot leaner for the next four years, until I retired at 64. Here’s how I coped:

Housing. Living by myself in a two-bedroom condo, I decided to take in a roommate. I didn’t really want to be sharing living space in my 60s, but my roommate’s rent helped a lot over the next three years.

Transportation. I took advantage of free bus passes subsidized by my employer for my work commute, thereby saving on parking and gas. I had to get up extra early—and get home late—to catch the bus on my route, but it helped to preserve my paid-off 2007 car.

Medical. For many years, I’ve had a CareCredit card to pay for extraordinary medical or dental expenses. I’ve always made sure to pay it off before any interest accrued. I’ve also tried to stay healthy through diet and exercise.

Groceries and household items. I planned all my meals and shopped prudently for groceries, going to several stores each week. I took lunch to work every day except on paydays. I also discovered that most of the household items you can buy at dollar stores are just as good, or almost as good, as those at higher-cost stores.

Vacations. I went away for a couple of long weekends each year to places within easy driving distance. I usually stayed with friends or family.

Entertainment. I never had anything more than truly basic cable, even when I was making more money. No CNN, Weather Channel, MSNBC. But I soon cut the cable entirely, and did so earlier than most people. Also, I rarely went to restaurants, bars, movies, concerts or plays.

Clothing and gifts. I’m a huge fan of off-price stores such as T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Ross. I haven’t paid full retail prices in many years. And you might be surprised at the nice items, and even new things, that you can find at thrift stores.

When my employer offered a modest incentive to retire early to reduce expenses during the pandemic, I was happy to leave. I’d determined that my Social Security and state pension would almost equal my take-home pay. Both checks are heavily based on my earlier years in the workforce, when I had a much higher salary.

In my first year of retirement, I have—mostly—been able to live even more cheaply:

  • I have more time to plan and cook homemade meals, so I no longer rely on frozen fare as often. I also see the value in making larger meals and freezing portions. I wrote about cooking in retirement for Medium.
  • I can wear pretty much the same clothes all the time, so I’m not buying much new.
  • For entertainment, I subscribe to five streaming channels and still pay less than my previous cable bill.
  • I no longer have a roommate. Some good news: My condo’s value is finally showing some decent price appreciation.
  • Unfortunately, I felt the need to buy a newer car, as I wrote about back in October. That means I now have a car payment, but I also have a more reliable vehicle. In retirement, I have the time for long road trips, instead of flying and renting a vehicle. And I’m thinking of camping more often on trips because the Honda Fit can be adapted for sleeping. Most important, in these days of shocking gas pump prices, it gets 33 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway.
  • As my retirement has been entirely during the pandemic, I got used to eating almost all my meals at home. I could never live on my income if I went out to restaurants as often as most people do. When I did go out to eat a few times earlier last year, I could never finish my portions. Not only do I save a lot of money by rarely eating out, I’m also saving calories, too.
  • I have to pay a lot more for medical insurance. My old employer’s subsidized coverage cost me just $50 a month. But my Medicare Part B climbs to $170.10 a month in 2022. I chose a Medicare Advantage plan when I turned 65 last summer, which has no premium. So far, coverage has been okay. I took advantage of the one-time opportunity to transfer part of my IRA into a health savings account without tax penalty. Fidelity Investments provides a convenient debit card linked to this account.

Inflation, of course, makes my low-cost retirement more challenging. That’s why I write a Medium blog and freelance for HumbleDollar and other sites. I don’t expect big windfalls, but it’s nice to have extra pocket money.

Ron Wayne spent 26 years working for newspapers in Pennsylvania and Georgia before becoming the editor in the University of Florida’s main news office. During his 10 years working there, he earned his master’s degree in mass communication and taught as an adjunct in the College of Journalism and Communications. Since retiring last fall, he’s enjoyed a simple life, including reflecting on his experiences on Check out Ron’s earlier articles.

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