One of the great fears of retirement is the thought of running out of money. You have worked hard and saved responsibly to reach this point in your life. And while discipline has brought you this far, continuing to practice good financial habits is critical to your success in retirement.
Keep in mind, too, we are living much longer lives than previous generations, and researchers predict this trend will continue. While this is definitely great news, it also means that our money must last longer.
So, it should come as no surprise that I am frequently asked by retirees for advice on cutting living expenses without cutting quality of life. And those conversations usually begin something like this: “We feel we’re spending too much at the grocery store, Ryan, but we just can’t see that there’s anything we can do about it.”
Aside from healthcare, of course, one of the major expenses worrying retirees is the cost of groceries. So, I’ve decided to share a few common sense tips.
Here are 7 grocery-shopping habits practiced by successful retirees that you can put to use today…
1. Create a budget and stick to it
This one should probably go without saying. After all, before you can improve something, you need to be able to measure it. This is especially true of spending habits. It’s really hard to make better decisions with your money if you don’t know where your dollars are going in the first place.
However, this is one of the most overlooked yet critical habits necessary for good financial health. Yet a study from U.S. Bank found that only 41% of Americans keep a budget.
Sadly, I don’t doubt this for a minute.
When people ask me for money-saving advice, one of the first things I ask them in return is how their budget looks. All too often, I discover that a lack of budgeting is the root of their spending problems.
It doesn’t matter how you budget as long as you’re keeping an accurate log of expenses. A simple notebook or ledger works fine. On the other hand, there are plenty of great digital tools out there that are easy to use and will take care of the math for you.
Examples of these tools might include a spreadsheet template in Microsoft Xcel. Or a free app like EveryDollar.com allows you to quickly and easily manage your budget without sharing sensitive information.
2. Take advantage of senior discounts
Another no-brainer. Surprisingly, I’ve met a handful of people who qualify for senior discounts that never, for whatever reasons, take advantage of these savings.
Not me. If someone is offering me a discount on a purchase I already plan to make, you had better believe I’m using it.
And senior discounts are no longer limited to fast food breakfast. Over the years, as industries become more and more competitive, a wide variety of companies offer senior discounts in hopes of winning Baby Boomers’ business.
Many companies have affiliate programs with AARP.org while many more require that you ask at the cash register. You might be surprised by how much you can save every year simply by asking. The worst that can happen is that you’re told they don’t offer discounts.
Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that senior discounts are no longer limited to folks aged 60 and older. As mentioned earlier this year in Chicago Tribune, a lot of retailers are making these savings available to people as young as 55.
3. Limit your weekly trips to the grocery store
Research from Statista found that Americans made an average 1.5 weekly trips to the grocery store in 2017.
One well-planned trip to the grocery store per week can save you a lot of money over the course of a year. I know this is easier said than done for many of us, myself included. It seems there are always those one or two items we forgot. But that trip to pick them up later in the week will, more often than not, find us leaving the store with a bag of impulse buys.
Throughout the week, make note of the items you’re going to need from the store. And keep the list somewhere you won’t forget it, such as the refrigerator door. This can eliminate those second and third trips. Also, free smartphone apps like Out of Milk help to simplify the task and ensure that your grocery list is always on-hand.
And many grocery stores now offer online shopping with the option to pick-up your purchases at the store. I haven’t yet tried these services, but I’ve heard people say this has saved them money by limiting impulse buys. Consider checking to see if your favorite grocery store provides a similar service.
4. Generic isn’t always a bad thing
There’s a common misconception when it comes to generic brands. We tend to believe that store brands are lower-quality products than national brand-name products. But this isn’t necessarily the case.
Quality of generic brands has greatly improved over the years. Without the marketing expense of national brands, generic alternatives can afford to compete on quality while keeping costs lower. In fact, many generics are identical to name brands, and they are sometimes even made by the name brands.
By making this one small change, it won’t take long before you begin to see the savings reflected in your budget.
5. Coupons really can be worth the effort
You may have seen “extreme couponing” in the news now and then… people paying pennies on the dollar for carts full of groceries and other household goods.
As great as this sounds, extreme couponing often requires a part-time job commitment. And not everyone has the time or the desire to do the research and coupon-gathering necessary for these savings.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use coupons. Keeping an eye out for those weekly ads as well as online and in-store coupons can really go a long way towards reducing grocery expenses.
That being said, however, be smart about those amazing deals you’ll regularly see advertised, such as those “10 for $10” specials. Sometimes, these items might already sell for $1 – sometimes less at other stores – but marketers have learned that consumers are encouraged by these promotions to make larger, often unnecessary purchases.
In other words, what looks like a steal isn’t always a good deal.
6. Plan weekly menus around items in your pantry
A few years ago, National Resource Defence Council (NRDC) published their research on food waste and found that 25% of the groceries we buy end up in the trash. Well, that’s like throwing out a quarter of your grocery budget every year.
A large reason for this waste comes from our allowing foods to expire before we can use them. I know I’m not the only one to pull a box from the pantry only to find it expired some time ago. Several experts on frugal living recommend we shop our pantries before shopping the grocery store.
By checking to see what you already have and then planning your menu to make use of those items before they expire, you can get the most from your grocery dollars.
7. Choose your rewards wisely
Most grocery stores now offer free memberships with perks. These rewards might include discounts on groceries or fuel, as well as exclusive coupons. Memberships benefit both the store and the consumer…
The store gets to track the kinds of products their shoppers favor and then adjust their inventory and marketing accordingly. In exchange, consumers earn rewards for their purchases. Some grocery stores, in fact, use your purchasing trends to provide you with the coupons you are most likely to use.
In addition to grocery store membership cards, there is also the matter of credit card rewards. While in many cases I encourage seniors to become debt-free, credit cards don’t have to be a bad thing if used responsibly. A credit card from a reputable institution with low interest rates and cash-back rewards might be worth considering. You will want to research your options wisely, of course, and decide whether or not this is right for you.
A final word
There you have it. Like I said, these are common sense habits. Nothing we’ve discussed here requires you to take drastic measures or redefine your lifestyle. Like most practical things in life, positive change is usually a matter of making some minor but effective tweaks to your processes and then continuing to follow through and improve on them.
And simple tweaks to your spending, wherever you can find them, whether shopping for groceries or other expenses, is an excellent way to help you enjoy a more financially stable and worry-free retirement.
If you would like a more comprehensive assessment of your retirement strategy, shoot us an email or give us a call at 714-462-9155. We here at Milestone Wealth focus on helping seniors achieve their retirement dreams, and we would love the opportunity to do the same for you.