My grandma retired some years ago and like many her age she lives on social security and retirement funds she’s accumulated during her working years. Unfortunately, the income is like playing a financially rocky game because she falls into the percentage of Americans that are $500 away from financial ruin before they have to contact a bankruptcy law firm to see what their financial options are.
It had me very worried because I knew there weren’t going to be new sources of income for her so I took it upon myself to help by adding/removing a variety of items around the house to help keep costs low in areas like utilities, food, entertainment, and general maintenance.
In no particular order – these were the key areas of what I did that made the biggest difference in giving my grandma additional buffer in her finances (and more of a sound mind) by making it work through these smart plays:
Entertainment – I was quite shocked at how much my grandma was locked into the craptastic local cable offerings. She loves her shows and many weren’t available outside of a major upgrade that would be far too out of her budget. So I went on http://satellitetv-deals.com/directv-internet.html and showed her the large channel selection (which covered the channels she wanted) and the package price was perfect considering it also came with better net service than her dial-up she was stuck with. The better net also really came in handy when I bought her a Kindle Fire which she uses constantly to get on Facebook, watch videos, and chat with friends and family.
Financial Verdict: Worth it! Easily saves my grandma between $30 – $50 each month compared to the old plans (and extras spending such as buying DVDs).
General Maintenance – This one comes as a lump of things that are maintenance and little upgrades (that are complimentary to the work at hand). My grandma lives in a small retirement village so naturally it’s a mobile home community. These houses get very hot fast and equally so when it’s cold. What helped quite a lot was having the roof painted white and power washed as it turns out that, after looking it over at http://www.whiteroofproject.org/faq, it can save around 10-40% on money and pollution. The other little things were installing very easy DIY reflective films on the windows that mainly face the sun and installing heavier curtains to keep that heat out (and in when it’s cold).
Financial Verdict: Easy wins! The paint is cheap and generally you can find a laborer to do it for not a whole lot of money. The reflective film was inexpensive and a fun DIY project. The new curtains happen to have been made by my grandma that was looking for a sewing project so win/win!
Lifestyle Changes (Utilities, Food, and More) – I’ll go over this one fast because it’s fairly easy. The big thing is to heat the person and not the home when it gets cold (unless it’s unbearable) so sweaters and bath robes really work in this area. When it’s too hot it’s good to drop the AC but not too low (instead of 72 try doing 74) and pick up a handful of great fans (look at the metrics). These two lifestyle changes keep the electric way down.
The other lifestyle change is how you eat – not in the sense of going on a diet – but changing some of the ways you approach cooking and splurging. A well-stocked pantry and freezer will go a long way (check out this to give you a great shopping list: http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/ingredients/article/keep-in-your-pantry). Then it just becomes the habit of cooking, smartly, and using up those leftovers, smartly. Keep your eye out for great deals at the grocery stores, stock up, freeze whatever you can for later, make meal plans, and food costs will come way down. The biggest change in terms of this was removing tons of cooking items that weren’t being used and, instead, adding in simpler cooking items like a crock pot, skillet, and water kettle; these are now used for basically every meal.
Financial Verdict: Little lifestyle changes to help cool/heat yourself during the changing seasons will save immensely when you invest in great products like jackets for winter and light-weight materials for summer. Other changes like cutting back on where you eat, finding the right kitchen equipment you love using, and understanding the right way to stock up saves hundreds each year.