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Financial Education for Everyone

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February 20, 2009

Thanks to the rocky economy, most people's retirement savings have taken a beating in the past year. In fact, many folks have been forced to postpone retirement because of their shrinking nest eggs. And, those who've already retired no doubt have noticed that their money doesn't go as far because of increases in housing, food, utilities, prescription drugs and virtually everything else.

Even optimistic economic observers don't anticipate things will improve significantly any time soon, so it's time to tighten the belt. Here are a few areas where retirees – and retirement wannabes – can stretch their dollars and reducing spending:

Pay down debt. List your outstanding credit card and loan balances by interest rate and pay off those with the highest rates first, thereby lowering the amount of interest you pay overall. And always make at least the minimum payment on each account – on time – to prevent credit score damage that could increase your interest rates.

Medical expenses. If your Medicare or other health insurance doesn't cover a specific medical expense, ask the doctor's office about discounts for paying in cash. Also, explore using generic drugs and see if your plan offers discounts for ordering several months' worth of routine medications at once by mail.

Insurance. To lower monthly premiums, consider raising deductable amounts on your auto and homeowner or renter's insurance. Also, rates typically decrease when you reach age 50 or 55, especially if you take a defensive driving course, so be sure to ask.

Government programs. Many government-sponsored benefits, grants and financial aid programs exist to help low-income families, seniors and others pay their bills, including:

  • LIHEAP, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides grants to help pay utility bills. To see if you qualify, go to https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ocs/low-income-home-energy-assistance-program-liheap.
  • Also, check with your water, garbage collection, telephone and television cable companies to see if they offer discounts for seniors, low-income families or the disabled. Rules vary, but you'll likely be asked to provide proof of age, income or disability status in order to qualify.
  • SNAP, the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), helps millions of lower-income Americans buy nutritious food each month. Visit www.fns.usda.gov/snap for qualification requirements.
  • Medicaid. Many uninsured people who aren't yet eligible for Medicare can obtain medical coverage through state-administered Medicaid programs. To learn more, visit https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/index.html.
  • Rental assistance for low-income families is available from several U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development programs as well as other state and local agencies (see www.hud.gov/topics/rental_assistance for details).
  • Go to www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Benefits.shtml for a comprehensive overview of additional aid programs.

Senior discounts. Before purchasing anything, ask if they offer senior discounts. Always ask at the beginning of the transaction – waiting until you settle the bill may be too late. One precaution, however: Senior rates at airlines, hotels, car rental agencies and other travel-related businesses are not always the cheapest available, so check their websites or ask a phone representative for the lowest available rate before requesting the senior rate.

Check your affiliations. Organizations like AARP, AAA and credit card issuers often offer member discounts on various items and attractions. Check their websites or mailers regularly for new offers.

Ensuring a worry-free retirement requires a lot of planning, both before and after you leave the workplace. Visa's free personal financial management site, Practical Money Skills for Life (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/retirement) contains many tools that can help.


This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered health, legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.