8 Tiny Things Smart People Do Now To Prepare For Retirement Later

Make saving money fun.

Couple followed the steps to prepare for retirement. ljubaphoto | Canva

Are you looking at your retirement savings account and shaking your head in disbelief? Do you panic at the thought of not being able to cover your expenses after 60 or 65? Many of us don't have what's considered the average amount needed for a carefree retirement. Some of us don't even have $10-20,000 saved. Rather than getting anxious — I like Eckhart Tolle's "How insane to resist what already is" — which won't solve the problem, try any or all of these small steps to add to your retirement income.


Here are 8 tiny things smart people do now to prepare for retirement later:

1. Keep a journal or check register with you all the time

Mark every expenditure, even 99 cents for a candy bar. After a month, note which ones you could have done without. Commit to dropping those in the next 1-3 months and compare your checking and savings balances. For me, if I'm feeling the "need" for a deli item, I occasionally ask for a 1-cup plastic container instead of more. I enjoyed the $1.85 tortellini as much as if I'd gotten a pound. Check out the manager's specials if you don't want to pay full price for meat, fruit, etc. Look at grocery store specials and buy non-essentials when the price is right. If you enjoy using coupons, google "grocery coupons" or similar topics to discover your options.


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2. Pay attention to what you already have in your cupboard, fridge and freezer

(I have in the past bought turkey sausage, for example, and when I looked in the freezer later, discovered I already had the same product.) If that has happened to you more than once or twice, work with a friend to take everything out of your freezer and list what items are on which shelves. Perhaps meat on 1 shelf, vegetables on another, desserts on a 3rd, etc. You can even take that list with you when you grocery shop so you cut down on duplicates. If you see soup, chips, or cereals on sale, don't give in to buying bargains unless you know they'll be used by their expiration date.

Over 50? 8 Small Steps To Prepare For Retirement Now! Pexels / Kampus Production


3. Buddy with a partner to check in on each other's progress

Do that in whatever way works. I once agreed with a housemate that if I bought anything that went to the freezer (instead of being used in the next few days), I owed her the same amount I paid for the product. Guess what! My freezer shelves have much more space now. Years ago, when I'd joined 6 or 8 multi-level marketing companies over 5 years, I agreed with my friend Doug that I'd owe him $100 if I joined any more MLMs. (I didn't). That's especially helpful for me, who doesn't want to miss any good deal.

4. Make a game of using a retirement piggy bank 

Consciously add the quarters and dollars and $20 bills you saved by not giving in to your questionable impulses. (When I choose to walk to the gym or grocery store instead of taking the bus, I've got 75 cents for the bank. Let's say you heard of an online marketing offer that starts at $49 and then adds $197 "to make even more money." If you can't easily pay the $197 with the other bills coming up, consider putting all or part of the $197 into your retirement account. (You considered paying it, so you must have that amount in your account.) If you check around, you'll find credit unions that offer even 5% off the 1st $500. Even when you go to a coffee shop or restaurant, focus on the good feeling of putting the $3 you were going to spend on a pastry in your piggy bank when you get home. Then instead of feeling deprived, you can feel wise!

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5. Consider transportation alternatives

If you drive to the drug store, church, and the senior center, figure out how much you'll save if you walk or take the bus. If you get 20 miles to the gallon and your trip is 10 miles away, you've spent $4 round trip (at $4/ gallon). If the bus is 75 cents for seniors, and you can read or daydream on the bus and usually pay no more for the trip back home if it's within 2 hours, take the bus! Or walk to places you can get to relatively easily, and congratulate yourself on the healthy exercise and saved money.

6. If you love theater, you can usher at many places and see plays for free

If you're drawn to other events, check your options. A friend and I went to Music Bingo, where instead of numbers, there are song titles you must identify from the music played. We expected to pay $5 for the evening. There was no cost, so the $2.50 I paid for a soda left $2.50 for my piggy bank. Many venues bring in musicians. Often there is no cover charge. You might google "free events" and the name of your town to find several choices. If you would have paid $5 for the entertainment and you didn't need to, you know where to put that money, right?

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7. If you are on Medicare or Medicaid, compile the monthly expenses 

This includes mortgage or rent, real estate tax, food, insurance, transportation, the gym, etc. Write out the checks or mentally subtract the autopay and likely ongoing costs.  Note what you have left that is discretionary. When my Long Term Care insurance went up higher than I was comfortable with, I took the option of $133/ month with reduced benefits, knowing I am very healthy and can manage the $133. Knowing my real estate tax is due in April and October, I make sure I've got that saved up.


8. If you have a spare room in your home, consider renting it out

I've been renting out 6 rooms in my 1910 craftsman home for 29 years. Even as you're saving, keep yourself in peace. 

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Morah Vestan is a life coach, communication trainer, and author. She has an M.A. in Adult Education and was a relationship columnist for 16 years for Seattle's Active Singles Life.