It is easier to lead a satisfying retirement if you have few financial worries. While money certainly doesn’t buy happiness, few wouldn't argue that your options for living how and where you choose are more likely to happen, the fatter your investment portfolio. So, this post isn’t for you.
On the other side of the issue, much of the popular press would have us believe we are doomed to a future of diminishing opportunities and darkening skies. I disagree. Yes, way too many seniors have been put in a very tough position by recent events, and they will struggle. They may have to choose between buying some medicines and skipping meals. For the richest country in the world to allow that to happen is, in my view, criminal.
So, who am I writing for today? This is for those who have a retirement income that is sufficient for their needs and allows for satisfying an occasional want. The Great Recession affected what we can afford and how we live. We have likely downsized some of our expectations. The way we pictured our retirement may have looked different from our present reality. Still, compared to so many in the world, and even in our own country, we remain blessed. This time of our life continues to have the potential to be the most enjoyable stage of life, free of many of the obligations and restrictions that have filled our youth and working years.
That said, the post title tells it like it is; we probably have a limited budget when it comes to something beyond the necessities. What most of us are going through is an realignment of our wants with our available resources. Doing what we want, whenever we want, is no longer a logical approach. If nothing else, we should have learned that the bills do come due, regardless of how many credit cards and home equity loans we use.
So, what can we do to enjoy this time of life if cash flow is a problem? Are we doomed to nothing more than trips to the library or window shopping at the mall? Absolutely not. The number of free or low cost ways to be entertained, stimulated, and renewed in mind and body are plentiful enough, if we just take the time and effort to find them.
From my own life, here are a few examples. Then, it will be your turn. Saturday, May 12, was National Railway Day. You didn’t know? Me neither until I ran across a press release. There is a tremendous railway museum in the Phoenix area that, in 26 years of living here, I had never heard of. Dozens of full size railway cars, cabooses, and engines are there waiting to be climbed on and through. Visitors are encouraged to blow whistles, ring bells, hang off the back step and yell “All Aboard.” On National Railway Day, there is no admission.
Suddenly, our family had the chance for a tremendous day together. Since the grandkids love trains, the museum was a natural. It is located in a park that has a huge play area, walking paths, and picnic tables. So, to celebrate my birthday and Mother’s Day, we all met at the park for a day of play, eating, and exploring railroad cars. The cost? About $25 for subs for lunch for all eight of us. The memories? Priceless.
Betty and I enjoy hearing the symphony. With tickets between $35-$50 a person, our entertainment budget doesn’t allow for that very often. But, there is something called a brown bag lunch series. On selected Fridays at lunchtime, the symphony performs roughly half that night’s concert for less than half price. It is a great chance for us to hear the music we like at a substantial discount.
One of the local community colleges has a film festival twice a year. Each series features half a dozen movies of a particular country or culture. These are films mainstream theaters wouldn’t show. The college presents them for free in a comfortable performing arts center. Usually, the host gives the audience a little background about the movie and why it is worth screening. Betty and I make it a point to go to most of the showings.
While we have never done this, I know some folks who volunteer as ushers at one of the dozens of theaters in the area. For helping to seat people and hand out programs, they receive free admission to all the shows. They enjoy everything from Broadway performances to Shakespeare plays, all for just a few hours work.
Every once in a while, we will pick one of the historic districts in Phoenix and walk through it, snapping pictures of gardens, decorative walls, and interesting homes. Then, a stroll to a nearby park or a small lunch spot makes for an inexpensive, enjoyable afternoon. The trick? Treat your hometown like a tourist would. Search out places nearby that you have never been to. Pretend you just moved to town and find hidden corners that delight and enrich you.
Now, to the simple free stuff:
1. We live near a park with plenty of space for the dog to romp and for us to enjoy a picnic.
2. We are surrounded by hiking trails through the mountain preserves that ring Phoenix. Even in summer, if we start early enough, it is fine.
3. Every Wednesday night, the Phoenix Art Museum is free. Once a month, the Heard Museum opens it doors for no charge. Also once a month, our Bank of America debit card gets us into one of a dozen local museums for no charge.
4. The Phoenix library system hands out free passes five days a week to twenty local museums and attractions. Just stand in line for 10 minutes and take the one you want.
5. Church concerts. Our church has a frequent schedule of free vocal and orchestral concerts. We miss very few.
6. Movie night with friends at one of our homes. Except for the cost of popcorn and some soft drinks, it’s a free time with our favorite people.
OK, enough from me. You get the idea. Making a satisfying retirement is up to our ingenuity and creativity. There are enough ways for you to be entertained and enriched to last a lifetime.
What have you found to do that fits your budget and is free or inexpensive? What special tricks to you employ to fill your days, nights, and weekend with interesting and enjoyable activities? I can’t wait to get some fresh ideas.