Spring is in the air: time to come out from hibernation, shed our coats (and maybe those five pounds?), and yes--file our taxes.
April 15 -- a day that's become a nagging reminder of the money we make and how much we spend -- is around the corner and boomers in particular might wonder how they can save more money in 2014.
On the heels of a recession, fewer workers 50+ can envision an early retirement, which means we haven't saved nearly enough to live our golden years in a cliché of worry-free contentment.
Yet, the 50+ population of today is also a vastly different one, equipped with skills and savvy beyond that of the previous generation. Far from digitally-challenged, we are figuring out creative, cutting-edge ways to cut spending. Instead of coupon clipping and checking out local dollar stores (no matter how fun that is), we know there are better ways to save.
As with many things in life, it's best to get guidance from the experts. So, whether you want to download apps for smarter investing, or use Facebook to access discounts, these 10 money-saving tips I gathered from AARP's financial gurus are a boomer's best friends:
- Join a social networking site for sales and special offers: #startsaving. Focus your sights somewhere in addition to friends' newsfeeds -- especially, if you're in savings mode. Before commenting on someone else's fab trip to Bora Bora, click on those persistent pop-up ads for amazing sales. "Like" the company's page and you'll get in on good deals. Follow 'tweets' of favorite financial gurus, or search the site according to hashtagged phrases (think: #coupons or #springsavings) and you'll be saving more in no time.
- Download apps designed for budgeting and investing: If your obsession with Candy Crush is beginning to concern friends and family members, get "app-happy" and add some other applications to your repertoire. These tools can clarify and set financial goals, design budgets, or keep track of stocks and investments. Easy!
- Consult web-based financial experts regarding retirement: Back in college, Econ majors were social pariahs. Now, geeks get their due as some of the most popular people in cyberspace. Financial companies are currently using sophisticated technology to share investment advice online to people at all income levels. Computers, as opposed to brokers with something to sell, analyze and advise using algorithms beyond the ken of the average human. Who knew artificial intelligence could be better than the real thing?
- Subscribe to financial blogs for savings strategies: These days, everyone seems to have a blog, but not all blogs are created equal. Find and follow the musings of financial powerhouses -- they might offer indispensable insight into the psychology of your spending habits, the random truths of economics, and saving strategies. AARP features blogs focused on money and investing, but has also recently introduced the Rewards for Good program, which urges members to test their smarts about saving while earning points toward dining, gift cards, and other merchandise at no cost--fun!
- Go green to save money and the planet: Saving the environment is so en vogue! Making small, eco-friendly changes to your lifestyle, such as ditching bottled water and using public transportation, will have a big impact on your wallet. By sticking to the speed limit while driving, you'll spend less on gas and keep a lid on pollution -- plus, the streets will be safer for pedestrians and other drivers. Revamping your home with energy efficient upgrades will make bills more manageable and you might get a tax break. The moral of the story? Going green for the environment could mean adding green to your wallet.
- Shop around for a cheaper cellphone service provider: Breaking up has never been so expensive. Terminating a cell phone contract can cost nearly as much as your coveted smartphone. And, many charges cover unnecessary extras, such as hundreds of minutes or unlimited text messaging capabilities. Get a cell phone plan with no penalties or one that permits you to pay as you go.
- Click on the Social Security Administration webpage to estimate retirement benefits: People over 65 might be counting down the days until they cash in on their Social Security benefits. But, they may not know that you can maximize payouts by delaying a collection of entitlements. Understanding what's in store allows for more accurate and realistic budgeting. Find out how to increase your life-after-work income by visiting the Social Security Administration website to get the info.
- Surf the web for credit cards with lower fees and interest rates: As if you weren't haunted enough by a decade-old shoe binge and last year's dental work, your credit card statements are revealing more than just debt. On top of your purchases, you might see staggering annual fees and interest rates that are making lenders richer and you -- well, less likely to afford a vacation. That being said, go surfing online to scope out more competitive rates or zero-fee credit cards--and better yet, resolve to pay off those bills sooner rather than later.
- Adopt a second, home-based career to earn and save: So you're contemplating turning in your employee ID and telling your boss what you really think. Once again, technology will work to your benefit if you are toying with becoming your own boss, working from home, or starting a business. Many companies are now hiring "virtual employees" to engage in sales or provide customer care, transcribing services, or education. The possibilities are endless -- and the commute is free!
- Use online forums to cut housing costs and sell off clutter: Join a chat-room (not that kind) or an online forum that can provide a peek into the cost of living in other neighborhoods or cities. Hone in on areas where property taxes might be lower or housing costs less. Though your kids might mourn their childhood bedrooms, swapping your home for something in a cheaper location could lead to a surge in savings. Don't stop there -- downsizing in clutter can also bring in some extra cash. eBay and Craigslist are excellent sites for selling off unwanted furniture, clothing, and other items. Or you can donate and get the tax write-off. You never know what someone will pay for your collection of Van Morrison albums.
Hot investment pick for 2014? Piggy banks -- lots and lots of them.
Until next time, remember this:
We can't control getting older . . . but . . . we can control how we do it!
Questions? I want to hear from you! For more tips on living your best life after 50 (or 60, or 70...) check out my video series - The Best of Everything After 50 - on the AARP YouTube Channel. Keep me posted on how you're doing by subscribing to me on Facebook and "tweeting" me on Twitter at @BGrufferman.
Whether you plan to bake cupcakes, be a consultant, or manufacture a product, the first questions you must answer are the same, says Chodos. “Who are my customers and do I have a product or service that they want and are willing to pay for in an amount that my sales will be greater than my expenses? Until you have a really solid sense of how your business will succeed, you need to keep answering those questions… Research, analysis, and testing beforehand is heading you down the path to getting it right.” Really hone in on what you’re selling. “Describe as precisely as possible what you’re going to sell,” advises Jeff Williams, CEO and chief coach of Biz Starters, a company aimed at helping people over age 50 start businesses. “Many people come to me and they want to sell two or three different things all at once. It doesn’t work. You need to be specific."
Many businesses today start from right inside your home without a lot of cost for equipment or rent. But there are other factors to consider, Chodos says. How much will it cost to start your business and to run it for its first year? Will you need to invest in inventory? What will the costs be for advertising? Is there equipment you need to purchase? Will your electric bill rise? Ask yourself what you’re willing to invest, what you might have to borrow, and how much you expect to make from sales. If you can’t answer those questions yourself, consult with an expert.
“This is the most important part of your business,” says Williams of biz starters. This plan must answer the questions described above, but it also must help you identify how you’ll find your customers. “Are they on mailing lists? On the Internet? In industrial listings? This is the usually the most difficult part for people, because if you previously worked for a corporation, the corporation brought you the customers. Now you must go out and find them.” Research, networking and word-of-mouth are your three key approaches. For information on how to write a marketing plan, check out this information.
“We’re all at square one when we start a business,” says business consultant Nancy Michaels, founder of "The Grow Your Business Network." “The great news is that by the time you’ve hit 50, you should have some connections in the world. Tap into that and let people know what you’re doing. They can help spread the word for you.” Start by announcing your business to all of your email contacts and a simultaneous announcement on Linked In, says Michaels. “Tweet about it, and put it on Facebook and maybe even make a video so you can post it on You Tube.” If your business warrants it, consider an open house to which you invite your contacts. Depending on your business, it might make sense to start locally rather than trying to reach a national market immediately, but first evaluate who and where your customers are.
If you are offering a service, you are more likely to be hired if people feel you know what you're doing. Establish a professional looking and accessible web site that boasts “strong, selling-benefit oriented copy,” says Williams. Have friends or business associates critique it and make sure that it highlights your accomplishments and abilities. And get the word out about yourself. Write articles and other content related to your business and post them on free article archive sites like Linkgrinder with a prominent listing of your web address, Williams says. He also suggests that you regularly send out publicity articles talking about key phrases for your business. Once you’ve done this, you can speak to civic groups or other organizations to further establish your expertise. Note: Approach trade shows with caution. Williams says it can be an expensive undertaking with not that much reward. Better: Once you have landed a few customers and feel the business is rolling, a trade show might be a good next step.
If your business is consumer-based (you’re selling cupcakes, for example), use Facebook to promote it, says Williams. If it is a “b-to-b” business, one that sells services to other businesses, use Linked In to promote it. You can use both platforms to make announcements about your business, to remind consumers you are there, or to hang out your shingle, so to speak, so that people passing by will notice it.
By the time you get to the six-month mark, if you’re not seeing some steady income, it doesn’t mean you’re an outright failure, says Williams, but maybe you’re not getting your message out. You’ve got to continue to tweak it. “If you are honest and accurate in your revenue model and you are not making money, then you usually need to go back to one activity--sales prospecting,” Williams says. “Ask yourself: are you doing enough of it and is it well-focused on the people you are trying to reach?”
Where to go for more information, to learn about free seminars, and even set up free one-on-one counseling for entrepreneurs? Check out: The Small Business Adminstration’s website Retirement Revised Encore.org Inc.com Entrepreneur.com
Follow Barbara Hannah Grufferman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BGrufferman