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Be Thrifty

How to Build a Low-Cost, High-Value Retirement – Part 2

In Part I of this post, I introduced five practical steps we can take now, during our working years, to lay the foundation for a retirement that delivers maximum satisfaction for minimal cash (a.k.a. the “low-cost, high-value” retirement). They are:

  1. Adjust your retirement vision;
  2. Practice spending time instead of money;
  3. Develop a minimalist mindset;
  4. Invest in high-quality life essentials; and
  5. Learn how to cut costs (without sacrificing pleasure).

I also discussed Step 1 – Adjust your retirement vision at some length, with key takeaways being: 

  • your retirement lifestyle probably won’t center on sailboats and $30 glasses of wine;
  • you don’t have to stop working by age 65 (or ever);
  • your post-work life will probably look much as it does now, only with more free time; and
  • you should start thinking (today) about how you’re going to fill those extra hours, so you can begin investing your time (today) to develop the core assets you’ll likely need: good physical fitness, a strong social network, and an engaging life purpose.

So, now that we have a clearer picture of what a realistic post-work lifestyle might look like, let’s talk about some of the other ways we can start preparing for it.

2. Practice Spending Time Instead of Money

The second step we can take to set ourselves up for a low-cost, high-value retirement is to practice spending time, instead of money.

We’ve all heard the saying “time is money.”

That’s because, quite often, we can assign a real dollar value to time.

If you book a 1:00pm appointment with a $500/hour lawyer and then show up at 1:15pm, it just cost you $125 for the privilege of being late.

Similarly, if a work crew stands idle because a critical piece of machinery broke down, every passing minute adds to the halted project’s final cost.

However, while the phrase “time is money” usually implies that time (and therefore money) is being wasted, the understanding that time equals money can also work in our favour.

That’s because we can almost always choose between spending our time or spending our money.

10 Ways You Can Spend Time to Save Money

For example, you can choose to spend your time instead of your cash by:

  1. Walking, biking, or taking the bus, instead of driving a car or taking a cab;
  2. Meal-planning and cooking at home, instead of eating out or ordering in;
  3. Making grocery items such as spice mixes, dips, and salad dressings from scratch, rather than buying pre-made versions;
  4. Browsing thrift stores or other second-hand sources for material goods, instead of purchasing new;
  5. Making household basics, such as cleaners and toiletries, at home;
  6. Gifting handmade presents or actual labour, instead of store-bought items;
  7. Organizing free or low-cost social, entertainment, and recreational activities;
  8. Joining (or forming) communities that support co-sharing “occasional use” items;
  9. Trading your time/talents for a needed service or product;
  10. Adopting a “do-it-yourself” mentality and learning new skills, rather than paying someone else to perform relatively simple tasks (such as fixing a flat bike tire, changing the oil in your car, or regrouting the shower).

Obviously, embracing a “spend time, not money” lifestyle is going to increase the hours needed to perform day-to-day tasks, like preparing meals, traveling to the grocery store, and maintaining your home.

But it’s also clear that if you consistently choose the more time-consuming (but much cheaper) option, you’re going to need a lot less money than someone who doesn’t forgo life’s easy conveniences.

And in the case of your retirement years, the whole point is that you’ll have much greater control over your hours and a lot more of them to spend.

As a result, it becomes a lot easier to spend your time instead of your cash.

3. Develop a Minimalist Mindset

A third thing we can do to prepare for a low-cost, high-value retirement is develop a minimalist mindset.

When you have a steady income, it’s easy to justify your purchases.

I need these new shoes because none of mine look right with my new pants. Plus, they’re on sale!

This new throw cushion will totally perk up the living room, and $100 really isn’t a lot, in the overall scheme of things…

I’ve read some great reviews on this eye cream – and I’ve been working so hard lately, I deserve a little treat!”

This sweater will make me happy – and you can’t put a price on that!

Sound familiar?

To start preparing for a low-cost, high-value retirement, practice saying No to attractive but unnecessary things.

I’m a MASTER at shopping-related justification.

I’ve also spent most of my life as a confirmed spendthrift*.

*i.e. extravagant spender

What I’m saying is, I get it.

It’s super fun to have new things, especially if they’re beautiful, or make you feel beautiful.

It’s also super fun to spend money on other people, because they like having new things too!

But for our purposes i.e. preparing for a low-cost, high-value retirement, it’s important to start developing a different mindset – one that actually recoils at the idea of buying something you simply don’t need.

This will pay off in two important ways.

First, if you stop making superfluous purchases now, you’ll be able to direct more money toward paying down debt, or growing your savings.

Second, when you do stop working and really need to conserve your cash, you’ll be used to saying “No thanks” to lovely-but-unnecessary things.

4. Invest in High-Quality Life Essentials

To be clear, embracing a minimalist lifestyle doesn’t mean you’re never allowed to buy anything again.

It just means that you should be limiting your material purchases to the truly essential items you need to live comfortably and happily.

Additionally, you should be willing to invest in high-quality versions of these core items as, by definition, you will be putting them to frequent use, and wanting them to perform well, for many years.

In the context of a low-cost, high-value retirement, the aim is to buy long-lasting, high-quality life essentials during your working years, when your budget can more readily absorb the expenditure.

That way, you can avoid having to spend money on them later.

(Major bonus points if you can source high-quality life essentials through venues, such as Craigslist, that don’t require investment-level spending.)

Obviously, each person’s list of life essentials is driven by their particular preferences and needs.

As an enthusiastic cook, for example, I consider a good set of knives to be a life essential.

Well-made knives make preparing food both safer and more pleasurable, and they’ll last a lifetime, if cared for properly.

Therefore, I believe I can (legitimately) justify assembling a well-curated collection of these core kitchen tools prior to retirement.

My list of life essentials also includes high-quality pots and pans, a good laptop computer, a bicycle, and the clothing required to hike or bike comfortably in any kind of weather.

Because, on a very basic level, if I can cook, write, and get outside every day, I’m good.

All of these items also enable me to commune with others, and look after my health.

So I’m comfortable designating them necessities (even though others might view them as luxuries.)

The idea here is not to adopt a monk-like existence and deprive yourself of all material items.

Rather, it’s to identify the essentials that contribute significantly to the quality of your life, and then let go of/stop spending money on everything else.

How to Identify Your Life Essentials

If you moved into a tiny home tomorrow, which items would you choose to bring?

What about you? Which material items would you absolutely not want to live without?

To get started, think about your daily activities and most loved recreational pursuits.

What are the specific items you choose to utilize, again and again?

Or, try imagining that you’ll soon be moving into a tiny home.

If your living space was limited to 300 square feet, what would you bring?

By identifying your life essentials now, you can start to better evaluate future purchases, by asking questions like:

Is this an item I can imagine myself using, on a regular basis, for the rest of my life?

And if so, will this particular version of that item last that long?

Or would it be better to look for a higher-quality version that will likely deliver more value (and pleasure) over the long-term?

Identifying your life essentials will also prime you to pounce when they turn up at a deeply discounted price or, even better, at an estate sale or thrift store.

(A truly satisfying and guilt-free thrill that might just about make up for all those times you chose to forgo purchasing a desired but unnecessary item.)

5. Learn How to Cut Costs (Without Sacrificing Pleasure)

The last suggestion on my list of ways to prepare for a low-cost, high-value retirement is learn how to cut costs, without sacrificing pleasure.

In other words, identify money-saving strategies that are:

  1. effective (in that they reduce your cash expenditures);
  2. reasonable (in that the end-result is worth the effort expended); and
  3. affirming (in that the end-result does not leave you feeling impoverished, either materially or spiritually.)

Again, the idea here is not to wantonly reduce your expenditures to the point of deprivation.

It’s to maximize the value you get from each dollar you do choose to spend.

Which brings us back to the exact purpose of this blog; figuring out how to Live Well Anyway, even if you don’t have unlimited funds.

Remember that list of “10 Ways You Can Spend Time to Save Money”?

My new job is to start putting those “spend time, not money” strategies into practice.

Then, I’ll report back to you on which cost-cutting tactics meet my three criteria (effective, reasonable and affirming) and which ones don’t.

Starting with the obvious, I love cooking and already know that it’s much cheaper (as well as tastier and healthier) to make many condiments, such as salsa, coleslaw dressing, and BBQ sauce, from scratch.

I’ve also discovered that it’s surprisingly easy to make your own bagels, flour tortillas, and Irish Cream liqueur (yes, really!)

I’ve even taught myself how to make chocolate babka, in order to satisfy one son’s constant yearning.

(I’ll post the recipes for these and other inexpensive but extremely tasty foods over in the Eat Well section soon.)

But what about cost-cutting tips for the rest of life?

I’ve often read, for example, that it’s extremely easy to make your own household cleaners from common ingredients like baking soda, vinegar and rubbing alcohol.

But do they actually work? And will making them from scratch really save enough money to make the effort worthwhile?

Changing the oil in my car is another task that seems worth trying, especially given the glut of YouTube videos offering expert, step-by-step guidance on how to complete the job.

On the other hand, if it’s that easy, why have I never heard of anyone in my circle (male or female) undertaking this super-common auto maintenance job?

There’s only one way to find out!

(Stand by for future post on How I Saved $25 on an Oil Change, and Then Ruined A $1000 Couch.)

In the meantime, consider hopping over to Why A Solid Fitness Habit is Your Most Valuable Retirement Asset where I try my darndest to convince you to adopt a regular and rigorous exercise routine.

Isn’t hanging out with me fun? 😊

Three More Things

Minimalism is catching on! To learn more:  

Watch this 5-minute TED talk where writer and designer Graham Hill asks: can having less stuff, in less space, lead to more happiness? Spoiler: Yes! And he should know – he lives and works in an extremely well-designed 420-foot apartment.

Read this excellent article by Barefoot Minimalists, which provides 10 helpful tips for identifying your distinct life essentials.

Watch “The Story of Stuff” a fast-paced, fact-based video that explains the connection between our love of “things” and a huge number of environmental and social issues. It might just change the way you look at all the stuff in your life.

What Do You Think?

Do you agree that learning how to spend time instead of money, developing a minimalist mindset, and investing in high-quality life essentials might help improve your retirement years?

Please leave me a comment at the bottom of this page.

I’d love to hear about your favorite cost-cutting tips, or money-saving techniques you’d like me to test, too!                                                                                    

Do you think other people would enjoy reading this post? Please click the purple button to share on social media. (Thanks so much!)

Elizabeth Quayle has been an avid reader and writer for more than 50 years. Since earning a BA in English Lit (1991) and a Journalism Certificate (1996), she has written professionally for diverse public and private companies, as well as magazines, newspapers, non-profits, and government agencies. She started Live Well Anyway in 2023.

One Comment

  • Dave

    I have been undergoing simplification out of necessity over the past couple of years and am finding that culling things that I own is also changing my outlook on accumulating new “stuff”. If I am getting rid of X, am I sure I need Y? Plus things I sell can help fund some things that I do consider essential. And I have found that passing on things I don’t need can also create more gratitude for what I do have. And lastly, the more things or clutter I get rid of (I’m not out of control in this regard!) the less cluttered my mind feels. Less cluttered mind, more peace, less stress.

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