Before we return to our discussions about personal finance issues for seniors, I want to go on record to say I appreciate that SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher recognizes and continues to talk about how important graduating on time is to minimizing student loan debt. In a world where, as we have discussed, 70 percent of students choose their college based upon amenities, not academic rigor, the message of graduating on time cannot be given too often by too many.
One positive financial aspect of being a senior is that there are numerous discounts available just for seniors. By all means, research them, look for them and ask your friends about them so that you are aware of them. Then, take advantage of them when they work for you. However, you also need to be smart about it. Just because many retailers have senior citizens days, with 10 to 15 percent discounts, it doesn’t mean that’s the time to browse around and buy things that you really don’t need on impulse. What I like to do is to go a store a few days before senior citizens day and see if there is anything that I need, or, OK, just really want. I make a real or mental list, and then go back on discount day. By then my list may have dwindled, because the passage of time made me realize that maybe I really didn’t need or want some of those things all that much.
Bottom line — senior citizen discounts are just like so many other sales and promotions. They are in part designed to get you into the retailer’s “world,” cyber or brick and mortar, in the hopes that you will buy some things on impulse. Resist.
Here is one to think about at this Christmas season. Is it time for an artificial tree? Without getting into the comparative environmental impacts of real and artificial trees, for which there are many arguments on both sides, artificial trees for seniors may be more cost effective and convenient at a time when those are significant considerations.
As for cost, if you properly research your needs in terms of size, style and quality and wait for a sale, generally speaking, the cost of an artificial tree, even with its upfront cost, should result in cost savings, as you continue to use it year after year. It is important also to properly store it every year to increase its longevity.
As for convenience, what could be easier than just pulling it out of storage and setting it up? It will always look great, if you made that good initial choice and you properly stored it. Also, you don’t have to water it or pick up those pine needles that seem to get into everything. You can even spray it with a scent, and imagine, no more negotiating a price, or wondering how it could look so good at the lot, but not so good when you got it home.
Yet another thing to consider is starting early to reduce your stuff. This is something that you will do by necessity if you downsize into a smaller living space — a smaller home, condo or apartment. However, even if you are not downsizing, why not simplify and organize your life by getting rid of some of that stuff that we all accumulate, especially clothes.
How about considering those old rules — if you haven’t worn it for over a year, or you have had it for over a year and it still has the tags on it, perhaps it’s time to donate it or send it off to a consignment shop. I know that when I visit consignment shops, garage sales or the Ronald McDonald sale, I get ideas on what I can eliminate from my closets and the rest of my house. If you donate your unneeded “stuff,” you may be able to get a tax deduction, but you will also get some satisfaction from knowing that you are helping that charity with its mission.
In the next column we will once again continue this discussion, but it occurs to me that many of these things don’t apply just to seniors.