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Live Healthy on a Retirement Budget

By Mary Jo DiLonardo
WebMD Feature

You can keep your healthy habits going on a retirement budget. Here’s how.

Eat Healthy Without Breaking the Bank

You might think this costs a lot, but it can be really inexpensive, says AARP savings expert Jeff Yeager, author of How to Retire the Cheapskate Way.

"Many of the healthiest foods we should be eating happen to cost the least on a per-pound basis, like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables," Yeager says. He tries to spend less than $1 per pound on most of the foods he eats.  

Do this at the grocery store:

  • Base your weekly menus on the sale items.
  • Check the store's ads. The best deals are usually on the front page, Yeager says.
  • Shop the frozen food aisles. Frozen vegetables are as healthy as fresh, and they're cheaper and last longer.
  • Seafood isn't usually cheap. Try less popular, but very healthy types of fish such as mackerel and sardines. They're rich in good-for-you omega-3s.
  • Shop on days when grocery stores give seniors extra discounts.

Keep Active for Free

You don't need a gym to exercise and stay fit. Walking is a great, free way to stay active.

Walk with friends around your neighborhood or in the mall if the weather isn't great. You'll motivate each other, says aging expert Tiffany Hughes, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh. "Make it a social event, which can have benefits for your overall health and your brain health," she says.

If you'd rather go to a class or a group workout, call around. Many gyms have lower rates for seniors. Some community centers, churches, and universities offer inexpensive fitness classes for people in their 50s and older.

Save on Drugs

Never stop taking medication because you want to cut your bills.

Talk to your doctor to see if there are generic or less expensive versions of prescription medicines that you can take. And always ask for free samples when you visit your doctor.

If you don't have insurance and can't afford your prescriptions, you can apply for financial assistance through drug companies that offer patient assistance programs.

Other ways to save:

Try a warehouse membership store. They often have good deals on prescription prices, says Yeager, and you don't have to be a member to use the pharmacy.

Don't worry about brands. "The perception is that it's better to take a name-brand painkiller or multivitamin," says Amy R. Ehrlich, MD, associate chief of geriatrics at the Montefiore Medical Center. "But that's extremely expensive and there's no data that buying an expensive name brand is any more beneficial than generic. I personally see people spending a tremendous amount of money on this."

Check with your doctor about extras. Some seniors feel like they need to take regular nutritional supplement drinks or shakes. But unless your doctor tells you otherwise, it's less expensive -- and healthier -- to get your nutrition from a well-balanced diet, Ehrlich says.

Call in an expert to save on insurance costs. Ehrlich suggests finding an advocate in your health care network who can make sure you're getting the right benefits and can answer any questions. "Their job is to work with you and make sure you're getting any services you're entitled to."

If you're worried about health care expenses, you should talk to your doctor, Yeager says.

"Everything is negotiable, including health care costs. If you have trouble with a copay, don’t be shy about raising the issue in advance with your health care provider," he says. "If nothing else, it seems to be very easy to negotiate a payment plan for treatment."

Reviewed on October 07, 2013

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