Live Healthy on a Retirement Budget

Medically Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on September 22, 2014
3 min read

You can keep your healthy habits, even if you're on a retirement budget. You can eat well and stay fit without breaking the bank.

Healthy eating isn't expensive, 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.

At the grocery store:

Use sale items to make your weekly menus.

Check the store's ads. The best deals are usually on the front page, Yeager says.

Hit the frozen food aisles. Frozen vegetables are as healthy as fresh. They're also cheaper and they last longer.

Try less popular but very healthy types of fish such as mackerel and sardines if you love seafood but hate the price. They're rich in good-for-you omega-3s.

Find out which days your store gives seniors extra discounts and shop on those days.

You don't need a gym to 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 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.

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

Ask your doctor 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 help from drug companies that offer free medications through 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.

Look for $4 prescriptions. Some chain drugstores, grocery stores, and retailers with pharmacies offer some generic prescriptions for $4.

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 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."

Think twice about supplement shakes. Some seniors think 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 someone 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."