Retirees can convert time into money

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Time and money are inexorably linked through our life stages.

During our working lives, we sell our time to earn money at a job. And then we spend money to recapture precious time — paying others to mow our lawns, complete our income tax returns and cook for us when we dine out.

It can be different for retirees. Many have an excess of time but could use a little more money, according to a plethora of dire surveys.

A recent one is the Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Mathew Greenwald & Associates.

It found the percentage of current workers confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement is at record lows, with about half expressing low levels of confidence. Among retirees, only 18 percent were "very confident" in living a comfortable retirement, also a record low for the 23-year-old survey.

So how can retirees — or others with more spare hours than spare change — convert the currency of extra time into the kind of currency that pays the bills?

Become your own CFO, that is, "chief frugal officer," says Jeff Yeager, author of "How to Retire the Cheapskate Way."

"You often hear retirees saying they have a lot more time than money these days," Yeager said. "If you pursued that in a positive sense, you could not only reduce a lot of costs but add to the satisfaction and quality of your life by spending that excess time in a certain way — and that's not sitting in front of a television."

Here are some ideas, short of going back to work, for stretching those Social Security checks and making your retirement nest egg last.

DIY. Do-it-yourself is the biggest category of activities that can help, in the form of saving money on goods and services you would otherwise pay for.

It's easy to think of examples: caring for your own lawn and garden, growing your own vegetables, completing your own home repairs, making gifts, repainting walls yourself, sewing clothes, doing your own vehicle maintenance and learning to plan and cook meals better to save on dining out.

Some DIY activities have double payoff. Learning to caulk leaky windows on your house can save the cost of a handyman and save on heating and cooling bills. And doing more yard work can increase your fitness.

"Sometimes it's as much to occupy their time as it is to populate their bank accounts, but it really does both," Yeager said of do-it-yourself projects.

The good news is the Internet is a source of written information and video demonstrations on how to do most anything. Community colleges often offer practical courses, and retail stores sometimes offer free mini-seminars — such as a home-improvement store offering a plumbing class.

Of course, what tasks you choose to complete should depend on your health and skill level.

Smart spending. People in the bustle stages of life, with full-time jobs and children to raise, can find themselves getting sloppy with spending money well. But with the extra time retirement affords, there are more hours for comparison-shopping, reading product reviews, scoping out store sales, negotiating prices, and yes, even clipping supermarket coupons.

You can take the time to reshop your insurance policies and call your cable TV provider to negotiate a better deal.

"A lot of this economizing involves an investment of time, but you can sit in front of the television and clip your coupons," Yeager said.

Entire web sites and blogs are devoted to niche savings strategies, such as matching grocery coupons to store sales. Examples are CouponMom.com, SavingsAngel.com and TheGroceryGame.com. Or learn to make the most of your credit card reward points and frequent-flier miles by researching your card benefits and reading such sites as Thepointsguy.com and Frugaltravelguy.com.

Timeshift purchases. One advantage of extra time is being able to buy at unpopular times. The classic example is dining at restaurants in late afternoon for early bird specials. But some supermarkets and thrift stores have savings programs that encourage shopping during off-peak hours. Look for opportunities to buy when others aren't. If you don't save money, you might at least get better service.

Travel. Being time-flexible with travel can reap tremendous bargains. Last-minute flights, hotel rooms and cruises, for example, are sometimes deeply discounted because companies need to fill seats and beds that would otherwise go unused.

Besides signing up with individual airlines for their deals, you can check many of the big online booking sites, such as Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz, which all feature discounted last-minute flights and hotel rooms.

And while traveling, a flexible schedule means you can volunteer to be bumped from a crowded flight and collect whatever cash or airline credit the carrier is offering. So-called "repositioning" cruises, one-way seasonal relocating of cruise ships in fall and spring, are often lengthy and deeply discounted — although they require you to arrange return travel.

Volunteer. "I think a lot of people don't realize there are a lot of volunteer opportunities that come with pretty nice benefits," Yeager said.

Those benefits are often free admission if you're willing to work at film or music festivals, for example, or usher at theaters, concerts or some local sporting events.

For volunteer opportunities at national parks near you, visit nps.gov and click, "Get Involved."

Library. It's more convenient to buy a book at a bookstore or have a magazine delivered to your mailbox. But if you have time to visit the local library, many of your reading and entertainment needs can be met for free. If it's been a few years since you've visited, you might be surprised what modern-day libraries offer, including music, movies and digital books you can read on a device, such as a Kindle or iPad, without even leaving home.

So alleviating fears about not having enough money in retirement isn't necessarily about sacrifice and deprivation, Yeager said. "I try to encourage people to find joy in these activities," he said. "If you spend smart, you can spend less and you can get to where you want to be."

gkarp@tribune.com

Twitter: @spendingsmart

Do you need an intervention?

In the spirit of comedian Jeff Foxworthy, known for jokes that start, "You might be a redneck if," Yeager has his own version. He says, "You might need a cheapskate intervention if:"

— your retirement portfolio consists of an envelope full of scratch-off tickets.

— you own both a riding lawn mower and a treadmill.

— you complain about the high cost of gas while waiting in line in your SUV to go through the drive-through at McDonald's.

— you think a mortgage burning party is a possible alternative to foreclosure and involves hiring an arsonist.

— your plan to avoid outliving your retirement savings involves a license, a background check and a mandatory waiting period.

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