Last year, inflation was so low that Social Security recipients received only a 2 percent cost-of-living (COLA) increase for 2018. But that was a relatively giant raise compared to 2017 (.3 percent) and 2016 (nothing).
Of course, I can't speak for you, but I live almost entirely on Social Security (about 85 percent of my income) and in each of the named years above, my expenses for Medicare Part B, Part D and supplemental coverage along with auto insurance and certainly food increased at much high rates.
In no way do I mean you should think I'm destitute or anywhere near. For many obvious reasons, it is much less expensive to live in retirement than during earning years and every month I surprise myself that I have money left over to add to the emergency fund.
But not a year goes by that the increases in my fixed expenses don't go up between five and 10 percent.
That doesn't sound like much except that over even a few years, it adds up to a great deal more than the Social Security COLA covers so I worry a bit about future price hikes.
Even so, I don't feel deprived but I know a good number of elders who live on Social Security only and whose benefit is smaller than mine. In those cases, hardship can be a daily reality.
So for many of us frugality and thrift are in order and, at least for myself if not others, I'm pretty good at it.
My most successful single savings came not quite two years ago when my Verizon cell phone bill jumped to just over $105 a month. Fed up, I finally did the homework and switched to one of the small providers that gives me the same service – unlimited calls and texts and one gigabyte of data - for $22 a month. How great is that, and the service is as reliable as with Verizon.
Since then, however, expenses for necessities listed above have more than eaten up the $83 I saved in that one change.
There isn't much other wiggle room in my budget. I would be willing to cut cable TV from my life but that company is the only local broadband provider in my area and they charge more for internet-only than for internet with basic cable. (Grrrrrrrrrrrr.)
I may cancel Netflix soon. In the past year or two, the dreck increasingly exceeds the better quality offerings. But that saves only $10 a month. Amazon Prime is, even with the recent 20 percent per year increase, still worth it for me. I save hundreds of dollars on shipping costs each year and more often than not, prices are better than elsewhere online.
Over the past year I lost a lot of weight. So much so that I've had to replace part of my wardrobe. There are a couple of excellent resale shops here so I've done well to get the replacements I need while spending embarrassingly little, and several items were brand new.
I still prefer to read on paper than a screen of any size so I have kept a few hard-copy magazine subscriptions. Somehow my favorites are the most expensive but I'm going to continue them until I'm stretched too thin to not give them up.
It's easy to cut down on whim shopping especially (I'm being blunt here) having faced what I thought was certain death within a handful of months and so what could I possibly need to purchase.
Now that I have been given a reprieve from the cancer for whatever period of time, I've already got a year's practice in that kind of thrift.
That leaves the possibility for further cuts to types of necessary spending that can be down-sized, like food. On Saturday, I visited the second farmer's market day of the season and I was shocked that the price of a locally-made jam I like has increased from $5 to $7 over winter.A bunch of six – SIX! - small, sweet turnips are up to $4.50 now while fresh halibut, never cheap, is $25 a pound. (I stuck with the cod.) It's high season for certain strawberries and I can't remember if a pint was $4 last year or less but that's the price now.
I'm not a rabid coupon cutter but I watch for sales especially on food items I like to always have in the house. That's what supermarkets are for and I suspect I'll be buying fewer items at the farmer's market this year.
I think we should all buy local when we can, to keep our dollars in the community, but the prices at that market this year take my breath away.
And, finally, restaurants. I don't eat out often enough to need to reduce that spending and there are some good, reasonably priced restaurants near me.
You've probably noticed that gas prices are up and expected to climb further over the summer. Some experts are predicting that depending on how Trump administration foreign and domestic policy changes play out, we could be in for increasing inflation (which has already climbed a couple of points this year) and higher prices in general.
So this would be a good time, I think, for us to crowdsource our best ideas to keep down personal and household expenses.
Most TGB readers are old enough to have weathered several economic downturns and a few remember growing up in the Great Depression. That ought to be good for some suggestions. Who among us are cutting back and how are you doing it? What are your best tips and secrets for surviving hard times?