In our materialistic society, is it possible to live on the basic age pension…and be happy?  Yes!  My mother did it.  My mother-in-law did it.  They both saved money despite living by themselves!  But that was a few years ago and they were in their 80s.  Now I’ve discovered that some of my friends are also on the pension…and they seem to be able to enjoy a lifestyle similar to mine.  How do they do it?First, they seem to be canny shoppers.  They focus on what they need, not what they might want.  They all seem to be Aldi shoppers.  They are well aware of how to buy daily necessities such as food and clothing.  They are good bargainers.  They negotiate consistently with sellers, seeking better deals than are offered…and getting them.  Avoiding expensive restaurants, they focus on cooking really good, fresh food at home and buy good $10 wine or drink less.   Cooking and eating become experiences to be enjoyed, not chores.

When buying significant goods (cars, whitegoods, electrical goods) they choose carefully and differently.  For instance one just bought a Jaguar!  It was beautiful to ride in…but it turned out to be 12 years old with low mileage.  To him, it was a new car, it smelt new, felt new and acted new.

Like me, they all like to travel.  But they do it differently.  One couple loves caravan parks and camping.  It turns out that caravan parks have the greatest locations in cities and on the coast, despite their cheap fees, so they often have better locations and views than I might have from my expensive hotel.  Another couple use an organisation called Servas to stay with any of 60,000 people worldwide…for free!  Yes, that’s right.  For free.  With Servas, you choose the type of person you want to stay with in a location and the hosts provide meals as well as accommodation, all for the price of mutually interesting conversation!

What about housing costs? They own their own houses, which is a critical part.  Choosing to live in country towns or outside fashionable areas means their houses are much larger and better appointed than would be possible elsewhere.

What about health costs, which are a big issue for older people?  They mostly rely on the public system, but, when major operations are indicated, they consider alternatives, delay operations, talk around to find sympathetic doctors and find ways (networks, seeking advice, listening to others’ experience) to get through the public system.  As I found out recently, the public system is pretty good in an emergency.

What about entertainment?  Living in country towns, entertainment is more limited but also much cheaper.  They enjoy what is available locally without paying exorbitant city prices for international concerts.  They borrow books from the library and from friends.  CDs too.  They search through the plentifully available free entertainment of all types.  Government and Council events, academic events, public entertainment, semi-professionals seeking to break through – there’s lots on that I don’t even consider.  But when I’ve been with them, I’ve enjoyed these occasions just as much as seeing the pros.

On the income side, some make money on the side by letting out a room in their house, by looking after high school students for absentee parents, or taking on part-time jobs like exam supervision, dog walking, election voting.  One couple work on cruise ships, offering lectures and teaching in exchange for free travel and finding ways to upgrade their cabin once the journey commences.  All are downsizing and using the surplus generated from this to provide a pool of cash for major purchases.  That’s where the Jaguar came from.

Frankly, I find it hard to believe any of these lively people are on the pension.  They don’t complain about it or even mention it unless asked.  That’s what they have to live on and they manage.  I well remember my mother offering me bonus money for Christmas one year because she was accumulating money in her bank account and didn’t need it!  Was I embarrassed?!!  When I have weekends or time with my pensioner friends, I have no sense of my experience being limited.  Indeed, I feel worse when I pay hundreds of dollars for expensive meals, hotels or shows and find my expectations are not delivered on.

Am I considering going on the pension?  No, thanks!  I’m glad I don’t have to, but I think I could do it.  I was taught to save, to be frugal and I’ve always been able to save whatever I’ve had.  But I’ve learnt from these friends that, despite public perceptions, living on the pension is not only possible.  It can be enjoyable, if you just put your mind to it and think differently.


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