Ways to downsize during retirement

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In a nation obsessed with everything “biggie-sized,” the thought of downsizing holds as much appeal as a root canal.

We just love big things. Texans boast about the size of their state, but Alaska has bigger bragging rights, at more than twice the size of the Lone Star state. Even our national monuments speak volumes about our size-consciousness. Think Mount Rushmore: The colossal sculptures of the four presidential busts are 60 feet tall.

So to suggest that we trade in a Cadillac Fleetwood for a Smart car or move from a five-bedroom Victorian into a two-bedroom condo (sans garage) is akin to cultural heresy.

But for many retirees, downsizing isn’t an option — it’s a necessary survival strategy that could stretch your savings to the end zone of retirement. All it takes is one or two unfortunate life events to throw one’s retirement plans into a tailspin.

Consider these tips to trim the fat from your budget and boost your bottom line.

Scale back without feeling deprived
Consider moving on
Contrary to popular belief, most Americans choose not to move when they retire — 90 percent of the 60-plus population stayed in the same house or county, according to an AARP analysis of the 2000 census.

But moving to an area with a lower cost of living can be prudent. Consider downtown, or an area with cheaper taxes.

CFP Bill Howell says he sees more retirees moving from northern states to the Carolinas, Georgia or Tennessee, where taxes are generally lower.

Bankrate’s State Tax Roundup enables you to research target states to find those that are retirement-friendly.

Some retirees are finding small- to midsized cities attractive enough to ditch their cars altogether in exchange for the cultural advantages of urban life. An added health benefit is you can walk to most major attractions.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more older people moving into urban areas where public transportation is available and the kinds of stores and things you need are readily available, too,” says author Henry “Bud” Hebeler.

CFA Kevin Reardon says many of his retired clients are enjoying the revitalization of the Milwaukee area and are moving back into the city to take advantage the arts, dining and public transportation.

College towns also draw retirees. CFP Connie Stone sees a trend with some Cleveland-area retirees who are moving into places like the University Circle district near Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. One benefit is that seniors can often sit in on classes at a significant discount, she says. For example, Case Western charges seniors only 10 percent of normal tuition to audit a class.

“I know a lot of people who do that,” she says. “They take advantage of all those cultural events and have virtually no transportation costs because they can walk or take public transportation.”

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