The latest StatsCanada income trend shows that 6.2% of seniors living in a family, and 28.5% of those living alone are classified as low income. Okay, these 2012 figures are somewhat dated, but there is no denying that many retirees are living paycheque to paycheque. For those with little savings and no company pension and relying for the most part on government benefits, making every dollar count in retirement is crucial.

5 ways to stretch your retirement dollars

Here are 5 ways to help stretch your retirement dollars and survive on a fixed budget.

1. Take advantage of all the financial support available to you

If you are mainly relying on your government pensions (CPP, OAS), ensure that you also apply for all the support you’re eligible to receive from the various governments:

  • federal (GIS, Allowance program, Survivor benefits)
  • provincial (income assistance, affordable housing programs) and
  • municipal (property tax grants or deferments)

Take advantage of all the tax savings available to you. Federal and provincial tax programs are designed to help – pension income splitting, pension sharing, home renovation credits.

Look here to see what resources are available to you by province.

Some newcomers to Canada might qualify for International Benefits. Canada has social security arrangements with various countries that can help secure benefits if you lived and worked in a country that has an agreement with Canada and you paid into the social security plan of that country.

2. Save on meals

Grocery prices are increasing every year. You already know how to take advantage of sales, buy store brands and in-season produce.

Seniors who are socially inclined can participate in meal-sharing options. For example, you and a small group of friends take turns hosting each other for dinner. Prepare economical meals such as casseroles, soups and stews. Pot lucks are another option. You also have the added benefit of socializing and having fun with friends on a regular basis.

Buddy-up on groceries by building a grocery shopping list with a friend or neighbour. You will save by buying larger sizes and splitting them.

If you are involved with a church or other community group, you may be able to take advantage of low-cost organized dinners or pot lucks.

3. Cut costs of prescription medicine

As Canadian age the cost of prescription medications tends to increase and, depending on your state of health, can become quite expensive.

Each province has their own drug benefit program that offer some level of reimbursement for low income seniors. Provincial drug plans such as the Trillium Drug Program in Ontario, Alberta Blue Cross and BC and Manitoba Pharmacare help seniors cover the cost of medications not covered by their provincial health care plan.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for options available to cut costs. Some drug companies offer discounts and usually generic prescriptions cost less than the brand name equivalent.

Don’t forget to track your medical expenses. They are claimable at tax time if you have receipts.

4. Sign up for senior discounts

There are a number of organizations and retailers offering senior rates including zoos, museums and movie theatres. In Calgary an annual transit pass is just $95. BC Ferries gives a 50% discount on a passenger fare (Monday to Thursday, except holidays). Retailers such as Shoppers Drug Mart have senior discount days. A number of universities and colleges offer free tuition, at least for non-credit courses.

A list of discounts can be found at Mrs January.

5. Avoid fraud and financial abuse

The Government of Canada lists fraud as the number one crime committed against older Canadians. Scam artists prey on seniors because they:

  • Are often home during the day to answer the phone or door
  • Tend to be more trusting
  • May not have good friends or family close by to help with financial matters

Unfortunately, seniors can also be victims of financial abuse that is often perpetrated by their loved ones who could deplete a joint account, or continually ask for financial help to pay debts, cover expenses, or help start a business.

  • Be forthright with telephone solicitations, “Send me something in writing.”
  • Never give out personal information, such as social insurance number, bank accounts or credit card numbers, over the phone or e-mail.
  • Shred your old receipts and bank and credit card statements.
  • Stay educated on the latest scams, e.g. grandparent scam, CRA taxes owing scam

Final thoughts

Senior discounts have been widely criticized these past few years and no doubt will be reduced or eliminated in the future. In the meantime, pensioners living on a low fixed income don’t have to live a frugal pauper’s existence.

What ways do you stretch your retirement dollars?

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14 Comments

  1. Gary on September 16, 2016 at 6:56 am

    Thank you Marie. A lot of great information here that I’ll pass on to my senior friends. (also the links). Do you have any idea what a low income senior earns annually? The phrase “low income” gets kicked around quite a bit but I have no idea what it is.

    • boomer on September 16, 2016 at 9:42 am

      Hi Gary. Low income is generally considered as less than half of the national median income. So, in 2012 (the latest year I could find) median income was $76,000 for a family and (gasp!) only $27,600 for single individuals – that means that half of singles earn less than $27,600.

      • Gary on September 16, 2016 at 9:58 am

        $27,600.!!!!!! Good grief; and 1/2 earning less than that! No wonder our food banks are so busy.

      • Denis on September 17, 2016 at 7:14 am

        I am surprised family income is that high (76K).

        • boomer on September 17, 2016 at 9:37 am

          Hi Denis. That’s family median income for everyone. Low income would be regarded as half that.

          • Denis on September 18, 2016 at 5:55 am

            I know what median income means, just surprised it is that high. I guess peeps in Vancouver and TO raise this number (need to be paid higher to afford their obscene housing prices).

            Also a function of 2 income families the norm now.

            I get it.



  2. Clara on September 16, 2016 at 7:48 am

    In your Final Thoughts paragraph, I don’t understand your sentence ” In the meantime, pensioners living on a low fixed income don’t have to live a frugal pauper’s existence.” From the content of your blog, it certainly looks to me as though they do.

    • boomer on September 16, 2016 at 9:44 am

      Clara, it depends on what you want to do. I know lots of retirees who don’t have a high income and have fun with friends doing all kinds of inexpensive activities – or you can sit in front of the TV all day and whine about your troubles. It’s up to you.

      • Denis Hache on September 17, 2016 at 7:19 am

        My sis retired last year and she is busy playing tennis (price of a good racket), skate (free for seniors), badminton (price of a racket) and movies, etc does not cost that much.

        Rest goes to travel, having a ball.

        As for me, tennis, ski, hockey take up a lot of free time, stock research in library (free), investing takes as much time as I need and so in retirement, my net worth has gone up quite a bit since I retired 5 years ago.

  3. Rich on September 16, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Who is criticizing senior discounts?

  4. Wes on September 16, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    Hi Marie,
    Our way of fighting off phone scammers is by subscribing our land-line home phone service and TV cable service with one of the big telecom service providers and purchasing a smart TV. We also have an answering machine with phones that can display incoming calls. Any incoming calls will be displayed on our TV screen and if we don’t recognize the name and the number or no name available or private name and number we let the answering machine take the message if the caller cares to leave one. More often than not, they just hang up. Great!
    We get at least 10 unsolicited calls a day from telemarketers and scammers and we feel great for ‘busting’ these crooks at the source.
    The same thing goes with our cell incoming calls. Any unsolicited call goes directly to our voicemail box unanswered. Our advice to other seniors, please get yourselves informed and educated about anything that will help you avoid getting scammed. Go seniors!

    • boomer on September 17, 2016 at 9:35 am

      Thanks, Wes. We do the same thing. My parents however (86 & 93) usually answer every call. I’m always checking with them – “Don’t send the grandkids money if someone says they’re in trouble” (they wouldn’t be), and the latest scam in the assisted living home they’re in is the CRA back taxes scam telling them to buy Safeway gift cards and hand them over to a representative. I always wonder how people can fall for that, but apparently they do.

      • Wes on September 17, 2016 at 2:11 pm

        Hi Marie,

        Yes we heard and read about all the scams that you mentioned and also about the Apple gift cards. Another twist about the CRA scam call that we got last week. This caller claimed to represent a legal firm saying that we had a complaint against us and that this complainant is preparing to forward the case to CRA. This caller’s firm is going to help us prepare to fight it and so to get in touch with them. At the end of his message he said for us to be careful, not to worry and wished us ‘God bless you’. Now wasn’t he a real considerate scammer, eh?
        Another one said to represent a solar company just calling in to finalize our financial contract and wanted us to call in with our financial detail. We had no contract to sign with anybody and as soon as we heard the word ‘financial’ being mentioned, our red flags went up. We informed the police and gave them their phone numbers but they can’t do anything to catch these guys as they keep changing their phone numbers.

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