The rumination on ways to maximize Social Security income — and even use early start-up payments as an interest-free loan from the government — led me to consider how I might stay in my home after I retire.
The house a little expensive to operate, it’s probably too large for one person, and the neighborhood is a whisper on the iffy side. On the other hand, I like the house quite a lot. It’s paid for, it’s centrally located in a neighborhood adjacent to a park and a very upscale enclave, and so far I’ve seen nothing comparable in a better area that I can begin to afford. Given that Biker Boob, Dave’s Used Car Lot, Marina, and Weed Arboretum, and the nightly presence of cop helicopters amount to the trade-off for an affordable home in a halfway decent central neighborhood, before I decide to move to cheaper housing, maybe I should first consider ways I can invest in my present home tocut operating costs.
ThoughI contemplatethese ideas in connection with pending retirement, they apply to anyone who’s trying to live frugally, and certainly to families who would like tohave one spouse quit working to stay home with the kids.
Ours is a hot climate. Winter heating bills are negligible, but summer cooling bills will knock you over. Each year they rise higher. Ditto water: though my yard is desert landscaped, July and August still bring $160 bills. These are the largest consistent hits. Other big costs are taxes and insurance, gasoline consumed in driving to safe, upper-middle-class shopping, and repairs & maintenance. So, some strategies to make my home permanently affordable:
- Install a programmable thermostat. Set the summertime temperature several degrees higher in the daytime and have it drop to 78 at night.
- Build a shade structure over the front entryway to cast shade on the flagstones and concrete. Make this large enough to seriously protect the front of house from summer heat.
- Remove the shade structure Richard built in back, which is out of code and sagging, and replace it with a shade structure that will run the entire length of the back wall. Again, make this wide enough to provide real shade.
- Replace the two remaining single-paned windows with double-paned low-E windows.
- Blow extra insulation into the attic.
- Install an attic fan, if this is feasible with blown-in insulation.
- Have Bila fir out the west and south walls in the master bedroom, install insulation, and apply new drywall over it.
- Remove the dying ash tree and replace it, now, with a tree that will grow big enough to cast shade on the west side of the house by the time I retire.
- Get the chimney cleaned. Install one of those heat-recirculating devices in the fireplace, so the fireplace can be used to heat the family room and kitchen during the winter.
- Provide the dog with a warm blanket so she can sleep comfortably on the floor during the winter.
- Remove some of the overgrown planting in the front yard. Be sure all drippers and spigots leading to former plants are shut off.
- Confer with Matt the Tree Dude Extraordinaire to determine which xeriscapic plants in front are now established well enough to endure drought, and how to cut back on watering.
- Remove planting between flagstones in courtyard; replace with river stones. Turn off sprinklers in courtyard or convert them to drippers.
- Persuade Gerardo to create wider basins for the citrus trees in back. Deep-water established citrus only once a week in summer.
- Get Gerardo to put the potted plants in back on their own valve, or, failing that, get rid of the potted plants.
- Get timers for all three hoses and use them! Never leave the water running in the pool or on a plant.
Other Costs of Running the House
- Find out the answers to these questions: Do I really need enough insurance to rebuild the house if it burns down? Realistically, what are the chances it will burn down? Given that all the floors are tiled and the washer is in the garage, what are the chances it will ever suffer flood damage? Short of complete destruction, what is the worst that could happen and what would it cost to repair?
- With the answers to these questions in hand, reconsider the insurance coverage on the house. Reduce it, if that seems reasonable.
- In any event, raise the deductible as high as the Hartford will allow.
- Inventory the house’s contents. Estimate value. Insure the house’s contents for no more than what the stuff is really worth.
- Purchase a fire-proof, water-resistant safe. Bolt it to the floor in a closet. Place crucial documents and all real valuables inside this safe. Do not insure gew-gaws thatare stored insidethe safe.
- Challenge the next tax assessment. Raise hell and put a block under it the next time the county raises taxes.
Costs of living in a waning central city core
- At retirement, buy a car that uses less gas, so as to drive to now far-flung middle-class shopping and medical care.
- Add security to Arcadia doors, and replace back screen door with security door.
- Use train to ride to AJs, central library, museum, and downtown theaters.