In the spring, I will be finally getting a taste of the “semi” part of semi-retirement and start collecting what I term a “mini-pension” from a former employer. In preparation for that, my wife and I sat down to look at the really necessary expenses we expect to keep incurring once neither of us continue to earn an income.
Those articles you see about how much you need to retire are always imprecise because of the wide range of lifestyles that exist: from “Cadillac” to “barebones” and everything in between.
And while we’ve always reasoned that saving too much money is a nicer problem to have than the other way round, when we started to look at our major leisure activities, I was surprised to find how many were absolutely free. Exercise, for example. Sure, you can pay a bundle to go to a gym but it’s not necessary. We have an extensive jogging path where we live that runs both east and west along the lake. I’m no jogger but enjoy biking, walking and roller blading in three seasons, while in winter most days I’ll spend an hour skating at a nearby outdoor “figure-eight” rink that’s open all hours and costs not a dime.
As a multi-tasker, while partaking of such light exercise, I generally listen to financial podcasts or listen to the audio edition of the Economist. The podcasts are free; sadly, the Economist is not but I regard it as a legitimate tax deduction for my business.
We’re big readers but the local public library is just a short walk away and it costs nothing to order most books published in the world. It may take a week or three for them to transfer an item from another library in the system but again, there’s no reason to pay for most books. True, if it’s a massive bestseller, you may have to put a hold on it and wait your turn.
While waiting, try borrowing free e-books from your library’s Overdrive app. Or, as I mentioned last summer, you can at least get a sneak preview of the introduction, opening chapter and table of contents by downloading free e-book samples from Kindle. I find Apple iBooks tend to show different content—bits spread throughout the book, not just at the beginning—so between it and Kindle you can probably piece together most of what you need to know about a particular non-fiction book.
Another big hobby, at least for me, is Internet bridge, one I abandoned for awhile but recently rediscovered. This too is free, although of course the Internet access itself will not be (unless, again, you use the library or hustle free wi-fi from a coffee shop). You can while away hours a day at this activity: BridgeBase Online is the best free site, although Pogo appeals to some. OKBridge is the most popular site that charges. A lot of retirees play online bridge: it becomes a community because you can mark someone as a friend and when he or she comes online you can immediately arrange a virtual date, which is facilitated by a chat function.
If you’ve already bitten the bullet for the Internet, you know that much of the content on the web is free. There are literally thousands of financial sites alone, including a few I run, and a lot of general-interest news sites are also free, at least for a certain number of articles per month. Virtually all social media sites are also free, including the big four of Twitter, Google Plus, Linked In and Facebook. By curating a list of Twitter feeds of major news outlets, you can have a virtual free newsfeed personalized to your taste. And of course, web-based email services from Google (Gmail) and Microsoft (Outlook), are also free.
As I look through the other popular activities of the semi-retired and fully-retired, we have to consider television. Personally, we still pay for basic cable TV as well as another $10/month or so for Netflix. These days most young people don’t even have a traditional TV set or cable service but choose to stream over the Internet. They’ll have to pay for the web access but they usually find ways to find a cornucopia of video and music content that costs nothing, typically by starting with YouTube.
Older folk will recall the old days when over-the-air television was free with rabbit ears or outdoor antennas. People tend to forget this is still an option, although you may need newer digital versions of that equipment.
Then there’s music. Just as with over-the-air television, you don’t need me to remind you that old-fashioned local radio is generally free (think CBC Radio or 680 News and its sister stations across Canada) and there are many web-based radio stations and streaming services that provide access to content around the world.
Just to round out the list, let’s not forget that sleeping (or napping) is also free!
As I review this list of free leisure activities, I’m struck by how many hours a day of activities in this world don’t cost a thin dime. And remember, every dollar saved is an after-tax dollar!
Should I close with the old cliché that the best things in life are free?
Nah, I wouldn’t do that to you!