10 tips for a green retirement

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(MoneyWatch) Playing with my 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter recently, it occurred to me there's a very good chance she'll be alive for another 90 or 100 years. As a result, she'll most likely live through the potential long-term consequences of the dire headlines we read about now, such as global warming, pollution, overcrowding and excessive government debt. On the other hand, since I'll be dead in 30 or so years, I'll most likely escape the full brunt of these trends.

This realization doesn't make me feel very good. I want to do something to leave a better world to my kids and grandkids -- cleaner air and water and a sustainable environment.

What does this have to do with retirement planning? Given the meager financial resources of most baby boomersapproaching retirement, we need to make every dollar count by balancing our income and spending. But instead of viewing this as an impoverished situation, we have opportunities for enriching our retirement years while helping to improve our communities and future generations as well.

Most of us will have more time and less money in retirement compared to our working years. We can use that additional time to our advantage, along with the knowledge that many small, positive steps can lead to significant improvements over time, just as compound interest increases our savings accounts.

With this spirit in mind, here are 10 tips for saving money during our retirement years that also will help to leave a better planet for our grandchildren:

1. Downsize your house. A smaller house will save on energy bills as well as property taxes and maintenance. Townhomes, condos and apartments are particularly energy-efficient compared to the large, single-family homes you often see in the suburbs. You'll also have less space to clean and furnish, saving you both time and money.

2. If possible, move close to day-to-day retail and service outlets, restaurants and social settings. This lets you easily and quickly get your food, entertainment and enrichment, saving you time and money while reducing your energy consumption.

3. Use your car less by walking or biking to as many places as possible. You'll drive down your costs for gas, insurance and car maintenance. And not only will you save money on transportation, but you'll also get exercise that improves your health. Note that you might be able to pull off a triple-header by combining tips 1, 2 and 3.

4. Share housing with friends or family. Housing represents the largest component of most people's budget, so sharing housing enables you to stretch your retirement income a lot farther. You'll save collectively on utility bills, and you may even address another significant retirement risk -- loneliness.

5. Take public transportation whenever possible, saving money while reducing your energy consumption. Since we have more time on our hands, we don't need to be in such a hurry to get where we want to go. We might even enjoy life more, leaving the driving to others and meeting people as we go.

6. If you need a new car, buy one that sips gas and has low emissions. My wife and I drive a five-year-old Toyota Prius that gets 50 miles per gallon on regular gas. Need I say more?

7. If you need to work because your financial resources aren't sufficient to retire completely, then find work that's close to home or is accessible by public transportation. Studies show that reducing the time you spend commuting can add to your happiness with life.

8. Eat less meat. Factory meat farms use a lot of water and create substantial greenhouse gases and pollution. Eating more plant-based food is not only easier on the environment by using far fewer resources, it's also less expensive and healthier for us, which might possibly reduce your medical bills. Have you ever tasted a home-grown tomato? It's enough to convince you to work more veggies into your diet.

My wife and I can attest to these terrific benefits, having drastically reduced our meat consumption while increasing our consumption of grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. We feel great, our weights are at healthy levels, we don't take blood pressure or cholesterol medications (saving money on prescription drugs), and we still take great pleasure in eating well.

9. Grow your own fruits and vegetables. You'll eat cheaper, fresher, tastier food compared to what you can buy at the supermarket, and you'll reduce your carbon footprint by eliminating packaging and transportation costs. You don't need to live on a farm to make this work for you. One family in Pasadena, Calif., harvests three tons of organic food each year from their ordinary suburban home on 1/10th of an acre. While you may not want to grow that much, I'm sure you've got an empty corner in your yard that could easily accommodate a few plants. As a bonus, you'll get more exercise, thus improving your health.

10. Rip up your lawn, and replace it with landscaping that uses less water, gas (for mowing), and chemical fertilizers and pesticides. You'll save money and reduce your carbon footprint. And if you combine this tip with tip 9, you can use your front yard to grow food.

My wife and I have taken many of these steps, and we find it's not a sacrifice. In fact, our life has been enriched, not diminished. I say this not to brag or preach, or to imply that we're perfect -- we're not. We're constantly finding new ways to cut our consumption of energy and stuff. I merely want to make the point that helping to improve our communities and making ends meet in retirement can be rewarding for your pocketbook as well as your sense of life satisfaction.

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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