If you’re willing to do a little research and preplanning, there are a number of ways you can lower (or eliminate) your travel-lodging costs and live more like a local when you travel. Here are some different options to consider and some resources that can help you locate them.
Apartment/House Rentals: There are literally hundreds of thousands of privately owned properties in the United States and abroad that are offered as short-term vacation rentals. This has become a very popular alternative to hotels, for retirees.
Renting a fully furnished apartment or house is usually significantly cheaper than hotel rooms of comparable quality, and they almost always offer more space, a homier feel and a kitchen, which can save you the expense eating out every meal.
Short-term rentals are offered through the individual property owners or property-management companies. Some of the best sites for finding them include homeaway.com, airbnb.com, flipkey.com, vrbo.com and wyndhamvacationrentals.com. Most sites are free to use for travelers. You can also look for rentals at any online search engine by typing in your destination city plus short-term apartment/house rentals (for example “New York short-term apartments for rent”).
B&B Clubs: If you like staying in bed-and-breakfasts and have a spare bedroom yourself, you should consider the Evergreen Club (evergreenclub.com) or the Affordable Travel Club (affordabletravelclub.net). These are B&B clubs for travelers over ages 50 or 40 that offer inexpensive lodging in the spare bedroom of other club members, or they may stay with you when they’re on the road. You pay a modest gratuity of between $15 and $25 per night, with breakfast. And the clubs charge membership fees of $65 to $80 per year.
House Sitting: If you have a flexible schedule and you don’t mind doing a few household chores when you travel, house sitting is another option that offers lodging for free. How it works is you live in someone else’s home while they’re away for a long weekend or even a few months. And in exchange for the free accommodations, you take care of certain responsibilities such as their pets, lawn, garden, mail, etc. To find these opportunities, try sites like caretaker.org, housecarers.com, housesittersamerica.comand sabbaticalhomes.com – they all charge a small membership fee.
Home Swapping: Another way to get free accommodations when you travel is by swapping homes with someone who’s interested in visiting the area where you live. To make a swap, you’ll need to join an online home exchange service where you can list your home, and get access to thousands of other listings. Then you simply email the owners of houses or apartments you’re interested in – or they email you – and you make arrangements. Most home exchange sites like homeexchange.com, homelink.org and intervac-homeexchange.com charge membership fees ranging from $39 to $120.
Free Cell Phone
Options for Seniors
Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the cheapest cell phone options available today to seniors living on a shoestring budget? I only need it for occasional calls.
Seldom Calling Senior
For financially challenged seniors who only want a cell phone for emergency purposes or occasional calls, there are a number of inexpensive no contract plans you can get. Or, depending on your income level, there are also free cell phones and monthly airtime minutes you may qualify for. Here’s where to find some of the cheapest deals.
One way infrequent cell phone users can save money is with a prepaid cell phone – also known as pay-as-you-go phones. With a prepaid phone there’s no contract, no fixed monthly bills, no credit checks and no hidden costs that come with traditional cell phone plans. With this type of service, you buy a special prepaid phone then pre-purchase a certain amount of minutes (for talk or text) that must be used within a specified period of time.
While most major carriers like AT&T and Verizon offer inexpensive prepaid plans, as do independents like Net10, Cricket and Virgin Mobile, some of the best deals are offered by TracFone (tracfone.com, 800-867-7183) and T-Mobile (t-mobile.com, 800-866-2453).
TracFone has phones that start as low as $10 and call plans that cost under $7 per month. And T-Mobile has a super-cheap 30-minute plan for $10, and minutes don’t expire for 90 days. That averages out to $3.33 per month. If you need more talk time, they also offer an annual plan where $100 gets you 1,000 minutes that are good for a full year. T-Mobile does, however, charge a one-time activation of $35.
Or, it you would rather have a no-contract senior-friendly phone with big buttons and simplified features, the Doro PhoneEasy 618 sold through Consumer Cellular (consumercellular.com, 888-345-5509) is probably your cheapest option. It costs $60 for the phone, with calling plans that start at $10 per month.
Free Cell Phones
If your income is low enough, you also need to check into the Lifeline Assistance Program. This is a government-sponsored program that subsidizes wireless (and landline) companies who in turn provide free cellphones and around 250 minutes of free monthly airtime and texts to low-income Americans. (Some programs in some states provide more minutes, some less, and some charge a small monthly fee.)
There are currently around 15 million Americans who have a free cell phone through the Lifeline program, but millions more are eligible.
The free phones and minutes are provided by a number of national prepaid wireless companies like Safelink and Assurance Wireless, along with a host of other regional carriers throughout the country.
Many states have more than one wireless company that provides the free phones and minutes. If you are eligible, the free cell phone you’ll receive is a basic phone that also offers text messaging, voice mail, call waiting and caller ID.
To qualify, you’ll need to show that you’re receiving certain types of government benefits, such as Medicaid, Food Stamps, SSI, home energy assistance or public housing assistance. Or, that your household income is at or below 135 or 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines – it varies by state. The 135 percent poverty level is currently $15,754 for singles and $21,235 for couples. The 150 percent level is $17,505/singles, $23,595/couples.
To find out if you’re eligible, or to locate the wireless companies that provide Lifeline government cell phones in your state, visit lifelinesupport.org. You can also learn more at freegovernmentcellphones.net.
Editor's Note: Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.