Retirees Pinch Pennies in Uncertain Times

Where retirees gather, there's plenty of talk about the economy. With rising prices on essentials such as electricity and gas, retirees are forced to conserve.

For many, the retirement they planned so carefully is not going according to plan.

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"It worries me because I don't know how long I'm going to be able to keep pace," said Jerri Casey, a retiree feeling the economic strain.

Casey thought she did everything right when she retired, placing her money into savings accounts and maintaining very low levels of debt. But her budget didn't take into account today's economy.

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"I never envisioned $3 a loaf for a loaf of bread," she said.

Due to this economic curveball, Casey is pinching pennies, even down to how much hot water she uses. She even went back to work part-time for extra cash.

Patricia Burton and her husband had been happily retired for over a decade, but she has taken on a full-time job with the City of Tulsa to meet the rising costs.

"You just sort of have to play it by ear," she said. "And you go to the grocery store and you start to pick something up and you go, 'Oh, hmmmm, that's different. So there's a lot of adjustment, and we do that."

Millions of retirees rely solely on their social security income for their retirement, which for many is not keeping pace with rising costs.

Alicia Munell of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College identifies retirees' economizing behavior as part of a greater trend.

"When you're hit by something like the confluence of events we've seen this year, all you can do is, you really start cutting into the bone," Munell said.

For many, like Glenda Howell, reality does not resemble her retirement vision.

These days, Howell and retired friend Betty Lish visit each other at the local senior activity center, since it is too expensive to drive out to each other's houses.

"I'd go if it was important," Betty said. "It's just hard. I have to make my gas last, and then just a little bit more in case something happens."

Senior centers across the country hear that a lot and can offer a meeting space for more and more retirees. But the center themselves are struggling.

"Got to keep in mind that with the price of gas, getting people to deliver a few home-delivered meals is harder now than ever before," said Sandi Sullivan from Tulsa, who coordinates center activities.

For the most part, the complaints are tempered, as retirees prepare to buckle down and take it one day at a time. This generation has seen tougher times before, as a living legacy of the Great Depression.

"I'm a son of the Depression, so I figure I've got a whole long way to go before I get to where I was!" Ruby, a retiree, laughs.

Determined to press on, retirees are praying that the Great Depression is history and better days are on the horizon.