The Costs of Living Longer: Retiring Frugally vs. Finding Love

Planning for a comfortable retirement takes foresight, a lifetime of saving money and little familial luck. But planning for love? That might cost you.

As a widow, Goldie Linder, 92, lives in her own studio apartment, a choice that honors her desire for independence and is affordable with subsidized rent. She admits she feels lonely sometimes, but love stories from the library keep her company.

Leon Zerolnick, 93, (above, right) moved into a well-appointed senior home in Wayne, N.J., last summer. Within weeks he found a real life love story with Ellie Green, 86 (left). The two have been inseparable ever since.

Making Decisions: Live Alone or in a Home?

Whether or not you age actively and happily often comes down to where you live, and that's based on a matrix of financial, physical and emotional decisions. And while you can't control whether or not you find love, spending more -- sometimes a lot more -- to move into a socially stimulating senior-living environment could be the difference between aging gracefully alone or finding a new partner for the final years of life.

The financial issues are significant: The median national cost for assisted living is almost $40,000 a year, while home care -- a far smaller financial drain -- costs an average of $18 an hour in addition to one's regular housing costs, according to a 2011 survey by Genworth Financial (GWF). Single-occupancy rooms at a nursing home cost more than $77,000 a year. Other cost comparisons found at Caregiverslist.com price assisted living at $4,000 a month to start, with home care options ranging from $15 to $25 per hour.

But even tougher are the emotional issues that no one wants to talk about, like serious illness, dying and death. Elder-care experts agree that too often, care decisions are typically left until there is an emergency, such as debilitating fall or other medical emergency.

"The majority of American families will face [the need for long-term services], but no one wants to talk about it," says Larry Minnix, president of nonprofit advocacy group LeadingAge.

The age wave that began this year -- 8,000 people a day are turning 65 in the United States, according to Census Bureau data -- means that more seniors and their families are starting that conversation. By looking at the generation ahead of them -- the Leons and the Goldies -- they get a glimpse of the costs and benefits of different senior lifestyle decisions.

In Leon's case, he and his family had to make a snap decision after a terrible fire last July destroyed the condominium where the widower had lived independently. It was necessary to clear both the emotional and financial hurdles before Leon's move to the Emeritus senior living home, his daughter Elaine Schlossberg says. But for him, finding companionship has made the change worth it.

If the stigma of a group senior home is that care is too institutionalized and expensive, the knock on living independently is that it's too isolating. Goldie's family helped her to find a subsidized apartment that satisfied her need for independence while offering enough social outlets, like a nearby senior center, to keep her occupied. Her home caregiver, Ida, 83 herself, comes five times a week to help with chores.

Relying on Family, Managing Care Givers

Yet for many families, it is ultimately the physical condition of a senior that makes either assisted living or independent living impractical. And the alternative -- a nursing home -- often doesn't have the right feel or price tag, leaving much of the caregiving to family members and hired aides. The AARP estimates that in 2009, 42.1 million family caregivers provided elder care every day. The value of their unpaid work: $450 billion.

Ellen Loewy, 55, and her husband are taking care of her 84-year-old father in their home in Hicksville, N.Y. Her father's fading memory -- and her close relationship with him -- made home care the only option she'd consider, says Ellen, although she admits a break would be nice.

Respite comes from a local caregiver franchise. Ellen says the costs for hiring a home caregiver are around $2,500 to $3,000 a month for her father. Currently, she's trying to match her schedule with his caregivers so she and her husband can take a weeklong vacation in December.

Managing schedules and caregivers -- and paying the associated bills -- is like managing a small corporation, says Terri Corcoran, 60, who lives with her aging, bed-bound husband, in Falls Church, Va.

She says last year she spent $78,000 on home care alone, and finding the right aides has been an ordeal. No-shows, bad personal hygiene, and poor personality fits with caregivers been a challenge for Terri, and she says it has taken several years to find any consistency. But despite it all, Terry says she would never send him to a nursing home.

"We have a nursing home in our backyard and it's more expensive," she says, "He can't speak for himself at all and he wouldn't get the attention [he needs]. A lot of people I know hire [additional home care] aides to go to the nursing home."

Planning Ahead, Finding a New Life

Lee Refzam, 79, has been on both sides of the debate: Until this year, she lived independently in an apartment in Raleigh, N.C. After she took a tumble that compromised her mobility, she had to face up to the reality that she needed help. Her daughter, Jayne, lobbied for Lee to move to Seattle, where she lived, and into a senior living home.

Lee recalls being hesitant to lose her independence, move to a new a city and leave her old life behind. But five days after arriving she met Doug, 74, and within a few months, they got married. And they are not the only ones. Lee's voice lights up when she talks about all the new couples that have formed at the senior living home.

"We have become a close knit family, and some of them have gotten married," she says. "None of them will ever have a baby!"

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29 Comments

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JasonKnighte

That is interesting, I wander what it will be like by the time that I am getting ready for retirement, and then what I will do when I am in my 90's. It will be interesting to see for sure.

Jason.
http://tlchhcidaho.com/in-home-care

January 08 2014 at 8:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chelsea

Home care is exploding, based on the number of employers hiring on http://www.mycnajobs.com. Why? Because home care can provide seniors with the personal attention they need while being more cost-effective than other options.

January 28 2013 at 3:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
intelligenceforrent

http://www.intelligenceforrent.com/

November 07 2011 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lawrence G

everybody should try and move to a 3 world country. Like Ecuador. the cost of living is real cheap. homes are very inexpensive. health care is 1/3 the cost of the USA. property taxes are cheap. light,water and gas, cheap. you can live there for about 900 dollares a month. find out for your selfs.....expatexchange.com you will thank me later.

October 28 2011 at 1:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Lawrence G's comment
savemycountry911

or just stay here and wait for the USA to become third world.

October 28 2011 at 8:57 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Sonja Dunbar

If there is anyone reading this that is or has a relative that is the widow of a WWII veteran, there is substantial money available if they are in assisted living or a nursing home. My aunt is getting $1600/mo. due to her husband's service in the Pacific in WWII. I happened to hear about this on a local TV station, told my cousin, he persued it, and could not believe what a well kept secret this is because it could make all the difference in the world if someone might be able to afford to go into assisted living. Now between my aunt's social security and this it pays the entire cost for her in assisted living in a small town - maybe not in a big city. But, that's A LOT of money that most people don't know about! I don't know if it holds true for the Korean War or not.

October 27 2011 at 8:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sonja Dunbar's comment
alycemd

This is important, because Medicare doesn't pay for assistive living or nursing home care.

October 27 2011 at 10:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
MarilynRedPepper

I don't understand why it is being said that we live longer these days. These days as compared to the Middle Ages maybe? I just completed the ancestry trees for 4 different families and again my own. Barring disease and accidental death, people are living just as long as they always have and my research took me as far back in time as the 1400's.

October 27 2011 at 6:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to MarilynRedPepper's comment
alycemd

When you're saying barring disease and accidental death, what kind of death are you talking about? "Old age"?

October 27 2011 at 10:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Franrobinson66

This is all very nice, BUT -- independent living communities cost at least $2000/month. Assisted living costs more and sometimes much more. Secondly, adult children are generally unwilling or unable to supplement a parent's income. Thirdly, the majority of married and single senior citizens in The US are living on much less than $2000/month. So who can afford an independent living situation or a caregiver to come in and help with the chores? Could hte news media please get real?!

October 27 2011 at 3:07 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
tomgold125

With Obama bankrupting the country, you've got to be careful. With the government a deciding factor along
with the family on how the care is decided. Obamcare and death panels!

October 27 2011 at 1:32 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to tomgold125's comment
Mitch

We already have death panels. They are called "Insurance Companies."

October 27 2011 at 2:21 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Mitch's comment
dabrownman

You can sue insurance companies for denial of care. Obama will imprison you for that. There are no legal remidies for Marxists posing as Socialist and their death panels killing whoever they want, when ever tthey want because It costs too much, you are too old or not a Marxist yourself.

October 27 2011 at 6:43 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down
savemycountry911

My Blue Cross and Blue Shield is great.

October 28 2011 at 8:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
alycemd

Sarah Palin fan?

October 27 2011 at 10:54 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
dabrownman

Better to get a dog who will give you unconditional love - always while costing you way less than anyone who says they love you.

October 27 2011 at 11:11 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dabrownman's comment
bcheerful3

Agreed, but unfortunately we outlive our dogs.

October 28 2011 at 12:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Micki

People need people. Connections to others has been shown to be one of the most significant factors to successful aging. Whether it be in a senior residence, a senior center, or from home, via the telephone, participating in a party line educational course, combating isolation has to be a priority.

Miriam Zucker, LMSW
Directins in Aging
www.directionsinaging.com

October 27 2011 at 11:02 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Micki's comment
dabrownman

Now old folks really feel isolated and victimized by supposed professional folks who try to stiick their noses into their business where your nose doesn't belong, They have forgotten more about love, people and connection to them than most experts will ever know.

October 27 2011 at 12:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply