So the dog and I are trotting along our appointed rounds early this morning. The route is now up to about two miles, and I’m figuring (smugly) that if we can keep up this brisk stroll every single day from now into the foreseeable future, I should be able to stay healthy enough to remain in my home until I croak over. That is: to dodge having to move into one of those old-folks’ warehouses.
It’s not that those places are SO bad. They’re not. I guess. It’s just not a lifestyle I would choose.
To start with, they’re apartments.
I hate apartment living. Very few things do I dislike more than living right on top (often literally!) of my neighbors. And I’ve lived in a whole lot of apartments over the years. Some were nice places. But they all were…apartments: crowded, noisy, and faceless.
To end with, they’re custodial. I do not want someone taking me by the hand and guiding me through what remains of my life, thankyouverymuch — any day I’d rather reside in the next world.
And in between? It’s institutional living, fraught with rules that you must obey and unspoken customs that you flout at your peril.
Where my father lived — a life-care community run by the Baptist church — residents were required to show up at one of the two daily meals, breakfast or the mid-day “big meal,” so that staff could keep tabs on them. What did the chow line serve up? Right: restaurant food, and not very good restaurant food at that. Processed steam-table gunk that came out of cans and packages.
And what did I have for lunch today? Four big sea scallops sautéed in garlic and olive oil, zinged with a squirt of fresh Meyer lemon from the backyard tree and served up with Italian pasta (grain grown in Italy), fresh chard, and Italian tomatoes, topped with Parmesan. With a side of red wine. I can guarantee you: no one got that today at the place where my friends have moved in. And the food there is a whole lot better than what they served up at the palace my father lived in.
I really dislike restaurant food. The more I cook for myself, the less I like assembly-line chow. And I certainly don’t want to be trapped in a place where I have little or no choice but to eat that stuff. Newer retirement homes in this vein have better kitchens than the one where my father and his wife lived — there, they had a counter with a sink and an under-the-counter beverage fridge, the sort of thing you see in motels. My friends at the Beatitudes have a full kitchen — small, with no room for a freestanding freezer, but still it has a real refrigerator, a microwave, a stove with an oven, and a dishwasher. So in theory (if you didn’t mind running to the grocery store every time you turn around), you could fix most or all of your meals in your apartment.
But I believe you’re required to purchase a certain number of meals, even though you’re not required to show up at any of the three eateries. If you don’t eat them, you still get charged. And they’re pretty expensive, certainly compared to what it costs to make a (much better) meal yourself.
Hm. I love my home and my yard and my pool (my being a highly operative term) and I surely don’t want to find myself in a rabbit warren for old folks. So the question is…how long can you hold off having to move into one of those places? Indeed, can you hold out until the very end?
Unclear. It would depend on what happens to you…what health problems do you encounter, and to what degree are they disabling? Even if you manage to hang onto your marbles, taking care of a house, buying food, getting to stores and church and doctors can be quite a challenge in advanced old age.
My friends are in their 90s and both have some uncomfortable health issues. Mrs. Friend worries about falls — Mr. F had fallen three times before she talked him into moving into the Beatitudes, and once she needed the help of a neighbor to get him back on his feet. In that case, the move begins to look reasonable. Especially if you’re in your 90s: you don’t have that many years to have to put up with living in an environment that…shall we say, you don’t love.
My father, however, was much younger — about 67 — and he explicitly stated that he didn’t want to have to take care of a house and yard. And also, of course, he was concerned about how he would care for himself, alone, as he advanced into old age. I suspect that was a major concern, aloneness: having gone to sea all his life, he had never lived alone. He always lived in a kind of institution: onboard ships. Or in a marriage. I, however, have lived alone most of my adult life. And the truth is, I much prefer to live alone.
Why couldn’t he simply have sold the house and rented an apartment? Voilà: maintenance problems erased.
As for taking care of yourself as you get older and feebler…jayzus! Surely there must be ways to handle these issues.
In the first place, my house is very easy to take care of. With no lawn, all that’s needed to maintain the exterior is a guy to come once a month, spray the weeds, blower up stray leaves, and rake the gravel. A good cleaning lady can keep the interior under control by coming in once every two weeks. The pool can be maintained adequately by a pool service.
Those services represent a tiny fraction of what one of those life-care communities costs. The amount my friends paid to move in there…holy mackerel! She told me they had to use the entire proceeds of the sale of their house right off North Central(!) to cover the move-in charges. And the cost of keeping the two of them in a two-bedroom apartment (the second bedroom is more like an alcove, IMHO) is something like 7 grand. A month.
I budget about $3,500 a month to cover all costs: food, medical, insurance, taxes, transportation, housing, utilities, and on and endlessly on. But in fact, I usually don’t spend that much.
For $7,000 a month, you could buy a hell of a lot of services. Not only people to maintain the shack, but ride-hailing to drive you around, grocery delivery, mountains of prepared foods that need only be heated in the microwave.
What, really, would you need to stay in a house like this until you croaked over?
- An iPhone or similar smartphone that you could carry around in a pocket to call for help if need be.
- Possibly a smart speaker that would dial 911 if you hollered at it.
- Household cleaning help
- Yard care help
- Pool maintenance help
- Someone to help with errands and tasks that are beyond your physical ability, and to keep an eye on you to be sure you’re all right on a day-to-day basis
- Someone to run interference for you when the inevitable little crises come up
Okay. Think about that. And about how that would compare, cost-wise…
- You need the phone anyway. If you canceled the land line, the cost would be nothing out of the ordinary. A smart speaker is a one-time hit, assuming you keep your wireless service for your computer.
- The Beatitudes requires the inmates to wear one of those call buttons around their necks, everywhere they go. You can hire a service that provides those things, if you want to wear a leash around your neck all the time. At some point, that might be a wise thing to do.
- A housecleaner: Even to have her come in once a week would be as nothing compared to what my friends are paying at the Beatitudes.
- Yard care: Ditto
- Pool care: very nominal
- Transportation: that’s a problem. You could use taxis and ride-hailing services, which would be expensive. But again: compared to $7,000 a month plus the entire net sale price of your home? You could hire a lot of taxis for that.
- Food: Been in a grocery store lately? They now have pre-assembled meals (not frozen TV dinners, but real food) that you can microwave or bake. And lots of restaurants in these parts deliver. Expensive? Yeah. But not compared to what it costs to live in one of those places.
- Human interaction and someone to keep an eye on you: another problem on the order of transportation. But there’s a group of volunteers in town who do exactly that: check in on old folks, be sure they’re OK, drive them around if need be. Plus the county has the largest community college system in the country, and healthcare training is among their many offerings. You could hire a student to help you with these issues. It would look good on the kid’s resumé and give the kid a chance to earn some spending or tuition money. And once again: this would be vastly cheaper than moving into a rabbit warren for old folks.
- Run interference with crises? Can you spell l-a-w-y-e-r?
I think I can afford all of those things. In fact, I think I can afford them a helluva lot better than I can afford to pony up all my assets to move into a place where I would be essentially trapped, like it or not.