Part 30: Small Expenses Impact Senior Lifestyles

Yum! A delicious scoop of ice cream or yogurt on a sunny day in Santa Monica. Fellow residents at my retirement community Holiday Villa East (HVE) enjoy social outings to nearby ice cream parlors, restaurants, movie theaters, museums and shopping malls. A converted school bus driven by Activities Director Brenda Morales provides transportation. The cost of food, admission ticket or purchase is the responsibility of the resident.

The monthly charges at senior living communities generally include rent, meals, housekeeping, planned activities and other amenities. However, personal items like toothpaste are usually not provided. Depending upon the resident’s mental and physical health and financial situation, funds may be controlled by the individual, family, legal guardian or trust fund manager. Bills, such rent, are paid by the individual in charge of the resident’s finances.

Herein lies the unexpected issue I’ve identified while living at HVE: Some residents have little or no discretionary money to spend on items and activities that enhance their quality of life. Recently, a resident I’ll name Louis, woke with a sore throat. The activity director was taking a group of residents to a nearby pharmacy. Louis mentioned to me at lunch that he had a scratchy throat.

Embarrassed, he commented that he had no money—as in not one penny. I suggested that he mention his lack of cash to the activity director. He declined. He also refused to call a family member or his money manager. Louis skipped the social outing and went without cough drops—despite having adequate funds available if he had reached out for them.

Little Things Mean A Lot

Louis and his cough drop incident, and so many like it, triggered my interest in sharing this serious concern. The following is a list of common, low-cost senior living items that my residents and I use on a daily basis, and many products are purchased on outings to the 99-Cents Store.

  • misplaced non-prescription sunglasses
  • misplaced and worn out batteries for hearing aids and other devices
  • snacks such as peanut butter, crackers, and fresh fruit
  • favorite condiments such as mustard and salad dressings
  • soft drinks, coffee, tea, and bottled water
  • first aid supplies like band aids and antibiotic ointments
  • cold supplies like cough drops and tissues
  • stamps, envelopes and writing supplies
  • haircuts, nail trims, and personal grooming
  • Online shopping for small items like warm socks, scarves, straw hats, clothing required as weather and wardrobe needs change
  • food and personal care for pets

And there are other reasons why we need cash on hand.

  • bingo (50 cents required to play for small cash winnings)
  • shopping that brings smiles, such as small birthday or seasonal gifts for family, friends or self.
  • unexpected outings to restaurants, movies, malls and activities
  • ordering take-out of favorite foods not served by the dining room

Short of the activity director, management and me purchasing these items for residents, what realistically can help residents in need of petty cash? I offer the following two solutions:

  • The resident and one trusted individual know the location in the unit of a small, pre-determined amount of cash with agreement on how this cash be spent.
  •  Resident and money manager, with input from activity director or management, determine the monthly estimated discretionary cash needed. These funds would be kept in a community safe or secure location with an updated accounting of funds. Residents may ask for release of this money as needed. If the resident is unable to manage cash, checks, or credit cards, the activity director or staff member may assist.

Every senior’s financial situation and ability to manage money varies. However, with awareness of these unexpected, unplanned and un-budgeted expenses, residents of senior living communities will not face the embarrassment, frustration and, in some cases, deprivation that accompanies a lack of discretionary cash on hand. Within this framework, my friend Louis and other seniors will maintain control of their daily living, which is a big component of happy and successful senior living.

In June, Joan’s Journey salutes our United States veterans. At HVE, one World War II survivor proudly shares his story of the June 6, 1944, D-Day: Battle of Normandy. In recognition of Memorial Day, The Battle of Normandy, and July 4, and I look forward to sharing Marty’s Memories. Until then, enjoy the journey day by day.

Joan London is a freelance medical and social service writer who specializes in topics on aging. London moved from Maryland to California to enjoy life in a senior living community and enhance her quality of life by living closer to her children and grandchildren.

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