by Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA
Q: My wife died a few years ago, so I have been living at home alone. I still drive and can take care of the house and myself, but I have outlived my savings, and I am on a fixed income now. There is a lot of work that needs to be done on my house, and I don’t have the money to make the needed repairs. My friends have suggested that it is time to make a move to a more manageable situation. What do you think?
A: Many people are finding that they are living longer than they planned for financially. The expense and upkeep of a home can start to become a burden when you are trying to make ends meet. There are several things to consider in deciding if it might be time to make a change. If you have a financial adviser that you work with, he or she can help you look at income and expenses to make projections for how long your resources may last. You will also want to talk to your attorney about how your decision fits into your overall estate plan. These professionals will have information and advice relevant to your decision.
As a care manager, I often help clients outline the pros and cons of a potential move and identify the questions to consider in making a plan. If you do the homework to make an informed decision and write out each step necessary to make a move, the task will not seem so daunting. There are real estate agents and transition specialists who offer services to help implement a move, so don’t feel like you have to do this by yourself. Even on a fixed budget, with careful planning you can get the help needed to be successful and reduce the stress a move can bring.
Grab a legal pad or your laptop, and get ready to start making some lists. Yes, it is a lot of work, but it’s good information that can help you make the best decision.
- Income Sources: A great place to start is determining your budget. Identify all sources of income that are available to you on a monthly basis. This is helpful in determining what you can afford in a new home. It will also be needed to know if you meet certain income requirements for assistance programs, which may come into play in the future when you need more assistance with care.
- Expenses: Next, make a list of your fixed expenses, things that you pay each month that are essential and don’t typically fluctuate. List your debt, including credit card bills, time shares, mortgage, etc. Last, make a list of optional expenses: things you could live without if necessary.
- Living Options: You sound open to downsizing and moving to a setting that would be less expensive and easier to manage. That attitude is a great way to approach this transition. Identify independent living options in your area. You can do some research online, or ask your local department of aging for a list. A care manager can also help walk you through options. You have identified your income so as you are exploring, ask for a rate sheet and about any other community fees or deposits. Keep in mind that many independent living communities offer amenities. Some communities provide meals, housekeeping, transportation and activities. If these are included in your monthly rent, they will help keep your cost manageable and alleviate some of the bills you are currently paying at home. If you are looking at an option that offers meals, take a tour and have a meal. Check out the food and visit with the residents. The options may seem overwhelming at first, so take notes each time you have a conversation. Consider taking someone with you, so you have two sets of eyes and ears. You will find options to buy or rent at some communities. You will find some that are free-standing and others that are part of a larger continuum of care. The more you learn, the easier it will be to see where you see yourself fitting in and determining what is practical based on your financial situation.
- Revisit Your Lists. Work on a list of pros and cons and cross any off the list that won’t work for you. One of the advantages to a more “manageable situation” is less maintenance, less worry and more opportunity for socialization. Remember that while your living space may be smaller than what you are used to, buildings typically have common areas you can use, like libraries, theaters, game rooms and lounges. Think of these as your expanded living space.
As you go through these steps and decision-making process, you want to feel confident in your final decision before committing to a purchase or rental agreement. Have your attorney review the agreement if you are unsure about some of the language.
If you decide to commit, set a realistic time line in place to make the move. Consider using a moving company. Get a quote so that you can plan for that expense.
If you have chosen an apartment or room you will be moving into, ask for a copy of the floorplans. Make a list of each room and what you plan to take with you. There may be things you need to purchase to fit the space. You are probably going to have to weed out some things. It is easiest to start with what you are taking and tag it. For what remains, family members may want some items, some may be donated and others you can sell.
There are companies that will take the items you no longer want and buy them from you or offer to hold an estate sale. As you are sorting, focus on the personal items; those are the things you will need to sort through and make decisions about. This is a great activity to tackle with a family member or close friend.
If and when you make the decision to downsize, you move into a new phase of planning. Again, there are professionals who can help, or you can manage on your own with the help of family and friends. Just keep telling yourself that once you get on the other side of the move, life will feel more manageable, you will have less upkeep and the opportunity to meet some new friends. Take a deep breath, and take one step at a time.
Readers may send questions to Natt, an Aging Life Care ProfessionalTM, certified senior advisor and CEO of Aging Outreach Services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.