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Ways to Cut the High Cost of Senior Housing

Ideas to avoid the steep prices of assisted living and memory care facilities


One of the most common complaints about senior housing is this: it’s too $%&! expensive. Depending on the community, and the types of amenities and services offered, residents of assisted living and memory care facilities, for example, can pay $6,000 per month or more to live there.

This can, of course, be a huge burden to aging Americans and their families. And it’s the reason so many are starting to ask an important question: Why? And the related question: Is there any way to pay less? Turns out, there are more choices than you might realize.

Doing the Math

To help piece together why senior housing is so expensive, here’s a simple example comparing the average monthly cost of living in Philadelphia and the average cost of assisted living in Philadelphia. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is about how much you’d spend:

Credit: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
As you can see, while the average monthly cost of living in Philly is just over $3,200, the average cost of assisted living there is over $3,400. In fairness, senior housing often includes access to a variety of amenities and 24/7 care staff who can help with household maintenance and health issues. It’s also important to remember senior living facility costs such as onsite medical equipment, construction, marketing, technology, insurance and sales agents.

Many potential costs to live in an assisted living or memory care facility, however are optional and can be avoided — with a little bit of elbow grease and a commitment to personal values.

Cutting Senior Housing Costs — Not Quality of Care

The key is determining which services you or your parents are willing to pay for.

The following are a few ways to cut expenses associated with senior care without cutting into the things you truly value for those you love.

Know the sector. We generally think of large assisted living and memory care communities when we think about senior housing. But more affordable options are available, too, including apartments and co-op housing. These offer a more modest ,but comfortable, lifestyle among peers of similar age.

Yes, senior apartments may lack the large grounds and amenities that grander communities offer. But they also lack the same monthly costs associated with maintaining those conveniences.

Read the fine print. Many senior housing providers charge a base monthly fee, with additional fees for “extra” services that residents need or want. These services can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per month, depending on the care tier.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with exactly what is included in a facility’s base fee, and what is not. Be careful: Just because one community has a lower base fee, that doesn’t mean it will be the most economical facility overall, once total care service fees are added.

Determine what really matters. Many senior housing operators spend a lot to provide upscale amenities — features your loved one might not need. Is access to an onsite salon essential? A fancy restaurant? If not, consider going with a community that has the a la carte option to choose fewer amenities and smaller monthly fees.

In the end, the most important services in a senior housing facility are ones relating physical and emotional health.

Investigate the outskirts. Just as apartment rents are higher in the central, crowded urban areas, so are senior housing costs. For instance, in Southern California, the cost of an assisted living community in Santa Monica may differ from one in nearby San Pedro or Inglewood by up to nearly $1,000 per month. If possible, look into facilities that are less expensive because they are further out, in secondary and tertiary suburban locations.

Consider shared housing without requiring a move. If your parent is currently happy where he or she is living, perhaps sharing the home with a friend of a similar age is worth exploring. This can not only save money, but might help avoid one of the most devastating issues facing older Americans today: isolation.

By Jess Stonefield
Jess Stonefield is a contributing writer on aging, technology, mental health and the greater longevity economy for publications such as Changing Aging, The Mighty and Next Avenue. She is passionate about impact investing and the greater concept of "equitable equity" — spreading wealth to all levels of our society. She is a communications expert for Senior Living Fund.

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