Achieving an acceptable quality of life while aging during one’s senior years inevitably leads to the distinct possibility of invading and using one’s assets earned and accumulated over a lifetime of hard work.
Equally inevitable is the tremendous resistance to invading one’s assets as aging and some type of infirmity knock at life’s door. An ingrained culture of self-deprivation develops, bred by parsimony. The battle between parsimony and the attendant costs of aging creates unwanted and unneeded debilitating personal casualties.
Recently, I came across some sage advice about “economy” and “parsimony” written over two hundred years ago by Edmund Burke, the famous British statesman, orator and writer. In his Letter to a Noble Lord, he wrote:
“Mere parsimony is not economy. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part of true economy.
Economy is a distributive virtue, and consists not in saving but selection. Parsimony requires no providence, no sagacity, no powers of combination, no comparison, no judgment.”
We need to read, reread and contemplate Burke’s words. They offer wise counsel to aging seniors about the need to invade one’s hard earned assets if health care and long-term care needs arise. They are as applicable today, and perhaps even more so, as they were in the late eighteenth century. Of course, such acronyms as CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities), NORCs (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities), ADLs (Activities of Daily Living), IADLs (Instrumental Activities of Daily Living) and the GNP (Geriatric Nurse Practitioner) Functional Assessment were not yet in America’s lexicon, but Mr. Burke’s thoughts on “stinginess” and lack of judgment in spending are right on point when we confront the aging process.
We all know that the privilege of growing old comes with a constant demand for practical and emotional adjustment as disabilities relating to body and mind advance against each of us.
All of us need to confront the reality that one in two seniors 85 years and older can expect to spend an average of 1 ½ to 3 years in long-term care. Further, a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that people who reach 65 years have a 40% chance of needing long-term care as they grow older.
Further, as disabilities brought on by aging appear and advance against us, we need to recognize and accept the fact that costs for personal assistance and care in these matters is an inevitable expense for which we must plan. In 2004 we are aware that in addition to normal living expenses, senior home care costs can range from a few hundred dollars per month to thousands of dollars per month; that senior day care and day health costs can range from $1,000 to $2,500 per month; that basic assisted living costs can range from $2,500 to $4,000 per month; and, that basic long-term care costs can range from $4,500 to $7,000 per month.
So, what have we done to prepare for these possible eventualities in our old age?
Mr. Burke tells us that parsimony is not the answer! In fact, he writes that greater expense may indeed be an essential part of our true economy and needs. Of course, we are accustomed to paying only what we want to pay when we are healthy. We think in the short-term, and often times, in the long-term, that we can only afford to pay for living expenses and for personal care with our monthly social security payments, pension payments, dividends, and interest. And, woe unto any of us if we need to invade the principal monies from our “nest egg” and savings!
But today, there is no excuse for invoking a “parsimonious” excuse as we muster our assets. For each of us knows, that in achieving an acceptable quality level of living in our senior years, whether it be through an independent assisted living lifestyle, or through a lifestyle that requires long-term care, or special care for those of us who develop Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, the financial burden will be greater and, in some cases, much greater than what we want to expend as we travel an unknown path that requires continuous adjustment to the encroaching frailties and infirmities which inevitably come with growing older.
It is instructive to repeat Edmond Burke’s prescient words from two centuries ago:
“Economy . . . consists not in saving but selection.”
“Parsimony [on the other hand] requires no providence, no sagacity, no powers of combination, no comparison, no judgment.”
Indeed, parsimony is not the answer. In fact, knowledge, understanding and trust about successful aging, will lead us to more reasonable and appropriate economic selections and use of our assets during a long life, no matter where we lodge in the continuum of senior living.