For seniors trying to make their savings stretch, spending on home repairs or new appliances can cause a lot of anxiety. Many are concerned, sometimes rightfully, about whether they will outlive their money.
But I’ve discovered other aging retirees—even those with an ample nest egg—who are simply too conservative when it comes to their finances, and as a result they do not make relatively small improvements or purchases that could have a tremendous impact on their quality of life. In these cases, just because “it ain’t completely broke” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fix it.
Take, for example, my parents and the case of the temperamental oven and the troublesome toilet.
On a recent trip to the East Coast, I visited them for a few days. One night as I was making meat loaf, my mother gave me instructions for her oven.
“Turn the temperature gauge up 75 degrees more than you need to and watch the oven thermometer to see when it reaches the correct temperature. After you open the door to put the meat loaf in, turn the temperature up again as the oven will have dropped 50 degrees,” she tells me.
“How long has this been going on?” I ask.
“About a year now,” she says.
“Yikes,” I reply. “Don’t you use the oven almost every day?”
Later that night I was watching my mother helping my father on the toilet. He has Parkinson’s, and I could see her struggling.
The toilet has a special attachment to give the seat extra height.
My mother uses the toilet not only for bathroom breaks but as a landing spot for my father as she washes and shaves him and brushes his teeth. In short, that toilet gets a lot of use. But as my father has become less mobile, his weight has increased and the special toilet attachment is just too small.
“ Have you ever thought about a new toilet, Mom?” I ask, sounding like an advertisement as I explain the different options that might make things easier.
Now I’ve got my mom thinking. I look up new toilets on my mother’s iPad and show them to her. And while we’re at it, we look up stoves and local appliance shops.
I can see the wheels in my mother’s head turning as she weighs the costs versus her current inconvenience. I know she’s thinking that maybe she can get another year or two out of what she has.
I still have two days left on my visit, so we call over my parents’ neighbor Dee, who’s a one-woman Angie’s List. Dee sings the praises of the new comfort-height elongated toilets she had installed a few months ago.
After we discuss all of her options (comfort height, elongated bowl, 360-degree water flow, etc.), my mother is sold.
We also make a list of the specifications for her new stove (gas, self-cleaning, lighterweight dishwasher-safe burner grates, etc.).
Before I leave she’s made arrangements to use her next respite day from my dad to go shopping.
Think of this as a reminder to talk to your aging parents about their fixtures and appliances. You may find that they’ve been holding off on making a new purchase or repair just to save a few bucks. Remind them they can’t put a price tag on peace of mind and that even small improvements, if affordable, can make a huge difference.