Sometimes you need to spend money to save money

Keeping Elderly Parents Safe

by Rick Kahler

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Want to increase your independence in retirement? Save money? Live safely in your own home? Then buy a new car.

No, this isn't a scam or a seedy sales pitch. In certain cases, a new car can be a wise use of your retirement dollars.

As regular readers know, I'm a big fan of frugality. Spending less than you earn is a crucial strategy for building wealth. Continuing this frugal lifestyle in retirement can also be a good way to be sure of having enough money to last for the rest of your life.

Some retirees, though, take it too far. Underspending can be a threat to retirement as much as overspending, especially when it affects your comfort and safety.

As more of my retired clients move into their later years, I am becoming increasingly aware of one kind of retirement spending that can actually be considered more of an investment than an expense. This, for elderly people or adult children caring for elderly parents, is spending money to make their homes and activities safer.

One immediate benefit of this kind of spending is being able to live more comfortably and with less anxiety. A second benefit is financial. Helping elderly parents stay in their homes and live independently for as long as possible can save money in the long term by reducing medical costs and long-term care expenses. It's especially important to invest in this type of spending if you live too far away from your parents to provide regular help yourself.

Some of the ways to invest relatively small amounts to provide more comfort, safety, and independence for elderly parents are obvious. Carpet slick tile or hardwood floors to reduce the risk of falls. Upgrade older appliances to newer ones with safety features like automatic shutoffs or warning signals. Add basic safety aids like stair railings and shower bars. Repair hazards like worn carpets, uneven steps, or broken sidewalks. Provide emergency alert buttons. Install phones in several rooms.

Some less obvious ways to foster safety and extend independent living might require a bit more spending. Such expenditures can be a good use of retirement income if they extend parents' ability to live independently. Here are a few possibilities to consider:

  1. Buy that new car. Safety features like GPS navigation systems and backup cameras can allow elderly people to hold onto their drivers' licenses longer without putting themselves or others at risk.

  2. Pay for gym memberships or exercise classes. Increasing strength, balance, and flexibility can help prevent falls and possibly even help stave off dementia.

  3. Take care of ears and eyes. Hearing aids and corrective lenses may not be cheap, but good hearing and eyesight can help people drive more safely, avoid falls, and take care of themselves and their homes.

  4. Will you leave
    thousands of dollars on the table
    by taking Social Security
    at the wrong time? Find out.

  5. Remodel. Moving the laundry room to the main floor or replacing bathtubs with walk-in showers can make homes safer and more comfortable.

  6. Hire help. Many of us equate in-home help for the elderly with home health care. Certainly, hiring aides to help with cooking, bathing, and other needs as people become frail is an important option. But well before that time, it makes sense to get help with a host of other services that become harder or even dangerous to do as we grow older. Hire a house cleaner. Find someone to do yard work, home maintenance, and heavy cleaning jobs (especially if they involve ladders) like window washing.

Spending that creates safety belongs in any retirement budget. It's a good way to use your financial independence to help maintain your physical and mental independence.

Rick Kahler

Rick Kahler, MSFP, ChFC, CFP, is a fee-only financial planner and author. Find more information at Contact him at or 343-1400, ext. 111.

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