"I walked six miles to school every morning, sometimes in six-inches of snow," is usually how some old-timers begin to tell a story about themselves. Some of them might be exaggerating a bit, but they were, and still consider themselves to be, tough people here in the hills of Arkansas.
Some of them grew up in the Great Depression Era and know what it's like to have to cut back on things that are unnecessary.
Today, with the recession the way it is, some older people are reverting back to that Depression Era mentality and cutting corners that could potentially be life threatening.
"The elderly in our area come from a very proud people," Shanna McGuffey, regional manager of the White River Area Agency on Aging, said, refering to the elderly who have lived through hard times before. "Like always, if they're on a fixed income, they are having to watch everything closely."
McGuffey said there are some elderly people who cut back on the necessities such as food, medicine and toiletries. She said they don't view these items as being priorities during a recession. "What is provided for is what they owe other people," McGuffey said.
McGuffey also said heating costs are going up and it's hard for many of the elderly living on a fixed income or drawing from SSI, which is about $600 per month. She said after one takes away the cost of food and medications, there's not much leftover for clothes or utilities.
McGuffey said there are many people who qualify for a Medicare Savings Plan, which can help with the cost of medications. They would need to call the agency to find out if they qualify. "It's these people who fall through the cracks that really break my heart," McGuffey said.
There are many senior care organizations that recommend caretakers and the senior's family watch for signs that might indicate that their senior is cutting back too much.
The Home Instead Senior Care and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging give 10 warning signs that a senior might be cutting corners on the www.homeinstead.com Web site. These signs are:
1. Is your senior's home too warm in the summer and too cold in the winter?
2. Is the lawn not getting mowed nor is the sidewalk getting cleaned in inclement weather?
3. Is your loved one complaining about not being able to afford medications?
4. Are home repairs not getting made?
5. Is there a shortage of food in the house?
6. Is your senior skipping doctor's appointments?
7. Is your older adult staying home more and becoming isolated?
8. Is your senior cutting out entertainment?
9. Does your loved one eat out less?
10. Did your senior cancel a vacation?
Though it might be dangerous for seniors to cut costs in critical areas, there are still some ways they can save money in a safe manner. The same Web site provides another list of cost-cutting ideas for seniors.
1. Seek the services of an objective financial planner. Sheryl Garrett, CFP, founder of the Garrett Planning Network, said it's important for seniors to seek the advice of an objective fiduciary. The Garrett Planning Network (www.garrettplanningnetwork.com) features experts throughout the country who offer their advice on a fee-only basis.
2. Get a second opinion on investments and financial purchases. If you're approached about changing your investments or making a purchase, make sure you get another opinion.
3. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging if you're having trouble paying for food and gas. For more information or an office near you, log on to National Association of Area Agencies on Aging at www.n4a.org.
4. Get back to gardening. The economic downturn is generating a resurgence in gardening and the over 55 crowd traditionally has been among the most avid gardeners. The national seed and plant company, Burpee, has experienced unprecedented 40 percent growth this year, double its normal rate, according to CEO George Ball. With food costs up as much as 25 percent in places, gardening provides a 1 to 10 savings ratio, according to Ball. "In other words, for every $100 you spend on garden plants, you'll get $1,000 in produce. While $100 in groceries may last for only a couple of weeks, a senior can eat for six months on the produce from $100 in plants," Ball said.
5. Avoid convenience foods, which are more expensive. Watch for sales on fresh or canned fruits, vegetables and meats, which will be less expensive than convenience foods and better for you.
6. Look for deals on generic medications. Contact your pharmacist about ways to save money on your medications.
7. Walk when you can. If gas prices are cutting into your social life, organize a walking club or walk with friends.
8. Carpool when you can't walk. There's economy in numbers. If you can't afford to drive somewhere solo or in pairs, contact others you know going in the same direction or the same place and share costs.
9. Keep drapes drawn during the heat of the day (in summer) and minimize opening and closing doors in the cold of winter. Close off parts of the house you're not using to cut down on utility costs.
10. Garrett says that the ability of seniors to live at home helps cut costs as well. If you or a loved one needs assistance around the house, contact Home Instead Senior Care or visit the company's Web site at www.homeinstead.com.
McGuffey said there are seniors who during their younger days worked for a long time and did good things for the communities they lived in. Her message to them is, "Let us help you," she said. "Our goal is to direct people to where they need help. We are a resource guide for (the elderly)."
The White River Area Agency on Aging has offices in Salem and Ash Flat. The Salem office can be reached at 895-4034 and the Ash Flat office at 994-3090. A toll free number is also available at 877-855-2206.