Assisted living is an important nonmedical service for people who can no longer live on their own and may or may not have cognitive challenges. It’s offered in a home-like setting where you get help with the activities of daily living, such as bathing or dressing. And there’s a great social benefit as well. “The assisted living community provides a place to be with other people. There are usually several activities to join in. Because there are individual units, residents can also be as private as they want,” says Maryanne McGuire, executive director of Clover Hill Senior Living, an adult living facility in North Haledon, New Jersey.
But assisted living is pricey, and it’s not covered by Medicare. Monthly charges average about $3,600, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Some industry watchers, such as Genworth Financial, suggest it’s more like an average of $4,000 per month. And assisted living costs can hit $10,000 per month or more, depending on where you live and your level of care.
And there other ways to save money on assisted living costs as well.
Consider the Care Package
Assisted living costs come in packages. Some may be more cost-effective than others, depending on your needs.
— Bundles. Bundles are typically the most expensive plans at a facility because they are all-inclusive, with no hidden fees or additional costs. They offer room and board as well as unlimited types of care such as medication dispensing, 24-hour nurse availability, housekeeping and assistance with personal care. “This kind of plan is a good idea to keep your costs fixed, whether you need a lot of help now or might in the future. Without a bundled price, some communities can nickel and dime you at every turn,” says Suzanne Asaff Blankenship, an eldercare blogger and author. “Try to lock in the deal so the bundle doesn’t increase as your care goes up.”
— Tiers. Many assisted living facilities offer different tiers of care (such as room and board plus one, two or three hours of personal care per day), each with a different price. This may save you hundreds or thousands of dollars per month, as long as you don’t need additional care. “When you need care beyond your tier, the price increases. Make sure you ask how much more it would cost if your mom needs her medication to be crushed or if she has an incontinence accident,” says Shannon Connell, memory care director at White Oak Cottages at Fox Hill Village, an all-inclusive memory care assisted living facility in Westwood, Massachusetts.
— A la carte services. Some facilities allow you to select a low tier of care and pay only for additional services as you need them, which can also save hundreds of thousand of dollars per month. “If the only thing you really need is medication administration, you can save money with a la carte prices. But think carefully about which services you want; some places charge by the minute,” says Liz Barlowe, a certified aging life care manager and president of the Aging Life Care Association.
Get a Smaller Apartment
Assisted living facilities offer a variety of rooms or apartment layouts, from studios to multi-bedroom, some with better (and more expensive) views. Consider how much space — and what kind of view — is worth the price.
“Sometimes residents will get an apartment with an extra bedroom and bath to accommodate visitors. But often it’s cheaper for the visitors to stay at a reasonable hotel for the 25 to 50 days of the year the resident will have visitors. We moved a sleeper sofa to my mother’s assisted living apartment. This was sufficient in most instances,” notes Carol B. Amos, an Alzheimer’s care advocate and author.
[READ: Assisted Living Checklist.]
Consider a Smaller Facility
Instead of a large, 100-bed assisted living facility, which may have a hotel or apartment building feel, it may be cheaper to go to a “small home” model of assisted living. It looks and feels more like your own house and provides a sense of family.
One type of small assisted living facility is a licensed family care home, an actual house located in a residential area. Family care homes provide all of the same services as a large assisted living facility, but they typically have only a few residents living there. A house manager may also live there.
Another kind of small assisted living facility is designed to look and feel like a big house with about 10 bedrooms and large common areas. Staffers don’t live there but help manage the home. This is the type of facility McGuire manages. What are the savings? “A person needing no care pays $5,600 for our most expensive suite, whereas in a large ALF the cost is generally around $6,500 for their smallest suite,” McGuire says. “The average cost in a large ALF for a person needing a lot of care would be approximately $10,000, but the same care here would be approximately $8,000.”
There are many other ways to save money on assisted living costs. Consider:
— Sharing your space. This could mean sharing a room or having a private bedroom in a companion suite that shares a bathroom, and it can lead to savings of hundreds of dollars a month, Barlowe notes.
— Avoiding the busy season. “Rates go down in the off-season of summer in Florida. If you can put off moving to a facility until then, you could save hundreds of dollars per month,” Barlowe says.
— Creating your own a la carte care. It may be cheaper to live in the lowest tier of assisted living and hiring private duty care workers for $20 to $25 per hour to come by and provide the services you need, as long as the facility will allow it.
— Speaking directly with the administrator, not just the facility’s marketing representative. “The administrator is more inclined to listen to your story and change the deal,” Barlowe says.
— Moving to another state or town. Assisted living costs in large cities and metropolitan areas are typically more expensive than they are in smaller towns or rural areas.
— Negotiating the price. Like any deal, “assisted living facilities might be inclined to give you a deal if they know you’re close to signing with a competitor or if they have a lot of vacancies,” Barlowe says. “Ask them to waive the community fee to entice you to sign on the dotted line. It’s often a savings of thousands of dollars.”
But a word of caution as you try to trim the bottom line on assisted living costs: “If there’s a service you really need, don’t skimp. If you do, you may have a medication mix-up or not receive as much attention as you need,” Barlowe says, “and things can go south very quickly.”
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