Ask Our Residents: Is retirement living an affordable option?

Shirley Cook, age 84
At Chartwell Since 2014

Though Shirley has been living at her Chartwell retirement residence in Whitby for nearly two years, we first became acquainted with her via our Facebook page back in January. “I joined Facebook years ago, when it first became popular, because it was a way for me to stay connected with my grandkids,” she explains. “I began following Chartwell’s page when they first launched.” When Shirley happened upon one of our posts earlier this year, where a user had shared her opinion that a retirement lifestyle was too pricey, and seniors were better off staying in their homes, she decided to join the conversation:

“I would debate that. I live in a Chartwell home. My life is richer and I am more independent living here. I do not need to depend on family or friends for companionship or help. It is a matter of personal choice and I chose this life over one alone in an apt needing support. I am never alone and help is only a call bell away.”

As you can imagine, her comment caught our attention. Shirley also shared her thoughts on the benefits of retirement living, and even opened up about how she affords her seniors’ residence. We admired her honesty and initiative to discuss a matter that many people shy away from and decided to meet up with her to explore her views further. Here’s some of the insight she shared with us:

Q: Did you ever think you’d move into a retirement residence?

Shirley: No! I assumed it was too posh, and there was no way I had the funds for it. I also wanted my independence, and thought I couldn’t come and go as I pleased. It wasn’t until I ended up in the hospital with a bad back that my girls asked me if I would consider a respite stay at a retirement home. When I agreed, they heaved a big sigh of relief. And when my stay ended, I never left; I knew if I went back to my apartment I’d probably hurt my back again, and the doctor suggested as much. I had a family discussion with my son and daughters, and we all agreed the retirement community was my best option. Aside from continuing my recovery, they pointed out I wasn’t eating well, and I found I had begun to forget minor things like wet laundry and leaving the stove on. When you get older, these things begin to happen to you gradually, and you don’t even know it. So I needed some help with everyday chores and cooking too.

Q: What surprised you about retirement living?

Shirley: What surprised me was that I enjoyed it as much as I did, and still do, and how it freed me up to do the things I wanted to do. I’m such an independent person, but I discovered I liked being looked after. You get to know the staff well, and they make you feel cared for. So I didn’t expect that, and I never thought I could live in a suite versus a large apartment. It’s much easier than you think, and my kids were a big help during the downsize.

Q: What were your initial thoughts on your home’s monthly rental cost?

Shirley: I told myself I couldn’t afford it—definitely not. It was my kids who helped to change my mind. They were very good at saying to me, “You’ve got the money, use it.” I remember saying to my son at one point, “I want to keep my savings for when I’m older,” and he replied, “Mom, you’re already there—what are you saving for, if not this?” So today I use my pension and my savings to pay for my monthly rent, and I get back almost $2,000 in tax credits each year. What I didn’t realize initially was how little money you need beyond your rent. There are some people here who don’t spend anything beyond rent and cable. Everything except additional care is included—food, activities, housekeeping, laundry services—and anything I pay extra for is my choice, like the insurance for my car, internet and my cellphone.

Q: Since moving in, do you feel a retirement lifestyle has benefitted you?

Shirley: I was living in an apartment on my own before living here. I had to call an ambulance for myself three times. I was so frightened that I’d have another medical emergency that I was afraid to lock my door in case paramedics or neighbours couldn’t get in to help me. I felt vulnerable and lonely at times, even though my kids visited often. So yes, a retirement lifestyle has benefitted me. Honestly, if I still lived in my apartment, all my energy would be spent trying to survive. My daughter said I was thin as a bird before I moved in, and I’ve gained weight since. I get a variety of cooked meals here, and when I lived on my own, that’s an area where I skimped. I’ve made a lot of friends here, too, and someone is always checking up on me. There’s peace of mind to all of that—I don’t have any worries and I feel safe. I also have time to paint now.

Q: If you had any advice to others considering the value of a retirement lifestyle, what would you tell them?

Shirley: Add up everything it costs for you to live—gas, groceries, how often you eat out—and you’ll be surprised. Even things like insurance, paying for people to come in and deliver services for things you can no longer do on your own, or putting a new roof on your house. Be honest, and take a hard look at your personal finances. You may find a retirement residence is more affordable than you think, and whatever extra cost incurred is well worth solving all the worries and issues you are experiencing. For me, my health changed for the better when I moved in. So my advice is to move in sooner rather than later, because then you’ll become comfortable with staff, and when you actually need them, you’ll get help from people you trust.