Cost-Cutting Tips That Save Money for Older Adults in the Bay Area

Cost Cutting Tips for Seniors in the Bay Area As cliché as it may seem, the San Francisco experience can best be summed up in the Golden Gate Bridge: where the enduring beauty of nature meets the human creative genius. The Bay Area is home to a vibrant community of older adults who enjoy a seemingly unending array of activities that encompass both those ideas—from great museums and amazing restaurants to scenic hiking spots, ocean vistas, and even birdwatching. But, while the city boasts numerous resources and services directed at helping seniors and their families, it’s also infamous for its high cost of living.

It’s no secret that it’s expensive to live in the Bay Area—the cost of living in San Francisco is a full 89% higher than the national average, and even 40% higher than California as a whole. And these costs can be felt in every sector, from housing to goods and services. Aging adults and their families, who often have fixed incomes and face continually rising healthcare costs, may be especially vulnerable to these expenses. But it’s important to know the right places to cut corners, and to look at things in the long-term. Here are some cost-cutting tips, as well as advice on where it might be dangerous to scrimp. Because it’s easier to enjoy this amazing region if you aren’t worried about affording it.

The First Places To Look When Cutting Costs

When assessing where and how to cut back, it may be wise to start with some seemingly obvious places in your budget—if you haven’t assessed these ideas in a while, you may be overlooking some life-changing options.

Affordable Housing Through Downsizing

Housing in the Bay Area is an enormous expense for anyone, but in particular for aging adults. A recent study showed that people over the age of 65 spent 40% of their income on housing, which includes mortgage, rent, taxes, utilities, and other miscellaneous home expenses. This has many older adults looking at more affordable housing options in order to lower their overall living expenses. For example, if they own a house that is too big for their current needs or health situation, selling and downsizing can offer an immediate cut in costs.

The Best Things in Life Are Free

This saying rings particularly true amongst the blend of natural and manmade beauty throughout the Bay Area. Swapping out a few expensive dinner and movie dates, for instance, for some free fun in the city could potentially save a couple hundred dollars a month. There is an array of lists found online of “free things to do in San Francisco,” including plenty of options for your aging loved one—from a tour of art galleries or a picnic at Golden Gate Park to readings at local bookstores. There’s enough here to plan a low-cost or even free staycation, with the benefit of seeing your familiar hometown from a new angle.  

Name Brands May Not Be Necessary

Cutting small corners can, in many ways, be just as helpful as larger life changes. It’s true that this is a stylish area, but instead of shopping for top-line, name-brand clothes, you can get alternative brands from the same top designers, which cost less but are just as chic. Of course, you can also shop for generic brands of clothes and goods, which can usually save 15% at the lowest, or hundreds of dollars at the high end. Another option is to look at name-brand resale or consignment shops. These are hidden gems in San Francisco, where you can get the looks you want at prices that fit a budget.

Generic Drugs as a Safe Alternative

There’s an instinctive worry about using “generic medicine,” because we tend to think “generic” means “a cheap knockoff.” That isn’t the case, though. According to the FDA, “(a)ll generic manufacturing, packaging, and testing sites must pass the same quality standards as those of name brand drugs, and the generic products must meet the same exacting specifications as any name-brand product.” The truth is that many of the drug companies that make the name brand drugs also make the generic products, knowing that some people will buy the most expensive kind, and others the generic. It’s okay, and cost-effective, to be in the latter group. Internet rumors about generics being 45% less effective are false. There may be differences between batches, but the same is true for brand-name drugs.

Think Long Term When Cutting Costs

Aside from the changes above, which can have a relatively quick impact on your aging loved one’s finances, you’ll want to think ahead when chopping expenses—sometimes way ahead.

Cheap Can Cost in the Long Run

Occasionally, cheap is more expensive in the long run. A great example comes from clothing—buying cheaply may mean that your clothes wear out more quickly and will have to be repaired or replaced that much sooner. Lifehacker did the math: a $100 pair of jeans that last five years saves money over a $30 pair that lasts a year and change. It’s part of human nature to avoid large upfront costs, but in the long run, you’ll be saving yourself money—so while you don’t need brand-name items, you can still find the balance between cost and quality that works for you.

Don’t Try To Save Money on Medicine in Other Ways

We’ve heard stories of people who thought their medicine was too expensive, and so tried to save money in a few ways that could be harmful. There are stories of people who save by:

  • Not filling prescriptions
  • Taking daily medicine every other day (or a similar jump) to make the prescription last longer
  • Taking their medicine only when they “were feeling bad.”

Needless to say, that doesn’t save money, because the less healthy you are, the more medicine will cost. It’s dangerous, and economically short-sighted, to take your prescription usage into your own hands.

Don’t bypass needed home improvements

No matter where you live, it is important to keep your home up-to-date on important things like window insulation, loose floorboards, dangerous basement moisture that can lead to toxic mold, or malfunctioning electrical equipment. We’re not talking about a major kitchen renovation, which can probably be put off; instead, focus on crucial issues that can have a huge impact on health, especially for older adults. These should be filed under “necessary costs,” and slotted into your yearly budget.

The Bay Area is a unique place, full of creative vibes. Let some of that inherent creativity influence you when looking to cut costs—there are plenty of imaginative ways to save money while still enjoying everything the Bay Area has to offer. With foresight, planning, and a little sacrifice—but without sacrificing your health and well-being—you can continue to age independently, happily, and in comfort.

At Institute on Aging, we work to make sure that older adults, their families, and caregivers have the help and resources they need to age at home, with the dignity they deserve. Connect with us today for more information.


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Institute on Aging

Committed to offering thoughtful discussions and resources to older adults, their families, and their caregivers.

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