Seniors struggle with higher prices

Watching her budget
Marion Ryan lives in senior community housing in Mendota Heights. She says she is careful how muich she drives, now that gas prices are so high.
MPR Photo/Nanci Olesen

Barb Goette lives in The John Carroll high rise in South St. Paul. She's got a stack of hundreds of quilting squares next to her sewing machine in her efficiency apartment.

Barb Goette is 68. She lives alone. She does a lot of puttering around her small apartment, because her outings are limited to getting the food she needs. She tries not to use much gas in her truck.

"I kind of cheat. I use my electric wheelchair as much as I can, because I can just plug that in here and I don't pay for the electricity," said Goette. "I go down to the post office here and to the Burger King, so I kind of cheat and use that rather than use the truck."

Sherri Weiss
Sherri Weiss is communications director for DARTS, a nonprofit organization which supports older adults and their families in Dakota County.
MPR Photo/Nanci Olesen

She's glad it's spring, and that she can get out more with that electric wheelchair. She likes to sit in the sun outside of the apartment complex she lives in.

One way she's learned to cope with not having much money is to not let herself know how much she's got.

"I don't keep any track of my checkbook, my balance. I figure so that way I'm broke, so I can't spend any money," said Goette. "Unless it's a necessity. Then I go find out how much I got. Then if I lie to myself, then I figure that I can keep a little balance there. "In my mind I know there is [enough], but I lie to myself."

The high price of gasoline is also affecting Marion Ryan. She's in her mid-70s and lives in a senior residence in Mendota Heights.

"I think twice before I get in the car and step on the accelerator. Where am I going, how far is it, how much is that going to cost me?"

"I think twice before I get in the car and step on the accelerator," said Ryan. "Where am I going, how far is it, how much is that going to cost me?"

Marion Ryan used to refuse gas money from her friends who were catching a ride with her.

Years ago I'd say, 'No, no, no.' I don't say, 'No, no, no,' anymore," Ryan said. "Because of the cost. You have to share the burden. If you want to have some fun, you're going to have to help me along the way."

Watching her budget closely comes naturally to Marion Ryan. She says she has to keep a close rein on her expenses, especially since she's become a widow.

Ryan says it seems to her the younger generation doesn't know how to budget.

"Even in my own family, it's just like, OK, if you want it, get it -- or pay for it later. That's not right. And these credit cards, you just ought to tear them up. They're terrible," Ryan said. Organizations that provide supportive services to senior citizens say a lot of people are having to cut what they can from their budgets as prices go up.

Sherri Weiss is the communications director for DARTS, a nonprofit that provides resources for family caregivers and seniors. She says more seniors are shopping at dollar stores and discount food stores.

"How much more will we have to endure? And that whole balancing act of lots of little ebbs and flows of insecurity -- at our age those stresses add up. The older you get, I think the harder it must be," said Weiss.

Seniors say that even if their fixed income includes a bump up every year, it hasn't been enough to compensate for a rise in prices. And some things they used to do have had to go.