You mean I'm not 25 anymore?: The financial costs of getting older

Sandra ponders the financial expenses of getting older — and how to protect her kids in later years.

Photo: mathieukor/iStockphoto

“These are going to be the most expensive glasses you’ve ever bought,” said Claire, the optometrist who was filling my latest prescription. “I usually tell people to sit down before I show them the options.”

Claire was not kidding. The lenses — just the lenses — for my new glasses started at $500, and went up from there.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. My career choice has meant that I’ve spent the past 20 years staring into a computer screen eight (or more) hours a day, every day. Over the years, my vision has morphed from a sharp 20/20 to a mild distance prescription, to a mild-ish distance prescription plus reading glasses for up-close work, to this.

“My eyes water all the time now. I think my prescription has changed,” I’d told my eye doctor of four years, Dr. Kawale. He smiled knowingly, then explained that my far distance and reading prescriptions are about the same; it’s the middle distance that gives me trouble. The exact thing that I do for hours every day is now my weakest area of vision. And I would need new glasses to prevent the fatigue I’d been suffering.

Now, I need to preface what came next by saying that, in my mind, I’m still 25. I play electric guitar! I wear cool jeans! My kids don’t even mind when I sing in public!

So the term “progressive lenses” did not exactly go down well when Dr. Kawale said that’s what I needed. Essentially, they’re three pairs of glasses in one: The top section is for distance, the middle section is for computer work and the bottom section is for reading up close (so I can see the dose on a bottle of Children’s Advil without holding it way out at the end of my outstretched arm).

What could I do? I need my eyes, so I couldn’t not get the glasses (thank goodness both Matt and I have group benefits through work).

The incident has made me realize that I’ve entered my “Expensive Years.” It’s true. I’ve always had bad feet, but they’re getting more and more finicky, meaning “Special (Expensive) Shoes” are in my future, too.

And when I look at my mom, who isn’t yet 80 years old (my parents had me late in life), I see the full potential of genetic destiny. She has arthritis in both hips, which has compromised her mobility for the past decade or so. She started walking with a cane. Then two canes. Then a walker. Now she has a wheelchair, a walker with wheels and a walker with sliders, for use on different surfaces. She can no longer handle the stairs in my parents’ home, so Dad installed a $10,000 stair lift. Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with dementia, and so far most of the costs associated with home help for my father (because my siblings and I all work and can’t be there to help as much as we’d like) has been covered by the provincial government, but the out-of-pocket costs will ramp up when she moves to a long-term-care facility.

Getting older is expensive, and I worry about being a financial burden to my children. That’s years away, but now is the time to plan, starting by putting away a little bit every year, no matter how little, in an RRSP (the power of compound interest means that setting aside even $100 a year for the next 30 years, at a modest three percent growth rate, will swell to nearly $5,150). Life insurance is so important, too (what if something happens to me before my kids are grown?).

One of my Twitter friends recently asked me to send her the link to a life-planning story we published in the magazine a while back. She explained that her father had passed away without a will, leaving a complicated mountain of financial issues for her to deal with; she never wants her own children to have to go through what she did. So here’s the article, for those of you who missed it.

What worries you about getting older? Have you made any plans?

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