The Risks of Opting for Assisted Living Based on Costs Alone

Two assisted living residents talking a walk

As you age, minor aches and pains can give way to difficulties with activities of daily living (ADLs). You might find you need help with meal preparation or dressing, or that getting out of bed in the morning is turning into an ordeal. However, physical challenges don’t undermine your desire to live a rich, full life, or to remain independent—and in an assisted living community, you get the resources and assistance you need to achieve those goals. 

Many older adults recognize the benefits of moving to the right senior living community, but they worry about assisted living costs. If you’ve got concerns and questions, you’re not alone. One study found that seniors fear money issues more than death. 

It’s no wonder, then, that many seniors choose assisted living solely based on the lowest cost or immediately rule out assisted living communities because of sticker shock. This is a risky decision that could actually cost more over the long term. 

Here’s why you shouldn’t panic about assisted living costs and why the price tag should be just one aspect of your decision. 


With Assisted Living, You Get What You Pay For 

Assisted living offers more than just a place to lay your head and get help when you need it. Quality assisted living communities boast an all-inclusive lifestyle that provides numerous activities to enrich your days, amenities that can help you get or stay healthy, and residences that foster independence via thoughtful designs to reduce fall risk. 

Think of an assisted living community as an investment in a lifestyle choice. You’re paying for several things when you move in, including: 

  • The community’s location
  • The quality of the individual residence you’ll live in
  • Community amenities such as a pool or fitness center
  • Community services, including ongoing support with ADLs
  • Additional services such as food preparation, dining spaces, and entertainment

Communities that charge less can’t afford to invest in quality amenities, farm-to-table-style food, exceptional staff, and regular home updates. This can mean a lower quality of life—and it may also mean you end up spending more money. 

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If your senior living community doesn’t provide the right services and amenities, you might end up paying for certain things out of pocket, such as:

  • If your community doesn’t offer transportation, you’ll need to rely on loved ones or paid drivers. 
  • If you can’t access an included fitness center or daily activities, you’ll need to pay for them to keep yourself active and entertained. 
  • If holistic well-being isn’t central to your community’s ethos, your health might decline, costing you time, money, and pleasure. 
  • Your mental health may not be as good in a lower-quality community, potentially sapping your motivation to make healthy lifestyle choices. 

Over time, the costs to cover these needs one at a time can really add up. It may be helpful to frame the costs in terms of an overall investment in quality of life. You’re not just paying for your community. You’re increasing your odds of good health, deep social connections, and living in a home you actually like. 

Overcoming Sticker Shock for Assisted Living Costs

It’s easy to fixate on the price of assisted living, particularly if you frame assisted living as just housing. Comparing the monthly payments to your rent or mortgage can inspire sticker shock. 


Consolidating Regular Monthly Expenses

Remember, with assisted living, you're getting a lot more than you get from your current monthly housing payment, and you may eliminate other significant costs at the same time. Those extra costs include: 

  • Dining out
  • Transportation
  • Groceries
  • Entertainment, movies, and live music
  • Pool or fitness center memberships
  • Housecleaning and home maintenance expenses
  • Home upgrades
  • Property taxes
  • Landscaping

Increasing Independence and Reducing Anxiety

Perhaps most significantly, you will eliminate the need for in-home support. If you’ve been relying on loved ones to help you with daily tasks, assisted living can greatly increase your independence and reduce the anxiety that comes from depending on others. It may also restore balance to your relationships and potentially even reduce family conflict. 

Saving on Care Costs

If you’re using an in-home aide, assisted living may actually save you money. Genworth reported in 2021 that the median hourly costs for a home health aide were $27 per hour. Even just 2 hours per day would cost $1,620 per month. If you need more support, you could spend thousands every month. 

Despite this investment, a home health aide still falls short of the quantity of care you’ll get in assisted living. In assisted living, help is there whenever you need it—and only when you need it. As your needs change within the framework of care provided by assisted living, your costs will not increase. 

Using Untapped Benefits

Paying for assisted living may also be easier than paying for your current home. That’s because long-term care insurance, some employee and veterans benefits programs, and some other insurance policies may cover a portion of assisted living. 

If you’re like most assisted living residents, you may also sell your home to fund the costs. This gives you a significant nest egg that can defray costs and improve financial health. 


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How Paying Less Can Cost You More

You could invest in the cheapest assisted living community you're able to find, but the truth is that doing so may cost you in the long term. Cheaper communities simply can’t offer the same amenities as quality communities. This means it’s almost inevitable your quality of life will deteriorate. And is that really what you want, after investing significant money and working hard to pay for retirement? 

Even if you have a plan for boosting your quality of life, over time the lower-quality communities may cost you money, too. Consider the following potential expenses: 

Daily Health and Well-Being Resources

One of the biggest benefits of a good community is that it integrates wellness activities into daily life, improving your health. Not investing in your health could be costly over time, producing more medical bills. 

Space for Social Activities

If you don’t love your new home, you may be disinclined to entertain. This could mean less time spent with loved ones or more money invested in dining out or renting space for family events. 

Supplemental Support and Care

A lower-quality community may not offer inclusive support and care. You may have to pay an additional fee for additional services. These hidden fees can end up costing more than you’d pay at a higher-quality community where various levels of care are included. 

A Secondary Move

If you eventually elect to move to a different community, moving may cost you more. Assisted living costs increase with time, so you’ll pay a higher price in the future. You may also have to pay to get out of your contract, not to mention covering the costs of funding another assisted living move. 

Assisted Living Costs That Provide the Benefits You Need

You deserve a home you love, and you deserve to get it right the first time. 

If you’re ready to learn more about the costs of assisted living, we can help. Our TRUEcost Calculator estimates your potential senior living costs and compares them to your current cost of living. 

Not sure whether you’re ready for senior living? Our “Is it the right time for senior living?” assessment can support you to make the decision. If you’re ready to check out one of our exceptional communities in person, schedule a tour
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Originally published May 2023. Revised February 2024.

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