What’s In Your Wallet?

Just suppose for a moment that you want to find out the price of a new car. Not a loan for a car; just a car, outright. But, when you ask, the dealership does not give you a dollar amount. Instead, they ask you first to tell them how much money you have saved, how much income you have, and the value of your current car. Only then will they tell you how much the car costs. You’d probably hesitate at that, wouldn’t you?

“Heck, no,” you would say. They are basically asking you to divulge how much you can afford before they will provide a price and that, as we all know, is basically a con. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that they can put the price wherever they want, once they know your worth.

from Edmonton Fifty Five website

Well, I ran across this same con today except that I wasn’t looking to find out the cost of a car. I was trying to discover how much it would cost to live in a retirement residence. Just out of curiosity, and because one day I might choose to live in a communal setting, I thought I would check out a couple of them.

The first place I checked out online did not provide any cost information on their website, but invited me to email them for it. I did that and indicated that, as a healthy and active senior, I would be interested in an independent living unit with access to a garage parking space for my car. The email response was a simple answer; $2700 per month, all inclusive. That means that as a resident I would be provided with meals, housekeeping, organized outings, library and so on.

MWSA Volunteer Appreciation 2017 from Mill Woods Seniors Association website

The second place I checked had a completely different approach. They didn’t provide cost information on their website but I had the opportunity to fill out a very lengthy Budget Assistance Tool. This form asks for details of monthly income including government benefits, funds from retirement savings, company pension income, employment income, and any other form of income including rental income, alimony payments and so on.

Bear in mind, that I would be filling out this form on an Internet site that gives me no assurance of security, no idea whether or not anyone else will read it, and if so, who they are.

The Budget Assistance Tool goes further; they want to know the value of my home, if I will be selling, and the estimated additional monthly investment income from the sale of the home. After that, they ask for details about my current expenses (mortgage, condo fees, property taxes), utilities, and home insurance.

At this point, it is fairly clear that they want to make a comparison between what I am currently spending and the costs of living in their retirement community. That makes sense, but my giving away so much information still feels unnerving.

Jewish Seniors Centre Purim 2020 from Alberta Jewish News website

The next page asks for the costs I have for home maintenance, including lawn care, landscaping, snow removal, security monitoring, HVAC maintenance, appliances, etc. Following that is a request for estimates on the costs of food and entertainment. Finally, the cost of transportation is to be factored in.

After providing all that information, the potential resident is given the results of the program’s calculations comparing current expenses with the cost of living in the facility.

I realize that there is a logic to this in trying to convince potential residents of the value of the commitment. One problem I have, though, is that I resent being asked for so much personal information before they will give me the price of an independent living unit. Presumably they have a chart which shows them the basic cost plus any additional costs for services. Why can’t they just show me that chart? I can decide on my own if that is better or worse than my current expenses.

The second problem is that I have no way of knowing if the algorithm that comes up with the result is rigged to adjust the findings to make their proposition look good. Am I being too suspicious? Maybe, but you tend to get that way when you are old. I’ve experienced a con or two, and this process just feels dodgy to me.

So, I didn’t fill out the Budget Assistance Tool. Even if I could have answered all the questions (and I couldn’t), I didn’t want to trust so much information to a commercial website.  


  1. Goodness Anne, what a process! I found myself in a situation, as you know, with my husband. I had to find a place for him, although sadly not independent living. I had looked online at what felt like 100’s of places of all sizes in the South Bay area and none of them provided costs for services etc on their web sites. Like you, I was unwilling to provide the information online that their forms required. I had a range of prices I knew I could cover but that was my business, not theirs. I went the ‘clearing house’ (my word choice) route and contacted a service that linked me to facilities within my budget (which I provided the person who was assisting me). I had more suggestions than I could deal with so narrowed things down by geographical distance from the house here. Visiting the ones I had chosen, we would tour and listen to the sales pitch (my word choice) and finally at the end, we would get to the costs and what those costs included. I chose to thank each person who led the ‘tours’ and leave. I wanted to think about the information I had gathered carefully before I ever committed. The last facility we had to tour was such a pleasant surprise. Yes, the tour seemed mandatory (and quite helpful) but costs were also discussed as we toured! It felt as though there were no secrets, no unpleasant surprises. I requested a few minutes alone while still there to consider matters. The ‘tour guide’ provided a room, coffee, and some sort of cookie or whatever and allowed me to think. Bottomline is that I had committed before I even left and I never regretted it. I congratulate you on doing some forward thinking in planning for your future. I discovered that each place we toured had its own personality and some did not match our personalities. That also became quite helpful.

    • That sounds like an arduous, but ultimately successful, process. I like the idea of a ‘clearing house’ agency. I wonder if there is such a thing here.

      It’s quite troubling to me that they keep the costs so hidden. I also find it quite patronizing; as though we can’t understand and evaluate for ourselves.

      If I can narrow it down to, say five, options then I would be happy to take the tours. Now that I think about it, though, I should probably take someone with me for that. A second set of eyes, and a second enquiring mind, would be a great advantage.

  2. The questions are very intrusive. The price probably fluctuates depending on the application’s financial ability. They want to figure out how much profit they can make off their residents.

    • Well, that’s my problem with it. I can understand if there are discounts for people who qualify for government subsidies, and I can understand price variations according to services included, but keeping all that hidden borders on deception.

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