Retired living in NH isn't easy (or cheap)
NH is ranked as one of the costliest states in the country for senior living
It isn’t about saving a dollar; it’s holding on to a dime. That is the cold, hard necessity for many people trying to live on a fixed income in New Hampshire in what should be their golden years.
“It’s true. There are a lot of hurting people out there,” says Richard O’Shaughnessy, the executive director of the Greater Salem Caregivers, a non-profit agency helping elders maintain independence. “There are a great many people living on Social Security income alone, and their lifestyles are certainly not luxurious. Some are not living comfortably at all.”
The Granite State was ranked as the 8th most expensive of the 50 states in which to live in a June study conducted by CNBC, and that was a three-place jump from 11th in the financial network’s similar cost of living report issued just one year earlier.
Moreover, Interest.com, a financial website owned by bankrate.com, released a study naming New Hampshire, where 21.70 percent of households are led by someone 65 or older, as the country’s 45th worst state for senior living. The major determining factor was that state residents’ average annual total retirement income of $38,296 is only 50.67 percent of the replacement income from when they were working. Financial advisors recommend that, as a rule, it takes 70 percent of annual pre-retirement income to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.
“I know that seniors having a tough time making ends meet every month is something that is prevalent throughout the state,” says Patti Stolte, the director of elder programs for Tri-County CAP, which serves Coos, Carroll and Northern Grafton counties. “You look at things like the rising cost of the primary necessities such as housing, fuel and food. When those and other commodities are expensive and you’re on a fixed income, right away you’re in trouble.”
With people living longer, they may be looking at a retirement that needs to be supported for as long as two to three decades, if not more. Compounding the problem is the fact that those once reliable guarantees of a life-long monthly pension check are disappearing as companies and even government agencies have cut back benefits during the economic downturn and have laid off employees short of when they had planned to stop working.
“If you don’t have a good [monthly] fixed income, your situation is not good. Not at all,” O’Shaughnessy says. “There are many people who have retired well with good pensions and well-funded IRAs. Those who are married where both spouses worked and earned a pension, contributed to IRAs and other savings, and now can combine those assets are living very well. Then there are those who are forced to exist on one income or no income. In Salem, you can see the extreme at both ends of the spectrum.”
The most recent figures from the federal government indicate that 53 percent of people who are married and 74 percent of single retirees depend upon Social Security for half of their income, and almost one-quarter of couples and 50 percent of singles rely on Social Security for 90 percent of their income.
The average monthly Social Security check is $1,230 per month.
In New Hampshire, where people can be as tough as the granite hills, making do with what you have or doing without is a time-tested mantra. But that Yankee pride can’t satisfy an empty belly, warm a home in the depths of winter or fill a prescription bottle. Even worse, pride can be perilous.
“People are proud, especially here in the North Country where they have always been used to doing more with less and they tend to think it’s a way of life. But there are cases where it can actually be dangerous for them as they age. The isolation can be OK when they are younger, strong, self-supportive and independent, but as you age, that can get detrimental to your health,” says Stolte.
There are many places across the state with the wherewithal and will to help.
“One of our programs, sort of a one-stop entry into the system, is the Service Link Resource Center and they are statewide. When someone needs help, they come in and they can get some guidance on what programs are out there,” says Stolte. “One of the major programs that we operate through our agency is the senior meals program. Nutrition is one of the single most important things in terms of having an individual age healthily. As long as they are getting balanced meals, they have the ability to age better. In our program we do Meals on Wheels for people who are isolated and homebound, but we also offer community dining, which gives them socialization and activities, in 13 sites throughout Coos County. Those are some key pieces in terms of healthy aging.”
The state of New Hampshire funds some of the programs available through the Older Americans Act and then non-profits find matching funds and grants and leverage them to maximize the amount. The New Hampshire Food Bank and local pantries are also important resources.
Stolte notes that last year’s national sequester cut federal funding, making things even tougher. Nonetheless, US Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and US Representatives Carol Shea-Porter and Anne Kuster all have a sympathetic ear when it comes to the state’s suffering seniors.
“Our federal representatives do listen and they do hear us. We are very fortunate because, number one, it’s an easy story when we try to explain about nutrition and helping seniors. It isn’t something that is questioned in a way that they are looking for something which is outcomes based. It’s fairly obvious what the outcome is and fairly obvious what the need is, so it’s more of a matter of making sure there is enough money to go around to all of the programs that need help,” she says.
While many seniors are not in dire straits, they still have significantly underfunded retirement accounts and risk running out of money. The New Hampshire chapter of the AARP has stepped up to offer a free, three-part money management series in October called “Finances 50-Plus.” The topics are budgeting and goal setting, taking charge of credit and debt, and developing a savings plan and protecting assets (see sidebar).
The series is open to the public and will be held in the Hebert Media Room in the Hooksett Library from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each week. Although there is no charge, registration is required at aarp.event.com/finances50oct.