Frugal Eldercare Part 3: How I dealt with the specifics of eldercare costs: Transporation and Utilities


Although Dad generates significantly more trips each week with medical appointments and social activities, after we reviewed our transportation needs we determined that we did not need to purchase a second car. We saved $20,000 by choosing to continue living as a one-care family.

Seattle is blessed with decent mass transit options, car-sharing programs, and bicycle lanes. We were also fortunate to have been able to purchase a house 4 blocks from the Link Light Rail station. A grocery store, public library, and other amenities are within walking distance. We both purchased Orca cards for mass transit trips and Car2Go memberships for those times when we both needed a car. We feel fortunate to live in an area that allows us to safely walk many places. We are healthier for the exercise, and the cost of transportation is much lower than it would have been if we had to drive everywhere.

We have a weekly meeting every Sunday morning to review our schedules and negotiate use of the car. My husband is able to work from home one day per week, curtailing the need for commuting that day. Other strategies to save on transportation costs include combining trips, forgoing unnecessary trips, and carpooling.


Incontinence and poor coordination are common problems for the elderly, and we wash 7-8 loads of laundry per week because of Dad. As I mentioned in a previous post, our first full water bill after Dad moved in was nearly $400! Ouch! With some simple changes, we were able to reduce that bill by 50%.

  • First, I checked the manuals for my washing machine and dish washers. It turned out that both had quick cycles on them that used less water and still got our clothes and dishes clean.
  • I have our dog, Lainie, “help” me in the kitchen by licking plates clean instead of rinsing them before putting them into the dishwasher. She loves her job.
  • Use water twice.
    • When I have to soak dishes to get stuck food off, I save the water and reuse it for other similar dishes. We keep a mesh filter in the sink to filter out the bits of food.
    • We flush our toilets on the “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down” philosophy using gray water we save from the sinks and shower.
  • I purchased a new ultra-low flow shower head with a 1.0 gpm setting to replace our older 2.0 gpm fitting. We took shorter showers also.
  • I checked the CDC’s website for recommendations on the length of time between washings for linens to see if I could wash sheets and towels less frequently without sacrificing hygiene. It turned out that the weekly bed linen washings could be done every 2 weeks. Towels should be washed every 4 days.
  • I also aired out clothing more to refresh for wearing again. This didn’t work with my husband’s shirts however, because he wears moisture-wicking synthetics which do not shed odors without washing.
  • We installed rain barrels to harvest rain from our roof for watering the garden in the dry season. I also found a way to hook them up to the washing machine for use during winter but have not had time to install the system yet.
  • Although we don’t qualify, Seattle Public Utilities has a nice program to help low-income home-owners afford more efficient bathroom fixtures. This is a great opportunity for seniors on fixed incomes to lower their utility bills.
  • Dad often wears an apron while eating now to preserve his garments from food spills.

We weren’t able to lower our electric bill by as high a percentage as the water bill, but we still managed to lower by a third. To save on electricity, we tried the following savings strategies:

  • We hung clothes to dry, and air-dried dishes in the dishwasher.
  • I followed Dad around and turned off lights when he forgot to turn them off.
  • We installed Belkin conserve sockets on appliances in the kitchen to save on phantom electrical costs. The boxes turn off the electricity to the appliances after 30 minutes. It turned out that this was a good safety feature as well because Dad doesn’t always remember to set appliance timers properly.
  • We used power strips on electronics.
  • We switched out the last of the incandescent and CFL bulbs for LED bulbs.
  • We turned off the hot water heater when we were going to be gone for a weekend.
  • We relaxed together in the same room to use fewer lights.
  • I waited until full daylight to shower so I could take advantage of natural lighting in the bathroom.
  • I wash all the laundry in cold water unless someone is sick.
  • Rooms which are infrequently used are not heated in winter.
  • The thermostat is set to 66F. The elderly lose their internal heat-generating capacities, so be sure to dress them warmly in winter and don’t set the heat so low they get mildly hypothermic.
  • We cook soups in the crockpot frequently. In fact, we own 2 crockpots and use them at least once a week!
  • I have a wash and wear haircut, and only use the hairdryer for special occasions.
  • We requested a subsidized home energy audit, and added insulation to the attic afterward. We were losing an incredible 70% of our home’s heat through the attic. The insulation project reduced our energy loss by 25%. Because our house is 100 years old, we were not able to lower the energy loss further without significant structural changes that were not in our budget.
  • We take care of the trees on our property so they will provide shade in the summer.
  • We use dried foods when possible instead of fresh to limit the size of fridge we need.
  • Some foods can be eaten cold or room temperature instead of cooked or chilled.
  • We did not purchase a fridge with an ice-maker. We make ice cubes in the summer with old-fashioned trays.
  • We use a solar oven in summer to cook some foods.

Other utilities savings strategies exist. What works for each family will depend on the nature of the utilities in their area. Here’s what I was able to do:

  • I checked our phone and data usage with Verizon and realized I could lower our data usage, saving $30 per month.
  • We do not replace our phones, or electronics, until they breakdown from wear.
  • I wasn’t able to reduce our Internet costs without moving to a slower system because Comcast has a near monopoly in our area. However, when I was single, I did not purchase Internet service at home. I went to the public library or an Internet café. If was able to do this now, we would save $88 per month.
  • We do not watch TV, so we there is no need to purchase cable. We watch Amazon Prime streamed movies, movies from the library, read books, or play board games instead.
  • Our large dog makes a good burglar alarm system.
  • We use the smallest trash can available from Seattle Public Utilities. Instead of paying for a larger can after Dad moved in, I worked to reduce the amount of trash our family produces.
    • Dad’s incontinence was producing 1 full bag of soiled, disposable undergarments per week, so we are trying out washable undergarments. We also are working with Dad’s doctors to improve his situation.
    • We reduced the amount of plastic packaging by making more food from scratch and reducing packaged snack foods.
    • We purchased bulk recycled toilet paper and tissues because they were not wrapped in plastic.
    • We use cloth napkins and handkerchiefs as much as possible .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s