Reducing the Cost of Assisted Living: 10 Insider Tips

Page Reviewed / Updated - Jan. 2014

By considering the following insider tips from the assisted living industry professionals, families can save money on assisted living, independent living and other types of residential care. Follows are ten different ways that can help families save.

1) Apartment Choice

Almost all assisted living communities offer residents a choice of room size. Modern communities typically offer enough public spaces and activity rooms, that residents often find they don’t require a large private room. Renting a “studio” instead of a one-bedroom apartment can reduce monthly payments by 15% - 20%.  Annually, this can result in a savings of $6,000 - $8,000 for a community that charges the national average of $3,450 / month.

2) Apartment Share

Not all assisted living communities offer two bedroom apartments and a shared living situation is not appropriate for everyone. However, if available and appropriate, sharing an apartment can save 10% - 20% over a single unit. For a community of average cost, this saves $4,000 - $8,000 / year. An additional benefit of sharing a two bedroom unit is the increased living space and a separation of sleeping and socializing areas. Furthermore, many seniors find a social benefit in having a suite-mate.

3) Community Size

One might think that larger assisted living communities can provide care services at a lower cost due to economy of scale. However, because regulations differ for smaller and larger communities this is not the case. One may find “lower bed count” assisted living residences to be less expensive even when they are offering the same quality of care in the same geographic area.

4) Leave the City

The same level and quality of care usually costs more in urban areas due to higher real estate values and the increased cost of living. Finding an assisted living residence just an hour away from a city center can reduce costs as much as 25%.  An additional benefit is increased personal space in suburban or rural assisted living communities as typically they are built specifically for assisted living while city residences are usually conversions of existing properties.

5) Leave the State

There exist very large cost variations in assisted living across the 50 states. In addition to the local cost index, different state regulations play a role. This makes it possible for families living near state borders to save money by finding assisted living communities in neighboring states. Families with adult children living in different states may also benefit from this approach.  To see the average cost of assisted living by state, look at our Assisted Living Affordability Index.

6) Time Your Entrance

Assisted living residences, especially larger ones, are subject to many of the same financial pressures as other businesses. Residences are often willing to give price breaks at the end of month, end of the calendar quarter or their financial quarter.

For families looking for assisted living without a time constraint, this can result in significant savings. While most communities resist negotiating on the monthly rent, they will often waive the “community fee” which can equal several months rent or offer "move-in" credits.

7) Occupancy Rates as an Advantage

Assisted living residences need to maintain a certain occupancy level to optimize their operation. When they have a lot of “empty beds”, they become willing to make concessions such as waiving community fees or offering move-in credits. These can reduce initial costs by as much as $2,000 - $10,000.

Assisted living communities do not share their occupancy rate information with potential residents but they often share it with assisted living referral services and private geriatric care managers. One such referral service is the organization, A Place for Mom. Working with this service is free to the family and may help reduce the cost of admission to an assisted living community.

Another option is to find an assisted living community that is just opening. Usually communities have around 10% vacancy, a new community will have to fill 100% of its rooms. Therefore, in addition to being in new condition, the management may be willing to negotiate. Again, A Place for Mom can help families to find brand new communities.

8) Level of Care
The service contract with an assisted living community stipulates the “level of care” required by the resident. The level of care specifically lists the services required by the resident and the cost of those services. Some communities offer both an all-inclusive package and care on an as-needed basis. Choosing the correct right level of care can save families hundreds of dollars / month. Learn more about assisted living fee structures.

On occasion families do not have a good idea of the exact level of care required. There are public counselors at the Area Agencies on Aging and private Geriatric Care Managers that help families determine exactly how much and what types of care are necessary. These assessments can sometimes result in savings greater than the cost of hiring a care manager.
Search for Agency Counselors and Care Managers here.

An assessment includes but is not limited to the following areas:
  • Bathing – the frequency and amount of assistance required
  • Dressing – assistance choosing the appropriate clothing for the weather and dressing themselves
  • Grooming – assistance brushing one’s hair and teeth and, for men, with shaving
  • Mobility – assistance with mobility and transferring to and from a wheelchair
  • Continence – assistance managing continence
  • Generalized Behavior – such as resistance to assistance and wandering
  • Eating – assistance with the selection of foods and the physical effort of feeding oneself.
  • Medications – distribution and supervision of medicine including the number of medications, frequency and the delivery method, oral vs. injection
  • Laundry and housekeeping services
  • Dementia – additional monitoring and assistance for patients with dementia

9) Prescription Drugs from Canada

 This discussion avoids all political, legal and ethical questions associated with obtaining prescription drugs from Canada. We are not advising families for or against, we are simply examining the subject from an economic and procedural perspective.


There is no question that some drugs can be purchased online from Canadian pharmacies with relative ease and at significant cost savings. One study found prices to be on average 25% less than in the US. For brand-name drugs as high as 50% or more, while were generally lower for generic drugs.

The process for purchasing medications is slightly different at each pharmacy but generally speaking, one mails, faxes or emails the prescription, pays with a credit card and receives the medication by mail a few weeks later. Given the delay in obtaining one’s medications, Canadian pharmacies are more appropriate for those with long term medicinal needs. Some Canadian pharmacies can provide all the refills on the prescription in a single order making ordering both more convenient and less expensive.

You can check the cost of medications at different Canadian and US pharmacies at this website that tracks medication costs to see if using a Canadian pharmacy would benefit your family.

10) Price Reductions

In some cases when an individual is already living in an assisted living residence and is no longer able to afford the monthly rent payment, the community will provide a credit to enable the resident to remain at a lower monthly cost. This reduction could be $300- $500 / month. Not all residences will offer this credit but usually those communities that are struggling to maintain high occupancy rates will do so. If a resident is in the position where they might have to move out for financial reasons, they should always ask if a reduction is possible.

 

 Families can use our Assisted Living Financial Resource Locator Tool to search for financial assistance to help pay for senior living.