Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Seriously? Roommates?

Remember the show Golden Girls? Housing experts predict that it’s coming back – for real. What happens when aging boomers run low on cheddar (sorry – too much Breaking Bad – I meant money)? If they are single adults, they will start looking for roommates to lower their living expenses. The theory being that 3 or 4 Social Security checks combined will go a lot further, as will the weekly groceries.

There are already groups set up to help boomers find each other and more are organizing every day. Affordable Living for the Aging reports that about 130,000 senior-partnership households already exist and that number is expected to increase rapidly.

And we’re not talking about adult partners who are shacking up (the forerunner of hooking up). We’re talking about adults with no familial or romantic connection. It’s a pure “shared economy” arrangement where roommates contribute something valuable to the deal. Maybe you own a house but are cash-strapped. The roommate can buy the groceries and help with the utility bills, or drive you to doctor appointments, or whatever, all in exchange for a rent-free roof over their heads. You put 3 or 4 roommates under one roof and you really have some economy of scale.

And it sure beats living in a refrigerator box. When you look at the statistics about how little money some boomers have put away for retirement, it makes you think that homelessness among the aging could grow into a massive scale problem. Roommate exchanges offers a far better prospect than seeing homeless seniors living rough.

By 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be a senior (over 65). Rather than stacking seniors up like cordwood in warehouse-style housing, the roommate plan could be a bright spot in an otherwise dismal formula for end-of-life housing. Is having one or more roommates the ideal, dream scenario, the arrangement that each of us always dreamed of? Not really, not even close. But it beats a lot of dreadful alternatives that one could imagine.

And think of all the great sit-com potential that could come from it. Everyone loves cranky seniors (spitfires, if you please). It could be like the show Friends, but with old people. You could be Monica and I could be Joey!

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Silver Cribs

If you’ve ever watched the TV show Cribs (it’s on MTV, and if that’s not a good reason to miss it, I don’t know what is), you get to see how the other half (or 1% anyway) lives. Do I want to know how rich athletes, rappers, actors, wrestlers, sextape participants and various miscreants live? HELL NO!

I’m a little more focused on how I’m living and will continue to live in the fast looming future. And it turns out that Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate was also curious, so they conducted a survey. Now I picture you panting with anticipation, so here goes….your future awaits.

39% of boomers surveyed want to retire to small towns and farms, 27% prefer retirement communities, 26% want urban centers, and 8% picked “lifestyle” communities (which apparently has something to do with golf). If this doesn’t add up to 100%, blame Better Homes, not me.

These stats are somewhat confusing when 4 out of 10 of the same respondents say they plan to stay in their current homes in retirement. And if they do move, it won’t be far. Seventy-two percent are going to remain in the same state where they currently reside.

And bad news for elderly parents or kids…83 percent of boomer respondents plan to ditch any family members who are trying to mooch off them. There are no multi-generational abodes in their future. What they do want is diversity. Age-restricted communities are falling out of favor for their lack of variety. Boomers don’t want to be around a lot of other older people who remind them that they are old as well. So they like the idea of being around younger people, just not their own offspring.

About two-thirds of these boomers plan to renovate their current homes to accommodate future needs. I guess that’s really great news for the makers of stair lifts and walk-in tubs. Also high on the list of wants is low-maintenance. Boomers are looking for what’s known as “lock and leave” homes. We got places to go and things to do. We can’t be cleaning gutters, mowing the lawn, and painting the garage.

It occurs to me that surveys like this one bring out the wishful thinking in people. Boomers say this is what they want, but the reality may turn out to be quite different. But who wants to think that we’re going to end up warehoused in some shoebox apartment with a bunch of other bitter boomers. Wait…that’s the next Cribs concept for MTV. Old people in boxes! No more calls, we have a winner.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Toothpaste --- Out of Control!

Gone into a supermarket to purchase toothpaste lately? Good luck. If you know your brand and type you might get out of the dental products aisle in less than 10 minutes. Even if you do know your brand and type, it’s a devilish task to find it. Colgate alone has more than 40 variations….some whiten, some don’t, some protect enamel, some don’t, some have baking soda and peroxide, some don’t, some have tartar protection, some don’t. Then there’s the whole flavor spectrum to deal with --- crystal mint, clean mint, cool mint, original (what the hell is that?) etc. Do you favor gel or paste? And let’s not get started on the package sizes.

Something has gone wrong with toothpaste merchandising, that’s obvious. It should not be that hard to choose a brand and type. The manufacturers (all of them, Crest, Colgate, Arm and Hammer, etc.) all play the game and the goal is to totally bewilder the consumer, and on that front, they have achieved total victory. According to some estimates there are around 350 distinct types and sizes of toothpaste available for retail sale.

Pricing too is insane. A 4.5 ounce tube can cost as much as 6 ounce tube and you have this suspicion that toothpaste has a lot in common with lipstick. It’s cheap to produce and expensive to market. Supposedly, Colgate and Crest control 70% of the market but they spend millions on advertising non-stop to hold on to that brand loyalty. So the ingredients and packaging may account for 10% of the costs with the rest going to marketing. As I said, it may be a lot like lipstick.

Dentists will tell you to just make sure it has the ADA seal and contains fluoride to help prevent decay and subsequent cavities. Some take it a step further and tell you to stay away from whitening products that they deem not very beneficial, borderline harmful.

My latest idea is to take a photo of the toothpaste package at home with my smartphone so that I can try to find the same package on the shelf. It beats coming home with a new brand/type that you did not intend to purchase. Supposedly, the manufacturers know that they have too many brand variations and they are trying to scale back the options to curtail some of the sensory overload that consumers get in the toothpaste aisle. I haven’t seen any improvement at our grocery store, but I can only hope that it gets easier. Otherwise I’m considering converting to the chew stick. It’s cheap, you don’t need toothpaste, and it combats bad breath. Oh yeah, and you can grow your own chew stick tree and never visit the toothpaste aisle again.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.