A couple of things have happened lately that have made me more aware than ever just how old my lovely old Dad is getting – he’s always been such a strong, independent (and stubborn) man so it’s hard for me to see him as anything but the Dad I’m used to.
I think he’s struggling with it all too if I’m honest and I know he hates asking me for help but often has no choice these days – the dilemma for me is when to step in and offer my help without him feeling a little bit useless.
It’s a subject I want to write about but right now, I think I’d go off in a million and one tangents to do with my Dad so when my fellow UK Money Blogger, Sara, offered to write a post about how to help your parents, I took her up on her offer.
This is a guest post by Sara Williams, whose Debt Camel website looks at credit rating and debt problems.
There are a lot of articles in the press about how pensioners are doing well in 2017 and it’s the younger generations who are struggling. But there are plenty of older people who are short of money! The small income they get from their savings has shrunk to almost nothing with low interest rates. Many of them aren’t comfortable on the internet and may not even have an email address, so miss out on a lot of good consumer deals.
It’s good to talk
It can be difficult to talk to your parents about money. Partly it is the British it’s not nice to talk about money feeling. But there can be family angles too. Perhaps your parents are proud and a bit scared of a time when they can’t cope. Perhaps they don’t want you to be worried about them because you must be having a hard time with a young family yourself. Perhaps you don’t want to ask if their Wills are up to date because you don’t want to sound money-grubbing!
But it’s good if you can start talking about financial things as a normal, everyday topic. There will come a time when they are less able to cope, and this may be easier if they are already used to you knowing a bit about their finances. Also older people can sometimes be the target for scammers. If you often chat about money, they may mention to you that they have just decided to buy something expensive or take out some new insurance.
Bringing the subject up
If this isn’t something you already do, how do you begin? What can work well is saying that a friend has just done this and it’s saved her a lot. Or that you saw an article about something. This doesn’t set you up as an expert telling your parents what they ought to do, more like an equal sharing some good news that you happened to hear first.
You also need a good topic to start. Unless they are asking you for help, choose one thing and see how that goes, not have a list of twenty things they have to change this month. Here are my top three suggestions.
Switching electricity and gas providers
Older people tend to be at home more and they often need warmer houses to feel comfortable, so their bills can be really high. So it’s important they are on a good, cheap tariff.
But many of them have never switched providers at all! They may feel it’s important to be loyal to their “local” company. Even though all utility companies repay loyalty with the worse tariffs And they may be scared that they could be without power if something goes wrong when they switch companies.
I like MoneySavingExpert’s Cheap Energy Club, see their Switch your Gran! page for more details. You can get cashback from switching and they will also email you when you could benefit from switching again. If you add your email as a second one on the account, you will get the time to switch email in a year’s time and be able to explain to your parents why it’s a good idea.
Lower water bills?
You can’t change water companies, but there may be big water bill savings to be had if your parents switch to a water meter or could qualify for a cheaper rate.
Standard water charges are based on the size of the council tax bills, not the number of people living in the house. If the number of people in a house is the same or less than the number of bedrooms, they will probably get lower bills from a water meter. I suspect this is especially true for older people, who won’t be running the washing machine as often as a family with mucky children and may not have a dishwasher.
So a single person can almost always gain by switching, and a couple will if they have one or more spare bedrooms. The best thing about changing to a water meter is that if it doesn’t save you money, in most parts of the country you can just ask to switch back!
If your parents are in a flat where they can’t have a meter, ask about an “assessed charge” – that looks at how many people live there, so it could be cheaper than what they pay at the moment.
And people who get Pension Credit may be able to get a special cheaper rate – ask the water company if they have one of these.
Getting Pension Credit?
If your parents have a good pension from an employer, this one isn’t worth doing. But if they only get the state pension, or if you don’t think their other pensions will have added up to much, it’s worth checking to see if they could get Pension Credit because it could make a big difference to them. Even if they only get a pound or two a week in Pension Credit, they would then automatically not have to pay any council tax for example.
The criteria sound complicated, but this calculator asks all the right questions and then says if you are eligible and what you could get.
Some older people don’t like the idea of claiming benefits, so you may need to re-assure them than this is just another part of their pension – and this is why they paid tax for all those years.
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