Friday, April 3, 2015

How Not to Be Seen as a Needy Old Person

Easter is this Sunday, and holidays are one of the hardest times for many older folks. Isolation and loneliness are hazards of getting older for some of us, and too often we find ourselves feeling even lonelier when our hopes for family contact and togetherness are dashed. If this happens to you, you're not alone. 

Disrespect of the Elderly

It sometimes surprises me how much less our society, nowadays, honors and values its elders, compared to generations past. I wrote about this in a Mother’s Day post a while back, titled Honor Thy Parents? Not so Much for Some

Then the other day I was reading some blog post comments and got a real eye-opener. Someone asked what she should "do about" an aging neighbor who had been making overtures of friendship. The writer, a young mother, said she already taking care of two elderly relatives and didn’t need another old person to take care of. Her first assumption, you see, was that if an older person wanted to be friends, there was an ulterior motive... the older person was obviously looking for younger neighbors to do things for her.

Some subsequent commenters disagreed and said they had older neighbors who were very independent and actually helped out their younger neighbors. But there were more than a few who agreed that old people just expect to have everyone do stuff for them, blah, blah, blah. and that the original poster would do herself a favor by just staying away. 

How Old People Are Viewed by the Younger Generation

These days, younger people are more and more seeing older folks as greedy, sucking up resources that should be theirs (like Social Security, despite the fact that we all paid into it for years and years). We oldsters are all supposedly expecting to be taken care of. I guess this is a reflection of increasing narcissism and looser family ties in our culture, but it is an attitude that exists, even in our own children sometimes, and we need to learn how to deal with it

The Importance of Not Seeming Needy

I more recently wrote, in Don't Be a Pathetic Old Person, that one of the most important tenets in successfully practicing Stealth Frugality is to not be pathetic. It’s partly for our own self-respect, but these days it’s also a form of self-protection. The more needy you seem to younger people, the more many of them will avoid you and disrespect you. We need social ties with people of all ages, including our families, so we need to be sure we’re not unthinkingly doing things that may alienate them.

The good news is that there are many things you can do to make you seem capable, self-sufficient, and abundant if not affluent. These will make family members, younger people, and even more affluent people your own age, feel more comfortable about differences between your situations. 

You're Reframing... Not Faking It

And there are undeniable differences. This is not about lying or covering up! You’re not trying to pretend to have more money than you actually do, or to be in perfect health when you have some serious problems. Maybe what I’ve heard called “reframing” is the best way to describe the new attitude you must learn to project. This requires a positive attitude, optimism, and a bit of faith. You have to learn to view your circumstances in a positive light. Although you aren’t ignoring the negative - and there’s always some of that - you focus on the good in everything.

In other words, you learn to behave and to talk about your situation and choices in a manner that does not make others feel uncomfortable or that they have to "do something" for you. When people, especially younger people, feel your very presence is a call for them to "do something" to help you, sadly, most of them will begin to avoid you like the proverbial plague. 

Some Ways to Seem Independent, not Needy

I am by no means a master at this, but I’m getting better every day. Here are some ideas: 
  • Don’t be asking for help all the time unless you really need it. It is true that a lot of old people are in the habit of asking others to do things for them that they could very well do for themselves. One of my students has an older neighbor who frequently asks my student to get things for her when she goes to the store. My student never complains, but I would get tired of it. Do your own shopping, or learn to order things online. Take care of yourself physically so that with luck, you’ll continue to be able to do your own shopping, shovel snow from your sidewalks and mow your lawn. Learn how to do small household repairs, or hire a handyman. Don’t feed into the stereotype of older people always asking others for help. Save your requests for when you really need it.
  • Instead, do things for others. Try to be generous to everyone, even in little ways. Make a list of birthdays, get a bunch of cards at the dollar store, and send everyone cards for their birthdays. Pick up and put away your neighbor’s trash cans when they blow into the street. Give small gifts as often as possible and to as many people as possible, even if it’s just a clipping from the newspaper about something they’re interested in, a loaf of home baked bread or some cookies, vegetables from your garden, or a small, inexpensive item from your gift stash. Offer to take in mail and water plants when neighbors go on vacation, or to babysit if they have young children.
  • Never say, "I can't afford that." And that's actually true much of the time, by the way. Everything we do involving money is a function of our personal choices, of how we prioritize our needs against what we have available to pay for them. There's very little I couldn't afford, at least briefly, but I just don't want to make the sacrifices that would be needed for a lot of things. I could afford a month-long trip to Europe, for example. Many of us could even if we had to clean out our bank account, max out our credit cards, mortgage our home, sell our stuff, or take out a big loan. But we rarely want to do those things, so we make more modest travel plans. 
  • Express happiness and gratitude at all you do have. When you appreciate what's good in your situation and possessions, it is very appealing to others. And there are always good things in every situation. You can't afford a big, fancy house? Then you learn to appreciate the convenience and reduced upkeep of a small home or apartment. A friend had to move into a small studio apartment, and although she had to give away many of her things, she hasn’t complained but instead enthuses over her gorgeous view, the laundry facilities right on her own floor, and the proximity to shopping. I had to stop driving because of my eyesight, but I tell everyone how good it is that I have a reason to walk a lot, and how convenient it is to take the bus and not to have to deal with car upkeep. This needs to be true, joyful appreciation, by the way, not the grudging kind.
  • Give people valid reasons, other than cost, why you cannot or are not going to do or buy something. Or say nothing at all. I don't go out to eat a lot at restaurants, for example, because restaurant food is just not that healthy. It's also far less expensive to eat at home, but I don't need to say that. 
  • It’s ok to say you like... or love... things you’re not going to buy. Going shopping with a friend at an upscale department store can be fun. It’s fine to admire all the gorgeous things you see (and can’t afford). Just don't express a sad longing for them... that’s a little pathetic. I view upscale “window shopping” like a trip to a museum. You can enjoy without buying. Plus, knowing what good quality merchandise looks like helps you make better choices at discount stores and flea markets, doesn’t it? Sometimes a friend will urge you to buy something you have said you really like. Just say you need to think about it. Personally, I’ve found that when I make impulsive purchases they often turn out not to be what I really need. So I usually just say I have made it a policy to think about things a bit before I buy them, so that I don’t end up with closets crammed with stuff I don’t use. It gets you off the hook, but it’s actually a good habit to form.
  • Use environmental concerns as a rationale for frugalities. Not using a car, keeping your thermostat low in the winter and not using air conditioning? Not using a dishwasher and drying clothes on a clothesline? These are all genuinely good for the environment because they cut back on energy use. They save you money too, but you don’t need to say that.
  • State a decided preference for things that are within your budget. You can give a reason, or not. I tell people I do a lot of shopping at a small discount market in my neighborhood. True, the prices are great and it really keeps my food budget in line. But mostly I explain it by the convenience. And it is super convenient to just dash over there on foot, rather than waiting for a bus and traveling much farther to a big supermarket. I also subscribe only to the Basic cable lineup and so don’t get most of the cable channels my friends and family do. I tell people have the basic only so that my grandchildren have something to watch when they come over. I mostly read, and the few TV programs I watch are via streaming video - Amazon Prime or Netflix. I don’t want to pay the $100 or so many people shell out for their cable packages, but I don’t need to mention that. 

Make This a Gift to Yourself

Notice that nothing I say to explain my choices, if necessary, is untrue. You don’t have to be a liar to do this reframing. Just focus on the positive. Appreciate the heck out of all you do have. Be as frugal as you need to, but do it in a way that is “stealthy,” rather than talking about it to everyone. Doing this will make you feel more abundant. That in turn will not only make you feel happy, but it will also help you be more generous with others And doing all this, my friend, will keep YOU from becoming one of those pathetic, needy old people that others avoid.

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