As boards and committees and organizations deliberate about the economy and how it affects the elderly (or anyone over 60) we often hear the words fixed income. There is nothing fixed about it.

In the last six months, my income (supplemented by part-time jobs) has decreased by almost $400 a month. That’s a challenge to make up, given the economic times. The “fixed expenses” have not decreased. And I’m not alone by any means. Many of my peers are facing the same situation.

In all these decision-making discussions by the experts on our lives, we never hear the term “fixed expenses,” probably because it doesn’t exist.

Social Security and pensions may remain fixed for a certain period, but the expenses know no bounds. We all know about the cost of oil based products (fuel for the car, fuel for the house) but these elevated costs have an effect on nearly everything we buy.

Food costs continue to climb. There was a time, not too many years ago, when we could tell summer was about to arrive because the costs of convenience foods was ever-so-slightly increased. However, that gauge is no longer used and instead, it seems that weekly increases take place, affecting year round residents, not just the visitors.

Now we hear it is the cost of delivery that drives the cost of food items. I would hope if this were the case, that manufacturers would set aside any plans for redesigning of packages, and let that wait until things settle down. Whenever a new box or can is designed, a logo or trademark changed, the cost of the end product is sure to be more. Something we can do without at this time.

For a little while, I’d been thinking this would be the ideal time to introduce a newsletter or column about being a tightwad, but someone has beaten me to it. There is a Tightwad Times, a Tightwad Gazette and no doubt there will be more of these during the slumping economy. Those of us who cannot look forward to a pay raise on a regular basis must revert to other measures to survive. Perhaps combined purchases of staple products would be more affordable. This will be the time of elimination of Sunday drives and trips to visit relatives in another state.

More and more, people will be staying close to home. For those of us who are older, the old expression “just say no” will become a reality for seniors and not just for the young! Going out to dinner, once a routine, is now a rare treat.

Some areas are not keeping up with the escalation of expenses. A friend of mine had jury duty, for which he was compensated $10 per day. The kicker was it cost $14 to park his vehicle. Combine that $4 difference with the cost of travel and you have a lose-lose situation.

Most Maine senior citizens don’t take full advantage of help that is, and has been, available. This is the time we will stop thinking about it, and actually make the call. Like the low-cost drug program the state implemented some years ago, there are other programs, both federal and state, which provide assistance to seniors in areas like food, utilities and basic living expenses. A call to Southern Maine Agency on Aging will provide real, useable information. You can easily find out what help you can receive, based on your income and expenses. Ask for the checklist for program qualification guidelines.

Community help groups in many Maine towns are gearing up for another year of citizen needs. Check with your town hall or local town councilors or selectboard members to find out what’s available and what their plans are. Find out where and when food pantries are open in your town or area. Every little bit helps, in tough times like these, and remember that the taxes you paid all those years you were working, and continue to pay, make these programs available. If you need help, you need to ask for it.

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