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10/10/2004

Asset Plans

By Toney Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Some seniors, such as Longmont’s Anna Yaussi, are content to spend their golden years taking it easy. On her limited income, which includes the small amount she earns as an Avon representative, she maintains a pretty low-key — or as she puts it, “boring” — lifestyle.

“I have good friends,” said the 80-year-old Yaussi, whose late husband, Floyd, used to be the basketball coach at Longmont High School. “We go out to eat sometimes for breakfast, or sometimes for lunch.”

She also likes to spend time with her family, she said, occasionally accompanying them on trips. And she also likes to go to the movies and always attends church on Sunday.

Yaussi may consider her modest habits boring, but they’re probably typical of a lot of Longmont seniors. On any given day you’ll find people gathered together sipping coffee or having lunch, or attending classes at the Senior Center.

Everyone hopes to make it to their golden years with enough money to enjoy a life of leisure. Not everyone can afford to live as well as they would like, of course, but statistics show seniors in Boulder County seem to have it better than average.

County residents 55 and older have median incomes well above the statewide averages for the same age group, according to a report released by Boulder County’s Aging Services Division.

For those in the county ages 55 to 64, the median income — meaning half the incomes fall below that number and half above — is $66,700, compared with the statewide average of $52,300.

As the ages go up, the difference between the Boulder County median income and the state’s gets narrower, but the county still comes out ahead.

And the percentage of Boulder County seniors 55 and older living below the poverty line is also below the statewide average.

• • •

Most seniors put health-care costs at the top of the list of what they spend their money on. But beyond that, as with any group of people, how they spend their disposable income really depends on the individuals themselves.

Some seniors like their retirement with a little more movement — couples such as Lloyd Crook and his wife, Maureen.

The Crooks, who live in the Willis Heights neighborhood, spend much of their free time — and there’s a lot of it — on the go.

“We have a travel-trailer and we do go south (during) winters for a month or two, and there are an awful lot of seniors that do that,” said Crook, a Longmont resident since 1973 who retired about eight years ago from Great Western Sugar Co.

Lloyd said he and his wife spend nearly half the year traveling in their RV. The couple recently returned from attending Lloyd’s high school reunion — Class of ’49 — at Fergus County High School in Lewistown, Mont.

Crook said that some years ago he inherited 50 acres of the old family homestead near Lewistown, where he grew up, and he and his wife spend a lot of time shuttling back and forth between here and there.

“We’re working on the house,” he said. “We had friends and family up and my wife cooked on the old Majestic stove and we played dominoes by kerosene lantern.”

Crook figures he’s put more than 15,000 miles on his 31-foot travel trailer in the past three years.

A member of several motor home-related clubs, Crook said seniors make up a large percentage of RV’ers — especially those, like he and his wife, who fit into the “snowbird” category.

Arizona and New Mexico are two of the favorites states for Coloradans, he said.

“Most of these places have activities for (seniors),” he said. “Most of them have a recreational hall or something. And they’ll have a lot of scheduled activities for them.”

He said many people begin to favor the same resorts year after year. Sometimes, he said, “they’ll have more of a family situation than they’ll have up here in their own homes.”

Ocean cruises are a farther-flung travel destination popular with seniors, according to Barbara Barnes at Ambassador Travel.

For that particular age group, she said, cruises are popular for a number of reasons.

“There’ll be a lot of other seniors,” Barnes said, “and everything is taken care of — their meals, their entertainment. And they’re always wheelchair-accessible.”

Not every senior client of hers wants to go on a cruise, of course. Overseas package tours to Europe are also popular, as are bus tours closer to home that cater to seniors.

“A lot of them have time-shares, so they’ll go down to Grand Cayman and stay down there for a couple of months,” Barnes said.

Beyond the types of vacations they take, seniors are a different demographic in other ways, she said.

One distinct advantage seniors have, Barnes said, is that they aren’t under the time constraints most younger people face. Most of them have no problem patiently waiting for the best travel deal.

“They’ll want the least expensive we can get them,” said Barnes. “And they’ll wait ... They have all the free time in the world, so they’ll wait as long as it takes to get the price they want.”

Seniors — a significant portion of her business, Barnes said — often prefer to deal one-on-one with a travel agent, rather than looking on the Internet for the cheapest air fare or hotel rates. Many seniors simply aren’t comfortable with the Web, she said, or don’t feel OK about giving up necessary personal information to purchase something online.

“On the whole, they’re pretty cautious,” Barnes said. “We’ve had people stranded, and they can call me and I’m going to get them somewhere, somehow.

“If you bought your ticket on the Internet, who are you going to call?”

• • •

That comfort level of dealing with humans as opposed to machines is a key part of the senior demographic, according to marketing experts.

“Their buying history began at a time when merchants knew them personally,” writes Craig Huey, president of Creative Direct Marketing Group Inc., in a newsletter about direct marketing to seniors. “This is the last group of people in our society to enjoy personalized relationships with the people who provided them with goods and services.”

Advertisers trying to reach the senior market, Huey said, need to be aware that they’ll face a high level of skepticism, and, “seniors tend to be more distrustful than other segments of the market.”

Still, advertisers ignore this market at their peril. According to Huey, people 55 and older own 77 percent of all the assets in the United States, and seniors, said Huey, have five times the net worth of the average American.

Huey offered no footnote reference to back up the latter statistic, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, while people 55 and older make up 35 percent of the population, they control almost 45 percent of the country’s disposable income.

Advertisers, of course, are well aware of these statistics. Asked what type of advertising inspires her to buy, Yaussi was dismissive.

“I really don’t know,” she said. “I mute the TV when the commercials come on.”

Yaussi said she realizes that some unscrupulous marketers may consider seniors an easy target for scams. She said she doesn’t personally know anyone who has been the target, but she knows the sharks are out there. She just refuses to swim in the waters.

“I’ve heard of a lot of them,” she said. “If I’ve gotten calls, I don’t know if they’re scams, I just refused to talk to them.

“Time-shares or whatever — I’m not interested in them. I’ve got everything I need so I just don’t worry about them.”

Yaussi suspects that it might be the younger generation that’s more influenced by advertising.

“I don’t know how I would describe the difference (between the generations),” said Yaussi. “But I think the younger ones live for today.

“I grew up during the days of the Depression, and you just saved everything because you never knew when you were going to need it. That’s just how we lived.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at
303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.