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Connecting on a Budget: Video Chat Solutions for the Pandemic

Our thanks to Jim Vogel for this contribution to our blog.

Learn more about the mature consumer market at The Business of Aging.

The longer the COVID-19 pandemic lasts, the harder it is to remain isolated from friends and family. However, for older adults and other vulnerable groups, traveling and attending big family gatherings is still too risky. The need to connect safely during the pandemic has given rise to a demand for affordable, user-friendly video chat technology for older adults. But while tablets and gadgets are cheaper than a plane ticket, they still put a dent in older adults’ budgets.

How can older adults reap the benefits of social technology on limited budgets? These cost-saving solutions keep older Americans connected through the pandemic.

Free Apps for Staying Connected

For older adults on a tight or limited budget, free apps are the best place to start. Free apps for the social distancing era include the following:

Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger is a great tool because most of us are already on Facebook. In addition to chatting with friends, Facebook Messenger supports video calls for up to eight people and Rooms for 50.

FaceTime

FaceTime’s biggest drawback is that it’s only available on Apple devices. But for Mac users, this free iOS app is one of the simplest out there.

WhatsApp

Big family? WhatsApp supports group chats for up to 256 people so everyone stays in the loop. WhatsApp also supports video calling for connecting face-to-face.

Skype

Skype is another video chat solution that works no matter what type of device or operating system you’re using. Skype supports one-on-one or group video and voice calls.

Marco Polo

Marco Polo is the best app for families separated by time zones. Rather than chatting in real-time, Marco Polo lets users send video messages that can be stored and viewed any time. While Marco Polo’s premium version costs $5 a month, users can access the app’s core features for free.

Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party)

Whether families want to view a new release or a holiday classic, Teleparty lets them do it together with synchronized playback and group chat. Users need a Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or HBO subscription to watch, but the Teleparty app itself is free.

How to Save Money on Video Devices

When it comes to new technology, older adults prefer to keep it simple. Devices with complicated interfaces and batteries that constantly need charging are likely to end up in a desk drawer.

Tablets and smart displays are the best options for video calling. More comfortable than tiny smartphone screens, these gadgets are both feature-rich and easy to use. Unfortunately, they’re also pricey: Most smart displays start around $200. These include the Amazon Echo Show, Google Nest Hub, and Facebook Portal. Meanwhile, popular tablets like the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab run anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to $1,000-plus.

Two notable exceptions are the Echo Show 8 and Fire HD. While these devices offer smaller displays than the other options, at around $100 they’re great options for buyers on a budget. Alternatively, buyers can wait for price drops on the most popular video calling devices. Watching the Daily Deals at Best Buy is a great way to get a steep discount on new technology. Shoppers can also use a Best Buy discount code to save at any time.

Not everyone wants to purchase a new device to video chat. Whether they’re minimalist or just on a budget, older adults can upgrade their video calling experience without spending hundreds. Many of the most popular webcams, including the Logitech C310 and Microsoft LifeCam, cost less than $50 and come with built-in microphones. A ring light or LED light panel ensures even lighting and good video quality at any time of day.

Now more than ever, it’s important to stay connected. While some older adults assume anything high-tech is out of reach, connecting face-to-face during the pandemic is more accessible than you might think. Whether an older adult has $50 to spend or $1,000, there’s a video calling solution that’s right for them.

Five Fun Activities To Do With Your Grandkids

**Please practice social distancing and wearing masks if/when needed for these activities.

Our thanks to Cristin Howard for this contribution to our blog:

Author Bio: Cristin Howard runs Smart Parent Advice, a site that provides parenting advice for moms and dads. Cristin writes about all of the different ups and downs of parenting, provides solutions to common challenges, and reviews products that parents need to purchase.

Visits from grandchildren are a joyous occasion. There’s nothing quite like the hugs, snuggles, and smiles your grandkids bring when they come to see you.

However, the initial excitement can quickly wear off and kids, as they’re prone to do, might start complaining that they’re bored.

While being bored isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you’d like to have some fun suggestions for when your grandkids come to visit, look no further.

We have compiled a list of five fun activities to do with your grandkids!

Take a Walk

Getting out and moving is good for every generation, and there are significantly less breakable items outside on a walk than inside.

If your house is on a busy street, or doesn’t have a sidewalk, consider driving to a nearby park or trail to take your walk.

Walking with kids is a surefire way to get them talking, and you’ll be surprised how quickly they start to chatter about all the things going on in their lives.

Depending on the ages of your grandchildren, expect bouts of running interspersed with stopping to look at bugs, leaves, acorns, and exciting cracks in the cement. Exploration is good for kids, and they’ll definitely remind you how to stop and smell the roses!

One advantage of going for a walk is that it’s an outdoor activity.  So, if you put on a mask and practice social distancing, this one is on the safer side of the spectrum.

Do a Puzzle

Puzzles work for kids of almost any age (once they’re past the toddler stage) and with a wide range of size and piece numbers, you’ll be able to find a puzzle that can entertain several people at once, even with a wide age range.

Younger kids can help with more challenging puzzles by sorting out like pieces and having them try to put together a small portion of the puzzle.

Puzzles themselves have a few extra perks. One is that you can talk and catch up while working on the puzzle, but it takes some of the pressure off when it’s quiet as well. Another is that a puzzle is a come and go activity. This works well for kids with short attention spans, or when parents need to get dinner ready or change a diaper.

Get in the Kitchen

Yup, that’s right, get those kids in the kitchen! If you have some skills (or just a little bit of knowledge) and enjoy whipping up tasty treats, then invite your grandkids to join you when they come over.

Don’t worry if you’re not a great chef. Even making slice n’ bake cookies together, or cooking a box of macaroni and cheese can be a great memory for both you and your grands. The kitchen is an excellent place for kids to learn new things and family traditions, histories, and recipes are often passed down through shared cooking experiences.

Another perk to spending some of your visit in the kitchen is that kids are more likely to eat when they help cook. Learn their favorite foods and encourage them to try new things at the same time!

Trade Technology Secrets

While it’s true that the younger generations typically know the latest and great technology tricks, grandparents often have a few apps and ideas of their own that they can share with their grandkids.

Playing with different apps or even learning how to use technology better is an easy and educational way to pass the time with your family. If your grandchild is an artist, they can draw you on a drawing tablet and send you a digital copy, or if they love to code, ask them to show you some of their creations.

There’s always something new to learn and do when it comes to technology, even if it’s just putting together a playlist to share your favorite songs!

Read a Book

A classic for a reason, reading a book never gets old, and it’s an activity that can be enjoyed at every age. Maybe your grandchild is learning to read and wants to read their favorite story to you, or perhaps you have a favorite book that you would love to share with the next generation.

Either way, sitting down and reading a book is entertaining, educational, and creates some common ground to help spark conversation later on in the visit.

If it’s hard for you or your grandchild to read aloud, consider using one of the audiobook apps to listen to a story or podcast together. There are so many to choose from, both long and short, that you’ll never run out of material!

This is actually a great activity for current times as well.  Even with social distancing in place, setting up a Zoom or Facetime call to do a little reading can work quite well.

Zoom Calls, With An Agenda

Depending on their age, your grandchildren might or might not have the patience and attention span for a long conversation.  But, that doesn’t mean that Zoom calls can’t still be fun. They key it to have a few different ideas ready to make the best use of your virtual time together.

One idea is to tell a few jokes. You might pick up a children’s joke book and read a few near the beginning of each call. This is a great way to get things off to a good start.

You can also play games like Twenty Questions.  Games like this can be a lot of fun and a great way to spend quality time from kids, even when you’re not in the same room.

Make Visits Count

If you feel pressured to make sure your grandkids have a fun time with you, take a deep breath and relax.

Kids have a way of finding things to do and the most important activity when you’re together is spending time and making memories. And for that, you don’t need to plan much of anything!