The number of older self-funders in England is growing in the context of tight eligibility criteria and fixed financial thresholds to access statutory adult social care. Older people who self-fund their social care fall largely under the radar of statutory services and of research. Our study aimed to listen closely to the stories that older people tell about finding, managing and paying for their care. We interviewed 65 older people living in the community who were funding all or some of their social care. This paper focuses on narrative analysis of selected transcripts from these interviews. It sheds light on how older people represent their experiences of self-funding and what underpins these constructions. A key finding is that the disjunctions within older people’s accounts between the care they want and the care they receive reflect wider political and structural tensions in the funding and delivery of care. Older self-funders temper their expectations in light of their experience of shortfalls in the system. This enables them to adjust to the deficiencies but obscures and perpetuates poor care. The discussion considers the findings in relation to: the fundamental incompatibility of body labour and commodified care; the shared precarity of older people and care workers; and the individualisation of risks that makes older people and their carers responsible for making a failing care system ‘work’. Our analysis adds to the case for major reform of adult social care, including a revaluing of the status and employment conditions of front-line care workers.