Imagine it. Retirement is here and you finally have more time for yourself. More time to spend relaxing and doing the things you love – being with friends and family, traveling and maybe even learning a new language.
Perhaps you were married but now you are single and prefer it that way. Similarly, you are not burdened by boomerang children still living at home. You also did not spend 18 years, or more, of your life raising children. Will you end up an elder orphan?
A single life, without kids, might be considered dull and boring by others but the fact is, it is the reality for many people today. Roughly one-third of 45-to-63-year-olds are single, most of whom never married, or at this time are divorced, according to a study in The Gerontologist. The study also reported that less women are having children (you might also infer less men are having children). So, what does this mean for the thousands of Baby Boomers who are retiring every day? It could result in them having a potentially smaller support network to help with the basic care, help and guidance often needed by people as they age.
Childless retirees will face a slew of additional challenges and perhaps some advantages, as a result. However, people with no other option but to face that challenge alone, may not get the same positive results or put the same amount of effort into staying alive. On the flip side, they may be in better financial shape during their golden years and able to afford to receive the care needed
Without a spouse, or children, the odds of becoming isolated (either physically or socially) increase dramatically. People in this unfortunate situation are often referred to as “elder orphans.” Many probably do not think about it this way, but much of the care for today’s elders is provided by family.
Isolated elders are more likely to have trouble completing daily tasks, experience a higher rate of mental decline and (have weakened immune systems, thereby decreasing their ability to fight infections. They are also more likely to delay treatment or care simply because it’s a hassle for them to get to the doctor.
Before you start to worry about aging, I would like to point out that I know a great number of childless folks who are living what anybody would describe as dream retirements. Healthy, wealthy and wise, they are traveling, spending time with friends and enjoying life. I have even heard a few of them refer to their friends as their “chosen family.”
It is also important to note that the “retirement Garden of Eden” isn’t obtained simply by having your kids to care for you as you age. There are costs and pitfalls to relying on your children for all of your care. Likewise, not having children does not mean your retirement won’t be filled with love and joy. It just may take a little more effort and planning. It is estimated that roughly 70% of people will require long-term care and less than half think they will need it, according to SeniorCare.com
Everyone gets a little bit older with each passing day. Here are a few tips to increase your odds of living as independently as possible throughout your retirement:
1. Plan for a happier and healthier retirement
People are living longer and some of us may even live to 100 or beyond. Still, others may not make it to full retirement age. It is never too soon to plan and save for a happier and healthier retirement. Set aside money for medical emergencies and budget for other medical care like massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic and other nontraditional treatments. You want to avoid playing retirement savings catch up in your fifties and sixties. (link to article). Even worse, you do not want to wake up one day and realize you can afford to pay rent and buy groceries at the same time.
2. Make new friends and keep the old
Isolation is commonplace in retirement and studies have shown that early retirement can shorten some lifespans. You could say people are literally dying from boredom. All jokes aside, the happiest retirees I know have active social lives. They have routines, hobbies and most of all, friends. You have more time to kill without a full-time job. Take up a hobby and make new friends. Establish a monthly brunch or lunch to catch up with friends. Your days will be full before you know it.
3. Identify your most trusted friends
Who is the person(s) that you would want to be your emergency contact? Who could check in with you from time to time or notice if you went missing? For my retired clients, I make sure to have that person’s information just in case I am unable to contact my client over some period of time.
I also ensure my clients’ loved ones have my contact information, just in case. At our firm, we provide a client portal where people can store medical information and important documents in case they need to be accessed in an emergency. Look into designating a person as your Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Would you rather have someone you trust, and who you personally chose, or a distant relative make life-and-death decisions for you?
4. Right-size your housing
Today, baby boomers seem to be less interested in retiring to senior communities, in warmer climates, and more interested in staying in their homes as long as they can. If the latter is your goal, look for ways to reduce the maintenance costs required to keep a home. Consider a Golden Girls type living situation where you live with some of your fun friends. That will lower the cost for everyone involved and you will have some built in friends. Also, don’t discount senior communities. Many people love them once they get over the hurdle of moving.
Remember to think ahead. Consider your future health, your current living situation and its accessibility. I just had someone come in who had to sell their beach house because she could no longer climb the steep stairs after knee surgery. You may want to consider moving into a single-story home or, in other cases, it may be cheaper and easier to make adjustments to your existing home. My oldest client is nearly 100 and has been living in her lovely home since before my parents were even born.
5. Enjoy life
Your golden years will not be all doom and gloom. Having fun and enjoying life is important for people of all ages. The activities may just vary a bit. The healthiest 90-year-olds I know seem to be the most active and some of them wear me out with their busy schedules. I can only hope for their quality of life when I am their age. I hear 90 is the new 70.
Retiring single, or without children, has its advantages and disadvantages. With a little extra planning you can have a fun and fabulous retirement.
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