Find A Way To Find Your Tribe
Strategies for Singles in Retirement
Hey, everyone! I’m on vacation this week, so I thought I’d recycle one of the newsletters from WAY back in the day. Those of you who have been here from the beginning may recognize it, but it’s still good food for thought - hopefully. Enjoy!
If you are facing retirement as a single, you are not alone. Roughly one-third of 45-63-year-olds are single according to a study in “The Gerontologist.” The proportion of adults aged 45–54 who were never married increased 300% between 1986 and 2009 and the number who never had children has grown as well. Obviously, there is something to be said about the single, independent lifestyle, or this cohort would not be so much on the rise! But while there are certainly positive aspects of retirement as a single, there are also responsibilities and vulnerabilities that will need to be taken care of without the traditional support of spouse and children. That may mean a little more planning for things like medical emergencies, long term care and even filling the social calendar. So, let’s get at it and determine what steps you can take to live a longer, happier, healthier single life in retirement! Oh! And even if you think you’re covered, remember, kids move out of state and one of the spouses is nearly guaranteed to outlive the other… so… keep that in mind as you plan for your future. Some of these strategies could be helpful.
As study after study indicates, being socially engaged increases happiness and longevity. It may not be fair, but singles are more likely to feel socially isolated than their married counterparts, and social isolation has been determined to be as detrimental to your health as obesity. For single folks, an active social life can be, literally, the difference between life and death. If there is nobody there to check up on you, and you find yourself in a life-threatening situation, (have you fallen and you can’t get up?) you may not have the capacity to save yourself. Social interaction can also keep your brain active. It can keep your body active. It can give you an outlet for your ups and downs and, studies show, it can help stave off boredom and depression that lead to lower quality of life and physical and mental decline. It’s good for you, no matter who you are! You may be able to do with fewer connections if you are an introvert like me, but you still need an outlet - a couple of good friends or a sister and a cousin that are there through thick and thin. Find a way to connect with someone at least once per week. It may take some effort, but the result will be well worth it. There are lots of ways to get socially active. Set a standing lunch date. Run a book club or a bingo night. Sign up for a club or a benevolent association. Take a class and make a point of starting a study group. Volunteer or sign up to be a caregiver on one of the many platforms that are out there. Whatever it takes, find a way to find your tribe.
But social interaction isn’t the only issue you need to be thinking about and planning for in retirement if you are a single. Here are a few more things to think about.
The good news is that healthcare will be less expensive for one person than it would be for two. But taking care of the healthcare costs is not the only consideration for a single person. The unfortunate truth is that 52% of those turning 65 will need some type of long term care in their lifetimes. If you are single, you need to think about who will work with your healthcare team if you become incapacitated. Putting an advance healthcare directive in place that designates who that is can help tremendously when the time comes. And, by all means, please talk to the people that you will designate in your directive. Ask them if they are willing to be your advocate. Tell them what your wants and desires are for your care. Spell out as much as you can in your legal document. It’s the caring thing to do. And, if they’re single, too, maybe you can be each others’ advocates.
There are a couple of types of insurance that might be more important for the single individual to consider. First, as we said, 52% of us, if we reach 65, will need some type of long term care, and it can be pricey, but it might be more useful to those who do not have other options like spouses or children. If you do not have resources to cover care, you might want to look into a policy - now, because once you need it you will not be able to get it. It’s smart to put something in place in your 50s or early 60s. “The average cost of a private room in a nursing home is now $267 per day, according to Genworth Financial. The median cost of hiring a home health aide is $22 per hour, or almost $46,000 a year for a 40-hour week.“ according to this Kiplinger report. If you can cover this with your nest egg, it might be OK to self-insure, but if you have a gap, a policy might make sense.
Secondly, if you are still working it might be worth your while to consider additional disability insurance. You will not have any other resource or source of income to rely on if you are temporarily disabled and someone is going to have to pay your bills. Again, consider your overall financial situation, but if you are not able to self-insure for any portion of your disability, you might want to up your coverage to ensure you don’t have to change your lifestyle or interrupt your retirement plans due to an unforeseen circumstance.
You probably have a cash safety net set aside by now. If you don’t, it’s a good idea to think about putting one in place. Most of the literature recommends setting aside 6 months worth of cash. If you are single, though, you might want to consider being a little more liquid. The reason is that, if you are incapacitated, you do not want others to be burdened with taking care of expenses. You want them to have easy access to any resources they need for your care.
OK, so you’ve put the right insurance and financial safety net in place to take care of your needs. How will your support network get to the funds they need to pay for your care? Here, you need to do two things. First, a durable power of attorney document will give them access to the accounts and funds that you designate for your care. Make sure whoever you give power of attorney realizes that they are not only responsible for your medical bills. They are responsible for things like filing taxes and paying insurance premiums and other bills and payments. Secondly, make sure the people you designate have access to your account numbers and passwords and to the power of attorney document, itself. Be very clear with them where the information is and how they can access it if needed. They’re going to be a little overwhelmed as it is, trying to do the right thing for you. Help them by making it as easy as possible.
If you pass away as a single without an estate plan, the courts will decide who gets what. That may be OK with you, but if you don’t want Evil Aunt Trudy to get her hands on your dough, or if you are particularly smitten by the kittens at the local SPCA and want them to have your estate, you need to make that clear before you die with an estate plan. It can be a simple living will or something more elaborate, but without it, the legal system decides where your assets go.
Wow. It seems like you need a whole village of people to get you through your golden years! And the best you can do is your golden retriever. The good news is that a pet can really help. Studies show that a pet is almost as good as a friend in alleviating loneliness. But a pet can only go so far. They’re not going to help you with healthcare advocacy or paying your bills when you are incapacitated, and they’re not going to be a great travel companion if you’re going to ski the Alps or try lunch at The French Laundry. So, how do you find this network of people?
Look around you. You probably have single friends, or maybe have a strong network already. If you do, approach them with your concerns and see if they have similar needs. You may be surprised that even your married with children friends are thinking about what happens if their kids move away and/or their spouse goes first. It’s an extremely difficult topic to bring up, but it might be the most important conversation you have this year.
Try a ready-built community. We talked about one ready-built option in a past newsletter. But if you don’t have a tribe that wants to cohabitate you are not necessarily out of luck. There are retirement communities that specialize in continuity of care, meaning that you can live independently in a neighborhood environment, or move within the same community to a situation that provides more care. There are also “impromptu” communities where most of the residents are seniors and they take care of each other. And of course there are planned over 55 communities that have specialized resources for seniors. Your real estate agent can help you find these communities. My mom’s friend lives in an awesome mobile home community in the Santa Cruz mountains that is one of the “impromptu” communities. It’s about 75% seniors and everybody knows and checks up on everybody else. I’d love to live there when the time comes.
You can also hire people to help. There is a vast network of caregivers that will come to your home for anything from help with cleaning and medication to just a person to have lunch with on a regular basis. Care.com is a well known one, but there are several others. You can also hire fiduciaries to help with legal and financial responsibilities if you are not able to execute them. And, your healthcare community can be very helpful if you need someone to understand your wishes if you are not able to tell them. Engage them and make sure you have the right network and documents in place to leverage them. Hiring someone is probably not the optimal solution for these issues, but it is an option if you don’t have any others.
The good news is, you’ve got time! Use it! Get yourself out there and find the resources you need. Make a plan. It may be uncomfortable, but you may find it rewarding to find your folk and build those safety nets! Being single in retirement can give you a ton of freedom! With that freedom comes a few responsibilities. No surprise there, and nothing you can’t tackle with the same aplomb you’ve done for your whole single life!