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Today’s Solo Ager

March 06, 2023

I have an aging mother, who without the care and support provided by her children, would have found it very difficult to survive on her own. As she continues to age, her needs involve more and more of our time and commitment, which fortunately for her, we are more than willing and able to provide. Working with aging clients every day, I know that is more of an exception than the case.

Today’s retiree estimates the length of retirement to be around 29 years, and slightly more for women. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, about 30 percent of those retirees live alone.

The  “Solo Ager”, a term coined by author and solo aging expert Dr. Sara Zeff Geber, is an individual who, by choice or otherwise, finds themselves living without the traditional family system support. While in retirement, today’s solo ager wants to feel like they are still contributing, especially if retiring from a career they generally enjoyed and worked hard at.

According to Geber, “A significant number of Boomers will not have adult children to help them with care or relocation if living independently becomes difficult or impossible.” 

If you are planning for or are in retirement, getting some of the basics down can go a long way with creating a plan for a long, fulfilling and importantly, independent retirement.

Some of the aspects of healthy aging include planning for maintaining health, faith / community, financial security, mobility, home maintenance, social engagement, and legal and estate matters.

First comes assessing and evaluating your current situation, exploring options that are realistic and viable, and then implementing a plan to get to certain outcomes, or in some cases, avoid certain ones. Medically, knowing your family’s medical history and following medical advice to manage and monitor good health, eating a healthy and nutritious diet and following an effective exercise regimen can all go a long way to overall better health.

A close second is the social connections a person aging solo must have to lead a balanced, fulfilled life. Having a support group is often underestimated and overlooked. You may have heard of the “Blue Zones”, a term founded by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and multiple New York Times bestselling author. He discovered five zones in the world with the highest percentage of centenarians, and found that those communities shared nine underlying lifestyle principles such as healthy eating, active lifestyles and strong social networks.

While financial planning should begin well before retirement, living in retirement is putting that plan in action. Simple steps like following a budget, assessing spending relative to total portfolio, risk-return analysis and keeping a healthy reserve all go a long way in providing a financially sustainable retirement. In my last webinar in February, I discussed the “Spending Smile” concept based on the research on retirees’ spending pattern by David Blanchett, professor of wealth management at the American College. He found that most retirees’ expenses decline after retirement, assumed to be at age 65, until they reach age 84, at which point, their medical expenses start increasing and continue to rise until end of life. It goes without saying that regular communication with your financial advisor is important to ensure that you are on track and your financial plan is still viable.

Getting your legal matters in order is always important, whether you are in retirement or planning for it. Make sure your will, living will, trust, deed and DNR are all up to date. Also end of life decisions can be made by utilizing online resources like 5 Wishes. Make sure the individuals with the power of attorney for your directives are still able and willing to step up to act on your behalf.

Housing needs change as a person ages. Moving to a one-story home is quite common as mobility becomes a problem. Active senior communities do a fantastic job of providing many opportunities to stay connected, engaged and physically active.

There are books that can give you a head start, such as Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers by Dr. Sara Zeff Geber, Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old? by Joy Loverde and Solo and Smart by Carol L. Mark.

Good luck on the next, exciting chapter in your life!