Sometimes it feels like the world is designed for couples. People throw dinner parties for couples. Most forms ask about your spouse. And, let’s face it, retirement, and aging — an era when you’ll sometimes need a helping hand — can feel kind of scary on your own.
Whether by circumstances or choice, the U.S. Census Bureau has documented that there are more than 20 million unmarried U.S. residents age 65 and older. And, Pew research estimates that 27% of adults 60 and older live alone. These aging solo adults are often referred to as elder orphans or solo seniors.
Those numbers are likely to increase. While being single was once stigmatized as a lonely or unhappy state, times have changed, and more and more people are staying single and societal norms are becoming more open to all kinds of different ways of living.
Women especially are living alone in greater numbers. The Administration on Aging found that 37% of women in the U.S. over 65 live by themselves, are happy about it, and wouldn’t want to live any other way.
Nonetheless, there are some challenges to retiring alone. Here are 17 tips for navigating retirement on your own:
1. You Need a Personalized Plan — Retirement Rules of Thumb Don’t Work as Well for Singles
As someone who is single, it is probably even more important for you to create a personalized and detailed retirement plan rather than just relying on rules of thumb like 4% drawdown rules or spending 80% of what you spent while working when you are retired.
A detailed retirement plan can be easy to create. The NewRetirement Retirement Planner has received a lot of praise for being a highly detailed tool. Users love that the system asks many questions that they have not considered. Because this calculator helps you imagine your future and is completely customizable — for single people or couples — it is easily one of the best ways to plan for retirement.
2. Overcome Your Financial Insecurities
According to a study from Northwestern Mutual, “Overall, single men and women are generally less satisfied with their financial circumstances than married Americans.”
And, “Financial anxiety runs high among singles. More than four in 10 (45%) of single men and half (50%) of single women say they feel either a moderate or a lot of anxiety about their personal financial security — a substantially higher percentage than married individuals (35% married men and 41% married women).”
Overcome these insecurities by starting your plan right now. It is not as daunting as you might think. The NewRetirement retirement planner walks you step by step through the whole process.
3. Maintain a Schedule
Experts suggest that a major contributor to aging after retirement is the lack of the schedule that a job provides. Work gives you a reason to get up every day and some degree of accountability.
When you retire — especially if you live alone — having a place to go every day can be an important aspect of staying vital.
4. Special Note for People Who Become Single After Retirement
At 65, my grandmother had never paid a bill in her entire life. My grandfather had handled all of the finances. However, when he was struck by Alzheimer’s, she was not shy about jumping into the role of financial manager for their lives — she even knew enough to hire a financial advisor to help with their investments.
Whether you are married now or not, it is important that you try to educate yourself about personal finance. Retirement planning can be complicated. Creating your own written retirement plan is a good way to get started and get your hands around the universe of retirement planning and personal finance topics.
5. Consider Adopting a Pet
The research on the benefits of owning a dog is overwhelming and is probably particularly true if you are single. Beyond emotional benefits like their unconditional love of us, one study found that dog owners need fewer doctor visits. Another study from Australia found that pet owners had lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and a lower heart attack risk than people without pets.
Other research has suggested that caring for a dog, in particular, is healthful in that it keeps us vital and generally ensures that we get a walk every day. Here are six ways pets can improve your health.
6. Cultivate a Support Network
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, maintaining friendships is actually critical to your health and well-being.
You need people you can rely on emotionally and for life help. And, believe it or not, science says that you are way better off when you have people who rely on you.
Create a buddy system with a group of friends for rides home from the doctor or hospital appointments or other times when you need a helping hand.
7. Stay Social
Besides the practical support, a lot of research has shown the benefits of being social as we age. The links between healthy social relationships and better health are well established. One study from the Pennsylvania State University found that when social activities are linked to physical exercise, even more benefits are achieved.
8. Avoid Emotional Loneliness
Being alone is great. Feeling lonely can have a detrimental impact on your health.
In fact, older people who experience the highest levels of “emotional loneliness” are at a greater risk of premature mortality — 18.6% increased risk of all-cause mortality.
9. Think Carefully About Where You Live
Housing is generally your biggest retirement expense. Whether married or not, all retirees need to think carefully about their housing choices.
As someone single, you have more flexibility about where you live — consider the pros and cons of some of these options:
Live Abroad: If you don’t have adult children or grandchildren, there might be few drawbacks to living abroad. It can be such a wonderful (and cost-efficient) opportunity.
Live in a Walkable Community: A walkable community might be better for you in case you can no longer drive.
Find Roommates: Remember The Golden Girls? Living together with other single friends can cut your costs and provide the built-in support you might want or need.
Retire to a Retirement Community: Retirement communities give you built-in “community” — a group of people like you.
Go Tiny: If it’s just you, could you handle living in a tiny home?
Villages: Look to see if there is a village to village network (VtVN) in your community. The village to village website says that: “VtVN energizes Villages, hyper-local neighborhood groups, of vibrant members engaged in their communities. Village members experience reduced isolation, increased independence, and enhanced purpose of life. These feet on the street resources, focused on social determinants of health, positively improve population health.”
10. Divorced or Widowed? Think Through Your Social Security Claiming Strategy
You probably know that delaying the start of your Social Security benefits until 70 will maximize your monthly benefit check.
However, did you know that if you are divorced or widowed that you could start benefits earlier while still benefitting from a maximized benefit? You can first claim your earned benefit as soon as you are eligible and later switch to a survivor benefit (or the reverse, depending on who has higher benefits).
To collect Social Security on your ex’s record, you must have been married for at least 10 years and have not remarried.
11. Take Special Note of Your Heart Health
According to the American College of Cardiology, single adults are 5% more likely to develop heart disease than their married peers.
As such, pay special attention to your heart health — get regular checkups.
12. Identify Financial and Health Proxies
There is a lot more to estate planning than figuring out what to do with your assets. Notably, as someone single, it is very important that you have documented someone who can speak for you and your wishes if something happens to you. How do you want to be cared for and how do you want your finances managed if you can not speak for yourself?
The people you designate are called your proxies. An elder law attorney can help you set up the right documentation.
You can find an elder lawattorney here, or try one of these free resources for your healthcare directives:
- List of downloadable advance directive forms, by state.
- Create an online advance directive — allowable in all states.
13. Define and Communicate Your Plan in Case of a Long-Term Care Event
69% of Americans will need long-term care, even though only 37% think they will, according to SeniorCare.com.
While it is really not a great plan for anyone, many married couples expect that they will be able to care for each other in case of a long-term care event. This is simply not the case for someone who is single. It is therefore extra important that you figure out how you want to be cared for and how you are going to pay for it.
A long-term care policy might be something to consider. In the NewRetirement retirement planning system, you can try different scenarios for dealing with a long-term care event.
14. Seek Support if You Are Concerned
You might be alone, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need support. Here are a few resources that might be useful to you:
Join a Facebook Group for Single Seniors: The Elder Orphans Facebook group is for people who are over 55, without a spouse, and without nearby children. The page is designed to let members exchange ideas and find answers to questions they have.
Start a Club: Want a network of single seniors closer to home? Start your own club! Invite everyone you know who is single and around retirement age and meet weekly or monthly.
15. Identify Someone to Check in With Regularly
Whether you are worried about a health event, a fall, or perhaps dementia, it will be invaluable for you to have someone you check in with regularly. Your contact can be a friend, family member, or neighbor.
Communicate your concerns and let your contact know how you will want them to handle various situations.
Don’t have someone you think you can rely on? Find a life care associate. These professionals charge between $80 to $350 an hour and can help with all kinds of needs as you age. Learn more at the Aging Life Care Association.
16. Invest in an Alert System
You probably remember the commercials, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
It may have seemed funny years back, but a medical alert system can be great for your peace of mind as you age.
Caring.com reviews and ranks dozens of services.
17. Don’t Give Up on Travel
Travel is the number one goal of most retirees. Just because you are single, doesn’t mean you have to give up on your wanderlust.
Here are a few travel companies specializing in older solo travelers:
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