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Retirement As a Party of One: The Challenge and the Reward

Category: Singles and Retirement

July 27, 2021 — As many Members have reminded us over the years, it is not safe to assume that everyone entering into retirement is part of couple. Many folks are single by choice, others by divorce, not to mention those who have lost a partner or spouse to disease or accident. Singlehood can happen quickly too – one moment you are happily planning a retirement destination and lifestyle together, the next you are all by yourself. This article will explore some of the issues faced by single people in retirement. More than that, we hope that our Membership base can contribute their experiences and advice to anyone who is about to retire as a party of one.

There are a number of issues to consider if you are single and planning your retirement:

  • Financial. Single people don’t have a spouse or partner to help with the financial load, so it is key that they have prepared financially. Having a financial advisor is usually a good idea to make sure you have the resources to ensure a long and secure retirement, which should include some provision for long term care.
  • Where to retire. One advantage of being single is that the decision about where to retire is one you will usually make by yourself. But you do need to make a decision about where that will be, even if it is to retire right where you live now. Where you retire affects the lifestyle you want to live as well as your finances, so it is important.
  • Type of community. The choices are many. You can live in a small town, a city, the suburbs, a condo, an active adult or 55+ community, etc. Each has its attractions and negatives. Some types of living arrangements make it easier to make friends as a single person than others, an important consideration. In others, the worry is that singles have trouble penetrating a couples based society. The best way to find out if a community or neighborhood is conducive to the single life is to live there for a bit, which usually means a rental.
  • Friends and family. Do you want to live with or near a sibling or son or daughter? Or are they pressuring you to move close? Sometimes being near family in retirement works out great, and other times it can be a problem. You could become too much of a burden for one of your adult children to handle, but on the other hand you might be asked to take on more child care or support than you feel comfortable with. Think long and hard before you commit, and consider a trial run.
  • How to make social connections – avoiding loneliness. You have to start with knowing who you are. Are you the kind of person that makes friends the first time you meet people, or would you be more comfortable at home in front of Netflix? If you have trouble connecting with people, you could end up being lonely. NextAvenue recently an article, “How Men Adapt Be Solo Agers”, that mentioned a book by John Cacioppo. In “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection“, Cacioppo wrote that loneliness might have twice the negative impact on longevity as obesity. What you do in your spare time, the type of community where you live, and what organizations you join can be a great help in making friends and staving off loneliness. But more than those important factors, your attitude and actions are key. If you wait for someone else to reach out to you, that is never, ever going to work.
  • Staying active. Obviously staying active is beneficial to your health and well-being. But more than that, getting out and about connects you with other people. On the pickleball court, the dance or yoga class, or the woodworking shop, you are likely to meet like-minded people who you might enjoy spending time with. Staying home and watching the news is not going to help.
  • Men vs. women. Men are much more likely to experience loneliness in retirement than women. Deprived of the job that probably provided a social structure as well as ego reinforcement, many men retreat into themselves and rarely meet new people. Men have to try much harder to break out and make friends, which are crucial to happiness and long term health. In the “How Men Adapt to Be Solo Agers”, the authors provide some good advice on how men can make a single retirement a successful one.
  • Planning for the future. There are many aspects to future planning. There is the financial, which we discussed earlier. There is also the need for long term health and living. Who is going to take care of you if you become disabled or demented? Where will you live as you age or if you can no longer take care of yourself? Also, what will you do with your assets and possessions? Don’t leave someone else with a mess to clean up. If you are having trouble making these decisions, you probably need to discuss them with a close friend, relative, or advisor.

Bottom line: Retiring as a single person is way different than retiring as a couple. You have more responsibilities. You have to guard against loneliness. But if you plan carefully, you can retire as happily and successfully as anyone.

For further reading:

Comments: Please share your thoughts about being single in retirement, and the issues you have or will face. If you some success strategies, everyone would love to read them in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on July 26th, 2021

13 Comments »

  1. Thank you so much for bringing up a very important topic. It is one which does not get addressed nearly enough, in my opinion.

    Currently, I’m exploring the idea of senior cohousing. (Living in separate units as opposed to co-living, which is living in the same unit – house, apartment, etc.) There aren’t many options that are specifically senior oriented. There are somewhat more multi-generational cohousing communities, but that model is not what I’m looking for. And of course another hurdle is the expense. All the communities I have seen, either senior or multi-generational, are well out of reach for someone with a moderate income.

    I look forward to reading other people’s comments.

    by Jes — July 27, 2021

  2. Interesting perspective on being single as we age. I was divorced at age 50 with a 9 year old child after 20 years of marriage and have remained single by choice for the past 20 years. I think the perspective here will change with future generations as there are more women who have successful careers and are financially independent from men. Maybe my perspective is closer to how you describe the situation a a male retiree. I live in a community with mostly couples now and I cannot relate to the women who are my age, 70, and older. I have much more in common with the men than the “ladies who lunch” club. So, this is really a problem that single women need consider, or you will find yourself in a community where you just don’t fit in(and don’t want to). This pandemic has changed things for now, but most single women that I know choose to live near their children so that they can be close to their grandchildren and they are fulfilled. I do not have grandkids yet, but I will remain in the state where I lived and worked as a single woman for the past 20 years. I am blessed to live in a beautiful historic seacoast town. Financially, it is harder to plan as a single person regardless of how well one plans. Inflation and rising property taxes make it difficult for one person to keep up. Now I am noticing that as friends become widowed, many have a very difficult time coping with being alone. I often suggest survivor support groups for them to share their feelings of dislike of being alone because I love being single and find that difficult to listen to. Finding a new group of friends after becoming single as a senior is tricky, but with a positive outlook, it can be a great adventure. The article makes it sound like being alone is a hardship, and for some it might be. Not for me. I raised a child alone, supported myself, and love living alone in my senior years!

    by Maimi — July 27, 2021

  3. Being single was 100% an advantage in my eyes. I had total freedom to move anywhere I want and can move on as well if I tire of Tucson at some time. I also have complete control over what I spend money on and how I spend my time. I knew one person when I moved here 4 1/2 years ago and now know hundreds and have several good friends. I am involved in clubs and hobbies and never have enough hours in the day to do all I want. I see NO disadvantages to single life. Single by choice and loving it!

    by Pat R — July 27, 2021

  4. I think this is a topic that seniors whether single or not, do not like to address but have to. Talking to a financial advisor is a great idea but I don’t have enough money to talk about and felt embarrassed calling one. However I was steered to an elder care attorney through an informative article in the local newspaper . I met with him and was advised about some benefits and agencies I knew nothing about. Iit did cost about $200 per hour, but money well spent. I felt like he was a financial advisor, attorney, and psychologist all rolled into one. I could go on and on, but just want to add that I think an elder care attorney is also a good idea and may have better advise than friends and family who have not been down this road.

    by Alex — July 29, 2021

  5. Alex, We started talking to financial advisors, where we had our life insurances, in our 40s. We didn’t have much money either but we wanted it to grow. They were very helpful, free, and we talked to them again through our 50s. We now have a comfortable retirement and I’m thankful we kept in touch. I urge everyone to, at least, talk to someone in the finance world – it’s their job. I repeatedly asked them to “make me some money” and they did!!

    by HE — July 30, 2021

  6. Thank you, Alex for your elder care attorney suggestion. I have been like a deer caught in headlights on this issue. Currently, I am a healthy and very active single (by choice) women of 71 years, but I know at some point in the future there will be decline. I want to be ready when that day comes, and your comments have been very helpful.

    by Natalie — July 30, 2021

  7. Alex, that is very good advice. Just make sure that the attorney specializes in elder law and is familiar with options in your state.

    by Maimi — July 30, 2021

  8. Call me old fashioned but I printed out this article so that I can refer to it and get thinking and moving on all the bullet points. I think this is very helpful and I have been single for many years and doing well but it is time for sure to look down the road. This is so much better than just reading blogs on these topic on the internet that are full of depressing or unhelpful comments. I appreciate it. I know I will stay in the city I live in as I like my social life and have good friend (so I can check those off) but now I will seriously think about what type of community and go from there as I know I must and would like to decide before my kids do it for me.

    by Paul — July 30, 2021

  9. Check out your local library or senior center as a source for programs available in your area. If you live where there is a learning opportunity for seniors, such as Osher Lifelong Learning (OLLI) – one example there are others, there’s a good chance some courses will focus on senior living. I attended an OLLI class led by an elder law attorney and it was very worthwhile.

    by Tess — July 30, 2021

  10. As a single woman, group activities and classes were always ways to make friends. I started with jewelry, pottery, coffee, and wine tasting; and now have friends in two states because of my interests.
    There are usually groups with similar interests wherever you might go. Also try Meetup.com

    by Elaine — August 23, 2021

  11. Maimi and Pat R, I agree with so much that you said. I was divorced at age 40 and am now in my late 60s. As I tell my friends, I may be alone, but I’m not lonely. I’ve raised my sons, one now in Europe and the other nearby, travels a lot for work. I’ve learned how to do a great many things from YouTube. After retiring 3 years ago, I started doing work on my three-story townhome. There is a lot of self satisfaction from doing some of the things yourself. I just finished pressure washing my second-level deck and then my downstairs patio. I’ve changed out most of the electrical outlets and switches–just so much to do, but I’m happy doing it at my own pace. Once I finish all the home repairs I planned, I’ll go to my bucket list which has many things to keep me busy. One day I hope to find the time to visit the Northwest, maybe consider living there.

    I’m tired of the heat, humidity, bugs and so many negative people in Atlanta.

    Would love to find a traveling buddy when I get caught up.

    Maimi, Would you mind sharing the seacoast town you live in?

    by Sandra — August 30, 2021

  12. Just like Sandra, I have learned a lot from YouTube videos. I now can cut and highlight my own hair, ( no one can tell I do it myself and I get compliments often) I have resolved drain clogs on my own and make all my own cleaning supplies with a recipe I found also on YouTube. I hope to relocate to a cooler cheaper place and I desperately want to adopt a rescue greyhound…or two that are already bonded.I cannot do that where I live now, but I joined many groups to learn all about the breed. A lady and her husband from my home state of Indiana moved into our co-op last December and they have a service dog who is a greyhound and I get to walk him and play with him once a week or so. I am now looking into communities where I can live. I am also going to take a free class on Quickbooks online to get certified so I can do light bookkeeping on the side. Life is what you make it and I am alone but not really lonely. Travel would be fun, but it is not first on my list as I have traveled and lived abroad in my life already.

    by Jennifer — August 31, 2021

  13. I too am a singleton, and have been for four years. My husband passed away, and I do not have kids. Like Sandra, I have learned how to do so many things at my house and on my own. It isn’t always fun, but the satisfaction is huge. I recently cut up my first tree – which came down across my driveway – by myself. My little battery powered chain saw worked great, and I felt like a million dollars! But, I just turned 60 and have realized that I will not be able to do all this fun stuff forever. I do worry about moving to a community that is couples or family based. I enjoy meeting new people, but I don’t always want to be the odd one out. Even traveling – which I love – is based on couples. The tour companies will charge you extra if you want a room to yourself. It is a new world, indeed, but sites such as this offer a safe forum for discussions and suggestions. Thank you!

    by Lynne — August 31, 2021

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