Planning for the Long Term

Recently I’ve been interacting more with my older relatives: parents, aunts, uncles, etc.–and it occurs to me that I have yet another set of challenges awaiting me two to three decades from now. Today I’ll talk a little bit about what that might mean for my readers, young and old.

Paying for Life After Work

Both of my parents made gradual transitions into retirement, starting either with fewer hours on their full-time jobs or taking on less demanding part-time jobs before moving on to living off their savings and Social Security, which was based (as I understand it) on their salaries while they were working.

You have been saving for retirement, right? If not, start now. Somehow. Find the money, the more the better, but don’t forget to enjoy the present as well. A serious financial planner can tell you, based on what you have in the way of income and assets now, how much you’ll need to save for retirement…depending on how you want to spend your time and money. It’s cheaper and more lucrative to put in more money when you’re younger and then let it grow than to try to amass a lot in your 50s and 60s. You might make more money in those later years, but it’ll have less time to grow. And you want your money to be dependable, not as vulnerable to the tumults of the market economy.

Government old-age benefits, in general, will not cover all of your living expenses. Medicare, the U.S. Government’s health coverage plan for senior citizens, covers most, but not all medical conditions.

My parents also paid into things like retirement accounts and large-company pension plans, if available.

The biggest challenge you might face, based on your general health and financial condition, is outliving your money.

Living as a Senior

There will come a point where you will be unable to work full time, either because your body or your mind or both no longer have the energy or agility to do so. Yes, there are seniors who run marathons, lift impressive weights, and climb mountains. Good for them. These are the outliers in the United States, so far as I’ve seen. Many seniors (70-80 plus) end up in living some sort of retirement facility or “55-plus” living area with other seniors and using services that cater to the needs of older people no longer able to care for their bodies, homes, or yards as energetically as they once did. All those services come with a price tag, mostly to pay the salaries of the younger people who can still do them. We might see robot-based care eventually, but that’s still not a large-scale industry yet.

Aside from practical items like paying for and handling household services, there are the basics of what to do with your day. Perhaps you read. Perhaps you have a hobby or two. Perhaps you take vacations designed for seniors. Perhaps you nap. Perhaps you look after your grandchildren. Perhaps you take walks. Perhaps you stay home and feed the birds and other creatures in your neighborhood. But yes, there will come that point where you lack the physical or mental capabilities to work for a living or do as many activities as you once did. You can keep pushing yourself, but your aging body eventually will push back.

Do you have a partner in whom you place your trust? Great! But it will hurt like hell when that person you counted on passes away. If you do not have a partner or children, you will need to find friends or associates or professionals to take care of you. You likely will find yourself getting rid of more than you buy. Most people I’ve seen acquire a lot of stuff over the course of their lives. Who’s going to get it all when you pass on? Those are the sorts of plans and arrangements my older family members are starting to make now, making smaller bequests of family treasures while their minds are still sharp and clear enough to make those decisions.

Your health will become a bigger concern as issues that were once minor ailments in your younger years turn into serious health concerns in your later years. Your body’s operating, immune, and repair systems break down. Bones become frail, hair and skin thinner, muscles weaker and more unsteady. You find yourself needing the adult equivalent of diapers as you lose control of bodily functions you’ve maintained since early childhood. Doctor visits becomee more frequent and sometimes more urgent because you don’t know if Small Problem X or Pain Z might be the thing that incapacitates or kills you sooner than you’d like. And the number of medications, vitamins, and other therapies designed to keep you healthy or less unwell become bewildering. You just want to live like a regular person, how did everything become so complicated?

It’s humbling, vexing, and saddening at times. You lose friends and family as they, too, age and die. You understand new technology less and less or find even less use for it. The culture changes to a point where you feel lost, or you’re told that the views you held as true when you were younger are embarrassing and no longer socially acceptable. You have more insight into the human condition and find less interest from your younger relatives in seeking it. You move more slowly while the world accelerates around you.

It all will happen if you live to that mythical “ripe old age.” Are you ready?

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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