April 1, 2018

Being Single and Retired


I have been called to task in the last few weeks, politely but accurately, for my posts on how various retirement issues affect couples. Since there are over 19 million folks in America over 65 who are single due to divorce, being widowed or never having married, my focus is missing a big chunk of retirees.

Those who called this to my attention are absolutely correct. My problem is I have been married for almost 42 years. My insight into the problems and benefits of being single and retired is quite limited.

I have written about this topic a few times, as well as used an article from people who know the subject much better than I do. If you missed any of these, please click on the links. 

https://satisfyingretirement.blogspot.com/2016/09/retirement-and-being-single.html

https://www.nextavenue.org/how-to-retire-single-without-being-isolated/

https://satisfyingretirement.blogspot.com/2012/12/retired-and-alone.html


Even so, it is important that in future posts I am sensitive to my approach being too couple-oriented. That doesn't mean I will suddenly have great insight to the different challenges faced by singles, but I can try to be more inclusive.


For this post I'd like to focus on someone who has been single for all or most of his or her life. Someone who has become recently unattached because of a divorce or death of a partner is likely to have a different situation that should be addressed in a separate article. 

I will assume the long-term single has figured out how to make things work: friendships, financial control, activities that keep someone motivated and active.  In that sense, there isn't much difference from what any retired person must do, except it is all on one person's shoulders. That autonomy is the norm. 


So, the married guy has some questions:

Living Arrangements: When you become less able to care for yourself alone what are your options? Is co-housing something you have thought about? Would you consider a retirement community? Do you have family or relatives who you could live with, or depend on for an increasing level of care? Will you age in place for as long as possible?

Social Support: Do you have friends, either single or part of a married couple, who you can count on help you if needed and be available for social activities? Does dining out or going to a play or concert as a single cause you problems? Have you found clubs, volunteer organizations, or churches welcome your singleness?

Travel: Cruises and many packed tours come to mind as a problem for singles: the "singles surcharge" often makes the cost for one person almost as high as for two. There are cruise lines and tour companies that specialize in single travelers though they are not nearly as prevalent as those that focus on couples.

I assume that traveling alone brings some extra challenges, in terms of safety and being more vulnerable to street crimes. It also brings extra freedom to do what you want when you want to do it, not on someone else's schedule. 

Have you run into travel problems? How you do solve them? Are there pluses or negatives to solo travel that you'd like to mention?

Finances: Singles do not have another person to help with the financial load, planning, or execution. Tax laws and social security aren't particularly welcoming to non-couples. If female and single, it is likely you earned less than a man during your working years, meaning what you had to invest and use for retirement is less.

What financial disadvantages come from being a long time single? What are the pluses? 

Think of this post as your chance to educate those of us who do not fully appreciate what it means to be single and of retirement age. Please, comment to your heart's content.

For married readers, or those in any type of partnership arrangement, I hope what our single peers have to say will help us understand a part of life that we are only observing.

As a couple, if you have an observation about singles you know or have observed, please feel free to add your voice to the conversation. The comments are not meant to be restricted to only those who are going through this stage of life as a single adult.



30 comments:

  1. Food for thought for us married folk...someday some of us may be single again!

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  2. Laura brings up a good point about finding ourselves alone when a spouse dies. In addition, many of us happily married people don't have children. Who will take care of us when we can't is a huge question that needs to be answered before it's too late.

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    1. That will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.

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  3. Bob,

    Thanks for the topic. The issues you identify are a few among many for us singles-never-married. I could say a lot, but I will stick to the highlights. So here is my quick take.

    Living Arrangements: I am the youngest of two siblings, my sister being 5 years older. She has two children, and we are a close family who assist one another, but I am nevertheless making arrangements for my own future care. I eventually hope to move into a progressive care facility so that things will be set and free others from hard choices. For now, and as long as my health holds out, I will remain at home where I will continue the care of my 92 year old father for as long as practical. While I fantasize about remaining here, I am slowly realizing that the realities of age may eclipse my desire to maintain this place. I do worry a little about the “in between” circumstance… not limited enough to be in assisted living, but not in perfect health to easily meet the demands of daily life. The urge to simplify grows ever stronger. If my decline is rapid and/or catastrophic, I have instructions on what is to be done. Also, as I have said before, I live in Oregon and would be happy to take the “off-ramp” from life if circumstances warrant (knowing that others do not support or would choose that option).

    Social Support I still have a solid group of close friends who are available for general support and social activities, however I am perfectly comfortable going out to dinner, concerts, etc. solo.
    I have always been comfortable and content on my own in the world and yet I am happy to join friends if the opportunity presents itself. It is truly a “couples world,” but I have never felt excluded… (except from some dinner parties where an odd number of chairs at the table is problematic). Again, with each passing year I find that some of my friends are joining me in single status through death, divorce, etc.

    Travel I am fine traveling by myself and actually prefer it. I am a bit of a nerd and enjoy traveling to many interesting, historical, off-beat places as opposed to the standard tour destinations and have found that my enthusiasm for such adventures might not be shared by many. Traveling regularly to a few spots (like rural Hawaii) has provided the opportunity for a new set of local friends to enjoy at these destinations. Any travel advertisement that quotes a price “per-person double occupancy” gets crossed off my list. I can usually work out my own deal for less.

    Finances This is an interesting issue. Obviously singles manage their finances or hire someone to do so. I handle things myself and always will if I can think straight. Here again, I am finding an increasing number of friends who have become involuntarily single and have great difficulty navigating their finances, especially if it was the responsibility of their former spouse or partner. In general, other than income stresses, I find that the newly single have more problems than the always single in this area.

    As for as taxes, etc. I am used to being penalized…. for not owning a home, for not having children, etc… Just the way the rules came down. I feel blessed that I have enough income to to be able to complain about taxes and the rules. :)

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. This is exactly the type of summary and feedback I was hoping for, Rick. Your feedback on each of the issues should be helpful to both single and married or partnered couples.

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  4. I was married in my twenties, but we didn't have children, and I'm relieved that I figured out marriage wasn't for me while we were still young. My ex-husband has been happily remarried for decades, and I have been happily single and living alone for more than forty years.

    Like many single people, I value both my independence and my solitude. It is important to me to continue living alone (no housemates, roommates or live-in caretakers), but that means I am not planning to age in place. At some point, probably in the next decade or so, the hassles of single homeownership are going to become greater than the pleasures of living in my home; I have been researching retirement communities so that I can move into one when that happens.

    I have siblings, nieces and nephews, but not nearby. I am very much dependent on my network of friends for help with all kinds of things. As I age, I have found that it is not wise to depend on just a few people -- especially since they are mostly about my age -- but to develop a wider circle of friends with whom I can exchange small favors.

    Like Rick, I prefer to travel alone. Doing so not only gives me freedom of movement, but it also allows me to savor the pleasures of travel without worrying about whether the other person is having a good time. It also turns out to be easier to strike up friendships with other travelers when I am traveling alone. I like to travel independently rather than as part of a tour group, so I avoid the frustrations of single supplements that pay for poorer accommodations than the couples are getting.

    I became single young enough to pursue a well-paid profession. Because I always lived well below my means, I am well set financially for retirement. (My monthly Social Security benefit, which I am just beginning to collect at age 70, is higher than my monthly budget.)

    As we age, more and more people are single (more than half of women over 65), which makes finding congenial social groups easier and easier. -Jean

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    1. The issue of aging in place as a single is one that is of vital importance to folks living alone. Obviously you recognize the potential problems and are making plans to resolve it. The tipping point when ownership becomes more of a hassle than it is worth is one we must all face. but singles have the full burden of making that termination.

      I am interested in your observation that as we age more people we encounter are single. That is true in my experience, but I hadn't really thought about it in the content of its effect on social contacts.

      BTW, I receieved your follow up letter and will respond sometime in the next few days. Thanks, Jean.

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  5. I bet my insurance company that I would die at 50. Lost that bet. Still going strong at 64. Strong being a relative term. I won't have put as much into insurance as I would have paid in so maybe I will win that bet. I'm with a wife that has been training me now for 33 years. She claims I still need some work. I'm hoping to have another 46 years of training. (Hey it's a good round number.) Life has been interesting but it gets better every day.

    I know I would not enjoy going on alone to my goal. Would much enjoy having my wife along. If God has other plans. So be it.

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    1. The best laid plans of mice and men.....I have almost 42 years of "training" so I can relate.

      Even so, I am finding the feedback from our single friends helpful and encouraging, if that ends up being the future for Betty or me.

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  6. I have been divorced for years and I just turned 58. I have four grown children. I had a conversation with my daughter, just this weekend, as to what I want to do as I age. I am trying to get my final arrangements, assets, etc. organized so that it will be easy for her when I pass, or become incapacitated. I expect to live many more years, but because we never know, my goal this year is to have everything in place. My uncle just died, and it was such a hassle with the funeral home he chose. If my aunt (his wife) had not already been buried in the graveyard by the funeral home, I would have buried him in the family plot. I do not want my kids to have to deal with funeral home vultures. It is true that it would have been easier, social security wise, if I had remained married to my ex, but somehow sharing him with his girlfriends was not my cup of tea...lol. We are friends now, and I do not care. That was a life bump, and we pick ourselves up and go on. My daughter and I, just this weekend, discussed my taking care of her kid, when she finally does have a baby, for one year. I agreed to retire at 62, if she does become pregnant by then and go live near her for that one year. I made it perfectly clear that it will be for one year only, I have my own life, and it does not involve living in a snowy place forever (where she lives). I will keep my home near my sons. I am not a big social butterfly, and like my privacy. I could go on a cruise every year with a couple of friends, if I am retired. The time they cruise always interferes with my trial schedule, so I cannot do that now. I also have church friends...shrugs...I just am not too concerned about loneliness.

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    1. Could I use the word well-adjusted to describe your situation? I don't sense any second guessing, just a realization of what you want and what works for you. In your daughter's case you have been very generous in your offer but established boundaries.

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  7. I am divorced 25 years, now 72, healthy and with a wide circle of friends, activities and interests. I travel solo and happy to do so - better that than the wrong travel companion.

    My daughter left home 15 years ago. Since then I have rented her room and bathroom to a a succession of lovely people, some of whom are still friends, even though they moved on. I live in a major NZ city with a housing shortage, so tenants often work in the city but go home on weekends. My reasons for doing this are financial - I am not looking for company - and will allow me to stay in my home hopefully though to the end of life.

    I am asset rich and cash poor so my other option is to take out a reverse equity mortgage at around 80 years if the cash has run out. Again, this will allow me to stay in my own home. This is something I have discussed with my daughter. I am not sure if these are available in the US

    I have visited retirement villages and communities and come away feeling that no way do I want to live with a lot of old people! I am fiercely independent.

    I feel we need to think outside the box so am sharing my thoughts

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    1. A reserve mortgage is available in the U.S. and is an option for folks with a decent amount of equity in their home. The fees associated with a reverse mortgage are high, but it does provide a steady income and you won't have to move out until you are ready, or die.

      Renting out an empty bedroom is a good option for some folks. Thanks for mentioning it. If it helps you stay in your home, that is a good solution.

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  8. I was single for ten years after I got divorced. When B and I finally got married, our taxes went UP! Go figure ... but still, for me, it's worth it. I was never very good at being single; but I know some people are and in many ways I admire them.

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    1. After so many years years in the "married state" I have no idea how I would function as a single person. With a strong family support system I hope I would be fine. But, who knows.

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  9. I’ve been married and divorced twice and have lived happily single for most of the past 27 yrs. In that time, I experienced immense personal growth, raised my son and designed and built my current home in the country. I received no financial support from either former husband. I was able to retain the property that my first husband and I had purchased. I had contributed to a fixed pension during the 34 yrs that I worked FT as a registered nurse and am able to finance my retirement with that. I am the 4th generation to live on this property. The emotional attachment is slowly being replaced by the realization that I won’t be able to physically maintain it forever. I have to rely on friends and family or hire out some of the big projects at considerable cost. There are costs particular to rural living, i.e. maintaining utilities, fences. I’ve always had to maintain a fund for those things and that meant less travel and socialization than some. I’ve still managed to enjoy international travel. Living on this rural property is a great trade-off. I’ve learned to vacation on my front porch. I doubt that I will own property again should I leave my rural home, whether it’s sold or is turned over to my son. I will be done with the responsibilities of home ownership at some point. I do see myself living in a park model type home, perhaps on this same property or in a rented apartment in a smaller town within a 1hr commute to a larger center; maybe not age in place but age in the same community. I know that some people make their decisions on where to live based on their need for medical service. I’ve enjoyed good health and that isn’t an issue for me to date. I have entertained the idea of contracting one of the younger persons in my life to act on my behalf if/when I am incapable. I have a strong circle of friends and family with whom I socialize but I have no problem asking for a "table for one" if necessary. I have the best of both worlds – solitude when I need it and company when I need it. I can travel independently and attend concerts, movies, social functions on my own. Sometimes it’s easier than doing all the organizing involved in “figuring out who’s on first”. Being single offers the privilege and responsibility of being independent. I'm in a good place; some of it was luck but a lot of it was good management.

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    1. Your comment should be encouraging to anyone worried about aging as a single person. You have taken what life gave you and built it into a lifestyle that works for you. You seem to have thought through all the eventual decisions that must be made and how you will deal with them. All I can add is, good job.

      Thanks, Mona, for your life story (to this point!). I can feel your inner strength and commitment through your words.

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  10. Thanks for this topic Bob. I’m happily single (never married), soon to be 63. I consider myself semi-retired and have enjoyed working a low-stress job, 30 hours a week for the past 4 years. There’s lots of flexibility so I will continue to work knowing I’m free to quit anytime I want because of the saving and investing I have done over the past 30 years.
    Living arrangements: A lot of women end up widowed or divorced at a fairly young age so I don’t really see my situation as being much different. I have a sister and two nephews that live nearby and I think they would help me if needed.
    Social support: I have quite a few friends that I have lunch with, bike or canal walk with. My friends and family know my Sundays are reserved for watching golf. No exceptions. Also, I love having 3 or 4 people over for BBQ’s or wine and cheese about once a month. You don’t have to be a couple for those things.
    Travel: I’m going on an Alaskan cruise this summer although there are other trips I would prefer. I’m going because a friend and her aunt and 10 other people are going and I was invited. I’ve been all over the world but never to Alaska so I decided to go because I’m not that inclined to travel alone. After I booked my single cabin, I was asked if I would be interested in sharing with someone who wants to go. I emphatically said NO. My privacy is more valuable than saving a few dollars.
    Finances: I do worry that someday I won’t be able to manage my money and assets on my own. But the good news is that I’ll be fine financially and I did it on my own.
    I wasn’t going to go here, but I changed my mind. I have friends and family members who have been married for 35 plus years. The guys have no desire to go to arts and crafts fairs, music/theatre productions, or dinner at the newest restaurants. They just want to stay home, watch sports, read car magazines and putter around the garage and yard but they go along to get along. I’m on their side and have told their wives to back off and not force their husbands to do something they have long since lost interest in doing. Being single I can pick and choose what activities I engage in but I have observed that when you’re a couple you can’t.

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    1. Thanks, Donna, for your answers to the key questions of the post. Like others, you are happy with your lifestyle choice and have blossomed with it. That is the theme so far in these comments: rather than a handicap, being single is a very positive way of living with few regrets or limitations expressed.

      I understand your last comment though I disagree to a point. When you are a couple, there is a need to compromise. Spending every weekend at a flea market or attending plays and concerts on a several times per month basis would drive many to distraction. However, to make the effort to accommodate the other person's interests on occasion, with a smile and willing attitude, is part of what a serious relationship should include. Making the other person feel his or her desires are important is part of the bargain.

      At the same time, the person making the request should be sensitive to the other person's interest level and appreciate the willingness to participate.

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  11. Hey Bob - Glad to add my two cents. I've been happily single for 23 years. Keep in mind that even for couples there is a 50/50 shot that you will spend some time as a single. Someone has to go first.

    Living Arrangements - Rather than gambling on long term care insurance that I might not need, I'm working with my advisors to self fund a plan that would provide roughly the same value. Most plans only cover you for only so long and after a significant waiting period - and that period will start over if you have a break in service for something like a hospital stay. The LTC policies are just too restrictive for me and then ones written today may not be appropriate as care changes in 20 years. I'm just saving my own fund that I can later spend for something else if it is not needed. I'll live on my own as long as I can but have no problem moving into whatever level of care is needed eventually. Might be nice to have others around. But hopefully as boomers reach old age we start to see some interesting alternative communities pop up.

    Social Support - Going out alone has never been a problem for me. Dinner, movies, bars, whatever is not a problem. Oddly, I have almost no friends that are my age but I do have a strong core group of friends that are both married and single. I don't know anyone else who is retired. And of course there is usually a girlfriend, so I'm not spending a lot of time alone. Social life is good! Better than ever.

    Travel - I'm no fan of cruises or packaged tours so the single supplement does not affect me. I love traveling alone - no compromises and no negotiations about what to do. Some days I'm on the go all day, others I just want to chill by the pool or ocean all day. I've also been lucky to find travel partners who are also good at doing their own thing. Some days it's just "I'll see you at dinner!" and we go our separate ways. Regarding problems, I've really not had any when traveling alone - I'm sure it would be different as a woman traveling alone. I'm taking a several month long road trip this summer, I hope my luck holds!

    Finances - I've always done my financial planning with the assumption that I had to take care of myself 100%. Planning on having someone to share financial responsibilities sounds like a recipe for disaster. If someone can share the load, then great! But I don't count on it. I didn't retire until I knew I had enough to support myself. I have younger siblings who I'm counting on only to handle my finances if needed. I'd never expect them to take me in.

    I was married for a long time and now single for a long time - I much prefer being single. Marriage was great, but divorce is better! I understand your point about compromise, and we compromised a lot when I was married. But this was not satisfying for either of us. I love not having to discuss decisions : - If I want to hang a silly picture on my wall I can! If I ever got married or co-habitated again (yikes!) I'd have to have control over some significant part of the home - not just the basement and garage! I'd even consider the whole "living together apart" thing and maintain two households - but I'm a little extreme :
    I think long-term couples and long-term singles probably both do very well in retirement. The people I see having trouble are the one who have to transition from one to the other late in life.

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    1. Your comments on self-financing life term care are important. LTC insurance has become rather problematic. From companies pulling out of the business to extreme premium increases, depending on that type of insurance for our elder care has become quite risky.

      What I have gleaned from the comments this point is well summarized in your final sentence: "the people I see having trouble are the ones who have to transition from one to the other late in life." Whether by divorce, the death of a spouse or partner, or even the split between two long term roommates, transitioning to doing everything alone is much more difficult.

      Of course, all married folks are likely to end up single at some point since rarely do both people pass away at the same time. That unfortunate fact should effect our planning.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts, Richard.

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  12. Most elderly married men are not likely to be single at some point. They are married when they die.
    Statistics from the book Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of The New Old Age, 2011. Ages 65-74, 78% of men, 57% of women are married. Ages 75-84, 74% of men, 38% of women are married. Ages 85 and older, 60% of men, 15% of women are married.
    Those of us women who never married or have been single for a long time are probably much better prepared for the future.

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    1. Often the woman is younger than the man going into the marriage. Coupled with a longer life expectancy, that does mean mostly females past a certain age. I know when my dad was in his late 80's, he was one of only six men out of over 70 residents in his assisted living facility.

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  13. I was traveling :) late to comment
    My sister has been a widow since her early 50's. She and her husband chose not to have children. Although it was rough at the beginning, I think she has made some wise decisions. She lives half time in southern AZ and the other half in northern AZ. She owns in co housing in the first and rents a great place for the second. She has been incredibly wise with her investments and, I think, is set up as well as any of the rest of us. She has several younger friends who are like family to her. She also knows she can depend on nephews and nieces, if it comes to something twenty or thirty years from now. She is fiercely independent- hiking and traveling without real worry of going alone. She traveled the world extensively when in her 30's and 40's, so that is not a real calling for her. Her photography has gone to the next level. She has a chronic condition, but has handled it like a pro. I am proud of her.

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    1. Welcome back, Janette, and thanks for your addition. Your sister is a good example of someone who has made her lifestyle work for her and continues to have a satisfying retirement regardless of any problems (chronic condition). Saying, "I am proud of her" speaks volumes.

      The idea of spending our winters in Phoenix and summers in Flagstaff or Prescott continues to pull at us. Being only 2-3 hours from family while up north wouldn't make us feel as separate as if we spent summers in San Diego.

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  14. After my first husband passed away at a young age, I spent twelve years single while I raised my kids. As my kids grew up and began to move out on their own, I realized that it was likely that soon I would be living on my own as a single person. I did not look forward to spending the rest of my life alone. Although I am fortunate to have many close friends and a close knit family, for me those important relationships are not a substitute for having a life companion. There were many times that I felt lonely, and sometimes I was left out of events that my other friends were part of because I was single and those events were geared to couples. Fortunately, around that time I met my second husband. We have now been together for ten years, and are happy that we found each other. I know that I can survive and even thrive as a single person because I have done it, but I am grateful that Rob and I are going into our later years together.

    Jude

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    1. Thanks for your story, Jude. For you, having seen both sides of the relationship question, you have found what is best for you, and Rob. Plus, you know you can make it alone if, God forbid, that becomes necessary.

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  15. Only child, current status caregiver. Worked at a low paying state job for the pension. (Smartest thing I ever did). Started planning for retirement at a young age and retired at 58. I now make more money than I did when I was working so finances not a problem. I do not have a social network to fall back on. No friends to speak of, attend church but feel very uncomfortable asking for assistance. I live in the country and built my home in 2009 and tried to design for aging in place. Handles instead of door knobs. Single story home etc. Traveled when I was young, not able now due to care giving. Have always preferred my own company but do worry about taking care of myself and my home as I age. When I worked at two different hospitals and DCF, I dealt with a great many singles without social support. They all did the same thing, lived the best they could. I plan on doing the same.

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    1. You sound comfortable with your situation. Not having to worry about finances is probably a big part of that. Thanks for sharing your situation.

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