Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.
Sometimes it seems that 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 old age—which is when you will sometimes need a helping hand—can feel kind of daunting on your own.
Whether by circumstance or by choice, the US Census Bureau has documented that there are more than 20 million unmarried US residents 65 years of age or older. Pew Research estimates that 27% of adults 60 or older in the United States live alone. These older single adults are often referred to as older orphans or single seniors.
These numbers are likely to increase. While being single used to be stigmatized as a lonely or unhappy state, times have changed, more and more people are becoming single and societal norms have become more open to all kinds of different ways of living.
Women especially live alone in greater numbers. The Administration on Aging found that 37% of women in the United States over the age of 65 live alone, are happy with it, and would not want to live any other way.
However, there are some challenges to retiring alone. Keep reading for 17 tips for navigating retirement on your own:
1. YOU NEED A CUSTOM PLAN – Retirement rules of thumb don’t work well for individuals
If you’re single, it’s probably more important for you to create a customized, tailored retirement plan rather than just relying on general rules like withdrawing 4% or spending 80% of what you spent on the job when you’re retired.
2. Overcome your financial insecurity
According to a study from Northwestern Mutual, “In general, single men and women are less satisfied with their financial conditions overall than are married Americans.”
and “Financial anxiety is rising among singles. More than 4 in 10 (45%) of single men and half (50%) of single women say they feel either moderately or very much worried about their personal financial security—a much higher percentage than Married individuals (35% married men) and 41% married women).
Overcome these insecurities by starting your plan now. It’s not as hard as you might think. The new retirement planner walks you step-by-step through the entire process.
3. Keep a schedule
Experts point out that one of the major factors contributing to aging after retirement is the lack of a job schedule. Work gives you a reason to get up every day and a certain 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 vibrant.
4. A special note for people who become single after retirement
At 65, my grandmother never paid a bill in her life. My grandfather handled all financial matters. However, when he was struck by Alzheimer’s disease, she wasn’t shy about jumping into the role of financial manager her whole life – 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 on the world of retirement planning and personal finance topics.
5. Consider adopting a pet
The research on the benefits of owning a dog is enormous and may be especially true if you are single. In addition to emotional benefits like their unconditional love for us, one study found that pet owners need fewer visits to the doctor. Another study from Australia found that pet owners had lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and a lower risk of heart attack than people without pets.
Other research has suggested that dog grooming, in particular, is healthy because it keeps us energetic and generally ensures that we walk every day. Here are six ways pets can improve your health.
6. Create a support network
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, maintaining friendships is critical to your health and well-being.
You need people you can depend on emotionally and for life help. And believe it or not, science says you’re better off when you have people who depend on you.
Create a buddy system with a group of friends to get them home from doctor, hospital appointments, or other times you need a helping hand.
7. Stay social
Besides practical support, plenty of research has shown the benefits of being social as we age. The links between healthy social relationships and improved health are well established. One study from Penn State University found that when social activities are associated with physical exercise, more benefits are achieved.
8. Avoid emotional loneliness
Being alone is great. Loneliness can have a detrimental effect on your health.
In fact, the elderly with the highest levels of “emotional loneliness” are more likely to die prematurely – an 18.6% increased risk of all-cause death.
9. Think carefully about where you live
Housing is generally your largest retirement expense. Married or not, all retirees need to think carefully about their housing options.
As a single person, you have more flexibility about where you live – consider the pros and cons of some of these options:
Living abroad: If you do not have children or adult grandchildren, there may be some disadvantages to living abroad. This can be a great (and cost-effective) opportunity.
Living in a Walkable Community: A walkable community with easy access to the places you need to go may be best for you if you are unable to drive.
Looking for roommates: Remember the “golden girls”? Living with other single friends can cut costs and provide the built-in support you may or may need.
Retirement to retirement community: Retirement communities give you a built-in “community” – a group of people like you.
go small: If it was just you, could you handle living in a tiny house?
villages: Look to see if there is a village-to-village network (VtVN) in your community. The Village-to-Village website says: “VtVN energizes villages, super-local neighborhood groups, and vibrant, engaged members of their communities. Village members experience less isolation, increased independence, and enhanced life purpose. These feet on street resources, which focus on the social determinants of health positively improve the health of the population.
10. Divorced or widowed? Think Through Your Social Security Claim Strategy
You probably know that delaying the start of your Social Security benefits until 70 will increase your monthly benefit check.
However, did you know that if you are divorced or widowed, you can start benefits early while still getting the maximum benefit? You can first claim your earned benefits once you become eligible and later convert to inheritance benefit (or vice versa, depending on who has higher benefits).
To collect Social Security on your ex-spouse’s record, you must have been married for at least 10 years and have not remarried.
11. Take 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. Identification of financial and health agents
There is a lot more to estate planning than knowing what to do with your assets. It’s worth noting, as a single person, that you have trusted someone who can speak on your behalf and your desires if something happens to you. How would you like to be cared for and how would you like to manage your money if you couldn’t speak for yourself?
The people you select are called your agents. A senior legal attorney can help you prepare the correct documentation.
Find a senior attorney here, or try one of these free resources for your healthcare guidance:
13. Define and communicate your plan in the event of a long-term care event
Ultimately, 69% of Americans will need long-term care, even though only 37% think they will, according to SeniorCare.com.
Although it’s not really a great plan for anyone, many couples expect to be able to take care of each other in the event of a long-term sponsorship event. This is simply not the case for a single person. So it is very important to know how you want to receive care and how you will pay for it.
A long-term care policy may be something to consider.
14. Seek support if you are concerned
You may be on your own, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need support. Here are some resources that may be useful to you:
Join the Facebook group for Seniors Singles: The Elder Orphans Facebook group is for people over 55, without a wife, and without children near them. The page is designed to allow members to 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. Select someone to check in with regularly
Whether you are worried about a health event, a fall, or perhaps dementia, it will be very helpful to have someone to check with regularly. Your contact can be a friend, family member, or neighbour.
Report your concerns and let your contact know how you would like them to handle different situations.
Don’t have someone you think you can count on? I am looking for a life care assistant. These professionals charge $80 to $350 an hour and can help meet all kinds of needs as you age. Learn more at the Aged Care Association.
16. Invest in an alert system
You probably remember commercials with a senior crying, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
It may have seemed funny years ago, but not as much as you get older. 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 #1 goal for most retirees. Just because you’re single, doesn’t mean you have to give up your love of travel.
Here are some travel companies that specialize in older solo travelers:
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