The MIT AgeLab has identified three simple questions to help you assess how prepared you are to live well in retirement. What do these questions have to do with retirement planning? A lot more than you may think. They actually uncover important factors that can determine your future quality of life and serve as a starting point for planning a satisfying retirement.
When it comes to retirement planning, we're inclined to focus on accumulating assets and making sure we spend money wisely. But while our biggest fears may be outliving our wealth, there's an even greater risk of:
- Losing your independence due to ailing health;
- Being unable to access the big and small things that make you happy, and
- Facing a decline in the number of friends in your social network
Planning for these contingencies is an integral part of preparing to live longer, better. At first, the three questions seem underwhelming and ambiguous but the more you think about it, the more significant the implications are of being able to address these issues as part of your retirement planning.
Who will change my light bulbs?
This sounds mundane and simple enough - but is it?
If your father is 85 - even if he is in good shape - do you want him on a ladder changing light bulbs? How about your mum living alone and maintaining her home well into her eighth and ninth decade?
Now, think about your own retirement years. Changing light bulbs is more than an issue of long-term home maintenance. It is a question that asks, "Do I have a plan of how to maintain my home if I want to live independently?" When younger, most of us take for granted our ability to do daily house cleaning, maintenance, and basic repairs - even home modifications. Once we become less mobile, then we will likely need assistance with these chores and who do we turn to and how much will it cost to maintain the home?
How will I get an ice cream?
Quality of life is about being able to easily and routinely access those little experiences that bring a smile.
While getting an ice cream when you want it is not a financial strain for most, the capacity to have that ice cream on demand does raise questions, such as, "Do I have adequate transportation to go where I want when I want?"
If driving is no longer possible, "Are there seamless alternatives that enable you to make the trips you want - not just those you need?" Are you planning to age in a community where there are ample activities and people to keep you engaged, active, and having fun?
Who will I have lunch with?
Lunch is more than a meal - it's an occasion. Who you have lunch with may be a good indicator of your social network. This is not the social network of "friends" you have online, but friends you see on a regular basis - people who help reinforce a healthy and active lifestyle, and who you can depend on.
Even with adequate finances, living alone without a robust circle of social support can threaten healthy aging. Independent living in rural areas or even the suburbs may lead to an inadequate network of friends or even complete isolation during old age. Consequently, planning where, and with whom, to retire may be as important as how much it will cost.
Adapted from a paper prepared by Joseph Coughlin, MIT AgeLab 2018