Part of our role as Financial Planners is to ask questions that go beyond the numbers. Most of our clients have a goal of accumulating assets and making sure that they spend their money wisely. These are very important goals, but it's important to make sure that we think about other risks that we all face as we age:
- Losing our independence due to ailing health
- Being unable to access the big and small things that make us happy
- Facing a decline in the number of friends in our social network
Hence these three future quality-of-life questions are important to ask yourself:
- Who will change my light bulbs?
- How will I get an ice cream cone?
- With whom will I have lunch?
(I'd like to think I'm brilliant enough to have come up with these three questions, but—giving credit where it is due—Joseph Coughlin, Ph.D. at the MIT Agelab, first coined them.)
Simple question-right? If your father is 85 and in good shape, do you really want him on a ladder changing light bulbs? How about your mother living alone and maintaining a house well into her 8th and 9th decade? With people having fewer children and qualified help in short supply, choices can be limited.
Now think about your own retirement years. Changing light bulbs is more than just an issue of maintenance. It is a question that leads us to ask, "Do I have a plan to maintain my home?" When we are younger, most of us take for granted our ability to take care of our daily cleaning and maintenance. However, identifying the costs as well as reliable service providers necessary to maintain our home may be as critical to aging independently as the health of our retirement savings. Do you have a family you can rely on? Should I downsize (and the easy answer to this one is generally "Yes") and do it before it becomes a necessity and choices are limited.
On a personal note, over the recent years, Norm and I have made some housing decisions for the future, and each of them involved moving to a home which had an elevator or is in a condo on a single level. Exterior maintenance is handled by the community and we can easily lock and leave to go on our travels. Tough to move, but so worth it!
Close your eyes. Imagine it's a hot summer night-a perfect time for an ice cream cone. Butter pecan is my favorite flavor. Quality of life is about being able to easily and regularly experience the things that make us happy.
So, while getting an ice cream cone when you want it probably won't be a financial strain, the question of "Do I have adequate transportation to go whereI want when I want?" arises. If driving is no longer an option (more on this later), are there easy alternatives that enable you to make the trips that you want and not just those trips that you need in order to go to the doctor or grocery store? Moreover, will you be able to age in a community where there are ample activities and people to keep you engaged, active and having FUN.
Now to the driving question. One of the most precious gifts my mother gave me was handing me her car keys because she knew she should no longer be driving. She could still drive but was worried she might hurt someone else.
Have lunch! Even Stephen Sondheim recognized the importance of having lunch when he wrote "The Ladies Who Lunch." Lunch is more than a meal. It can be an occasion and it also can be a good indicator of your social network-not the network of online "friends" but friends that you see face-to-face and on a regular basis.
COVID has put a dent in this experience, butI'm sure that it will re-emerge stronger than ever. Friends help reinforce a healthy and active lifestyle and on whom you can depend. If you have to struggle to think about lunch companions, think instead about how to build that network. Do you have a common hobby group? A book club? Faith circle? Daily walking crowd? So many choices but, also, so important to avoid the potential of a solitary life during that stage of life.
With Whom Will I Have Lunch? Who are your closest friends? Who adds special value or has a specific role in your life? Who will you continue to depend on for advice or enjoying shared experiences?
List your connections.
□ Attend a senior center
□ Do volunteer work
□ Enroll in a college course (Osher Centers)
□ Frequent your neighborhood coffee shop
□ Use online social networking, meet up, etc.
□ Join a travel club
□ Enroll in an exercise class
□ Ask family and friends to introduce you to others