It’s that time again – the annual making of New Year resolutions. We all do it. A well thought out list of good intentions that we will execute faithfully on January 1…and many, if not all, are little more than frayed promises by February. This ritual drives sales of everything from gym equipment to diet programs.
By all means commit to losing weight and healthy habits – most of us could lose a few pounds and take a walk… for some a long walk everyday. Even for people who, like me, believe that chocolate is a food group could benefit from a piece of fruit instead. But, there are also questions that we should ask in the new year to ensure that we have happy new year(s) to come. Longer life is not about ‘retirement’ it is about planning for a better life tomorrow. There are many questions that should be asked, but here are a few to get you started:
1. Will my lifespan outlast my wealthspan? Yes, savings matters. Despite the scourge of diabetes, heart disease, etc., you are likely to live longer than your parents – but will you also outlive your income stream? Talk to your significant other and together talk to your financial advisor about a revenue stream to last a lifetime, not just a nest egg that hatches and only lasts for the first decade of ‘retirement’.
2. How well am I managing my chronic conditions? Speaking of health, if you want to live well in the next decade or two treat yourself well today. Poorly managed chronic diseases lead to disability, premature retirement, and caregiver stress and heartache for those who love us…not to mention cost a lot out-of-pocket income even if you have insurance.
3. If I can’t drive, how will I get around? Fortunate enough to be eyeing that retirement destination in the mountains, on a distant lake or even in a retirement community with a bucolic setting – for most people driving is the glue that holds life together. For many driving may not be a lifelong option, lost confidence, family concerns or just diminished capacity may take the keys from your hand. Ask yourself…are you already limiting your trips because of night vision, poor weather or traffic? Then ask ‘do I have a lifelong mobility plan that will get me to where I want to go, not just where I need to go, beyond driving myself’?
4. Do I have friends that I can count on for conversation as well as the urgent? Recent studies have reinforced commonsense, our friends (now known as our ‘social network’) are critical to our well-being. Check your investment in friends both old and new. Not just those who will help you in a pinch, but those that will share a coffee, a walk or simply a bad joke. Living longer better requires more social activity not peace and quiet…you will get all the quiet you need much later anyway.
5. Will my home enable me to age well and independently? Want to stay in the family home or ‘downsize’ – great objective, but will your home allow you to stay? Is it accessible after you have knee surgery or break a hip? Will going to the bathroom become a steeplechase rather than just another midnight run. Investing in home modification now to update a tired look may also be a time to change doors, walkways, stairs, baths and kitchens that may be a barrier to aging independently.
6. Who will change my light bulbs? Simple question…can you answer it? Even if you are a vital 85 – do you want to be on a ladder changing a light bulb? How about routine appliance maintenance and home repair? Do you have a service you can afford and trust for the long-term?
7. Do my friends and family know what I really want? This is a topic few of us want to address – but it is one of the few guarantees in life – death. Wills, advance directives and funeral plans can and should be made now. It is not about you, it is a gift of clarity and closure for those left behind.
8. Am I still learning, or do I think I am too old for that? School is not just for kids anymore. Working longer, expanding your circle of friends or keeping up with younger family members will require lifelong education. This might be a new degree program to change careers, taking a foreign language, or acquiring a new but robust hobby. Brain health and plasticity begins at home – the notion that we have learned all we need to learn by our early 20s is both foolish given the pace of change and unhealthy given our individual need for lifelong stimulation.
9. What am I doing to connect and contribute? Living longer does not mean more time to sit around. A new social contract is emerging for the next generation of older adults. Lifelong contribution. Whether it is caring for a family member, friend, or part-time work, what will you do every day to give yourself purpose and contribute to all around you?
10. What’s on my ‘just for fun’ list? Fun is critical to our well-being. It brings a smile, engages old and new friends, and puts the ‘quality’ in the ever so ambiguous phrase ‘quality of life’. A simple walk in the park, playing with a pet or something more extreme like finally making that jump from 7,500 feet keeps the pulse going and makes a longer life a better life.
A related article written by Margarida Correia published January 1, 2012 in Bank Investment Consultant, "Clients Can Add "Living Longer" to Their List of Worries" is a good read for clients and provides insights for financial advisors.