Planning Your Retirement Early in Life

Demographers predict that by 2026 one in five Canadians will be retired. The pressure of this mass exodus of baby boomers from the work force is already being felt. The magnitude of planning ahead for your family's retirement and health care is becoming ever more important.

"Most people don't actually think about retirement until they are about 50," says retirement coach Dorothy Orr. "Life looks long and 50 feels a long ways away for most people. Financially and emotionally, it's important to think realistically about the future, but generally people don't do this when they are younger."

"I never thought about my future, about where I would live or what I would do," says supportive living resident Doris Groves. "I never thought about it until I got sick. I retired and lived in a condo with my husband. He passed away and I stayed in the condo until I broke my hip. Then I realized that I would need some extra help."

Groves currently lives in subsidized supportive housing and, while she is happy in this new setting, she admits she didn't spend much time thinking about how she would be cared for in her 80's. "It's definitely different. When you live alone you are always by yourself, but here I have lots of people to talk to. I have my own space and help out in the kitchen. The move was fine. I'm cared for and I make my own fun."

Life is full of changes and transitions, and planning ahead can make the process of living much more enjoyable. Determining early what you want from retirement, where you will live and how you will be cared for, can help you and your family move smoothly through the phases and challenges that may confront you during your senior years.

"The thing about any kind of change is that it is best if you can be in charge of the change.  Change always involves gains and losses. It doesn't matter how excited you are about it, there will always be financial and emotional losses and gains," says Orr.

Thinking about the best and worst case scenarios of our lives can be an exhausting venture. Whether you're laying out a strategy of affordable housing options, thinking about what you will do for fun in your retirement, planning your estate or looking at your personal care needs, it's valuable to consider how you and your family will personally manage the changes and transitions that come with aging.

"It's good to know what goals and visions you have for your life. These can alter and change over time, but it is important to understand yourself. Understand how you've dealt with stress and changes in your life in the past. Identify what your coping skills are and what experiences you want to have from situation to situation. Know what gives your life meaning. If you can have a sense of humour about it, that's even better!

"Talk to your friends and family about your situation and your plans. Have a conversation with your physician about your health. If you have an illness, do your research and find out everything about how it will impact your life," says Orr. "If you actually need to move into a senior residence or care home, ask to visit before you move, take your family with you and ask if you can spend the weekend. If you're a loner, and community living becomes an option, think about how you will deal with the situation of living in a group setting."

The key to a happy retirement is knowing what your options are and having control over the decisions that impact the way you will live your life.

"Life becomes difficult to deal with when people are told what they have to do - when they feel have no choices. You need to take time to sort out your life and not feel rushed into it. Most people enjoy assisted living as long as they have choices and some control over the situation."

For most people, not talking with their partners or families about aging is easier than talking with them. But if we get in the habit early, of communicating our needs and desires, there is likely to be less conflict later in life.

"Parents need to talk with their kids about how they would like to be cared for as they age, to be a model to their children," says Orr.

"Try to have those important conversations with yourself, your friends and family before you get to a state where you have no choices and you're not prepared for the decisions that others must make for you."  

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