Retiring with Grace

Co-Authored with Ellen Offner, Principal, Offner Consulting, LLC, healthcare strategy and program development.

Know Thyself! Both the Egyptians and the Greek philosophers agreed that knowing yourself was more important than knowing facts. You constantly have had to modify your concept of self as you moved through the transitions you’ve made in life. Retirement is another major transition, and thus, to prepare for it, you should examine several important aspects—philosophical, financial, social, housing, and staying fit—of yourself to make decisions that will serve “you” best. All these selves are intertwined.


What matters most to you as you think about the next phase of your life? What would you like to accomplish? Enjoy? Do you want to have an impact on the lives of those less fortunate than you? See some of the far-flung places in the world you’ve always dreamt about? Provide for your children and grandchildren, perhaps focusing on those with limited resources and perhaps disabilities? Will you spend more money or less than in previous years? Are there constraints that will help you define your priorities?


How would you like to spend the money that isn’t reserved for future living? What sparks joy in you? Would giving disposable money to your children give you the most happiness? Would you want to spend it on travel? Art? Plastic surgery? Hobbies? Expensive cars? Ballgames? The list is yours to make. Or would you prefer to donate it to charity and if so, what percentage of it? Whatever you choose, you might want to talk about it with your children, because they, too, need to plan their lives. Before you do you will need to have done your estate planning; consult your attorney to develop an appropriate plan. Although many of us were expected to care for our own children and parents financially, it has become less likely that our children will have the same upward mobility.

What are your patterns of saving/spending? Are you a saver or a spender? If you’ve always been a saver, then you may consider changing your habits. Figure out, best case scenario, how long you will live –and how much money will it cost you to live, even if you are incapacitated and need help 24/7. If you have any money left after that, this is the time to spend it. You might forget to live your life to the fullest for the sake of saving money. If you’ve always been a spender, and don’t have much money left, you won’t have a lot of choices, so you will have to set priorities and perhaps become more parsimonious.


Before you decide on housing you need to understand your social preferences. How much alone time do you like? Do you want social life easily available? Or do you prefer to make the arrangements when you are in the mood?  If you remain at home, there are many resources to enrich your life. Local senior centers provide many activities and interest groups. Support groups, too, are available in local hospitals and senior centers, including bereavement groups. Many universities have lifelong learning opportunities.  In the Boston area, Brandeis and Harvard both offer excellent, popular peer-run programs, in which the enrollees can play the dual role of student and instructor.  With years of experience and both formal and informal learning, participants find these programs highly enriching and rewarding.  They also provide a natural environment for socializing and may lessen some of the loneliness associated with aging.  Check Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes for a program near where you live.

The adventurous may want to move overseas. In which case knowing visa restrictions, health insurance (Medicare does not cover medical care out of the U.S.), medical facilities, and cost of living is essential. You need to make these plans with your spouse in mind if you are coupled, but also with the possibility that your spouse could predecease you.  You might want to make two plans, one for the present while you are both alive and sadly one for the future when for each of you as a widow or widower.  


We all would like to think that we’ll die in our sleep, but we do have to prepare for the possibility that we may become infirm, to one degree or another, for an extended period. Where would you like to live if you are not as agile as you are now?  Do you want to downsize? Would you like to make renovations, and does your house lend itself to being adapted for lessened mobility? Do you want to age in place? Do you like your neighbors enough to affiliate with them (and would they want to affiliate with you?) to create a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC)? There are great alternatives to moving. A group of aging community members join to bring services to their locality. These may include medical, educational, and social services. The Beacon Hill NORC, Newton at Home, and Ashby Village are all excellent examples. Is there a NORC already in place near your home? Or, has the community around you moved away perhaps to be with their children?

Would you want to join a new community by moving into a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), or a university-based CCRC? Declining health and mobility may warrant consideration of moving to such a supportive environment.   A CCRC typically includes independent living, assisted living, and a skilled nursing facility; some have a memory unit. Lasell Village in Newton, MA, is a great example of a university-based CCRC, one of the first in the country. Lasell College developed the village, and the campus atmosphere and intergenerational interaction enrich the lives of the residents and the students. For those of you who would like educational offerings where you reside, there is now a wide choice of UBRCs to consider. This can be a choice worth considering if you want to avoid moving from place to place as your need for care increases. Do you want to live with your children?

Staying Fit

As we age, we need more maintenance, just like an old house or an old car. You might want to plan to have a little more time for body maintenance. Walking 30 minutes a day, preferably with your spouse, partner, or friend, will be enjoyable and help keep you in shape. You will want to have at least an annual visit with your primary care physician, and seek referrals for any symptoms that may arise.  And, of course whatever you plan, you will need to adapt as life’s twists and turns both positive and negative enter your life. Maintain an active social life and engage in activities to stimulate your brain. Focusing on these key aspects of aging, you will know thyself and be able to retire with grace.

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