Trish Bongard Godfrey isn’t planning to retire right now, but she is doing a lot of planning.
“I have no intention of retiring. I might never retire,” the 54-year-old Toronto real estate agent says. She’s going strong in her second career – she was previously a fundraising manager in the not-for-profit sector – and she’s active and healthy. She enjoys her work.
Yet Ms. Bongard Godfrey recognizes the need to prepare for her future as a senior. It goes beyond financial planning.
Figuring out how we will live securely and comfortably in addition to being financially independent is more important for Canadians as our population ages and seniors’ lifestyles evolve.
Life expectancy for Canadians keeps going up – it’s nearly 81 years and rising, according to Statistics Canada. Many of us will live much longer than that – Ms. Bongard Godfrey’s own parents and her 98-year-old mother-in-law are still going strong.
The new longevity is changing the way people look at their own advancing years. The 50s and 60s used to be when people would consider winding down and figuring out their finances; this still happens, but for many people these years are less twilight and more of an extended middle age.
“In order to get as much as possible out of our old age, we will need to embrace it,” says Lyndsay Green, an author and blogger who writes about seniors.
In her book You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready? she challenges seniors to concentrate on their non-financial needs. Where will you live? What kinds of friends will you have? How will you spend your time and what will you have organized for yourself when, eventually, you do slow down?
One important issue to look at beyond financials is intergenerational planning, says Brad Wise, vice-president and portfolio manager, TD Wealth Private Client Group in Markham, Ont.
“There are a whole host of things to consider – your children’s education, long-term care for your parents,” Mr. Wise says.
There are new contingencies, too.
For example, in a job market with persistently high youth unemployment your kids may be living with you for longer than you had originally thought, right into their own adulthood.
Long-term care for parents takes planning. Experts suggest you raise the subject early, as waiting lists for care and homes can be long.
“People wait to make these decisions and then it’s up to CCAC [in Ontario, the provincial Community Care Access Centre] to decide, and there may not be room in the place you wanted,” Ms. Bongard Godfrey says.
What else should you plan for? As a real estate agent, Ms. Bongard Godfrey works with a lot of clients who are making lifestyle transitions, and she offers what she calls the “F’s” – family, friends, fitness, food, flexibility, fun and fashion.
Make clear how you want to dispose of your major assets – not just who gets your money but also things like your Stratocaster, tea set or that ugly lacquered table in the den. You should of course have a will and sign power of attorney documents in case you become incapacitated
Keeping a network of friends is one of the most important keys to a secure old age. They’re your personal support system for the rest of your life. They don’t all have to be old friends – it’s nice to become pals with the couple in their 30s who will check up on you when you’re 90, or the teenaged neighbour who comes over to watch a hockey game. “We’re social animals,” says TD’s Mr. Wise. “It’s what keeps us going.”
Fitness and food
It’s easy to let fitness slip but it’s also easy to stay in shape. Set reasonable goals. You don’t have to do 100 bench presses, but you can walk to the store instead of driving, or golf, swim or garden. “You’d be surprised how popular lawn bowling is,” Mr. Wise says.
Your surroundings need to be fit for you too. You may need to renovate, adding a stair-assist device or a walk-in shower (in some cases, provincial grants are available).
Or you may need to move to a smaller, more manageable home, long before it’s time to consider assisted living.
By “food,” Ms. Bongard Godfrey doesn’t just mean eating right. “It’s my code for consumption,” she says. “We’re placing demands on the ecosystem,” she explains, “so we should be thinking about what we eat, what we drink and what we wear.” Doing this brings the added benefit of helping people live within their budgets – ask yourself: Do I really need that?
Fun, flexibility and fashion
Having fun is a must, but it helps to be strategic. Ms. Bongard Godfrey comes across prospective clients who moved to ski areas such as Collingwood, Ont., only to decide to move somewhere else because they couldn’t ski any more.
Flexibility also means being prepared for the unexpected. Seniors who travel a lot should make sure their home insurance is up to date and that their house is burglar-protected with an alarm or surveillance system, because thieves can tell when nobody is home.
Out-of-country travel insurance is important, too, but beware that the cost can be sky-high in advanced years or if you have had major medical treatment in the past. If you drive, an auto club membership is handy, and make sure you ask for seniors’ discounts. Fashion?
“It’s just a matter of keeping up, with everything. Be aware of the world around you and enjoy it,” Ms. Bongard Godfrey says. “If we’re too rigid, life will hit us. The next 30 or 40 years is going to be [a period] of rapid change.”