18 January, 2018

Ageing without Children: The Plan

I love it when the comments on one of my posts leads into more thoughts, and another post. I thought I’d clarify that I am thinking a lot about our retirement and old age at the moment, due to caring for ailing parents-in-law who didn't really plan in advance. But at the moment, our plans are just thoughts really, as we’re still in our 50s, still hoping to earn a little more money before we retire, and still hoping to travel, and spend some more prolonged time overseas. The important thing at this stage is, I think, our recognition that we need to plan ahead. We can't leave it to chance, and the goodwill of others. Besides, increasingly, I think that would be selfish.

In my observation, old age covers really three periods of life:

Youthful and Active Old Age
The first is when we first officially retire, when we don’t feel or look old (and indeed, many of our contemporaries may still be working), and when we are – hopefully – relatively youthful and active. That’s a time that I feel we can truly grasp the benefits of having no children, and go anywhere, and do anything (finances and health willing, of course), though to be fair lots of people travel now, because it’s the first time in their lives that they are not constrained by jobs or children either. Travel with friends who are parents could be a real bonus at this time of life, because we're all equally unencumbered.

This is when my parents first left New Zealand shores, and explored some of the world. They also explored their own country, travelling by car, camping very cheaply, and they had a wonderful time. They went out for meals more often, to movies and shows (that weren't options living on the farm), they got involved in new hobbies, making friends who would be important in later years.

I know a couple of different people now who spend NZ winters where it is warm, and return for the summer. They don’t spend much money doing this, but they’ve been able to organise their affairs to travel this way. I love the concept. I also would like to return to Thailand and live for a while, or at least spend six months or so there. It’s definitely an option for us, and spending NZ winters on a beach in Thailand (with air-conditioning in a house, because I actually am a wimp when it comes to heat) when we’re in our 60s is a nice idea.

It’s a good time to downsize too, in our case to be able to afford the lifestyle we hope to have.

I hate to think though, that I would spend this time, which should be liberating and exciting, sad and afraid, worrying about the future, and constraining my activities and location because I feel I need to be establish a support network so I can feel safer in ten years time. So Jess, maybe Bryce is right, and you can, in fact, retire anywhere you want!

Middle Old Age
To me this is around 70-75 – again, health willing – when it is important to establish a home base in an environment where we can enter old old age. Some people at this age move to be near their children, but we can’t do that. We will need to decide whether we want to settle down (finally!) where we live now, where we have good friends, but no family, or if we want to move near others in the family. Though the risk there is that they can always move too. So, where we will settle is still to be decided, but I'm confident we’ll get a better feel over the next 20 years!

I like to think that we can move into something like a retirement village, still with our own house or apartment, but with nearby facilities if we need them long term. Yes, we might be younger than those moving in, but I think it’s important to do it before we absolutely need to do so.

Middle Old Age is when we can maintain our existing friendships and networks, or make new ones from others in similar circumstances, or through clubs or volunteering.

We’re probably not going to be quite as adventurous in terms of travelling, but I hope we will still be able to go out and see the world. We might be doing escorted tours, rather than jumping in a car and finding our own way, and perhaps a few more cruises too. But we’ll be doing it from a home base.

It’s an age when health issues make themselves known, or when dementia can start hinting at its presence, and that’s absolutely when it is necessary to make changes to ensure that there is adequate care as the condition deteriorates. So it is a time to get those Powers of Attorney and Wills updated, and to consider living Wills/medical directives.

Old Old Age
These are the elderly years, the years when everything feels harder, even if you are still mentally alert. It’s a time when confidence falls, fear grows, and there is comfort having people around who can help if you fall. A lot of people wait until they’re this age before they look at moving, but by now the idea of moving is too daunting to be able to do it. And so they struggle, lonely and afraid. These are the years I think we worry about, and the years I want to plan for.

I think the key is having a different mindset. Whilst we can’t foresee all eventualities, and every good plan will have its flaws, we know we can’t just wait. Those who simply rely on their children to look after them in their old age are, I think, quite selfish. Being prepared, thinking in advance, and organising our affairs as much as possible, will make life easier and less uncertain for us. It will mean we will have friends around us, that we won’t be lonely, and that we’ll have support systems (whether paid, or family, or friends) in place when we need them.

The good thing too is that governments and agencies are recognising more and more that people are old and lonely. I also have no idea of the type of technology we’ll be relying on in 20-30 years, both in terms of helping us cope, but also in terms of connecting us with others. Maybe I’ll be filling my days chatting to my friends, and you all, and my overseas nieces and nephews and their children, on the Skype-equivalent of the 2030-40s, interacting with each other as if we’re having you over for lunch, or sitting down chatting over a coffee. Maybe I’ll be doing things I cannot imagine yet! My grandmother spent a lot of time phoning her friends when she was old and living alone, and felt connected that way. She could never have dreamt that I might have an online life connecting with friends all over the world, let alone how I might spend my old age.

So actually, when I think about it, the future could be quite exciting!

(And it appears I do have a plan, of sorts. Thanks for the chance to think it through here.)


  1. Ha! Well, I'm glad my obsessive need to plan out things and stress out far before necessary has helped you think out the three stages of old age. It's helped me feel a little less panicky, too, so I thank you. I guess at some point I need to stop living like there's yet another shoe that's going to drop on us. :) Thanks for the reminder! And winters in Thailand sounds wonderful, more so for the air conditioning. I'm going to try not to thought-cycle on tsunamis now. :)

    1. And I love the idea that in retirement we could gain an even playing field of sorts with our friends with children, although we'll have the leg up because no college payments, no helping out with the first apartment, no weddings to pay for... :)

  2. Sounds like a plan to me! ;) I like your three stages of aging, I think it's true. My parents are both approaching 80 & while they've always been able to run circles around me, I do see them both starting to slow down now... they just can't do all the things they used to, at least not at the same pace. But I also think it's true that old age is relative -- and maybe it's just because we're part of a generation that doesn't like to admit it's aging ;) but age doesn't seem to mean what it used to -- what used to be considered "old" is not thought to be so very old these days. My D.E. Stevenson book group on Yahoo has commented several times on how Stevenson writes about age -- e.g., "elderly" aunts who turn out to be maybe, what 60?? ;) Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    1. You're right. 60 is no longer old! I only called it Old Age (as in Youthful Old Age) because it is around the age of retirement.

  3. That's a great plan! I've also noticed that some people leave it too late to move somewhere more suitable for old age and then once they get really old the thought of moving is too much. My parents in law live in an apartment with no lift and it definitely limits them now as they get less mobile and are not as able for the stairs.

  4. I love the idea that, children or not, we need to get ourselves organized for old age. Lots of good information here. I'm glad I'm still in Youthful and Active Old
    Age.Thanks for a great post.