091: How Baby Boomers are Reinventing Retirement with Dr. Sara Geber
The word “retirement” inspires a lot of negative feelings in people of all ages, but especially baby boomers. More than ever, retirees want to be seen as youthful, want to continue to be useful, and want to continue doing something that gives them meaning and purpose.
Few people understand this better than Dr. Sara Geber. Sara is the author of Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Roadmap for Single and Childless Adults. She brings an extensive background in psychology to her experience as a retirement coach, and her book provided me with a lot of insight into how I could better serve the families I work with day in and day out.
Today, Sara joins the podcast to talk about why retirement needs reinventing (and how it’s already happening), the most common mistakes solo agers make in trying to transition into retirement, and the many new options available as they enter this stage of life.
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In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- How Baby Boomers have reshaped retirement – and what so many retirees are doing to live longer, more purposeful, and more enjoyable lives even after they leave their main career.
- How retirement coaches differ from retirement planners – and if one person can do both jobs well.
- Sara’s definition of solo aging – and why retirement planning isn’t that different for solo agers.
- How solo agers are building communities, networks, and support groups outside of the traditional family model.
- “The people that make the transition the easiest, psychologically, are people that have lots of ties outside of work. They have a large social network and they’re looking forward to spending more time with those people. They’re looking forward to pursuing their woodworking hobby or spending six months on the road in their RV.” – Sara Gerber
- Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Roadmap for Single and Childless Adults
- Village to Village Network
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Casey Weade: Sara, welcome to the podcast.
Sara Gerber: Hi. Thanks, Casey. Glad to be here.
Casey Weade: Hey, I’m excited to have this conversation with you. I have many families that I work with that are solo agers as you have so eloquently put it in your book and I really enjoyed reading that book. It provided me with a lot of insight into how I can better serve the families that I work with and our team works with day in and day out, and the types of things that they’re actually thinking about on a daily basis. And so, I really want to get into the whole solo aging thing. So, I know that’s a huge focus of yours but I want to start off with just retirement in general and what that means to you. And I saw on your website, your company tagline is, “Reinventing retirement for our generation.” So, what exactly do you hope to reinvent about retirement? And why do you think retirement needs reinventing?
Sara Gerber: Well, since I coined that phrase, I think retirement is being reinvented mightily by the baby boomers, which is my generation. It’s my generation that I speak to in the book and the book is primarily for boomers and they’re already reinventing retirement. People are working well into their 60s, 70s, and sometimes 80s. They’re retiring in ways that don’t slow them down in terms of giving back to their community. The people that I do know that are retired and the people I’ve coached who retired are often just as busy after they retire as they were when they were working. So, they’re happily reinventing retirement as we speak.
Casey Weade: But it seems like this whole word, just the word, retire, a lot of individuals are getting a negative thought process. They don’t even want to talk about retirement so, “I’m never going to retire or now I’m not a retiree.” I mean, it’s almost offensive to some individuals. I find that they say, “Oh, you’re retired,” and they say, “No, I’m not retired.” Do you think that is something that’s just going on with this generation? Why do you think that we’re trying to change the word retirement? Maybe we need to call it something different completely, it seems.
Sara Gerber: Well, the look and feel of retirement from the perspective of baby boomers has been pretty off-putting if you will for many years. I mean, they look at this old staid kind of retirement communities where people that are running around in golf carts and playing Mahjong and board games and things that don’t expend too much energy and just look like they’re waiting to die. So, I don’t think baby boomers want to go that route at all. They’re pretty busy doing whatever is near and dear to their hearts. Now, that’s not to say that some baby boomers don’t, after 40 years of a job of some sort, after 40 years don’t want to just simply have a classic retirement, where they are playing golf, they’re working on their garden, they’re doing all the things that they never had enough time to do when they were working. And that’s fine too but there are a quite, quite a high percentage of baby boomers who don’t want that at all. They want to continue to be useful. They want to continue to see themselves as youthful. And, you know, I mean, baby boomers have kind of been like Peter Pan for their whole lives and this time in life is no different hence the huge appeal of all the anti-aging products and whatnot. But my goal in many of the other coaches that I work with is to help people to accept themselves at whatever age they are, do whatever they’re capable of doing for the rest of their lives and do something that adds meaning and purpose to their life, just like their work may have. I hope their work did.
Casey Weade: Yeah. Well, I know that’s a big focus of yours. And that word retirement, you know, originally in my last book that I put out, I wanted to title it Retire With Purpose and the focus groups we put together they said, “You know, we don’t like the word retirement.” And so, we’ll make it Job Optional. Everybody loved the idea of being job optional, “I don’t have to work but if I want to, I can keep doing it that I’ve got the financial confidence to have that option.” I think that’s maybe where retirement is headed. Or what do you see is the future of retirement?
Sara Gerber: Now, I think the future of retirement, for one thing, is going to get older and older. People at 65 today have as much chance of being healthy and vital and feel about not too different from the way they felt at 45 or even 35. Lots of people in their 60s are still doing all they used to do to keep in shape. They’re running or they’re lifting weights so they’re doing yoga or Pilates or something to stay in good shape. And we’re able to take better care of our bodies today because we know a little bit more about what nourishes them. And I think that being an older adult doesn’t make you any less cognizant of that or any less respectful of the fact that we need to continue to nourish and nurture our bodies so that they will last us well into our 80s and 90s. And, gosh, there was a radio show that my generation will remember, called Paul Harvey and he was an icon for many years in radio. You may have heard of him and he used on his noon broadcast, he used to have a list of people and it was always a very short list that he knew about in the country. And of course, people would write into him and tell him about these centenarians, “Here are the people that turned 100 last week,” and he’d made off six or eight names.
He would spend three hours on the radio today reading off the names of people who have just turned 100 in this country. There’s loads of people turning 100 in this country. I picked up the paper the other day and I saw some news article about a woman who was 103, who was had just run a 100-meter dash I think it was. I think she’s somewhere and she’s not in this country. She’s somewhere over on the European continent. I thought, “Wow, 103 and she’s running.” So, it seems like we’re able to preserve our bodies and take care of them well enough that many times we’re able to do things like that.
Casey Weade: Well, I think that seems to be at the core of this. We’re not spending 5 or 10 good years in retirement. We’re spending 20, maybe 30 or more years, and a lot of them really good years, healthy years in retirement and that can be a third of our lifetime and that presents a lot of opportunities to continue to grow as individuals. And we don’t want to just sit around because you had a lot of years to do this. You’ve got this background in psychology that you bring to the table as a retirement coach and I wonder what value do you think it brings to have that background in psychology as you’re coaching people through retirement?
Sara Gerber: Well, my background is really in human and organizational behavior. So, I was not a therapist, I did not work one-on-one with people but I have a pretty good understanding of what motivates people to do what they do and how to help people change behavior if that’s what they need to do and how to help people understand other’s behaviors like their spouse. A lot of times people have a difficult time retiring or preparing for any kind of retirement phase of life with their spouse because their spouse has a different idea of what to do in retirement or they’re 8 or 10 or 15 years disparate in age and that’s always an important conversation of the things you do together. And how can you have a meeting of the minds and go forth in a way into that period of life that satisfies both of you?
Casey Weade: Yeah. I feel like many times, and you probably felt this way yourself, I feel like I end up being a marriage consultant or a therapist. We’re having such important conversations at that stage of life that I think that kind of background, that kind of understanding of human behavior and why we do the things that we do is so important as a retirement planner, let alone retirement coach, and this retirement coach thing seems to be relatively new. I think most of the people that I’ve met some of our fans even, “What’s a retirement coach? I’ve never heard of a retirement coach.” We’ve had several on the show over the past year and I wonder from you, what do you think the difference is between a retirement coach and a retirement planner? Can they be the same thing? Are they two completely different people? Do you need each one to be separate? What’s your opinion?
Sara Gerber: Well, I know several retirement planners and when I think of retirement planning and I think when most people think about retirement planning, they think about the financial side of it. And I know a number of financial planners that have the financial background, that are also getting a credential for coaching so that they are better able to work with the whole person, not just the person’s pocketbook. And so, many financial advisors and financial planners that I talked to and I work with dozens of them, they’re more and more real and I saying that there’s a huge behavioral component to what people do with their money and how they manage their money and there’s been a number of books written about that topic. The topic itself is behavioral economics. And so, I think there’s a lot of crossover. Now, most retirement coaches that I’ve met do not have a desire to also do the financial side. So, in a sense, the reverse isn’t true. Financial planners often have a great desire to be better coaches. Coaches really just want to stick with the behavioral side, the lifestyle planning, the kind of the psychology of making that leap. That’s a very difficult leap for people to make, not just the retirement lifestyle, but also, if you’ve been putting money aside for your retirement for 40 years and now you make that I call it a U-turn, and now you’re expected to pull money out to live, a lot of people have a great deal of trouble with that.
Casey Weade: Yeah. That can be a big psychological obstacle to overcome with a lot of the families that we work with and said, “Hey, you didn’t save it so you could just leave it behind. You save it so you could spend it and enjoy it and live with confidence.” So, if I may rephrase, I hear you saying that a retirement planner can be a retirement coach but most retirement coaches aren’t necessarily retirement planners. So, if someone’s looking to work with you and they’re working with a retirement coach, maybe just in general, I wonder who that ideal client is because we’ve literally worked with thousands of individuals over the years. I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of individuals over the years and I’ve never met anybody that has worked with a retirement coach. So, who are the type of individuals that seek you out? Who is your ideal client?
Sara Gerber: My ideal client and I think this is true for most coaches is someone who is just looking at making that transition. They are maybe in their final year or two of work, they’re trying to figure out where they want to live, some people are considering a move, others aren’t, what they want to do in retirement. They certainly want to know how to manage their money after retirement and for that, they need to see a financial advisor but these are people that want some guidance making that transition. So, most of my clients are in their 60s, I have a few in their early 70s, and that’s kind of the age group that is kind of looking retirement in the face and wanting to make that transition and it can be very, very challenging.
Casey Weade: It seems that some have a very smooth transition to retirement. There’s no stress, there’s no wonder what am I going to do? What’s my purpose? What’s my meaning? What’s next? How am I going to fill my day? There’s a lot of individuals that just don’t have that stress or concern and then there’s others that really struggle with that transition. And I talked to those individuals on a regular basis. What do you think the difference is between those two types? To me, it seems like it can be anyone. Talking to Dean Niewolny, the CEO of the Halftime Institute previously, he had mentioned that he’s working with a stay-at-home mom. He’s working with individuals that were running massive businesses, just all types of individuals on any type of economic scale. There has to be a common thread with those individuals that really struggle with this transition, and others just step right into it and can’t wait and have a blast.
Sara Gerber: Yeah. Well, I see one very big reason for that difference and that is, what do you have going in your life in addition to work? The people that make the transition the easiest, psychologically, are people that have lots of ties outside of work. They have a large social network and they’re looking forward to spending more time with those people. They’re looking forward to pursuing their woodworking hobby or they’re looking forward to spending six months on the road in their RV. They’ve got this going for them before they retire. They’ve known for years that there are things they want to do after they don’t need to work anymore. So, that’s a big difference. Then there are people who have been so immersed in their careers and I have to say this is mostly men that just haven’t developed anything outside of work. Nothing, no hobbies, no friends, nothing. Everything is work. And maybe family but family doesn’t sustain you in retirement until grandkids come along. Some people who are going into retirement in their 60s or 70s, some people really want to be kind of like professional grandparents and they spend a great deal of their time with those grandkids, and that is their meaning and purpose.
Casey Weade: Yeah.
Sara Gerber: So, you know, it varies widely.
Casey Weade: But it seems like the number one coming out in I read this over and over in your book is just relationships. Having relationships can really help with that transition more than anything else but also starting this a little early kind of playing in those areas prior to stepping into retirement, tiptoeing, having some low-cost probes, as Dean would call it. Have you worked with anyone that maybe didn’t have that, they were concerned about the transition, they didn’t know what they were going to do next, and you’re able to help them get things kind of started, get the ball rolling before they actually stepped into retirement?
Sara Gerber: Yeah, definitely. We’ve done a kind of values clarification, if you would, and discovered where people often encourage people to think about what they were involved in as a teenager and a young person. What were you interested in? Was it music? I have one fellow I coached decided to pick up the trombone again after many, many years’ absence. He had played trombone in high school, really enjoyed it, continued a little bit into college, played in some bands, but had set it aside for 30 years. And then, as I talked to him about what he was going to do in retirement and what are some of those interests that he might regenerate, that was one that came up for him. So, he enrolled in some lessons because after 30 years you pretty much have to not totally start from scratch but really revisit that, your relationship with that instrument and how to play it successfully. So, that’s an example of what one of my coachees did. I have a couple of other coachees who I mentioned woodworking because seems like I know a lot of men who have made woodworking their retirement hobby. And some people just decide not to fully retire at all.
There are a number of people who get what we call retirement jobs, something to do in retirement, maybe because they need the money, but maybe just because they want to be useful somewhere. And it’s often a low-stress kind of occupation that they don’t have to use their head much. They just need to be with people. I mean, kind of the one that comes up that we sort of laugh about it occasionally is the Walmart greeters. For a long time, Walmart had hired people who were retired, just simply to be in the front of their stores and great people. And that gives meaning and purpose to a person’s life to do that and often they work six-hour shifts, four or five days a week, loved it.
Casey Weade: Yeah, just staying in contact with people and being around individuals all the time, developing strong relationships. And this is one of the things that I found. You’ve got a unique focus on solo agers and I’d never really thought about some of the challenges that a solo ager may have, especially when it comes to relationships, family, children, grandchildren, the things that many of the families we work with, that’s why they’re retiring. They want to spend more time with their children and grandchildren. That’s one of the unique obstacles it seems that some solo agers face. You say that you are especially knowledgeable about the unique challenges faced by those without children or grandchildren. Is retirement planning really all that different for solo agers?
Sara Gerber: Not all that different.
Casey Weade: And maybe we should define solo agers since you kind of created that.
Sara Gerber: Yeah. Originally, I defined solo agers as anyone who didn’t have children, whether they were married or single. If you didn’t have children, I considered you a solo ager but as I got further and further into the research on it and talking to hundreds of people all over the country, I realized that after, well, many dozens of people had come up to me and say, “Well, I consider myself a solo ager. I have a child but he lives with his wife and family halfway across the country,” you know, somewhere that was pretty inaccessible on a regular basis. Or in the sadder cases, people who are estranged from their adult children or whose adult children have kind of failed to really launch and they’re struggling. I mean, there’s all kinds of different situations and you can extend that to people that are taking care of their grandkids on a regular basis, all kinds of things happen with adult children. So, I now consider solo agers to be anyone who either doesn’t have kids or is aging alone for some other reason. Lots of people these days are divorced. There are also widows and widowers. So, these are all candidates to be solo agers. Although, again, I think that having adult children or adult nieces and nephews who you’re very close to and that live near you makes you less of a solo ager.
But really, in terms of the retirement itself, in the book, I write as much about aging as I do retirement. And after I got into the level of being a retirement coach, I realized that I was as much an aging coach as a retirement coach. So, that’s a big part of what I do and anyone who becomes a client of mine has to know that we’re going to go there. We’re going to talk about aging, we’re going to talk about death, we’re going to talk about being disabled, we’re going to talk about all those kinds of issues that happen to people as they get older. It’s just no mystery. We’re keeping people alive longer because they’re managing conditions that used to kill people. But they’re still there, they’re still managing those conditions.
Casey Weade: So, you didn’t do this your whole life. You aren’t always a retirement coach. What all of a sudden created this burning fire inside of you that you obviously have to focus on solo agers, be a retirement coach, and help people through this transition?
Sara Gerber: Well, two things. I did a lot of executive coaching, leadership coaching, when I was in my prior career of organizational development and leadership development, get a lot of coaching. And so, when I started coaching people that were in their 60s, I heard as much about how people wanted to talk about their retirement plans as they wanted to talk about their strategic plans. So, I realized that that was looming large in the minds of older baby boomers and people of the previous generation who were my initial coachees. So, there was that, and then the fact that my husband and I do not have children and I looked around me and so many of my friends were spending a tremendous amount of time taking care of their aging parents. Now, my husband and I didn’t have that responsibility. Mine both passed on quite early and my husband had one parent that lived into his 90s but he was in Florida and was surrounded by the rest of my husband’s family and we’re in California. So, we just didn’t have those responsibilities. Our friends did and they were spending a tremendous amount of time and resources and money running back and forth across the country, arranging for home care, arranging for a move, all the kinds of transitions that people go through when they’re in their 80s and their 90s.
And I thought, “My gosh, who’s going to do that for us?” and the answer was no one. And then I started doing some research into how many people did not have children, especially in the baby boom generation and discovered it was almost 20%. So, one in five baby boomers doesn’t have kids, that’s a pretty big deal.
Casey Weade: Well, that has to be one of the biggest challenges. It’s one that I’ve run into many times just selecting that trustee. Who’s going to settle the estate? Who’s going to handle my affairs? Who’s going to be my power of attorney? These are all important questions, and ones that I would like to see your answers to, and how you solve those things in your very own life but I think as a good lead-in here, we’ve got a fan question from Steve Pick that I think will maybe lead us there. His question is this, “What is the most common mistakes solo agers make in trying to transition to a new retired lifestyle? And what can we do ahead of time to minimize this change?”
Sara Gerber: Well, I think there’s really a couple of things. Probably the most prominent one that I see is a failure to think ahead and to realize that your retirement, if you want to call it that, is going to happen in stages. Initially, you’re going to be independent. Most people are anyway when they’re in their 60s and that might last a decade, two decades. We don’t really know. Everybody is different. But we all need to think about what happens when we are not capable of living independently anymore. And what I encourage people to do that I very, honestly, I don’t think I’m very successful at getting people to actually do it, is to check out the resources that are around them meaning what are the home health care companies in your town? What are the assisted living communities or continuing care communities or even skilled nursing facilities in your hometown? And go visit some. Go explore what your future might look like. Because if you’re ill-prepared for that, and something happens to you and you don’t have specified in your estate documents where you want to live out your life, if you can no longer take care of yourself, you might end up actually becoming a ward of the court and being assigned a guardian and the conservator to manage your finances. And that should be nobody’s idea of how to end their life.
So, doing the kind of planning for all phases of retirement I think is really critical and that means getting out of your denial, going to visit some of the retirement communities that may be similar to the one that your parent lived in, maybe different. They’re changing dramatically these days. These retirement communities, they know that the baby boomers are their future and they know that the baby boomers are going to want something quite different than what’s offered to their parents.
Casey Weade: That could be a real obstacle for some. I know, for me, even I’ve been in many nursing homes. My grandmother was in a nursing home for quite some time. And I remember being there but I wasn’t actually envisioning myself at some point in the future in her very shoes. You know that…
Sara Gerber: Well, hopefully, you’ll never have to be, Casey. I certainly want to avoid ever going to a nursing home but I can only do that by understanding what the other options are because that’s the default. If there’s no other plan made, your doctor or whoever treats you for whatever happens to you, a fall or whatever, is going to recommend the nursing home and probably your response or your loved one’s response will be, “Well, which one? Where are they? We don’t know anything about them,” and then you’re going to be at the mercy of whatever that doctor recommends. It’s so important to think about these things ahead of time. You should never need a nursing home if you understand how to get the kind of home care that you might need or make prearranged to be moved into the assisted living community of your choice.
Casey Weade: Well, I think a lot of us do some research. We’ll get on internet and start googling things and trying to figure out well what’s this continuing care retirement community, your nursing home? Or what are all the different levels of care? How do I get home health care? But actually experiencing it one-on-one, actually being there in person, I can see that being a really beneficial thing for you to do as a person to really figure out what kind of care you’re going to need that can help you figure out how much it’s going to cost and kind of back in to the right approach, the appropriate long term care strategy for your own unique situation. And I think part of this is you’re talking about stages and in your book, you talk about the different stages or phases of retirement and I think it’s kind of a new thing. It used to be that it was adolescence, adulthood, elderhood. There really wasn’t this, “Okay, well, there’s even more stages now within this elderhood stage.” Well, what are those stages? And how do you view the way that we should be preparing for each one?
Sara Gerber: Well, some people put it very simply. Retirement comes in three stages, go-go, go slow, and no go. So, you can look at it like that or you can look at it as where you’re independent, where your venue becomes probably interdependent whether that’s with your spouse or in a continuing care retirement community. You’re probably interdependent with somebody that’s going to help you or you become the caregiver. And then eventually, if you live long enough, you will be at a point where you won’t be probably doing too much of anything other than being fairly sedentary and I’m talking about people in their 90s and 100s. That’s not even true for all of those people. I still know a few people in their mid and late 90s who are living on their own independently. The thing to understand is that it varies tremendously from person to person and there are no guarantees that you’re going to be one of those people who is still happily living in your two or three-story home when you’re 96. You might be. It’s great that you had a parent who was. It’s great that you know an uncle that lived to be 98 and chopped wood every day or whatever it was, but there’s just not any guarantees. So, planning, again, kind of planning for the worst, but hoping for the best is probably a great way to think about the future.
Casey Weade: Well, it seems like there’s a common thread there that it has a lot to do with your location and where you’re going to live at these different stages in your life. You’re not going to live on in that fifth story apartment in downtown New York City when you’re 90 years old but you might do that when you’re 60 years old and being able to plan ahead can be very helpful.
Sara Gerber: And you might still be doing it when you’re in your 90s but hopefully it’s not a walk-up.
Casey Weade: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. That’s what I meant. And so, how do you help people decide where they should retire or whether or not to relocate or when to relocate?
Sara Gerber: By looking at their own goals and their own values. If they value being around family more than anything and they have lots of family then probably a good consideration is to think about moving to where most of your family is or staying put if your family is already living there near you. So, there are people who value climate over everything and want to be sure that they’re living in a climate that they never have to shovel snow again. I hear that a lot. So, there are a whole bunch of states that would qualify as somewhere to live if you didn’t want to shovel snow and it’s important then to go out and do some reconnaissance. Take a look, scout around, see what appeals to you, see what the prices are, see what you can afford, see what the environment is like.
Casey Weade: Yeah. I like that.
Sara Gerber: People differ a lot one from another. I know a lot of people who don’t care about snow. They want to live somewhere vibrant. They want to live close enough to get in and out of a major metropolitan area often enough to continue going to opera and symphony and theater. That’s an important criteria. It’s important to know that about yourself.
Casey Weade: Yeah. Some people really enjoy the seasons. Everybody’s so different. I think that’s so true. I think really cool things about retirement is what you said reconnaissance. You have time to do reconnaissance. You may not have had that time when you were in your working career but now you have time to go test some different places out and I have individuals that I’ll meet with and a couple just the other day said, “I think we’re going to move to Florida.” I said, “Well, where at in Florida?” They said, “Well, we’re thinking about going to Fort Myers.” I said, “Have you ever been to Fort Myers?” “We went there on vacation one time.” They had never really been there for an extended period of time and now they had that opportunity. Well, go rent a place there for a month, then go stay in Arizona for a month, go to stay in Sarasota for a month. Get to experience some different places, do some reconnaissance, and find the right place for you. I think that is a really good thing.
Now, as you’re doing that, I’m sure you’re trying to keep in mind, well, you said health care as well. We have to focus on what type of health care is available in that particular area and that also leads us then to the different types of housing arrangements we might be looking into as we step into retirement. There are so many options today and it’s mind-boggling. I don’t know that some even realize how many different options there really are. How do you see the options evolving? As for those that say, decide not to age in place, what do those options look like and what’s the cutting edge today?
Sara Gerber: Well, let me first address the whole issue of aging in place. I like to think of it as aging in the right place. So, the whole then when you spend your last day at work might be the right place depending on your finances, depending on how that home is set up, depending on how accessible is transportation and other kinds of communication, how long you know your neighbors, it may be the right place. On the other hand, it may not be the right place if it’s usually an older multi-story home that has narrow doorways and it’s just probably not going to be very suitable if and when you live into your late 80s or 90s.
Casey Weade: When I think and I want to interject because there’s something you said in your book while you were talking about aging in place that I never thought about before. You said that a lot of solo agers have a stronger desire for independence and really value privacy as well. And that can become an obstacle to aging in place.
Sara Gerber: It can and that’s not limited to solo agers. I mean, I think our parents’ generation for sure and probably our generation to some extent has adopted this whole rugged individual, “I have to have privacy. I have to have my space.” And they value that above relationships. And I think that’s unfortunate because relationships, the older you get, relationships are going to be critical. You may end up being a caregiver for a neighbor. A neighbor may end up being a caregiver for you, probably only if you set it up that way ahead of time. But how? Where is that care going to come from? This is the big question. Where are you going to be able to get the care and the help that you need? So, there are all kinds of new things that have come along. The first is the village concept. And…
Casey Weade: I read about some of these in your book. I thought I knew them all and you actually introduced me to a couple I hadn’t heard of before.
Sara Gerber: And there’s a couple I know of that weren’t even invented when I wrote the book. But villages are important if people want to stay in the home that they’re in, they like their community, they want to be even more involved in their community. If that community has a – and this is a village kind of quotes. It’s a virtual village that is usually a grassroots effort to set up often in conjunction with the senior center to help people stay in their home and thrive. It generally operates with a significant cadre of volunteers who are available to take people places and to do minor things like hang a picture, walk a dog. As we get older and then most of your audience will relate, I’m sure, things happen. You got to go to more doctor’s appointments, more procedures come up, have knee replacements, and shoulder replacements and hip replacements all require a substantial amount of recovery time. Sometimes that has to happen in a rehab facility but often it can happen at home if you have the resources you need to help you.
And being part of the village can be part of those resources because volunteers can be enlisted to do all kinds of things that normally you’d be able to do and you anticipate being able to do again once you recover, but you can’t do right now. So, there’s that. And villages also usually have a heavily vetted list of contractors that you can hire to do the more intense kinds of work. If you need a new roof and you don’t know a roofing contractor, the village generally has a list of people who they vetted, who they know is fair and honest and won’t take advantage.
Casey Weade: And these are all over the country?
Sara Gerber: They’re all over the country. They’re predominantly in the coastal areas but if any of your listeners want to find out more about the village movement, they should go to a website called VillageToVillage.org I think.
Casey Weade: Yeah. We’ll definitely put that in the show notes.
Sara Gerber: Village to village. It’ll come up.
Casey Weade: Great. And we’re not talking about the villages in Florida. We’re talking about something much different than that. You also brought up co-housing, home-sharing. Can you speak on those things briefly?
Sara Gerber: Sure. Co-housing also is a grassroots effort generally started by a small group of people who decide that they want to age in place together. And so, they do one of two things. They either hire an architect and a builder too and, obviously, they have to buy a plot of land which sometimes is just an acre or a couple of acres. And on that land, they build what for all intents and purposes looks like a condominium complex or a complex of little cottages if the land will support that and you can buy enough land to do that. And then an architect and the builder complete the project and turn it over to the people who commissioned it. Now, by and large, by that time, you’ve got a group of at least 12 or 14 people, couples and singles that want to participate and of course it costs some money, some seed money, and then eventually you buy from the builder or from the financer, the actual unit you’re going to live in when you sell the house that you’ve already been living in. Most of them are on an ownership basis. I know there are a few co-housing complexes around the country that have some rentals but mostly it’s people coming in and owning them just like a condominium.
And the only way that they differ from a condominium is that they are what’s known as – co-housing is what’s known as an intentional community. These people intend to live together, to work together, to manage their complex and the grounds together, and make decisions together, often preferably by consensus but sometimes resorting to a democratic vote. Now, most co-housing complexes are intergenerational, but today there are a few being built to be at what’s known as elder co-housing. So, again, Cohousing.org, Cohousing.com, actually both of them, will lead you to much, much more information about them and you can find out where they are in the country.
Casey Weade: Then you’ve got home-sharing. So, you’ve got home sharing, you got co-housing, we’ve got villages, and it seems like even continuing care, retirement communities. All of these different things, it seems, again, we’re right back where we started with relationships being around other individuals who you can develop a friendship or relationship, you can share stories with, share your password, just be with and have fun with. That seems to be at the core of many of what seems to be some of your favorite options when it comes to some of the newer options that are available today. And it seems to me the one that’s been coming up more and more, whether that’s in the news or in our conversations with some of our fan base we work with is something called continuing care retirement communities.
And I’ve got a specific, actually received a couple of questions on CCRC as for yourself, and I want to read one to you from Susan Gunshore. She says, “I am a single 65-year-old female who retired in December of 2018. I live alone and I’m concerned about decisions I will be facing regarding the possible need to move into a community that provides a graduated level of assistance as I age or continuing care retirement community. What is your opinion on this type of community? Who is it best suited for? And what should be considered before making such a drastic move?” She also did go on to say that it would – she’s mentioned that it takes most people’s life savings to be able to buy into one of these communities.
Sara Gerber: Yeah. And I want to say right off the bat that these are expensive propositions. So, if you have done well in your working life and you have a home that has good equity in it, you may be a candidate for a CCRC. They are all over the country. They’re in urban areas. They’re in rural areas. A lot of them are in the banana belt because a lot of people want to move out of the areas where it’s very cold in the winter. But I would imagine that unless you live in a very small community in the very rural area, there’s probably one within driving distance of you for a day visit. These continuous care retirement communities are a buy-in situation 90% of the time. I think there are some out there that also have rental options but most of the time with CCRC you buy-in and you buy your unit. You actually are buying the use of your unit for the rest of your life. There are a number of different plans that you can buy-in with. I don’t want to get too technical here but generally, you are buying an entry into a community where you will have the care you need whatever that is for the rest of your life, whether the rest of your life is three years or 30 years.
The business arrangement is a legal arrangement and you will have to qualify that you are able to live independently and that you don’t have any kind of conditions that would necessitate care almost immediately. So, you have to have a physical and you have to have certification that you’re still able to live independently when you move in. You may not be able to live independently anymore in six months or maybe 15 years. I don’t know. But these like assisted living communities, these communities generally offer at least two meals a day. All of the upkeep on your unit as well as the building, there’s housekeeping service, there is linen service, and they’re fascinating places. Again, it will take the equity in your home for most people to be able to move in and then you’ve got to be able to prove financially that you can pay the ongoing monthly fees for another 15 or 20 years. So, it’s not for everybody.
Casey Weade: Take somebody that’s been fairly well off financially, it sounds like.
Sara Gerber: Yeah. Very successful.
Casey Weade: And it also sounds like you have to be fairly healthy when you decide to make this move.
Sara Gerber: You have to be healthy enough to live independently. That’s not to say that you can’t have a heart condition that’s being managed or…
Casey Weade: Or maybe this lends the argument that it should be done at a younger age. I was kind of surprised a couple of years ago. I had a gentleman I’ve been working with, him and his wife for years, they were in the early 60s, 61, 62 years old and they were coming in to begin to figure out how they could best finance moving into a continuing care community. And I couldn’t believe that they would be doing that that early. That just seemed so early to me to be moving into a facility like that where they probably won’t really need the care realistically for a good 20 years. They were in excellent health. And then we’ve got Susan here, 65 and single, that’s starting to wonder if that’s the right move. When do you think is the right time? Is there a right time?
Sara Gerber: Well, it’s an interesting kind of winning game because it depends on whether you can finance yourself for 30 or 40 years. If you’re moving in at 61 or 62, you better be prepared to pay that monthly fee and that can be steep for the next 30 years. Now, if most people do this, most people find the CCRC they want to move into, they get on the waiting list because they almost all have a waiting list and then they play a sort of I don’t want to call it a game of chicken but a sort of a cat and mouse game to see the next time a unit comes up, are they going to be ready? Now, are we ready psychologically to do this when we’re 65 or 70? Maybe yes, maybe so but can you afford that many years in there? That’s the big question. So, what do most people do? They try and push it out until there’s somewhere in their 70s, mid to late 70s before they make the move. That way there are not so many years in front of them that they have to pay $4,000 or $5,000 or $8,000 a month. They vary one from another.
Casey Weade: Well, I don’t see necessarily, just from a financial perspective, I mean, somebody that’s doing this, especially in the early 60s, you kind of isolating yourself more so from the younger generation or youth. And even in your book, you talk so much about the importance of being around younger individuals that I would want to be in a community where it would be an intergenerational community that would give me the opportunity to regularly interact with younger individuals and older individuals.
Sara Gerber: Well, you know, the builders of these communities are getting a lot of interesting feedback from baby boomers that they’re talking to. And what baby boomers are telling them is that, just as you’re saying, they want to be able to have a feel of intergenerational. So, many communities are being built right next door to and on some cases on the land of a university so that people that move in can continue to learn, continue to mingle with younger people. Some of them are being built in urban areas where they might be right next door to a daycare center or a school and some of the residents actually spend a great deal of their time being teachers’ aides, being tutors, and so have a lot of interaction with younger people.
Casey Weade: I think that’s so cool. I mean, it’s great. I mean, the older generation and it’s always been this way, even with my grandparents. I learned so much from them. There was so much wisdom to be gleaned from their past experience that putting whether it’s being next to a school. You have the opportunity to interact with maybe you’re teaching at the university or you’re just being around those younger individuals. They need to hear those experiences we had and learn about the past. I think that’s really cool that we’re starting to see some of those things change. I want to take a step back. There is something you said earlier. I wanted to go here, I wanted to make sure we get to those question because I’ve got several solo agers right now that I’m working with that are struggling with this. They’ve got substantial estates but they don’t really have anybody that they would trust to be their power of attorney or the trustee or kind of help them with some of that end of life planning. And I know for you, you were very involved with your father’s end of life planning but you aren’t going to have necessarily that same. You don’t have that daughter to pull into the fold for that. So, how did you solve that? And maybe it’s different for you than other individuals.
Sara Gerber: Yeah. It’ll be very different for the gamut. The range is tremendous. For instance, I’ll tell you the story of another woman that I know, actually, a long term friend of mine, comes from a very close-knit family. There’s four other daughters in this family and all of the daughters are five girls turned into five women and only one of them, my friend, did not have kids. She never married, she never had children, she spent a lot of years down in the Galapagos, she’s a scientist. But throughout all of that time, she remained very, very close to her nieces and nephews, really close. Lived near them, nurtured them, mentored them. So, she has now a dozen or so people that she might choose to be on her advanced directive, to have her power of attorney for health care decisions as well as finance. She’s in good shape. And then there are other people who literally have no family to rely on and those are like both ends of the spectrum. So, if you have no one to rely on, no familial ties, then you’re probably going to have to look at your friends, especially those that are younger. I advocate in the book, cultivating a multi-generational group of friends, if you can, starting with your neighborhood or a book club or the gym or whatever it might be.
Casey Weade: That’s important. What you just said is really important, the gym or the neighborhood or a book club because I know from personal experience for someone that doesn’t have that yet, it can be very intimidating to go out and start to cultivate some of these relationships. But those are just some ideas, some really good ideas, because you just have put yourself out there, I think.
Sara Gerber: You do. You do. You have to put yourself out there. Making new friends in our 50s and 60s is not that hard. I don’t find it that hard. I don’t find it any harder. People say making friends when you’re older is harder. I don’t know. Move to a retirement community. There’s going to be a lot of people starting over in a retirement community and you will, if you are willing to as you said, Casey, put yourself out there, you will make friends.
Casey Weade: Yeah.
Sara Gerber: Now, the other extreme is you to kind of be that caregiver. We have in California and I think in Arizona too, we have something called licensed fiduciaries and these are people who you can hire to take over what you cannot do both finances and healthcare and that’s what my husband and I plan to do that. We’re in the middle of interviewing several of them, because we want to find someone that we feel good about and fiduciaries typically work on an hourly basis. So, they get paid most of their money on the backend when they’re needed. And we figure we’ll pay them for an hour or two of their time every year so that he or she whoever we picked gets to know us as well as possible and know what our desires are leading life, the kinds of decisions we want to make. They’ll be familiar with our advanced health care directive. They’ll be listed on our power of attorney either as a first-line or as a backup. Many people actually hire fiduciaries so to prevent their kids from having battles over their will. And they named the fiduciary as the executor of their will. So, the reason for doing that, rather than hiring a lawyer, which of course, you can engage a lawyer to do that too or a bank has a trust. Most banks have trust departments. So, there are all those options but they’re pretty impersonal.
Casey Weade: It sounds like the fiduciary is a really personal experience that you’re having. Who is the fiduciary employed by? Are they everywhere? Can someone in Indiana hire one from California?
Sara Gerber: No. Well, I don’t think so but that’s an interesting question. They’re employed by you and then they’re employed by your estate. So, you have…
Casey Weade: These are independent contractors?
Sara Gerber: Yeah. These are independent contractors. Now, some of them have formed small firms just like financial planners have done and they have backups if they themselves eventually are in not in a position to do it. You know, I think it goes without saying that if you’re going to pick a fiduciary or somebody to manage your affairs maybe it’s somebody within the trust of a bank that you want to find someone that’s younger than you.
Casey Weade: Sure.
Sara Gerber: By a good many years.
Casey Weade: Yeah. Well, I think that is an interesting opportunity that many of our fans will be interested to hear about and start to do some of their own research. I think you’ve given us a lot of things to think about at this stage of many of our listeners’ lives. And I want to wrap up with this general question. I know you’ve got another appointment coming up. What does retirement mean to you?
Sara Gerber: It means a lot of different things these days. I mean, to me, retirement is a period in your life that we use to enjoy the fruits of our labors, that we spend developing more fully the relationships that we’ve had to kind of put on the sidelines while we were working. It’s a time to nurture the things that we love and the people that we love. It’s a time to do things that we’ve always wanted to do. Hopefully, for most people, it’s a time in life when you can make more open choices than you’ve been able to make during your working years.
Casey Weade: Well, I think that sounds like a pretty cool place to be. So, I hope everyone’s having an experience and following through on a lot of those things. You know, if someone’s out there, they’re listening, and they’d like to hire you as a retirement coach or I know you do a lot of speaking engagements, maybe they just want to get started by ordering a copy of your book, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you or reach out?
Sara Gerber: Sure. I can be reached through my website, which is SaraZeffGeber.com. I actually have two websites. I have SaraZeffGeber.com and I have LifeEncore.com. So, you can reach me that way for sure. Can I hold up a copy of the book?
Casey Weade: Yes, please do. Yeah.
Sara Gerber: So, this is what the book looks like.
Casey Weade: Yeah, I’ve got to apologize. I’ve got mine tabbed out and I’ve never forgotten anybody’s book. I forgot that book when I headed into the office this morning or I would be holding it up as well.
Sara Gerber: So, the book is called Essential Retirement Planning For Solo Agers and you can get it through Amazon or any other of those kinds of outlets, Barnes and Noble, any of the online outlets.
Casey Weade: Awesome. Awesome. Thank you so much for joining us, Sara. It’s been great.
Sara Gerber: Thank you. Thanks, Casey.