By Mason Crane-Bolton
There is no way to get aging “right”…
…But it does help to plan.
Something is happening each and every day across New Jersey. Across the United States. Across the entirety of the planet.
We are all getting older.
Like it or not, each and every one of us is on a journey of aging. From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we are aging.
We tend to think of aging as being something saved for an arbitrary age, like 50, 60, 65,…etc. We could list off the ages at which society (for one reason or another) has decided we’ve hit a certain benchmark in aging. Whether it’s Social Security benefits, Medicare enrollment, retirement, “senior citizen” discounts, or a screening your doctor now wants you to undergo, we tend to have these changes attached to specific ages or with “being of a certain age.” We think of them as being times in our life when a monumental change has occurred, a mark of “aging.”
But the truth is, regardless of what arbitrary number might be assigned to program enrollments or coupons, we don’t age in random, sudden leaps. We age constantly and gradually. While this might make it tempting to wait to plan for your later years, you should plan now. No one wants to be caught unawares by changes as you age or a sudden health crisis, so it makes sense to plan for your later years as early as possible. Think of planning now as training for becoming an older adult.
What if you already consider yourself an older adult? That’s not to say this blog doesn’t apply to you too! It absolutely does—no matter where you are or where you consider yourself to be in your path of aging, it makes sense to plan now for the road ahead, whether that road is two days or twenty years from now!
Having plans in place will mitigate much stress and bad decision-making in emergency situations. Much heartache and avoidable stressed is caused by being forced to make difficult decisions in the heat of the moment; time spent worrying about what the best decision is and then wondering if the right decision is the one you made.
What are some priorities to focus on? We’re so glad you asked. In this three-part series we’ll cover different aspects of how-to age well as we lead up to our 21st Annual Conference. If you’d like to register for the conference but haven’t yet, go to www.njfoundationforaging.org for more information.
This week, in the final chapter of our three-part series, we’ll cover: money and retirement.
Do you have money saved for the future? Will it be enough for yourself and any care you might need? Have you enrolled or will you enroll in supplemental programs? Do you know your eligibility? Have you already retired? Are you about to retire? Do you have money saved up for retirement? Will money be coming in during your retirement or will it just be going out?
Suffice it to say there are many questions surrounding money throughout the course of our lives, particularly as we become older, possibly retire, and consider our long-term care needs. If you haven’t already, read Barbara O’Neill’s article on flipping financial switches later in life (Flipping a Switch: For Happiness and Financial Security in Later Life, pages 6-7) in the latest issue of Renaissance for some great insight into what financial changes you can anticipate facing as you age.
The sheer number of questions can be daunting, let alone the stress financial decisions and discussions can instill in people. But just having a plan for your financial future can save you from a load of future stressors and difficulties. If you’re facing a loss of income it may be necessary or helpful to consider what options you have: could you work a part-time job or are you eligible for Social Security or disability benefits? Would you be interested or able to live with a roommate or relative?
A note about programmatic assistance
As part of your financial discussions, investigate eligibility requirements for assistance programs—there are many different types of assistance programs across the state for services ranging from utilities, to property taxes, food and fresh produce, medication, and more! Learn more about each program and see which ones may best work for your own situation. You can learn more and apply to multiple assistance programs (though not all assistance programs) through the state’s new, simplified application NJSave.
Some programs include, but are not limited to, Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PADD), the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LiHEAP), and NJ SHARES. PADD is a prescription drug assistance program that can help you pay for your medications and LiHEAP and NJ SHARES are utility assistance programs that make it easier for older adults and others to pay their utilities throughout the year and may offer weatherization tips or tools. Whether you are eligible for one or all of these programs, each can make a significant difference and positive impact in your life. You may be eligible and not know it, so make sure to look into each of these programs.
It’s important to know that some of these programs, particularly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), face chronic underenrollment—in NJ alone, only 48% of eligible older adults are receiving benefits, meaning that 52% of eligible older adults are facing additional food insecurity and financial strain and may not realize they qualify for this benefit. Learning more about SNAP and other assistance programs could help you today or in the future, depending on your eligibility status. Furthermore, signing up for these programs will help you save money and ensure you have access to basic necessities and a higher quality of life. Although you cannot apply to SNAP through NJSave, you can apply only through the NJ SNAP website.
Another way to help secure greater benefits later in life is to put off taking your Social Security benefits until you’re 70, if possible. Waiting until age 70 will maximize your benefits payout. If you plan on using Social Security benefits to supplement your income in a meaningful way you’ll want to have as much of your money as possible coming to you in each benefit check or deposit.
Does the thought of retiring make you sweat or fill you with joy? What will you do with your newfound time? Will you have too much, too little, or none at all? How can you make this new phase of your life work best for you?
Retirement can be a joy for some and a great sorrow for others. Whether you’re looking forward to retirement or dreading it, it’s important to know what you’re going to do with this next phase of your life. Many people may choose not to retire or may not be able to for financial reasons, and in this case it’s equally important to choose how to spend this time when many friends may be retiring or health changes may make it necessary for you to cut back on hours spent working.
For those who are retiring, having a plan for your retirement can make the difference between remaining healthy and happy and declining physically and mentally. For many of us, even those who don’t love their jobs, having a regular work schedule can fill us with a sense of purpose or, at least, give us a predictable schedule and a way to pass the time. A newfound freedom in retirement may allow you to pursue a hobby or travel, spend time with friends and family, or relax in ways you didn’t think were possible. If this sounds good to you, try planning out at least a few days a week with activities that are meaningful to you and keep you engaged; this could be going out and socializing with friends, reading books, engaging in a craft or sport, or volunteering—anything that gives you pleasure and a sense of purpose.
If the above sounds boring and pointless to you, or at least unfulfilling and unwanted, consider working part-time as part of your retirement or semi-retirement. For many people fulltime retirement may not be enjoyable—it may seem dull, and could lead to depression, physical and mental decline. A volunteer role (fulltime or part-time) may work for some, but not for others. The work could be a passion of yours that’s been on the backburner, or could be something like office work, cashiering, or other positions that work for you and your schedule. Often it’s the set schedule of work that’s vital to keeping people happy and engaged more than the work itself. Moreover, people who have the luxury to choose to work past retirement instead of working out of necessity can enjoy the freedom of knowing they can leave their job if and when they choose to and can have greater flexibility in schedule and line of work.
However you decide to spend your later years, come up with a preliminary plan and a backup plan. Although your plans may change over the years, it will be helpful to have an initial plan in place now for how you’d like to spend your time and what activities will be meaningful to you in the future.
There is no one solution to deciding how you will cope with money, retirement, and other financial changes. Just as your life changes, so many the appropriate solution for you—having a plan, or even considering your current or future needs, is the first step to aging well.
Thank you for reading our three-part series on how to age well and how to plan for aging! We hope you learned something new, connected with a resource, tried one of our tips, or had thought-provoking discussions with loved ones. If you missed part one or part two in this series, you can read them here ( Part 1: Mobility and Transportation ) and here ( Part 2: Home, Health, and “After I’m Gone…” ?). As this series in our blog winds to a close the excitement for our June 4th, 2019, annual conference is just beginning! If you’d like to attend our 21st Annual Conference, “The ‘How-To’s’ for Aging Well,” go to njfoundationforaging.org for more information and to register! We hope to see you there on June 4th!
If you have feedback or would like to be part of the conversation, leave us a comment below or email us as firstname.lastname@example.org.
Come back for our next blog! New posts are published on the first and third Thursdays of each month.
Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in Epiphany, UU World, To Wake/To Rise, and others.