"An empty man is full of himself." -- Edward Abbey

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lifestyles of the Retired

     I myself am not quite retired. I was downsized in 2002 when I was in my early 50s, and have been working part time from home ever since, making enough money to get by (with a little help from my retirement fund) and not really thinking about a "retired" life that is much different from the life I've been living for the past 30 years.

     I don't go to an office anymore, and that's a big difference. My children have grown up and gone to college and graduated and moved away. But they aren't married, do not have their own families, and they still come home periodically, so it still feels like they're around. Then there's B. She does go off to work every day; and her kids are still around. One is away in college. The other graduated in 2009, but still lives with us.

     So the point is, even though I'm not working full time anymore, I don't feel like I'm living a retired lifestyle. But, as B and I have discussed, one of these days ...

     So I look at my retired friends, and what I see are several different options available to us.

     1)  Retire in place. Your children are gone; you stop working; but you stay in the same community, even the same house, that you've been living in for years. We have a few couples like this right in our own neighborhood. I guess these people love their neighborhood and feel that they're a part of the community; and they just don't want to move. Either they have a modest house with a modest yard, or they are young enough and rich enough to continue to take care of the old homestead. Or, maybe they're too lazy to move; or too indecisive about where else they would go, so they just stay where they are.

     2)  Retire to the Grandchildren. My brother-in-law took this option. He lived in a four-bedroom suburban house outside of Boston where they'd lived for 30 years and raised three kids. He and his wife both retired about the same time a few years ago, and they moved to a smaller house with a smaller yard, in the seacoast town where their older daughter lived with her two (now three) kids. They now see their daughter two or three times a week; they babysit for the grandchildren; and they have integrated themselves into this new community largely through their daughter, but also by joining a church and volunteering in town. Meanwhile, their son lives about an hour and a half away, with three other grandchildren, and they see them once a month or so. (The third child lives halfway across the country, so that apparently wasn't an option.) They have found a new lifestyle that suits them perfectly, with a new community and essentially a "new" family.

     3) Retire to a Senior Community.  Some people want to stay in the general area (though not necessarily in the same community) where they've been living for years, perhaps all their lives. But they no longer want the responsibility of taking care of a house; they don't want the noise of kids in the neighborhood, or school buses rumbling down the street, or dogs barking in the backyard. They move to an age-restricted community, often a condominium, that is located somewhere around where they live. We have one of these in our town, a big one with about 400 homes -- mostly attached units with two bedrooms, all on one floor. There's a golf course and a swimming pool and a clubhouse with a restaurant. And it's just down the street from a little "four corners" with a post office, a bank and a big drugstore. There used to be an "over 55" policy, but I think that was judged to be illegal -- but still, really, nobody under age 60 would be caught dead living there. These people always vote against the school budget -- because they're on fixed incomes and can't deal with increased local taxes -- but otherwise they continue to live in their familiar surroundings, with familiar stores, and people they've known for years.

     4) Retire to the Sunbelt. Of course a lot of people in the north have been dreaming of the sunshine for years, and as soon as possible they bolt the cold winters for the Carolinas or Florida or Arizona to enjoy the sunshine, play golf, and, usually, to live in a senior community. They've cut the ties to their old community and are starting a whole new life. Usually, the cost of living is a lot less than what they experienced in their old lives. This is the siren call of the Sunbelt, and it has a lot of appeal. But I would think it would be difficult to move into a place where you don't know anyone, and have to build a whole new social network and a whole new support system.

Albion Shores
     5) Retire Internationally. I have two or three friends who want to retire in another country. One wants to go to Mexico. (No, thank you! It's the murder capital of the Western Hemisphere.) Another wanted to go to England. But the Albion Shores wouldn't let him in. (England is not as welcoming to immigrants as the U.S. is.) So instead, he and his wife live in England six months a year -- which apparently is as long as they'll let them -- and spend the other six months in a one-bedroom apartment in a town about 40 miles from where they used to live. Another friend of mine wanted to go to France. And he did. But again, I don't know how welcoming les Francais are. My friend and his wife managed to stay there a little over a year before they got thrown out. Now they live in Western Massachusetts.

     6) Retire in the Last Place You Land. A lot of people never settle down to live in one place for 20 or 30 years and raise their kids in a single community. It's no longer just military families that move from place to place, never living in any one town for more than a few years. My sister had this lifestyle. She grew up in New York. She went to North Carolina, then Oregon, then California and Alaska. Then she moved back east to Washington, DC, where she stayed for about ten years, but then she left again for Oregon, and finally moved to Phoenix when she was 58 years old. She just retired. And, she says, she doesn't see moving again. She likes Phoenix; she's finally settled down. But it took her until retirement to do it.

     7) Retire Back Home. One friend of mine grew up in Texas but went away to college and spent most of her career working in Washington, DC. Her husband died a few years ago; and she retired and moved back to Texas. Not to her hometown, but to a place nearby where ... where she felt like she belonged. Another friend grew up in Illinois, landed a job in New York where he worked for 30 years, and then he moved back to Chicago. Still another grew up outside of Cleveland. During his career he drifted farther and farther south, first to southern Ohio, then Kentucky, then South Carolina, ending up in Georgia. But he never really acclimated to the Southern lifestyle, and now that he's retiring he can't wait to go back north

     It seems that these are the main destinations for people who are retiring. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, which are different for different people. Of course, there are variations on the theme. I remember a friend of my parents, who when they retired years ago, bought a motor home and spent one year traveling all around America, living out of the motor home, trying out various places for their retirement destination. They ended up in the Greenville, SC, vicinity. They liked the area, so they sold their motor home and settled into their retirement years.

     But since I'm "shopping" for my own retirement lifestyle, I'd love to hear about any other alternatives, or about the pros and cons of these various options. Because I'm one of those indecisive types. And I'll end up just sitting where I am unless I research the situation, think about it for a while, and come to some sort of obvious conclusion.


schmidleysscribblins.wordpress.com said...

What a great post. You've done a swell job of laying our the prospects for all of us who remain in couples.
We have been looking at most of them. David does not want to ever leave this house, however, and while he is alive, that is where we will be. Don't know after he is gone, what I will do as the house is too much for me alone. Should he predecease me, where I would go? probably closer to my daughter if I could stand the small town again.

I will be interested in your future moves, should they occur. Keep us posted.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

An excellent post, examining so many options! When it comes down to it, it's really a matter of individual preference, what feels right for you.

Moving to be near the kids and grandkids can be wonderful for some, but a major disappointment for others. There are several couples in the community where we live who moved here -- mostly, it seems in these instances, from the East Coast -- to be near the grandkids and then their kids ended up relocating for job reasons and they're now stuck in an unfamiliar area with their kids no where near. Our next door neighbors actually moved here to get AWAY from their kids and grandkids because they found themselves spending most waking hours babysitting and not having any time alone together or to do fun things.

In answer to your question about whether it's possible to relocate at this age and start over with new friends, the answer is YES! Actually, we have the best of both worlds. We had lived most of our lives in Los Angeles and found ourselves so busy with work and commuting that we didn't see our friends nearly as often as we would have liked. And the L.A. traffic didn't help. We chose to move to Arizona because of the lower cost of living, housing, etc. and yet we're close enough to L.A. to go over for a weekend or a bit longer to visit family and friends. And we have made wonderful friends here. I would advise anyone looking to retire to the Sunbelt to (1) try it out in all seasons. We did our explorations in July to feel the heat at its worst and to determine if we could take it and (2) to seriously consider buying a home in an active adult community, preferably a new one since everyone else will be new and wanting to make friends. We have had no difficulty at all making new friends -- as well as keeping our old ones.

Dick Klade said...

Very thoughtful analysis. The bottom line, I think, is choose the path that makes you feel most useful.

I respectively disagree with the comment about how it is easy to make new friends in your senior years. It's almost impossible, unless you move into a retirement community.

Rosaria Williams said...

Something will tip the scale, the way it did for us. I wrote about the same topic today, but not as choices to make, but the choice we made.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I hadn't given this much thought until this post, but we retired in the same place which turns out to be the best place. One set of grand kids is across town, the other just an hour away. All our friends, family and roots are here. We live in a beautiful place in Oregon where other people relocate across country to live here. We pretty much have it all.

Anonymous said...

I've already downsized and semi-retired 10 years ago. But put me in category #1: lazy. I had the chance to downsize and move yet once again to Florida but the sheer thought of packing up changed my mind. I'm staying put. For now. At least for another 10 to 15 years. I may, at that time, think about moving to a senior community or perhaps closer to my children, should my health decline. If I need assistance then I'll move my butt. Until then, I'm just too lazy to relocate again.

Mac n' Janet said...

When we retired in our 50's we were living in California and our only child was in Maryland. We wanted to be closer to her, but we don't "do" winter so we compromised on Georgia. We had lived in Georgia in the 80's when my husband was in the military. So now we're in the sunny south, closer to our daughter and thoroughly enjoying retirement.

Meryl Baer said...

We still work but recently moved three hours away to the Jersey shore. We spent a lot of weekends here with friends and grew to love the place. We still keep in touch with our old friends 'back home' and can easily visit...Our kids are married with kids but may not stay in their current location; hub hates Florida and deserts (so much for Vegas). As soon as we truly retire we're planning to hit the road for a while.

I Wonder Wye said...

Excy and I plan to sell this larger house for sure. He wants to pull up stakes and move west. Since I am dealing with cancer and aging parents and have wonderful friends and a support group here, I prefer to stay here. If we stay here he'll design a smaller more efficient house on the Sanctuary side with the 'wild ones' (mustangs) who will be with us wherever we are...

Drew Harrison said...

That's pretty fascinating. Of course, life doesn't stop just because you've retired from your job. There are still a lot of things to do when you're living as a senior, and doing something can help with one's health and outlook in life. Whatever lifestyle you pick, there's no reason to feel old at all!