Old and alone, and the healing power of words


It’s Valentine’s Day, so I’m going to talk about my love of words. In particular, I am a blog convert! In the few weeks since I set up this website, my own tentative foray into the previously unknown world of blogging, I’ve discovered that I’m following in the footsteps of numerous earlier trail-blazers! There are a lot of people out there writing about every topic under the sun, and personal finance is no exception. Once you find one interesting blog, you’ll often find links to posts on another blog, and by jumping from one to another you instantly find new opinions and perspectives of interest. In particular, it’s reading about the personal lives of others writing about their own finances that I’m finding most useful and motivating.

I mention this because one of the books I’ve started reading is the Which? essential guide ‘Finance Your Retirement’, and near the start it paints a picture of the changing profile of retired people in the UK. It says that not only is life expectancy increasing, but that younger generations are more likely to be single and childless in retirement. They’re based on figures from the Office of National Statistics, which you can find on the ONS website about ageing / older people, and births / fertility.

Living alone in your retirement

For example, the ONS released some figures at the end of 2014 on living alone. These showed that, based on 2011 figures, 13% of the population of England & Wales live alone. This increases as you’d expect as you get older, to 17% if aged 50-64, 24% aged 64-74, 38% aged 75-84, and to 59% aged 85 or over. Under the age of 65, men make up the larger proportion of people living alone. Over the age of 65, presumably because of the longer life expectancy of women, this reverses. From aged 65-74, 63% of people living alone are women, 72% in the age group 75-84, and 76% aged 85 and over. So in summary about a quarter of us who reach state pension age live by ourselves, and most of these are women.

A fifth of women are child-free

If we look at levels of childlessness amongst women, the ONS released some figures in November 2015. It assumes that women complete their childbearing by their 46th birthday. It showed that 18% of women born in 1969, and therefore aged 45 in 2014, were childless. The figure has stood at around a fifth of women for the last decade, but is higher than that of their mothers’ generation where only 11% did not have children.

The reason I’m quoting these two sets of statistics is that when I read the Which? description of the trend towards an increasingly old, single, and childless retirement, especially for women, it tapped into my fear of being exactly that person – old, alone, with no children to look after me when I need it. I’m sure lots of people in mid-life think about ageing and mortality, but those of us without children probably feel the fear of having to fend for ourselves in old age more acutely, or at least are aware of it an earlier age. It’s maybe a bit ironic that I mostly thought aiming for financial independence would allow me to do more things, but actually it seems that part of my motivation is about building myself some security for the time in my life when I’m actually able to do less.

Inspiration from other blogs

Rather than dwelling on this fear of being old and by myself, I’d rather think about things I can do now which might help me financially later in life. The joy of other people’s blogs is that you can take inspiration from their stories. For example, I was reading a blog called ‘Retirement: A Full-Time Job – The Unfettered Pursuit of Happiness’ written by a US woman called Sydney Lagier, or ‘Retired Syd’. She retired early at the age of 44, and in a post written in November 2007 called ‘My path to retirement’ she spoke of the financial advantage that not having children had given her in helping her to retire early. Surprisingly, it’s never previously registered with me that not having children means I should have more money available to save. The insurer LV said in its 2015 Cost of Child Survey that it costs £230,000 to raise a child to age 21 in the UK, or £10,917 a year, or £910 a month. It doesn’t much matter what the exact figures are, just that it’s a big expense that I don’t have. I’ve probably been spending money on other things instead but, if the benefit could be earlier retirement, or more money in retirement, I’m now more motivated to save.

Another point I’ve realised from reading other blogs is that if you’re not bothered about leaving an inheritance to children, maybe you’ll need less of a retirement pot as you can think not only of spending the income from your assets in retirement, but also all of your assets too.

I’m finding that reading other blogs is helping me to think about different issues relevant to my own retirement. Instead of feeling quiet panic, worry or stress, I’m feeling more hopeful and motivated. I’ve just signed up for two new blogs, both written by individuals who have achieved financial independence and retired early, and am hoping some of their tips will rub off on me.

Image: condesign, Pixabay


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