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The Ready.Set.Retire! Blog


The Retirement Success in Maine Podcast Ep 023: Strategizing Retirement as a Solo Ager with Dr. Sara Zeff Geber

Benjamin Smith, CFA

Executive Summary

Episode 23

Episode #23 is live and we're digging into the concept of "Solo Aging". Solo Agers are those without kids, where the "kids" are usually the ones who take care of us as we age. Did you know that according to a 2005 Pew Research Study, 19.4% of the boomer generation did not have kids. So this is a big concept looking forward. We sought out the national expert in the topic of "Solo Aging", Dr. Sara Zeff Geber, and hit her with some difficult questions around "Strategizing Retirement as a Solo Ager". Are you a Solo Ager or know someone who is? Then this episode is for you!

What You'll Learn In This Podcast Episode:

On this episode of The Retirement Success in Maine Podcast, Ben and Abby are joined by a nationally known expert in the non-financial side of retirement planning, Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D. The topic at hand for this episode is Solo Aging, defined as aging without children. So what better guest is there than the author of Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers, an Amazon best-seller and in the words of The Wall Street Journal, one of the “2018 Best Books on Aging Well”. Additionally, Dr. Geber is a regular contributor to Forbes.com on the topics of aging and retirement.

Dr. Geber shares her expertise by not only spending time laying the groundwork and providing background knowledge about solo agers, but also by answering questions like, “What is the key to happiness for solo agers?” “What mistakes are commonly made by solo agers?” “How can solo agers leave behind a legacy?” and more! Dr. Geber also answers our favorite question – What does Retirement Success mean to her? Be sure to listen in and hear everything Dr. Geber has to say!


Welcome, Dr. Geber! [2:33]

What does it mean to be a solo ager and how prevalent is being a solo ager nationally? [12:27]

What are some myths out there about solo agers? [16.57]

What has Dr. Geber found to be the key to happiness solo agers? [18:16]

What are some big mistakes that solo agers may make? [24:25]

How can solo agers leave a legacy? [27:58]

What can solo agers do to bolster their social networks, especially as they retire from their careers? [31:57]

What role does spirituality play with solo agers? How can people make spirituality more a part of their life as they age? [39:02]

What are some of the considerations for solo agers as they decide how and where to live in later life? [42:33]

What is Retirement Success for Dr. Geber? [52:27]

Ben and Abby wrap-up the conversation. [54:37]



Her book: Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers



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Ben Smith:                    Welcome to The Retirement Success in Maine Podcast. My name is Ben Smith. I am joined by my cohost Abby Doody, the lobster to my scallops. How are you doing today, Abby?

Abby Doody:                 Hey Ben. Good. How are you?

Ben Smith:                    I'm great. We have been attacking a lot of themes in this show. And one that just popped up to us as you've been thinking about our own client base has been this concept of, we have a nice group of clients that they're aging together, and they're looking forward to retirement or in retirement. But they don't have kids. And they don't have kids. And I think there is a lot of people that have overlooked the importance of those next generations that maybe can flip the script of, "We were parenting them eventually, that they helped take care of us."

Ben Smith:                    So we started looking out for that theme and saying, "All right, well, we need to find somebody that's an expert here." So first of course, we look in the state of Maine, where I think the oldest state in the nation, so big issue there, can't find anybody. We start looking nationally. And we did a blind request out to this guest today, and I was so excited that she got back to us. And I want to just give her a little intro here. So she is a nationally known expert in the field of planning for the next phase of life. She really recognized early on about the baby boomer generation and how they need to reinvent retirement in a really exciting way. And that led her to finding her business.

Ben Smith:                    So she's been featured and quoted by the major media, which includes USA Today, Best Places to Retire, Forbes. She has an ongoing recurring article series in Forbes. You can read it there, Huffington Post, Senior Care Authority, and Longevity Network. She's been, folks really since 2011 on solo agers, is this theme that we're talking about, is aging without kids, and those who are aging alone, maybe for other reasons. So she has a book that, after reaching out to her, we've been reading. And I'll put this on video here is Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers. And her name is Dr Sara Zeff Geber. So with that intro, I want to welcome Sara to the show today. Appreciate you coming on.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Thank you, Ben. I'm happy to be here.

Ben Smith:                    Well, Sara, in terms of our show, how we like to structure it is, we always like to get to know you a little bit. Just have you come on, and talk about your expertise is great, but knowing why. Why are you passionate about it? Why is this something that meant to be in terms of your life purpose? So maybe you could just start with your upbringing and where you grew up.

Dr. Sara Zeff G...:           Sure. I grew up in California in the Bay area. Actually, I grew up in Berkeley. Most people know Berkeley, they'll have an active group of us that can't seem to let go of each other on Facebook. It was an experience growing up in Berkeley. So we like to hang on to all of that. But now, I live in Santa Rosa, California, which is for those of you who aren't familiar really with the geography of California, it's about an hour and a half, hour and a quarter north of San Francisco. That doesn't mean you can drive it in an hour because we have a lot of people going back and forth. Well, at least we used to, before COVID. But it's in the wine country. So almost everybody I think has heard of Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley wine country in California. And I live in the Sonoma Valley.

Ben Smith:                    That sounds like an exciting place to be just in terms of activity. There's no shortage of things to do, places to see. Obviously, you have new people coming, and I'm sure all the time, which keeps our vibrancy. Can you talk a little bit about your path towards becoming ... Obviously, we just talked about your book a little bit, but you speak a lot, and I've seen your YouTube videos, you do workshops. Can you talk about that path towards that role today?

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Well, two things led me to get into this field. I used to be a management consultant. I used to be in the leadership development, and team building, and that thing I did for 25 years. Loved it, but there came a time, I don't know. Probably when my clients and I were both approaching 60, that they started wanting to talk more about their retirement plans, then their strategic plans. And I was feeling a little antsy to figure out what the next phase of my life was going to look like too. So I took that cue and took some additional training in the retirement transition in order to be a retirement coach. That was about 10 years ago. Did that for a few years. And then I began to notice something else really tangential to my coaching. I noticed that a lot of my friends and colleagues were spending a tremendous amount of time taking care of their aging parents. In some cases, they were flying across the country. In other cases, they were spending a tremendous amount of time getting mom settled in an assisted living community or making sure she had home help. It was a lot going on in that realm.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       And my husband and I don't have living parents. We both lost our parents early in life. So we just never thought about that. But it wasn't lost me that it was going on all around me and one day, I was having lunch with a friend of mine. Who's also is a solo ager. And I said to her, "You spend a lot of time talking to your mom, shoring her up and encouraging her along her path, which was to move into a continuing care community." He said, "Who's going to do that for us?" And we looked at each other and went, "Oops." It didn't look like we have anyone coming along our line because we're solo agers.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       So at that point, I realized that we needed a name. And that's when I coined the term solo ager. And that was probably about seven or eight years ago. And ever since then, I really have seen that as my passion. It became my passion. I started talking about it. People would come up to me and say, "You're really onto something. This is an issue." And they also convinced me that it isn't just people who don't have children that are solo agers. There are people who have children who are estranged or who live 9,000 miles away in some other country. But there are a lot of people out there who really strongly believe that they are or are going to be solo agers as they get up through those decades.

Ben Smith:                    And I'd say that's tangential to how we found you. Is this, you're looking for a theme, and you're trying to find it. You say, "Hey, this is something where I just don't see anybody talking about this." I don't see anybody that's really even brought this to light. I think maybe just in terms of our country, and we do a really poor job. I think even having this conversation is about going forward. I think it's just very romantic to talk about career and to talk about fame and success, and all the things that are accomplished with money, and all of that. But it's as well really not romantic to talk about the ... I know in your book, you talk about multiple stages of retirement.

Ben Smith:                    And it's I think we romanticize that first stage of retirement, but maybe not that second, third. And I think that's the theme that you're hitting on, is not only that you're not talking about it, maybe just as a group in general, but here's just a very specific group as well, which when I'm reading your book and reading that I think you had 2010 census data and really the minority, and even women, and minority of women were living with a spouse. And you're saying, that's a big theme. That's not just, "Hey, this is 4% of the population that are doing this. This is big."

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       When I recognize the need, I began to study what the statistics look like at least from the 2010 census and Pure Research, which is one of the most respected research groups in the country did a study. They do a lot of family life studies. And one of the things they looked at is, what was the childless rate among the different generations? And the baby boomers were the most current ones they could study at the time. Because at that point, the youngest baby boomers were reaching about 43, 44 years of age. And that's just about the end of childbearing years. Guess what they found? 19.4% had never had children, women. With men, who knows how many men didn't have children? Because we can't really track that as easily. But clearly, there are plenty of men out there who are solo agers as well. It's just the women we can count.

Ben Smith:                    And again, it's like, you're seeing, and you go through more reasons in the book about, there's maybe more career opportunities now for women than there ever have been. There's more, "Hey, I have more independence and freedom, and it's more acceptable to go and forge your own path." So I think there's more empowerment happening, and maybe we're not all the way to where we need to be with that, but it's just more and more acceptance there. So again, I like that now you're saying, "Hey, we now have really all the data we need around baby boomers and getting the solo aging statistics out there." But I want to ask you also Sara, about Life Encore. Because I know you touched on a theme and now in terms of your work, can you talk about Life Encore? What do they do? How do you help pre-retirees and retirees navigate the perfect retirement? Because we're saying the same thing, retirement success. What's that perfect retirement there?

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Life Encore is me. That is the company, that's the entity that I started through which to do my coaching. I'm honestly not doing much one on one coaching anymore at all. I'm reaching out to the larger audience like this. During normal times, I do a lot of public speaking. I speak to a lot of professional groups. I speak to a lot of estate attorneys and financial planners because they have tons of clients who are solo agers, and they really need to know what special needs those solo agers have. I started to reach out to those folks too. So Life Encore is really just another way of saying Sara Zeff Geber.

Ben Smith:                    And what you said is right, Sara. Is that for us, this has been even ... I think we know of the topic right as I go, "Yeah, I have clients that don't have kids, and we're seeing ..." Or again, whatever the relationship there may be estranged, or they're just whatever. And we know of it, but we need to be better. This is our job. They're looking at us to say what don't I know about ... Not just financially, what don't I know, but in terms of retirement? We need to be better retirement experts. We need to be better about forecasting what's coming down the road. And have you thought about A, B and C? So maybe just a little bit of private interest for us is just, we just need to be doing better. And if people can listen in as we're doing the show, it's really great there.

Ben Smith:                    I want to really go now in depth, in terms of our topic here. And again, the name of the show we're talking about is strategizing retirement as a solo ager. Because again, I think strategizing retirement is one thing, but to take the lens of, you're in this situation and what does it mean maybe differently for you? That's where we want to go for all these following questions. So I know we've introduced the topic. Can you just give us the most formal definition you can, as we're coming up with solo agers because I know you mentioned about no kids, but can you talk about what that means? And then more prevalently, how the trend is. I know I gave some of the census data, but maybe even men to women, or what you're seeing in different stages love to get that just first foundationally defined.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       My definition of a solo ager for starters, anyone without adult children and then, over the few years after I launched that whole idea, I got so much feedback that there were people out there that felt that they were definitely solo agers that did have kids. But maybe those kids lived far away or estranged, worked fully functional for some reason. So I pretty quickly expanded the definition. So now I say a solo ager is anyone who either doesn't have children or is aging alone for other reasons. And so it's really up to the individual, him or herself to define whether they believe that they are a solo ager.

Ben Smith:                    I just see what you're seeing for caregiving is for adult children taking care of their parents as they're aging. And just personally, I've had a conversation with my parents about this because they took care of my 93-year-old grandfather all the way until he's 99. Moved in with him I think for the first 10 years. He was like 83 to 93, checking in on him, help do grocery shopping, do all those things together. And then taking much more of an active, really encompassing role, as my parents had retired and taken care of him. But I hear the echo of that, of, "I don't want to do that to you, Ben." Is they're saying, "Hey, this is something that I had to do, and I don't want to do this now to you." But you have the ... well, that's okay. Now we need to have conversations, and structures, and things about how that would take care of itself if you could. But there's a value system I think that might be changing as well. So I'd love to hear what you think about that in terms of, is this going to keep going? It doesn't have to keep going?

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       I don't know. I think you're asking several questions here. What you're describing with your grandparents is a very typical scenario. Throughout their eighties, you keep an eye on them. Once they get into the nineties, they usually have to give up their privacy license. Often vision starts to diminish, hearing. So you've got some real issues to work with. And like many families that have the room, and the time to devote, they move your grandfather in with them. Perfect. And lots of families are still doing that for lots of reasons. One is, it's obviously the more economical way to go. We have many cultures in America, many of whom put family as the very highest value. And they would have an older family member who couldn't take care of him or herself move in with them in a heartbeat.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       But as well as I do that, that's not particularly the case with middle-class America today. And a lot of people have small homes. And maybe they had children late typical age to have children now is the early thirties. So by the time mom and dad need help, you may still be raising those kids or mom and dad may live thousands of miles away and have no desire to uproot themselves. And you probably certainly have no desire to uproot yourself. So we're looking at all kinds of different scenarios. And yes, I have heard countless people say to me, "Well, I have kids, but I don't want to be a burden to those kids."

Ben Smith:                    That's right. That's the keyword.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       If that is what spurs them to do the planning that they need to do anyway, fabulous. And what I'm saying too is that solo agers absolutely need to do the planning because they don't have that safety net. And that's really what I consider adult children to be is more of a safety net than anything else. So don't want to use that safety net? Wonderful, create a very sturdy, robust, and thorough plan for yourself. And you probably won't need to burden your kids with anything.

Ben Smith:                    Can you talk about maybe other myths that you're seeing with solo agers that are out there? Maybe it's not even just at the point that they would or would not be having kids, but maybe going forward, is there outside judgment other than maybe the kid part? About maybe their miscast or they're pitied? So what do you find in your research there?

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       I don't find much. The people in our society, the women in our society that have chosen not to have children, unless they come from families where there was a lot of pressure put on them, and they didn't succumb to that pressure. And now, they're probably still under that pressure. See what you missed? Duh, duh, duh. And there's so much opportunity to work with kids. If you want to spend time with kids, a lot of solo agers do that. A lot of solo agers I know are teachers, or they volunteer in organizations where they're helping disadvantaged youth, or they're working as a mentor or a guide of some sort. So, there's all kinds of opportunity to work with young people. And many solo agers do have a desire to do that, even though they chose not to have children themselves. And they're finding a lot of fulfillment that way. It's very much different strokes for different folks.

Abby Doody:                 In along those same lines, we have some clients that are naturally solo agers, some that were widowed. What have you found to be the key to happiness in solo agers? And is it different for people when somebody becomes a solo ager, or if that happens naturally to them?

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Well, I think the key for everyone to find satisfaction and fulfillment later in life is to have meaning and purpose to your life. So, whether that comes from your work, as we know, a lot of people are working well into their seventies, some into their eighties. Satisfaction may come from that dimension. Satisfaction for a lot of people who do have children is being a grandparent. I call it being a professional grandparent because a lot of people in their sixties, and seventies, and on into their eighties find a tremendous amount of joy. And the parents find a tremendous amount of help in having them spend time with the grandkids.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       So those are two biggies. But of course, people who have left their jobs and who may not have grandparents, or don't have grandparents living nearby have found fulfillment in just hundreds and hundreds of ways through art, or through volunteering, or through sports. People get into all kinds of different things. The wonderful thing about the baby boomer generation, not that we were so special, but we came along at a time when medical science was able to do a lot of things to keep us moving and in better health. So with knee replacements and hip replacements, and all of that, we've certainly been able to move into our later decades that might have failed our ancestors.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Now we're bionic in a sense, or we can be bionic and continue on and enjoy the things we love. But people are finding fulfillment in so many ways. And it just breaks my heart when I had someone come to me and say, "My husband retired a couple of years ago, and all he does is sit in front of the TV." I say, "Oh no, that's a death trap." It really is.

Ben Smith:                    We've explored that a lot Sara, is this whole idea of ... I think we try to fight this tide a lot. Is this retiring from something, is not leading to success? It's retiring to something. So is visualization. And what brings you happiness? What brings you joy? What's your purpose? What brings you value? Investing in those things, and then lining them up in the two parts versus I'm just burnt out. I'm just going to quit. I'm just going to do nothing, just sit in front ... which is sometimes that's the break after. Because sometimes, people just are burnt out. They need a break, but then flipping forward is ...

Ben Smith:                    And you made the point in your book several times about those that are continuing to look forward to things are active and are seeing things to do all the time. They're just living longer because loneliness and depression don't set in. Because after a while, you were showing that that may be okay for a while for you to do that. But eventually, you're just going to get ... You might just get very lonely and depressed, and lots of things happen. And that just shortens your longevity.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       And I will tell you; I have seen everything in between. I have seen people I know, people personally that find plenty of fulfillment on the golf course. They go from one golf game to dinner, to some club activity, to ... and they're not really volunteering. They're into golf, that's their whole life so different strokes for different folks. And one of the things I really caution people about, especially when I talk to other financial ... not financial leaders sorry, retirement coaches .... Because I also belong to a group of retirement coaches, wonderful group. And I say, "Be careful that you don't become judgmental about things people do in their retirement because there are people out there who will be completely fulfilled in their life doing something that you and I would just roll our eyes and go, ugh, but it's not their thing to go work in a soup kitchen. It's not their thing to be a dog walker or whatever."

Ben Smith:                    And I think that's part of this too, is why we wanted to have you on and talk about the same as solo aging. Is that whole idea of maybe from three generations ago, this would have been a very not acceptable lifestyle. Is to say, you didn't follow a traditional family planning approach. And because of that ... and here's where it goes ... again, we've talked about, is they were debunking that a lot. But I want to go forward now, here a little bit, because, in your book, you had a really good story. I know we talked a little bit offline about this one. I just really sunk, and I read it two or three times was this couple that was aging in their late eighties and early nineties.

Ben Smith:                    And they're solo agers, and they had some neighbors that moved into town. They met some social circles and just really clicked. And then they were checking in with each other, and they would eat together, all that but then, when one of them got sick and had to go to the hospital, one of the other couples had to take care of the wife that was at home. And all of a sudden now, they saw dementia. They start seeing that she was getting up at 3:00 AM, trying to make breakfast, behavioral things going on. So, you can see, well, they had this really worked out. I think as you said in the book that they sprung into a support system to help them with that third phase of retirement aging.

Ben Smith:                    So I want to zoom out here a little bit of what are some really big mistakes that you see solo agers make? Because I think you're pointing out one there about not having a structure in place and they were gone all the way to that third phase in the nineties without it there. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Ben, you're referring to two of my favorite people, Fred and Hildy, who actually ... I never met Fred and Hildy, but I am very good friends with the people that adopted them when they moved into their neighborhood, my friends, Peter and Andrea. And the point that I make in the book, and the reason that story is front and center is because, Fred and Hildy didn't do any planning, but they got so lucky in the end to find Andrea and Peter who just absolutely fell in love with them and adopted them. They ended up being their powers of attorney for finances and for healthcare. They were at least lucid early on enough to create state documents and financial documents that named Peter and Andrea to do this.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       So, they could take them to the hospital. They were the ones that the hospital would call with updates. They were the ones that knew what they wanted in terms of their healthcare decisions. And they saw them right up to the end. Andrea and Peter might not have been good people. They might have taken terrible advantage of them. So for the Fred and Hildy’s of the world, which millions of us will be, if we don't plan ahead for who is going to adopt us, who is going to take over that decision making if the time comes that we cannot ... Because somebody asked me the other day, well, what's your real mission in life here? And I said, it's to drag baby boomers heads out of the sand and have them acknowledge the fact that they have other stages of development in front of them.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       And it's going to be different. They're not all going to just be ... one of my friends was like, "Just want to be happy, happy, happy, happy, Deb." But that's not the way it goes for many people. You may spend a few years of your life with a disability. You may need some help. You may need to have someone be there for you on a regular basis. We don't know for sure. On the other hand, you may have a heart attack when you're 78, and that'd be the end of it. So, because we don't have a crystal ball, it seems prudent to me that everyone should do the planning necessary in case they do end up in a situation where they need help.

Ben Smith:                    And I know we'll talk about a social network in a bit, because I think that's an important part, is again, what might be easier for those that are not solo agers. Is like, well, I just named the kids and they can ... Even if they're not there, I could just have them be in that place. And at least there's this blood is thicker than something else analogy that you can go to. That's an easy thing. That's a really tough decision point. Especially is, testing your social network that you've created. So I think that was a really good and important takeaway action step for somebody, is thinking about that there.

Abby Doody:                 So you touched on it in your story that you were just talking about ... And we've talked about it in a couple of episodes in our podcast, the importance of wills, trusts, power of attorneys, right in the financial planning process. And a big piece of this is leaving a legacy. So how can solo agers leave a legacy?

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       I think it depends on how you define a legacy. To me, a legacy is very much, not about money. It's about what you leave behind in the way of your good deeds, and the way of your spirit, in what you've taught people. I have a couple of nieces that I know I will leave a legacy of who I am. Their parents did not go to college, but I managed to convince at least one out of the two to go to college. I helped her with that, and she is now a graduate with a Fine Arts Degree and has turned into a very solid citizen.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       So I know that I have left a legacy with her. I know that I've left a legacy with many of the people that over the years, I have had an influence on and, taught in some ways. So, that will surely be my legacy, for instance. I think everyone leaves a legacy of some sort, and it's interesting to muse about what that legacy might be. And people with money to try and put things in place like foundations and leave concrete, brick and mortar legacy behind them. And that's all well and good. But most of the rest of us don't have that money. And our legacy will be in our spirit, and the things that we've left in the world.

Ben Smith:                    And I'll share it with you too Sara, is that I think that legacy is something that comes out in our conversations with folks. And one thing that I've talked about with one client, and it's not a solo aging example. But we're talking about, well, what's one thing that you want to do maybe with your grandkids or something that's really important with you. And this gentleman said, what was really important to me, I said to my grandchild at five years old that I want to help him buy a car. And we talked, and he goes ... It's three years later, now he's eight. And he goes, "Grampy, eight more years, and you're helping me buy that car." But we said, well, just fast forward to that day, more years from now.

Ben Smith:                    Think about that day, you going with that person, in this case, your grandchild, helping them buy their first car. There's a financial lesson in there. What's prudent in terms of budgeting, what's appropriate for a 16-year-old to drive, what's gas mileage, and what's important about gas mileage, and why you should consider ... All of those life experiences and probably for the rest of that grandchild's life, they're going to think about that day, that that person, a grandfather, in this case, helped me buy this car. And every car from now on, they're going to think about you.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       He'll probably pass that legacy along and be the grandfather eventually that buys their grandchild a car.

Ben Smith:                    And I know that's a financial related thing, but I think there is a point of, sometimes how we do one thing is how we do everything. And, well, here's one example that I took from one person. And it might be even that obviously, in this world, we're not doing it. But if we're shaking hands and you ask really how you're doing, and you spend time with people to really care, people get that. And they go, "If you took that moment to just care about me, what else do you really care about?" And that's the type of impact, you've made the point about being indirect and direct impacts with legacy. So I think that was a really neat point that you're bringing to the surface of that.

Ben Smith:                    It's not this traditional of, I got to give so much money to this thing. And if I don't have money, then I don't have any legacy. That is not at all true, nor even appropriate. So I want to maybe talk a lot about then some ... maybe shift from legacy. And we talked a little bit about social networks, and you have a really great flow chart in your book about the social network of maybe traditional ... that parent to kid side where who is in our life? What relationships do we have? And how big the child and grandchildren are part of that flow chart is for parents and grandparents? Because they spend a lot of their time in those relationships but think of the solo agers that they really start investing in tons of other relationships, they have all that time to really ...

Ben Smith:                    Their social network can be really robust and really big. And I had not even thought of that as a point, like what a great insight of ... Here's something where you can really work to develop your social network. And I've seen your speech two or a couple of times where you talk about; you really want 8 to 10 as the number of relationships that are really important in your life. Because things will change and all that, but can you talk about some ways that solo agers can really bolster that network, especially after they retire from their life career?

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Sure. And it is so important. People with big families have built-in strong social networks. Especially if those families are co-located at least about a hundred miles of one another. Solo agers very typically don't have that kind of robust, big family network. So, we have to work to develop our social connections. And there are so many ways to do that. Typically, solo agers develop very strong ties with people they work with. Now, most ties may or may not survive retirement, or leaving that field and moving onto your next act, whatever it is. But if you're a natural at building relationships, you'll build them wherever you go. If you're not a natural at it, there are some things that you can do to avoid many hours sitting solo in front of a TV, which is what we all want to avoid, kids or no kids.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       And that is, begin to look at your own interests and join some groups that share those interests. It can be as simple as a book club. It can be a hiking club. It can be a quilting club. It can be art classes. It can be ... some of you are probably familiar with The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and most universities and most areas of the country carry those courses. I know people that have developed strong communities of people that go from one of these courses to the next. And they connect with each other outside of the classroom. And now, of course, everything is on zoom.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       So I even know people who have met others through zoom meetings. There's a group, a fairly new organization called Vitality Society. And it emanates from New York City, but it's a nationwide phenomenon of resources and activities for older adults. So, the founder of Vitality Society, Meredith Oppenheim, asked me not too long ago to facilitate their solo aging discussions because they have a big celebration group. And over the months as I've been doing that, I've seen a couple of people recognize that "Oh, they live near each other. Why don't we meet for a socially distanced, masked, wanting to go in person, we'll take a walk in Central Park, but we'll do something in our neighborhood."

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       So people are even meeting online. And of course, if you don't know about meetup.com, it's a great way for people to find others with their same interests and get involved in doing things. You have to put yourself out there. It's not just going to happen to you if you haven't been a natural bridge builder. Now having said that, some people carry with them throughout their lives, their associations through their church, or synagogue, or mosque, or wherever you worship. Those can be very, very powerful and long-lived affiliations that can grow into very rich friendships. And also, most religious organizations have all kinds of opportunities to volunteer and give back to society.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       So, even if you have left behind your religious affiliation of your youth, you may want to re-explore what's happening in that church or synagogue today because religious organizations today from what I've seen are pretty different organizations than they were back in the '60s and '50s. So I know a lot of people belong to them almost purely for social reasons. And that's okay.

Ben Smith:                    And I think in Maine, that's the problem here. If you're looking at an issue, is ... And when you get North of Portland, which again Portland's in the Southern part of the state. And I think that's where a lot of population density is more increased social engagement and more activities. You start getting more North, and there probably is almost every half-mile, two-mile, there's the neighbor. And then, you have long winters. So it's really tough to engage socially in that, I think that's a big issue in our region, is this whole, I'm going to get isolated, I'm going to get lonely. I'm going to get depressed. And if I let just gravity and nature take its course, I'm going to get more and more enclosed in. And what you're saying is exactly right.

Ben Smith:                    You have to put out the effort, and you had a quote there; to have a friend, you need to be a friend. And what a poignant statement of that, of, you need to put yourself out there. And you need to also put effort into investing in these relationships of grab a coffee with somebody. Go in our area, go with a local Dunkin' Donuts or Tim Hortons. And you see that every day you walk in, and there's a bunch of people just having some coffee. I know we're ... Not in this world, but when we get back to normal, that we'll be back to it, or McDonald's.

Ben Smith:                    But that's where those little ... whether it be McDonald's or whatever, those are the centers here, and they're finding those connections. But you got to do ... But that's what we have. I think you're right on with churches. Churches are the strong network here. And Abby will ask the question around that. But then, area agencies on aging is the next thing that it just binds everybody around these social circles, and caregiving conversations, and having round tables around caregiving. And all of those things together are really important. So I want to just highlight that it's just from a local flavor of that, of just making that more local as important. So I'll turn it over to Abby for the next one there.

Abby Doody:                 I know. And you teed me up perfectly. So, spirituality often becomes more important to people as they age. And you even touched on this, Sara. And so, we talked about that in one of our prior episodes as well. Is that important to solo agers? And what suggestions do you have for people who are looking to get back into a group or looking to get more into spirituality as they age?

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Sure. I think that there's no difference between solo agers and people who do have kids when it comes to religion and spirituality. There are all kinds of options to get involved in a church or a synagogue, or a place of that is ... let's see. And here in my area, we have something called The Center for Spiritual Living. I'm not sure how widespread they are across the rest of the country, but for those people who are not interested in talking about God, or Jesus, or something of the spiritual connection of their youth, that's a wonderful home for them.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       And they operate just like a church. In that, they have worship services where they mostly meditate and do other kinds of spiritual activities to connect people with their spiritual center, without the dogma that went with the churches that people are sometimes now saying "No more." So there's that, there's yoga centers, there's meditation centers. All of those kinds of places are set up to help people become more in touch again with their spiritual center. But that can happen through a traditional church, or synagogue, or mosque as well. So, whatever calls to you, give it a try, just walk in the door one day. I can almost guarantee you you'll get a warm welcome if nothing else. Those organizations always want to increase their membership.

Ben Smith:                    Yes. And that's again, with us, you have such these very rural, very traditional places of worship. And the ones that are really not again, a name, the ones that are not evolving with the times, and they're getting a little more modern with the population and their lifestyles and tastes. You're seeing the membership decline. The ones that are evolving are growing here more. So you're seeing again, this ... and that's where we were encouraging in that fifth episode was, if you find one that's really even local to you, but maybe it doesn't fit, just try it out if it doesn't fit. There's other ones that you can just try and go to other areas. And again, really great networks there that are there to get you there. And they want to bring you in. So it touches not just the spirituality, touches social, touches this human connection side, which again is a very necessary piece.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Some churches, places of worship, especially the larger ones, have all kinds of activities that are available within the membership too, everything from sports teams, to full gymnasiums. I think you probably-

Ben Smith:                    Yes. Movie theaters.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Even seeing more of that, where people are really shut in the winter and can't do a lot of physical activity outside. You probably have more of that opportunity going on.

Ben Smith:                    That's right. They have to keep doing it because there's just limited options. I want to ask another question, Sara about solo agers. Because you have this whole ... you have a theme here about aging in place is one thing that is a general theme we hear a lot, which I'm sure most of this generation says, "I want to stay in my home as long as possible. And I want to fight that stage to go into some sort of, whether it be a retirement community, assisted living, nursing, whatever the stage of retirement community is there." But there's this idea about deciding how and where, and I want to throw an example at you.

Ben Smith:                    We have one client, and they're preretirement, and they're solo agers, and they're saying, "Hey, I don't have any binds here, what would be really great is to go move to Bolivia. I bet the cost of living's cheaper. I bet we could do it for a long period of time. We could...." There's so many ... there's going to be better weather and get out of this political culture in the States, all of that. Whatever the reasons are. And moving away, how would you counsel not just maybe this particular example? Because again, it's a very different situation, and my kids are right in town, so I can't ever move. So you have a little bit of those ties that aren't there is actually a really good thing in some cases, and you now have maybe more independence and freedom of where you want to go. Can you just talk about those decision points?

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Yes, absolutely. There's so much to talk about here. Unfortunately, the bad news on that, or actually just the bad reality not news is that some people think that there is nothing between that skilled nursing facility that just lost 20 people to COVID and staying in my own home.

Ben Smith:                    That's right.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       There is so much along that spectrum of senior residents and choices in senior housing. It was just so much a lot of it will depend on your pocketbook. At the upper end of things, are these communities called Continuing Care Retirement Community CCRCs, also called Life Plan communities, and they are communities that you buy into when you can live totally independently, and you continue to live totally independently. And therein that community, you buy an apartment or more like a condominium. And as you need more help and care, it's available to you. Now, there's all kinds of financial models around that, which I'm not going to take the time to go into. But that's the ultimate for people that do have a substantial retirement purse behind them and have a home to sell. Most likely a home to sell that's worth more than just a couple of hundred thousand.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       So that's one, but there are also ... there's a new phenomenon just coming online called Active Adult, and it's appropriate for a lot of different sized persons. The active adult is like your 55 plus community, except that when you move in, you choose an apartment and rent it. It is for people who are 55 plus, but they also have other elements to it. There's also an activity element, and the property has a lot of different opportunities for people to be active physically and congregate with others.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       So, some people call it independent living light because of the big difference between independent living as it's defined by the senior housing industry is that it also includes a meal plan. So, Active Adult doesn't include that, a meal plan. Although some of the communities that are being built today actually are building a commercial kitchen and they're using it for other things, but they know that at some point, the residents might ask to put that into play as a kitchen to prepare meals for them. So it's a complicated array out there.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       But also, there are opportunities to move in with other people. There's a huge home-sharing movement going on in the country right now. There are also co-housing communities that are becoming much more popular. So, the concept that started in Europe, and now it's sweeping the US, there's about 300 different co-housing communities around the country. The point really is that we all need to live in some community. And if you are lucky enough to live in a community right now that's stable and that where people care about you, and you're going to be there with them for the duration of your life. And they're close enough to holler to when you step out your front door. Great.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       And if your house is set up well for aging, great. But most people cannot answer yes to those things. That suburban home in a cul-de-sac that two-story home, that cul-de-sac where you drive into your garage and never see your neighbor is not conducive to healthy aging, doesn't put you in a community. So I encourage everybody to really, really reconsider where they're living, especially if they've led a rural life. Because, unless you have very special circumstances around you, getting older in a rural setting can be a recipe for loneliness and isolation.

Ben Smith:                    And I guess what I go with that too is, I think we're seeing that a lot in again, Northern Maine, just no structure there. Is, you have aging housing population that has not been maintained. It's not meant to live on multiple floors, bathroom on the second floor. You have the laundry in the basement, and they don't have the money to maintain these houses. So they have no other option. I went to an ARP listening session with the state of Maine and how DHHS would spend the money towards supporting seniors. And that a lot of the conversation was we need those sorts of structures that you just discussed. We need some sort of a senior living community that allows us to not just on the maybe 55 and older, maybe there's other parts of the community that needs to be there too to help support this community.

Ben Smith:                    Is that we can have all life stages to help support, and we all help each other. And they're seeing all these models, and they're saying, "Well, why aren't we doing anything like this?" And it's just, again you continue to cut state budgets as it is, there's less money to run this and those things being talked about, but there's limited options. So, then you go, "If I don't have options even in my local area, or even moving to population centers within the state because they don't have that either, then I do have to leave." Is I have to go examine other options because, and the hard part about that is, they're then structured with, well, I just spent all this time developing a social network right here and I have to then move them and replenish.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       And that's what I urge people to start this thinking early. Start this when you're still fully, mentally, and physically capable of making a move and making new friends. Do it in your sixties, do it in your early seventies, realize that life. If you realize your lifestyle is not sustainable for you in your eighties and nineties, make the move early. And most solo agers, not all, do have family somewhere. It may be nieces and nephews, younger siblings that have established a life in a community, maybe a few States away. Consider that, begin to look around at what's available in those areas. And then you'll be able to also name some of those family members to have your advanced directive, to have your power of attorney. But you need to begin to deepen your relationship with them first.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       And in most cases, they'll certainly welcome you. I'm not saying to live with them, but to look around at different kinds of senior housing communities that might be in that area. Probably in Maine, mobile home parks are not real popular. You don't have the weather that's very conducive to that. In warmer climates, I've become a huge fan of mobile home parks because they're affordable for most people. They're one level, they're small, they're self-contained, and people have to get out and mingle with others. Generally speaking, people may have a carport, but extra cars are always kept on the periphery. There's a clubhouse. There's often a swimming pool.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       The residents themselves organize all kinds of activities. They do potlucks and movie nights. And the folks that I have met from these communities have really done a good job building a community. They don't need to think further than that. They're already there. If they have to bring in some care, eventually, that'll happen. But often, people in those parts really take pretty good care of each other. If someone can't drive for a couple of weeks because they've had a knee replacement, or they need their dog to be walked, it happens and people just watch out for one another, so a wonderful thing. And that's exactly the community feeling that I think we all should be looking for.

Abby Doody:                 Absolutely. So we're going to totally shift gears on you and for our last question of the podcast. The title of the podcast is The Retirement Success in Maine. So we ask every guest, what is your personal definition of retirement success?

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Having people around me that I love, and that love me and that I'm devoted to, and they're devoted to me. And whether that includes my spouse at that point, I don't know. We're both solo agers. So we have to plan to be solo agers. We don't know who's going to predecease the other, but to me, timing success is living in a secure environment that I enjoy and having people around me that I love.

Ben Smith:                    That's a really good answer. I love that. So, Dr Geber, I want to thank you for coming on the show, it's been our pleasure. Again, we've gotten a lot of just immense really just as a resource, just a lot of really ... just appreciate your expertise, to come on the show. And again, I'm not all the way done, and I'll confess that right now of your book. I've taken even longer than I thought I was going to be rereading some of these sections. But I can just see where we can be handing these out to our clients and saying, you got to read this because it is ... And I know it says, it's the roadmap. It really is the roadmap. Is like really great decision points, really good things for us to bring up to our clients because these are decision points.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       A lot of financial advisors that do exactly that. I know they have a lot of solo aging clients, and they just give them a book as part of their work with them.

Ben Smith:                    And it just tees up those conversations. Is because, if you're saying, "Hey, all of a sudden, I want to be living somewhere else." Well, we need to know that because all of a sudden that plan that we had in place about what your spending rate was, we need to adapt, we need to adjust. The more we look down the road for us and see those guideposts, the more we're going to do a better job. And I think that's where again, personally, our team here, we've gotten a lot of utility and value from your writing and your expertise. So we can't thank you enough for coming on. This has been great.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Thank you.

Ben Smith:                    All right, be well.

Dr. Sara Zeff Geber:       Bye.

Ben Smith:                    So solo aging with Dr Sara Geber it really ... again, I'd never heard of it. Never really as a thing. As obviously, no people that were experiencing how they're experiencing life that way, but does a theme and all the issues that go with it. And again, reading the book. I know what we've done is to say, "Oh man, there's a lot more to this than I ever could have thought. So again, good to have her on and really go in depth in terms of these topics with us. Abby, could you maybe just share a lesson that you'd like to highlight for the audience here? Because I know there's a ton of what you could do, but what's the one thing that you would take away for today?

Abby Doody:                 Yeah, absolutely. So what I found so interesting and I hadn't ever really thought about it is the way that she phrased it. But when you don't have kids, you don't have that safety net there. So if people don't do a good job planning for retirement, the kids are always a backup. They'll take care of me. Maybe I can live with them if I need to, but if you don't have that there, then you really need to be more prepared, have a better plan in place. Otherwise, you might get in a situation where either it doesn't go well, or you need to rely on luck or randomness to help succeed. So I think that's really important for people is, the importance of having a well thought out and very prepared retirement plan.

Ben Smith:                    And it's more of just situationally aware. Is when this happens, what do I do? And where do I go? And who can I talk to about it? And again, I know like we had Dyan Walsh from Eastern Area Agency on Aging, on our second episode and those sorts of resources. She did a really great job actually going through all of our episodes as a little bit of a recap, but relating to solo aging was a really good ... her track and our track are very similar just with different audiences. So it's pretty neat to see there, but you're absolutely right with safety nets, is, if you don't have the kids to take care of you as a safety net, then financial might be a good replacement for it. But what if I don't have enough financial, then what do I do and where do I go and how do I ... And all of those things.

Ben Smith:                    So again, it's right dovetailing into my takeaway for today was the importance of the social network. Is it's basically kids and grandkids are the social network for those that have kids. And they invest a lot of their time and effort there. But in one of the workshops I've listened to of Dr Geber's is, she talks about the importance of having 8 to 10 friends and strong relationships. Because I would even say, "Hey, I know a bunch of people that have just one really good friend network." Is like, "Hey, these are my best friends. We do things together." And those are maybe early retirement. That's what they do. And they get along okay. And that's where they invest.

Ben Smith:                    But for solo agers, again, you don't have the friend safety net, if you don't maybe have financial is even having that. You have a friend network of, "Hey, here's three or four friends that can take care of me." And she says 8 to 10, because what about if you have a friend that moves away? What if you have a friend that predeceases you? What if they get sick? And so, if you have that circle together, you can all help each other a little bit and take a little on. So that was one of her points, and I use the quote of our book was, to have a friend, you got to be a friend. Put yourself out there a little bit. It's scary. I know. And there's going to be some friendships at fizzle. And that's got to be okay, but you got to go to do that because that is an important part.

Ben Smith:                    But you probably already have that in place, is her point. Is that you, in terms of your work, in terms of the time you spent with other people, as we've all gone through life, reconnect with those people. I think that was a really good and important takeaway for the solo aging thing. So again, we are on episode 23, so we are 23 episodes old at this point. So if you want more resources, you can go to blog.guidancepointllc.com/23. And you can see our webpage dedicated to the show.

Ben Smith:                    Again, we'll have links to if you want to check out Dr Geber's book again, it's on video for those that are seeing us on video here, but I know it's on Kindle as well. So for those that are on Kindle and don't want the dead tree book, you can absolutely do that. But yeah, we'll put more resources there for things that we reference, things that we were mentioning in that website, transcription, this show, also reach out to us. I'd love to hear from you. If there's something that you want to talk about, we'd love to hear from you and your feedback and where things are going, but I hope you're enjoying our show, Retirement Success in Maine. We'll hope to see you next time. Take it easy.


Topics: Pre-Retirement, In Retirement, Podcast