How to Survive and Thrive as a Single Person in Retirement
Are you single?
Have you considered what may happen if your spouse passes away before you?
One of the greatest fears that most of us harbor is the fear of dying alone or spending your final years lonely, bored, and confined in a retirement home.
With proper planning, it doesn’t have to be this way.
As with adult life in general, most information you read about planning for and living during your retirement is heavily couple-centric. Single retirees have a few unique concerns that often aren’t comprehended or addressed by websites, books, senior living communities, and other information sources.
If you’re married (or otherwise partnered), don’t click away!
Consider that, unless you and your spouse pass away at the same time, one of you will experience being single at some point. Later in this article, I will suggest several things you can consider now that will make life easier for the surviving spouse when that time comes.
For some people, being single is nothing new.
Generally speaking, single seniors fit into one of two broad categories: those who have been single for much or all of their lives, and those who have been married for most of their adult lives and are more recently single as a result of divorce or the passing of their spouse.
Long-term singles have an advantage in that they are already accustomed to living alone. They are adept at making friends, finding activities and groups to join, and maintaining a support network. They are self-sufficient and comfortable with spending time alone. In fact, many singles relish their independence and autonomy, and they usually aren’t looking to find a partner. They are quite happy being single. They have more freedom, can budget and spend as they see fit, travel where and when they want, and participate in the activities that are most rewarding to them.
The biggest challenge that long-term singles face is that they may have saved less for retirement, because they have been solely responsible for maintaining their household on only one paycheck throughout their working years. Women may be at an additional disadvantage due to gender-based pay discrepancies, which leaves less money for retirement savings.
People who become single after being coupled for many years face a significant lifestyle adjustment that could easily last beyond the bereavement period.
On the other hand, the surviving spouse may be better situated financially, assuming that both spouses saved for retirement or, in the case of single-earner households, the breadwinner saved with the anticipation of a retirement for two people. The surviving spouse may also benefit from a life insurance payout.
In this article, I’ll cover three areas of special concern to single retirees: socialization and support, living arrangements, and travel.
Socialization and Support
Cultivate a support network for driving you to appointments, checking in on you, etc. If you don’t have family members in the area who are willing and able to assist you in this capacity (and some might not), you’ll need to rely on friends and neighbors.
My sister-in-law (who is now widowed) recently collapsed in her home. Fortunately, she has children and siblings in the area, and she has been friends with some of her neighbors for many years. She was discovered quickly and received the medical care she needed promptly. She had plenty of people to visit her while she was in the hospital, in nursing homes, and now in her home. Without such a good support network, she would not have fared nearly as well.
Many medical procedures are done on an outpatient basis and hospital stays are short and shrinking, but you will probably need to have someone transport you home and visit regularly to assist you during your convalescence. Home care aides are an option, but that can get expensive.
If you are healthy and active now, you may not require the support of others for many years to come. But it never hurts to have a network in place now. You shouldn’t wait until you need help to figure out who can assist you. Besides, it will be awkward to try to develop a friendship with someone when it’s obvious that you have an immediate need for them.
If you aren’t surrounded by a sufficient support network of friends, family, and neighbors, research whether there are senior support organizations in your area and what services they can provide. If you are planning to move to a new locale in retirement, the existence of such an organization would be a good criterion for you to consider.
Avoid loneliness. This seems obvious, but you will probably have to put more effort into creating and maintaining friendships once you no longer work, as well as after your marriage ends.
An excellent option is to take classes on topics that interest you. Not only will you enjoy mental stimulation, but you’ll meet people who have similar interests. The Ultimate Retirement Resource Guide lists several networks that will help you locate free and low-cost adult education opportunities in your area.
Get out of the house! While you may value having some solitude in your life, you shouldn’t spend all your time at home.
You don’t have to have someone else to eat out or go to a movie, concert, museum, day trip, etc. This can be a big adjustment for a newly single person after years of marriage. When I was single, I embraced the concept of going out on a date with myself every now and then.
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Long-term singles are quite accustomed to living alone, and may be able to do so long into retirement. But the time will come sooner or later when living with others or living in a close-knit community becomes necessary. Here are a couple options for living arrangements that can provide support and delay the need to move to an assisted living facility.
Co-housing communities are intentional communities of private homes clustered around a shared space. Each attached or single family home has traditional amenities, including a private kitchen. Shared spaces typically feature a common house, which may include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry, and recreational spaces. Neighbors commit to being part of a community for everyone’s mutual benefit. They collaboratively plan and manage community activities and shared spaces and also share resources like tools and lawnmowers.
Most co-housing communities are multi-generational, although there are some that are focused on retirees. Multi-generational communities are advantageous in many ways, although some younger neighbors may not fully appreciate the needs of elder residents, and providing care may be more than they have interest or time for.
For more information on co-housing, visit
- Cohousing Association of the United States (not senior-specific)
- Senior Cohousing – Senior co-housing developments in Taos, NM; Boulder, CO; Abingdon, VA; Davis, CA; and Grass Valley, CA (NE of Sacramento)
- Excellent article on elder co-housing at AARP
Shared housing is just what it sounds like – two or more unrelated adults sharing a home.
Of course, the first thing I thought of was the classic sitcom “The Golden Girls” and the more recent, similar “Hot in Cleveland.” (May Betty White live forever!)
There are several websites whose purpose is to match those seeking house sharing arrangements with those who have space to offer. These sites also offer resources for how to establish and manage successful house sharing arrangements.
- National Shared Housing Resource Center
- Golden Girls Network – not just for women! (membership required)
- Roommates4Boomers (for women only)
- Women Living in Community (for women only)
Here’s a good article on surviving roommates when you’re over 50.
Traveling solo might be the one of the biggest challenges that single retirees face, especially if you’re accustomed to traveling with your spouse. When one half of a couple dies, the surviving spouse may be reluctant to travel alone for anything more adventurous than a visit to family members.
But the fact that you are single is no reason to excise your travel dreams from your bucket list!
When you travel by yourself, you can truly set your own itinerary, without having to do things a travel companion wants to do that you don’t, or foregoing things because your travel companion can’t or doesn’t want to do them. If you feel tired one day, you can relax without being concerned that you’re depriving your travel partner of anything.
If you have some reservations about traveling alone, start slowly. Start with day trips in your car or weekend trips to a nearby city.
Cruise ships are a good option, as are group tours. Be aware, though, that most cruises add a “single supplement” (an additional charge to make up for having only one customer in a room instead of two) which makes them more expensive. A few cruise ships now offer smaller rooms (if that’s possible) designed for singles.
Some tour operators, such as such as Intrepid Travel, Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) and Holland America Cruise Line, have a roommate matching option. For gay singles, Atlantis Events and RSVP Vacations (primarily for gay men) and Olivia Travel (for lesbians only) have roommate share programs, too.
Another option may be to book at the last minute and ask if they will waive the single supplement. If a cruise or tour still has openings, they would prefer to have one passenger in a room rather than have the room go empty.
Most cruises have special singles mixers. If you’re still concerned about meeting people on a cruise, make friends before you go on discussion boards for upcoming cruises on CruiseCritic.com. There may be a Facebook group for your upcoming cruise.
Solo travelers should exercise common sense and follow several safety precautions.
- If you’re exploring on your own, leave a note with your day’s itinerary in your hotel room so that if you don’t return, authorities will know where to start looking for you.
- Stay in open, public spaces, especially at night.
- Research maps and transportation schedules and prices before you venture outside, so you appear confident. If you look like you’re lost, you may become a target for unscrupulous people. Learn how much a taxi should cost and verify the amount with the driver before you begin the ride.
If You Are Married Now
If you are married now, don’t count on your spouse to be your sole source of companionship and support.
In most marriages, the spouses have divided up tasks. One may handle all the financial matters, while the other one maintains the contact information for all the friends and relatives, for example. Make sure both of you know enough about what the other one does so that you can take over if the other one becomes incapacitated or dies.
It would be a good idea to write down key information, including logins and passwords, contact information, instructions, etc. and keep it in a secure place where either spouse can find it if necessary.
Although you both dream about and plan for a happy retirement spent together, you should also devote some thought to how you will live if you survive your spouse.
How about you?
If you’re single, what concerns do you have?
What advice can you offer others?
If you know of other helpful resources, please share!
© 2016 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.
Lady in green shirt: David Amsler. Some rights reserved.
Four ladies: TheArches. Some rights reserved.
House with colorful leaves: slack12. Some rights reserved.
Suitcase on sidewalk: Sascha Kohlmann. Some rights reserved.