How to Survive and Thrive as a Single Person in Retirement

How to Survive and Thrive as a Single Person in Retirement

Are you single? If so, you probably have some concerns about your retirement that people with partners are less likely to experience.

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.

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. 

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. Identify people who are available to occasionally check in on you and help with tasks such driving you to appointments and assisting you with shopping and chores. If you are healthy and independent now, you may not require the support of others for many years to come. But an emergency could occur at any time, so it’s a good idea to have a network in place now.

Many medical procedures are done on an outpatient basis, so you will need to have someone who can transport you home and visit regularly to assist you during your convalescence. Hiring a home care aide is an option, but that can get expensive.

If you don’t have family members nearby who are willing and able to assist you, you will need to rely on friends and neighbors. You shouldn’t wait until you need help to figure out who can assist you. 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. Local community colleges or universities may have programs allow senior learners to attend courses on a non-credit basis for free or at low cost. 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.

If you can’t find a friend to go with you, don’t let that stop you from going to a restaurant, movie, concert, museum, or a day trip.  Enjoying entertainment on your own can be a big adjustment if you are newly single after years of marriage.

Living Arrangements

Long-term singles are quite accustomed to living alone, and may be able to do so long into retirement. But sooner or later the time will come 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

Shared housing is two or more unrelated adults sharing a home.

The classic sitcom “The Golden Girls” and the more recent, similar “Hot in Cleveland” are good examples. (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.

Here’s a good article on surviving roommates when you’re over 50.

 

Travel

Traveling solo might be the one of the biggest challenges that you face as a single retiree, 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. You won’t have to compromise with a travel companion who doesn’t want to do the same things you do. 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, begin slowly. Start with day trips in your car or weekend trips to a nearby city.

Cruise ships and group tours are options worth considering. 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 (which hardly seems possible) designed for singles.

Visit Solo Traveler to learn about vacations designed specifically for solo travelers, as well as solo travel tips. Some tour operators, such as such as Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel), Intrepid Travel, and Classic Journeys specialize in creating trips that welcome solo travelers. For gay singles, Vacaya, Atlantis Events, and RSVP Vacations (primarily for gay men) and Olivia Travel (for lesbians only) have roommate share programs.

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.

There’s an excellent article on traveling solo at NBC News.

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.


While being retired as a single person does present some challenges, you can still enjoy an active, happy and fulfilling retirement with the right attitude and thoughtful preparation.

What are your biggest concerns with being single in retirement? If you are single now, what advice can you offer? Please share in the comment below!

This topic is explored in greater depth in my book Smooth Sailing Into Retirement. This book will guide you from your last few months of work through your first year of retirement. It identifies the many ways your life will change and prepares you for the emotions you may experience along the way. You will learn how to design your new day-to-day life in a way that will reflect your passions and interests. You will be inspired to create a new identity for yourself that embodies the way you plan to live in retirement and frees you from the limitations of your former job title.

Click here to learn more | BUY IT NOW!

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© 2016 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.
Updated December 26, 2020

Photo credits:
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.

4 Responses

  1. Hi,
    Its good to see an article on this topic. A few thoughts, based on my experience. A few years ago, while semi-retired, I purchased a brand new condo in a great little town on the Mayan Riviera. This was a place, I felt, where I could live in retirement…perhaps even selling my home in Canada. I am a female, divorced for well over a decade. This purchase was not made as an investment real estate, but for my own use.
    Lessons (good and not so good):
    1. I bought a 2 story penthouse: the top story would become a roof top tropical garden. It was fabulous—at night watching the stars in the black sky, during the day, watching the amazing assortment of birds. Private, peaceful, with a lovely breeze from the Caribbean. Not so wonderful: climbing the 2 flights of stairs, especially carrying groceries. And while this was a good aerobic exercise, I could easily imagine it becoming increasingly unmanageable as I aged. Also to my surprise, most of the other owners lived in Europe and had purchased the their condos in order to rent them on Airbnb. There was no community in the lovely but tourist-centric condo building. So if you buy in a great location, check out your neighbors if you aspire to community. Also avoid stairs.
    2. If you live alone, be sure to have contact info with the local police, and other emergency personnel. I generally felt safe, but as the neighborhood attracted more construction, using migrant labor to save money—petty theft became more common.
    3. I always travel with my dog, for companionship. He is a gentle creature but big—so that helps my safety.
    4. Living in a foreign country, in my case Mexico, was full of benefits. Inexpensive food, lovely weather, white sand with turquoise water. Inexpensive and high quality healthcare. But the transition is also demanding…lots of new rules, few explanations or publicizing of the rules, need to learn a new language, and to build relationships with a multicultural multilinguistic community. It can be lonely, socially and culturally.
    5. It takes a lot of energy when you are single—to find out the rules, to meet the requirements, to discover who to trust, to negotiate one’s way around geographically, to discover where to shop, where to find things, who are trustworthy repairsmen, etc. etc.
    6. One of the best things that I discovered was the blogs that specifically aimed at women, at ex-pats, etc. That created immediate connections to the lay of the land and a place to post questions or to find out about cultural events, lunches, where to buy things, how to pay taxes, bills, .etc.
    7. One of the best things about being single, is that you are motivated to talk with people: people at the grocery store, in restaurants, workers, etc. A great way to meet locals and ex-pats living in your town.

    It is a wonderful life, altho I am selling my condo in order to purchase a place with an elevator or on the main floor. Also, I will move to a slightly larger town nearby which offers far more cultural activities. I find that I miss those.

    Follow your dream, but recognize that it is above all a great learning process and has unexpected benefits.
    2.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Linda,

      Thank you for sharing so much valuable information! I really appreciate it.

      I especially learned from your points about finding out whether your neighboring condos are being rented out on AirBnB, and that being single gives you more motivation to get out and talk to people.

      I’m glad to see that, overall, you are enjoying your retirement in Mexico.

      Good luck with your next home!

  2. A very helpful article! I’m glad I have found your blog.

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