A Retirement Transition Guide Just For Women

Retirement Income Planning, Calgary

The average age of a woman becoming a widow in Canada...is 56 - much younger than most of us would have thought.

That's an interesting stat and one you need to be aware of if you are a married woman, as there is a high likelihood that at some point you will be alone. Here's another interesting statistic: According to a survey by Merrill Lynch, only 14% of women were making financial decisions prior to becoming a widow. Are you prepared? It's important for you to not stick your head in the sand when it comes to this potential reality.

I recently interviewed 5 women who happen to be single and retired. Here are their stories and the lessons you can learn from their experiences. Four of the women interviewed became widows shortly before or after they retired. 

Let's get started.

1. What is the best part of being single in retirement?  

Jean: “You can make all of your own decisions and come and go as you please.”  

Anne:  Told me about a woman she met on a trip who said, “I travel by myself because I don’t like compromising”.

Janice: Not having to hurry home to make supper. 

Anita: “All is well if you are prepared and if you have built up a solid retirement fund. Having that security and knowing that you can provide for yourself, but be able to treat yourself as well.”

Catherine: “I can do whatever I want. I can make decisions on my own without having to consult someone else. Just being independent.”

 

2. What have you found to be the most difficult?

There is a flip side to independence. 

Jean: “having to make the big decisions by myself,”  “And the dog is a problem because there’s no one else to watch him if I go out.” 

Janice: “Getting the motivation to do something. I don’t always feel like getting up and going out. Motivation to exercise. It takes a lot of self-discipline to get on the treadmill. What am I going to eat tonight? It’s hard to cook for one person, especially since I don’t like leftovers”.

Anne: “Make decisions by myself, (financial choices, no one to discuss them with, no one close to share life with. Kids go here and there, they come and go, but a spouse is there every day - there's also a lopsided wisdom element. No feedback or pushback from another person. Panic a little more, make dumb decisions. Anything from big to small.)

Anita: “When I have to get a new car. I don’t have the confidence that I am making the best deal. I need the knowledge and support.”

Catherine adds an interesting point, “I am by myself at the end of the day. There are lots of people in my life, but sometimes it’s lonely at night. There’s a lot of alone time.”

 

3. Do you think singleness is the better choice for you at this stage of your life? 

Jean:  “No, I think it’s better to have someone in retirement.”  

Janice also says no, “I wouldn’t prefer singleness after almost 42 years of marriage.” 

Anita has a unique twist to this question, “Yes. For me, I have the advantage of the companionship with my x-husband. Even though we live in different parts of the country, we talk on the phone often. And, I have lots of friends here.” 

Catherine says, “Yes. But, I think we were created to be in a relationship. There are advantages and disadvantages. I don’t have to share my time with anyone else.

 

4. What advice would you give to other single ladies in retirement or preparing to retire? 

Jean: “You have to have something to do - a healthy busy. Able to help kids a little. Spend time with family. Getting out of the house for a while and helping out the family. There’s a good feeling from that.” 

“There’s also an unhealthy busy which would be running around doing things to fill your time. It’s OK not to always be doing something. I was so tired from working for 40 years that I didn’t have a lot of energy. It’s taken 3-4 years not to feel guilty for not doing something.”

Anne has a good motto, “Follow your dreams and just do it. Do it afraid if you have to. Don’t let fear stop you.” 

Janice: “Go and see Nancy and Willis”. (Her words, not mine) “Get some expert advice with their planning to ensure you are doing the financial things properly. There’s great peace of mind knowing you are doing things right. You have to retire to something, not from something. Volunteering at various things has been very rewarding for me.”

Catherine: “To seek out good counsel on the way. I would have to be working more if it were not for some savings. You need a plan as you come into retirement. Go see Nancy and Willis (unsolicited promotion).  You need things to do. Get involved in things before you retire. It’s easy to fall into a rut.”

Anita: “I can’t stress enough to have your money in order. There is nothing worse than being retired and not having enough money to pay for your needs. Having to work to cover your basic needs is tragic.”

 

5. Has being single affected your identity in retirement, especially if you are now a widow? 

Jean: "I did a course on discovering your true identity. One of the things I found out about myself is that I am empathic. I also am discovering that if I make a decision about something that I may or may not like, it doesn’t matter what others think. It can be as simple as a paint colour. I'm really working on what I believe, and being able to express it in a kind but firm way.”

Janice: “No. Because I had a very defined sense of my own identity before. I have always felt confident in my own skin. We were not dependent on each other for everything.”

Anne: “A little bit. Married people draw from each other. You can redefine your life. You have to re-examine your life to see where you want to go. Eventually, you will get too old and you’ll do nothing and you will regret it.”

Anita: “Being single was not in the plans for me. But, I would say no, it has increased my identity and confidence and reassurance in myself.

Catherine: “I don’t think it changed my identity. My identity was secure beforehand.”

 

6. What have been some of the unique challenges in being single in retirement? 

Jean: “It’s hard always being alone, even though I’m busy.”

Anne: “You can become prey. People who want to use up your time. Friends who think you have all the time in the world because you're single and they have plans to help you use up your time.”

Janice: “I bought a new car and I didn’t know anything about cars. House repairs. Chimney cap was falling over and I didn’t know how to fix or who could fix it. But, I figured it out”.

Anita: "I sold my family home, bought a condo and downsized. That was a super achievement for me. Starting up a business doing pet sitting and house sitting has been rewarding.”

Catherine: “Appropriating my time. I have to keep a calendar to keep me on track.”

 

7. What kinds of emotions does the word “Widow” conjure up inside of you?

Jean: “Sad. Old. Lonely. The first Christmas after being a widow was the worse. I felt like less of a person as a widow at first.”

Anne: “Alone in this world.  Once you get over the initial widowhood. At first, I liked to be in a crowd but not have to talk to anyone. I would go to Starbucks and read until they closed because I didn’t want to go home and be alone”.

Janice: “A lonely person.”

Catherine: “Widow - felt like freedom for me.”

 

8. Are you happy with your retirement? 

Jean: “Retirement is wonderful if you have financial freedom.”

Anne: “Yes. I don’t want to be sitting behind a desk doing other people’s work.”

Janice: “Absolutely. Some days a little unmotivated. I have lots of things to do and I am outgoing and have learned to network.”

Anita: “I couldn’t be happier.”

Catherine: “I am very happy. The COVID has dampened things some, but still very happy.”

 

9. What brings you the greatest joy? 

Jean: “Having the freedom to be with my children in a healthy way and being able to have some money to spend on my kids or help them. I have more financial freedom. Having a great friend is the best. But, I still love being home."

Anne: “The Bible. We are promised a good future. We have insight into what is happening and we don’t have to live with fear.”

Janice: “Helping others. Driving a friend to the dentist for tooth surgery during COVID. It was a great joy to see her getting better. Sense of accomplishment from tackling a task around the house and getting it done.”

Anita: “My own time. I don’t have the demands of a schedule per se. I don’t have to please anyone else, but myself. No worries about making meals. Or, to answer to anyone.”

Catherine: “Time with grandchildren. Little getaways with other single ladies. I love to travel. I love to spend time with my church community. I am doing mentoring online with ladies from all over the world. I spend a lot of time on Zoom.” Catherine also told me that her 15-year old grandson recently came by to see if she wanted to go for a walk and she left a zoom meeting immediately to go with him. That’s a great memory.

 

There’s something special about learning from someone else’s story. It's encouraging to see how people grow through difficult times in their lives and come through stronger - better rather than bitter. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for widows.

As a woman, what can you do to be better prepared financially for retirement?

1. Become more involved in the planning now. Don't let 'your spouse' look after all of the finances and planning. Attend all financial appointments and ask questions. Get involved and learn the ins and outs. This removes the majority of the financial stress at the beginning of widowhood. Believe me, your future self will thank you! 

2. Don't sign papers you do not understand. You could unknowingly, and easily, sign a pension document that leaves you little or no pension benefits when your husband dies.

3. Insist on working with an advisor who is interested in both yours and your husband's concerns and ensures you both understand what's going on. If you have no relationship with your husband's "guy", or if he never makes eye contact with you in meetings, then you need a new "guy or gal". Seek out some independent advice to ensure your interests are being protected. We do not advocate that you each have your own advisor.

4. Double-check that all investments and life insurance policies have the correct beneficiary - you. This is especially applicable if you are in a second marriage. We recently saw a client's life insurance statement that had his first wife as sole beneficiary even though he is married for the second time. Could you imagine the horror of finding out after your husband dies that you are not the beneficiary? Well, we have seen it happen. This applies not only to life insurance but to investment accounts. 

5. Know what debts are outstanding. Don't be caught surprised if you become a widow and find out about your husband's, and now your, outstanding debts. 

6. Is there life insurance? If so, where is the policy or a recent statement? Who is looking after it? How much is there? Does the policy have your current mailing address?

7. Do you have a current will and who is the executor? If it isn't you then how do you get access to cash when your spouse is gone? Will you need to ask the executor to give you a monthly allowance? It will be humiliating to you if you have to ask for money every month until the estate is settled.

8. Consider deferring your CPP and OAS to age 70 as this will ensure you receive a higher pension for life. This is something within your control. 

 

Are these things you worry about? Do you know in the back of your mind that you need to deal with some of these unknowns? 

We work exclusively with individuals and couples age 55+ who are nearly or newly retired to create their Retirement Income Plan. We help you get your financial house in order so that you can live your ideal retirement lifestyle. 

Having a proper Retirement Income Plan ensures you are getting the maximum income possible, are not paying more tax than necessary, and know how much you can spend in retirement without fear of running out and being a burden on your children later on. It is as simple as that! A Retirement Income Plan is the key to your having a worry-free retirement. Let us get you there. We offer objective, flat-fee retirement income planning.

Click Here to learn more about our process for creating your financial roadmap for retirement, getting your total financial house in order, and living a life that inspires you.

or Book an appointment to get started on your Retirement Income Plan today.

 

Retirement Income, Investment & Tax Planning For Those 55+

Willis J Langford BA, MA, CFP

Nancy R Langford CRS


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