Dr. Amy Case Study: Giving yourself permission to live comfortably in your later years

I was recently struck by the story of Shirley, a Chartwell resident living in one of their communities in Whitby, Ontario. Shirley was exploring retirement living because she thought the lifestyle would benefit her; she’d have more people to socialize with, less worry and responsibility, and just an overall increase in her peace of mind. The problem was, at age 82, Shirley didn’t think she should spend her money on a retirement residence; instead, she thought she should continue to save for her future. It was actually Shirley’s son who eventually helped her to see that the future is now. He was the one who said, “Mom, it’s your money and you’ve spent your life saving for when you are older. Now is the time when you should be spending your money so you can enjoy your life without worry.” Since moving into her residence in 2014, Shirley has been even happier than she anticipated. She participates in many activities, and loves the freedom from the responsibilities of maintaining her own house.

Shirley is very typical of many older adults I know. Often people have planned and saved for this stage in life, but they find it hard to turn the switch from saving to spending when they’ve focussed their whole lives on putting money away. Of course, it’s important to seek professional financial advice to ensure your resources will go the distance with you—but you may also need to find a way to give yourself permission to use that money to make your life easier and more enjoyable. After all, wasn’t that what you intended when you saved your money? To make your later years more comfortable and enjoy your retirement to the fullest?

Using your money for yourself can be more complicated if your children aren’t as supportive as Shirley’s. Her kids wanted her to use the money for herself, whereas some adult children may be having financial issues and be banking on a large inheritance, and thus may question the need for a move to retirement living. This often creates family conflict or causes an older adult to forego what is best for them to help their children. Clearly, these are challenging situations. However, there are some things you can do to help determine if you are making decisions that feel best to you.

First, start by asking yourself what is in your best interest for this stage of your life. Often people have spent so much time putting other people first that they don’t even think about what they might need. This question becomes even more important as we age, and as we may benefit from a shift in our living situation to support our changing needs.

As you ponder what is best for you, consider seeking advice from a couple of people who are not emotionally involved in the situation. This could be a professional financial advisor, a close friend or sibling, or even a counsellor. Sometimes we are just too close to a situation to see what is best, and someone with a little distance can help us make clear the best path for us.

Many people who eventually make the move to a retirement residence say they wish they’d done it sooner. They often delay moving because they struggle to give themselves permission to use their money to make their lives richer, happier, and safer. If you need help giving yourself permission, I hope you seek guidance and input from people you can trust to help you determine where you should live so you can stay fully engaged in life. As Shirley’s children helped her see, perhaps the future is now for you, too!

About Dr. Amy D’Aprix

Dr. Amy is a certified senior advisor, Vice President of the International Federation on Aging, and Co-Founder of the Essential Conversations Project. As a gerontological social worker, she has over thirty years of experience working with older adults and their families.