The Mountain Times

°F Sun, April 20, 2014

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The bad news is the good news

It was just after I turned 50.  I was at the doctor for some kind of discomfort, probably my knees.  Anyway, toward the end of the examination he smiled and said, "The good news is you are probably going to live a long time.  The bad news is that the good news could be true."

A couple aged 65 have a 50% chance one of them will live to be 92.  The longer we live, the longer we are likely to live.  And getting older is expensive.  One client told me, "If you think funeral costs are high, try paying for life at 97."

Let's do a little math: 2x3x365x20x$5.5=$240,900.  That's the cost of 2 people to eat 3 times a day for 20 years at $5.50 a meal.  Make that 30 years and it goes up to $361,350!  Increase the cost of the meal to $7 and you are at $542,025.  When I first saw that, I thought, "At some point, we are going to be eating Happy Meals a lot."

While living a good, long life is something I am definitely in favor of, longevity is actually one of the classic challenges to a successful retirement income strategy.  The others are health, family, inflation, asset allocation and premature or excessive depletion of assets.

More math: a couple, 65, who retired in 2010 could need between $250,000 and $430,000 just to cover medical costs. 30% would go to out-of-pocket prescription drug costs, 30% would go to Medicare parts D and B expenses associated with premiums, and the remaining 40% would go to cover copays, coinsurance, and deductible and excluded costs. (This assumes Congress doesn't' tinker with things.)

Beyond the numbers are the physical challenges of a long life.  Parts wear out and need replacement, joints stiffen and functions can falter. Long life also means grief as we lose loved ones, shed activities, and continually readjust priorities.

I'm far more concerned about diet and exercise in my 60's than I ever was in my 30's. Back then I thought life was a sprint. Go as fast as you can to the sudden finish. Now, I see it as a marathon. Go slow and steady for as long as you can. Pacing is all because the farther away the finish line ends up being, the longer I am going to have to run. Besides, this is one race I am in no hurry to end.

The realization of how long I might last, how much it may cost, and how physically demanding the rest of the journey could be has been dawning on me slowly. 

My adjustments to this evolving reality have been (and continue to be) methodical and gradual. Some changes are by choice while others are being thrust upon me. There is no hurry, but changes need to happen if I am going to have any chance at enjoying my remaining years as much as I believe I deserve to.

Let's face it; getting this old didn't happen to me over night! It has taken a lot of effort and time.  It is an accomplishment.  Successfully aging is going to be an achievement of planning, purpose and will.  No matter what people may say about getting older, no one has ever come up with a better alternative.

Aging in place, it doesn't happen by accident. And, it ain't easy, either.

Scott Funk is Vermont's leading Aging in Place advocate, writing and speaking around the state on issues of concern to retirees and their families.