We're all getting older...
February 4, 2008 2:58 AM   Subscribe

What preparations should I make for getting old?

I'm still in my twenties, but I was thinking that I ought to get a pension prepared. Then I got to thinking about dementia, and the anecdotal evidence that suggests that doing crosswords might help stave it off, by keeping the brain active. Then I got to thinking about writing a will and making preparations for paying for a funeral, etc.

What else should I be thinking about preparing/practising/doing now, so that my old age is as good as it can be? I don't want to get to 85, and suddenly think "Damn! I wish I'd done that years ago", because by then it will be too late to start putting money aside for a funeral.
posted by Solomon to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
posted by samthemander at 3:10 AM on February 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

The earlier you start saving for retirement the better. There are multiple threads about investing on here check them out.

Stay fit, exercise will help you have less pain, rejuvenate your brain and will basically help you feel young when your older.

Don't smoke and don't drink excessively. Eat healthy.

Also don't miss out on life. Ask yourself what you want out of life and go for it. For me, I don't want to reach old age saying I should have done this, this and that.
posted by bindasj at 3:32 AM on February 4, 2008

Don't smoke tobacco. Get a degree.
posted by pompomtom at 3:43 AM on February 4, 2008

Death Meditation.
posted by milarepa at 3:44 AM on February 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Spend at least as much time thinking about and enjoying the present as you do thinking about and planning for the future. You definitely have the former; how much of the latter you have is a variable.
posted by jbickers at 4:05 AM on February 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have several kids because 1) They're neat 2) They'll look after you in your old age.

Make exercise a habit, so your kids don't have to spend all their time and energy looking after you.

Save, save, save, save money, especially when you're young, so you'll have a wad of cash to spend when you get older and your kids won't have to spend all their money looking after you.

Learn to enjoy the simple pleasures, like eating, sleeping, and being with others.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:30 AM on February 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

As crazy as it sounds, I'm going to agree with milarepa's advice (not that the other advice given here is bad) I think modern western society (overall) spends to much time worrying about death and not enough time being "in the moment" appreciating life. I went through a particularly rough time a few years ago (that culminated with a vision of buddha) after which I came to a new understanding of death, and that has gone a long way towards improving my outlook. (as, I suppose, any near death experience should :P

By no means is it a bad idea to prepare for old age, but dont spend so much of your time fixated on old-age and death that you get all OCD about it. This short time we spend in human form is a gift - make every second count.
posted by jmnugent at 4:38 AM on February 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't want to get to 85, and suddenly think "Damn! I wish I'd done that years ago"

All the above practical advice seconded. (ie save money, go to school, etc)

For the less tangible...ie How to end up at age 85 and be satisfied...

I think that is kinda hard to figure out. You could spend the next 40 years pursuing your every whim and desire and still be unsatisfied and feel that you wasted time because you didn't do XX. So maybe part of the trick is to learn how to be satisfied.

Other than that, I would say don't spend too much energy holding your emotions in, not saying what you want, worrying about what people think. Energy wasted on stuff like that is a drain and makes for a long, dreary existence which no amount of 401k, crossword puzzling, or sunblock can help.
posted by ian1977 at 4:45 AM on February 4, 2008

@ jmnugent:

I'm not fixated on death, and I do live in the moment to a great extent (check my blog if you don't believe me :D ), but equally, should I happen to make it to old age, I don't want to be living in a nursing home, unhappy, pissing myself regularly and wishing that I'd done things differently. I want to enjoy ALL of my life as much as possible.

I've made my peace with god, and I could die happy tomorrow, knowing that I'd had fun. But should I not die tomorrow, I want to ensure that I'm capable of enjoying the days after that, however many there may be. If that means starting a pension now, then so be it. :)

I'm a long long way from being fixated on death. OCD doesn't even come into it.
posted by Solomon at 4:47 AM on February 4, 2008

you're in your fucking 20s, don't start already to live like a dead man. have some fun, within reason, and start worrying about prostate exams and Alzheimer's much later. Also, by the time you get Alzheimer's, they might have found a cure. Don't smoke (too much), don't catch AIDS (it's quite simple really), don't drive drunk. Anything else, at your age, is fair game.
posted by matteo at 4:49 AM on February 4, 2008

Adopt a morning (evening? whenever.) health routine. Nothing drastic, just a combination of a bit of cardio, light weights, and stretches. This is something that will help you enjoy life now, as you'll have more energy and feel healthier. The benefits will continue your entire life, and when you're old, you'll still have more energy and feel healthier.

This is something I'm struggling to get started, and despite feeling young, at 26 I've noticed I've already lost a lot of that youthful flexibility. Hopefully I will regain it!

Also, if you haven't done so, learn moderation. A few drinks is a great thing, a few more isn't much better and leads to a hangover. A nice meal is a wonderful thing, over-eating isn't worth it as the first bites are often the best, and the stomach-ache and resulting pains suck. Enjoy all of life, but don't over-indulge.
posted by explosion at 4:57 AM on February 4, 2008

One other thing I forgot to mention. Help other people whenever you can. Really.

I know you are talking about pensions and whatnot. However, we rarely regret helping other people, but the torment of not helping seems to never fade. There are a few times I declined for whatever reason to give money to someone on the street who obviously needed it and I can't shake it off years later. Helping others and actively cultivating a caring, compassionate attitude towards others is something you will not regret. If you don't do it tough, it's likely to be one of those "Damn! I wish I'd done that years ago" things, and no amount of money will comfort you. I am NOT saying you're a bad person. I hope you get my point though.
posted by milarepa at 5:09 AM on February 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I want to enjoy ALL of my life as much as possible.

Also, moderation in all things, including moderation :)
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:20 AM on February 4, 2008

I'd concur with most of the advice given so far, and above all it's good to think about how to prepare for being old - rather than preparing for being dead.

The earlier you do all of this the easier/better it is. If you live healthily from your 20s onwards you'll be in better shape than trying to do it when your 40. If you save for retirement when you're in your 20s it'll be much cheaper than trying to do it when you older. I was told you should put half of your age in % terms away for retirement of your income, when you 25 you can easily save 12.5% of your salary, when you're 45 you will struggle to start paying out 22.5%.

Plus you'll form good habits. Which is probably what a good life is all about.
posted by sdevans at 5:22 AM on February 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm going to disagree with the "have kids" advice - by all means, have kids because you love kids and want to raise a child/children, but don't have kids in order to have built-in caretakers for your old age. Plenty of oldsters have kids who can't or won't care for them. And, sadly, it's not uncommon for a really old person to outlive at least one child.

However, maintaining social ties is important. You want to have a wide circle of friends. Look after your health - don't smoke, don't abuse alcohol or drugs, and exercise. Keep your mind active, and maintain an interest in life. Finally, be nice to be around. Grumpy, bitter cynics might make great sitcom characters, but in real life they poison the atmosphere and drive people away and as a result become very lonely.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:51 AM on February 4, 2008 [4 favorites]

I have to disagree with matteo. I'm all for enjoying the moment and one's life, but there's a ton to be said for prevention. Attitudes like matteo's are just not rooted in reality.

One can enjoy the moment and one's life and still plan for the future.
posted by cahlers at 6:15 AM on February 4, 2008

Take really good care of your health. Eat properly, maintain proper weight, exercise, don't smoke. Bad health is expensive, and impairs your ability to enjoy life; this will be increasingly true as you age.

Learn a lot. Take classes, read books, learn from people who are good at what they do. Developing the habit of life-long learning will help you in your work, keep your brain in shape, and is fun.

Develop and maintain good friendships. With family, SO, friends, co-workers. Good relationships will sustain you in good times and bad. I regret the friendships that have slipped away.

Pay attention to your spiritual life. Volunteer, give to charity, be involved in a church or a meaningful community; define what your spiritual life should be, and follow that path. Not necessarily religious, but your life should have some sense of meaning and purpose.

Have some fun, take some risks, travel, read, and keep growing.
posted by theora55 at 6:28 AM on February 4, 2008

Don't get tattoos.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:47 AM on February 4, 2008

Kill two birds with one stone. Volunteer at an old folks home and find out for yourself. The volunteer work is rewarding and suggested by many. You will also probably find out the real answer to your questions isn't an answer at all.
posted by bkeene12 at 6:54 AM on February 4, 2008

Have several kids because...2) They'll look after you in your old age.

Good lord...I hope you aren't counting on that. That's just not realistic.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:03 AM on February 4, 2008

Without reading all the posts in this thread, I'll simply say that I agree that it's wise to start a good savings regimen, and of course to eat wisely, forego smoking and excessive drinking, profligate sexual activity (risk of STDs) and so forth.

That said, I will add only that I am still doing the stuff that interested and excited me in my teens. I am still playing music and performing in bands; I am still writing fiction and non-fiction and have several publishing projects in the works; I am still actively involved in the visual arts as a designer/illustrator/painter. I'm never bored, I have fantastic friends, I'm pretty healthy, and I really love seeing what's around the next corner. Friends say that I am still boyish and enthusiastic. That's great! I'm only 57, which isn't very old, but if I can keep this up for another thirty years or so I'll be in Fat City as far as life is concerned.

In other words, follow your bliss!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:06 AM on February 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Take care of your teeth. You'll miss them when they are gone, so keep the ones you have as long as possible. Travel while you are young. There are no guarantees you'll make it to old age, so enjoy your life now. Build in mini "retirement" blocks of time between jobs. Take 3 months off and travel. Also save as much as you can and live under your means. You have 40 years to grow money if it is sitting in a retirement account somewhere. Time is on your side and the money you sock away in your 20's will grow bigger than anything you can sock away in the future even if it is more. Get in the habit of saving now.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:07 AM on February 4, 2008

Prepare to accept death. To this end I recommend listening to "Don't Fear the Reaper" by BOC (the good BOC) at least once or twice a day and nodding along knowingly.
posted by 1 at 7:15 AM on February 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

You don't have to have a funeral, you know. (Unless your religion requires it.) Simple cremations through the National Cremation Society these days cost between $1K and $2K.

Wear earplugs to protect your hearing whenever you're doing sawing, leaf blowing, at a loud concert, etc.
Maintain health insurance.
Use your health insurance to take care of the things that come up... high blood pressure, foot bunions, glaucoma, whatever. Having a good health baseline will allow you to remain active in your later years.
Get a life partner/spouse to help you out!
posted by xo at 7:22 AM on February 4, 2008

Don't forget mid-term goals as well. Saving for retirement when you're in your twenties may not be the best place to put your money, since you can't get at it. When we were in our twenties, we saved up the downpayment on a house (purchased at the age of 31, 22 years ago). In our 30s we used equity in the house to help with private school for our kids and on home improvement. (Equity loans are paid off at this point--we still have only our one mortgage) In our 40s we started moderate retirement savings and serious college savings. Now, in our 50s we're upping the retirement savings and paying down our mortgage aggressively. Our house has increased in value 6-fold, and we just put our first child through an expensive liberal arts school with almost no student loans. Savings for the second child (who will start college in two years) is solid. We still have probably 20 years of work ahead of us (we both love what we do for a living, which helps). BTW, we are solidly in the middle of the middle class income-wise, so we've done all of this on a fairly modest income.

Don't get into credit card debt. Have a traditional American Express Card (which you must pay off each month) for convenience, and skip the credit card if you possibly can.

Don't cheat your current and near future needs over anxiety regarding your retirement which is 50 years away. Prudence is always good, but think carefully about what it really means.
posted by nax at 7:31 AM on February 4, 2008

Have a lot of sex, visit the dentist frequently, and play with hallucinogens whenever the opportunity presents itself and you're in the mood. Mostly, though, just have lots and lots of healthy, clean, reasonably safe sex. Everything else will take care of itself.

And yeah, avoid debt like the plague; unfortunately, that never takes care of itself.
posted by heyho at 8:58 AM on February 4, 2008

I don't want to be living in a nursing home, unhappy, pissing myself regularly and wishing that I'd done things differently.

I dont see whats so wrong with this. If you can afford a nursing home when youve reached the point of not being able to take care of yourself then youre doing okay. The alternative would be homelessness or living in a filthy run-down apartment and paying your rent with your social security checks.

Start saving for your 401k. Start learning how to take care of your money,
(try this blog). And dont be upset if you never acheive riches, fame, etc.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:58 AM on February 4, 2008

Take care of your teeth.

Seriously. Floss. I know that sounds wretchedly boring, but believe me, when someone finally forces you to go to a dentist (as happened to me in my early 30s) and he takes one look in your mouth and you can see his next Caribbean vacation reflected in his glasses, you'll wish you had been a little more respectful of all that fragile stuff you depend on to eat.

And in general, try to develop useful habits and get rid of ones that will cause you trouble when you get feeble and forgetful. My mother-in-law's rebellious personality ("I don't follow recipes, I use my creativity!") was doubtless charming when she was a spring chicken, but now that she's 91 it makes her life a hell of a lot harder than it needed to be.
posted by languagehat at 9:01 AM on February 4, 2008

Start building up muscle mass so that you will have strength to spare later in life.
posted by tiburon at 9:22 AM on February 4, 2008

As someone a bit closer to cremation than creation =D , I have to second the advice of 45moore45 and others to live in the present (while not losing site of, and planning for the future).

I've known quite a few people who have worked like beavers til retirement, and quite often their retirement was marred by not having alot of established activities (or new passions) to continue with. It's wierd but I've seen many such people fall to bits within 6 months of retiring, due to the stress of the change.

Also, it's more probable these days that you will still be reasonably fit at 65, but even so, you won't always have the energy or spirit to take on some new things that you could have when you're younger (eg travelling).

My parents are nearing 80; both of my wife's parents were a bit older and have passed on, and i have a few elderly neighbours, and honestly, the majority of them are not exactly having a blast, in my opinion. Many have health issues that limit their mobility and occupy far too much of their attention and energy. So I don't see alot of reason to live past 75 or 80. So I tell my wife I'm going to take up heroin, hookers, drag-racing, skydiving, knife-throwing etc when I turn 65. My wish is to be shot dead by a jealous husband :)

Seriously, as our house is nearly paid off, my wife and I maintain a relatively modest lifestyle that burns less than we earn, so there's some natural saving going on. We are directing our careers to do things that we enjoy and would maybe have done for free anyways. It was two years in the planning, but we're taking 3 months off this year to travel a bit, and just hang out at home. We hope to take time off like this every few years, with increasing frequency... to sort of slide into a "retired" state.

In other words, we're not saving everything for retirement.

Anyways, enough whining. To the 20-something poster I would suggest:
- drink less alcohol, you won't miss as much that's going on
- eat yer veggies, don't eat fried crap too often
- avoid soda pop
- make your life naturally active. Make sure you walk at least 30 min every day as part of your trip to work. Take up healthy activities (Biking, skiing, etc)
- if you don't love your career, you're still young enough to chuck it in and get educated or apprentice to get into something you do love. That would be a better investment right now than a retirement plan, because if you're doing something you love, you may well rise farther in that career than sticking with something you hate.
- just have one general charge card, and never carry a credit card balance
- for most people the first big financial goal should be a house. Unless you can predict the future, the best first purchase is an adequate house in a good area that you could possibly live in for 10+ years. I believe money is safer and will appreciate better in a house than if you had just rented and saved the difference.
posted by Artful Codger at 9:48 AM on February 4, 2008

Get disability insurance. According to the Social Security Administration, a 20-year-old worker has a 30 percent chance of suffering a disability before reaching retirement age.
posted by decathecting at 9:57 AM on February 4, 2008

Have several kids because...2) They'll look after you in your old age.

FYI,this is the recipe for creating really resentful kids if you demand this rather than graciously accepting their help if/when they offer.

Obviously, living well within your means and saving/investing/planning for a very nice nest egg so you aren't dependent on the whims of others so very much. Taking care of your teeth, making exercise a part of your lifestyle, enjoy healthy food. Don't let regrets clutter your life, or tchotkes, or stuff in general. Indulge in experiences rather than things.

Lifelong learning is related to preventing Alzheimer's so find opportunities to be always learning something new.

Invest in developing your real life social network including the maintenance and care of relationships with people of all ages. This means different things to different people, but happy older people (my husband's grandparents are some of them in their 70's/80's) seem to have cultivated a diverse group of friends, including people younger than themselves and not limited to family members. A lot of this is through their volunteer work in the community, the way they remember important milestones for others, the small things they do for the people that they care about (even if it is just baking bread or calling to see if they would like to come for tea).

I'll use my husband's grandparents as an example. This is a couple who is in their 80's. They have their share of health problems but they don't center their lives around that. They exercise every day (even if it is just taking walks), they write emails/notes/send newspaper clippings to people who live far away, they always have guests for dinner, they volunteer, they don't own a television, they go to concerts, they have friends nearby who have small children and they treat these children as surrogate grandchildren and plan outings with them (instead of always expecting them to visit). In other words, they reach out and they DO things. They take the initiative. They make plans and have back-up plans. They don't assume that everyone will just take care of them and, therefore, are a joy to be around. Because they are a joy to be around, everyone WANTS them around and wants to see them and reach out to them. Work towards that as your goal. I would like to.
posted by jeanmari at 11:44 AM on February 4, 2008

Never depend on another person to pay your bills.

If you're not allergic, get a pet. They reduce stress and provide unconditional love.

Volunteer twice a year or so (Meals on Wheels, Food Not Bombs, etc.) to make yourself appreciate what you have.

Get a library card. If you really love the book, buy it used in hardcover form.

Learn how to cook healthy meals for one, or cook large meals that can be frozen in servings for later.

Always have a schedule. Go to bed at a certain time and wake at a certain time if you can, even if you work at home for yourself. It will help you better manage chores, appointments, and social events in a timely manner.

Travel. Don't wait until you're old; it will give you better perspective on the world and your place in it.

Create a living will and update it every other year.

Become an organ donor. Encourage your friends to do so also; we all depend on each other when it comes down to it, whether we realize it or not.

Make a weekly appointment with friends to do something you like; bowling, a book club, Mahjongg, something. Try to carry it into your old age.

Every other year, have your doctor check your blood for thyroid disorder, diabetes, white blood cell count, and anything you have in your family history, if applicable.

Don't clutter your home with too much junk. Twice a year, clean out your closets and kitchen and either have a garage sale or donate the items to charity for a tax write-off. There is a huge difference between clutter and memorabilia/photos.

One thing I wish I'd done better: Take more photos. Get rid of the ones that are not very good; take more photos of friends and family. They make excellent gifts and decorations and never go out of style, especially in black and white.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:55 AM on February 4, 2008

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