I recognize that I am fortunate to be able to make a choice to take early retirement. Many of my friends are not yet contemplating retirement because, financially, they are not in circumstances to be able to do so. Both of my parents worked into their 70's because they needed to continue working for financial reasons. On the other hand, my husband retired as soon as he was able to according to the pension guidelines at his workplace, and soon will have been retired for ten years.
I am finding the decisions around retirement surprisingly difficult. There does not seem to be much written on it, aside from the financial advice put out by banks and financial journalists. The question I want to write about today is where to retire.
To me, the ideal is to retire in place, in the community where one has been living and working, surrounded by friends and family members. In this scenario, you could live on in your same home until it became too much to manage, and then move into a senior's complex or assisted living setting when elderly or if needed for health reasons. This is the plan that my mom has. She is still in the house that I grew up in, and planning to move at some point in the future. She has family and friends around her in the small town where she lives.
However, I just visited an elderly relative who recently sold his home and purchased an apartment in a senior's condo complex. Although he is still in the same city where he has lived for over 30 years, the move has been difficult because he has no family remaining in the vicinity, and his few closer friends all live in the neighbourhood where his house was and he rarely sees them now. Many older people become isolated as family and friends move away or pass on, especially if they have reduced mobility or do not have interests that bring them into social contact with others.
Rob and I do not plan to stay in the city where we are currently living, once I retire. Although we love our house, we feel no ties to this area. We have not developed a social network or become well integrated into the community. Our children, grandchildren, family, and friends all live far away. Therefore, we plan to move away when I retire. The question is, where will we go?
Our friends and family are mostly in British Columbia, the province where we have both spent most of our lives, so we plan to return there. But BC is a large province, and our friends and family members are spread around, geographically. Because I have moved many times for my work, I have lived in several different cities and towns in BC, and have ties to many places. As well, our children have settled in various communities. So one question we are asking ourselves is which community, and another is what type of living situation?
There is a large real estate industry designed around retirement communities for ageing baby boomers, and certain communities, for example, Kelowna in the Okanagan, and Parksville on Vancouver Island, are popular destinations for retirees. I do not feel drawn to seniors' complexes nor to the rows and rows of bland two bedroom ranchers with an ocean or lake view. Philosophically, I disagree with the notion of self-segregation in gated communities. I do not share the sense of privilege, fear for my own safety, and desire to lock myself away in conformist communities of well-to-do old white people. And, in any case, I am not that old yet!
One factor in the decision relates to how we plan to spend our time in retirement. We are both active, and enjoy skiing, hiking, cycling, canoeing, camping, gardening, and fishing. I want to do some international travel. I plan to write and paint. I want to join a painting group and a writing group and a book club and exercise classes. I might do some consulting work. Rob enjoys working in his workshop building things. We would like to live in a community and type of home that supports this lifestyle.
At this point in our lives, we would like to have a house that is big enough to have a workshop and a painting studio. We would like a reasonably sized yard with room to garden and park our camper. We would like to have enough room for our kids and grandkids to come and stay for visits. I would love to be close to my grandchildren. Presently, we have grandchildren on Vancouver Island, and in North central BC.
In terms of the community, I feel anxious about moving to a place where we know few people. It takes a long time to become integrated into a community. I have seen many older people people end up isolated and lonely. I am hoping that we move to a place where we already have friends, or where we will easily be able to make new friends. It also would be good if there is a senior's complex nearby, so that when we reach that next phase, we will not have to move far away to place full of strangers.
Although we could go back to northern BC where we know many people, the winters are long and harsh. As well, there are few options for senior living (once we get to that stage). Vancouver Island is an appealing option in terms of lifestyle. One risk in moving to a city to be near kids and grandkids is that they might not stay there. In fact, it is quite typical for young people to move from city to city for reasons of work and schooling. I moved many times during my career. Whatever place we move to, it should be somewhere that we feel that we can settle and be comfortable living there for the long term.