You’re only old once, so here are 10 tips to prepare for golden years

Take stock now of plans, health, finances, expert says

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This first wave of the silver tsunami began this year when the baby boomer generation began to turn 65.

Between now and 2030, all 76 million baby boomers will turn 65, placing an unprecedented toll on Medicare and Social Security resources. By 2030, 55 percent of the federal budget is projected to go toward the two benefits programs, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“I don’t know how we are possibly going to sustain baby boomers’ future, and that’s the near future,” said Vancouver gerontologist Gail Haskett. She spoke at a Rotary Club of Vancouver meeting Wednesday at the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay.

That’s why baby boomers need to do everything they can to prepare for old age, said Haskett, owner of Vancouver-based Aging Resources Inc., a national firm that provides geriatric care management and family/caregiver consultation services. Here are her top 10 tips for doing just that:

• Challenge your concept of retirement. The baby boom after World War II marked not only a record surge in population but a generation that would experience longer life expectancy. In 1945, life expectancy was about 66 years. In 2010, it exceeded 78 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Medical advances have made it possible for some people 65 and older to continue being productive in the workforce.

When considering retirement, don’t assume that retirement at 65 is the best choice. The main question to consider is whether you can afford to retire, but there are other factors to consider before you make a decision about when to take on a life of leisure.

“Are we mentally prepared for it?” Haskett said. Some retirees who give up jobs become angry or depressed because their job was their main source of fulfillment.

Whether you retire at 65 or later, it’s important to start doing the things you enjoy now, Haskett said. That way you don’t miss out on the things you love because you postponed retirement. Plus, developing interests and hobbies outside of work also helps better prepare you for spending your time once you finally do retire.

“Create a bucket list now and start doing it,” Haskett said.

• Make a retirement budget. More than half of baby boomers haven’t calculated how much they’ll need to save for retirement, according to AARP.

One amount doesn’t fit all. Some experts say you need at least 70 percent of your pre-retirement income, but if you are low-income, you’ll need about 90 percent. The amount also depends on your standard of living. Consult a financial planner or an online calculator to determine how much you’ll need.

• Start saving. Twenty-nine percent of baby boomers have saved less than $10,000 for retirement. After you know how much you need to retire, make savings goals and start saving immediately, Haskett said. Contrary to popular advice, Haskett said, she discourages people from buying long-term care insurance because the benefits are often restricted in ways they might not expect. For example, the policies often don’t cover the cost of a caregiver to shop, clean or feed a policyholder who is feeble, she said.

• Shed all debt. Half of households headed by someone between 55 and 64 had credit card debt in 2009, according to the Federal Reserve. The same age group accounts for 16.9 percent of bankruptcies. Consult a credit counselor and begin a debt reduction plan.

• Take care of your health. Exercise an hour a day, and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. It will enhance your quality of life today and in old age, Haskett said.

“Every impaired person I know wishes they had taken better care of their health,” Haskett said.

• Plan ahead for impairment and death. Drawing up a living will with advance directives can help guide your family through difficult choices about your treatment in old age. Establish health care power of attorney to allow your spouse or family member to make health care decisions for you when you can’t.

“Otherwise your family is going to go through a lot of consternation trying to decide what to do, whether you’re aged or passed away,” Haskett said.

• Convene a “What if … ?” meeting. Meet with your family to share with them what you want to happen if you are incapacitated or die.

• Prepare your home. About 90 percent of baby boomers prefer staying at home rather than going to a care facility in old age, according to AARP. Modify your home so you are able to stay there. Remove any barriers that would prevent you from getting around the house in the event of impairment. Certified age-in-place specialists can offer some advice on what to do.

“Some people wait until something happens, and then, it’s too late. They have to go to a facility at least while changes are being made.”

• Makes friends outside work and family. If your social life revolves around work or family, you might be setting yourself up for isolation in old age, Haskett said. Take stock of who you know and who will help fill your social needs when you retire. Engage in activities that will help expand your social circle.

• Have a positive attitude. A good attitude helps people to cope with the challenges of aging and the challenges ahead of the country, Haskett said.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://www.twitter.com/Col_Trends; http://www.facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.