I'm 36 years old. By all measures, I'm still pretty young. So, why am I starting to think about long-term care planning? Just the terms "financial planning" and "end of life care" cause such anxiety for many of us. But taking charge of these and other issues that come up as we age can make a hugely positive impact on our lives and the lives of our loved ones. So, I'm trying to take control.
I love my job marketing social good causes and organizations. I'm challenged to think of ways to engage women online in conversations about tough yet important topics. And here's a big one: a 36-year-old woman needs to take financial responsibility and plan for the future, even if she is married and shares breadwinning responsibilities.
As adviser Michele Heist of Ameriprise Financial told me, "All women need to think 'I'm alone and responsible for myself'- even if you're not. The statistics tell us that a woman will spend more of her lifetime alone than in a shared relationship."
This feels like a dire prediction, but even if you are in a relationship, the modern American heterosexual woman is likely to spend a large part of her early career alone, and she is likely to outlive her male partner by some years. She needs to have a plan. If you're coupled -- same sex or different -- says Michele, part of taking care of yourself is making sure you and your partner understand each other's finances and protect each other with life insurance and appropriate financial planning for your situation and needs.
Plus, 51% of American women live without a spouse.
Our culture, led by some incredible women, is reinventing what it means to get older. I'm inspired by my friend Susan McPherson, who writes of her reinvention through her 30's, 40's and soon-to-be 50's. She writes of confronting her age in print:
Me, a proud and confident 48-year-old gal, right there in lights. A woman who had overcome numerous challenges, who was able to re-jigger and re-engineer her life to start brand new in her late 30's, a woman whose world went from zero to 60 in just 10 short years after moving to New York City from a faraway place -- a world that is now filled with the most incredibly gifted and talented people ranging from their teen years all the way up to their sprightly eighties.
Turning 50, 60 and even 70 is now not a downshift in ambition for women, but rather a chance to accelerate into something new, should you choose. But you have to be able to pay for that reinvention.
These issues can be overwhelming, but I love AARP's new initiative, Decide.Create.Share. -- a platform that guides you through planning and sharing the second half of your life. Statistics say that I will live well beyond 50, so how do I want to spend those years?
Decide.Create.Share is a national initiative dedicated to increasing awareness among women about the depth and breadth of long-term care, the benefits of envisioning the future they want, and planning for it. Fifty is not what it used to be, so how do I want to spend those years? What are my goals and dreams for this second half of my life?
Decide.Create.Share is helping me evaluate and plan now by breaking the process down into bite-sized, unintimidating chunks. It provides a roadmap that is allowing me to stop and take stock.
Here's my pledge to myself and my family:
1) I will deal with my anxiety about money and make sure I have a solid retirement savings plan. Even though I own a small business and my income is variable, I am thinking ahead.
2) I will take care of my health. Up to ⅔ of cancers can be prevented by a healthy diet and exercise. Seriously. And chronic, debilitating diseases like type two diabetes also are largely preventable. I better get to the gym.
3) I will make sure I have the right insurance. I'm too young for long term care insurance, but life insurance is absolutely crucial for my family, as is long term disability insurance.
4) I will live within my means. Michele Heist suggested this one, because "Not living within our means today can trip us up tomorrow." We think we can adjust things or pay back debts later, but often it doesn't happen. What's more, our culture encourages spending -- it's really tough to think, I'm always going to live in a small house rather than dreaming of that bigger dream house.
Addressing financial planning issues can be complicated, overwhelming and somewhat emotional. It is so easy to take life for granted. But should something happen to me, I want my family to be confident in the steps they take to care for me. Should I be lucky enough to reach ripe old age, I can rest assured that my wishes were made clear and they know how to handle my affairs.
It may seem odd to start this process at my age, but I want to be sure my family knows my wishes. I've seen too many friends labor over making decisions for their parents because a plan wasn't laid out or their wishes made clear before it was too late. I care about my family and want to make sure they aren't left between a rock and hard place when or if I'm no longer able to make decisions for myself. It feels morbid but also strangely freeing, the same way you feel after dealing with that difficult conversation with a friend or colleague you've been putting off for so long. I will also rest just a bit easier each night, knowing that I have a plan.