A Life Without Debt: Whatever Will I Do In My Old Age?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our decision to remain child-free and how that decision (while not based on money) has made it easier for us to remain out of debt. Several respondents wondered who would take care of me in my old age if I didn’t have kids. Wasn’t I giving up security in my old age by choosing not to have kids who could look after me?

The answer to that question is this: I will take care of myself in my old age and that is, at least partly, why remaining debt free is so important to me. It allows me to save large amounts of money to put toward my future care. Since I know that I will “have no one to look after me,” I have to make certain that I have adequate funds, insurance contracts, and legal protection in place to ensure that I am cared for in a manner that suits me, in the event that I am unable to do so myself. All of that requires large amounts of cash that would be eaten up if I had to make debt repayments.

Of course, even if I had kids I would not expect them to take care of me. Things happen in life. A kid might get a job offer in a far away state or even another country. Kids grow up and have families of their own that take precedence over caring for an aging parent. I would not expect or want a child to give up his or her dreams in order to take care of me. There is also the possibility that a child may not want to take care of an aging parent. Whether because the relationship is strained or the child simply isn’t responsible enough to shoulder the burden, I certainly would never count on a child to be my security net. I’ve seen too many people who thought their kids would be there for them, only to find out that life got in the way and the kids either had other responsibilities or zero interest in helping out. Having kids is no security net to make certain you are cared for in your old age. Even with kids, the only one who can be sure you’ll be cared for in your old age is you. It’s great if the kids want to help out, but to plan using that assumption is risky.

So how exactly does a child free person go about making sure they are cared for later? As I said, remaining debt free is critical. Because we have no debt we’ve managed to amass a nest egg of over a million dollars already. Since we live very low to the ground and spend only on thing that we really value, we have a lot of extra cash to work with. We save most of our raises and “bonus” income.

We stash the maximum allowable into 401K’s and IRA’s in order to take advantage of the tax breaks. We have several other investment accounts that are for mid-range and longer term goals. We’re putting money away in a separate, low risk account that is designated for health needs in our retirement. Yes, our 401K’s will cover some of those expenses, but the way medical costs are rising and Social Security and Medicare are declining, I’m planning as though I will need to buy my medical insurance myself, or pay for everything out of pocket. It’s a scary thought because I know how expensive that will be. But I’d rather be over-prepared than unable to meet my basic health needs.

I also make certain I have up to date wills, trusts, insurance policies, and other legal documents that clearly spell out my wishes as to how I want to be cared for and how I want any remaining assets to be distributed upon my death. These documents ensure that I receive the care I want, from the organizations and individuals that I trust, not just from whomever the state decides to send me to. If I can’t make any decisions for myself, it is all clearly spelled out in my legal documents. Since I have no kids to speak for me, I have to speak for myself and it has meant spending a decent sum of money on lawyers. I don’t like it, but even if I had kids it would still be something that I would have to do. I wouldn’t be able to trust that my kids would be available to speak for me, or that they would “get it right.” Emotions are funny things and I wouldn’t want a kid to have to decide whether or not to pull the plug. Even if you have kids you need to make certain that your wishes are clearly spelled out in legal documents.

We don’t save only for our old age; there are some things that we spend on now and that we save for in the near future. However, about fifty-percent of our money goes to preparing for our old age. The truth is that most people my age aren’t saving nearly enough, hoping instead that the government or their own kids will save them. So instead of preparing for old age, they’re buying bigger cars and houses and nice clothes instead of stashing that money. I’m planning to take care of myself, completely on my own. It will be nice if I get money from Medicare or Social security. Then I can use some of my money for fun stuff. But I can’t bet on it. I don’t feel like I can afford to direct any of my money to debt payments because I know I will need it later. And a lot of it. And if I end up over-prepared and die with a fortune left over? Then some charities are going to have a very nice windfall coming their way.

Kids are not an insurance policy. Even if I had them I would be taking the exact same steps to deal with my care. Remaining debt free and saving the resulting cash, whether with or without kids, is one of the most powerful wealth building tools available to see you through your old age.

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29 Responses to A Life Without Debt: Whatever Will I Do In My Old Age?

  1. Melissa says:

    Sounds like you got it all planned out but “money” is not happiness. Theres more to life than “saving” just to ensure that you will have enough when you are old. Yea you may have money in the bank but sounds to me like your gonna grow old by yourself and be a very lonley old woman.

  2. Rose says:

    Thank you for this – very well written. Hits every relevant point.

  3. Maureen says:

    It’s really interesting to listen to your perspective given your decision to not have children. As a 20 year old, I’m also childless but intend to have my first child before I’m 30. I, like you, would not expect my kids to look after me. I think that people overestimate how much help is needed and sad as it may sound some don’t live to that age where others need to care for them. Still you can do things for yourself now like keeping your brain and body active to ensure that you can stay healthy for as long as possible.

  4. Analise says:

    I agree with Melissa… you have all the financial bases covered, but you may end up very lonely in your old age. Hopefully, you are cultivating some meaningful relationships so you do not have to end up paying someone to care about you in addition to caring for you in your old age.

  5. Joan says:

    Sadie has not said one single thing to indicate she will be a lonely person or grow old by herself. If she had told us all these plans without mentioning she doesn’t have children and will not be having them, would Melissa have said such a thing?

  6. Cat says:

    As a childfree person myself it is wonderful to see some retirement/long term care planning information out there. So much of it seems geared to people with children. I get so tired of hearing the “who will take care of you when you are older” comment. My plan, like yours, is to take care of myself. As for ending up alone, I don’t think children are a guard against loneliness. What so many seem to forget is that family can mean any type of relationship, including friends. I know many childfree people who have a great social network of friends in their older age. And I also know a number of people with children who sit alone in nursing homes. Children are not social security, either financial or emotional.

  7. Theresa says:

    It seems Melissa has never visited an elder care facility herself as she would notice that there are many, many elderly patients waiting for their families to show up and visit them. Having children does not ensure you will be cared for. Just because a person does not have children doesn’t mean they are going to grow old alone. Friends are meaningful as well.

  8. Health Insurance Guy says:

    It is nice if your kids can look after you, but you can’t always count on it. Perhaps they live far out of town and cannot be there at all times.

    The money saved can purchase professional care if needed.

  9. Nagel says:

    I agree with Joan and Cat. Children are not a retirement plan. My younger sister expressed that she wants children so they can take care of her in her old age. Right now she has a husband who is taking care of her, plus she borrows money from our mother periodically. She is in her late 20’s and sounds like she can barely take care of herself now. She doesn’t have children yet, since she and her husband are struggling financially to make ends meet. Thanks to Sadie, I have more counterarguments for her next time. Plus, she nags me to have children, even though I have decided long ago to remain childless. I have had to rely on my mother as well not that long ago to “bail out” my credit record and have yet to save up to repay her. My mother at this point can take better care of herself (and us) than we can take care of ourselves. As far as for emotional needs, I have had estranged my mother before – we are reconciled now and better than ever for it, but knowing what I know now, I would not place a selfish burden of relying on children, even if I ever changed my mind. Great reasoning, Sadie!

  10. Dena says:

    You sound like you have really put a lot of thought into your reasons to not have kids. I have went into debt with each childs birth. I have 3 (all planned). I have always manage to dig myself out of debt and have never regretted going into debt to have them. I think a lot of people listen to the media telling us how much it costs to raise kids. They also let others manipulate them into buying things that aren’t needed. My kids are 14, 12, and 2. Most of their clothes and clothes are used. We don’t go on vacations, but because I am a stay at home homeschooling mom we have plenty of time hiking, field trips, park days, etc. I think they will remember these times and not feel deprived because they never went to Disneyland or wore expensive clothes. We also grow a lot of our own food. Another opportunity for us to do something enjoyable together while saving money. Kids don’t have to be that expensive. You just have to change your priorities and realize you don’t need everything marketed to you by TV and friends. I have never regretted the decision. I have to be honest and say I have never thought I needed them to take care of me when I was older. I am just enjoying the time I have with them now. I would hate to think I had them for free help when I was older.

  11. Greg says:

    Great post Sadie. This has nothing to do with being lonely when you get older or it being all about money and money not equating to happiness. This is sound advice and personal responsibility whether you have kids or not. I’m pretty sure that Sadie is well aware that there is more to life then “saving”. I’m sure that Sadie has a lot more fun then any of us who read this blog because I certainly can not say that me and my wife have saved over a million dollars, we’re not even close. But the main focus point of this article is not about kids or happiness, it’s about security. Not enough people take the time to plan or even think about what it takes to ensure their own security, especially when you have to look so far down the road of life. And because Sadie has that million in the bank she understands that there is more to life then saving because while we’re all trying to play catchup, she’s having the time of her life because of the security she has been able to create.

  12. Michelle says:

    No, Melissa, money does not necessarily guarantee happiness. Neither do children.
    It is very possible to be childless and have a plethora of rich relationships. You even get to choose your friends!

  13. Allie says:

    Melissa and Analise, I’d love to check back with you in 40 years to see if your kids are taking care of YOU, or whether YOU are broke and lonely because your deadbeat kids aren’t there for you.

  14. Dena says:

    Whether you have kids or not, this is sound advice. Security is a good thing with kids or without. Hopefully I will end up over prepared along with you. Then my children will be in for a big windfall.

  15. Analise says:

    Allie –
    Fortunately, my kids are not deadbeats nor they will ever have to worry about taking care of me since, like Sadie, I have more than enough resources to take care of myself in my old age.

    And yes, having children does not guarantee you won’t be lonely nor should anyone have children with the idea they will take care of you when you are old. That is an absurd idea.

    I have been blessed with wonderful children and they have added a rich dimension to my life, but having children is not for everyone, especially people like Sadie who don’t want them.

    The point I was making is that money alone is not enough to guarantee a positive end of life. Yes, prepare financially for old age but in the end, we all need people, whether related to us or not. It is important to cultivate relationships and Sadie came across (to me at least) as if her primary interest is about accumulating money.

  16. Steven says:

    Wonderful post. I would like to add being single does not mean being lonely. I’m 61 years old and have no family to speak of.

    But I have a wonderful network of friends. We’ve known each other for many, many years. We’ve been thru youth and middle age together. And we’re looking forward to being seniors together.

  17. Susan says:

    Thank you Sadie, definitely something to think about. I adore my adult daughters but I agree, they are not my retirement plan nor do I want them to be. They know my debt struggles and what I’ve given up to be almost debt free. So if anything, maybe they’ll absorb some of what I’ve learned and talked about with them and they too will be independent as they approach their “Golden Years.”

  18. Stacy Adcock says:

    Thanks for this article Sadie; it’s a nice finish to the previous one that got so many interesting responses and I’m always wondering excatly how we should be saving for retirement; so this helps. Glad for your response too Steven; the happiest people I know are those who maintain strong friendships. Not even people with excellent relationships with their children and grandchildren are as happy and emotionally satisfied as those who have a tight group of friends! At least that’s what I’ve learned in my 33 years.

  19. Cindy M says:

    I have been divorced for years and have no kids but am pretty good friends with my niece, her husband and her two boys and trust her judgment. I’m in my mid 50’s with an elderly mother. These last few years, I’ve been getting an ongoing education regarding what a good idea it is to make plans to make things easier for people we leave behind. My mother is a case study of what NOT to be or do to your children, ha-ha, and I won’t go into detail about that here. I’ve told my niece jokingly that if I ever become as childish and demanding as my mother is becoming to PLEASE take me out and shoot me! Looking at my mother’s constant bad behavior and lack of planning, I plan to make it as easy as possible for my niece to see to my final needs long before they arise. I believe in being direct and taking care of your own business as much as possible. I’m perfectly healthy and in sound mind right. I’ve already named my niece in my will to be my executor. I will be planning simple cremation arrangements and will pay for that before I die. My paperwork is organized where she can find it. I’ve told her should I have a major stroke to not hesitate to put me in a nursing home and don’t lose sleep over having to do so. I tell her, just leave me my bible; I’m ready to go, and you can have this weird world and everything in it; I have lived and loved and am not afraid of death. We should all be unafraid to have something in place so that our loved ones (whoever they are) know what to do should something bad or unexpected happen.

  20. Leni says:

    Those who think that the childfree are lonely and by themselves haven’t visited a nursing home lately (I have). It is heartbreaking just for me to see the old people lined up at the door waiting for visitors, anyone, and seeing the disappointment on their faces- I can imagine that their heartbreak is much greater than mine! Most of these folks have been ignored by their children, who are too busy to bother with them. And, for the record, we childfree are anything but alone or lonely. We have family, pets, and also the bonds of friendship to help each other. As for the money, how many of you have seen impoverished old people? (I have seen LOTS, most with children.)

  21. Gail says:

    It is nice to have children, but they shouldn’t be your ‘retirement plan’. Advance palnning is so crucial in this day and age. I wish I had done more, but I became disabled in my 40’s, 20+ years before I expected to retire and unfortunately didn’t have the savings in place that I would have liked. My hubby is self-emplyoed with poor health also and trying to meet the medical bills, etc. is an ongoing process. I certainly don’t expect my kids who are only in their 20’s to be tossing us money as they are still trying to get their own feet up the ladder. Do what you can for yourself whether with or without children. Sacrificing now to have a better tomorrow is worth the knowledge that you won’t have the financial stress that is possible for either lack of planning or for those like me that did plan but didn’t get to completely carry it out.

  22. Deirdre says:

    Being childfree doesn’t guarantee no debt! I am single, childfree, nearing 40, with $80K in student loans. If I chose to save 50% of my income to savings (preposterous in this economy, to everyone but the wealthy), I’d be living with my parents! And no, I don’t live beyond my means, I just don’t make a six-figure salary.

  23. Slinky says:

    Of course there’s more to life than money! But it’s not necessarily going to be the main focus of an article on a blog called SavingAdvice. I thought the article made its point quite well. Perhaps now she’ll have to write another article about how she really does have friends.

  24. Trash says:

    I am astounded, thinking that two sided thinking doesn’t help the one in the middle. You can say that saving cash is a deed that is worthy of love- you didn’t waste a child’s dinner money on new shoes…In the end, you are missing the point of what everyone is talking about, which is having a family. What makes you so undesirable as a woman? You need a man that will take you, just don’t play the “lesbian card” too hard. It sounds like you have the looks of a Yorkshire terrier. Probably a beard, too, from looking long and hard under your futon for loose change. You don’t change diapers….oh, shit.

  25. Gail says:

    Trash: That is a nasty, rude comment, that has nothing to do with the original post. You are certainly taking liberties in assumptions. You owe the poster an apology!! Your ‘name’ says it all-you are trash talking!

  26. pharmboy says:

    Interesting post. I spent yesterday walking my 88-year old grandmother all over her hometown cemetery and I helped her put flowers on, among others, my great-great-grandparents’ grave. They’re the reason I’m lucky enough to live in America and not Russia, and it was nice to be able to show them honor and gratitude in a small way. That’s the kind of stuff that I look forward to with my future kids and then grandkids. But hey, to each his own.

  27. Dear Sadie,

    You used the term DINK (Double Income, No Kids), but we childfree folks prefer the term THINKER (Two Healthy Incomes, No Kids, Early Retirement), as it’s much more positive. Besides, it appears that people who choose not to have children think much more about parenthood than those who simply fall into it.

    Jerry Steinberg
    Founding Non-Father Emeritus of NO KIDDING!
    The international social club for childless and childfree couples and singles
    [email protected]

  28. Kitty says:

    My goodness! All this “money is not happiness” stuff is bullsh!t. You CANNOT depend on your children for anything – especially male children. Save your money, live your life like you want. Of course, there are exceptional children, but it’s rare.

  29. Hotaka says:

    Children do not equal happiness; that must come from within. In fact, if you’re not happy now, then you definitely shouldn’t have kids until you fix that part of your life. She has given no indication that she lacks relationships that will feed her need in old age. One way or the other, this is great advice. I know a good many people who have/had a good family to rely on but had to go into LTC facilities because of the severity of their health disorders (alzhiemers, terminal cancer, pyschotic disorders…).

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