We all tend to take our independence for granted. We take for granted our ability to make decisions just for us, to spend our money how we want, to go where we want, and do what we want. We take it all for granted until, for whatever reason, it’s gone. I have a relative that is in this position right now.
At the relatively young age of sixty, she now has to move in with family. While she’s obviously still a free person, she no longer has her own home. She will no longer get to make decisions herself; everything will have to be done according to the rules and norms of her family’s house. Everything from decor to what’s for dinner is no longer her decision (or at least not solely). She’s not being forced to become dependent on others because of some disability or disease, but because she failed to plan for the future.
This woman always believed that she had time to save, that, “later” was a long time off. Of course, it never works that way. “Later” always comes sooner than you think. She was laid off from her job last year and with no real savings, it wasn’t long before she couldn’t afford her house. Her age and lack of transferrable skills makes it difficult for her to find a new job, particularly one that pays what she was making. The result is that she’s had no choice but to move in with family. She hates it, they hate it, and everyone is miserable. It didn’t have to be this way. Had she planned for the future and saved, she could have just segued into early retirement and kept on being independent. Now she’s forced into a dependent lifestyle.
I had another relative who had a different story. He saved all of his life, lived very frugally, and covered himself with excellent long-term care insurance. When the time came that illness made it so he could no longer get out and do the things he needed to do, he was able to pay someone to come to his home to care for him. He was also able to hire people to do his yard work and maintenance, thus meaning he didn’t have to leave the home he loved and move into a lower maintenance place. He didn’t have to move in with family and he didn’t have to go into a nursing home or assisted living facility. Sure, he was no longer totally independent, but by hiring a caregiver and people to handle the work he could no longer do, he was still able to call the shots in his own life. He died at home, well cared for, and happy.
The difference is that one prepared and planned in order to protect his independence while the other one did not. When financial gurus beg you to save for your retirement, they’re not just talking about being able to travel and have fun. They’re talking about being able to keep your independence and keep living the life you want to live.
As with anything in life, nothing is guaranteed. You may have all the money and insurance coverage you can muster and yet still end up dependent on others through no fault of your own. Disability, disease, or natural disaster may mean that you have to give up your independence permanently or temporarily. You give yourself the best chance of remaining independent, though, if you save money and plan for your insurance needs.
(Photo courtesy of Marcel Oosterwijk)