Podcast: #36 Dr. Sara Zeff Geber – Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers – and Anyone!

Dr. Geber’s book, Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Roadmap for Single and Childless Adults lays out 6 essential elements for aging safely and happily. Based on research across several areas, such as economics and psychology, these 6 elements are truly what matter most. Join us to hear Dr. Geber’s thoughts on how to plan and cultivate well-thought out strategies for living well. As she says, “How do you take charge of your own script as you age?”

Transcript Below

[00:00:00] Diane Hullet: hi, I’m Diane Hall and welcome to the best life. Best stuff. Podcast today’s guest is Dr. Sara Zeff. Dr. Debra has a PhD in organizational behavior and counseling a master’s in psychology and a certificate in retirement coaching. But what I think you’ll be most interested in is her book. She wrote a book called essential retirement planning for solo agers.

[00:00:31] And this book in 2018 was selected as one of the best books on aging. Well, by the wall street journal, she has. Raising the awareness of the special challenges that solo agers faced her personal crusade. I’m excited to have her today, and I think you’ll find her insights on aging for anyone very relevant.

[00:00:53] So welcome, Sarah.

[00:00:55] Sara Geber: Thank you, Diane. Having

[00:00:56] Diane Hullet: a hair. Yeah, really excited to have you be here. You know, I [00:01:00] got interested in this topic of solo aging. When I heard some statistics about the number of people who are aging. Without having close family members and it was kind of stunning. And I think those numbers are only going up.

[00:01:14] So tell us a little bit about how you got into this field.

[00:01:17] Sara Geber: Sure. I’m about 10 years ago, I was doing retirement coaching and it became clear to me from the people I was talking to. And most, especially from my friends, that they were spending a tremendous amount of time with their aging parents. My friend, Sandy, for instance, and I were having a glass of wine and.

[00:01:41] Little wide bar in Palo Alto one, one day. And I said, you know, I haven’t seen much of you this year. What have you been doing? She said, oh my God. I’ve spent my life on an airplane going back and forth to the east coast to make sure that my mother who now 87 was well taken care of. And I had to get her moved into senior living [00:02:00] accommodation, and I had to get her house sold and I had to manage all of that.

[00:02:04] And on top of that, even in senior living, I still have to be the one to make sure that. She’s um, got clothing that she needs that she’s arranged transportation to doctor’s appointments and all of those things from 3000 miles away just weren’t working very well. So she’s now happily in senior living and I can relax a little bit and I said, Sandy, you and I don’t have kids.

[00:02:32] Who’s going to do that for us. So that was really the beginning of my journey on finding out what the answer to that question is. And it became the question that really launched the book and launched my investigation into what are people doing and what can we plan to do if we don’t have children to be kind of a safety net for.

[00:02:55] Toward the end of

[00:02:55] Diane Hullet: life. How absolutely. I mean, one of the things I love that you say right up at the beginning [00:03:00] is really, we’re also low agers. So even if you have a partner, one of you will die first. Even if you have children, they may live really far away. And so there are these possibilities of how to kind of grapple with this better than.

[00:03:16] You know, then we do, if we don’t want to look at it. Yes,

[00:03:19] Sara Geber: absolutely. Yeah. It’s and I’ve come to realize that. People who don’t have children are not the only show wagers out there because our society is very mobile. Most people’s kids don’t live right in the same town with them and aren’t raising their grandkids right there.

[00:03:37] Sometimes people move to be near their kids and, uh, hopefully that works out and the kids don’t pick up and move again, which is always the, the hazard that there’s so many solo wagers out there. And they come in a lot of. Flavors and colors and yeah,

[00:03:55] Diane Hullet: one of the things you talk about really early in the book also is you, you list these six [00:04:00] things that are key, and then you go on to really, um, spend time on each chapter about what those are.

[00:04:06] And you say here’s the six important elements to a fulfilling life. Number one, financial security, number two, commitment to good health and physical wellbeing. Number three, self-awareness. Number four adaptability and flexibility. Number five, a strong social network and number six, religion, spirituality, or some sense of a belief system larger than yourself.

[00:04:31] And I love that you say you used to include fun on the list, but then you realized if those six were taken care of the fun would take care of itself. So yeah. Tell us a little bit about whichever of those six areas kinds of, kind of jumps out at you. Well, I think

[00:04:48] Sara Geber: the social network has over time in my observation and in the research that I, that I read studies that are being done with people on isolation and [00:05:00] loneliness.

[00:05:00] Um, especially in the last two years that we’ve been experiencing the pandemic. Isolation and loneliness are really the enemy and soul wagers in some respects are much more susceptible to that because they don’t have the family backup that just for most people doesn’t go away, no matter. No matter what you do.

[00:05:24] There’s families

[00:05:26] Diane Hullet: there for you. Even the distance people figure it out. Right.

[00:05:29] Sara Geber: They figure it out. They do figure it out, just like my friend, Sandy flying back and forth and living on an airplane for a year. So, um, social building that and maintaining that social net. I think is one of the most critical things for people now, everything on that list is important and it’s not just my opinion.

[00:05:48] It’s all research-based

[00:05:51] Diane Hullet: and it’s, you

[00:05:51] Sara Geber: know, it’s partly, it’s how I see people making sense of their lives as they get older. But [00:06:00] clearly those are things that matter or should matter to everyone.

[00:06:04] Diane Hullet: Right. Right. And, and you talk about how they kind of weave together and why they’re so important. But one of the things I found most powerful about your book, um, is, is that not only does it say, Hey, here’s, what’s important and here’s the research behind it, and here’s why it’s important.

[00:06:19] And here’s anecdotes about it. Then you go on to offer very specific worksheets, um, charts kind of ways to actually think it through for yourself. And I think that’s just brilliant. How did you come up with.

[00:06:32] Sara Geber: Well, I have to talk a little bit about my prior career before I got really interested in the, the, uh, aid, the whole world of aging gerontology specifically.

[00:06:44] Uh, I started in retirement coaching because that ended up being an offshoot of what I had been doing in for 20 years prior. I was in leadership development. I did a lot of coaching. I get a lot of training. In the [00:07:00] coaching. I noticed that the clients that were around my age, in other words, the baby boomers were starting to talk more about their retirement plans than their business plans.

[00:07:09] So I thought, Hmm. You know, something’s in the wind here, right?

[00:07:14] Diane Hullet: A lot of people talking about this. Yeah.

[00:07:16] Sara Geber: So I started getting very interested in that. Um, and. The worksheets were actually quite easy for me to do because in my life, as a, as a corporate trainer, I had to develop a lot of worksheets and that was, you know, how people sort of figured it out for themselves.

[00:07:35] And it’s how people learn is to put themselves in that situation, ask themselves the hard questions and. Start to formulate the answers, just like when you do an advanced directive and a power of attorney. If you sit down and do a whole estate plan, your attorney is likely to give you worksheet. And by the same token, these are the same, these are the same kinds of [00:08:00] worksheets that help you kind of understand

[00:08:02] Diane Hullet: yourself.

[00:08:02] Right. Right. And I love like the example of the, um, with the social one, one of the things you do is you just kind of say, okay, so who are your friends? Right. Like, who’s the inner circle. Who’s the next circle? What age are those people and how can you rely on them? Or can you rely on them? And it’s um, it’s so you call it a Rishi relationship, evaluation worksheet.

[00:08:26] And, um, that really is a starting place for people to kind of assess, like, how have I cultivated this network? I’ve heard it said that that isolation is the new smoking. Like it’s bad for your.

[00:08:39] Sara Geber: Yeah, they’ve equated it to 15 cigarettes

[00:08:42] Diane Hullet: a day. Isn’t that incredible. Wow. And, and I think it’s one thing to sort of say, Hey, I know I need to do that.

[00:08:49] And it’s another thing to actually go out and do it. And the pandemic has of course made that harder.

[00:08:55] Sara Geber: Yes. And I’ve, I’ve found over the 10 years that I’ve been doing [00:09:00] this, I have found that it’s especially hard for people who are quite into.

[00:09:03] Diane Hullet: Makes sense. I think one of your anecdotes talks about someone who moved around a lot as a kid.

[00:09:09] Um, and as a result, they knew how to make friends. And so as a result, they took that into their aging, but other people it’s, it’s a little harder to reach out and to figure out how to make those connections.

[00:09:21] Sara Geber: It is. It is. And I, I think I, I, in the book, I give a lot of examples of ways that you can do this.

[00:09:30] But it’s especially hard for people after they leave their primary career. Yes. And again, most people, most baby boomers, primary career involved with going to an, an office or a workplace somewhere most of the day and our social connections oftentimes turned out to be the people we work with. Those are the people that we had, the, the.

[00:09:52] Well, we saw them the most,

[00:09:55] Diane Hullet: the most had connections

[00:09:57] Sara Geber: with them and went to happy hour on Friday evening. And [00:10:00] so they became really solid friendships and many people have carried some of those into their retirement life, but more often than not people find that those, those work relationships. Peter out and sort of die a natural death, and then you’re relying more on number one, family.

[00:10:23] But for those people that don’t have family, it’s time to start joining some groups, right. It’s time to get active in your church or synagogue. And there are plenty of, of affinity groups there. Um, if that is unappealing, then look into what’s going on in your community. Uh, all the senior centers have very active, uh, groups that you can belong to.

[00:10:48] Book clubs. Um, people meet often up in gym, um, going to the same Pilates class or, or using them the same yoga instructor. So there’s all kinds [00:11:00] of ways that that people need. And, and start to build friendships. The neighborhood is a wonderful place to do that. And one of the things that I think people can do to start to make friends, it’s so simple is if you have a dog and you walk that dog, you know, you meet all kinds of people.

[00:11:19] I have one very good friend whose whole social network revolves around the people that she knows from the dog park. So, you know, there’s a lot of ways of going about.

[00:11:31] Diane Hullet: Right, because in some ways you talk about these don’t have to be your best, best friends. They’re just people to interact with as much as anything else.

[00:11:37] And so interacting around a common interest is really the most common you’ve got. Yeah. You’ve got this great list in the book. You talk about, look around who lives in your neighborhood. What are you interested? There are so many ways to pursue interests. Even online groups can make a human. In terms of, uh, a steady thing, a class or, uh, or an interest group that you get together and discuss, [00:12:00] um, talk about what do you care about and then how do you get involved in that?

[00:12:04] Take up a sport. You enjoy go back to school. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? And I think throughout the book you, you really talk about and don’t wait until you’re 89. Like this is about starting when you’re 50, 55 60, how are you cultivating these interests and cultivating new friendships?

[00:12:22] Sara Geber: And it’s

[00:12:23] Diane Hullet: never too late to start and it’s never too late to start. Yeah, the, I think is really interesting that you go into is you talk about, um, both the design of a place you live and the location of the place you live and how important those are, because so many people say they want to age in place.

[00:12:41] Have they set up a realistic ability to age in place as a real good?

[00:12:46] Sara Geber: Yeah. That’s an important question to ask. Um, friend of mine just wrote a book called right time, right place. That’s an excellent it’s by Brian Frederick and it’s an [00:13:00] excellent. Way to really begin to evaluate where you live or where you might want to live.

[00:13:06] And he talks as I do in my book, um, pretty extensively about all the options that are out there for where you might live. Ryan goes even into more detail on that. So it’s a, it’s a great companion

[00:13:19] Diane Hullet: book. Fantastic. Yeah, because that’s such a, that’s such a big component.

[00:13:26] Sara Geber: Yeah. I spend probably somewhere between a third of.

[00:13:30] And well, not really been in a quarter and a third of the book talking about how important place is, how important, where you age is to your wellbeing from a physical and an emotional standpoint.

[00:13:43] Diane Hullet: What are some reasons for that?

[00:13:46] Sara Geber: Well, Where we live, turns out to be the most important component in how we build our social network and the availability of a social network.

[00:13:58] So I’m certainly not [00:14:00] saying that that everybody needs to be in some kind of congregate living.

[00:14:05] Diane Hullet: On the other hand, isolation

[00:14:07] Sara Geber: and loneliness can creep in as we get older and have to give up driving, have to give up. Sometimes people just simply aren’t mobile at all. Um, if you are. If you are confined to your home and there’s nobody else around

[00:14:27] Diane Hullet: you

[00:14:27] Sara Geber: running to, to give you that kind of social support that we all need.

[00:14:34] That’s a problem.

[00:14:35] Diane Hullet: Yeah, so kind of the location and, but, but really the accessibility for you to other people and for other people to you. Yeah. It’s interesting. When my in-laws moved to where I live at one point, my mother-in-law after my father-in-law died, she lived maybe 35 minutes from us. And then eventually she moved to about 10 minutes from us and it was so interesting to me how that little bit of difference.[00:15:00]

[00:15:00] Oh, time made a difference in terms of how often we saw each other and how simple it was to swing by with some soup versus, oh, I’m going to actually have to plan an hour plus spending time there. Gee, now it’s a three hour visit, which I don’t have time for. Right. So that’s, you know, it’s, it’s interesting when you think about these things, what’s the right distance and what’s the accessibility.

[00:15:23] Sara Geber: Yeah. Again, especially as people become less mobile and most of us do become less mobile as we get into our eighties and nineties. And, and you can, you know, I’m sure everybody out there knows how many people are living into their hundreds.

[00:15:39] Diane Hullet: Yeah. You have some really wonderful quotes about what this is going to take.

[00:15:45] There has never been a time in history with more options for older adults, think of your life as unfolding in stages. And you talk so beautifully about that, what that is like, but the ability to choose a good [00:16:00] location and find people to support you at this, these later stages is so critical. And I, I just love your message that you say to people, you know, prepare.

[00:16:11] Prepare verbally by having conversations with people, prepare legally, get all your documents in order, prepare financially, whatever that means for you and prepare mentally for a time when you may need help to manage your life. Do you, do you find that most people want to face this time? No,

[00:16:32] Sara Geber: I don’t, I, I, uh, I often half kiddingly say to people like you, Diane people want to interview me or find out more about my thoughts on the matter.

[00:16:45] I say, I, sometimes it feels like my whole job is getting people to just take their head out of the sand. Yeah. Yeah. I think at the minute that they’re going to age, just like the parents did just like. Many people around them are doing, they’re going to age too, even [00:17:00] baby boomers age.

[00:17:01] Diane Hullet: Right. And I find people, people kind of say, uh, you know, they kind of, they want to hope for the best, but not make a plan.

[00:17:08] I always say, you know, hope is not a plan.

[00:17:12] Sara Geber: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And an aging in place is not a plan.

[00:17:16] Diane Hullet: Say more about that.

[00:17:18] Sara Geber: Well, I, you know, um,

[00:17:22] Diane Hullet: it’s been popularized.

[00:17:25] Sara Geber: Mostly by ARP and rightfully so because a lot of people do not have the, the funds to think about moving into an expensive senior living, a congregant living facility.

[00:17:40] And they just entertain

[00:17:41] Diane Hullet: that. Yeah. They may have a house that’s paid off or a apartment they’re very comfortable with with low rent, like something does make sense. Something makes sense about it

[00:17:50] Sara Geber: financially, but that’s sometimes all it makes sense about it doesn’t make sense physically. It doesn’t make sense emotionally, especially for solo [00:18:00] agers, but there are options out there other than congregant living or traditional congregate living there, there is home share.

[00:18:10] There

[00:18:10] Diane Hullet: is,

[00:18:11] Sara Geber: um, co-housing there in our tiny homes. There are a number of ways that you can spend the rest of your life. Living around people. I’ve become a huge fan of mobile home parks. Yeah. Yeah. Especially for people who live, obviously in areas where they can exist without the danger of being blown away or, you know, and of course the Southwest is just rife with mobile home parks, beautiful ones.

[00:18:42] And what I like about. And I actually learned this from people who came to some of my talks and they would raise their hands afterwards and say, I just want to make a comment that I live in a mobile home park and we have a community already. We don’t have to build community. We have potlucks and we go to [00:19:00] movies together and we support each other.

[00:19:01] And we see each other every day we walk our pets around, around the park. We, we, uh, data doesn’t go by where. Kinda see each other, at least hang out with each other. We didn’t know somebody

[00:19:15] Diane Hullet: for their too simple neighbor to check in. It’s such a

[00:19:20] Sara Geber: simple solution and could be a good solution for a lot of people.

[00:19:25] ’cause if you, um, and you can obviously rent mobile homes as well as own them. Um, and, uh, yeah, I mean, if you’re, if you’re searching around for something that makes sense and you live in an area with mobile home parks, Um, don’t overlook that

[00:19:42] Diane Hullet: opportunity. Interesting. It strikes me as a similar, you know, I think sometimes new mothers are very isolated and I think mothers that live with a tight community sometimes because of financial necessity.

[00:19:55] So they live in a tighter community. They do babysitting co-ops, they’re [00:20:00] often less isolated than a more upper middle class mom who might feel that she has to do it all herself and doesn’t have that kind of social fabric woven in. So I think it’s kind of a similar potentially isolating time in our. Yes,

[00:20:15] Sara Geber: except aging is forever, at least until Inn and new motherhood ends when your child goes to preschool and you meet other preschool moms.

[00:20:28] And so it’s, it’s a, it’s a terminal condition, whereas isolation is a perpetual condition and only gets

[00:20:35] Diane Hullet: worse. Yeah. Interesting. So you would advocate for finding a place to live the. Essentially promotes social socialization so that socialization doesn’t become some kind of extra task on top of right.

[00:20:50] Living. You just

[00:20:51] Sara Geber: automatic that. Yeah, I liked that. Diane, that’s a good way of putting it now. If you are someone who lives in a [00:21:00] condominium complex or an apartment, and you know, a lot of your neighbors and you see them and you know, if they didn’t see you for 24 or 48 hours they’d know something was wrong, um, then that’s a step in the right direction.

[00:21:12] It doesn’t mean you’re it doesn’t, it’s not the end all be all. Because those people who see you and know you in your condo complex may not be the people that you would choose to be around. A lot more than once a day, hello, with the mailbox. Right. So, but it’s better than rattling around in a suburban home, on a cul-de-sac somewhere where everybody comes and goes in and out of their garage.

[00:21:38] Right. You have to make a big point of seeing a neighbor. Right. Um, it’s just not that if that’s your idea of aging in place, I think it’s a bad idea.

[00:21:49] Diane Hullet: Great. I love that. I love that. I think your, your, your book and your whole, um, attitude is really about proactive. You know, it’s really about how to make the most of [00:22:00] things, knowing that there’s this inevitable physical challenge of decline, both physically and mentally, for many of us, um, you, you open the book by talking about.

[00:22:10] I love these two phrases. You talk about how, you know, these are bonus years. Really. If you live beyond 60, this is incredible. You’ve outlived so much of humanity historically. And another way of looking at these bonus years is life without a script. So up until this time, we’ve kind of had, um, like a thing that we understood to be doing, learning.

[00:22:34] Working years and maybe parenting years, maybe not parenting years, but now you move into life without a script. And so you say quite directly in the book, how do you take charge of your own script and not wait for things to happen to you, but really proactively make choices that are good for what your situation is, which varies widely.

[00:22:55] Yeah,

[00:22:56] Sara Geber: that’s putting it very succinctly and well. [00:23:00]

[00:23:00] Diane Hullet: Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Sarah, for your time. Um, I really have appreciated all that you brought through your book and through your website, you can find out more about Sarah’s work at her website, life encore.com or by Googling her Sara S a R a Z Z E L.

[00:23:19] Geber G E B E r.com. Thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate it. And I hope people take a look at this essential retirement planning for solo agers book. There’s so much good information in it. Solo or with far-flung children.

[00:23:35] Sara Geber: Yeah. Thank you, Diana. It was a pleasure.

[00:23:38] Diane Hullet: Thanks Sarah. Have a wonderful day.

[00:23:39] Thanks. Thanks again for joining me on the best life, best death podcast. You can find out more about my guests, Dr. Sara, Zeff Geber on her website of her same name, Sara Zeff geber.com or life on core.com. That’s L I F E E N C O R. [00:24:00] Sarah’s book is essential retirement planning for solo agers, our retirement and aging roadmap for single and childless adults. [00:24:09] Thanks so much for listening.

Picture of Diane Hullet

Diane Hullet

End of Life Doula, Podcaster, and founder of Best Life Best Death.

Leave a Reply