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I’m 52, single with no kids and only $190,000 in 401(k) assets. ‘I don’t want to die alone and forgotten in my home.’ What should I do?


Hello.

I’m 52 years old and in generally good health, single, no children. I was an emancipated minor so I didn’t get the best start in life. I subsequently went into IT and got caught up in the dot-com bubble bursting and was laid off three times in three years as one after another company wiped their IT departments out between 2000 and 2003. 

Despite all this…I own a home in a good location (near shopping and halfway decent schools) currently valued at $275,000 and is paid off. My car and student loans are also paid off. My credit cards are paid off monthly. My total 401K holdings are only about $190,000, and currently my income is about $40,000. 

I am looking for a better-paying job. I put almost the max into a Roth and 10% (with a 6% match plus profit-sharing) into a regular 401K. I have an emergency fund that should last two years if everything goes sideways.

The past seven years my portfolio has lost nearly $15,000, and I’ve even changed brokers. I am not a particularly aggressive investor, and am dismayed at the fairly constant losses. I even acquired a financial adviser but the losses haven’t stopped. I started putting money into CDs and T-bills on my own to staunch the bleeding (4.5 and 5% APR, respectively).

I have a disability under the ADA but not severe enough to qualify for SSDI. That said, I don’t think I will be able to work much longer. I am hoping to purchase a smaller house in the woods not far from my current house and rent the current one out — current rate reads about $2,000/month — even if I keep only $700/month, I can live on that from my many years living under or just above the poverty line.

My concern is that I have no family and nobody to take care of me should I need it. I don’t want to die alone and forgotten in my home, or neglected in a nursing home where nobody cares about anything but the money. I can’t afford long-term-care insurance, and I’m not sure what else to do to prepare for this. I do live in an area with a bunch of friends (we’ve been friends for nearly 30 years, there’s about 100 of us between eastern PA and NJ) and we’re starting to look out for each other now that we’re all in our 50s and 60s, but I’m one of the youngest — I’ll probably outlive most of them, so can’t count on that network. What should I do?

Thank you.

A Worried Cuppa Jo in SE PA.

See: We have $2 million for retirement and want to spend every single dollar before we die

Dear Worried Cuppa Jo, 

I’m so sorry to see you so worried about this. It’s a very legitimate and common concern, so know first that you certainly aren’t alone in thinking about this. 

Although you say you “only” have $190,000 in retirement savings, you do sound like you’re very on top of your finances, and that is an impressive accomplishment. Having no debt and paying your bills with a fully owned home are all wonderful tasks to check off before retirement. In this letter, I’ll focus more on what you can do to be comfortable with your concerns about living alone instead of talking about the finances. 

For starters, look your long-term plans straight on. It’s complicated, stressful and sometimes uncomfortable, but getting a clear, firm handle on what you want for your old age and potential health needs is critical, whether you’re single or have a spouse and 10 kids. Your network of friends could probably even help you plan this out, since they are all probably thinking about their own situations — and if not, you’re helping them out by starting the discussion. If you’re committed to living in your area, what facilities are available to you and would you be able to afford them? 

If not, what do the centers that are affordable (such as with Medicaid) look like? You mentioned worrisome conditions at places that don’t care “about anything but the money” — are there any places that do not make that list that you’d like to learn more about? One option is to list all of the facilities out and research them. Look at their websites, check reviews, make some phone calls. You may not need these places for a very long time (at which point, there could be new places that pop up) — and you may not need them at all — but if you find a place or two you like, you may be less stressed about potentially moving to a facility like that one day.

Also see: I’m 54 and the primary earner but ‘professionally, I am exhausted’ — we have $2.18 million but what about healthcare?

This next thought might seem completely out there but people really do it — not just Rose, Blanche, Dorothy and Sophia from “The Golden Girls.” Some friends are choosing to room with one another in their old age. With a network as expansive as yours, this might be something a few friends of yours might be interested in one day. You can’t know for sure what will happen in the future based on age. Even if you are the youngest, some of your older friends could very well live alongside you throughout your elderly years. 

If you’re worried about being alone, another option is to make more friends closer to your own age, such as through community centers and events or volunteer work. Even if you don’t end up living together under one roof, having a network closer in age and distance could make you feel more comfortable about being alone in your home and older years. You’ll know that someone is not too far to come check on you, or be a companion to you, and that in and of itself is a comforting thought. 

Readers: Do you have suggestions for this reader? Add them in the comments below.

Have a question about your own retirement savings? Email us at [email protected]



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