Managing Financial Stress as you Age

senior couple with bills

Stressed about money? Who isn’t these days. Older adults near or past retirement age are particularly concerned about money woes, real or perceived, and this financial stress can contribute to other health issues.

According to the National Council on Aging, there are about 25 million adults in the US over the age of 60 living on or below the poverty line. For a single person, that poverty threshold is around $13,000 and for couples it’s around $17,000. Not surprisingly, these seniors have a hard time paying for basic food, housing and medical needs on such a meager income, and they are understandably concerned about it.

Even those who have managed to amass some retirement savings may find themselves short of ideal funds as the years go by, and with market fluctuations, emerging health issues and other unanticipated expenses, even the most prudent planner can be caught shorthanded in their golden years.

A recent survey of middle-aged adults found that this population worries about running out of money post-retirement. Many said they felt overwhelmed by not being able to maintain their current quality of life when they retire, while others fret about not getting a regular paycheck after they stop work. Many workers nearing retirement age stress not just over how much they’ve saved but also over how to manage their different sources of income in their post-career lives. There are so many moving parts to juggle, it can be confusing for even the savvy senior.

One way to combat financial stress is to have a strategic plan. Don’t let financial complexities blindside you without some educated forethought. When downshifting into retirement, you must contemplate things like setting a budget, devising debt management strategies, having sufficient health coverage, deciding where you will reside, setting personal goals and travel plans, understanding social security implications, optimizing tax strategies, managing various sources of retirement income and more. The multifaceted plan needs to be regularly reviewed from time to time as circumstances change and markets fluctuate.

One sad fact of life that is disruptive, both emotionally and financially, is when a life partner passes away. This can be particularly challenging if the diseased was primarily responsible for the financial management of the household. This old fashioned approach to life has to change, as both parties should be equally informed and empowered about the family finances. In anticipation of this inevitability, make sure all accounts are listed in both names. Talk to a financial advisor to clarify financial matters and asset-related issues. Have your bank set up with automatic payments so monthly expense responsibilities are more streamlined.

Not surprisingly, financial stress is rampant among retirees, and over time this stress can have negative consequences on their physical health as well. Prolonged stress weakens the immune system and increases risk of heart attacks and strokes. While stress has detrimental effects any age, when you’re older your body does not repair itself as easily as it did in the past. Under stress, seniors may experience symptoms like:

  • Decreased energy
  • Chest pain and rapid heart beats
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Stomach upset
  • Susceptibility to colds and infections
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Defensiveness
  • Decreased desire
  • Nervous habits
  • Forgetfulness

Clearly, it is important to manage financial stress as an aging adult. So what can you do about it, beyond consulting a financial planner?

Seek Social Support
Many seniors become socially isolated as they age, especially if financial constraints make it challenging to pay for activities and outings. Make a concerted effort to find things to do that involve being amongst other people. There are many free or affordable community resources that can help keep you engaged in recreational pursuits.

Watch Your Diet
Another way to deal with stress, financial or otherwise, is to eat a healthy diet. Your body and brain need to receive all the necessary vitamins and nutrients each day to operate at their best. A poor diet doesn’t just negatively affect your body; it hurts your brain too. Moreover, if you fall ill or develop health problems from a poor diet, it will only add onto your stress.

Keep Moving
Every body needs to have regular exercise, regardless of age and stage. Gentle movement like yoga or tai chi can be practised by everyone. Take a daily walk at a pace you can handle. Lift light weights to keep you muscle tone. Participate in a group exercise class, thereby getting some socialization as well as exercise into your weekly routine. Many community centers offer free or subsidized classes, so this doesn’t have to add to your financial stress.

Try Mindful Meditation
Here’s an easy stress reliever that anyone can make time for, and it’s absolutely free. It’s not as complicated or as “New Agey” as you might think, and it really does have measurable health benefits. It just involves sitting in a comfortable chair with your eyes closed for about 15 or 20 minutes (or as little or as long as you want – there are no firm rules), breathing deeply, being present in the moment and gently trying to quiet the chatter in your mind. It’s that simple, and yet quite profound. The deep sense of relaxation and awareness can help alleviate your stress and the various health off-shoots it can lead to.

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