While scanning the New York Times, I came across the following financial advice column by Damon Darlin. In the column, Mr. Darlin writes about how we recent college graduates ought to save more money so that we’re better off when it’s time to retire. Most of the advice for saving, I found very sensible – buy used items, avoid solicitors and advertising, don’t purchase high-tech products you don’t really need, and, most importantly, don’t borrow money for a depreciating asset. What struck me, though, was what Mr. Darlin predicted we’d need our savings for: out-of-pocket medical expenses. From the article:
“There may be another compelling reason to save and that is that while many aspects of retirement savings are predictable, the big unknowable is health care costs…projections based on the Health and Retirement Study , a survey of 22,000 Americans over the age of 50 sponsored by the National Institute on Aging found that by 2019, nearly a tenth of elderly retirees would be devoting more than half of their total income to out-of-pocket health expenses.”
The professors and studies cited by Mr. Darlin take it for granted that when we’re old, we’re going to need extra money to pay for “wheelchair lifts, private nurses and a high-quality nursing home.” In one particularly morbid example, a professor states that money is most useful when you’re old because it makes all the difference whether you have to wait for a bus in the rain to get to the doctor’s appointment or you ride in a cab.
I have no doubt that the research cited in this article is to be taken seriously. While on the one hand the average American life span is approaching 80 years, for many people, those final thirty years are spent struggling with debilitating health concerns. In this sense, the retirement period of life is not just about retirement from work, but also can entail a forced retirement from many enjoyable activities. Older people are more likely to have to deal with decreased mobility, arthritis, alzheimer’s, cancer, strokes, digestive disorders, incontinence, osteoporosis, vision and hearing loss, and other concerns. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity can occur early on in life but can continue to have ramifications into old age.
The medical care that Mr. Darlin specifically refers to seems to take the form of helping the retired to persist through debilitating health concerns, rather than helping them either to recover from these concerns or to avoid such health problems in the first place. In other words, medical care enables us to live longer despite the fact that we’re sick; it doesn’t necessarily improve our quality of life. In my opinion, the onset of so many health concerns after the age of fifty is at least partly a result of poor diet and lifestyle. Although aging is a natural and essential part of life, it is not necessary that it involve losing your hearing, eyesight, mobility and memory, piece by piece. If we nourish ourselves properly with healthy food and a healthy amount of activity, then, although we might lose some stamina as we get older, we will be much less likely to suffer serious, chronic health concerns.
Mr. Darlin does acknowledge the importance of taking care of yourself at a young age in order to be healthy by the time you reach your retirement. He suggests losing weight, cooking for yourself, and also finding a partner and sticking with them. But missing from his article is the fact that all the health problems listed above are hastened by a diet low in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Spending time now to really learn how to eat a balanced diet that you enjoy will result not only in an immediate improvement in your energy and happiness, but it will give your body the nutrition it needs for a long and healthy life.
Many people don’t turn seriously to a healthy lifestyle until they’re already nearing retirement and at risk for disease. But young people are starting to develop an interest in how to be healthy now, not just because they want to feel good, but also because it is an incredibly wise investment in our health. Spending a little more now to eat better food, or to get some nutritional guidance, can ultimately save you tens of thousands of dollars, or more. Combine the money you’ve saved with the healthy body you’ll have in retirement and you’ll really be ready to enjoy those later decades!