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'Aging in America' Report: On Money, Work and Finding Purpose

The latest advice and insights from experts at two conferences

By Richard Eisenberg

I’ve just returned from covering the American Society on Aging’s (ASA) Aging in America Conference and its sister act, the What’s Next Boomer Business Summit — where I also moderated a panel. My aim in going to these two meetings was to turn up the latest news and advice to help people 50+ better manage their money and careers. Below, I’ll relay what I found most interesting and helpful. (I wrote a previous post on a study released there on how the young and old worry about aging.)

There’s plenty to relay from these conferences, because the experts’ insights seemed more vital than ever.

And the turnout reflected that. Even though the Aging in America meeting was in chilly Chicago, more people came than to any of the ASA’s annual conferences since 2011. “Thank Donald Trump,” said ASA chair and president Bob Blancato, a 2016 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging. Fears of policy changes from Washington affecting older Americans were front and center. (The ASA conference traditionally skews liberal, since most attendees work at social-service organizations, nonprofits and government agencies, though Blancato noted that Republicans won the older vote in the past five national elections.)

I’ll break things down into three broad categories: Retirement Planning, Caregiving and Finances and Opportunities for Work and Purpose:

Retirement Planning

A Medigap policy could be pricier than you think said Cindy Hounsell, founder and president of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) and a Next Avenue 2015 Influencer in Aging. According to WISER, for a 65-year-old woman, Medigap costs between $1,550 and $4,000 annually, depending on where she lives and the type of coverage she purchases.

If you’re 62 or older, own a home and are worried about running out of money in retirement, consider taking out a reverse mortgage. It’s a way to tap your home equity that financial advisers are increasingly recommending. “I’m very keen on reverse mortgages due to changes in the product that have made it a very viable alternative for people, and not just as a last resort,” said Sandra Timmermann, an adjunct professor of gerontology at The American College of Financial Services.

Yet "few people think of using their home strategically in retirement,” said Timmermann. “Less than 20 percent of people plan to draw their home equity.” Although she wouldn’t go as far as calling reverse mortgages the answer to the nation’s retirement crisis, Timmermann said she thinks they are “the boomer salvation to supplement income, stay in your home and pay expenses.”

For background on reverse mortgages, Timmermann suggests reading the National Council on Aging’s free online booklet, Use Your Home to Stay at Home.

Caregiving and Finances

Watch out for “caregiver creep.” No, that’s not a description of an unscrupulous person paid to assist your parent (though it could be). It’s the term Timmermann, who was a caregiver for her late husband, used at the conference to describe subtly escalating caregiving expenses. A recent AARP study found that family caregivers spend $6,954 a year, on average, in out-of-pocket costs. And that figure has risen quite a bit in the past few years.

If you’re a family caregiver with a job, Timmermann said, be cautious about quitting work in your 50s or 60s — even temporarily — to free up time for caregiving. “Trying to get back into the workforce at the same level later is really hard,” she noted. “And quitting your job will mean a missed opportunity to put money into a 401(k) and get an employers’ match.”

Women could take a cue from men when it comes to caregiving. “Men are stepping up to the plate to arrange for, and pay for, caregiving services. Women tend to be more hands-on. We have a feeling we can do it all. Maybe we can learn something from men,” said Timmermann.

If you’re paying a sibling for caregiving for your parent, get him or her to sign a Personal Care Agreement, recommended John Migliaccio, president of Maturity Mark Services. Migliaccio said this binding agreement, which you can find online, “helps manage the caregiver responsibilities. It lets you create a contract to make sure who’s supposed to do what.”

Opportunities for Work and Purpose

For part-time income in retirement, consider becoming a driver or a concierge for older people. That was my takeaway from the panel I moderated at the What’s Next Boomer Business Summit: The On-Demand Marketplace for Services, Health Care and Home.


Justin Lin, founder and CEO of Envoy, explained how his thousands of Envoys — often boomers in encore careers, stay-at-home moms or former caregivers — take care of shopping and errands for nearby elders who need the assistance. The cost to hire them: typically $19 a month.

The two other panelists represented driving services: Daniel Trigub is head of health care partnerships at Lyft, which is making a strong push ferrying older people to and from medical appointments. Jeff Maltz is CEO and co-founder of SilverRide, an assisted ride company that specializes in what it calls “door through door” service — also, often for doctor’s visits.

Both of the rideshare companies are especially interested in hiring boomer drivers who have the interest and compassion to do this job, and could use extra income.

Nonprofits and employers should do more to tap the desire for purpose of so many 50+ people. Roughly a third of Americans 50 and older (31 percent) are actively engaged in purposeful activities that contribute to the greater good, according to a study from the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and that was unveiled at the conference.

Jim Emerman, a senior vice president at and a Next Avenue 2016 Influencer in Aging, said the researchers “wanted to understand what purpose looked like in the older population.” So they surveyed 1,198 people age 50 to 92 looking to see how many had “beyond the self” life goals.

“There were very few demographic differences" among those who wanted purpose in their lives, said Anne Colby, a Stanford consulting professor and lead author of the study. "We found that poverty does not preclude purpose, nor does affluence." People who said purpose was an important goal, Colby noted, “came from all educational backgrounds and all racial and ethnic groups.”

And many surveyed who currently lack purposeful commitments “say they are open to them,” Colby noted. “Inviting opportunities tailored to specific interests and abilities could draw them in.” These are people, Colby said, who told the researchers, “if somebody would ask me to get involved, I would.”

Helen Dennis, a retirement consultant and a 2016 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging, said the study “is great news. It speaks to the resilience of older age and blows myths we have of older adults and their inevitable decline right out the window.”

Incidentally, if you know someone in the second half of life who is making a difference after finding a life purpose or you hope to, nominations are now open for’s new Encore Prize and AARP’s Purpose Prize. The Encore Prize is for individuals of any age and organizations with a new idea for bringing older adult talent to take on the challenges of at-risk youth. The Purpose Prize will go to people 50 and older focused on advancing social good.

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Photograph of Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the former Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and former Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of "How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis" and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Read More
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