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For the Best Retirement, Build a ‘Social Portfolio’

A broad network of friends can be good for your health and wealth

By Elizabeth O'Brien and MarketWatch


“We think about financial protection in retirement, but we think very little about social resilience after retirement," said Cacioppo.

Loneliness is a Health Hazard



One of the best ways to guard against isolation is to have a diverse network of friends and associates from different aspects of your life and, ideally, different generations.

You often hear people say they plan to travel and spend more time with the grandkids in retirement. While these are perfectly good goals, for many they’re not going to be enough: Most people don’t want to travel constantly and visits with the kids and their families probably won’t happen on a daily basis, even if they live nearby.

Spouses and romantic partners can provide good companionship for those who have them, but they’re not enough, experts say. For one, constant contact can strain even the strongest relationships.


So what’s going to get you out of bed every morning? Those who have spent decades raising families and focusing on work might need to spend some time rediscovering their passions and finding people with whom to enjoy them. (See also: New Retirement Communities Stress Bonding, Not Golfing)


Just as with your financial portfolio, the best time to broaden your network isn’t the day you retire, but in the years leading up to it, experts say. Make regular deposits into your friendship bank just as you would into your retirement account — deep reserves aren’t just for 401(k)s.

(MORE: The Married Couples' Retirement Crisis)


The best way to make such deposits is to follow your interests.

For example, take an art class, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, or attend meetings at a veterans’ center. You can find so-called affinity groups — basically, clubs united by a common hobby, interest or passion — throughout the country at, a website where people can organize local groups enjoying everything from language exchanges to vegetarian cuisine to entrepreneurship.


Mike Piershale, a financial adviser with an eponymous firm in Crystal Lake, Ill., sometimes acts as a social director of sorts for clients who don’t have a strong network. He tries to find out where their interests lie and guide them accordingly.


For the religious, church can provide a supportive community, and for the adventurous, he often recommends group trips abroad. “There’s nothing like going into a foreign culture to make people get closer to one another,” Piershale said.


Financial Benefit of a Social Network



Some people need a little help figuring out who can fill these important roles for them, said Jim Holtzman, a financial adviser with Legend Financial Advisors in Pittsburgh. For those without children, he’s seen siblings act in this capacity, including a local 80-year-old woman who looks after her 85-year-old brother and his wife, both of whom have Alzheimer’s disease and live in an assisted-living facility.


Scott Leonard, founding partner of Navigoe, a financial planning firm in Redondo Beach, Calif., sometimes delicately suggests to clients that they name a younger person as power of attorney, or at least as a backup if the primary proxy can’t act. Usually, asking whom the client plans to bequeath money to will reveal the name of a niece or nephew in a position to help, Leonard said, but if family isn’t available a younger friend could certainly fill that role.


Build a Diverse Network of Friends


Elizabeth O'Brien is a retirement healthcare reporter for MarketWatch. Contact her at Elizabeth.O'[email protected]

Elizabeth O'Brien Elizabeth O'Brien is a retirement healthcare reporter for MarketWatch. Contact her at Elizabeth.O'[email protected] Read More
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