Boomers’ Three “I’s”

A happy baby boomer couple.

There are three things that baby boomers can do without: being ignored, being idle and being isolated. Everything else is fair game, but try to ignore the boomers if you’re a bank, a media company or a retailer. It doesn’t work.  Hudson’s Bay Company is making a comeback because it features women’s clothes and shoes that I can wear without looking foolish.

In the near future, older adult living arrangements, such as Golden Girl co-housing, senior activity-oriented housing developments and contractors who specialize in dividing large houses into smaller units will make a bundle.

Study vacations where you learn and not just gawk at artifacts in museums are proliferating.  The New York Times has initiated, Times Journeys, offering learning excursions to Russia, Iran, Vietnam and a host of other novel locations.  The tours are led by thought leaders in their field.  They are expensive, exclusive and look divine. The Toronto organization Classical Pursuits also hosts tours of literary interest to late bloomer students, as well as one-week seminars, held at the University of Toronto every summer based on the principles of the Great Book Society located in Chicago.  I’ve attended two: one on George Eliot’s Middlemarch  and the other on Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus. In both seminars I learned more in one week than I ever have in a traditional university course.  In fact, when I attended my first Classical Pursuits reading circle more than 10 years ago, I was feeling empty and disconnected from the literature I’d studied at university. The seminar, led by a brilliant professor, brought me back into the world of books and led ultimately to me writing my own novel, The Cook’s Temptation, set in the same period as Middlemarch.

Although I didn’t need to travel, I chose to book a room available to Classical Pursuits participants at St. Michael’s college at the University of Toronto. It was a monk-like space and just what I needed to get my mind moving in creative ways.  Since then I’ve been to seminars at St. John’s College in Santa Fe New Mexico and to the Key West Literary Seminar, both experiences I will never forget.

Mini-holidays are all the rage. If you become a member at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, for instance, you can book two-for-one tickets now, in advance of sales to the public. Most of the audience, I’ve discovered is my age or older.  I’ve already purchased tickets for summer 2016’s performance of Macbeth, and Stephen Sondheim’s musical A Little Night Music.  My favourite restaurant in Canada, Rundles, is just around the corner from the Festival Theatre and so is the quaint little hotel, the Mercer Hall Inn, which takes me back to the small town Ontario experience I can otherwise only remember from my youth.

Lately when I go for dinner, I’m actually able to hear the person, across the table from me, talking.  Boomers want to converse while they are dining, not to shout above the music. Restaurateurs are getting the message and either turning off or turning down the sound. Last week I dined with two friends at a ZAGAT RATED, unpretentious tiny boite on a second floor walk-up in tony Yorkville, Jacques Bistro du Parc. It’s been family run for thirty-six years.  There was no music playing, thank goodness, and we could order classic and reasonably-priced French food from French-speaking waiters. I loved the onion soup and asparagus and cheese omelet.

High quality alternative health practices are booming, particularly for those of us who continue to eat traditional French fare.  As we age, high tech or pharmaceutical solutions to minor aches and pains often come with serious side effects.  All you have to do is watch the advertisement for drugs on American television to be turned off.  Rather than popping a pill, going to the massage therapist or the osteopath or a Zumba class for seniors does the trick and burns off the calories and after-effects of a heavy meal.

Boomers have money to spend and by all accounts we, unlike our Depression era parents, are not saving it, but using it to fulfill our dreams for a pleasurable and meaningful retirement.

To do that, we don’t want to be idle.  My friends are busy all the time. A finely calibrated combination of work and leisure can be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. With experience, accomplishments and finely-tuned people skills garnered during a successful career, boomers are able to embark on new endeavours that showcase their talents.  Many of us are working at part time jobs or freelancing in occupations at which we always wished to excel, but couldn’t for lack of time or compensation.  In my case, I’m writing: novels, blogs and magazine articles.  It’s the life I wanted to have, but couldn’t afford until I retired and discovered that a combination of pension and free lance earnings could deliver the type of life I only dreamed of before stepping down from a full time job.

Of the three I’s, isolation is the most dreaded by boomers. Personally, I’d rather be struggling financially than struggling with loneliness.   That’s why I caution new retirees to make certain they will be happy if they pick up stakes and move to a new city, let alone a new province or country. Not only is moving in the same high stress category as losing a spouse, it’s wildly expensive, exhausting and there are creative solutions to funding the expenses of aging in place. There are lines of credit, reverse mortgages, part-time work and new strategies such as Airbnb. The other day my spouse and I discussed offering a room in our house with Airbnb, if money got tight. Singles and couples our age are traveling more than ever and staying with like-minded hosts could be an attractive and economical alternative to hotels.

Don Shiner, an associate professor of marketing at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax who has studied the housing needs of aging Canadians recently told the Globe and Mail that, “Long accustomed to debt, boomers are far more open than their parents’ generation to carrying a mortgage in retirement.” According to Shiner, “Home means being near the people you love, being able to the do the things you love and being able to be in control of your life. It doesn’t mean living in the middle of nowhere in a brownfield high-rise knowing no one.”

Beware the three “I’s”, being ignored, being idle and being isolated and there’s a good chance that your retirement will turn out just fine.

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