Last week I interviewed onstage Jo Ann Jenkins, chief executive of AARP and author of “Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age.” Our wide-ranging conversation focused on breaking down stereotypes that view age 50 and above as a time of decline.

People in the second half of life have much to offer society and employers. “As more people live longer and better,” she writes, “we are discovering that aging does not equal decline but instead offers new opportunities for growth and development, new chances to pursue happiness and more time to live the good life.”

In that spirit, I want to home in on three personal finance questions Jenkins highlights in her book. There is no right answer, except the one that works for you and circumstances.

Retirement planning questions typically revolve around money — understandably. Questions like: How much do you have in savings? What kind of return can you reasonably expect from your portfolio? What are your monthly expenses?

Money matters. But the folks at Hartford Funds and MIT AgeLab cooked up a clever set of problems to think through. They’re not typical. First, who will change my light bulbs? Second, how will I get an ice cream cone? Third, who will I have lunch with?

The first question gets to the issue of where are you going to live? Most people say they want to age in their current home. The neighborhood is familiar and every room has memories. The goal is understandable, but is it practical? Who will do ordinary household tasks and basic maintenance as you get older?

The second question asks how will you get around to enjoy everyday pleasures. Will you drive your own car? Is it practical to rely on public transportation? Pay for a cab? Will staying active mean moving to a neighborhood or community that doesn’t rely on a car ownership?

The third question is about staying in touch with your network of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. You don’t want to age lonely. “It’s the people you get together with at the local coffee shop, the people you go to the movies and concerts and shopping with, your friends at church or in your book club,” writes Jenkins.

Thinking through these questions eventually gets you to traditional financial planning. But the focus on community, mobility and connections is a way of figuring out how your money will support the life you want to lead, rather than the other way around.


Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.