OK, I admit it, "The Golden Girls" was a very good TV comedy that I almost never watched. Nothing against it, just never had time to get into it, along with most other good television shows. But...
The Golden Girls do have a lesson for us Baby Boomers looking ahead to retirement (and for many of us already there). Four friends maybe can't live together as cheaply as one, but they sure can live a lot more cheaply - and in a number of ways, live a lot better - then four people living alone.
Despite a rash of recent studies on the retirement solvency of Baby Boomers, we still don't really know how many are going to be financially OK in retirement, and how many won't. My own educated (but not necessarily truly informed) guess is about a third will be fine, about a third will be in serious financial difficulty, and about a third will be in the gray area in between. Or, to put it another way, probably half or more of Baby Boomers are not going to be able to continue living with confidence at the same standard of living they enjoyed before retirement.
That is, not unless they make a change. Ideally, those of us who need to do so make changes now, so we can prevent less drastic changes in the future. But even so, a lot of us -- yes, even in Harvard -- are going to have to do something. Maybe work quite a bit longer than we intended to, do some kind of part-time work after we retire (if we can, that is), maybe move someplace smaller and cheaper, maybe cut back in other ways.
But one alternative that might enable us to maintain our lifestyle, and perhaps even increase our day-to-day enjoyment of life, is living together with people who are not currently members of our household.
The Golden Girls in the TV show were friends, but we might consider family first, since we know them best. (Of course, that might also be a reason not to consider them!) Siblings or perhaps cousins are good candidates, especially someone who is single, widowed, or divorced. Especially with siblings, relationships have been well tested over time, and if they are still strong by the time you're in retirement, this might be worth a try.
Friends are often a better option, though, because as they say, you can pick your friends. And if you're picking a potential housemate, you probably have a lot more friends than relatives to choose among. Again, if your friends are of long standing, you probably already know whom you could live with, and whom you couldn't.
The advantages are more extensive than you might expect.
To start with, if you are a homeowner, you might be able to afford to stay in a house and neighborhood that means something to you, rather than having to move someplace else (in our town, for instance, people moving after they retire is a pretty common phenomenon). If you have, say, four bedrooms but need only one of them for personal use, you could have two friends move in, each with their own bedroom, plus a spare room for guests. They pay you rent, and even at a below-market rate, that could cover most of your mortgage and taxes.
They can also help you pay for utilities and upkeep. And maybe three people don't need three cars - they could share two cars. Other than clothes and other personal items, a lot of household stuff can be shared. Groceries and other supplies can be bought more cheaply in larger volumes, and there is less waste, percentagewise.
Maybe even more important, you and your housemates can share chores. Different people are good at, or don't mind doing, different things. Why should you have to do it all? Everyone pitches in, and everyone does less. And when someone needs a ride to the car repair shop, or some other kind of help, there's probably someone who can do it for you right in your house.
As you age, this becomes more important. People who live alone are in danger of having a home accident or a medical emergency, and not having anyone realize it in time. They tend to become more isolated and lonely with age. They often need help with small things, and eventually sometimes with big things, but can't get it, or have to pay a fortune for it. When you live with other people, and you care about one another, these things tend to get taken care of. And there is companionship when you need it.
So rather than being a last resort, the Golden Girls strategy might end up at the top of your list. Why not start thinking now, privately, about whether you could see it working for you? If you think it could, start floating the idea to people you think maybe you could live, who might be amenable to the idea. If someone responds favorably, maybe give it a try. How? Take a vacation trip in which you plan to spend most of your time together. Traveling with someone is one of the best ways to find out if you're compatible, because it's at least mildly stressful (a change of routine, even if it's a pleasant one, puts people to the test).
Some people just need to live alone. But not most people. This is an idea that's worth thinking seriously about, even if you have plenty of money for retirement.
Chuck Yanikoski is a part-time retirement adviser who lives and works in Harvard. For more about him, or to contact him directly, visit