At a glance
  • While you’re still working, save as much as you can and boost your emergency savings.
  • Set up your estate plan and research long-term-care options.
  • Think about the “softer” or emotional side of retirement.

If you’re retiring without a spouse or a significant other, you only have to focus on your retirement goals. And that makes planning simple, right?

Not necessarily.

More flexibility means more responsibility

You may only have to answer to yourself, but with that flexibility comes greater responsibility.

“If you’ve been single for a while, you’re probably used to being more independent than your married counterparts,” said Rodney Massengill, a senior financial advisor in Vanguard Personal Advisor Services®.

Rodney Massengill
Rodney Massengill

Single people likely have fewer expenses than married couples with children do. But if you’re still working, consider putting more money away toward your retirement.

“As a single retiree, you’ll only be drawing from one income, so you’ll want to do everything you can while you’re still working to ensure you’ll have enough to live comfortably and pay your bills in retirement,” Massengill advised.

And it’s especially important for singles to have a sufficient emergency fund.

“When you’re single, your financial support system is different,” said Massengill. “If you suddenly can’t work for an extended period of time, will you have enough savings or disability insurance to get by?”

Bonus tip

If you’re dependent on only one income, we recommend keeping enough cash in your emergency fund to cover at least 6–9 months’ worth of expenses.

Plan for medical costs and long-term-care insurance

Medical costs can be a big expense during retirement.

“As a single person, your support system may also differ from a married couple’s. So you might need professional care to help you through an extended illness,” said Massengill. “That’s one reason I recommend single people especially look into long-term-care insurance policies—they can provide peace of mind for those medical expenses.”

It’s difficult to predict your future health, so you may want to look into more flexible long-term-care policies. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) website lists some basic options.

When to take Social Security

If you’ve never been married, you only have one Social Security question to answer: When do I start taking my benefits?

Your Social Security amount grows every year you delay taking your benefits until you hit full retirement age. So you have to weigh the option of having less money earlier, or delaying to get a larger benefit.

“If you believe longevity is on your side, and if you can cover your living expenses without Social Security, consider delaying your payment,” advised Massengill.

If you’re divorced or widowed, you have more options for taking your Social Security.

“Research spousal benefits or talk with an estate planning attorney, especially if your spouse or ex-spouse had a higher earning history than you,” said Massengill.

Bonus tip

Check out the AARP website for a Social Security benefits calculator that covers most scenarios.

Yes, you need an estate plan

Single retirees might think they don’t need an estate plan.

“I’ve had single clients say to me, ‘Rod, I have beneficiaries set up on my accounts, isn’t that enough? Why do I need an estate plan?’ And I tell them that without certain documents in your estate plan, your resident state may make medical or financial decisions for you,” explained Massengill.

In addition to naming beneficiaries on your financial accounts, consider including the following documents in your estate plan:

  • Will. Lists who gets your assets when you pass away.
  • Living will. Outlines explicit instructions about medical treatments you may or may not want administered if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious.
  • Durable power of attorney. Designates someone who can access your financial accounts on your behalf.
  • Health care proxy (or health care power of attorney). Assigns someone who can make medical decisions for you in case you can’t make your own.

Bonus tip

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services can help you plan for all aspects of your retirement, including setting up an estate plan.

Be emotionally prepared

Once you have your financial house in order, it’s time to think about the “softer” or emotional side of retirement. What will you do? How will you stay socially engaged?

Ask around. Chat with other retirees. Ask how they structure their days now that they’re not working. You might be able to find retiree groups at your local community center or place of worship.

Retirement likely won’t be an extended vacation, so you’ll want to make sure you have a plan for spending your time. Consider volunteering, consulting, coaching, or even working part-time.

“Make sure you have several options to fall back on,” said Massengill. “What if, after six months of golfing every day, you find yourself not wanting to ‘hit the links’ anymore? That’s why I ask my clients to think about how they really want to spend their time in retirement.”

Journey on

Retirement is an exciting journey and you control your own destiny. But before you begin, make sure you’re prepared—financially and emotionally.


All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.

Advice services are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc., a registered investment advisor, or by Vanguard National Trust Company, a federally chartered, limited-purpose trust company.