Ten tough challenges aging homesteaders face today

By Ol’ Tennessee Ridgerunner

Many aging off grid retreat owners, from the group born post World War II between the years 1946-1964, are facing challenges that very few of them have adequately prepared for. They were the generation of fighters trying to survive despite the competition of getting accepted into a good college, landing a job and buying a home. Now, as they enter late retirement age, senior homesteaders have to confront a new set of challenges that threaten to diminish their many years of preparations for surviving a major catastrophe.  Are you seeing yourself in this scenario?

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These challenges don’t involve Russia shooting nukes into the Yellowstone super volcano; shifting of the earth’s magnetic poles, or even worthless government currencies caused by a global economic collapse.   These concerns are much more here and now – they are the social, financial and physical issues of growing older in a remote off grid environment.  Let’s look at what keeps mature survival retreat owners up at night.

1) Lack of Family Support: For a growing number of preparedness-minded rural property owners who recognize the limitations of their increasing age, the number one TEOTWAWKI event is lack of family support or “community” to defend and sustain their property.  It’s just a sad fact that young people today are less supportive of older people than in previous years.  Aged retreat owners have become sheepdogs with no sheep to protect. It’s frustrating after years of sacrifice and hard work to build a secure family retreat only to learn that your kids don’t care a whit about any of it.  There is no “community” as you had planned for to back you up and share in the retreat activities when times get tough. Over the years, what little interest in retreat living that was demonstrated by family members has now evaporated.  Your like-minded neighbors are facing the same issues as you, and some are selling and moving to the suburbs.  Overall, this is the number one back breaker.

2) Increasing Age: It creeps up on you ever so slowly.  One day you start to notice that you have body parts that hurt, for no apparent reason.  You begin to realize that you can’t move as quickly as you used to. Your eyes don’t see as clearly and your bones weaken.  Staying up on the ladder is wearying, and five gallon buckets of water seem heavier that they used to.  Age is insidious.  Even the best of us just can’t win the battle over aging.  If you can believe your government, they say that if you’re 60 now, it’s very likely you’ll live to be 84. But in recent years, doctors say, increases in longevity for healthy people have been accompanied by increases in disability.  How encouraging.

3) Physical Injury: Hand-in-hand with increasing age is the growing risk of physical injury as you carry on your normal retreat duties.  What happens to your spouse when you are hurt or disabled doing routine chores at your retreat? Who takes up the slack if your spouse’s work activities go undone for an extended period of time? What happens if you can’t handle normal manual labor, such as maintaining the solar system or water catchment and filtration, tending the livestock, or cutting/splitting/carrying firewood for the stove? Can your spouse take over?  If not, who will?

4) Ability to pay bills: With inflation rising again, it may be harder for those with limited or on fixed income to pay their bills.  Sudden major medical expenses are a good example of a major concern.  An off-grid lifestyle, however, frees property owners of most centralized utility and related bills.  Nonetheless, many aging retreat owners over age 50 are coming to terms with the specter of delayed retirement. Some retired owners are taking second and third jobs to help make ends meet. If you own your retreat free and clear, there’s also the added temptation to use your home equity as supplemental income.   Be wary - there are plenty of scams and risks in this latter approach.  Making ends meet, when you’re old, is not for wimps.

5) Can’t afford to retire: No surprise here. If you have a good-paying job at your retreat location (internet business or work-from-home arrangement), you had better keep it. Statistics show nearly half of Americans over age 50 have $25,000 or less saved for retirement. And some 70 percent of current retirees rely on Social Security for at least half of their income. As you already know from retreat living, working past age 65 has now become an economic necessity for many. To prepare for eventual retirement, most folks work as long as they can to shore up their finances, particularly if they have a mortgage to pay off.  Getting out of debt is always your best bet unless you own Google or Microsoft.  The transition to retirement is difficult enough without the debt-induced feeling that your life is getting out of control.

6) Health Issues:  This is a biggie.   It’s closely connected to earlier concerns like injury and ability to pay.  Medicare doesn’t cover everything and good affordable private health services are no longer widely available.  Many rural retreat owners fear being incapacitated even though they are living longer. Health issues can potentially eat away at savings and your ability to work in retirement. The older we get, the more healthcare we need.  Do not neglect routine screenings for disease and natural aging conditions so you can address health issues before they become acute. As your doctor visits multiply and medical costs rise, your retirement budget can take a serious hit.

These are common types of diseases and conditions most aging homesteaders can be threatened by: Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease, Cancer, Depression, failing eyesight, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, Arthritis and joint replacement, Osteoporosis, Flu and Pneumonia, and Stress from caring for older parents.

7) Physical Assistance:  You may have to give up driving if you can’t keep the tractor out of the ditch.  Your reflexes can slow as you age and your eyes can become less clear due to cataracts or macular degeneration.  Getting groceries, going to doctor’s appointments, even cleaning the cabin become more difficult as you get older and you may need to have daily assistance or a home healthcare provider. Rural health and transportation services are financially limited, particularly in some poor rural counties. If available, they may be spotty or unreliable the further out in the sticks you live.  You may need assistance to adapt your retreat to your developing limitations. Finding good help can be a challenge. Using word of mouth is the best way to find compassionate and trustworthy help from your neighbors or church group.

8) Loneliness:  Getting older means that your friends are aging, and they are dying.   In the rural areas, the population density may be pretty thin to begin with, and your list of friends may not be substantial if you fell victim to concern No. 1.  It’s common for seniors, regardless of where you live, to lose their friends to farm accidents, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Spending time with remaining friends and family members becomes more important.  Homesteaders with livestock find that they may become closer companions with their animals.  Adjusting to technological change is probably another social hurdle we face as we age. Your old computer just won’t respond no matter how you talk to it.  You might check out the local library for free classes on computer use.

9) Financial Predators: There will always be greedy neighbors or devious people looking to prey on aging homesteaders. They will try to sell unnecessary goods or services to those they perceive as vulnerable.  They may make you offers for your retreat that seem too good to be true.  Be very aware. Share your financial decisions only with someone you trust. Most of you have at least one friend or family member willing to offer assistance should you be pressured with financial decisions. You may even resist help and resent your family’s involvement in your financial decision-making.  Self-denial is normal.  Predators understand these dynamics and how to manipulate elderly property owners. Those who suffer from some diminished capacity, especially those in denial of the changes they are going through, are prime targets.  Don’t be a victim.

10) Selling your Retreat: This is probably a last resort - when you can no longer sustain your property due to declining health or disability of your spouse.  Without family or partners to care for your retreat, you need to plan for liquidation of your asset.  This can be a major organizational undertaking if you’ve not properly kept up with your property improvements over time. To sell the retreat yourself (or through a highly experienced Realtor), you’ll need a comprehensive description of your retreat operations committed to paper, and a detailed inventory all the neat, unique stuff you built to make your retreat the bullet-proof safe house that it is, including all the owners’ manuals for appliances, pumps, filters, solar equipment, etc. Professional help from fellow off grid retreat owners is available to you here if needed.

If your heirs are not on site regularly to keep up with operations and routine maintenance, the property quickly devalues and the natural surroundings will eventually take back your retreat. At that point, your remaining family could face selling your retreat to the locals for pennies on the dollar.  Plan now for the inevitable. Create and maintain good documentation that can be used to guide your heirs in retreat operations and demonstrate the valuable features of your property to a potential buyer.

As a rural retreat owner, you have had the privilege of living a very independent and self-sufficient, yet manual country lifestyle.  You have been freed from many stresses and threats that city dwellers could not escape from as you have.  As a preparedness-minded individual, you are still way ahead of 97 percent of the population should a disaster occur.  However, homesteaders are not immune to the impacts of modern maturity. The wise retreat owner will prepare, as you have for a possible catastrophic event, and adapt to the challenges that aging inevitably sends your way.  How prepared are you for the tests of “Father Time”?