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Let’s Hear From an Expert: Cathy Severson, Retirement Coach

Published on 03/03/2016

Z_MG_4537-Cathy SeversonYou write extensively about how to optimize retirement. What challenges and opportunities do you see for women considering a fulfilling life after retirement?

The challenges that women face in retirement and aging are pretty well documented. We know that women still earn less than men and they save less for retirement. This is coupled with the fact that women also live longer. I certainly don’t want to minimize the challenges that some people face as they get older, but there are some interesting opportunities that older women are taking advantage of.

There are two important characteristics that will help women as they age, which are flexibility and creativity. With creativity, I don’t mean being artistic, but a willingness and ability to think outside the box for interesting solutions to the challenges people face as they get older. No matter how we plan, none of us truly knows the journey we will face as we age. Being flexible will help women meet the opportunities and challenges of aging with optimism and courage.

Many women face retirement and aging as singles. And one of the biggest expenses they face is housing. All too often, elderly people get trapped because they are not willing to leave their long-term home. This can be a financial drain, as well as isolating.  With a willingness to explore opportunities, women are inventing interesting living arrangements that provide a sense of community, as well as minimize the financial impact.

Of course, we all remember the TV show The Golden Girls from a generation ago. The idea of co-housing isn’t new, but gaining popularity. In addition to planned communities, people are creating their own shared housing arrangements. Communal living is once again gaining in popularity. Often coming together around a shared interest, such as art or nature, people are merging resources and support.

Another example that has allowed for creativity and flexibility concerns travel. Like many people, I love to explore the world, especially internationally. My days of flipping a backpack and hitting the open road are long gone, though.

My husband and I discovered river cruising a few years ago, as a great way to explore Europe. We had neighbors who referred us to travel company, Grand Circle Travel, that we have now used six times. They are a lesser-known travel company because they don’t advertise like the better-known ones. The majority of people who travel with them come through referrals and that’s where they spend their promotional funds. This year, I became a travel counselor with them, earning both cash and points towards free travel by hosting travel parties. In four months, I was able to pay for my trip on the Rhine. In addition, individuals can refer friends and get travel points towards a free trip. Because so many women travel alone, they don’t add solo supplements to their tours.

One of the ways to increase travel value is to extend the trip by traveling on your own. Prior to cruising, we spent a week exploring Belgium. We stayed at two Airbnb apartments, one in the heart of Brussels and the other in medieval Bruges. We paid approximately $80 per night for delightful apartments close to the center of town. Airbnb may be my new best friend.

Another challenge we face when traveling is finding someone to take care of our three geriatric cats. We have a neighbor who will stop by twice a day and feed them for $20 per day, which can add up for a two to three week trip.  While none of our pets need medication, we know it’s hard on them if we’re gone for many weeks at a time. We joined Trusted Housesitters this year and used three house/pet sitters. We selected well-referenced people to stay at our home while we traveled. They get to visit our area without hotel costs and we know our pets and home are going to be cared for. The only cost is $69 per year to join the website.

We have not been house sitters, but are hoping to find a month long exchange in 2016. We will still have the cost of getting there, but look forward to staying in someone’s home to experiences “living” in a foreign country.


In Budapest


What paths do you see as options for women weighing their retirement choices?

While I mentioned that women live longer and often lack the financial resources of their male counterpart, they also have wonderful characteristics that can help them with their retirement choices. Women are often interested in entering or staying in the workforce beyond retirement. Older women entrepreneurs are growing faster than any other segment. Many mature women embrace a healthy lifestyle, contributing to their community and staying connected to friends and family. There is an emerging movement for women to not be marginalized as they get older.

My aunt, who died two weeks shy of her 98th birthday, was a great role model for positive aging. She was interested in the world and, as result, interesting. She read, even with macular degeneration, keeping abreast of current events. She dressed stylishly until the end, even wearing heels. After her husband died, she continued to have “boyfriends.”  She maintained multi-generational friends, enjoyed shopping, attending the theater, playing games and sharing intellectually stimulating conversation. Aging is as much an attitude as anything else.


Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 6.28.16 PM

Why did you start Retire WOW and what will readers find there to help them in their retirement decisions?

It seems that wherever Baby Boomers go, a plethora of books and information will follow. I became interested in lifestyles issues concerning retirement around the year 2000. At that time, there were very few books or discussions about the non-financial issues concerning retirement. I started researching this vital transition. My professional interest coincided with my husband’s retirement and the emergence of blogging, so it seemed like a natural opportunity.

Information was still lacking, so the decision was made to discuss the widest range of topics that include health, home, work, play as well as finances. Because some of these topics were beyond the scope of my expertise, other experts were excited to contribute. To date, over 150 individuals have contributed articles to the website.


How do you help prospective retirees in your one-on-one coaching?

The number one thing people say I help them do is focus. Often people facing retirement have too many choices or a sense of too many obstacles. Sometimes it’s nice to talk to an objective person who can help guide the decision making process. I help individuals and couples create a vision of what they want for their lives. That is an important first step, but only if it is followed by concrete actions to make the vision a reality. There is no right or wrong, but there are paths to be explored and taken.


Your article on “How to Survive a Retired Husband” got a lot of traction with readers. Why do you think it resonated so strongly?

No matter how prepared and connected, retirement is a significant transition for a couple. Unfortunately, for a couple who is struggling in their relationship, retirement brings those issues to the forefront. There is no more hiding behind work and raising a family.

My husband worked nights most of our married life (now 36 years). I worked from home and we shared a large home office. He was often in the office during the day, so it never occurred to me that we would have a problem when he retired. When he worked, he slept during the day and I had the space to myself. When he retired, he was always in the office and I felt like I was suffocating. When we went looking for our “retirement home,” we made sure we had two separate office spaces.

That may sound like a silly example, but retirement forces a couple to reevaluate their relationship. If the couple can’t negotiate all the changes that occur, being retired can destroy the marriage.


Riding a streetcar in Linz, Austria


What resources do you recommend women check out as they start planning their retirement?

Jan Cullinane, author of The New Retirement: Revised and Updated: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life. From deciding where to live, what to do, when to do it, and more, The New Retirement will help readers plan for and achieve their retirement dreams.

Mark Freedman, Founder of Encore.org. Author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, who is committed to helping people find meaning and purpose post career.

Hollis Lance Liebman’s Anatomy of Exercise for Longevity: A Trainer’s Guide to a Long and Healthy Life guides readers through exercise regimens designed to keep you strong, flexible and heart-healthy for the long haul.

Nancy K. Schlossberg, author of Retire Smart, Retire Happy: Finding Your True Path in Life and Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose. The best books on the psychological aspects of retirement with concrete exercises and steps for making a successful transition.

Kenneth S. Shultz with Megan Kaye and Mike Annesley. Happy Retirement: The Psychology of Reinvention, big-picture perspective takes in all aspects of what goes into choosing what comes next.

Ernie J. Zelinski’s How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free: Retirement Wisdom That You Won’t Get from Your Financial Advisor, shows that the key to enjoying an active and satisfying retirement is dependent on much more than just having adequate financial resources.

Women For Living in Community: Started by Marianne Kilkenny, who created a network of alternative housing as we age.

Retire Early Lifestyle: Billy and Akaisha Kaderli “retired” in their early thirties. They write about frugal living, living overseas, living your passion.


Contact Cathy Severson at cathys997@yahoo.com or 928-775-4949





Cathy Severson is the founder of Passport to Purpose, a professional and personal development company, which includes the subsidiary Retirement Life Matters: www.RetireWOW.com.

Cathy helps individuals find more meaning and purpose in their lives and work. Cathy has developed a three-pronged system to help individuals identify their core attributes, which is used to construct a powerful vision and plan for creating a more fulfilling life. Learn more about how Cathy can help you transition into retirement at www.RLMnow.com.

With a master’s degree in Career Counseling from California State University, Northridge, CA, Cathy has worked with students and adults in K-12, college, government, and private enterprises. Cathy is the creator of VISTa Life/Career Cards, a counseling tool used by therapists and career professionals around the world.

Cathy is also an award-winning watercolor artist and photographer who shows and sells throughout the Southwest.


HeleneTStelian Musing
I’m Hélène Stelian, the Midlife Mentor with a passion for facilitating personal development in women 40+. Through my THRIVE Courses, I help introspective, curious, action-oriented women 40+ deepen their journeys of self-discovery and growth—and create their next chapter with courage and intention.



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  1. Sharon Greenthal

    I love to read about positive retirement experiences, and this is a great one! My husband and I are about 10 years away from retiring, but we are already looking forward to having the time to travel more and simply enjoy each other.

    • Cathy

      Sharon, thanks for sharing. It’s not too early to explore how you want to create you retirement. Now, is the ideal time to try on new activities and experiences. They may be for a short time, but there isn’t the pressure to ‘get it right.’

  2. Carol Cassara

    There’s a lot here and lots to learn. I have wandered around my/our unexpected retirement as if it were a grand adventure, and it has been!

    • Cathy

      Carol, as you know, attitude is such an important aspect of the retirement experience. Grand Adventure is the perfect way to approach it.

  3. kristine

    excellent article. thank you for the tips and encouragement. I will be sharing this with friends. we’re all in this boat (on river cruises) together.

    • Cathy

      Ahh, Kristine. Enjoy. No other experience quite like it. I’m there with you in spirit.

  4. Stacia Friedman

    As a former travel writer, I was fascinated by your cruise info for women traveling alone, as well as the house-and-cat-sitting option. Having someone stop by to feed my kitty never did the trick because she hated being alone. But having people actually stay at my place would be ideal.

    • Cathy

      It’s so much fun, Stacia. I hope you give it a try. We love to have the sitters come a day early, so we can meet them. We either cook dinner or go out. I have a pretty extensive book of the area (restaurants and activities), but it’s nice to personally point them into specifics that are right for them. It’s a great way to meet people who love to travel.

  5. Corie Skolnick

    Cathy is one of my retirement heroines. I loved her interview.

    • Hélène

      Thanks for introducing us! She has some great advice!

  6. Sanford Paling

    No, it s only murder if it isn t something else, such as shooting a drugged suspect, reaching for a gun. But then again, I don t know that s what happened any more than you. Just you are willing to call people murderers, because you don t like them. I don t. Non-cop apologists are aware that our system is set up so that the elements for murder cannot be made because the perpetrator is a police officer, independent of the underlying action. Why is it they do not release the body cam video, Karl?


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