Centenarians are customarily asked what they’ve done to live so long, and they customarily reply in sweet and saucy ways. Wine with dinner, a nightly cigar on the porch, a spouse (or no spouse).

Then there was Susannah Mushatt Jones who, four years ago at age 114, told Time magazine: “I don’t have a secret. Believe in the Lord.”

Her niece informed the reporter that Ms. Jones also had a soft spot for upscale lace lingerie.

She never drank or smoked, Ms. Jones told Time, and got 10 hours of sleep. But she ate four strips of bacon with breakfast, had never had mammogram or colonoscopy and refused recommendations for a pacemaker. She died at 116 in Brooklyn.

Great longevity remains mysterious.

Some old people attribute it to what they are doing, some to what they aren’t doing.

Sun Chronicle writer George Rhodes covered the topic of the growing numbers of centenarians in an article that appeared in last week’s Weekend Edition.

What this populace is seldom asked when any article on longevity appears is this highly sensitive question: “How can you afford the added years?” It’s one everyone should be asking himself or herself — and long before retirement.

Half of Americans have no retirement savings, according to a Brookings Institution article of three years ago.

Even those with resources can suffer mightily with sudden setbacks with anything from illness to severe stock market fluctuations.

Hasty reactions result in escalating debt, according to Michael Grinstein-Weiss, associate professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis and associate director of the Center for Social Development.

“Without liquid assets to cover these financial shocks, households may rely on expensive and potentially harmful strategies, including skipping payment on bills, taking out payday loans, using other alternative financial services and liquidating retirement savings,” Grinstein-Weis told the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. For those who turned 62 in 2017, full retirement age is 66 and two months. For those who turn 62 in this year, full retirement will increase to 66 and four months.

If we’re retiring with resources already strained, what happens in the 35 years remaining until 100 candles are plunged into our cakes?

“Financial health in retirement is a national cause for concern,” Angela Moore, senior editor for Market Watch, wrote in May of this year. “Company pensions are increasingly rare, putting the burden of building a nest egg on individuals. And Social Security isn’t all that secure either.”

The standard admonishments for lifetime financial prudence are found in every discussion of old age and money.

Live frugally. Budget. Stay healthy. Understand how money can work for you, through investments and savings. Use caution when borrowing. Don’t spend your retirement money on adult children who should fend for themselves. Some of the spiciest, sagest quotations about living issue from the mouths of those turning 100. But beyond the cigars and wine and lingerie is an unavoidable stark reality: Growing old costs money.

BETSY SHEA-TAYLOR is a Sun Chronicle columnist. You can reach her at prosewing@cox.net.

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