The Financial Freedom Studio welcomes Jean Chatzky—financial journalist, author and host of the HerMoney with Jean Chatzky podcast—for a series of articles on a modern approach to financial and life planning.
Many dream of retirement as a time to leave work behind—but plenty of retirees find that the desire to keep busy is more powerful than they imagined.
Recently, I gave a talk with Ken Dychtwald, CEO of AgeWave and one of the country’s leading thinkers on aging. He travels the country for his work and meets a lot of retirees. Lately, he told me, he’s noticed an interesting phenomenon. He’ll ask people, “What are you doing?” They’ll answer, “I’m retired.” He’ll follow up, “So, what are you doing?” They’ll answer, “Well, I’m working.”
Yes, working. In retirement. According to research from AgeWave, nearly half of current retirees say they either are working or would like to be working. And nearly three-quarters of people in their 50s say they plan on following that same path. What’s behind this trend? Finances of course. Continuing to work – at least part-time – in retirement can bring in enough money that many people find they can put off tapping Social Security and withdrawing from their 401(k)s and other retirement accounts, allowing those balances to continue to grow.
But there are also other benefits. Research has shown continuing to work reduces isolation, leads to better physical and mental health, and gives you a sense of identity. It may even keep you alive. A study from Oregon State University found that healthy adults who worked past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes than those who retired earlier. (Continuing to work even lowered the risk of dying in unhealthy adults, but by a smaller percentage.)
"He’ll ask people, 'What are you doing?' They’ll answer, 'I’m retired.' He’ll follow up, 'So, what are you doing?' They’ll answer, 'Well, I’m working.'"
So, how do you set yourself up to continue bringing in an income after you step back from your longtime career?
- Decide: Same or Different. The first thing you have to determine is whether you want to do what you’re doing now, though less of it, or go down a totally different path. Either is fine, but they involve different set-ups. If you’d like to just slow down, talk to your current employer or partners (if you own your own business) about whether you could step back from your current situation but continue to work part-time or, perhaps, consult. Things to think about: Whether you’re willing to be tied to a regular schedule or want more freedom. Whether you want to have to show up in an office or work from home. Whether you want responsibility for managing others.
- Assess Your Skills and Talents. If you’re looking to shift gears, start making a list of types of places you think you might like to work and the type of work you’d like to do. These are different lists. You might want to take the organizational skills you used in your career to a clothing boutique or zoo because those environments are appealing. Or, you might want to take your love of travel, a long-time hobby, and see if you can spin it into paid work.
- Build Your Resume While You’re Still Employed. People looking to shift into a different career in retirement often have trouble selling themselves without related experience on their resumes. Try to get this on weekends – even on vacation – before you retire completely. One great way is by volunteering in your new field. Catchafire, The Taproot Foundation, and VolunteerMatch are all websites that can help you find a volunteer position that fits and will bolster your resume simultaneously.
- Consider Dipping A Toe in the Gig Economy (Even If You Have A Professional Degree). The gig economy is not just for millennials. Companies like Uber and Lyft have made headlines by courting retirees to be drivers. Similarly, many retirees (and other empty nesters) are honing their hospitality skills by renting out their empty rooms on AirBnB. TaskRabbit helps you find income doing everything from professional organizing to assembling Ikea furniture (if you happen to have a knack for that). And UpWork is a marketplace for freelance writers, designers, accountants, web developers and many other things. More recently, a number of platforms have been developed to allow professionals to hire out their skills on a part-time basis: Talkspace for therapists, UpCounsel for lawyers, Nomad for doctors and nurses and Catalant for consultants.
- Give Yourself Financial Room To Breathe. Finally, during periods of transition – particularly those in which your income is likely not as high as it was during your highest-earning years – it is always a good idea to attempt to release the financial pressure. Remember, your financial life is an equation where Money Going Out should be equal to or greater than Money Coming In. If the Money Coming In portion of that equation is tailing off, then make some thoughtful moves to reduce the other side of the equation as well. That could mean downsizing sooner rather than later to dramatically reduce your cost of living, but it could also mean taking smaller interim steps: getting rid of an extra car, reducing the number of times you’re eating out, or just being more thoughtful in general about where your money is going. This, more than anything else, will give you the ability to transition into your un-retirement stress free.
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