What Will You Do When You Retire?

Plan to lead an interesting and rewarding life after retirement.

For most people, the key to a happy and fulfilling retirement is simple: staying busy. Unfortunately, when planning for retirement, a lot of folks focus only on finances, and fail to think about, or plan for, how they will spend their time.

Why worry about retirement activities now, when retirement is years, or even decades, away? Because, put bluntly, people who count on developing new interests and involvements after 65 often don't. And that makes for a bored, depressed old age.

Start Planning Now

It's never too early to plan for what you will do in your golden years. To start, take a few minutes to write down the things you expect to be actively involved in. Don't count solo activities such as reading, watching TV, or jogging. While fine in themselves, they are not likely to keep you energized and interested for long. Be as specific as you can. For example, if you plan to participate in charitable activities aimed at helping educate Third World children, with whom will you work and what will you do?

Keep in mind that participating in just a few activities won't keep you interested in life and interesting to others. So if your list consists of travel, adult education courses, and golf, you'll need to do more planning. Here are some other activities to consider -- and how to plan for them.

Working Part-Time

Many people who enjoy the bustle and creativity of the workplace find that working part-time after retirement offers the best opportunity to stay busily involved in life. And, of course, working a few extra years can go a long way toward helping solve money problems.

You must plan ahead if you hope to establish a new career, turn a hobby into a business. or find a part-time job that's more challenging than flipping burgers. Investigate whether you'll need more education, experience, or skills in order to execute your plans. Then, take the time before you retire to develop the tools you'll need.

For example, if you'd like to convert your passion for gardening into a landscaping business, you may need to take courses in marketing and accounting, learn how and where to buy wholesale plants, and begin developing a customer base. This may mean cutting back on current work and making some short-term financial sacrifices.


Many older people gain satisfaction from an active involvement with good causes. Here's why:

  • A chance to do interesting work. Many nonprofits are involved in work that is fascinating. For example, nonprofits preserve rain forests, record oral histories of elderly immigrants, and teach low-income children to read. If you check around, you'll find an organization that piques your interest or passion.
  • A way to add meaning to life. Knowing that you are doing good and needed work can make your life feel more meaningful. Working to improve the quality of others' lives helps some people cope with the inevitability of their own death.
  • A way to pay one's karmic debts. Helping others gives many older people the opportunity to pass on the love and support they once received.
  • An opportunity to meet interesting people. Regular workplaces are great places to make friends, too, but nonprofit groups tend to attract like-minded people (such as people interested in adult literacy or bilingual education or reptiles). Volunteering can help you form lasting friendships.

Planning ahead is key to succeeding as a volunteer. At first you may think this is silly -- after all, you're not asking to be paid, only to help out. Think again. Increasingly, bigger nonprofits rely on paid staff and technology to accomplish many day-to-day tasks, using only a small group of knowledgeable volunteers to staff the board of directors and advisory committees. People who know the field and have up-to-date skills are in great demand, but those who have little to offer beyond a desire to help may have a hard time finding satisfying work.

The lesson is the same as it is in the profit-making sector: explore your hoped-for nonprofit career well before you retire and actually need it.

Exploring Hobbies

Retirement is a great time to devote more time to your hobbies. But many people don't develop interests outside of work and family in their younger and middle years, thinking they'll do it after they retire.

If this is your plan, beware! Few people who have not cultivated authentic interests during their middle years are able to do so after age 65. Many of them end up bored and disappointed. So, take the time now to enjoy life, develop interests, and pursue hobbies. When you retire, you can devote more time to your existing activities and add a few others.

Ralph Warner's Get a Life: You Don't Need a Million To Retire Well (Nolo), shows you how to beat the anxiety surrounding retirement, and to develop a plan to make your golden years the best of your life.

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