Pay Off Time: Retirement!

I used to tell friends and family that after my three children left home for college and work, my husband and I would savor the payoff years in our marriage. Although I wept inconsolably after dropping off my youngest child at college, it took about one hour to realize that, hey, this could be the start of something new. And it was.

We often feel the same about our careers. We work, structure our lives around our jobs and families, try to balance the demanding needs of each, put money into retirement accounts, pay off our mortgages, smile gleefully when we've written the last tuition check, keep up our healthful habits and preventive medical steps, and the list continues. The bottom line is that finally on the distant horizon it's time to pay ourselves back for all our years of hard work and do what we always wished we had had more time for. 

Sometimes, the happy scenario of events works out as envisioned. 

I met a woman who owned her own company. With age 60 just around the corner and enough money to live comfortably after selling her stake in the firm, she finally treated herself to a life of leisure. For her that meant travel to visit her kids, friends in various parts of the country, and traveling around the world. When asked, “What do you do all day with your free time?” she scratched her head and responded that she’s never been so busy. 

Another friend in her late 50s worked for a financial services firm. Her children are long gone from the family house and her husband passed away. One morning she walked into work and spotted a pink slip on her desk. Instead of bemoaning the fact that she was laid off, she decided it was the opportune time to retire and do all the things she never had time for before: shopping, lunches with friends, happy hours, traveling and trying her hand at painting. She signed up for art classes and has made plans to travel abroad for several weeks. Next in the works might be a consulting business. So she too is doing what she wants to. 

My plans didn't work out quite as I had hoped. My husband died five years ago so I was on my own for retirement. I still was able to retire, but three years later, and for me that's meant not stepping away entirely but writing a new script for work and life. I continue to take on new writing assignments, but those I like rather than feel I must take every pitch that comes my way. I've also found time for new ventures--more cooking and entertaining, tutoring elementary age kids and reading to pre-school-age children in disadvantaged areas.   

Here are some other ways to follow the suggestion of an ad on TV, which says, “Take control of your retirement today and enjoy it!" And know you're the only one grading yourself, so if plan A doesn't work out, go for B, C, or D. 

  • Take classes. Learn a new language, take a challenging life-long learning course, try Pilates and yoga or work with a trainer, learn glass-blowing or sculpting, take acting or singing lessons. Join a theater group or a chorus. Dying to learn more about wine? Visit wineries and go to tastings. These pursuits are a great way to engage with others, keep your brain sharp, and meet new like-minded people.
  • Make a list of the books you always wanted to read or reread. If you have children, consider the books that they read in high school or college. Or join a local book club where you can have lively discussions about what you read.
  • Trace your roots and channel your inner Nancy Drew. Dig deep and find out who you are as a result of where you came from. After a while, the search can become an addiction. A childhood friend of mine has become almost obsessive pursuing her ancestry; another person I know has been inspired to meet distant relatives in distant cities and countries. And the good news is that software today makes the hunt so much easier.
  • If you like to cook, take classes to ramp up your skills and invite those people over whom you didn’t have time to entertain when working full time. You can also learn cooking on your own with the wealth of food blogs online, as well as so many new interesting cookbooks, many for specialty tastes and health issues revolving around gluten -free, lactose intolerant, veggie, vegan, dessert-obsessed.
  • Set up a consulting business. This can take all sorts of directions from freelance writing to graphic arts design, music composition, and tutoring those for whom English is a second language. You don't have to get paid anymore, if you don't need the income. Volunteer your skills, particularly if you're great with math, accounting, or legal knowledge. The elderly need help too in handling their investments and checkbooks.
  • Take a bow. You can share knowledge on a sporadic basis. If you're a musician use it in a high school, maybe one where the budget has dictated trimming those types of classes. Same goes for art. Advertise your skills on LinkedIn, Facebook, a website you design, and other sites. You might even learn tweeting to share your talents. And who knows? You might even have a second career before you know it! But if you do, be sure your zoning laws permit you to see clients if you're a therapist, or the local health "police" will let you bake your ruggelach or lemon bars from your kitchen.
  • Develop new skills. Learn photography, Photoshop, bridge, or mahjong. You always wanted to make and restore furniture. Take classes or just go for it with information online and good tools. And maybe now is the time to learn something outlandish like how to do a headstand you never mastered when young, or getting your pilot's license if your eyesight is still good.  
  • Travel. It’s great fun to do the research and plan your itinerary. You don't have to go posh if you're trying to watch dollars expended; you can go camping, stay in affordable rentals, and even trade houses for nothing.
  • Do nothing. There's nobody making you punch a time clock any more or report in. You're permitted just to relax because you can. If you are a couch potato and enjoy reading online or just sitting and thinking, mediating, going to a movie in the afternoon, baking at night, listening to NPR in the morning, or even binge watching reruns of “Law and Order,” "Billions" or "Downton Abbey" on TV as someone we know is, do so without guilt. 

It’s your time, so it's up to you to do what you wish without pressure. You've already seen that movie and don't need the sequel. 

Retirees out there, share with us what you do with your time now that you have plenty of it.


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