MONEY Second Career

When You’re Bored Silly in Retirement

140918_RET_Boredom
Martin Diebel—Getty Images

After taking a break from your career, you may need a break from retirement. Here's how three retirees found their next act.

Ah, retirement! Playing golf whenever you like. Fishing when the mood strikes. Cocktails in the afternoon and barbequing on the patio. But what do you do when you try out retirement and you’re bored stiff?

Ask Ken Howard, 67, of Greer, S.C., who built a successful trash hauling business and sold it to Waste Management in 1997. “I was really looking forward to getting rid of all the everyday headaches that come from running a company,” Howard recalls. So he built a house on a golf course, but soon found that after “playing a good bit of golf I got bored.”

His retirement lasted about five months.

Howard then bought a car wash…and then another….and then another. He now has eight. He has also bought a septic pump business (largely run by his son and nephew) and owns a small real estate investment company.

“I still get excited about cutting a deal,” he says. “Doesn’t matter if it’s $200 or $200,000.” These days, Howard says, he spends a lot of time at his family’s lake house, “but when I am in town I’m usually at the office.”

Even Del Webb Got Bored

Former utility executive Jackie Hauserman, 72, took a retirement package in 1998 when her company, Centerior Energy, was bought. She moved from Ohio to Florida, first to Naples and then to Bonita Bay. Retirement didn’t take, so Hauserman got a real estate license in 2001, at 59, and has been selling for John R. Woods Properties ever since. “I have been really busy. It is fun,” she says.

Even Del Webb, developer of America’s most famous retirement community — Sun City, near Phoenix, Ariz. — couldn’t live the life of leisure. A 1962 Time cover story about him said: “Del Webb, the hulking, slope-shouldered, long-striding 63-year-old who hates to be called Delbert, could not stand the life in one of his own Sun Cities for more than a few days — or a few hours.” He preferred working.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned while researching my new book, Unretirement: Most people desire to live their third age doing something between full-time work and full-time golf. And many new retirees find themselves easily bored without working part-time, even if they don’t need a paycheck.

Certainly, that sentiment was repeatedly expressed at a recent talk I gave at Verrado, a new multigenerational development outside Phoenix, where residents found the initial joy of sleeping in and enjoying an early cocktail faded with time. All were now working part-time or looking for the right retirement job.

The Shock of the New

The swing from racing to embracing leisure to seeking work isn’t really surprising. Put it this way: You spend many years holding down a full-time job (or multiple part-time jobs), so freedom from bosses and job stress is liberating at first. Many people have a bucket list of delayed projects and postponed travel, too. But… Your career and the expertise you’ve built up over a lifetime are also a big part of who you are.

So putting it all behind you can be a shock.

“After awhile, you then wake up and something isn’t quite right,” says Joel Larsen, a certified financial planner at Navion Financial Advisors, in Davis, Calif. “Successful retirement means finding fulfillment and meaning. And a lot of fulfillment and meaning comes from being good at what you do.”

4 Myths of Aging and Retirement

His insight echoes the results from the recent Merrill Lynch survey, Work in Retirement: Myths and Motivations, Career Reinventions and the New Retirement Workscape.” Conducted in partnership with Age Wave, the demographic consulting firm, the survey disputes four popular myths about aging. They are:

  • Retirement means the end of work
  • Retirement is a time of decline
  • People only work in retirement because they need the money (the reality: meaning and purpose matter, too)
  • New career ambitions are only for young people

I’ve grown convinced that most people need to take a break from their careers — they need to retire — before they can Unretire. It takes a break to figure out the next stage.

Adopting a Fresh Perspective

“You have to get out of the work mindset and take a fresh perspective,” says Ellen Griggs, 59, an excellent example of someone who has taken deliberate steps toward Unretirement.

Griggs had a successful career in finance with some storied firms (Paine Webber and Strong Capital Management among them) as Chief Investment Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Client Advocate and Investment Consultant. In 2011, at 56, Griggs took a year off, traveling spending time with her family and working on a 160-year-old home on Cape Cod.

She also hooked up with Boston-based New Directions, a career transition organization focused on helping executives and professionals figure out what’s next. “During my career I had never been introspective about what I was going to do when I retired,” she says. With New Directions, “I got to kick the tires.”

She’s since ended up filling her days with a mix of for-profit and not-for-profit activities, including being a member of the philanthropic trust board at the Boston Medical Center and a board director at Evanston Capital.

How to Beat Boredom in Retirement

So, what should you do when playing golf isn’t enough and you want more meaning and purpose in retirement?

Reach out. Talk to your network of friends and former colleagues who know your skills and strengths; ask them what they think you should do next.

If you’ve decided what field you’d like to migrate into, part-time, attend a local industry meeting and find out how others made their transition. This is a low-cost way to glean information and make contacts.

Potentially even more powerful is hooking up with similarly challenged retirees who’ve decided to put their leisure days aside.

For instance, Experience Matters in Phoenix matches talented private sector workers looking for their next act with community-based nonprofits. Similarly, Shift is a Twin Cities-based organization with a goal of guiding midlife life transitions toward “purpose, passion and a paycheck.” And the Encore Fellowships Network is another path for experienced professionals who want to devote time at social-service organizations.

Another resource: your local community college. These schools are creating courses and meeting spaces for boomers looking for a next act. You can look up programs near you at the website for the American Association of Community Colleges’ Plus 50 program.

It’s a safe bet that in coming years, people will talk less about golf and leisure in retirement and more about preparing for a new stage of productive and creative work in their Unretirement.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the forthcoming Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

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4 Ways to Fix Our Retirement System

These changes would help all of us work longer, if we want to, and retire more comfortably.

Boomers have expressed a strong desire to remain engaged in the market economy. They still want to make a difference. They’re a creative force for change.

What could the government do to make it practical and desirable for more people to work longer? After spending two years researching my new book, Unretirement, I think the answer is: Fix four problems in America’s retirement system. In my opinion, these remedies would entice boomers to stay on the job, switch careers (possibly pursuing encore careers for the greater good) and launch businesses in midlife.

Below are four initiatives I think might accelerate unretirement; you may like all, a handful, or none of them. But hopefully, taken altogether, the ideas will spark a conversation about what’s possible and desirable for encouraging unretirement and encore careers.

1. Make America’s retirement savings system universal and with lower costs. It’s high time to acknowledge that our retirement savings system is not only broken, but unsuited for the new world of unretirement.

Only 42% of private sector workers ages 25 to 64 have any pension coverage in their current job. The result, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, is that more than one third of households end up with no coverage during their working years while others moving in and out of coverage accumulate small 401(k) balances. In short, the current system doesn’t even come close to universal coverage for the private economy.

The typical value of 401(k)s and IRAs for workers nearing retirement who do have them was about $120,000 in 2010, according to the Federal Reserve. That sum would provide a mere $575 in monthly income, assuming a couple bought a joint-and-survivor annuity, calculates Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Defined-contribution savings plans, like 401(k)s, can be improved. They’ve asked too much of people. You’ve usually had to voluntarily join (a difficult decision for lower-income workers living off tight budgets); many employees have been overwhelmed by their plans’ enormous mutual fund options, and high fees have eroded their returns.

In addition, most 401(k) participants don’t have the option of receiving payments from their plans as a stream of annuitized income that they can’t outlive in retirement. It’s widely recognized that plans need to offer their near-retirees this choice.

Lawmakers should require 401(k) plans have: automatic enrollment (where you can opt out if you wish); automatic annual escalation of the percentage of pay employees contribute (again, you could opt out of this feature); limited investment choice (say, no more than five or six); low fees and an annuity option for retirees.

The government could open up to companies that don’t offer a retirement plan to their workers—usually smaller firms—the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), one of the world’s best designed plans. Contributions could be made through payroll deduction, so the cost to firms would be minimal.

The TSP offers five broad-based investment funds along with the option of a lifecycle fund. Its annual expense ratio was an extremely low 0.027% in 2012, meaning for each fund, the cost was about 27 cents per $1,000 of investment.

“What’s the downside?” asks Dean Baker, co-director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, during an interview at his office. “It’s common sense.”

Better yet, lawmakers could create a universal retirement plan attached to the individual. There have been a number of proposals over the years along these lines. For instance, the government could enroll every worker in an IRA through automatic payroll deduction.

2. Allow Americans who delay claiming Social Security to take their benefits in a lump sum. That’s a proposal being floated by Jingjing Chai, Raimond Maurer, and Ralph Rogalla of Goethe University and Olivia Mitchell of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

The scholars give this example: Older workers who decide to stay on the job until age 66, rather than retire at 65, would get a lump sum worth 1.2 times the age 65 benefit and would also receive the age 65 annuity stream of income for life when filing for benefits at 66. Those who wait until 70 would get a lump sum worth some six times their starting-age annual benefit payment, plus the age 65 benefit stream for life.

Among the attractions of a lump sum are financial flexibility, the option of leaving money to heirs, and—for “financially sophisticated individuals”—the opportunity to invest the money. The lure of the lump sum would encourage workers to voluntarily stay on the job, on average by about one and a half to two years longer, the researchers calculate. Nevertheless, the workers’ Social Security benefits wouldn’t be cut, they would still have a lifetime annuity to live on and Social Security’s finances would remain essentially the same.

3. Offer Social Security payroll tax relief. A leading proponent of this idea is John Shoven, an economist at Stanford University. The current Social Security benefit formula is based on a calculation that takes into account a worker’s highest 35 years of earnings. Once 35 years have been put in, the incentive to stay on the job weakens, especially since older workers usually take home less pay than they did in middle age, their peak earning years.

Why not declare that older workers are “paid up” for Social Security after 40 years, asks Shoven. Why not indeed? There are a number of proposed variations on the idea, but they all converge on the notion that eliminating the employee share of the payroll tax around that point would be an immediate boost to an aging worker’s take-home pay and getting rid of the employer’s contribution then would lower the cost of employing older workers.

The change seems like a win-win situation from the unretirement perspective. “It’s an incentive for people to work longer,” says Richard Burkhauser, professor of policy analysis at Cornell University.

4. Change the rules for required minimum distributions (RMDs) beginning at age 70½ from 401(k)s, IRAs and the like. The requirements are Byzantine. For instance, with a traditional IRA, the RMD is April 1 following the year you reach 70 and six months, even if you are still working. The withdrawal requirement includes IRAs offered through an employer, such as the SIMPLE IRA and a SEP IRA. The same withdrawal date applies with a 401(k), unless you continue working for the same employer. But there is no RMD with a Roth IRA.

Got all this?

A pet peeve of mine is how unnecessarily complicated the rules are for retirement savings plans. Washington could raise the required minimum distribution rules on all plans to, say, age 80 or 85. Then again, Washington could simply eliminate the RMD altogether.

Like the other proposals mentioned earlier, I think it’s worth a try.

This article is adapted from Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing The Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life, by Chris Farrell. Chris is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is@cfarrellecon.

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More employers are offering phased retirement programs, which give you more flexibility and let you work fewer hours. Here's how to swing it at your job.

Older workers are a hot topic among HR professionals these days, especially since the share of the labor force of people 55 and over is projected to rise to 25% by 2020. That conversation will increasingly shift toward redesigning corporate benefits for them—especially helping older employees phase into retirement.

But what are firms actually doing to ease this transition and what should you do if you’d like yours to let you gradually move from full-time to part-time and eventually no-time?

Ad Hoc Deals for Phased Retirement

Typically, motivated older workers have had to try negotiating ad hoc arrangements with HR or their boss for gradual exits out of the company, perhaps with part-time contracts in hand. “If employers would accelerate the drive for flexible work arrangements, everyone would be better off,” says Richard Johnson, labor market expert at the Urban Institute. “Flexibility is important.”

But some firms have made strides toward offering their employees greater job flexibility. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey of 650 C-level executives and human resources and benefit plan leaders found that half of the employers offer flexible or customized work schedules to retain older workers. A third offer continuing education and development opportunities, while 22% let employees work remotely and 21% offer extended benefits to older employees, such as cafeteria plans that allow for tailoring benefit packages.

How Employers Are Changing

Until fairly recently, the term retirement in the workplace signaled the day an older employee left the organization to enter a lifestyle of leisure. At least that was the image. But a number of far-sighted managements now recognize that the work-and-retirement divide is less true today and that realization will likely affect the design of employee benefits.

Case in point: Intel. Like all big, dynamic companies, the Silicon Valley behemoth offers its employees a good benefits package, including retirement savings. But Intel also supports employees phasing into retirement. Recently, the company has experimented with several new pilot programs.

For instance, U.S. employees eligible to retire from Intel can apply for an Encore Career Fellowship. That helps them ease into the next stage of their lives by leveraging their skills, evoking their passions, and making an impact in their communities through a short-term stint at a local nonprofit.

“Creating a culture that supports our employees as they prepare and plan for retirement is important,” says Amber Wiseley, Intel Retirement Benefits Strategist. “Our employees are looking for different options to reimagine retirement and are seeking opportunities to continue to have an impact on society.”

Jobs With Built-In Flexibility

A comparable conversation is taking place far from Silicon Valley, at Herman Miller in Zeeland, Mich., where about a quarter of the company’s workforce is 55+. Does that mean in five years Herman Miller will suffer an enormous outflow of employees heading into retirement? Doubtful.

“The old model that people will retire at 62 and they’ll pack up their belongings and move to Florida is really dated,” says Tony Cortese, Herman Miller’s senior vice president for human resources. “I don’t think that’s the reality we confront.”

Still, Herman Miller execs worry about losing their older employees’ skills and knowledge too quickly. So the company has instituted programs with built-in flexibility. For example, workers get to take six to 12 consecutive weeks off during the year. Employees aren’t paid during that time, but keep their benefits and length of service toward their pension. Says Cortese: “We’ve had people who are 55 or older say, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready for retirement, but I’m going to try this instead.’”

Herman Miller also recently rolled out a “flex retirement” plan, allowing an employee who’s 60 or over and has at least five years of service at the company to plan an exit over six months to two years. The retirement decision is irreversible and, in return for the planned reduction in hours, the flex-retirement employee puts together a knowledge-transfer plan to teach the ropes of his or her job to a replacement. Observes Cortese: “They say, ‘I’m ready to retire, but I’m not ready to go today.’”

Letting Full-Time Workers Go Part-Time

At Baptist Health South Florida, the largest not-for-profit health care organization in the region, employees who are at 59-and-six-months who have been with the company for 10 years or more can begin drawing on their retirement savings and still work part-time.

AGL Resources, a natural gas distribution company based in Atlanta, Ga., lets its retired workers return on a part-time or project basis and participate in company benefits, such as its 401(k) plan. The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., which Next Avenue recently said may be America’s best employer for older workers, is famous for its flexible work schedules and telecommuting opportunities.

A critical initiative that will inform the Unretirement movement is the federal government’s new phased retirement program. Starting in November, many full-time government workers with at least 20 or 30 years of service who are nearing retirement age can apply to work a part-time schedule while drawing partial retirement benefits. The program also requires participants to spend at least 20% of their time mentoring younger employees.

What the Future Holds

Employers like these represent just the beginning of a trend that will gather momentum as Unretirement and encore careers become part of the expected and desired lifecycle among an aging workforce. Benefits like these are good for employees and employers. Says Joseph Coughlin of MIT’s AgeLab: “In the near future, the ‘new kid down the hall’ may, in fact, be someone’s grandmother in the next stage of her multi-act life.”

However, the Unretirement movement could have a larger impact on the professional experience later in life with a little encouragement.

Take attorneys 65 and older. A series of changes in the legal marketplace has reduced the demand for aging boomer attorneys. The growth in legal services has been driven by corporations and organizations that use large firms less reliant on senior lawyers, and the demands for legal advice by individuals who traditionally hire smaller firms to represent them is down.

“Thus, just at a time when the demographics of the legal profession have produced a very large pool of senior lawyers, the proportion of the legal profession that is needed to remain in senior positions to supervise paid work and to be well compensated for this work is declining,” observe Kenneth G. Dau-Schmidt, Esther Lardent, Reena Glazer, and Kellen Ressmeyer in Old and Making Hay, a research paper for the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University, Bloomington.

The solution, these legal experts say, is for law firms to establish “second act” programs for their senior attorneys. Senior lawyers would concentrate much of their energies on the firm’s pro bono work. The scholars calculate that even if a mere 5% of practicing attorneys over 65 participated in a pro bono second act, the number of attorneys working primarily on public interest work would double.

The deal would be that older lawyers accepting the second act path would put in fewer hours and get paid less. “The legal profession has a golden opportunity to do well by its members, itself, and society at large,” the paper’s authors write.

How to Get a Phased Retirement

What can you do as an employee if management hasn’t gotten the Unretirement message yet?

Speak up.

Now, I usually roll my eyes when someone recommends that employees should lobby management. Good luck with that, right? Yet there are good reasons for making the case in this circumstance.

For one thing, Unretirement is a hot topic among senior managers. For another, the suggestion isn’t coming out of left field. Many leading-edge companies are adopting benefit policies that encourage employees to phase into retirement. An appeal to corporate ego, by casually dropping some of those names (Intel, Herman Miller…), just might do the trick.

Other Benefits to Aid Your Transition

There are also a few corporate benefits worth exploiting that aren’t strictly geared toward Unretirement but could help you with your transition.

For example, take advantage of any financial support your employer offers for training or education that could position you for your next chapter.

Similarly, some companies have partnerships with nonprofits where employees can volunteer during sanctioned time. If you’re thinking about shifting from the for-profit to the nonprofit sector, pursue these volunteering opportunities to do good and make potentially valuable connections that could pay off for you in the future.

And, with today’s healthier job market, if you’re considering looking for a new position elsewhere, ask the hiring manager whether the employer offers Unretirement-type benefits such as phased retirement.

Resources That Can Help

Remember: you’re far from alone. Networks of like-minded boomers seeking their Unretirement are springing up all over the country. A major resource for researching options and contacts is Encore.org, which maintains a list of encore organizations around the country and sponsors the Encore Fellowship Networks. Other helpful resources include The Transition Network, ReServe, Retired Brains and Next Avenue.

Major work and life transitions are rarely easy, even with organizational support. Still, what’s exciting about all the phased-retirement experimentations is that they will evolve. Boomers are trying out different ideas, essentially seeing which Unretirement business and lifestyle models pay off, putting pressure on managements to create more flexibility into the workplace and economy. Managements, in turn, are trying to learn which benefit packages will boost the bottom line and improve the caliber of their workforce.

Better yet, Gen X’ers, Millennials and future generations of workers will learn from boomers’ Unretirement trial and error experiences. Younger generations will see that they’ll be able to alternate the rhythm of their work lives, perhaps phasing into retirement by joining organizations with a mission that touches their hearts. We’re just getting a glimpse into the possibilities today.

This article is adapted from Chris Farrell’s new book, Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life. Chris is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him atcfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is@cfarrellecon.

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Dave Dardis worked for over 39 years at IBM in management roles in sales, marketing and business development. He retired about six years ago, spending his newfound free time volunteering at nonprofits in Silicon Valley. He found the volunteering work deeply unsatisfying.

“They were along the lines of ‘Can you help us for several weeks and then we’ll wave goodbye,’” Dardis, 68, recalls.

But in a parking lot conversation following a nonprofit event, Dardis learned about The Encore Fellowships Network. He was intrigued.

What The Encore Fellowship Is

The program was created by Encore.org (whose slogan is “purpose and passion in your second act”) to serve as a matchmaker for private-sector professionals and nonprofits. It typically lasts six to 12 months and comes with a stipend.

In 2011, Dardis applied to become an Encore Fellow and, after being selected, was asked to choose among three nonprofits. He picked the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley (HFSV), which spearheads local educational initiatives. Its draw? Dardis’s parents were both teachers; so is his wife.

The part-time Fellowship paid $25 an hour for 1,000 hours. When it ended, Dardis was hired as HFSV’s chief operating officer where he works three days a week on fundraising in his “unretirement.”

Says Dardis: “I am doing things that leverage my skills from IBM. I am having fun. This is a gas.”

The 20-hours-a-week schedule gives Dardis time to run errands, cook dinner for his wife and spend relaxing weekends watching his grandchildren play soccer. Financially, he’s doing fine with a pension from IBM, Social Security and two checks a month from HFSV (earning close to what he made during the Encore Fellowship).

From Creating Ads to Helping Ex-Cons

Beth Kempner worked in New York City for Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising for 25 years, where she became a Senior Vice President. When Kempner’s kids were in high school, she decided it was time to “retire” and spend more time with them before they left for college.

In her “retirement,” she did a project for the Taproot Foundation, a pro bono consulting firm, and got a certificate in the Funder and Grantmaking Program at New York University. Then, while browsing the Internet, Kempner chanced upon the Encore Fellowship program. She applied and became an Encore Fellow in 2011, working in public affairs for the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a nonprofit that helps ex-cons get and stay in jobs.

Like Dardis, Kempner (now 55) stayed on when the Fellowship finished. She was hired as CEO’s part-time Director of Public Affairs, leveraging her advertising and marketing skills. “It’s a wonderful job,” she says.

Kempner has been with the organization for three years, working three three days a week. She’s passionate about the work, but loves the free time that has let her rediscover tennis, revive friendships and take classes.

The Encore Career Gap

Many others in their 50s and 60s are inspired by the fledgling encore career movement where Durdis and Kempner are foot soldiers. But some are unsure about which encore career to pursue, how to find a good opportunity and whether the finances will work out.

That may explain why a new Encore.org survey of Americans age 50 to 70 found that although 55 percent believe it’s important to take their skills to help others, only 28 percent said they are ready to make the leap into an encore job.

Structure and Support

It’s also why a structured, focused program like the Encore Fellowship Network can ease the transition. There are now Encore Fellowships in 15 cities in the U.S. and England, with more in the works. Each is run slightly differently, with its own application season and process.

“Not only did they [the Fellowship management] help direct me to this new ‘life’ but the support system in place in fantastic,” says Kempner. “Over the year of the Fellowship, we had speakers from every part of the nonprofit world come to speak to us and share their transitions and experiences.”

Adds Dardis: “The Fellowship isn’t a once and done kind of experience.”

Dardis and Kempner said the Encore Fellowship’s application process forced them to think about their skill sets and what they wanted out of their next chapter. Although Kempner said she had doubts whether she was qualified to assist a nonprofit for ex-cons, a meeting with the group’s former head convinced her to take a risk.

Both have found their “unretirement” work extremely fulfilling. That’s often true for people who transition from full-time professional jobs into encore careers.

Nicole Maestros, a Rand Corporation economist and author of the study, “Back to Work: Expectations and Realizations of Work After Retirement” found that 26 percent of full-time employees who retired reversed their decision and returned to work (either full time or part time) within a few years. They did so mostly because they found retirement less satisfying than they had expected, Maestros says.

The Evolving Fellowships

The Encore Fellowship model is evolving in interesting ways. For the past two years, Intel has been offering its U.S. employees who are eligible to retire the opportunity to apply for Intel Encore Career Fellowships. So far, more than 200 Intel employees have become Fellows.

More nonprofits are learning about the Encore Fellowships and snagging its talented men and women. But too few people who could become Fellows know about the program. Dardis learned about it through a chance parking lot conversation and Kempner by browsing the Internet.

The Encore Fellowship is also only one piece of a much bigger unretirement and encore career infrastructure puzzle. There are many more on-ramps to be built. Still, the Fellowship is a practical path for some boomers to thoughtfully transition from one career to another.

Check it out.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the forthcoming Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him atcfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

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Here are proven strategies for finding both money and joy in your transition to retirement.

If you’re a boomer you may remember small “hippie” shops selling fringe jackets. Maybe you still have one of them stored in a closet. If so, your Age of Aquarius memento might have been created by Lincoln Wolfe, now 60.

In recent years, Wolfe has made the transition from full-time (high stress) manager in the craft leather business to part-time (low stress) consultant to the industry. His job duties now range from training young workers to planning factory layouts.

“I didn’t want to work full-time for anyone,” he says. “I enjoy what I am doing at a more relaxed pace. This is retirement.”

Downshifting In the Field You Love
Transitioning from a 40-hour-plus workweek to a part-time schedule in retirement that’s less of a grind, but still in the field you’ve grown to love, may be your idea of retirement, too.

Here’s how Wolfe and professional singer Fay Putnam told me they did it and what you can learn from their experiences.

Wolfe decided he was done with school at age 16 and headed for Florida where he started a business with a 24-year-old, making sand-cast castles on the beach and selling them to various outlets. A customer in New Jersey hired him about a year later, launching his career in the leather craft trade.

Wolfe worked his way up in the industry, sometimes running his own venture and other times for an employer. In the early 1990s, Coach (the high-quality leather goods designer and manufacturer) hired him to oversee the technical development of new products — moving leather goods from the designer shop into mass production.

Coach grew dramatically and the job became increasingly intense, especially when production moved offshore to India and China. But since Coach went public in 2000 and Wolfe’s shares had appreciated some 13 times by 2005, he then had enough money to retire on.

Growing a Consulting Business
When he began consulting from his home in Lambertville, N.J., Wolfe’s initial contracts were, as you might expect, from Coach. His business then expanded through referrals. These days, Wolfe works about a third of the time, usually on the road.

His “unretirement” timing was fortuitous with the revival of the American leather goods industry—mostly designer products catering to urban hipsters. In 2012, Wolfe began consulting with Shinola, the Detroit-based Made-In-America producer of handcrafted watches, leather goods and bikes.

When we talked in late July, Wolfe was in Dearborn, Mich. writing an industrial sewing curriculum for the Makers Coalition, a trade group formed to apprentice a younger workforce into artisan leather manufacturing. The program will be housed at Henry Ford Community College’s Michigan Technical Education Center.

Singing a New Song
Leather craft is an art. So is singing. Fay Putnam spent her career as a professional singer, putting long hours into her craft, mostly with choirs such as the Gregg Smith Singers and the San Francisco Symphony choir. Putnam also had a side business as a voice coach.

She moved around fairly frequently because her husband, Frank, was a U.S. Navy aviator. Now 68, Putnam has started a part-time business in Portland, Ore. as a voice and speech coach.

“I love doing it,” she says. I wouldn’t keep doing this if I didn’t love it.” Although, she concedes, she’d welcome a few more clients.

Putnam and her husband moved to a condo in downtown Portland from the San Francisco Bay Area two years ago. Their son and daughter-in-law live there; so does her husband’s brother. And their money now goes farther. Most of all, Putnam says, they were tired of the San Francisco metro area’s horrendous traffic jams.

Frank is now retired, but Fay wanted to stay engaged in her art and teach the voice and breath control techniques she learned over the years. Most of her business is helping entrepreneurs and employees polish their public-speaking presentations. She coaches some singers, too.

Takeaways From Wolfe and Putnam
Wolfe’s and Putnam’s stories highlight a number of critical aspects that others in their 50s and 60s should take into account as they mull their next chapters.

Both built their new ventures on their existing knowledge and skills, rather than shifting to unfamiliar fields. For most boomers, I don’t believe there is any reason to succumb to the lure of reinvention—the urge to embrace a radical makeover—especially if the goal is finding part-time work that offers a financial and psychic reward.

And yet, much of the late-in-life transition narrative we often hear extols the new, the different, the dramatic change.

You know the story. Someone has labored long in a cubicle, or spent hours as a road warrior, for corporate America. Now, in the last third of life, she finds her passion, somehow manages to open a winery, basks in its growing sales and gets invited to speak about reinventing yourself at global conferences.

Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly. But I wholeheartedly agree with the cautionary wisdom of Marc Freedman, founder of Encore.org, in a recent Harvard Business Review column.

He wrote: “After years studying social innovators in the second half of life — individuals who have done their greatest work after 50 — I’m convinced the most powerful pattern that emerges from their stories can be described as reintegration, not reinvention. These successful late-blooming entrepreneurs weave together accumulated knowledge with creativity, while balancing continuity with change, in crafting a new idea that’s almost always deeply rooted in earlier chapters and activities.”

What I applaud about Wolfe and Putnam is that they smartly exploited what they already knew. It’s an insight echoed in a 2010 paper by professor Barry Bluestone of Northeastern University and Mark Melnick of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. When investigating jobs that might be available for aging workers, the authors felt boomers should exploit their skills — albeit, sometimes in a different setting or even industry.

“In many cases, older workers could carry their existing skills and credentials into a new setting,” they wrote. “For example, a registered nurse might move from a major hospital to a community clinic; a computer systems analyst at a private software company might take a job in local government; a civil engineer at a private construction firm might work on a state government highway project.”

Training for the Transition
Of course, you still may have to pick up additional training or education to ease the transition.

Putnam spent her career on the creative side, so she realized she needed to know more about the practical aspects of running a small business. “Most of the time, in the training that artists get, business savvy isn’t included,” she laughs.

To wise up, Putnam took a month-long business basics class called “Better, Smarter, Richer” at Portland Community College. It was designed specifically for solopreneurs and creative entrepreneurs like herself.

The course taught Putnam how to build her website and market her services to local business groups. Best of all, she says, her classmates continue to get together, share information and cheerlead for one another.

Flexibility Is a Must
Like Wolfe and Putnam, many boomers want to continue earning an income during retirement, but put in fewer hours. Their desire for the “big job” and to climb the ladder of the “big career” lies in their past. Phyllis Moen, sociologist at the University of Minnesota, says what many boomers desire are: “not so big jobs.”

Wolfe and Putnam found it much easier to create their flexible work schedules by tapping into their backgrounds rather than attempting ambitious life overhauls. “Older workers value flexibility,” says Richard Johnson of the Urban Institute. “They don’t want to work 9 to 5, five days a week.”

Wolfe’s story reinforces the benefits of flexibility in a different way that will strike a chord with many in their 50s and 60s. He has dialed back on his consulting services recently after being diagnosed with cancer. His prostate cancer has been successfully treated, but Wolfe must now spend more time paying attention to his health, watching his diet, exercising, meditating and so on.

He still enjoys consulting, but his priorities have changed. Cancer has that effect. “I think that I would try to be more engaged than I am now if it wasn’t for the stress of travel,” he says.

Thing is, assuming their health holds up, both Wolfe and Putnam have achieved something all of us desire: Control over their destiny. They can curtail working if they want to. They can stay engaged, if the work remains interesting. It’s their choice.

Not bad for a next chapter.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the forthcoming Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

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MONEY Second Career

3 Tips for Launching Your Labor-of-Love Business

Women practicing yoga
Willie—Getty Images

An Air Force nurse turned yoga studio owner offers advice from her experience.

Switching careers to open a labor-of-love business in your 50s or 60s is a certifiable trend in America today.

As Ting Zhang, an economist at the Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore and the author of the Elderly Entrepreneurship in an Aging US Economy: It’s Never Too Late told me: “Some older workers have been cherishing a dream, wanting to start their own business, and the time is now. Aging is a new opportunity to be an entrepreneur.”

Huge Rise in Midlife Entrepreneurs

The numbers bear her out. According to the Kauffman Foundation, new-business creation by Americans age 55 to 64 rose by more than 60% between 1996 and 2013. Last year, their business starts accounted for nearly one-quarter of all launches.

(MORE: Plotting Your Next Move for Unretirement)

Economists Joseph Quinn of Boston College, Kevin Cahill of Analysis Group and Michael Giandrea of the Bureau of Labor Statistics have found that more than a third of men age 51 to 61 are self-employed, up from 20% in 1992. Some 15% of women in that age group are entrepreneurs, a rise from 10%.

Elizabeth Isele, the septuagenarian cofounder of the nonprofit Senior Entrepreneurship Works, applauds the trend but also has a concern. “There is too much happy talk about it,” she says.

From Nurse to Yoga Studio Owner

Amen, I imagine Liz Campbell saying.

Campbell, in her late 50s, is among the new generation of boomer entrepreneurs. The former nurse opened her Yoga Gem studio in Montgomery, Ala. in 2013.

It’s not that she regrets her decision. No, Campbell is passionate about her midlife career switch and her business. But after a rocky start, she has learned that starting and running a small enterprise is harder than some wannabes think.

“You really have to be prepared for the long haul,” she says.

(MORE: Busting the Myths About Work in Retirement)

Campbell graduated from nursing school in 1979 and then worked for about eight years as a nurse in the private sector. During much of that time, she was the sole support for her family of four, living in Oklahoma during the oil recession. (She later divorced.)

Campbell then joined the Air Force as a nurse—for greater financial stability—put in 20 years, and officially retired in 2009 as a Lieutenant Colonel. Like many boomers, Campbell wanted to keep active and employed, but the idea of sticking with the nursing profession didn’t appeal to her.

Instead, she used the GI Bill to pay for her training to become a yoga instructor in Albuquerque, N.M. She then moved to Montgomery and worked at a yoga studio before deciding to open her own and teach a style of yoga emphasizing healing and calmness.

“You see people change with yoga,” she says. “This is how you change the world.”

(MORE: Where to Get Help Launching Your Encore Career)

Limiting Her Financial Risks

Campbell somewhat cushioned the risks inherent in starting a new business by having a realistic financial foundation.

She pulled out about $60,000 of her money in the stock market to have safely at hand when, and if, needed. Perennially frugal, Campbell determined that the roughly $50,000 she receives each year from her military pension and veteran disability benefits would be more than enough to live on in Montgomery.

So she rented a large studio for $1,400 a month and crossed her fingers. “I opened the doors, and I would wait all day,” she recalls. “One or two students showed up. I thought: ‘What have I done? I signed a three year lease. What a fool I was.’”

Not really. Business picked up by the second month, through a combination of word of mouth, competitive pricing and marketing, including radio ads.

When I caught up with her recently, Campbell had two instructors on contract working a few hours a week, with another hire in the works. The studio now averages some 60 students a week and Campbell pulls in roughly $3,000 a month—enough to pay her rent, electricity, advertising and other business-related bills.

Better Prospects for the Years Ahead

She isn’t drawing a salary yet, though, and estimates that she lost about $5,000 last year. That turned out to be less of a concern than she thought. When Campbell delved into the bookkeeping records, she realized the loss mostly reflected costs associated with installing blinds at the studio and paying a co-instructor from a workshop that didn’t do as well as expected.

This year, Campbell expects her business will be in the black and that she’ll draw a small salary. Two reasons for her optimism: She’ll launch a yoga teacher-training program in September; 10 students have signed up, at $2,800 each. (She hopes the tuition income will allow her to hire more yoga instructors so she can devote more energy to the business side of the enterprise.) Also, Campbell plans to turn her volunteering as a yoga instructor at the local Veterans Administration medical center, into a paid contractor position there.

All in all, she believes it will take about five years to get her business humming and her hope is to sell Yoga Gem in about 10 years. At that point, she’ll likely ease into retirement by becoming a part-time instructor.

Her 3 Tips for Starting a Business in Midlife

I asked Campbell what advice she’d offer potential boomer small-business owners. Here are her three tips:

1. Writing a business plan is crucial. To learn how, Campbell took a class at a small business incubator run by the local Chamber of Commerce. “The class was a really good thing to do, even though the business plan changed right away,” she says. Campbell then quoted General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous observation: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Federal, state, and local governments offer a number of programs like the one Campbell took, typically in partnership with other organizations and usually at little to no charge to entrepreneurs. Also, every state has a network of Small Business Development Centers, housed in colleges, offering professional guidance. The web portals of the Kauffman Foundation and the Small Business Administration are valuable sources, too.

2. Network about the nitty-gritty aspects of business. Campbell says she’s approached all the time by vendors and usually meets with them to learn more about running a company. Her relationship with one of her yoga customers, an experienced entrepreneur who sells organic skin products online, helped Campbell better understand small-business accounting and taxes. “Talk to everybody,” Campbell says.

One advantage of starting a business after 50: you probably have deeper networks to tap than younger generations.

Look for local startup events, meet-ups, conferences and competitions. You might even want to begin planning your business at a co-sharing workspace for independent entrepreneurs, which is a great environment idea sharing.

I’ve found that many veteran entrepreneurs are eager to mentor newcomers, so take advantage of their generosity. When I visited TechTown, the Detroit-based incubator, in 2012, it had about 120 experienced entrepreneurs working with potential small business owners. Said Leslie Smith, president and CEO of TechTown: “They just want to help create value.”

3. Be sure you have a financial cushion before taking the leap into entrepreneurship. Financial uncertainty is tough at any age, but that’s especially true when you don’t have a lot of time to make up any losses if the business goes sour.

So make sure your finances add up before taking the leap into small-business land. And then remember: the hard work is only beginning.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the forthcoming Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

MONEY Careers

These 2 Key Moves Will Help You Land Your Dream Second Career

Get the inside scoop on your future job and adjust your spending to match your life goals.

If you’re of a certain age, you may remember the Doris Day song, Que Sera, Sera? (Whatever Will Be, Will Be). It went like this:

When I was just a child in school,
I asked my teacher, “What will I try?”
Should I paint pictures, should I sing songs?”
This was her wise reply: “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.
The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera.”

These days, many boomers are having their own Que Sera Sera moment, wondering “what they will try” next and whether they can afford to do it in “unretirement.” Start a company? Continue working full-time, maybe at a different company or industry? Shift to part-time or contract work?

Many want to keep earning an income—from something that’s meaningful. In other words, doing well personally and doing good socially.

(MORE: Plotting Your Next Move for ‘Unretirement’)

Don’t Listen to the Teacher

But, as Harvard University psychology professor and Stumbling on Happiness author Daniel Gilbert observes, the Que Sera Sera teacher’s reply isn’t that wise or helpful. Instead, he recommends exploring your possibilities by learning from surrogates: people engaged in something that attracts you.

“Teachers, neighbors, coworkers, parents, friends, lovers, children, uncles, cousins, coaches, cabdrivers, bartenders, hairstylists, dentists, advertisers — each of these folks has something to say about what it would be like to live in this future rather than that one, and at any point in time we can be fairly sure that one of these folks has actually had the experience that we are merely contemplating,” Gilbert writes in Stumbling on Happiness.

Then, if you determine that your next move will mean an income cut, I believe you should start getting more frugal, so you can enjoy your new life without feeling squeezed.

Wise Words From A Transition Pro

To learn more about major midlife transitions, I reached out to Harlan Limpert, the 64-year-old Chief Operating Officer for the Unitarian Universalist Association, the church group’s umbrella organization, and former head of human resources at Target.

Due to his career path, many people have informally consulted with Limpert over the years for advice about finding meaning and purpose through work (full-time or part-time).

Limpert worked in HR for two years at Target in Minneapolis after college in the early 1970s. It was a good job, he says, but he felt it didn’t offer enough in terms of life’s meaning. So he went to seminary at Starr King School for the Ministry for Unitarian Universalists in Berkeley, Calif. and then became a chaplain at St. Elizabeth’s, the mental hospital in Washington, D.C.

(MORE: Busting the Myths About Work in Retirement)

Although he found chaplaincy rewarding, Limpert felt it wasn’t the right career for him and, after two years, headed back to Target. While at Target, Limpert stayed engaged with a local congregation. And in 2001, at 51, he quit the HR job to become the Unitarian Universalist Association’s director of lay leadership development—a shift that took advantage of his human resource skills but also came with a significant cut in pay.

These days, Limpert spends three weeks a month at its headquarters in Boston and one week back home in Minneapolis. “It’s the perfect job for me,” he says.

Limpert’s 2 Rules to Follow

In a wide-ranging conversation, Limpert stressed two points for anyone thinking through a major transition:

First, investigate carefully any potential job or career options before leaping into a new endeavor. “The romanticism of the ‘other’ is a huge mistake people make,” he cautions.

(MORE: 4 Tips to Play the Long Game in Work and Life)

In particular, if you’ve labored in the private sector, don’t put on rose-colored glasses about jobs in the nonprofit world. “People think business is hard and bad and the nonprofit world is good and easy,” he says. “Well, no. The question to pursue is, ‘How can I get a realistic picture of what my next life might be?’”

Do your research. Get involved. And, as Gilbert emphasized and Limpert reinforced, talk to lots of people engaged in the kind of job you believe will give you greater emotional and mental satisfaction and financial security.

Limpert’s second major point: A frugal lifestyle will help you fund and succeed at a major transition.

Many unretirement jobs come with a reduced salary; it’s a typical trade-off for the greater flexibility that comes with part-time or contract work. And full-time employees often take a hit if they move from the for-profit sector to the nonprofit world.

The career switch was financially easy for Limpert because he and his wife have always lived relatively modestly, focusing their spending on their children’s education and travel rather than on a big house or luxury cars. By living frugally, “you’re in a position to accept a reduced income,” says Limpert. “You have the economic flexibility to do what you want.”

Frugality Isn’t Pennypinching

Of course, mention frugality or thrift and words like stingy, cheap and hoarding quickly some to mind. Big mistake.

David Starr Jordan, the founding president of Stanford University, rightly noted in a 1915 talk that thrift “does not involve stinginess, which is an abuse of thrift, nor does it require that each item of savings should be financial investments; the money that is spent on the education of one’s self or of one’s family, in travel, in music, in art, or in helpfulness to others, if it brings real returns in personal development or in a better understanding of the world we live in, is in accordance with the spirit of thrift.”

In today’s world, many of my fellow boomers know they wrongly equated the good life with owning lots of stuff. In our hearts, we’ve always known that what gives us genuine satisfaction are experiences and creativity; family and community; a sense of purpose and a spirit of generosity.

Thrift is essentially a mindset for trying to match your spending with your values. “Cheapskates aim to buy as much as they can for as little as possible, not caring much for the quality or environmental or ethical virtues of the items they’re consuming,” Farhad Manjoo wrote when he was Slate’s technology columnist. “To be frugal, on the other hand, is to consider the full ramifications of every purchase.”

Okay, what if you’ve been more spendthrift than thrifty? In that case, work on creating a more frugal lifestyle into your unretirement planning while you’re investigating options for meaningful work.

How to Become More Frugal

The two efforts go hand in hand. There is no shortage of resources for practical suggestions.

I recommend Mark Miller’s The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security: Practical Strategies for Money, Work, and Living and Kerry Hannon’s What’s Next?: Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. And, if you’ll permit me, I’d also suggest reading my book, The New Frugality.

Websites like The Simple Dollar and comprehensive, free or low-cost online financial calculators such as those at Analyzenow.com offer the kind of frugal information that can help turn the dream of an encore job into a financially-realistic pursuit.

Simply put, the payoff from pursuing conversations with job surrogates and adopting a frugal approach to money in your unretirement planning is potentially huge—financially and emotionally.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the forthcoming Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

MONEY working in retirement

How to Find Happiness in Your Second Career—and Earn Money Too

These days, the retirement-planning conversation goes something like this: How can I earn an income after my initial career and give back at the same time?

This article was originally published at NextAvenue.org.

Cindy Lennartson is a 48-year-old library specialist at the University of Texas Libraries, in Austin. She has worked for a university library system for 25 years and is excited about retiring from there at 52 (when she can collect her pension) to start her next career. But she’s not quite sure how to do it.

After Lennartson read my inaugural column on rethinking retirement, “Why I’m Not Buying the Retirement Gloom,” she emailed me for insights on how she might make, and embrace, a life transition. I’ll offer them, as well as advice for others contemplating their move into “unretirement,” shortly.

The Lure of Trying Something New

To find out more about Lennartson’s situation and the future she envisions, I spoke with her. She told me that she’s a recently divorced mother of three who has loved her job and, until a few years ago, believed she’d retire at 62. But the lure of trying something new has convinced Lennartson to start reimagining her next chapter.

(MORE: Busting the Myths About Work in Retirement)

With her new plan of “retiring” at 52 when her children are out of the house, Lennartson said, she can use the next four years to find an encore career that will be meaningful and will come with a paycheck. “I’m rethinking the whole retirement thing — what else do I want to do,” she says. “I’m in the exploratory stage.”

Lennartson is far from alone. For more than three decades, the national conversation among people contemplating retirement was dominated by the haunting question: What is my number? Of course, the sum of savings we’ll need to live comfortably when we’re no longer working is disconcertingly uncertain. There’s no way of knowing what the market will return, let alone how much money will be enough to fund a lifestyle and medical bills.

The New Retirement Question

That’s why, these days, the retirement-planning conversation is increasingly focused on a different question: How can I earn an income after my initial career and give back at the same time?

Recent polls have found that most boomers expect to earn a paycheck during retirement. For example, 72% of pre-retirees age 50 and over just surveyed by Merrill Lynch and the Age Wave consulting firm said they want to work during the traditional retirement years. (You can read more about the survey in the Merrill Lynch report: Work in Retirement: Myths and Motivations, Career Reinventions and the New Retirement Workscape.)

What I found particularly striking in that survey was that many of the respondents said they see retirement “as a chance to try something new and even pursue careers dreams they were unable to explore during their pre-retirement years,” according to the report.

(MORE: Bright Spots and Challenges of Growing Older)

The Payback for Working in Retirement

The personal financial return from earning even a slim paycheck well into the traditional retirement years is big.

Your savings can continue compounding and you’ll live off your accumulated assets for a shorter period of time. A job can also allow you to delay filing for Social Security. Benefits are more than 75 percent higher if you start claiming at age 70 than at 63.

The difficult issue, as Lennartson has discovered, is figuring out what to do next — locating a paying gig that is also engaging.

Lennartson is smart to have a four-year exploration horizon and I encourage you to do the same. “You should be looking for the kind of jobs you could do that are challenging and interesting and offer an acceptable income,” says Arthur Koff, the septuagenarian founder of Retired Brains, an online job and advice portal. “The time to do it is while you’re working.”

(MORE: Change Careers With the ‘Sugar Grain’ Principle)

Why Planning Ahead Can Help

Making inroads before you retire can also help make you more valuable in retirement, as Jake Warner, the founder of Nolo.com, the self-help legal publisher explained to me.

“Let’s say someone thinks of themself as an environmentalist and dreams about working in environmental causes when they retire. But because of work, saving money, raising kids — all the pressures of daily life — they don’t get engaged,” said Warner. “Now they’re 70 and they have time. They head toward an environmental group they admire and say, ‘Here I am. How can I help you?’ The answer is going to be probably not much. Now, take that same person who gets involved with several local environmental groups in their 40s or 50s. At age 70, they’re valued and they’re needed. They earned it.”

The Librarian’s Encore Career

What might Lennartson do for her encore career? Well, she currently volunteers at a nonprofit, recording incarcerated fathers reading to their children and that’s an activity she finds deeply fulfilling. Perhaps there’s a paying job for her with the nonprofit or a similar endeavor.

Alternatively, since her undergraduate degree was in Spanish, she could try to land a job that would let her use her language skills.

Whatever she decides, a part-time gig would probably be best, since Lennartson wants the freedom to travel with her daughter, an activity they enjoy doing together.

Part of the equation revolves around her finances.

Running the Numbers

Lennartson had initially thought she would keep her house in retirement so her children would have a bedroom to come back to. Now, with her new next chapter mindset, she wonders if maybe just a couch is enough. A move into a smaller place would lower her expenses, giving her greater financial freedom.

Henry “Bud” Hebeler, founder of the retirement planning website Analyzenow.com, recommends Lennartson run the numbers to see how much downsizing will boost her cash flow. (That’s a useful site for anyone over 50 noodling a next act.) When she gets closer to making a shift, Lennartson could run her financial blueprint by a professional planner, he says.

As Lennartson is finding, transitions can be tricky and the process takes time. But they’re also liberating. “I feel like I am in college, so much is open to me,” says Lennartson. “It’s like I’m 21 or 22 once again,” she says. Now, that’s exciting.

Chris Farrell is economics editor for APM’s Marketplace Money, a syndicated personal finance program, and author of the forthcoming Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He will be writing on Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell Chris about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him a tcfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

MONEY working in retirement

Don’t Buy Into the Retirement Gloom

Senior in the workplace
Thomas Barwick—Getty Images

In the emerging Unretirement movement, you are your best investment.

This story was originally published at Next Avenue.

Gray wave. Age wave. Geezer tsunami. (Pick your favorite — or most hated — euphemism.) Catchphrases like these capture the realization that we’re living longer and that older Americans make up a growing share of the population. As economist Laurence Kotlikoff and columnist Scott Burns say in The Coming Generational Storm: “The aging of America isn’t a temporary event. We are well into a change that is permanent, irreversible, and very long term.”

Living longer should be a trend worth celebrating. But many people believe that America’s boomers can’t afford retirement, let alone a decent retirement. They fear that aging boomers are inevitably hurtling toward a lower standard of living.

And here’s their evidence: We’ve just been through the worst downturn since the 1930s, decimating jobs and pensions. Retirement savings are slim. Surveys show that boomers aren’t spending much time planning for retirement. The prediction that the swelling tab for Social Security and other old-age entitlements will push the U.S. government and economy into a Greece-like collapse seems almost routine.

The Unretirement Movement

Don’t buy into the retirement gloom. I’m not.

Here’s why: The signs of a grassroots push to reinvent the last third of life are unmistakable. Call it the “Unretirement” movement — and it is a movement.

Unretirement starts with the insight that earning a paycheck well into the traditional retirement years will make a huge difference in our future living standards. You — and your skills and talents — are your best retirement investment. What’s more, if society taps into the talents and abilities of sixty-somethings and seventy-somethings, employers will benefit, the economy will be wealthier and funding entitlements will be much easier.

The Unretirement movement is built off a series of broad, mutually reinforcing changes in the economy and society that are transforming an aging workforce into a powerful economic asset. Boomers are the most educated generation in U.S. history and they’re healthier, on average, than previous generations. A century-long trend toward a declining average age of retirement has already reversed itself and — it’s safe to say — you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

“Many people aren’t slowing down in their 60s and 70s,” says Ross Levin, a certified financial planner and president of Accredited Investors in Edina, Minn. Adds Nicole Maestas, economist at the Rand Corp., the Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank: “Yes, America has an aging population. The upside of that is a whole generation of people who are interested in anything but retirement.”

Your ‘Next Big Thing

Just ask Luanne Mullin, 60. She has done marketing for a dance company, opened a theater company and run a recording studio. These days, Mullin is a project manager at the University of California, San Francisco, overseeing the construction of scientific laboratories (she does mediation at the school on the side).

“I think there’s more and more of us at 60 who are saying, ‘OK, what’s my next career? What do I want to do that’s fulfilling?’” Mullin told me. “I’m all for what’s my next big thing.”Mullin loves her work, but she’s also wrestling with the same questions as many of her peers. “What is this aging thing?” she wonders. “Am I living fully? Is this the second half of life I dreamed of, or if not, how do I pull it together?”

When Unretirement is Tougher

For many in their 50s and 60s, the transition to Unretirement is much tougher — especially for those who are involuntarily unemployed, like Debbie Nowak.

She didn’t see the layoff coming. Nowak worked for more than 30 years in customer relations for the pensions and benefits department at Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., In November 2011, at 58, she lost her job there.

Nowak, who has a high school diploma, let herself grieve until the holidays were over. In the New Year, she got her severance, went on unemployment and began thinking about embracing something completely different from her old job. “I never thought of myself as a risk taker,” she says. “After 30 years, I thought I should take a risk.”

Nowak had a stained glass hobby, making window panes, mosaic trays, and other objects. That led her to the idea of working in the wood finishing and furniture-restoring business. Last year, she got a certificate from The National Institute for Wood Finishing at Dakota Community Technical College in Rosemount, Minn. To pay for it, Nowak took out a loan and the state chipped in from its displaced workers fund.

Today, she has a part-time job at small furniture-restoration company. “It’s a crap shoot, a risk I was willing to take,” says Nowak. “This is also a way to produce additional income in retirement.”

As Mullin and Nowak demonstrate, we’re living though a period of experimentation while redefining retirement. Many people are stumbling about, searching for an encore career, a part-time job or contract work that offers them meaning and an income.

Some find it extremely tough to get hired, cobbling together a job here and a contract there, assuming they’re healthy. Especially vulnerable are less-educated workers who never made much money or never had jobs with employer-sponsored retirement and health benefits.

How Society Will Change

The rise of Unretirement calls for a whole cluster of changes in how society rewards work, creates jobs, shares the wealth and deals with old age. Unretirement will affect where Americans live out their lives, too, as they seek communities and services equipped for them.

Taken altogether, boomers will construct a new vision of their retirement years, which will impact how younger generations will think about their careers.

“People tend to learn from examples or stories handed down from previous generations — but there are few stories to navigate the new context of old age and retirement for the baby boomers,” writes Joseph Coughlin, the infectiously enthusiastic head of MIT’s AgeLab, a multi-disciplinary center. “When there are no set rules you make them up. The future of old age will be improvised.”

Send Your Unretirement Questions

This blog aims to take a first draft at the Unretirement improv act. I’ll particularly focus on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications of the movement. I’ll talk about successes and failures, the impediments of age discrimination and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income in their next chapters.

Most of all, I hope to hear from you and find out about your experiences so I can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to me at cfarrell@mpr.org. My twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

Peter Drucker, the late philosopher of management, noted that every once in a while, society crosses a major divide. “Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself — its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions,” Drucker wrote in Post-Capitalist Society. “Fifty years later there is a new world.”

The transformation of retirement into Unretirement marks such a divide. Welcome to a revolution in the making.

Chris Farrell is economics editor for APM’s Marketplace Money, a syndicated personal finance program, and author of the forthcoming Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He will be writing on Unretirement twice a month.

Related Links:

‘Partial Retirement’ Is On the Rise

A Manual for Encore Careers

 

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