MONEY working in retirement

Why Phased Retirement May Become the Hottest Boomer Benefit

Older federal workers will be able to work part-time before retiring. Other employers are likely to follow.

Many Boomers aren’t ready to retire (even if they’re eligible for Social Security and Medicare) but they’re eager to leave behind the demands of the 40-hour workweek, let alone the 50-hour grind.

Little wonder that the concept of phased retirement — gradually trimming back your workdays while holding onto some benefits — is growing in popularity. And the new federal-employee phased retirement program launching this month could make it more widespread, ultimately leading more businesses to offer the benefit.

“Phased retirement allows you to dip your toes into the shallow end of the retirement pool,” says Jessica Klement, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “You get to test it out.”

The Benefit of Flexibility

But an official, employer-sanctioned phased retirement option open to all its near-retirees isn’t a common benefit yet. The 2014 National Study of Employers by the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management says 12 percent of employers with 1,000 or more employees let all or most workers phase into retirement.

“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.”

I particularly like formal phased retirement programs — rather than ad-hoc versions worked out quietly between particular employees and their bosses — because they let near-retirees dip their toe into what they’ll do next. And, when the programs are done right, they also include a mentorship provision, where the older workers phasing into retirement spend some of their last days at their employer passing on their accumulated knowledge and skills to their younger colleagues.

A Federal-Employee Phased Retirement Program Begins

The new federal phased retirement program, which technically began accepting applications Nov. 6, is one such program. To qualify, you must either be covered under the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System. With the former, you must have worked at least 30 years and be at least 55; with the latter, the minimum age for someone with 30 years of service is age 55 to 57.

Federal employees who’ll take phased retirement will work 20 hours a week and receive half their pay and half their retirement annuity payout. They’ll also be required to devote 20 percent of their time mentoring other federal employees, most likely their successors.

The option should “help the federal government attract and retain skilled people,” says Jeffrey Sumberg, specialist leader in Deloitte’s Federal Human Capital Practice. “It’s potentially a win for all.”

Phased retirement has been on the federal government’s human resources wish list for years and the Obama Administration advocated for a program in 2010. The average age of the federal workforce is 47 (four years more than the overall workforce) and the fear has been that decades of accumulated skill and knowledge would leave in a boomer-led “retirement wave.”

Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) proposed federal employee phased-retirement legislation in 2012, which was rolled into a transportation bill that became law. (The estimated cost savings from the program was used to offset the cost of a rural school initiative.)

A Slow Rollout

But government being government, the rollout of the program will be—to put it kindly—gradual. Each federal agency must come up with its own program design. Consequently, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 1,000 workers will take advantage of the program initially, a small fraction of the federal government’s two million-person workforce.

Still, forecasts are that the phased retirement will become available for many federal near-retirees in 2015 and 2016 and that the program will grow in popularity. The Departments of Defense and Energy, for instance, are expected to let their employees begin applying in early 2015. “Everyone is really excited about this, but we’re waiting for it to get off the ground,” says Klement.

The impact could eventually be huge. The federal government’s program may well lead other industries and companies to add formal phased retirement initiatives to their benefits offerings.

“Hopefully the federal government will encourage more companies to be more supportive of the phased retirement option,” says Anna Rappaport, a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries and head of her own firm, Anna Rappaport Consulting. Adds Deloitte’s Sumberg: “The federal government gets a bad rap on many things, but when it comes to work flexibility they have been ahead of the curve. To the extent the government can be a model, it could encourage private industry.”

What Two Phased-Retirement Workers Say

What is it like holding down a job in a phased retirement program? To find out, I spoke with two employees of Herman Miller, the office furniture manufacturer based in Zeeland, Mich.

At Herman Miller, employees who are 60 or older with at least five years of service at the company qualify. They can phase into retirement over a period of six months to two years, keeping their full-time benefits all the while and receiving take-home pay based on the number of hours they work. As with the federal program, phased retirement employees at Herman Miller must mentor younger workers — in this case, their eventual replacements.

Tony Cortese, senior vice president of people services at Miller, says his firm’s employees who sign up for phased retirement have the view that “I’m ready to retire, but I’m not ready to go today.”

Jake Boeve retired from Herman Miller at 68 in June, where he was in charge of information technology inventory management, after entering the phased-retirement program two years earlier. A nearly 49-year Miller vet, Boeve worked four days a week the first year of his phased retirement and three days the next.

The transition helped him get into a retirement mindset, he says. “You have to be physically, mentally and financially ready for retirement,” Boeve says. “I would highly recommend phased retirement.”

Tom Riemersma, 64, has six months left in his Herman Miller phased retirement. For much of his 46-year career there, he worked in the model shop, creating prototypes. He says his life has been so structured around hard work at Herman Miller that he wanted to ease into retirement. “Phased retirement has worked well for me,” he says.

Riemersma enjoyed training his replacement, though he says that did lead to a few “awkward moments” personally. “You’re phasing yourself out. Not always easy to do,” he notes.

He’s now working three days a week, down from four during his first year in the program. “Now, I find my weekends are too short,” he says.

That’s just a phase he’s going through. It’ll end soon.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book 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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Ranger with snowmobile, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Ranger with snowmobile, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Blickwinkel—Alamy

These retirees found a way to spend all their time on pursuits they love.

“Damn the submarine. We’re the men of the Merchant Marine!” That singsong phrase woke me up every morning for seven months on my first ship, the SS San Francisco. I went to sea after graduating from college. For four years, I worked on ships, mostly tankers, steaming through the Suez and Panama canals, past the Rock of Gibraltar at midnight under a full moon, stopping in ports like Athens, Dubai, and Yokosuka. A number of my peers had similar adventures after college, including leading wilderness trips, tending bar, teaching English overseas and traveling around Europe picking up odd jobs. Ah, those were adventurous days before the desire for a career and family responsibilities took over.

Peter Millon is living the adventure, too—in his Unretirement, at age 69. Last year, he spent about 70 days skiing the slopes in Park City, Utah, when he wasn’t working four days a week for ‎Rennstall World Class Ski Preparation, repairing skis and waxing skis for racers. Essentially, he split his retirement time 50/50: working half-time and pursuing his passion the other half. In the off-season, Millon plays golf with his oldest son who lives in Salt Lake, fishes and takes target practice. Not bad.

Leading a Wealthy Life

A wealthy industrialist? A Wall Street master of the universe? A high-tech titan of business? Hardly. Millon isn’t wealthy, but he leads a wealthy life. “Do something you love, something for you,” he says. “Don’t do it for anyone else.”

Millon began his career working at a small ski maker in St. Peter, Minn. He then spent decades as a technical director at Salomon North America and its various competitors. During the real estate bubble years, Millon was selling high end appliances for the home, living in a townhouse in Massachusetts. Business tanked when the bubble burst, and he took advantage of an early retirement package. Three years ago, he sold the townhouse and moved to Utah where he was known in the ski community, picking up a condo on the cheap. These days, Millon lives comfortably off Social Security, some investments and the income from his part-time job.

The ‘World’s Oldest Intern’

John Kerr is living the 50/50 life in his Unretirement, too, working as park ranger in Yellowstone between May and September. He didn’t plan on becoming a ranger, though. Kerr had a four-decade career at WGBH as a marketing and fund raising executive, retiring at 65. “It took the shock of the change to rattle my bones a bit,” says John Kerr. “I had way too much energy and experience to sit around.”

His exploration took him out to Jackson Hole, Wyo., where Kerr has a small condo. While walking around Bozeman, Mont., he saw a sign for the Yellowstone National Foundation, which supports Yellowstone National Park. He walked in unannounced and from an off-hand remark during a conversation with the organization’s head, he learned it had an internship opening. Kerr applied and for the next year he was “world’s oldest intern,” talking to visitors about wolves.

Kerr became a Yellowstone ranger five months a year for the next nine years, living close to Jackson in the winters and using his time off to visit family. Now 76, he recently moved back to New England to be near family. Still, he expects next season he’ll return to Yellowstone. “It has been a great adventure,” he says.

Advice for Your Unretirement

When I asked Kerr and Millon what advice they’d give to others in their 60s and 70s eager for adventure, Kerr emphasized the importance of an open mind. “You have to have your eyes open and your ears flapping,” he chuckled. Millon suggested drawing on the relationships you’ve made over the years and the skills you’ve developed without trying to compete for the kind of job you had earlier in your career.

What I took away from both men is that the financial penalty of working fewer hours and doing more of what you love can be much less than you might think.

“The key is that when your interests align with your work, there is nothing from which to retire,” says Ross Levin, a certified financial planner and head of Accredited Investors in Edina, Minn. “We save money to ultimately create a lifestyle. If that lifestyle doesn’t need much money, then we need to save less.”

Think of it this way, says Levin: You earn $10,000 a year in your fulfilling work on a ski slope or in national park or down in the Florida Keys. That’s the equivalent of having $250,000 in investment assets, assuming the 4% withdrawal rule (a standard guideline for safely taking money out of retirement savings). A $20,000 income is the equivalent of $500,000 in assets, and so on.

Much of the conversation about prospects in the traditional retirement years often forgets how creative people are at coming up with solutions. Many Unretirees I’ve interviewed over the years have found they made significant cuts in expenses without slashing their standard of living.

So, if your career didn’t leave you with the kind of portfolio that pushes you into the ranks of the wealthy, that doesn’t mean you can’t construct a comparable lifestyle. The question is: What’s your adventure?

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book 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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How to Find the Right Match for Your Second Career

Signing up with an encore career matchmaker can be a smart way to find fulfilling, paid work in retirement.

WANTED: Retirees looking for flexible, paid part-time work in their field of expertise.

Now, that’s a help-wanted ad many boomers dream of running across in their Unretirement years, isn’t it? Well, for Harry Coleman of Cincinnati, Ohio, that’s pretty much what happened, thanks to a “matchmaking” service.

Coleman worked for Procter & Gamble (P&G) for 30 years, mostly in product development, and decided to grab P&G’s juicy retirement package at age 51 in 2008. “The last nine years at P&G were a blast,” he says. “But I wanted more of a work and life balance and you can’t do that if you’re working 50 to 60 hours a week.”

A Three-Bucket Approach

These days, Coleman, now 57, embraces a “three bucket” approach to life.

The first two buckets are for volunteering and charitable activities (mostly through his church) and for “goofing off”—golfing, traveling and taking on projects around the house.

The third bucket relates to that ideal help-wanted ad. In this bucket, Coleman takes on flexible, fulfilling, paid part-time consulting positions he has found since he retired mostly through a firm called YourEncore. “The jobs keep me engaged mentally on the work side; I can pick and choose projects,” he says. “Yet I have the capacity to be more involved in other things.”

YourEncore, based in Indianapolis, Ind., is essentially a matchmaker between large corporate customers around the country looking for experienced brainpower to address a pressing business problem (typically for about 10 weeks) and seasoned, skilled Unretirees who are eager for a challenge and part-time income.

YourEncore was created in 2003 when P&G and Eli Lilly, the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant, asked consultant John Barnard for a way management could draw on the knowledge and expertise of retired employees. Boeing quickly joined the venture to recruit “retired engineers for urgent and complex technical projects,” as an internal company online newsletter put it.

Companies using YourEncore are largely in the food, consumer product and life sciences industries. So far, more than 8,000 people have found work through the matchmaker; 65 percent of them have advanced degrees. The pay is good, although the exact amount depends on the person’s experience, the company, the difficulty of the project and the time commitment.

Encore Career Matchmaking Services Are Sprouting

YourEncore is just one example of the growing number of matchmaking services targeted at retiring boomers. It focuses on private sector work, but many others specialize in the social venture space, creating bridges between for-profit careers and nonprofit encores for the greater good. Some are regional, such as Experience Matters in Maricopa County, Ariz. ESC of New England runs an Encore Fellows program in greater Boston. Other matchmakers like ReServe, headquartered in New York City, have national and international ambitions.

Though the Unretiree matchmaking business is pretty new, it’s already starting to puncture a common stereotype: that the idea of gray hair and creativity is an oxymoron. For example, YourEncore workers have earned a reputation for creative problem solving, says Peter Kleinhenz, manager of the its P&G office. “You can be really productive when you don’t have a career that needs to be advanced or turf to protect,” says Kleinhenz.

New York City-based ReServe offers a very different business model, but it, too, acts as an encore career matchmaker.

ReServe connects 55-plus professionals with local nonprofits, public institutions and government agencies. Aside from its New York operations, ReServe also places candidates — typically former lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, corporate recruiters and the like — in Baltimore, Md.; Miami, Fla.; Newark, N.J.: Boston, Mass.; southeast Wisconsin and New York’s Westchester County. ReServe has placed more than 3,300 workers at more than 350 organizations.

ReServists work for a $10-an-hour stipend, well below their market value during their earlier career. (Another $5-an-hour is split between the company managing payroll for the person and ReServe.) The job is between 10 and 20 hours a week and the average ReServe contract lasts nine months to a year.

“A good proportion—50%—are not really looking to do what they have done before. They want to use their skills in a brand new setting. The common denominator is transferable skills,” says Lorrie Lutz, chief strategy officer at Fedcap, a New York-based nonprofit that combined with the smaller ReServe in 2012.

For example, Lutz says, an accountant with a passion working with kids might spend a stint as a math tutor. A marketing professional might employ her skills at a government agency struggling to get its policy message out.

Giving Back for Your Next Career

ReServe plans on operating in every state and taking its program overseas. “We think we have a great idea here. There’s a generation of talent here and abroad. Boomers are the most-educated generation,” says Lutz. “They have so much to give back.”

That’s certainly the case with Scott Kariya, an IT recruiter for 23 years who “retired” at 52 in 2006. Quickly bored, Kariya reached out to ReServe. He didn’t find an open position at the time, but in 2008 talked his way into a job at ReServe’s main office.

He worked there three days a week using his recruiting skills, spending the rest of his time volunteering at the local Red Cross, managing his investment portfolio and doing other things. “Everyone wants to stay busy,” says Kariya. “But I think a lot of people get tired of the 50-hour workweek.” Today, he heads up ReServe’s information technology operations.

A common denominator among encore career matchmakers is the amount of effort they put into finding the right people for clients’ needs. YourEncore gains an understanding of the proposed project from P&G, Lilly or another corporate customer, and then uses that to find the right experts. ReServe learns about the skills and passions of its applicants so the client partnerships are fruitful.

I’ve witnessed the same matchmaking ethos at Experience Matters in Phoenix and with the national Encore Fellowships Network. Although the infrastructure is still being built, the future looks bright because corporate America and nonprofits seem more aware of the talents and skills of available boomers.

Locating a Local Matchmaker

To find an encore career matchmaker in your area, you might start at the Encore.org site. But you may need to take a more indirect route, by networking locally. For example, in Portland, Ore., Life By Design NW serves as an information clearinghouse. JV EnCorps (part of the Jesuit Volunteer Network) recruits people 50 and older in Portland and Bend, Ore. and Seattle, Wash. In Kansas City, you could check out Next Chapter Kansas City, a grassroots networking group for boomers.

At the moment, the supply of people eager to keep using their accumulated knowledge and creative insights exceeds the demand for their services. But organizations like YourEncore and ReServe point the way toward a model that allows for engagement and compensation for people who’d otherwise have lots of time on their hands.

It’s a model that may well end up defining Unretirement the way Sun City symbolized retirement for a different generation in the 1960s.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book 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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Senior painting in studio
Lynn Koenig—Getty Images/Flickr

You aren't limited to a second career. Be ready to embrace a third or fourth career as opportunities come along.

Most of my boomer friends tell their adult children to plan on multiple jobs and careers. The era of corporate loyalty and the organization man and woman is long gone, they (and I) say—due to a hypercompetitive global economy and their likely desire to embrace new opportunities throughout their work lives. Good advice.

But boomers ought to heed this insight, too, embracing multiple acts during the second half of life. I think you shouldn’t just plan on a second career, but maybe a third or a fourth.

Linda Lyman: On Her Third Career

That’s also what Linda Lyman told me with a smile when we met at a Phoenix breakfast event for UMOM, a nonprofit helping families break the cycle of homelessness. She’s exploring her third career in what I call Unretirement (also the title of my new book on the trend).

Lyman moved to Phoenix 31 years ago, eventually managing legal services for a land developer. On the 17th anniversary at this job, a colleague congratulated her and asked: “What will you do for the next 17 years?” The thought of spending another 17 years at one place jolted Lyman, then 46.“I have to get out of here,” she thought. “I am going to do something more meaningful.”

Lyman next began working at a small nonprofit that mentored at-risk kids, New Pathways for Youth, and ran the group successfully for a decade. She loved the work, but decided it was time to “retire” earlier this year. “Ten years is a long time,” Lyman says. “I needed to have more life balance. I left on my own terms. It’s good.”

Now Lyman, 58, is eager to teach in an inner-city school. “I want to do something that I’m passionate about,” she says. “Teaching is what I thought I was going to do when I was in high school. It’s nice to be circling back.” Her husband is 65 (he’s retired from Intel) and the couple is open to relocating for Lyman’s teaching job, with Wisconsin and Minnesota high on her list.

Ginia Desmond: Heading Toward Career No. 5

Ginia Desmond is now on her fourth career and may be heading towards No. 5. My sense is that she has danced from one adventure to another.

Desmond was a serious artist early on, with a Masters in Fine Art. She painted in Argentina while living there with her first husband and then in the Phillippines, where her second husband—Charles Kepner, founder of the Kepner-Tragoe consulting firm—worked.

Desmond brought some Philippine fabrics back when they moved to Tucson about a year later and sold them to a local boutique. The store owner wanted to buy more fabrics, so for her second career Desmond created Sangin, a trading company importing baskets, fabrics, lighting fixtures and similar items from the Philippines and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

She ran the business for 27 years and sold Sangin in 2003. “I never got rich,” she says. “But we didn’t go broke and I employed a lot of people.”

Time to return to her first career, she thought. So Desmond again picked up her charcoal, oils and watercolors and worked at becoming an established artist.

But Desmond took a screenwriting course at the University of Arizona in 2004 and fell in love with writing screenplays, which led her to career No. 4.

She’s since written a dozen-plus scripts; some have been optioned and she has been hired to write a few others. One of her scripts is Lucky U Ranch, about a bullied boy living in a trailer park in the ‘50s who is helped out by an angel appearing in a Cadillac that’s pulling a shiny silver trailer. A local director liked it and offered to turn the script into a movie if Desmond could find a producer.

She thought about the offer and finally landed on a producer—herself. Could this be career No. 5?

“I could buy a home or I could make a movie,” says Desmond, now 72. “I’ve bought several homes. Why not make a movie?”? She put up the money, is hoping for a winter release and is now working on another screenplay, Singapore Fling, about revisiting the island nation late in life to meet up with an old flame.

While Lyman and Desmond have led very different lives, they’ve both taken a savvy approach in approaching their encore careers.

For example, Lyman took advantage of her retirement from New Pathways for Youth to think through her options. When she kept coming back to becoming a teacher, she reached out to a few that she knew to glean insights about the job.

At the moment, Lyman is thinking about applying to Teach for America. The program is best known for hiring young college graduates and placing them in schools in low-income communities, but the organization has been increasingly opening its doors to midlifers.

Desmond has a talent for finding intriguing opportunities, but was careful to ensure that she could afford her latest venture: movie producer.

She didn’t let her enthusiasm for the project put her finances at risk. An unusual source of income helps: she gets royalties from her songwriting father, whose best known hit is Here Comes Santa Claus.

Turns out that for many of us, our Unretirement may not be our encore career but encore careers. Pretty cool.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book 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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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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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.

More from NextAvenue.org:

What You Should Know About the 50+ Job Market

Dip Your Toe Into the Encore Career Waters

Phased Retirement: What You Need to Know

MONEY retirement planning

How to Ease Into Retirement on Your Own Schedule

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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.

More from NextAvenue.org:

What You Should Know About the 50+ Job Market

Dip Your Toe Into the Encore Career Waters

Phased Retirement: What You Need to Know

MONEY Second Career

Why You Need a Second-Career Matchmaker

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.

Related Links:

 

MONEY Second Career

How to Shift From Full-time Work to a Part-Time Second Career

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Nicole Hill—Getty Images

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.

Related Links:

MONEY Second Career

3 Tips for Launching Your Labor-of-Love Business

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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