The odds of enjoying a longer life are greater than ever before for many Americans. And people aren't just living to more advanced ages than any previous generation—they're also staying healthy and active longer into retirement. "The idea that most of us can live a good quality of life well beyond our eighties takes most people by surprise," says Dr. Thomas Perls, director of an ongoing Boston University study of centenarians.
That's the good news, but it comes with a big challenge: How are you going to pay for all those years of healthy, vibrant living? For answers, we turned to some people who are well on the way to a long and comfortable retirement. Here are the smart money moves that got them there.
Smart move: Age-proof your home
Dick and Louise Goodman, 72 and 75
After 30 years living in a sprawling, overdeveloped suburb of Miami, Dick and Louise Goodman were ready for a change when they retired in 2007. They found it in Suwanee, Ga., a town of 15,000 people, 30 miles from Atlanta.
The Goodmans often visited one of their daughters, who lives in Suwanee, and found the town had many of the qualities they wanted. “It looked like a place where we could be very comfortable and enjoy life,” says Dick. They built a house close to the town center, so they can easily get by with one car and bike or walk where they need to go. The home has age-friendly features, including a homeowner’s association that does the landscaping.
Retired from his career in marketing and public relations, Dick serves on the city council. Louise, formerly an interior designer, teaches tai chi. “We’ve been so active, we’ve made lots of new connections and friends living here,” she says. With their daughter, a son, and five grandchildren close by and the rest of their family on the East Coast, they also have a support system handy. “We wanted a place near family," Dick says, "and the family wanted us close to them too.”
Smart move: Simplify your investments
John Kidwell, 64
John Kidwell is just beginning to ease into retirement. Though the Dallas dentist is still working, he sold his dental practice to his partner two years ago and will cut his hours back next year. “I’ve never taken more than a week of vacation from work,” says Kidwell, who plans to travel with his wife and spend more time with his five grandchildren.
But he’s not only planning for more fun. With his dad still going strong at 89, Kidwell wants to make sure he doesn’t run out of money if he lives a long life too. To help ensure his investments will support a multi-decade retirement, Kidwell maintains a 60% stake in stocks: "I know I still need growth," he says. He also plans to consolidate his assets—IRAs, 401(k), taxable accounts—with one firm so his nest egg is easier to manage as he gets older. “I keep close tabs on my investments now, but it’ll be better when it’s all in one place,” he says. Bonus: Bundling accounts will also reduce fees, boosting his returns.
Smart move: Reboot your career
Linda Broadbent, 76
After a first career as a middle school teacher, Linda Broadbent found her career passion at 53, when she became a real estate agent specializing in housing for older people. “I identified with people in the sandwich generation helping their parents find suitable housing, because I had parents with health issues too,” says Broadbent, who became one of the first agents in Charlottesville, Va., to earn a seniors real estate specialist designation.
These days, she is a contemporary of the market she serves, which gives her an advantage. “I can talk with my peers with ease because we have the same concerns,” she says. While Broadbent has no plans to stop working, she recently cut her hours to 25 from 40 a week. She says the income she gets from the job is helpful, but the real driver is the social interaction and satisfaction: “I help pull people through stressful situations—selling their home and downsizing,” says Broadbent. “Working helps me stay active, both mentally and physically. It also keeps me emotionally stable and happy.”
Smart move: Stay active and engaged
Marv and Charlotte Shapiro, 90 and 88
Marv and Charlotte Shapiro begin their day at 6:30 a.m. with a walk or workout at the local gym (he swims; she prefers the treadmill). Marv also plays tennis once a week and writes essays for the local newspaper, while Charlotte just published her first book, a biography of little known suffragist Matilda Gage.
The Shapiros, who live in Southbury, Conn., have always been driven. After working in the family bridal business in Manhattan until age 56, Marv went back to school for computer programming and launched a second career as a computer consultant. Charlotte retired from teaching high school at 56 and co-founded a women’s equal employment rights agency. They continued to work part-time into their 70s.
The Shapiros haven’t slowed down much since they retired in 2001 and left their Long Island home for a retirement community in Southbury called Heritage Village. Charlotte volunteers with the League of Women Voters, and Marv produces videos for the community television station. The couple say their active life has helped them stay sharp. “Even though we’re retired,” says Charlotte, “we feel vital and find a lot of satisfaction in what we do.” Marv agrees: “Staying actively engaged prolongs the pleasures of living.”
Smart move: Minimize hassle, maximize convenience
Ray and Nancy Tanner, both 62
After 35 years in the small college town of Corvallis, Ore. (home to Oregon State University), Ray and Nancy Tanner wanted city living after they retired. In 2012 they moved two hours north, to Portland. "We wanted to stretch our wings and try something different. Portland gives us a mix of city life and outdoor adventure," says Nancy.
They downsized from a house with lots of stairs and a big yard to a condo with an open floor plan on one level. “We have no outside maintenance except for two flowerpots on our deck,” says Nancy, a former middle school teacher. They live in a neighborhood on the waterfront, one block from a streetcar stop that connects them to downtown and a light rail that goes all over the city as well as to the airport.
The Tanners are also just two blocks from their doctors at Oregon Health Sciences University Center for Health and Healing. Proximity to good healthcare was important for the Tanners, especially for Ray, who wears leg braces. That hasn’t them from exploring the city. Most days, Nancy and Ray—who worked in technical marketing at Hewlett Packard for 24 years then as an adjunct professor at Oregon State—walk four to five miles. They also are spending lots of time with their 3-year old grandson and enjoying new restaurants. “Life is easy in the city, and we think it’ll be a great place for us to age,” Nancy says.
Smart move: Profit from your passion
Vicki Thomas, 68 (pictured with Staff Sgt. Sandra Lee)
Vicki Thomas was a successful public relations and marketing exec in New York City for 35 years, but by 64 she felt burned out. She didn’t want to stop working, though, so she went looking for a fresh challenge. “I wanted to do something that inspired me and made me feel good about what I was doing,” says the Westport, Conn., resident.
She found it in 2009, after watching a CNN news story about two injured Iraq war veterans who were launching a nonprofit to provide housing for wounded vets. Thomas cold-called the founders of Purple Heart Homes and offered her professional PR, marketing, and fundraising expertise, pro bono, to help get the fledgling organization off the ground. After starting as a volunteer, Thomas is now chief communications officer for Purple Heart Homes. (She's pictured above with Staff Sgt. Sandra Lee, an Iraq War veteran who received housing from the organization.)
Thomas, who works from home, has enough flexibility to take “play days” with her husband, who also still works. She is so energized by her new career, she has no plans to retire. “You are much more vital, connected, and in tune with life if you can work in some capacity, especially if you are doing something you are passionate about,” she says.