Retirement: 3 ways to enrich it without adding money

Retirement planning is about more than saving money. It's about what you're going to do. Here are three ways to stay active in retirement.

David Goldman/AP/File
Well-wishers sign a poster for Rep. Joe Heckstall (l.), who retired from the Georgia state legislature earlier this year. Many politicians lead active civic lives after their retirement from public office.

In 2009, Rusty Arnesen was forced into retirement. He hadn't planned to leave his job as chief deputy public defender for San Diego County in California quite so soon. He was shocked.

"I'd had a very busy job overseeing 100 lawyers and working at least 50 hours a week," says Mr. Arnesen, who now golfs, does some pro bono legal work, and has several high-level volunteer jobs. "Now, I'm looking for more things to volunteer for. I hadn't figured what it would be like" in retirement.

Neither do many Americans. For all the emphasis put on saving for retirement, planning for what to do in retirement is often lacking. While that may not pose an immediate problem – new data from the MetLife Mature Market Institute show 70 percent of 65-year-old retirees thoroughly enjoy retirement – it's not clear that enjoyment endures. That's why many experts suggest embracing some second act during this period that can last 30 years or more.

"There's the honeymoon period for the first six months. Then restlessness sets in, and you wonder what to do with the rest of your life," says Todd Tresidder, founder of FinancialMentor.com in Reno, Nev. "That's where [today's] whole new retirement comes in."

The transition tends to be more difficult for men. While 77 percent of men (72 percent of women) have planned financially for retirement, more women have "thought about what they'd like to do in retirement," says a survey released in January by Ameriprise Financial. For example, 41 percent say they plan to spend more time with family (34 percent of men); 21 percent place importance on their proximity to friends (13 percent of men); 25 percent say they've spent time determining how they will rest and relax in retirement (19 percent of men).

"Women tend to have many friends, while men tend to have relatively few friends," says Donald Strauss, co­director at RetireRight Center, a ­Chicago-based retirement planning firm and coauthor of "Customize ... Don't Minimize ... Your Retirement." Since men have been focused on work through much of their adult lives, they've built structures and an identity around it. Retirement "leaves them with a vacuum to be filled."

What to do? Sure, take a breather after a busy career. But then reengage in something. Here are some options:

Turn your passion into a new career. Instead of "retiring," reinvent yourself, says Mark Walton, author of "Boundless Potential." Do something that "lets you be as successful as you were earlier in life." It doesn't matter if that role creates income, he adds. The shift can be dramatic, such as moving from something technical to an artistic endeavor.

To get started, determine what absorbs your attention; explore how to convert it into real work, then envision a working structure to make that happen in the marketplace. For many, "it will involve inventing and marketing something themselves – being an entrepreneur," says Mr. Walton, chairman and founder of the Center for Leadership Communication in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Consider a "bridge" job. Experts say these positions – consulting or any kind of part-time, part-year, or project work – ease the transition and can provide income as well as human interaction. But the work "shouldn't stress them out or keep them from seeing the grandchildren. It shouldn't have the same feeling as their past job," says Caitrin Lynch, an anthropology professor at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., and author of "Retirement on the Line." While some prefer continuing their past career in some fashion, others want to experiment. Preretirement planning – involving retirement coaches, seminars, or other guidance – can help a person decide what, and how much, work he or she wants to do, she adds.

Volunteer. You can contribute time and energy to some form of social good. While many people find possibilities through their church, synagogue, or mosque, many other avenues exist, says Marci Alboher, vice president at Civic Ventures, a San Francisco think tank focused on boomers, work, and social purpose. There are many volunteering possibilities, including AARP's Create the Good program (createthegood.org), and volunteer networking sites such as VolunteerMatch.org and Idealist.org.

A key tip: Once you identify the kind of volunteering you'd like to do, network to determine which organizations will offer a meaningful experience. "Make sure your work will be high-impact," Ms. Alboher advises, "because people are reluctant simply to lick envelopes."

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