Have you always wanted to operate a food truck, or learn to weld? Perhaps your career dreams include serving in the Peace Corps or becoming a teacher. Or you may be imagining a technical career, such as coding or computer repair. Post-retirement work could be your opportunity to finally explore the options you’ve put on hold all these years.
But isn’t retirement for … retiring? For some of us, yes; but for most of us? Maybe not so much.
If you’re planning for retirement — or if you’re retired now — you know that saving for the golden years can be tricky. With as many as 64% of U.S. workers expecting to have less than $10,000 saved at retirement (according to a 2019 GoBankingRates survey), it’s clear that many retirees will need to continue working.
In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 10.6 million Americans working past the age of 65. That number broke down to 26.6% of Americans in the 65-74 age group, and 8.9% of Americans age 75 or older, who were working in 2020.
Depressing? Inspiring? Inevitable? Your reaction to these numbers may foretell how your post-retirement work years unfold. If you can generate some enthusiasm for the prospect of continued work, you’ll be in a better position to control what you end up doing. The secret, like so much else, is in the planning.
In this last of four columns on post-retirement work, we’re reviewing options that involve a change from whatever field you’re retiring from. (Previous columns looked at the idea of boomeranging back to your earlier profession, as well as questions to consider when returning to work, and the financial aspects of this life chapter.)
To start this discussion, it helps to approach this new work you’re considering as a career change. That’s because using a career change model lets you tap into valuable guidance on how to identify, research, prepare for and obtain work in a brand new field.
There are numerous online and in-person counseling resources, as well as books and courses that can provide the basic process for changing careers. In the interest of space, we’ll jump ahead to the specifics that matter when the transition happens post-retirement.
First, it’s good to remember that this takes more planning and ramp-up time than a return to your previous field. Even if your concept is a relatively simple transition — say, from previous work in an office setting to part-time work in retail — you’ll need to identify and confirm the needed skills, knowledge and stamina that you can contribute.
For more complex transitions, the interim steps could include training, or an initial side gig to build the skills and confidence for success. And, if you go big by choosing a new career in a licensed field — think nursing, teaching, law, truck driving — you’ll need several months or longer to lay the groundwork for the new profession.
For this reason, even if your retirement is years away, your first step can’t start soon enough. For example, if you think you’d like to be a teacher, now could be the right time to volunteer in the schools to build experience and confirm your choice.
Pre-retirement might also be the time to start online classes if your new work will require new training. Although it can be a juggle to maintain classes and employment together, the financial picture will be better than if you start training without an income after you retire.
One post-retirement option that has gained popularity is self-employment. While this can be risky in terms of investment, it can also be highly rewarding, both personally and financially. Even so, successful entrepreneurs aren’t made overnight, and you can’t necessarily assume your startup will produce income quickly enough to meet your retirement expenses.
Luckily, there are a number of ways to manage your startup process for the best chance of success. For example, if you begin a side business while still employed full-time, you can build the infrastructure without having to rely yet on the income. Then you can ramp down to part-time work and finally transition to full self-employment as your primary income source.
Regardless of the work you choose, it’s smart to account for potential declines in health or stamina. If your dream is owning a food truck, for example, having a partner or children to share the load could make sense.
Whatever you decide to do post-retirement — including actually retiring — allowing for a range of work options will provide the flexibility you may need, both financially and personally.
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at email@example.com.