Best Retirement Plans: Definitive Ranking of the 25 Best Ways to Spend Retirement
So, what are the best retirement plans?
Well… there is no wrong way to spend retirement. Without the grind of a job, you typically have the freedom to allocate your time however you wish.
However, these 25 ideas and lifestyles just might rise above the rest as the best ways to spend your retirement.
The rankings are determined by how well each of these activities will contribute to your mental and physical well being with major bonus points if it has the potential to improve your financial future.
So, without further ado, here is the definitive list of the 25 best retirement plans:
#25 – Be a Perennial – Ever Blooming!
Forget about defining yourself by your age. There is a new movement that eschews labels like baby boomer, greatest generation, gen x and millennial.
Perennials are people who are relevant in the here and now — regardless of their age. According to Gina Pell, the woman who has coined this new term, perennials are: “…ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who live in the present time, know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology, and have friends of all ages. We get involved, stay curious, mentor others, are passionate, compassionate, creative, confident, collaborative, global-minded, risk takers who continue to push up against our growing edge and know how to hustle. We comprise an inclusive, enduring mindset, not a divisive demographic.”
Stay relevant is a good rallying cry for retirement.
# 24 – Focus on Feeling Grateful
Whether you write it down in a journal, meditate about things you appreciate or compose thank you notes to the people who make your life better, feeling grateful is proven to improve your health.
Dr. Wendy Mendes of the University of California, San Francisco, has done extensive research and published on the topic of “Effects of Measured and Manipulated Gratitude on Biomarkers of Health and Aging.” She has found that higher levels of gratitude generally predict that someone has:
- Less anxiety and depression
- More optimism
- More social connectedness
- Less anger
- Better sleep patterns
- Lower blood pressure
- Higher good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol
- Better functioning kidneys and more
# 23 – Contemplate the End
“Huh?” you say! Stay with me for a second, thinking about your death is definitely a way to have one of the best retirement plans. A recent essay published in the New York Times made a strong case that thinking about your death can make you happier. The idea is to think about your daily choices as if this year were your last year.
The research indicates that using death to help prioritize how you use your time actually improves your satisfaction and overall happiness with your choices.
#22 – Turn Off the TV
Retirement generally means that you have more free time. And watching television is a temptingly easy way to fill that time.
However, studies have found that people who watch more TV are generally less happy than those who watch less. Researchers at the University of Maryland analyzed the responses of 45,000 Americans about daily activities of people. John Robinson, the study’s author told the New York Times that, “We looked at 8 to 10 activities that happy people engage in, and for each one, the people who did the activities more — visiting others, going to church, all those things — were more happy. TV was the one activity that showed a negative relationship.”
Unhappy people watched more TV, and happy people watched less.
#21 – Travel the World
Whether you have big bucks or a limited budget, retirement travel becomes possible because you are rich in time.
Imagine you wanted to see Spain and Italy. When working, you either have to see very little of each place in a short period of time or take two trips. Two trips is double the airfare and if you are trying to squeeze it all into one trip, then you might be paying a premium for hotels close to the things you want to see and other conveniences.
Everything is different in retirement. You can take two months and see two, three or more locations in one trip — dramatically reducing your airfare costs. And with time, you can rent apartments or other lower cost accommodations, cook some meals in your rented home, walk instead of taking taxis — all of which can dramatically decrease your daily spend and also enable you to really enjoy being in the location instead of packing it all in.
#20 – Go Do Something Amazing and Unique
There is truly no limit to what retired people can do. Consider the 80 year old fashion model, the World War II veteran who transitioned to being a female at age 90 and the 86 year old nun who runs ironman races.
#19 – Sit Less – Make Movement a Normal Part of Your Routine
Recent studies have concluded that there are significant risks to sitting too much — many people are now calling “sitting the new smoking.”
And, according to the Blue Zones, a study of the communities with the longest healthiest lives, making movement a natural part of your life is important. The study’s authors say, “The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it.”
Think about ways to incorporate more movement into your life:
- Can you walk to the grocery store every day?
- If you are relocating for retirement, then think about the walkability of your community.
- Stand while talking on the phone or whenever you can.
- Do your own gardening or home maintenance.
- Develop hobbies that get you moving throughout the day (gardening, woodworking, baking or running, biking, swimming).
- Adopt an active dog who needs lots of walking and play.
#18 – Keep Learning New Tricks
We know from brain research that learning new skills and knowledge is key to increasing brain health.
From activism and amateur radio to ziplining and zumba, there is no shortage of potential hobbies and activities to pursue in retirement. Reading, learning a new language, taking a college course, playing an instrument, restoring cars, doing suduko… It doesn’t matter what you do, just develop hobbies and keep trying to improve your mastery of them.
As they say: “Use it or lose it!”
# 17 – Volunteer
Volunteering lets you give back to the community in ways that often benefit the volunteer just as much as those you are working for.
A study by the Center for Social Development, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, in St. Louis reports, “Older adults who volunteer and who engage in more hours of volunteering report higher levels of well-being.”
If you are interested in finding a volunteer opportunity as part of preparing for retirement, here are some high quality programs designed for seniors:
- Foster Grandparents
- Senior Companions
- RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program)
- OASIS Intergenerational Tutoring Program
- Across Ages Program
- Experience Corps
- Senior Corps
- Senior Corps Foster Grandparent Program
- Senior Corps Retired and Senior Volunteer Program
- Volunteer Match
- Volunteers of America
- Experience Corps
- Volunteers in Parks Program, National Park Service
- The Peace Corps
#16 – Focus on Relationships — Be Part of a Group
Research shows that retirees who have a solid circle of friends are much more likely to say they’re happy with their lives.
And, it turns out that the opposite is also true. A study from the University of Chicago found that loneliness in older people may increase the chance of death by 14 percent. Psychologist John Cacioppo says that loneliness may have twice the impact on early death as obesity and is as damaging as disadvantaged socioeconomic status.
Unfortunately, forging new relationships can be more of a challenge after leaving the work-a-day world. But it can be done. Joining groups that get together to pursue a common interest (dancing, hiking, historical preservation, whatever) and enrolling for classes at a local college are all excellent ways to meet new people and broaden your social network.
#15 – Embrace the Aging Process
Becca Levy, an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University, found that when older adults think of getting old as a positive experience — being about wisdom, self-realization and satisfaction — then they:
- Function at a higher level
- Live 7.5 years longer
- Are more likely to eat well, exercise and avoid vice
Getting old is not something we necessarily look forward to. As such, it can be a good idea to look for role models for aging when you are preparing for retirement. Who is someone older than you that you admire? How do they dress or act that is appealing to you? What kinds of activities do they engage in? What is their attitude toward life? How do they interact with people?
#14 – Take Care of Your Health
According to a Merrill Lynch study, more than 80% of today’s retirees say health is the most important ingredient for a happy retirement.
So, the best retirement plan involves not just your finances but also ways to stay mentally and physically healthy. UC Irvine is heading a celebrated research project that is documenting what factors determine who will live past age 90. Here are some of their findings:
- Smokers die earlier than non smokers
- People who exercise live longer than those who do not. As little as 15 minutes a day makes a difference. Forty five minutes a day is best.
- Non physical activities are also important. Think book clubs, meeting friends for coffee, crossword puzzles.
- Vitamins do not seem to make a difference.
- Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with living longer. Up to two drinks a day leads to a 10-15 percent reduced risk of death.
- Coffee is good too — 1-3 cups a day.
- Gain a little weight — people who are average or slightly over weight seem to live longer than those who are underweight.
Being healthy can also reduce your out of pocket health spending which can be devastatingly expensive.
#13 – Simplify
According to ancient Chinese and Japanese traditions, removing clutter (actual stuff as well as cloudy thinking) enables you to make room for happiness.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods—stuff they do not need.
Retirement is an excellent time to simplify your life and take stock of what you really need and want. Maybe you could even sell some of your unused treasures with the proceeds going toward retirement savings or a fun experience!
#12 – Move to a Retirement Community
Retirement communities are not for everyone. There are rules to follow and a general need to conform to the norms of the association. However, some of retirement’s biggest problems — feeling isolated and not having enough money — can often be solved by moving to a retirement community. In a retirement community you:
- Are surrounded by people who are likely similar to you and there are pre scheduled activities and various amenities — swimming, golf, classes, etc…
- Can skip many of the more daunting home maintenance projects.
- Have the possibility of continuing care options. (Some retirement communities let you move into a self sufficient living situation but you have the ability to transition into assisted living if you ever require that kind of advanced care.)
- Are likely to be able to cut expenses and potentially release home equity if you owned your home. (Try modeling downsizing in the NewRetirement retirement planner to see how it could strengthen your retirement finances.)
Review this guide to finding the best place for you to retire for some creative ideas.
#11 – Reinvent Yourself
Retirement is now thought of as a time of new beginnings. This is your chance to be in control of your time and you can become anyone you want to be. Try a new career, dress differently, go back to school, cultivate a fresh hobby, whatever you want.
Take the case of Baddiewinkle the Instagrandma. Baddiewinkle has spent most of her life cultivating a little farm in Waco, Kentucky. However, she now has millions of followers on Instagram and has written a book titled “Baddiewinkle’s Guide to Life.” She is famous for outrageous outfits and an optimistic wild happy approach to life.
She goes to show that you really never know where life will take you. Be open to the unexpected because it just might bring fame, fortune or happiness.
#10 – Become a Traveling Gypsy
My mother’s mother always joked that she was going to buy a gypsy wagon and travel up and down coastal California visiting her children and grandchildren. And, my Dad’s parents spent about six months out of every year cruising various locales (Bahamas, Mississippi River, the Atlantic seaboard and more) on their boat.
But, these are not isolated examples.
The gypsy lifestyle is an increasingly popular way of life for all types of retirees. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, record numbers of American own RVs and their popularity is growing. The association estimates that about 750,000 to one million retirees call R.V.s home. And thousands more live aboard boats and quite literally float through retirement enjoying every sunset and sunrise.
The gypsy lifestyle can lower your cost of living and, depending on your temperament, increase your enjoyment of life.
#9 – Prioritize: Make a Bucket List and Start Checking Things Off
Retirement is an excellent time to take stock of what you have and what you want — and prioritize appropriately.
If you know what is most important to you, you can:
- More appropriately allocate your financial resources
- Gain a greater sense of well being.
#8 – Deal with Debt
According to this survey, 8 in 10 middle-income Boomers currently have some debt. Three in 10 devote more than 40% of their monthly income to debt and a quarter have a mortgage with more than 20 years remaining on it.
For many people, that debt is emerging as a serious threat to a successful retirement. Debt can be a constant source of stress and affect retirees’ ability to keep their homes, pay necessary living expenses, and even be accepted into independent- or assisted-living facilities.
Need some motivation for getting rid of your debt? Use the NewRetirement retirement planner to see how much your finances could improve if you were to eliminate that debt! The tool lets you model different scenarios. After entering some initial information and exploring an analysis of your situation, you can see what happens if you accelerate your debt payments, work longer, reduce interest rates or try any of the other options.
#7 – Start a Small Business
The Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation gave testimony in 2014 before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. In part, this testimony explained that about 1/4 of all new businesses started in that year were owned by people aged 55 to 64.
And entrepreneur-ism makes great sense as a career move for retirees. The experiences of a long career can give seniors the knowledge and confidence to successfully launch a business. And, owning your own business means that you can set the schedule and pace of your work.
Almost any job or work expertise could be turned into a small business opportunity in retirement.
- A retired teacher might consider a tutoring business or selling lesson plans and curriculum online.
- A retired police officer might consider offering seminars in personal safety.
- A retired sales manager could find a product they really love and sell it part-time.
However, it is important that you understand the dynamics and demands of running your own business and are realistic about your financial prospects and needs. For more information on running your own business, consult these links:
#6 – Visit with Grandkids: Maybe Even Combine Households?
A Welsh proverb says: “Perfect love does not come until you have your first grandchild.”
If you are looking for things to do in retirement, you might want to think about things you can do with your grandchildren. There is something unbelievably special about being a grandparent. You get all the magic of the child and not as much of the burden.
Recent analysis from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, suggests that that some grandparents may be spending a lot more time with their grandchildren — living with them in fact. the number of older Americans who are living with relatives (usually their children) is creeping upward.
Combining households can be an excellent way to both focus on what is important to you (family) and strengthen finances.
#5 – Define and Pursue Your Purpose
Gerontologist and dean and the DeLamar Professor at the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Linda P. Fried wrote: “We are a species wired to feel needed, respected, and purposeful. The absence of those qualities is actually harmful to our health.”
When Fried was a practicing doctor, she would write prescriptions for her patients that said: “Find something meaningful to do.”
Oxford University suggests that a meaningful life lessens the effects of aging. And, Research from Patrick Hill and Nicholas Turiano found that people who have a sense or purpose or direction in life outlive their peers.
In fact, people with a sense of purpose had a 15 percent lower risk of death,compared with those who said they were more or less aimless. And it didn’t seem to matter when people found their direction. It could be in their 20s, 50s or 70s — even when controlled for other factors that affect longevity like age, gender and emotional well-being.
#4 – Side Hustle Your Way through Retirement
Side hustle is not a new dance craze. A side hustle is a part time way of making money often enabled by new technologies.
A side hustle is also an excellent way to bring in a little extra money in retirement — especially if you can charge for things you already own or enjoy doing.
Explore the following ideas:
- Have an RV? Rent it out on Outdoorsy or RV Share
- Have a car? Become an Uber driver or rent out the vehicle on Turo or GetAround
- Rent out your bike or other recreational gear on Splinster. Or, make money from your boat on Boatbound
- Offer dog sitting or walking services on DogVacay and Rover
- Sell your home cooking on Mealsharing and Feastly
- Market your art and crafts on Etsy and photographs on Shutterstock and istockphoto
- Be a tour guide for visitors to your area via Vayable
- Offer handyman, clerical or other services on TaskRabbit or Zaarly
#3 – Keep Working
There are so many incredible benefits to work after the traditional retirement age — especially if you find it even a little bit enjoyable.
Work keeps you engaged and stimulated, it gives you a sense of purpose and it certainly benefits you financially.
#2 – Optimize Housing and Spend Retirement in the Best Place for You
Where you live — your community and the walls around you — has a profound impact on your well being. Your home is probably also your single greatest expense and, if you own, it’s your most valuable asset.
Therefore, optimizing housing for retirement ranks close to the top in terms of the best retirement plans.
In addition to the gypsy lifestyle, buying into a retirement community and moving in with family, here are some other ways to optimize housing for retirement:
- Figure out the best place for retirement (for you)
- Explore housesharing
- Downsize — reduce costs and the emotional burden of a large home.
- Can you be happy in a tiny home?
- What about retirement abroad?
- If you already like where you live but need access to money, you might want to explore the pros and cons of a reverse mortgage?
- Would you ever consider a mobile home park? (Time Magazine calls it the home of the future!)
#1 – Create a Retirement Plan — Manage and Update it Regularly
One of the best — and easiest — steps you can take for a better retirement is creating a written retirement plan and updating it regularly.
This simple task comes in at number one because it is sure to improve your financial future and research has proven that having a retirement plan can profoundly reduce ongoing stress.
In fact, a study from Merrill Lynch says that one of the only areas where people find retirement less fun than work are financial concerns. A full 65% say that financial concerns are greater in retirement than before.
Having one of the best retirement plans does not need to be painful. A retirement calculator can do all the work for you. The NewRetirement retirement calculator is an easy to use but very detailed and sophisticated tool. You input your information and the system performs hundreds of different calculations and provides charts to help you understand your financial situation. Don’t like your results? The calculator let’s you add more information, change your assumptions and keep playing with your data until you find a plan that lets you have the happy retirement you want to have!
Best of all, your data is securely saved so it is to make ongoing adjustments and changes.