For more and more of us, retirement doesn’t mean the end of work. Seven in ten people 50-plus want to keep working after they retire, according to a recent Merrill Lynch/Age Wave study. Among those who have actually retired, almost half reported that they’d either worked or plan to work during their retirement. Money isn’t the only reason, although it’s a good one: People are living longer, company pensions have pretty much gone away and economic downturns mean we may need to add that third income stream – paid employment – to the other two: Social Security and retirement savings.
But money, it turns out, isn’t the main reason retirees want to work: They do it because they love the intellectual stimulation, the sense of purpose, and the opportunities retiree jobs offer for making and keeping social connections and staying physically active. With the backup of Social Security and savings, seniors are often freer to choose work that matters to them, even if it doesn’t pay top dollar, and that offers the flexibility to create the life they want.
For each person, the equation will be different. When financial security tops fulfillment, pay will be a bigger issue, of course. For others, staying active – socially, mentally, physically – will be the priority. Some retirees are happy to trade the stress and responsibility of their career jobs for something more fun and fulfilling, even if they don’t earn anywhere near as much. Here, then, is a sampling of the range of jobs for retirees.
1. Nonprofit Executive or Professional
After years of corporate work, some retirees are eager to move from “success to significance,” as Bill Buford, author of Halftime, puts it. Bringing sophisticated skills and know-how to an organization whose mission you feel passionate about can be immensely rewarding. And while you’ll likely take a pay cut, you’ll still earn a professional wage. Encore.org is full of stories about– and help for – people looking for “second acts for the greater good.” Each year it awards 6- to 12-month Encore Fellowships to permit skilled, experienced professionals to work on assignments that will have a sustained impact at social-purpose organizations. For the Fellows, these serve as a launching pad into nonprofit careers, or even starting their own nonprofit.
2. Retail Salesclerk
Coming off a high-pressure career job, some people are ready for a complete change. A foodie working as a cheesemonger at Whole Foods or a cooking demo assistant at Sur La Table, a graphic designer who’s used Macs her entire professional career taking a part-time gig at an Apple Store, a passionate woodworking hobbyist helping out at Home Depot – retail jobs can be fun if you choose a store or a product you feel an affinity with. And the work ethic and knowledge of older candidates can make them attractive recruits.
Just know going in that retail jobs can be hard on the feet and back, don’t pay big bucks and, while the hours are flexible, you usually don’t get to choose them. On the plus side, you’re likely to enjoy great camaraderie among the staff and benefit from store discounts. Seasonal work is common, too, which may be just the ticket if you have a specific savings goal and other projects lined up.
3. Dog Walker
Who’s home to take care of the pooch these days? Not the young couple who adopted a pet or the guy racking up miles and miles of business travel. In fact, not anyone with a full-time job. For pet lovers, dog walking has built-in exercise, so you’ll stay fit, and then there’s the bonus of friendships and warm acquaintanceships that begin over pet encounters. Dog training or pet care credentials may help you woo clients, as will offering additional convenience services such as changing cat-litter boxes or watering plants. The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters offers training and a referral network.
Whatever your expertise in a full-time career job – accounting, video production, engineering, marketing, writing – you may be able to turn it into part-time consulting or freelance work. Your previous employer is a good place to start: Your deep history of the company and your skills (minus the benefits package) can make you an attractive contract hire: For instance, a clinic hires a former staff therapist on retainer to answer sensitive questions and redirect inquiries coming in to the clinic’s website. Or an accountant takes on work at her old firm for tax season.
Small companies often need professional help – bookkeeping, computer support – but can’t afford to put someone on payroll. Your business or computer skills can be a lifeline for them. Setting up shop as a self-employed person involves a few steps, but it can be worth it. In fact, entrepreneurs 55 to 64, recent research shows, are setting up businesses at a faster rate than any other age group. And they tend to be more successful on average.
Offering guidance and caring attention to the next generation is a strong psychological drive at this stage of life, aging experts tell us, which probably explains why so many retirees are drawn to teaching, coaching and mentoring. Teaching full-time in the classroom isn’t the only option: part-time work in a literacy program, signing on as a substitute teacher or an adjunct at a community college, tutoring kids in a range of subjects (SAT math prep, biology, English), training adult clients in a computer program or system you know like the back of your hand – the possibilities are endless.
Depending on the job, the credentials you need will differ. Teach for America is one way into the classroom. Some companies even put support and money behind their alumni who want to teach: IBM, for instance, has a Transition to Teaching program; PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Project Belize sends staff, including retired partners, to teach financial literacy in Belize.
Coworking and maker spaces popping up across the country offer all sorts of opportunities to share your expertise as an instructor – whether it’s bicycle building, metalsmithing, 3-D modeling, fiber arts, costume-making or brewing beer. Maker spaces typically split the class fee with the instructor.
6. Tour guide.
Local history buff or art lover? Become a tour guide and get paid to share your love for your locale. Connect with a tour company, a museum, a winery, or a historic site for gigs. Or design and market your own through a site like SideTour, an online platform for “experiences that help people explore their city.” (It operates in Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Atlanta and Boston.)
7. Craft Artisan.
For those who have always had a hobby (beading, cabinet-making), retirement finally brings time to pursue that passion and maybe for a profit. There are many new ways to sell your products – Etsy, ArtFire, eBay, Maker Faire, local craft markets. Apps such as Square and PayPal let you take payments, and Pinterest and Instagram showcase your creations. All these developments make it easier than ever before to turn your hobby into a business.
8. eBay shopkeeper.
The most successful eBay sellers have a well-defined niche. Think about what you love – crazy quilts, 19th-century silverware, Japanese ceramics. And then there’s what you have. Maybe you’re downsizing and need to declutter, or perhaps it’s time to edit that treasured collection. Heck, maybe it’s time to get rid of it altogether.
Start small. While you’re unlikely to become an eBay millionaire, you will at the very least be getting paid to give yourself some breathing room at home (your kids will thank you). And if you have the heart of a trader and find the right niche, you may be able to grow your eBay shop into a nice little sideline business. Make sure you have good pictures (emphasis on good) and check on your location’s requirements about collecting sales tax. The eBay Seller Center is a helpful resource.
9. Theater Usher/Ballpark Ticket Taker
Sometimes these jobs are volunteer, but there’s a big bonus: You get to see the show or the game for free. In bigger theaters and concert halls, ushers and concession workers earn a stipend or a modest hourly fee. And there are other perks: Being a ticket taker at a ballpark or an usher at the ballet has a funny way of recapturing childhood dreams – yours and those of the young patrons you’re seating. You become an insider, spend time surrounded by fellow fans, and may even rub elbows with a celebrity fan or some of the stars. Apply directly to the theater or ballpark.
10. Santa Claus.
Each fall, malls across America hire people to be Santa Claus, Mrs Claus, or one of Santa’s elves. Those outfits can be sweaty, but a stint as Santa can bring in $10,000 for a holiday season and some great moments to remember. Santa School in Calgary, Alberta, offers training. Noerr Programs Corp. lists Santa jobs for "kind gentlemen with natural white beards." Talk about childhood dreams.
The Bottom Line
Retiree jobs can bring in a welcome third stream of income to supplement Social Security and retirement savings. They can also make retirement life richer and more satisfying. No one job fits all. Think about what you need in your life – money, the chance to give back, fun, social connections, physical activity, intellectual stimulation – and there’s a job out there for you. For more on this topic, see The Best Jobs For Retirees and Impact Of Continuing To Work In Retirement.