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Traditional Retirement Yields to the New, Flexible Retirement

Category: Baby Boomer Retirement Issues

April 1, 2015 — We were surprised recently by a group of commenters who took umbrage at the notion that you can work and also be retired. Their more traditional view was that if you are retired, you don’t work, period. A few even quoted dictionary definitions to support their case. But an increasing body of evidence points to an overwhelming trend in the opposite direction – that retirement is often going to be anything but traditional or predictable. It is more likely to be a transition than it is stopping work. Instead of just cashing pension and Social Security checks and having morning coffee or golf with the guys, it might mean a change of career or a part time or volunteer job. The trend is toward more of a highly personal, very customizable retirement experience, one that will be a little bit different for just about everyone.

Here is a summary of some of what we are seeing in 3 recent studies and/or articles:

A Rheostat, not and on-off switch
The Pew Institute asked about Americans about their retirement plans and work. They found that 1 in 5 (21 percent) said they are not planning to retire, while more than half (53 percent) anticipate doing something else, including working at a different job. Just 26 percent have a traditional notion of retirement in which they stop working altogether. Source: Pew Study Shows Americans’ Financial Worries Clouds Optimism. Note that this was a study among Americans of all ages. Its bottom line was that many of those polled are barely breaking even or spending more than they make each month, and more than half said they feel unprepared for a financial emergency.

Housing trends are changing
Meanwhile a Merrill Lynch/New Wave retirement study reported on new housing trends among Americans of retirement age. This study’s title basically reports the happy news – “Home in Retirement: More Freedom, More Choices“. Here are some of their findings that support that freedom in housing choices also helps bring about more flexible and interesting retirements:

– Two-thirds (65%) of the retired Americans in the study say they are living in the best home of their lives.

– Compared to people who have not yet retired, retirees are more likely to say their homes are comfortable, in a safe community, and a great place to connect with family. They also are more likely to say that they are now living in a part of the country with pleasant climate and weather
– Many don’t have to work, family obligations are lower than ever, many of their homes are paid for, and they can live where ever they would like.
– Retirees are generally thrilled about their new found freedom. In fact the study authors even have a name for this, the “Freedom Threshold”. It generally seems to happen at age 61, and signifies that retiree age folks are free to live wherever they would like
– 4 out of 5 Americans 65+ own their own home, and 7 out of 10 have no mortgage
– An estimated 4.2 million retirees moved into a new home last year alone. 83% of those folks did not move out of state.
– Sixty-four percent of retirees say they are likely to move at least once during retirement, with 37% having already done so and 27% anticipating doing so. Reasons for doing so are widowhood, empty nesting, health changes – as well as desire for a new environment or climate.
– Seniors do face serious challenges, and one of the biggest is that they have to be prepared to live for 20 to 40 years of retirement on what they have saved.
– The downsize surprise. Most people expect that retirees will downsize at some point in retirement. But this study found that almost half of them did not downsize, in fact 3 out of 10 moved to a larger house.
– According to this study, just 7% of retirees have moved into age-restricted retirement communities. Although this seems quite surprising and low, Topretirements would like to note that perhaps an even large percentage of retirees move to communities that although are not officially 55+, are in fact very highly defacto 55+.

Easing into retirement
The third leg of the ‘new retirement’ concerns what people will do in retirement. A New York Times article, “Easing Into Leisure, One Step at a Time“, has the examples of many baby boomers as they struggle to redefine what retirement means to them. The first example in the article is of Jack Guttentag, a Wharton professor who as an empty nester at age 54 decided to downsize to a place in the country, even though he was still working. That was 37 years ago, but now he and his wife have just downsized again, this time back to the City of Philadelphia.

The article goes on to describe other individuals who have retired, then decided to get a new job, quit that to volunteer, and then retired again. The article points out a few factors that are leading to this gradual, step by step kind of retirement. One is the rise of 2 earner households, where one person might be ready to retire but the other is not. Another is money, where couples who realize that they might live beyond what they ever thought was reasonable, or trying to put more away to assure a comfortable retirement.

We think these studies confirm our belief that retirement is evolving in ever new directions. It can be whatever you want it to be, and does not have to follow any one else’s model. Go for it!

Comments? Are you going to have a traditional retirement, or something much more different than that of your parents? Are you planning on moving in retirement, and will that change your lifestyle. Please share your thoughts in the Commments section below.

Posted by Admin on March 31st, 2015


  1. I’m having a traditional retirement. Can’t imagine ever working ever again. I’m having too much fun to waste time at work. I travel a lot and have recently bought a condo in Florida. The community is not formally age restricted, but pretty much is anyway. My next project is to downsize into this condo, making it my only home. Have a lot of stuff to get rid of!

    by Linda — April 1, 2015

  2. I did the semi-retirement thing. I work part-time on-call when I am available. It keeps me in my profession and in extra funds for all the fun things retirement offers. I am staying in my house which was a downsize from the time when I was raising family. I travel whenever and wherever I like and pursue my favorite hobbies. I wouldn’t be happy in a retirement community. I don’t even do tours well! I anticipate that at some time in the future this will be too much for me and I will downsize again. I keep culling what I have and getting rid of things that are no longer useful for me, so, hopefully, I will be ready when that time comes. I will admit that it took about 2 years to adjust to not working full time. It was hard to take my foot off the “go” pedal and slow down. I also needed to create structure in my non-working life so that I didn’t just float around, at loose ends. It’s shutting old doors and opening new ones.

    by Lulu — April 1, 2015

  3. I’ll be 80 in June, wife 76. Retired part-time 2002, retired full-time 2009 and then took a job in 2012 working 23 hours a week 1 mile from home. Can take off most whenever I want. The work helps with extra income to pay increasing food and living cost. We are in the process of downsizing and plan on moving in 2016 to be closer to oldest daughter. Presently live in a finished 2600 sq ft house with another 1600 unfinished we built in 2009. We’ll be moving into something around 1500-1600 sq ft., one story,and close to shopping for necessities. Wanting less space to keep up and take care of. We have been looking seriously at 55+ communities but found not many available with a low HOA, as we’re not willing to pay for all the amenities that come with some of them that we would not use and do not wish to pay for the upkeep, such as pools and golf course. We are still in good health and plan to do more traveling, but would look at part-time employment if it gave the freedom much like I have now. Tell the builders out there to take into consideration building homes for the 55+ group that don’t need all the bells and whistles.

    by Dean — April 1, 2015

  4. All very interesting! I am on the cusp of 73. I work p/t 4 mornings/ week – 16/20 hours as needed. My wife is a kdg teacher at 64 who loves her job but is now ready to retire. We live in Virginia (a great state for retirees) but our adult kids want us to closer to them in SC “Because it is our time to watch over you and mom”. If I quit my p/t job I feel I am signing my ” death warrant” because I cannot just sit or travel or,or,or…. The little job I have does not exist where we would live. So very frustrating for someone who loves to stay active. BTW, my little job is outdoors summer, winter, rain, heat, snow, sleet etc. They also allow me to get my 10,000 steps + everyday, and they only hire retirees! I work with men and women who are into their late eighties and into their nineties!! There are probably 50+ of us on the premises any given day and twice as many on sales day.

    by Jack — April 1, 2015

  5. We downsized when our youngest left home. Around the same time we retired from our careers. That was a big adjustment. Both of us now work part time. We have to have somewhere to be at least part time. We don’t play golf and some of us just can’t handle too much free time. We’re kind of throwing around the idea of moving into the city. There are so many different volunteering options plus the museums, wonderful bookstores that offer fantastic book clubs. We definetly not interested in moving to Florida or any other hot climate region. Just thinking about that makes me depressed. So we’re all different at all ages of life. Thank goodness, right?

    by Jane — April 1, 2015

  6. Jack Guttentag downsized while working at 54 and then 37 yrs later downsized to the city again?? At 91??

    by Scotty — April 1, 2015

  7. My father has been retired for 20 years. He got divorced, retired from engineering, went to Africa with the Peace Corps to teach English, came back, got married, retired in an area with great boating, worked in a bookstore as a clerk but quit because they treated their employees like dirt, lived a retirement lifestyle for a decade, became a real estate agent for a year or two but sold only one property (by chance) and now is living a retirement lifestyle again. His retirement lifestyle is reading the paper, exercise, eating out, watching TV, dealing with medical issues and doing chores. Sometimes, he visits local family and, a few times a year, he visits distant family. He has written an unpublished novel and tried a few other pursuits but he has mostly given those up.

    I’m 20 years away from retirement. I read and plan a lot for retirement; I’m ready. My wife and I could live the U.S. but I’ve been reading and tempting my wife with an international retirement and she’s come to like the idea of rural southern France. We’ve also considered the “permanent cruise” lifestyle and the “international hobo” lifestyle and, of course, a typical U.S. retirement. In 20 years time, I hope that I can have an “Internet retirement” where, no matter where I live, I can buy a new smart phone and, in a few minutes, I can have all my favorite books available to me (my virtual library), have all my favorite movies, TV shows, TV services, collectible magazines, video games, table top games, regular mealtimes with distant friends and family using video conferencing and documents (from financial statements to my attempts at the Great American novel). If I can do that, then maybe where I physically retire to doesn’t matter so much. I can be in Belize or Ecuador or France or Thailand but I can turn on my American lifestyle at any time.

    by Dan — April 1, 2015

  8. Great article! I followed International Living for about 10 years before retiring in 2012.
    I had flown to Panama, Ecuador for chill weekends and was scheduled to fly to Costa Rica and Belize but plane malfunctions prevented those visits.
    Having worked for the Department of Defense I lived in Germany, Italy, Korea and got to visit other countries near these locales.
    After retirement, I lived almost 2 months in the Philippines and then tried Thailand which I like the best of all the countries that I wanted to attempt to live in.
    In Thailand, the expats dominating it appear to be Europeans, Australians and Russians.
    What makes it flexible is that the furnished condo or house can be rented month to month, quarterly or yearly. Strictly up to the renter as to duration so they can return to their home country whenever they wish.
    Thus the Snowbird lifestyle.

    Ideally, I would like to see this in the States where I could live out West 8-9 months out of the year and Florida, the remainder. That to me is the ultimate flexible retirement lifestyle.
    The challenge is finding the furnished apartment or condo at a reasonable price for short term stays.

    by Ric — April 1, 2015

  9. Semi retired @ 52. My wife and I have three 20+ year old’s, 2 of them working and one with 1 yr left of college. We have 4 day weekends and are really enjoying an active lifestyle. Getting out and just doing allot of day trips spontaneously. Biking in the morning, kayaking in the evening and hiking/camping. These things don’t cost much and give us allot of satisfaction. We start the Appalachian Trail in three weeks near were we live, doing it in 4 day sections ever other weekend.

    We have seen a good number of family members and friends pass in the last few years – some our age. We have learned that you can’t replace yesterday so you better take action to enjoy today! We have been lucky and have the resources to do this. We manage our budget and being both very frugal would rather make our own food and carry it then go out to eat.

    In 2 years we will sell the house, one of the cars, we starting getting ride of all our stuff last year and plan on renting a small place. Freeing up the $ locked in our current house. Living small and removing responsibilities is so liberating!

    by Bill — April 2, 2015

  10. I am soon turning 67, have been retired for just over 1 year, and still trying to figure out what my “retirement lifestyle” will be. Best as I can see at this point, it is going to evolve from the sudden urges to do things I didn’t have time for when I was working full time (traveling, painting, writing, lunches with girlfriends) that I experienced during my 1st retirement year. Now in year #2, I am still not working but am considering committing to some volunteer work that I enjoy. The commitment issue is a big one, as retirement to me means freedom to have as few outside commitments and unfulfilling responsibilities as possible. After raising children and decades as a medical doctor taking care of other people, I am ready to take care of just me. A big factor in “what” and “when” decisions is the fact that my husband is nearly 20 years older, and not interested in starting over or changing his preferred retirement lifestyle, which is fishing locally. I too think about retirement abroad, and Dan’s “internet retirement” idea is intriguing. After reading others’ responses and ideas, I am encouraged by the possibilities out there even if I decide not to choose them. I see myself as striving to leave the “traditional retirement” concept behind and embrace something else.

    by Cee Boomer — April 2, 2015

  11. I love hearing about what other retirees are doing. Yesterday marks my one year anniversary of retirement. It’s been a big adjustment for me. I miss the people that I worked with and also seeing the people in my community every day. I live by myself and I’m probably alone too much. I lost my last parent in November and I feel like I’ve been grieving for the many losses this past year. The best thing for me is the service organization that I belong to. It gets me out around others and gives me a feeling of accomplishment and I like giving back to my community. Right now I am down sizing and moving to another state and I’m excited about the challenges it will bring. I had decided not to make a big change for a year and I’m glad that I took the time to decide just where I wanted to be and what I would do when I get there. I feel that I’ve been in limbo for awhile, and now I’m ready to begin a new chapter in my life.

    by Georgia — April 2, 2015

  12. If I had it to do again I would not have completely retired for another decade.
    The reason is because eventually retirement will become laboriously boring, and I understand the presumed knee-jerk response by those who’ve recently begun their retirement adventure.
    I’ve been retired for nearly 23 years, so I have a very clear understanding about the process. I planned for it years ahead, but what I failed to factor into the process was the inevitable encounter with boredom due to burning myself out doing a few things that I couldn’t do when I was working in my career field.
    I also spent nearly 20 years living in an active adult community where about 95% of the residents were fully retired, only a handful worked either full or part time. There was a massive array of activity options and facilities available, but at some point none of them are appealing, so boredom sets in. The final straw is when the HOA goes off the rails financially by squandering annual dues, automatically increasing them without an approval by the residents, imposing absurd rules and regulations on everything from the kind of plants that can be anywhere in one’s yard to the color of paint on your home, and it couldn’t be repainted the original color which made no sense whatsoever.
    Finding the most suitable geographic location is one critical aspect of the retirement process, but setting into a HOA ruled community that can be counted upon for sustained consistency is possibly the bigger challenge.
    Critically consider all of your options without pre-judging them, simply base your analysis on the facts, not your emotions on a given day. Otherwise, you will be trapped in a very uncomfortable and potentially expensive residential circumstance.

    by Denny — April 2, 2015

  13. Georgia,
    Good luck on your move. I hope you love your new area and make lots of friends. There are so many volunteer opportunities everywhere if you find yourself alone too much. I walk dogs and our local Humane Society. Lots of fun, great exercise and I get lots of kisses!

    by SandyM — April 3, 2015

  14. Denny,
    We are looking into 55+ communities but the HOA fees scare us too. I always wonder what will happen when all the lovely new buildings, pools, etc. start showing their age and need to be replaced. That could cost everyone a bunch of money. We like the idea of making new friends fairly easily and having so many activities, so we keep looking. Good to hear from someone who’s been there and done it already.

    by SandyM — April 3, 2015

  15. SandyM,
    I too would love to join a 55+ community with lots of activities, bike paths, walking trails and golf cart transportation along with bus shuttles to town and shopping. However, I have mentioned before I had owned timeshares and it is the same idea but a bit different. You pay yearly ‘maintenance’ fees which go up significantly each year. They hit us with ‘special assessments’ when a major project popped up like fixing the pool which had wear due to incompetent people treating the pool with either wrong chemicals or too many chemicals. They refurbished the first phase as it was the oldest part of the complex at maybe 10 years old. It went on and on what they needed. Funny how the place was a timeshare but was also rented out if rooms were available. There was nothing we could do but pay the maintenance fees and deal with the special assessments. That is why HOA’s scare the hell out of me! Recently I looked into Top of the World resort in FL and from what I can see, the HOA is around $400 a month. There may be an activity fee too. I was unsure of that. I think I saw $134 monthly but I could be wrong on that. I liked some of the things OTOTW offered like the activities, no lawn maintenance, tons of things. However, the HOA siren went off in my head and at $400 a month that is $4,800 a year. I think it said water, sewer, basic cable, garbage, lawn care, painting of the outside of the buildings every 7 years and power washing the home were included. If you subtract those services from the $4,800 a year, that might not be so bad. However, the $400 a month will go up each year. If there is an activity fee, it too will go up. Plus, FL scares me too. Living in CT with the 4 seasons, I don’t think we could take the heat and humidity for so many months. Plus, sinkholes, bugs, snakes and other things undesirables. I love FL but living there and HOA’s just are not on my radar screen.

    by Louise — April 4, 2015

  16. Denny, There is a lot to be investigated when looking at HOA fees in active adult communities. We built a new home in a community that started in 1997. The HOA fees have gone from $104 to $180 in 18 years, we are very happy with that. So ask about the historical fees. We have had one assessment in 18 years for $1,850 (in 2007) to switch out the builders sales office building to a state of the art fitness center and update the clubhouse to make it less of a showpiece and more functional for residents. So, ask about past assessments. Of our $180/mo HOA dues currently $40 goes to the reserve fund which is now around 2.8 million dollars. The reserve/replacement fund pays for everything that wears out over time even our roads as we are gated. You definitely want a community that keeps everything in excellent condition. Ask about reserve/replacement fund balance. Of our $180/mo $11 goes to association Improvement fund – so when it came time to build pickleball courts we didn’t need an assessment, it was a new amenity and it came out of this fund. Ask how new amenities are paid for, some communities assess every time they want to do something. Is the builder still in control? If so, what are they subsidizing that will cost more when they leave? The biggies are restaurants/dining options and golf courses. If there is no builder in control ask for a breakout of the HOA fee, what goes to subsidizing things that you don’t expect to use and are you okay with that. It all boils down to how well the community is run and what their financial philosophy is. Ask what things you need to pay for in addition to HOA fees. We pay for golf, some fitness center class like Zumba and entertainment events…otherwise no extra charges for fitness center, pool, tennis, craft room, pickleball, etc. Get your questions answered thru your Realtor, the community (ask for financial statements), stop residents in the community clubhouse while visiting…you will be surprised what you can find out just by starting up a friendly conversation. Our decision to join an active adult community was really a great one…the sense of community, broad range of activities and opportunities to build new friendships have all exceeded our expectations. Our community finances are managed by staff, BOD and some expert volunteers running committees of Finance, Audit, Capital Planning, Reserve Planning and Strategic Planning…our builder US Home/Lennar left in 2007 and our finances are very strong.

    by LJ — April 5, 2015

  17. LJ,
    Thanks so much for sharing your experience and providing a detailed list for the rest of us. I’ll be moving this to another venue wherein i can refer to it as needed.

    by ella — April 6, 2015

  18. Hi LJ,
    Where is it that you live? What is the name of the community and how old is it?

    Thanks for all the tips.


    by Jennifer — April 6, 2015

  19. I’m in Tucson, Arizona area The Highlands at Dove Mountain – 15 minutes northwest of Tucson. First houses built in 1997 the last built of total 1300 built in 2007.

    by LJ — April 6, 2015

  20. Admin and all:
    Last week a post included keeping a home cool thru a device other than air conditioning. I meant to copy the post to a blog file i keep, but forgot to. Do you, or does anyone, remember the post?
    Many thanks,

    by ella — April 7, 2015

  21. I believe it is called evaporative cooling.

    by Louise — April 7, 2015

  22. The slang term for it is swamp cooler I believe. Works better than AC in dry climates.

    by Jim C — April 7, 2015

  23. Louise,
    We haven’t looked at On Top of the World yet. That is another one that we want to see. What did you think of OTOTW?
    We live in a condo right now, so we are used to HOA fees. We always have meetings before the fees are increased and it needs to be voted in. I’m not sure if that’s the case with 55+ communities from what I’ve read. Our HOA fees are 1/4 of what we’ve found in most 55+ communities, so that’s a consideration as well. We are thinking about keeping our condo and just traveling south in the winter. We can stay in lots of nice hotels and keep our condo for a lot less money. We’ve also considered getting a small camper and traveling our beautiful country. So many choices, so it’s good that we have a few years before we retire.

    by SandyM — April 7, 2015

  24. SandyM,

    Sorry if I gave the impression I visited OTOTW. I only did internet research. Good luck on whatever you decide!

    by Louise — April 7, 2015

  25. I visited On Top of the World on my way to SW Florida. I liked the new homes. The activities centers did not seem to have much going on. Also, in this community, you do not own the land under your home. Don’t remember if the rent on the land was fixed or if it could increase yearly. Just couldn’t get into being inland in Florida. Wanted to be on the water.

    by Linda — April 7, 2015

  26. Louise and Jim C,
    Thanks so much for responding to my inquiry. I’ll look into it.!

    by ella — April 8, 2015

  27. Thanks Linda. I didn’t realize that the land is not owned by the homeowner – not interested in that. We are also hoping for a very active community. Inland doesn’t bother us. We will be a lot closer to the ocean than we are now (Midwest) and want to take our Harley to get to the beach!

    by SandyM — April 8, 2015

  28. SandyM,
    It depends on your neighborhood at OTOTW whether or not you own the land. In the neighborhoods where they are building now, the maintenance free ones are land-lease. There are other neighborhoods where you own the land. I’m only speaking about the ones where they’re still building new homes…not sure about the older existing neighborhoods. Also, the HOAs are lower if you own the land. I don’t live there but have visited and really like the homes.

    by Tessa — April 9, 2015

  29. I am seriously looking at northern Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Fountain Hills, AZ area to move to be closer to my son. I live in Houston right now. I am partially retired as I am on-call for medical transcription. I would like to hear from people who have moved to this area with both pros and cons. Thanks

    by SharonA — April 9, 2015

  30. Thanks Tessa! We will plan to visit OTOTW soon.

    by SandyM — April 10, 2015

  31. Funny how these articles start off on Subject A and quickly go to Subject Z. Just saying.

    by John H — July 5, 2015

  32. We both are retired military, but of course continued to work full time (I retired in 1991, he did in 1995). We have now gotten to the point of working part time and we are 64 & 62 respectively. I don’t think we will ever fully traditionally retired until we are closer to 80. However, we are planning on moving to Show Low AZ (Rim Country Mountain area in northeaster AZ) as the cost of living is $10 to $20K lower, we can almost completely pay for a house there (will be making enough money that we will need a tax write off just for our SSI and Military retirement. We plan on eventually getting something home-based for jobs…. He is a computer repair person now, and I work at a Day Spa as a receptionist…. plus I do have 2 direct sales businesses I work VERY part time (Doterra Essential Oils and Mary Kay Cosmetics). We do plan on downsizing but want to have room for the kids coming (have 2 grown kids & 5 grandkids).

    We have thought of moving closer to our son when he and his wife retire from the Air Force in 2 years but they are headed to Maryland and to be able to retire close to them we would have to move to PA or Delaware. Both would still put us over an hour away from the town they want to retire to. Plus we would have to deal with humidity (which neither one of us does well – we currently live in San Jacinto CA – Southern CA).

    So to sum it up, we eventually will do the traditional retirement but not for a few more years. Guess you could say we are easing our way into it. LOL

    by Kathleen osborne — July 6, 2015

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