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How Creative Can You Be in Finding Your Own Way to Retire?

Category: Retirement Planning

September 24, 2021 — Retirement is a modern concept. Not that long ago you worked until you dropped, or couldn’t do the job. The invention of pensions changed that for many people. Then, when Social Security started paying benefits in 1937, retirement became possible for almost everyone.

Until recently, once you retired you lived where you always did, moved in with your children, or, when you could no longer take care of yourself, transitioned to an old folks or nursing home. The landscape changed mightily in 1960 when Sun City opened with its active adult lifestyle and extensive amenities. Suddenly the idea of having fun in retirement became popular, and ever since people have been figuring out new ways to enjoy retirement.

Co-housing, Continuing Care Retirement Communities, and 55+ communities all have their devotees. But most of the innovation has come from the retirement industry, whose retirement offerings are geared to put money in their coffers when you buy into their dream.

What kind of retirement can you dream up?

You don’t have to choose  a retirement off the shelf. Maybe you can think up a solution that fits your needs better. In this article we will discuss some possibilities, but we hope you will contribute even more ideas in the Comments section at the end.

Note that there are a many ways to approach starting a creative retirement. You can try one of the less traditional approaches, like cohousing. You can go off on your own and find a solution that is less mainstream. Or, most adventurously, you can be a pioneer and create your own retirement solution, perhaps sharing it with like minded people.  It is your retirement, so whatever works for you is the right solution!

Move in with family or friend. Often this occurs when a couple or single person combines housing with one of their adult children. But sometimes it happens when siblings and their partners, if any, combine forces. This could take many forms – such as a spare bedroom, in-law apartment, or even building an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in the backyard. Our friend Skip and his wife built a new home for their retirement with a small apartment. That way they could help out their single parent daughter, and she could help them too. California is working on a new law that would permit multi-family homes on almost every property, which would make it a lot easier for solutions like this.

Join an intentional community like Shepherds Village in West Virginia, or Pilgrim Place in California. In this off the shelf approach you can join a community that already exists, or is in the planning phases. The organizers have done the hard work of securing the property, making up the rules and principles of the organization, and finding buyers. You might have a chance for input into those original decisions, or more likely you will participate as the organization moves forward. Cohousing is a form of intentional living, where you have your own living space but share recreational and dining facilities.

Buy a home or lot in center of town and create your own. Mrs. Topretirements frequently proposes new retirement solutions for us. Lately she has put her eyes on a vacant lot near downtown where we would design our dream (downsized and universal designed) home for retirement. Walking to church, shops, and the library would be a huge advantage of this solution. So far the lot isn’t for sale, so we shall see what happens.

Tiny house community. We are not sold on the idea of a tiny home for retirement (climbing into a loft to go to bed isn’t that appealing), but there are many folks that love these minuscule and portable homes. The advantage is that you can use them as an ADU, or put many homes on a relatively small property, producing an instant retirement community if permitted by zoning laws. You could add amenities and make the community even more appealing.

RV community. These are in hot demand by investors, so buying one won’t be cheap. But you could create your own if you are very adventurous and if zoning permits it, even adding amenities like pool, clubhouse, walking paths, etc.

College affiliated community. There are many communities that already exist that are affiliated with a college or university. Usually you can take classes and use many of their facilities. Other advantages are that you get to interact with younger people and not feel you are locked up with a bunch of old people. At Topretirements we found 25 University affiliated communities using Advanced Search. Some of them include Mirabella at Arizona State U, The Village at Penn State, and Holy Cross Village in South Bend, IN.

The Exotic Marigold Hotel

Buy an existing multi-family building. In many ways this is one of the most imaginative, and challenging retirement solutions. There are almost always some properties in every town that could be converted into a new retirement community for you and a small group of friends or relatives – a la Golden Girls. A bed and breakfast, small nursing home, multi-family home, small apartment building, hotel, resort, or motel – all of these could be great for retirement living with some work and modifications. If the property is near the center of town that would even be better. Along with the opportunity of designing your own retirement solution, there is also risk, expense, and uncertainty with any of these properties. There is also the need for vetting potential residents, plus establishing rules and policies for governance. Embarking on a plan like this requires careful thought and some expertise.

Bottom line. There is no reason you have to buy into a retirement solution that someone else invented. You might be able to come up with one that fits you better. That probably involves more work and some risk, but it could be worth it. Please share your ideas, no matter how wild and crazy, in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on September 24th, 2021


  1. My wife and I have a mode of retirement which is different from any I have seen.

    We live in Florida 6-7 months a year, from Nov. 1 to about May 15th. We then go north to a college town, where we sublet an apartment while the students are gone. This gives us very inexpensive rent.

    To store the items we need for the stay north, such as bed linens, warmer clothes, dishes, etc., we maintain a year-round campsite with a park model RV at a location where we lived for 20 years. After that modest investment, the carrying costs are very low. There are real-estate taxes of $130 per year, an annual HOA fee of $650 which includes water and electric, and a sewer fee of $30 per month. This ends up being $100.00 per month total, with a few maintenance costs as well. We have a garden shed to store bicycles and other items we don’t want to keep in the 400 sq ft of the park model RV. And we can park an extra car at the campsite as well.

    So we arrange our sublet, determine what we’ll need there, and visit our campsite to get any needed items and pick up the second car. We periodically stay at the campsite, as we have many friends in the area we lived for a long time. We spend the summer months in a quiet college town, which provides a varied and quality life. Then when the students return, after 3 months, we switch to travel mode. We rent AirBNBs for periods of time in either Europe or a different part of the U.S. (we like the Southwest, but there are other places too). Or we can return to the campsite and spend some time there.

    It’s a bit complicated and requires some effort to arrange, but it sates our desire to visit and travel in different parts of the world and country. Without breaking the bank.

    by Mick — September 24, 2021

  2. Wow Mick, that sounds like an interesting retirement lifestyle – the best of many different ones. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    by Admin — September 25, 2021

  3. Mick, I am looking for Park Model Communities up north. Where is your Park Model community located? Is it well maintained for the money? Sounds like a lovely arrangement.

    by Jennifer — September 25, 2021

  4. Has anyone considered long-term house sitting? Someone I know mentioned that once, that she wanted to do that once she retired as way of traveling to see different areas. I would imagine you would still need a home base somewhere, similar to what Mick mentioned with the park model.

    by Tess — September 25, 2021

  5. Housesitting is a great alternative. I retired in 2014 having house sat for previous year on vacations learning the process. The wife and I began that year and house and pet sat all over the world. Pet owners love Housesitters because it allow their pets to maintain their routines and no be sent off to a kennel which can quite disturbing to the pet. Its a win win for pet owners they get their home secured and their pet loved and looked after. Your duties in many and most cases are collect the mail, feed the pets and maybe water some plants. You will be expected to keep the home clean and maintained as you found it. This can be a great way to travel the world in a very economical way. Your main expenses will be getting to your destination and maybe some AirBnB between Sits. There are several websites that provide housesitting opportunities for the annual cost of a good hotel room. They offer education on the subject, connection to potential housesits and grading system which tracks you as sitter which allows the homeowner to know who they are getting. It provides feedback both ways so sitters also know where they are going. While a homebase is nice it not necessay, over a period of 5 years we spend maybe 9 months at our homebase. We were fortunate to be in USA when covid hit and have not traveled since. The wife is an artist and we have settled in Florida where she does her painting and photograpy while in a more stable place for a studio. I listed her website which does offer a great primer about housesitting and how to get started.

    by Kenny — September 26, 2021

  6. Wow Kenny, great ideas about house sitting. The Chinese Lantern event looks amazing. Beautiful photography by your wife. What town are you located in in Florida? My husband would like to do artwork in retirement. Does she use a spare bedroom in your place? Or have a separate studio?
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    by CAM — September 27, 2021

  7. Cam, We are in Clearwater Beach. She actually uses our Master Bedroom because it has the best views and the best light coming in. I wouldn’t trade our Housesitting experiences for anything. There are many places we got to because of frugality of Housesitting. Yet the homes were for nice in great places. I hope we can get back out there once covid is under control around the world. It may be hard thou, since the wife is very busy doing commissioned pet portraits for holiday season. One door closes another opens.

    by Kenny — September 28, 2021

  8. I so welcome more articles like this, of alternatives to the choices of ‘Del Webb’ huge communities, living in single home neighborhoods where no one speaks to each other, or large apartment complexes which also people come and go with no interconnection.

    I’m interested in aging options where there’s a sense of community and interaction, where seniors are friendly, help each other out, get to know each other and exchange, and celebrate life together.

    I’d personally love to hear of alternatives in the Southwest. The more the better.
    And how and where to search to try to unearth options-what websites, organizations, etc. to help flush out possibilities.
    My deep thanks,

    by Vicki — September 29, 2021

  9. What a great topic and very timely – husband and I just finished a conversation about this. When we retired, we moved several states (for reasons valid at the time but are no longer valid) and bought a new home on a cul-du-sac in a traditional neighborhood. Most neighbors work and the few retirees on the block stay inside, so we never see anyone during the day. I tried joining groups or organizations, and for varied reasons they didn’t work out like I had hoped. Along with other more pressing circumstances, we are hoping to move soon to Arizona. But what kind of neighborhood do we purposefully want to move to? A Sun City 55+ type of community – are they cliquey, full of “old folks” complaining of ailments or politics, or busybodies? Another regular neighborhood with working families? A countryside with no neighbors? A city place with too many neighbors and lots of noise? And how can we preposition ourselves for assistance as we age out of our healthy capable capacity into needing more help ten or more years in the future? I don’t have any answers to my own questions, and I am looking forward to reading all the comments everyone else contributes!!

    by Pam — September 29, 2021

  10. Pam thank you! I am in the same situation!
    We want to sell our house on LI and move closer to my son in Maryland and I’m so nervous about making the wrong choices?
    As I get older the thought of packing up the house is overwhelming. I’m not leaving friends behind , So that’s not an issue, it’s finding the right place. I would like to be in a country setting but close to shopping, restaurants, hospitals & airports. Maryland is expensive and not many people on this blog write about it? Good Luck to us both!

    by Virginia — September 30, 2021

  11. My suggestion to everyone is when you find an area you really like, you should rent in a few different places (and not just for a weekend) in the area before you purchase anything. If you rent a month or two at different times of the year, you will get a better feel of the neighborhoods, etc. Do your research. This site is great to get started with people’s comments, but you really need to get out there and check it out yourself.

    by Elaine W — September 30, 2021

  12. Our friend Robert Powell brought an interesting study that touches on this to our attention. Some of the conclusions: Most people would like to age in place in their current home if they could, a small percentage in interested in home sharing, and only 51% are confident they have saved enough for retirement.,%20Retirement%20and%20Homesharing.pdf

    by John Brady — September 30, 2021

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