How Real Retirees Earn Money

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Several years ago, when UNC-Chapel Hill professor Oliver Smithies won a Nobel Prize for his work in genetics, I was intrigued. As a business/finance person (and not a scientist), I was most astounded that Smithies worked in his lab regularly, despite being 82 at the time. More recently, UNC professor Aziz Sancar won a Nobel Prize for research in mapping DNA repair; he's younger, 69, but also continues to work.

Naturally, as a UNC graduate, I am pleased that such notable research happens in my home state at my alma mater. Even more, I am glad that people, well at least two of them, are doing meaningful work at this stage of life.

Judging from reports predicting disastrous retirements, I used to think that those who continue to work past the traditional retirement age of 65 must desperately need the money. Instead, I am learning that it's possible that they want to do interesting and valuable work. In some cases, they may enjoy both: doing important jobs and earning income.

Thinking ahead, I've realized that earning income at age 65 or older could allow me to continue growing my investments, rather than drawing them down or spending their earnings. I've wondered what type of work I could do in this life phase. So, I thought about what retired friends and acquaintances have done or are still doing in retirement. Here are ways that real retirees earn money:

Get a part-time job

Many companies hire part-time workers for jobs that may be especially attractive to retirees. They might allow for flexible hours, require a limited number of hours weekly, or involve difficult but rewarding work.

Here are examples of part-time jobs:

  • Handle accounting duties for an overseas ministry
  • Interact with groups and members of the general public as a historical interpreter at a local museum
  • Perform merchandising and cashier duties at a retail shop
  • Provide services to older adults served by a non-profit agency
  • Coach high school sports teams
  • Work at national parks during the summer

In Choose Your Retirement: Find the Right Path to Your New Adventure, author Emily Guy Birken mentions several employers that hire retirees as part-time employees and offer benefits such as health care insurance and 401(k) plans. These are mainly customer service positions at large chains such as Starbucks, Costco, REI, and Lowe's.

Run a business

It's possible that my husband and I might start a business after we retire or launch one in anticipation of retirement. Many people run a business that syncs heavily with their professional background or personal expertise. However, some folks get training in a new field and apply that knowledge to running a business.

According to Inc. magazine, the types of businesses most commonly started by retirees are consulting firms, online businesses including blogging, bed-and-breakfast inns, and senior care agencies.

In my area, I've also noticed retirees operating businesses that involve the following types of work:

  • Run a custom framing shop with a store front on personal property
  • Promote, book, and organize travel, including multi-day bus trips
  • Provide gardening and landscaping services; sell plants at special events

Very often, husband-and-wife teams run a business as a way to generate income and spend time together in retirement.

Generate side income

There's a fine line between running a business and generating side income. I think of side income as revenue you generate sporadically or on a project-by-project basis whereas a business generally requires being available on a regular basis.

Here are ways people make money and work largely according to their own schedule:

  • Sell refurbished items on eBay
  • Make hand-crafted goods; sell at art shows, galleries, and online
  • Do custom artwork on commission
  • Buy and sell antiques or specialty items

Ideally, I could find a way to generate income by developing one of my talents or pursuing an interest. From what I've seen, those who do well tend to know their markets and how to serve them, and genuinely enjoy combining a money-making idea with a personal passion.

Work full-time

Many people continue to work on a full-time basis past retirement age. Some remain in their jobs because they enjoy working. Others are retired from one career and pursuing a completely new field.

For example, I know people who earned bachelors' and master's degrees in disciplines such as counseling, divinity, and education in their 50s and 60s. They now work in full-time positions or similar ones in these fields, after decades of working in entirely different industries.

Though you don't often hear of people getting late-in-life degrees, many people pursue education in order to satisfy a personal desire and then use this education in a new career.

Hopefully, I'll generate plenty of unearned income from investment sales, dividends, and interest. I may enjoy a care-free retirement that involves no work of any kind. However, it's more likely that I'll find some form or work that I truly love, which also gives me a sense of accomplishment and allows me to be involved in the community.

I may want to continue working to stay financially stable. But, hopefully, I'll be inspired to do work that I find meaningful.

Disclosure: I am long on Starbucks, Lowe's, and Costco.

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