17 of the Best Things to Do When You Retire

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You wait and save and plan for retirement your entire life, it seems. And then, what?

Retirees often find themselves, quite suddenly, with more free time on their hands than they’ve made a plan for. Here are some of the most rewarding, productive or stimulating ways for retirees to spend their time.

1. Get fit

Senior exercising with a hula hoop
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Physical conditioning after 50 is an investment in yourself. Building muscle strength can boost energy levels, help protect you from fractures and allow you to bounce back when ill. It has been found to support sleep, elevate mood, and reduce stress and anxiety.

Fitness even can help shore up your finances, shielding you from costly health problems like high blood pressure, cancer, stroke and depression. Walk in the neighborhood, learn to play pickleball or train for a half-marathon. Whatever sounds good to you.

Don’t let cost stop you. We’ve got ways to save on a gym membership and tips for working out free at home.

2. Learn all you want, for free

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After decades of life lessons, often in the school of hard knocks, many older people are eager to return to school — to learn for the sake of learning. or to earn either another college degree or the degree they didn’t get long ago.

Seniors enjoy discounts on many goods and services, and that tradition extends to higher education, where some colleges and universities offer free access to classes for retirement-age students where space permits.

You may be able to audit classes (sit in on a class without earning credits) in person or online, or possibly work toward a degree, tuition-free.

3. Single? Start dating again

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Many seniors are happy with the single life. But, if that’s not you, retirement offers a chance to make a fresh start.

Finding love online may seem impersonal to a senior. But it’s second nature to a child, grandchild or younger friend who may have valuable experience to share on what to expect, how to get started, and how to stay safe and avoid scammers.

AARP has advice and information about dating and online dating after 50.

4. Find part-time work

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Retirement-age people increasingly either stay at their jobs or seek a new sort of work after retiring from longtime careers.

The median — or midpoint — age of the American workforce generally has been rising, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. For women, it jumped from 39.3 (in 2000) to 42 (in 2010) before dipping to 41.9 in 2020. The BLS expects it to keep rising, to 42.8 by 2030.

For more, check out “20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees

5. Follow your passions, finally

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Retirement offers a delicious reality: You now can pursue things you’ve dreamed of doing but had to put off to earn a living.

Hobbies, for instance, add longevity and quality to life. Maybe you’ll spend the day learning to paint, gardening, reading or golfing with pals. You may want to start knitting, playing bridge, cooking, baking or learning to sail.

For more, check out “7 Hobbies That Help You Live Longer

6. Help others

Senior volunteer
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You’ve spent decades acquiring skills and experience that can add great value to the lives of others. Share that hard-earned expertise. If you are ready, your help is needed somewhere.

Pick up a hammer and volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Put your business experience to work helping up-and-coming entrepreneurs through SCORE, a mentoring program offered free of charge through volunteers in conjunction with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Or, find a local chapter of Rotary International, a global fellowship of business, professional and community leaders working to improve communities in the U.S. and abroad.

Look for ways to help at:

  • Your synagogue, church or mosque
  • Schools
  • Food banks
  • Homeless shelters
  • Libraries
  • The Humane Society

AmeriCorps Seniors matches volunteers over age 55 with people and organizations in need of help.

7. Get marriage counseling

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The divorce rate has risen among seniors, and the challenge of retirement can be a factor. If you expect to go the distance with your partner, engaging a good marriage counselor to help you through the retirement transition can be a valuable investment.

Retirement demands communication skills. Use this moment to become a great listener, to get to know yourself better and to renegotiate with your newly available spouse about how you will share life in this new phase.

8. Get a divorce

Couple getting a divorce
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Is divorce one of the best things you can do in retirement? Perhaps you have been miserable for decades while hanging on until the kids were grown. If you have tried but failed to make the marriage work, divorce may ultimately be a rewarding decision.

But it is likely to be a difficult one. The decision requires thoughtful exploration. Divorce can be financially damaging, especially for seniors, who can’t rely on a growing career to help them bounce back. Take into account also that your overhead costs will increase when you’re living alone.

For more, read “15 Ways to Cut the Cost of Divorce

9. Hop on a bike

Senior couple riding bikes
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Remember the wild and free feeling of pedaling a bike as a kid? Revive that experience. Growing networks of bicycle trails around the U.S. make bike riding a delicious prospect.

For inspiration, visit the site Curbed, which documents 12 great bike rides around the country and 10 bike-friendly cities. A visionary 3,700-mile bike trail — the Great American Rail-Trail — planned to cross the nation from coast to coast through 12 states, already is more than half-complete.

Electric bikes have become wildly popular during the pandemic, and seniors are hopping on. “The bikes draw power from a battery and motor to make pedaling significantly easier,” The New York Times explains.

10. Downsize to a smaller home

Seniors Moving
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A new, smaller home with less yard work and housework can free up more of your time to spend on the fun retirement pursuits you’ve looked forward to.

If you’ve got a big or older home, the chances are good that, eventually, you’ll need to live elsewhere or get help to address the cleaning, upkeep and other surprising costs that come with the territory for homeowners. Downsizing can be part of your retirement planning: Get it out of the way when you are younger and physically able.

For more, read “7 Surprising Advantages of Downsizing as a Retiree

11. Edit your stuff

Seniors moving house
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Whether or not you move to a new home now, you can use this moment to pare back your belongings. Life will feel infinitely lighter when you are not hauling around a lifetime’s worth of stuff like old tennis rackets, children’s grade school report cards, obsolete kitchen appliances and broken-down bicycles.

Hire a retirement move expert or decluttering coach or do it yourself. Think how great it’ll feel when the job is done.

12. Become a renter

Couple with house keys
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For a host of reasons (including saving money, gaining freedom to travel and eliminating home repairs), renting a home may look more attractive in retirement.

If you have a home to sell, this could be a great moment to do it, cashing out equity to get funds for retirement. (Thoroughly research your rental options before taking the plunge.) Although it’s difficult to buy a home in today’s expensive, competitive market, this is a great time to be a seller.

Check out “7 Benefits of Renting a Home in Retirement

13. Make a will

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You’ve no doubt heard that it’s important to have a will so that you can choose an executor and control who gets your estate (however large or small) when you die.

In fact, not everyone needs a will. But if you do, there’s a good chance you’ve been procrastinating. (Only about 60% of American adults over age 50 and half of those under 55 have got a will, AARP finds.) Retirement offers the time to get this essential job done.

More: 8 Documents That Are Essential to Planning Your Estate

14. Plan for old, old age

Fighting senior couple
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You could live to be much older than you expect. A 73-year-old woman today is likely to live to about 88, even without taking race, ethnicity, income and health into account. A man at 73 can expect to reach 86, on average, shows Social Security’s Life Expectancy Calculator. (Estimate your own life.)

If you are counting on Medicaid to pay your nursing home costs, plan far ahead to be sure you’ll qualify. Investigate long-term care insurance.

15. Leave a legacy (that’s affordable)

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It’s hard to face the fact that you may not be able to leave property or money to children when you die. But don’t give up on helping boost adult kids to a better life.

There are affordable ways to get them squared away for the future. Live within your means so you won’t need financial help in old age, for example, or help them buy or remodel the home they have.

16. Live within your means

Retired Asian couple in casual attire
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It can take discipline and ingenuity to adapt to a fixed income in retirement. Stay out of debt by paying careful attention to where your money really goes, usually with a budget. Automation — the answer to tracking spending and simplifying budgeting — is a lifesaver, especially if you’re not the budgeting type.

A reverse mortgage isn’t for everyone, but it may help. Start with safe, low-cost counseling first, recommends Stacy Johnson, the founder of Money Talks News.

17. Keep planning

A Black man plans his finances on his laptop and with notes
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Planning is one of the things that successful retirees do before and throughout retirement.

Planning provides fallbacks for the unexpected: Plan for an emergency, a market downturn, rising health costs, higher taxes and stock market reversals. Plan for when you'll claim Social Security in order to get the most money you can.

More:8 Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Retirement

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