10 Cheap Things to Do in Retirement

senior men having fun
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Retirement: Now you get to do all the fun stuff!

Or do you? According to a recent survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, two big retirement fears are “feeling isolated and alone” and “finding meaningful ways to spend time and stay involved.”

For some, it’s a question of finances. Family issues or health conditions can take a big bite out of available funds. Some were forced into early retirement and thus unable to set aside as much money as they would have liked.

For others, it’s a question of identity. If you’ve always defined yourself by your job title, then retirement can be a scary time.

Fortunately, plenty of activities are inexpensive (or free), and getting involved in something new can help you forge a new identity.

This isn’t just about staying active and engaged: It could also mean staying alive. According to a study published on JAMA Network Open, adults age 50 and older who didn’t have a sense of purpose in their lives were more than twice as likely to die during the study years of 2006 to 2010.

Here are some inexpensive ways to keep the luster on your golden years.

1. Start a vegetable garden

Woman picking tomatoes in her garden
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Think of gardening as a hobby you can eat. And given how expensive food is getting, having even some free groceries is a good thing.

Obviously, gardening isn’t completely free, since you have to pay for seeds (or starter plants) and maybe a few other supplies as well. But it doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you learn to save seeds and collaborate with other gardeners.

Pro tip: Your neighborhood Buy Nothing Facebook page might be a source for free gardening supplies, as well as connections with other dirt worshippers.

Consider fruits and berries as well, for perennial produce. “How to Plan a No-Waste Garden” will help you get going. Bon appetit!

2. Map out your family tree

senior woman smiling looking at family photos
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For-profit websites relentlessly advertise their services on TV and online. Here’s a secret: You can generally find what you need for free, if you’re willing to do a little sleuthing. Some say the detective work is as much fun as the discoveries.

Resources like the National Archives, FamilySearch, AfriGeneas and AccessGenealogy can lead you to census records, surname databases, naturalization archives, historical documents and numerous other ways to track your ancestors.

Best of all? No monthly or annual membership fees!

Start your investigation with help from “10 Ways to Research Your Family Tree for Free.”

3. Learn a new language

Woman using the internet on her laptop
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Being able to communicate through something other than your mother tongue is a great way to open up to the outside world. And you can do this for free with resources such as Duolingo, podcasts, Busuu, YouTube videos and language-instruction websites.

What to do with your newfound fluency? Practice it! Maybe a friend or two would like to join you in your learning quest, and then all of you can chat, watch international films or maybe even plan a trip together.

And if not, then online language clubs, local MeetUp groups and organizations like The Polyglot Club can help put you in touch with folks who want to use what they’re learning.

4. Take part in art

senior violinist
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Community theater. City chorales. Regional orchestras. Comedy improv groups. Plein-air painting meetups. Opportunities for all this and more might be available in your area.

Don’t think you have the artistic chops? Keep in mind that not everyone is onstage. The lively arts wouldn’t get very far without dedicated volunteers to build sets, sew costumes, do makeup, create programs and sell ads for them, act as ushers and serve on boards. Your skills are needed!

Speaking of which …

5. Volunteer

Senior volunteer
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You just knew we’d bring that up, didn’t you? But volunteering isn’t limited to stuff like ushering at a concert or handing out cups of water at a local fun run. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, but why not match volunteer opportunities to your skillset and/or passion?

For example, if you were a teacher for 30 years, then you might offer 10 hours a week to local schools. Career accountants and CPAs could join the local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program each year.

A recently retired firefighter could become part of fire safety and disaster preparedness programs run by the American Red Cross. A former landscape architect could serve on their city’s design committee.

For tips and resources, see “11 Ways to Give Back to Your Community After Retiring.”

6. Senior sports

Happy senior couple putting on rollerblades to exercise
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Who says you have to give up softball, swimming, basketball, running, tennis, skiing and the like once you hit retirement age? Rec leagues rule.

If you define “sports” as “any activity that gets you out of the house and/or moving,” then be sure to include options like dancing, bowling and hiking.

Contact a local or regional parks and recreation office to see what’s out there. Do a search for “senior sports in [your town]” as well, since some health clubs, YMCAs and private groups might have their own options.

You get the exercise that the doctor ordered plus a chance to make new friends. Win-win.

7. Hit the library

Senior worker in a library
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Keep up with the latest best-sellers, discover the great classics you always meant to read or view the Oscar-winning films you missed the first time around. And all for free!

But don’t stop there: You might be shocked to find out what else your local library offers.

Depending on where you live, you can borrow things like art prints, power tools, fishing gear, Wi-Fi hotspot devices, musical instruments, toys and even cookware. All can be game-changers and money-savers.

Why buy (or even rent) a masonry saw for a home improvement job if the library will let you use one for free? Why bake a plain old sheet cake for a grandkid’s birthday if you can borrow a dinosaur-shaped pan? And changing the artwork every few weeks is a simple way to refresh the look of your home without spending a dime.

Visit your local or regional library to see what’s up for (temporary) grabs.

8. Become a docent

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You’ve likely met a docent during a visit to a museum, botanical garden, zoo, planetarium, park or some other place of interest. Ever thought about becoming one?

A docent becomes the public face of an institution by getting visitors engaged. They explain the history of the place, share interesting facts, answer questions and generally work to help each person get the best possible experience.

If you’ve got great communication skills and love meeting new people, look for places in your area that need docents. You’ll help inform the public about the treasures in their own backyard.

9. Mentor a younger person

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The luckiest among us had someone offer advice, encouragement and professional guidance as we grew up — and maybe even beyond. Now that you’re retired, why not share the same sort of kindness?

This could mean encouraging and guiding a child or youth to adulthood or offering support to a young person who’s entering the same profession in which you worked. The number of hours required varies, and anyone who wants to work with minors can expect to be screened for suitability.

Some mentors find their mentees through service clubs, their places of worship or organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. A professional group you once belonged to could likely put you in touch with those in need of guidance. Or check out MENTOR, a nonprofit that could help you find a young person who could benefit from adult advice and perspective.

If you have the time, give mentoring a shot. The difference could quite literally change someone’s life — and giving back in this way feels great.

10. Be a tourist

Senior couple tourists on vacation
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There’s some truth to the idea that many New Yorkers have never been to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. Whether you live in the Big Apple or in flyover country, ask yourself this: What am I missing?

Is there a historic site or popular attraction you never got around to seeing? There’s no time like the present. There might even be a senior discount available.

Check out local parks and recreation departments for tips. If you live near a tourist-friendly area, check out their attractions. These could often be day trips. For example, while taking the Megabus from Philadelphia to New York City, I met a couple of 19-year-olds who planned to spend the day in Manhattan for sightseeing and student-discount theater tickets.

Or maybe there’s an interesting neighborhood you always wanted to spend more time in — well, now you have the time. So have the fun!

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