How Will You Spend Your Time in Retirement? A 'Wish List Journal' Can Help

When work ends, your time will be all your own. While that may be exciting, it can also be daunting. Here are some practical ideas on how to define the next chapter of your life.

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“Retirement” can be a scary word. Webster defines “retired” as: “withdrawn from one’s position or occupation: having concluded one’s working or professional career.” We used to believe that retirement was the time of life when we no longer had to set the alarm clock, since we didn’t have to rush out to work. It may have felt like the start of irrelevance, like an appliance that came with built-in obsolescence. Let’s face it, retirement was thought of as the beginning of the end.

Instead, how about redefining retirement as a time in your life when you have the freedom to now choose the life you want to live? Maybe you stayed in the rat race because you had a family to support and kids to raise. Now it’s your time to embrace all of the things that you have actually wanted to do. That is your real career change, and it is a career change in every sense of the phrase. You are not withdrawing from life; you are redrawing your life.

What Would You Like Your Retirement to Look Like?

Start making a list and keeping a journal with an eye on the future. How many times have you thought to yourself that something sounded interesting or appealing, but you didn't have the time to do it? Write it down. Have you watched travel shows on TV and thought you'd like to visit some of those places? Write it down. What about a subject you'd like to take a course in, or a hobby you'd like to try? Write it down. Want to learn to plank? Or learn what planking is? Write it down.

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Make it a ritual. Eventually, you're going to have a “Wish List Journal” filled with possibilities for your retirement life. Here is what a Wish List Journal could look like:

  • Go back to school. You could work toward an advanced degree or just take courses that appeal to you.
  • Pursue your passions. Have you dreamed of becoming the next Grandma Moses? Learn to paint.
  • Travel to the places you have always dreamed about.
  • Spend time with your grandchildren. You have a lifetime of knowledge, wisdom and experience to offer. In return, they will keep you young and current.
  • Use your skills to help others. You're going to have time to make a difference in the world. Pass on your knowledge – pay it forward. Retirement is a chance to do interesting work, add meaning to your life and meet great people.
  • Transition into retirement. Rather than an abrupt stop to your work-life, you may want to create a transition period that could last well into your 90s. Find a “side hustle.”
  • Join a sport or get involved in a leisure activity. Find activities for your age group. You'll find people with similar experiences, and forge new friendships. (I’m taking up the sport of curling — seriously.)
  • Write your memoir or start a blog. Share your experiences, travels and beliefs. You will be helping others and leaving a legacy for your family.

Having a plan for retirement is essential. Your plan can be fluid — change and adapt along the way as your desires and dreams evolve. By having a plan, you turn the idea of retirement from something hazy in the future into a goal and a path. And of course, you need money to do many of the things you wish you could.

If you know what you are saving and planning for, you will be more enthusiastic and conscientious about saving for it. What you thought of as saving for old age — because you knew you had to — becomes saving for a life that you look forward to living; a life of your own design.

Age is Just a Number

I know it’s a cliché, but many clichés are based upon truth. Former president George H. W. Bush celebrated his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays by skydiving near his home in Maine. “Eighty Is the New 70,” Bloomberg notes in its story about how Supreme Court justices are serving longer tenures now than ever before. By August, three justices will be 80 or older. “The projected age when a justice will leave the Supreme Court is now about 83 — that’s a 10-year increase from the 1950s,” according to Bloomberg.

Our pop culture icons have also changed our perception of what growing older looks like. Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger is a great-grandfather, and he’s still performing as vigorously as ever. Actress and animal rights activist Betty White is often referred to as “the grandmother we wish we had.” Now 96, her career might be stronger than ever. In fact, at the age of 88, White became the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live.

And, then there's Cher, obviously known for her talent; her outrageous Bob Mackie-designed costumes; her ability to “plank” with the best-of-them; and yes, her face-lifts. Cher is still giving concerts — and wearing those outfits and looking amazing — at 72.

I also love that Grandma Moses took up painting at age 76; Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida at age 64; Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence at age 70; and Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa at age 76.

The point is that we are all breaking the stereotypes, and reshaping retirement. Retirement is personal and individual. We don't have to sit on the porch cleaning vegetables for dinner, and we certainly don't have to jump out of an airplane — unless that's what we want to be doing.


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Neale Godfrey, Financial Literacy Expert
President & CEO, Children's Financial Network Inc.

Neale Godfrey is a New York Times #1 best-selling author of 27 books, which empower families (and their kids and grandkids) to take charge of their financial lives. Godfrey started her journey with The Chase Manhattan Bank, joining as one of the first female executives, and later became president of The First Women's Bank and founder of The First Children's Bank. Neale pioneered the topic of "kids and money," which took off after her 13 appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."