The Joys of Being Retired

More freedom, being able to give back, and time to deepen relationships are common themes in your e-mails.

Several months ago, I wrote that one of my simple pleasures in retirement is having the freedom to run errands at noon on a Tuesday, with little traffic, lots of parking and ’60s music playing on the car radio. That prompted an e-mail from reader Bob Swahlen, who also experiences “the joy of having freedom and time,” with one exception: “I find Bo Diddley to be a good companion on the ’50s channel.”

Musical preferences aside, enjoying more freedom and time is a common theme running through reader responses to the question I asked about your greatest pleasures (or disappointments) in retirement. Having time on your hands takes some getting used to. But after making the transition, readers wax eloquent about their new circumstances.

For example, writes Louis Pinneri, “I describe this blissful state as a freedom from three stresses: the stress of work, the stress of commuting and the stress of squeezing everything into a Saturday and Sunday.”

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For many of you, flexibility means having time to relax and enjoy yourselves. “It’s much easier and more cost-efficient to schedule vacation time,” writes Bob Whitney. “And if the airline has overbooked a flight and is offering a perk for volunteers who take another flight, why not?”

Jack Meredith loves the freedom to chuck the to-do list “and just catch a movie in the afternoon, when the theater is almost empty.” And for Sandy Unger, “it’s like experiencing some of your youth again, with the wisdom of a life well lived.”

Having the luxury of time also means being able to give back. “My greatest pleasure has been the opportunity to volunteer at a food bank, Habitat for Humanity and an animal shelter,” writes Ramin Hashemi.

When she was working, Julia Brown set up a family foundation to make charitable contributions. Now that she’s retired, Brown sits on the boards of several nonprofit organizations and donates “a substantial amount of time.” As a result, she says, “I am a much better donor now because I am far better able to see the impact of contributions.” (In ad­dition to volunteering, Kiplinger’s readers participate in a mind-boggling array of activities, which I plan to write about in a future column.)

Closer relationships. Many of you use your expanded time to deepen your relationships. After three years of retirement, writes Phil Stillman, “the greatest pleasure I’ve had is to spend time with my wife.” Nancy Schmoyer feels the same way about “spending more time with my (still busy) retired husband.” And for many of you, grandchildren top the list. “My greatest pleasure is interacting with our three granddaughters, who live 10 minutes away,” says Mark Snyder. “Grandchildren are so important,” writes Cindy Gnech. “Our two live about two hours away, and we see them for two days every other week.”

Unfortunately, not all relationships have survived retirement. “One unpleasant surprise was losing pretty much all of my work friends,” writes Lisa Scott-Ponce. So she was happy to discover that “seniors in my exercise classes are quite friendly and open, and I have developed a whole new group of friends for lunch dates.”

For many of you, time is its own reward. “My greatest pleasures are not setting an alarm clock and enjoying leisurely mornings with coffee,” says Jo Bennett. For Nancy Sikes, a former middle-school English teacher, “My greatest pleasure is being able to eat and use the bathroom when I need to and not when a schedule says I can.” On the other hand, says Sikes, “I no longer have the excitement of an early morning phone call saying there’s a snow day. Now, snow is just snow.”

But for David Gelb, “One of my favorite things to do in the morning on a rainy or snowy day is to turn on the radio at 6:30 a.m. and listen to the traffic reports, knowing it’s no longer my problem as I roll back to sleep.”

Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar is editor-at-large of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, a position she assumed after retiring as editor of the magazine after eight years at the helm. She is a nationally recognized expert on the subjects of women and money, children's and family finances, and financial literacy. She is the author of two books, Money Smart Women and Raising Money Smart Kids. As editor-at-large, she writes two popular columns for Kiplinger, "Money Smart Women" and "Living in Retirement." Bodnar is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is a member of its Board of Trustees. She received her master's degree from Columbia University, where she was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism.