Sounds like some epic fantasy novel—The Third Age.
No, it’s really about what you hope will be golden years.
How do you make them the crowning point, the best years of your life? That’s what this article is about.
We will offer tips interspersed with the author’s own experiences in the Third Age. Also, plenty of links to other resources. Why is it called the Third Age? See this explanation.
Probably, there are things you never had time for while working, raising children or fulfilling other responsibilities. These years from 65 to 80 and beyond—or perhaps 55-90+ can be special.
More than sitting in a rocking chair on a porch. More than grilling in the backyard. More than sitting in a recliner watching movies or favorite shows. Nothing wrong with those choices, but there could be more to these years. That’s what this is about.
Before we get to the main content, there’s two possibilities. We will endeavor to cover both.
- One, you’re planning ahead—you have a few years before you are part of it.
- Two, you’re already in it—in which case you may need some quick help.
The Nutshell–the topics
- Finding your dream(s) and actualizing them
- Staying involved—don’t allow loneliness to creep up on you
- Maintaining your health—so you can enjoy those years
- Money—helps to have it but there’s alternatives if you don’t
- Making the most of what you have—free or low cost activities
- Financial planning or assistance for those who need it
- Leaving money for others—family, charities, etc.
Finding Your Dreams
Don’t just live it—love it! Let’s start with the easy (we hope) part—finding your dreams. You can actualize them no matter your financial circumstances. We will illustrate that more when we discuss money. Here’s some things you might love to do—things that you didn’t have enough time for until now. You may have entirely different aspirations or objectives. The tips will probably work for some of them as well.
- Art—drawing, painting, photography, quilting, etc.
- Writing—novels, memoirs, fiction or nonfiction stories/articles
- Travel—those places you’ve always wanted to see (as exotic/expensive or frugal/first class as you want or can afford)
- Teaching—you know plenty you could share with others
- Grandkids—spend more time with them (or others if you have none)
Art: Drawing, painting, photography, quilting, pottery and the like will benefit from education or training—practice too. You can learn much from books, magazines or TV shows as well—not to mention the Web. You can pay for classes or find free workshops. You can join local groups focused on fabric arts or connect with others at shows/exhibits. Can be costly or not—find your niche. Do it for fun or sell your stuff at shows or online—Etsy, for example.
My wife found her niche. She began sewing, crocheting and applique many years before retirement. In her Third Age, she added Art Quilting. Thus far she has sold a few designs of her own to friends and given away others to family members. She continues to extend her skills and will join others in a local group when time permits. If you’re already a quilter, learn about creating a landscape quilt in this Quarterly article.
Writing is another area where education will help. Find tips online for writing novels, memoirs, fiction or nonfiction (bloggers galore have those tips). Take in person or online courses. Community colleges, adult education, libraries and other resources are yours for the asking. Writers especially will benefit from a social media presence and a website—something else to learn!
I used most of those resources to jump-start Waiting for Westmoreland. I joined creative writing clubs in high school. I took extra college courses in English, composition, specific authors, etc. In retirement, I took very helpful adult education classes in Creative Nonfiction at minimal cost. I studied many books and joined a critique group of fellow memoir writers.
I continue learning website maintenance and design—including this one. It’s that or pay someone else to do it. Of course, you will pay a host regardless–who may do lots for you, at an additional fee.
Might you wish to go the traditional route and use an agent to sign with a major publisher? I queried some for a time but got nowhere. Maybe it would work for you—depends on your credentials and what you’re writing.
Teaching others what you know can be rewarding financially but even more satisfying and heartwarming. Online or in-person. As an adult-ed volunteer or paid. As an adjunct faculty member at any grade level from pre-K to graduate school. At organizations, museums, etc. Online via YouTube videos, Instagram and other media that many people my age aren’t aware of. Just ask your younger children or grandchildren for help if you need it.
What you know from your years of work is valuable information. Call it coaching if teaching sounds too formal. That’s true whether it’s administrative, managerial, professional or otherwise. What you know from your hobbies too is useful too. Skilled trade knowledge—plumbing, electrical, mechanical and more are resources that others need as well. For those with only one foot out the door, this could include supplying apprentice type training. Otherwise, it’s helpful for would be do-it-yourselfers. You know what the code requirements are and the risks of some tasks, so you won’t get people in trouble doing things they shouldn’t, right?
Travel can be as simple or complicated as you make it. Planes, trains, automobiles or on foot. As costly or expensive as you wish or can afford. Difficult physically or easy. Goes well with keeping fit, creating art and teaching others. You just have to figure out where to go and what to do when you get there. Tours or on your own. With friends and family or by yourself. Infinitely variable and thereby challenging—but that’s part of the reward. More places are handicapped accessible and more will accept pets (not just service animals—but be careful with what airlines consider service animals).
Look at the variety of magazines and websites dedicated to travel. Visit your local library or bookstore. Check out some past issues of the Quarterly. Here’s sample excerpts from one to get you started—use it for methodology, not your destination. Consider season not just for weather but for crowds—and cost.
Here’s an excerpt from the Quarterly on visiting Walt Disney World (Florida). By the way, it’s not just for kids. From the article, you’ll get some ideas on the research you may want to do. Planning and research will help you get the most from any trip—wherever you go.
When to go? First, you need to decide when you want to go. To be honest, I like going anytime, but I find it more enjoyable when it is not so crowded. The summer months and during Christmas/New Years are insanely crowded. When our children were young, my husband and I vacationed at Disney World during the children’s spring break from school. At that time of year, it is crowded but manageable. Generally, the least crowded (and slightly cheaper) times to go to Disney World are January, February, late April through the first week of May, mid-August through mid-September, and mid-October through the first week of December. . .
Pick Your Resort. The best way to enjoy everything Disney World has to offer is to stay on property. When you stay on property, you’re not only immersed into Disney, you get all the benefits from free transportation throughout the resort to Extra Magic Hours (which allows those staying on property to get into select parks early or stay there later).There are three categories of resorts (at different levels of expense): value (the least expensive), moderate (in the middle), and deluxe/deluxe villas (the most expensive). There is also a campground for tent camping and RVs.
Grandkids (or adult children) are wonderful—in moderation, perhaps. You know how much or how little. Try getting beyond babysitting to activities you can do with them. Beware, you might make their parents jealous that you didn’t spend more time with them while they were growing up. But you were working then, weren’t you? Make it up to them by taking them on those trips we talked about above. In our travels we have seen examples of that at the airports and destinations, with middle-aged adults on cruises or tours with their parents and plenty of grandparents/grandchildren at destinations like WDW. See the full Disney article about that or this summer travel feature—easily adaptable for the grandkids.
What if you don’t have grandchildren? You can volunteer at community groups, faith-based or other organizations to provide enrichment activities for kids. Of course, you may need to be screened before being allowed to participate. It’s all part of the times in which we live. If you miss or never had child raising experiences, you could become a foster parent. Careful—may be more responsibility than you want to take on in the Third Age. Or maybe it’s just what you want to be doing.
Don’t allow loneliness to creep up on you. It’s an emotional as well as physical health risk. Some people are so connected with work relationships that they feel disconnected when they retire. You can maintain some of those connections—for a time. But you need to focus on neighborhood or other friends. You already have some, but where can you make more? Affinity or activity groups like these examples:
- Hobbies—like photography
- Alumni organizations—if you have happy memories of an institution or fellow students
- Cause or political-linked—the environment, economic development for your town, projects you want completed or oppose, etc.
Volunteer at museums, visitor centers, a local hospital or care facility—you name it, there are countless organizations in search of volunteers to support paid or non-existent staff. Like what?
- Rides for those who need transportation to appointments
- Docents at the local museum
- Tax-preparation (AARP, for example, offers this at tax time)
Work part-time as much or as little as you like/need to. Even if you don’t need the money, it gets you out of the house if you’re bored and offers another opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. We see lots of these types in the local hardware stores that offer more hands-on assistance than the bigger chains. They work a few to several hours a week. OK, this may not be your dream for the Third Age but while you’re working on actualizing that, this will add a few dollars and/or keep you engaged. Both are good things.
Engage others when you travel or shop. This probably works better on tours when traveling—but also in airports, train stations or the planes and trains themselves if your fellow passengers are open to it. The shopping situation likely works better in small towns—we can attest to that. On the other hand, once people are retired and in less of a hurry, they can be friendlier. Just try it—you may find you like it. Will this result in continuing friendships? Maybe, maybe not—but it’s still a healthier thing than keeping entirely to yourself.
Maintaining Your Health
Stay healthy and enjoy more years in the Third Age. Clearly, being healthy when you begin retirement is better than getting there during it. Get those checkups. Get those vaccinations. If you have employer-provided insurance, keep it if you can when you leave—you may find it easier and may get a continuing premium subsidy. In time, you may face illness or disability. We will cover options to deal with those obstacles too.
Exercise to stay fit. Go to a fitness center—pricey with trainers or low-cost with senior discounts. Workout with a spouse or a friend for encouragement and reinforcement. Just walk the dog or at malls—they open early for seniors to do that and weather’s not an obstacle. Invest in a pool or machines at home if that’s a financial option—but you must keep at it. Don’t let the equipment be a clothes rack!
The point of the exercise is to keep the heart, lungs and muscles in shape. Exercise should include cardiovascular exertion as well as muscle toning. Cardiovascular will reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. It will keep plaque at bay in arteries, lower blood pressure, etc. Muscle toning will support joint function and help prevent falls. You don’t need to become a bodybuilder—unless that’s part of your dream.
If running is your thing, there are senior marathons. Cycling? Yes, there are age-grouped competitions for that as well. Senior Olympics? That too. Paralympics for those in wheelchairs, etc.
Eat right. You need fewer calories but more protein in later years. A balanced diet works best. There’s advice galore on TV, the web or in print. Some makes sense; some just sells products, and some is nonsense. Careful eating too many meals out—more menus include calories but few mention salt or nutritional value. Processed food (frozen, canned or prepackaged food) is more likely to have excess sodium—which invites hypertension and other problems. Check the label. If you have time and the inclination, make more meals at home and choose ingredients wisely. There are countless sites out there to research this topic. Just be careful—watch out for the ones selling books or other products, fad diets, etc. Here’s a site with much good advice—Sally Cronin’s Smorgasbord.
Drop excess pounds. There are no magic diets—despite what all the ads claim. The simple solution? Eat less of what you already like. If you try some fad, eating stuff that’s not as appealing as your usual meal, you won’t stay with it. It’s OK to weigh a little more as you get older. It’s fat around the middle that’s not good. Why lose weight? Your joints will thank you for it. So will your heart. The risk of heart disease goes up when you’re carrying around more pounds.
You may be familiar with the Body Mass Index. This venerable chart and available calculator correlates height and weight to estimate the amount of body fat you may have. Below a certain number and you’re underweight. Above and you may be overweight or obese. It has shortcomings—it’s not adjusted for age or gender. Women have more fat than men. Athletes score higher based on muscle (which is heavier than fat). Your doctor (see below) can make allowances for these differences. Or try the Smart Body Mass Index (SMBI)—we prefer this one. It adjusts for age and gender and is decades newer.
If you want to know how to get fit and lose pounds, read more of my story here. I lost 80 pounds, got off a drug for high blood pressure, lowered my statin (for cholesterol) to the lowest dose and toned up muscles. Yes, it required discipline. It cost nothing—other than a few more minutes a day. Saved money on food, actually.
See your doctor regularly. You know the drill by age 60 and up—one set of exams for women and another for men. Plus, the ones for both—like the dreaded colonoscopy. The exam itself is no big deal, it’s the preparation for it. But the benefit is that the cancer it looks for is slow growing so get the test every five or ten years and chances are any cancer found is curable. Check blood pressure and cholesterol—the risks for heart disease. You can get an inexpensive and reliable home BP monitor to. There’s pros and cons on PSA exams for men. Easy answer for me—my father died of prostate cancer before age 50 and my brother had it cured at age 68. I get the exam. All the medical stuff is kind of like the old ad for oil changes—pay me now or pay me later. In the medical case, it’s checkups now or surgery (or worse) later.
Money—The Big Challenge
Did you plan ahead? You would have saved more for retirement if you could but . . .
While still employed, there are “catch up” provisions in the various tax-deferred retirement accounts that allow you to put more into them after 50. Didn’t do that either? Take heart, it helps to have money, but we will explain how not only to survive but to thrive.
- Free or low cost activities and more—Options for those with less
- Making the most of what you have
- Charitable giving now and leaving money to others later
Free or low cost options abound. We mentioned some of them above in staying involved. Walks on trails or typically free. So are libraries. Some parks or museums may charge a modest fee but those that do offer a discount for seniors. Join an affinity group. Search the web for “senior discounts”–you will find BIG lists!
Instead of being a volunteer, as described above, be a participant. Volunteers often earn free perks. Some colleges or universities allow non-degree seniors to attend classes for free (called auditing). Just search for “free classes for seniors” You can also find free classes—at adult or higher ed, local community groups, etc.
Just check out local news media, local government, business and other organization websites for events happening. You will find many—at little or no cost. Goes hand-in-hand with staying involved. Also, important for supporting the community in which you live or local institutions. That may be essential for maintaining the viability of the locale if that’s where you will spend your Third Age!
I intermittently attend a small writers group that meets every week—costs nothing as it’s held at a local visitor center meeting room. We don’t critique works for publication, but it inspires short items for my blogs. Items that will wind up in short story collections or the start of a novel.
Maybe you need rides to medical appointments, shopping, etc. You can usually find those at well. In some cases, it’s ride sharing. Otherwise it might be a form of assistance to low-income seniors. While this may not seem a part of enjoying your Third Age, it is critical to maintaining your basic needs—without which you won’t be able to thrive. You would rather thrive than just survive—right?
Making the most of what you have. This all falls under the rubric “Financial Planning.” Ugh, sounds boring—challenging maybe. We have covered this, in part, in past Quarterly issues. See this link to three articles on retirement-related finances.
Making sure you have enough to last is the first issue. Will you live to 80, 90 or beyond? If you do, will you still have money for food, shelter and other essentials? If you have that covered, then it’s time to work on thriving. How do you get there?
Manage income and expenses—it’s that simple. Except, it really isn’t simple, is it? I may have an advantage over some of you--I spent ten years as a budget analyst for a large government agency. I still use financial software today and project household revenues and expenditure on a spreadsheet–through 2038! NOTE: I hated math in grades K-12. If I can manage money, you can too. 😎
Begin with sources of income, the easy part.
- Pensions or other employer payments
- Social Security (if you ever lived and worked in the US, they still pay you if moved elsewhere)
- Any of the various retirement accounts—tax deferred or not
- Other investments
- Part-time income (if you’re working full time, you’re not retired and arguably won’t be fully engaged in the Third Age, will you?)
Move on to tracking and projecting expenses. Just check out this discussion from an article in the Quarterly. You may also want to read the entire article for additional information.
We recommend using financial software to help you budget and keep track of expenditures by category.You’ll find many of them on the web or in brick and mortar stores. Some are free and others cost you money. We’re not endorsing any, but here’s a sample (you can find many more online):
. . . .
Regardless of what you come up, consider it a work-in-progress that needs adjustment as your plans or circumstances change.That’s why software of one sort or another can help. Of course, you can also consult a financial planner if you don’t feel up to all that yourself. You’ll still have to supply the planner with the same information; he or she will just take the place of the software in asking questions and coming up with estimated answers.
If you don’t want to go all in with software or a planner, you can also use online financial calculators—which presupposes that you have the information at hand which they require.
The nitty gritty—keeping on track. Earning more or spending less will do that. Adjusting retirement account investments or working part-time will increase income. Using the cost-saving measures we mentioned above will reduce expenses. Spend more on what’s important to you and less on what’s not. Keep an eye on essential versus discretionary. You must pay the rent or mortgage. You must buy food, but you choose from where—on sale or with coupons if necessary.
If your dreams include travel, look for seasonal discounts and other tips above. Art classes from a prestigious institution or a community college. Don’t give up on your dreams, just manage with what’s left after you have found ways to cut costs elsewhere.
Giving money away. In America, one can be quite generous to family and friends annually—you can give $15,000 per recipient (free of gift tax) or $30,000 if you and a spouse file jointly. This is the 2019 amount, carried over unchanged from 2018. The annual gifts count against the lifetime estate tax limit—which apply to nearly no one. So, a couple could give each of three children $90,000 annually. If that covers your situation, you don’t need to be reading this. 😊 Note that this also applies to friends, neighbors–anyone, $15,000 or $30,000, annually.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to get into trusts, estate plans and the like. All of these are among the mechanisms to reduce the effects of taxes and/or legal hassles like probate. Suffice it to say that many states in the US have simpler and less burdensome proceedings to settle small estates. So don’t fall prey to the hype that you must have some sophisticated plan to ensure that your children, grandchildren or others get what you want to provide them after your death.
Charitable donations are NOT subject to gift or estate tax. On the other hand, they are tax deductible—up to 50% of one’s income. Organizations are required to make it clear if donations are deductible or not. We won’t get into the pros and cons of itemized deductions under the new IRS rules. Nor can we get into applicable tax laws in countries other than the US.
We will have more on financial matters in upcoming Annuals—including buying a house.
The first age is dependence—birth through adolescence. The second age is when one gains independence—more education, moves away from home and finds some livelihood. The fourth age? Well, that’s back to some dependence perhaps, until the end of this time on earth as a mortal.