Boomers, plan your encore career before retiring

The Bakersfield Californian
April 8, 2011

Another poll and another indication that baby boomers are just plain frightened about their retirement financial security.

Released this week, the Associated Press-LifeGoesStrong.com poll found 44 percent of the boomers surveyed expressed little or no faith that they would have enough money when their careers end.

Only 11 percent said they strongly believed they will be able to live “in comfort” during their retirement, with 55 percent saying they would retire with only some degree of “financial security.” About two-thirds of the respondents called Social Security an “extremely” or “very important” source of their retirement income.

Demonstrating the amount of “retirement angst” among the 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 was the poll’s findings that one in four boomers believe they will NEVER be able to retire. Their only recourse is to work until they drop.

But life doesn’t always offer the “work until you drop option.” Illness, old age and the fickle economy, which convulsed millions of Americans — young and old — out of their jobs during the recent recession, may not allow someone to work until he or she drops.

In a recent Strictly Business column, I listed ways boomers can recover financially from the recession and scrape together enough money to provide a financially secure retirement.

One of the strategies was for boomers to continue working at least part time during retirement, finding “encore careers” that are less stressful and perhaps more rewarding.

This week’s AP poll supports that advice, which many of my boomer clients have told me is easier said than done.

Perhaps an example and some resources can help Bakersfield boomers begin developing successful encore careers.

One of my clients enjoys fixing up old cars. But this can be an expensive and time-consuming hobby. He also enjoys talking to other car enthusiasts.

As he eased into retirement, he decided to turn his passion for cars into additional income by getting a part-time job at an auto parts store. It is something he doesn’t have to do every day. He meets other enthusiasts. His mechanical expertise is valued. And, he receives an employee discount on parts.

The same reasoning can be applied to many people’s hobbies and passions, which are good fits for part-time jobs or start-up businesses.

Many professionals turn their high-pressure full-time jobs into part-time consulting careers. Their efforts provide substantial supplemental income to retirement savings and pensions.

Many professional people I have counseled can easily earn $25,000 to $50,000 a year in retirement as consultants. While their pre-retirement full-time salaries likely will dwarf their consulting income, these part-time earnings, combined with savings and investments, allow people to retire in comfort and security in their early 60s. They have the freedom and flexibility that we all yearn for in retirement.

Encore careers are catching fire as this huge generation of boomers refuses to embrace rocking chairs in retirement. But an encore career requires forethought and planning.

Consider the corporate executive who told me about his rude awakening after he recently retired. With memories of his retirement party still dancing in his head, the man awoke one morning and sat down to make a list and schedule of how he was going to spend his time every day.

Upon completing his list, he scheduled a meeting with his wife to present his ideas: pick up the mail; take out the trash; walk the dog; and so forth.

His wife looked him in the eye and said, “Those are my jobs; get your own!”

The man had no clue. Since most of his work life had been dictated by meetings and “important responsibilities,” he had no idea how he was going to spend his retirement years.

If you, too, are clueless about how to spend your retirement, or if your retirement plans are turning out to be unproductive and boring, take the following steps:

  • Determine how much you need to earn in retirement. Sit down with your accountant or financial advisor to evaluate your savings strategy and estimate how long your money will last in retirement. If your planning has been solid, you may not need to be paid for your encore career work. Maybe you will need to work only part time.
  • Take an inventory. What are your skills? Do you have skills beyond those you use at work? What are your interests and hobbies?
  • Research your fields of expertise and interest. Determine the availability of jobs, and the skills and education required.
  • Attend industry events. Network with professionals in the field. Determine if internships are available that will allow you to obtain experience and test-drive an encore career.
  • Read trade publications and Internet blogs to learn more about your field of interest.
  • Search the Internet for informative boomer websites. There are many and they include www.LifeGoesStrong.com, the website that partnered with the Associated Press to conduct the latest boomer retirement poll. The comprehensive Civic Ventures website at www.civicventures.org provides information and Internet links to jobs, business opportunities, internships and fellowships.

Begin planning an encore career before, not after, you retire. Start thinking now about working, volunteering and enjoying a hobby so that you can eventually have a completely satisfying and successful retirement.