The pandemic has accelerated a major social and economic shift that has been unfolding over the past three decades: Retirement is less a binary choice — you are either working or retired — and more another transition into a mix of activities, some paid and others unpaid. The so-called retirement years (better yet, unretirement years) often include activities that may include a mix of volunteering, grandparenting, leisure, flexible work, part-time jobs, gig tasks, self-employment and encore careers.
Behind the shift in expectations is the fact that Americans are living longer and healthier lives (on average) since retirement-as-leisure became commonplace in the 1950s and 1960s. The typical person now reaching age 65 will spend about 22 years in the traditional retirement years, according to the MIT AgeLab. Not many people can save enough to maintain their standard of living for that length of retirement. The pandemic recession has been hard on so many older workers that the need to earn an income longer for financial security is greater than before. At the same time, working a meaningful job offers purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning exerts a powerful pull.
Deciding on the right mix of paid and unpaid activities for you is a difficult task to figure out on your own. Tapping into professional expertise, say, financial planners, career coaches and lifestyle tutors can help, of course. What if you don't command the kind of resources it takes to hire well-schooled professionals? Where can you turn for guidance?
That's the question moderator Rich Eisenberg, managing editor of PBS' Next Avenue, asked a group of experts during a panel discussion on "Unretiring: The New Rules of the Second Half of Life." Panelist Andrew Scott, professor of economics at the London Business School, hit the mark when he urged people nearing the transition to unretirement to hold many discussions in their household. Your household, your family and extended family are an incredibly valuable resource. Don't try navigating this major transition (or any big transition for that matter) on your own.
Engage in conversation with your broad network for ideas, suggestions, and insight. Run the numbers to see how your income and savings match up with your portfolio of desired paid and unpaid activities. Budget and learn new skills as needed. Personal finance is nothing more than making realistic calculations to support your goals, your dreams and your values.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, "Marketplace," and Minnesota Public Radio.