How to Deal With the New Reality: Working During Your Golden Years


“The Boomer” is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their “golden years.” It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to 

It used to be that when Americans turned 65, they left the workforce and started living out their golden years. But it’s not so simple anymore.

The 2008 financial crisis rocked boomers’ retirement savings (if they had any at all), and now more are forced to delay retirement or only semi-retire because they can’t afford to permanently leave the workforce.

According to a 2011 Employee Benefits Research Institute survey, 74% of Americans polled planned to supplement their retirement income by working--a 2% increase from 2009.

Working longer and reducing spending are two practical ways for boomers to beef up their retirement funds, but this shift in the idea of working during retirement is a new way of thinking for boomers. Jan Cullinane, author of The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life, offered the following tips to help baby boomers juggle retirement and work. Here’s what she had to say:

Boomer: Isn’t "working in retirement" an oxymoron?

Cullinane: Under the old definition of retirement, this new idea is an oxymoron. The formal definition of retirement is to withdrawal into privacy or seclusion or removal from service office of business. Now, retirement is more of a process rather than an end. Retirement can now include several forays in and out of the work force.

Today about 80% of boomers say they plan on working in retirement, some because they have to, others because they want to. Some are working for health insurance if they are not eligible for Medicare. Others work to afford travel and other fun activities—funds referred to as a "playcheck." Some boomers have to continue to work past normal retirement age to bridge the gap between what they have saved and what they need to fund their desired retirement lifestyle. Other boomers are postponing leaving the workforce to get higher Social Security benefits.

Boomer: What are some of the non-financial benefits of working in retirement?

Cullinane: With nearly 80 million boomers, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. However, most retirees desire intellectual stimulation, structure, sense of purpose, feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment on what they are doing and social support. For a lot of people, working provides these non-financial benefits.

Older boomers not working will need to find something that provides those emotional and psychological advantages. The No.1 reason people retire is to pursue other things--it is important to think about having something to retire to and not from.

Boomer: What if people want part-time employment, but also need health-care coverage?

Cullinane: For boomers who only want to work part time because that helps them bridge the gap, health care is often a big issue. There are a number of places that do offer health coverage if you are just a part time worker. There are positions within school systems like crossing guards, classroom aides, or bus drivers, which require 20 hours of work a week, but include health coverage. Other companies include UPS, Home Depot, Costco, and FedEx, that offer health-care coverage without being a full-time employee.

Boomer: Isn’t it stressful to juggle retirement and working when you thought you’d be fully retired?

Cullinane: For those with the expectation of not working at all during retirement, the reality of being forced to work longer or part-time can be stressful.

There is another kind of stress that is not often mentioned and that is the word eustress. The "eu" comes from the greek word meaning good, and this is the kind of stress that invigorates people to rise up to a challenge—like tackle a problem at work and get a promotion. I think a job can often provide eustress.

How boomers handle stress and view life events is important—staying positive and how we think of things can avoid the bad kind of stress. For example, changing to “I get to go to work today” from “I have to go to work today,” can make working a more positive and rewarding experience.

Boomer: Any tips for someone who wants to relocate in retirement, but needs to work?

Cullinane: If relocating is part of your retirement plan, the moving costs can not be deducted. But the IRS publication 521 allows some moves for work-related reasons to be deducted if you meet certain qualifications—including the time and distance test.