Good news: The average retirement age in the U.S. for those who are currently retired is 61, according to a recent Gallup survey. That means there’s plenty of opportunity for staying active when you’re finally done clocking in.
Not only is the post-workforce world your oyster, but it’s also an oyster that’s largely free to eat — if you know where to look, that is. These cost-free, retirement-friendly activities are good for your bank account, and many also offer great health benefits. Keep reading to see that some of the best things in life really are free.
Last updated: July 6, 2021
Take a Hike
Setting out into the beauty of nature is one of the easiest and most fulfilling retirement activities. Even better, it offers health benefits including stress relief and cardiovascular fitness. You can find a free outdoor adventure near you at AmericanTrails.org.
Go (Book) Clubbing
If you have a computer and a ZIP code, you can find a local book club — or even start your own. Not only will you learn as you read, but cuddling up with a book every day is one of the more relaxing activities for seniors and can actually increase your lifespan, according to a 2016 study in the journal Social Science and Medicine.
Catch Up on Podcasts
Think of podcasts as free-form digital radio shows that you can bring anywhere on your phone, computer or smart device. If you’ve got a hobby or a quirky area of interest, chances are there’s a podcast about it. As always, the internet’s a goldmine for free stuff — for podcasts, NPR’s podcast directory is a great place to start.
Take Up Cooking
In 2017, the University of Washington conducted a study which found that cooking at home is not only a healthier option but a cheaper option as well. And with free apps like BigOven and the plant-based Oh She Glows, you don’t need to invest in cookbooks or classes.
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Donate Your Time
Your life changes when you retire, and it’s not uncommon for retirees to find themselves a little listless. That’s exactly where volunteering comes in.
Volunteering can give you an invaluable sense of purpose and makes a real impact on the world around you. It can also lead to measurable benefits like lower mortality and depression rates and greater functional ability. Find your cause for free at VolunteerMatch.org.
Become Your Family’s Archivist
History is important, but we often forget that each of us is a part of history. Now is the time to start sorting through and organizing that box of photos, scraps and letters in the attic. It’ll make a difference for the next generation.
Make a New Friend
Just like leaving school, departing the workforce often makes it harder to find friends — which is one of many downsides of retirement that nobody talks about.
But that’s a shame because friendships are just as good for your stress levels and self-confidence as they are for your heart and soul. Expand your social circle the old-fashioned way by putting yourself out there and starting a conversation rather than biting your tongue.
Okay, so you’ve done the hike. It’s a good start, but let’s consider it a jumping-off point. The National Institute on Aging recommends ramping up your routine by adding 10 minutes to your daily walk or slowly adding a couple reps to your weightlifting routine and growing from there. Even with low-impact exercises like water aerobics or tai chi, you’ll increase your endurance, balance, flexibility and strength. Daily exercise is one of the best hobbies for retirees.
Get Addicted to TED Talks
TED is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the spread of ideas, typically in the form of bite-sized talks from experts. Each talk runs 18 minutes or less, and the thousands of free topics in the archive span from African science fiction to Creole cuisine.
You can watch and listen at TED online, via Android and iOS apps, on YouTube, on Alexa or Google Home, or on any number of streaming sticks like Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Chromecast — all for free.
Soak Up Some Culture
Museums are like chicken soup for the mind and spirit. And they often host free days for all comers or free general admission for seniors year-round, no matter where you live or travel to.
You might even be entitled to free admission without knowing it. Some credit and debit cards, like those from Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, offer free museum admission as an extra perk.
Meditation isn’t just free, it’s freeing. Whether you practice guided meditation, mantra meditation or mindfulness meditation, you’ll reap benefits like increased focus, decreased stress, heightened self-awareness and patience. This hobby can also help you manage issues ranging from asthma to tension headaches.
Connect With Your Grandkids
Spending time with your grandkids is a great way to stay busy. “If kids are having fun, you’re going to feel good as a grandparent,” social psychologist Susan Newman told U.S. News and World Report. And that should be reason enough to break out those old fishing poles or take a free family trip to the park.
Join the Peace Corps
If you think you’re too old to fulfill your college dream of entering the Peace Corps, think again. Whether you serve for two months or two years, you (and your partner) can make a difference in the country of your choice and in the field of your choice.
Just look at Dorothy Woodbridge, a Peace Corps volunteer who turned 80 when she was serving in Ghana. Start your journey at PeaceCorps.gov.
Foster a Pet
Sure, adopting a dog or cat comes with a fair share of fees. But fostering a pet until a willing adoption family comes along usually costs you nothing — the shelter typically provides food, supplies and medical care for free. Save a dog’s life and make a new furry friend today at Dogs Without Borders.
Sing Your Life
Singing is a win-win for seniors. Not only is it fun, but studies have shown that music is a memory-enhancing tool for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Joining a local choir group can also expand your social circle and might help you fulfill a dream. You can use a free site like Meetup to scope out choir groups in your area.
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Be a Mentor
One in three young people grows up without a mentor, whether from a program, friendship or family member, according to the National Mentoring Partnership. But that’s something you can fix by spending nothing but your own time. Along the way, you’ll grow alongside a young person, learn more about a completely different life experience, gain a sense of purpose and have fun, too. Check out Mentoring.org for a list of NMP affiliates across the country.
Open an Etsy Shop
You might think all the stuff you’ve collected in your garage over the last few decades is junk, but to one of the 30 million buyers who uses the creative online marketplace Etsy, it’s vintage. Whether you’re selling antique doodads or peddling handmade crafts, Etsy offers a creative outlet that might actually put some money in your pocket.
Even if you don’t make the $80,000 a month that Alicia Shaffer made selling handmade scarves in 2015, joining and starting a shop over at Etsy won’t cost you a thing.
The self-expression provided by writing letters not only acts as a vent for pent-up feelings, it “impacts us on a cellular level” and “has psychological, mental and physical health benefits,” Piedmont Healthcare’s Lauren Garvey said in a newsletter entry. We’re willing to bet you’ve got a pen and paper somewhere around the house, too.
Pen a Novel
Few things in life will make you feel more accomplished than cementing your legacy with a book. And if you’re retired, chances are you have plenty of worthwhile stories to tell. To kick-start your effort, sign up for a free basic account at Scribophile, which provides free writing resources and tons of community critique.
It’s not too hard to get wrapped up in worry over the issues affecting America every day. Change starts at the ground level, though, and there’s never a better time to get involved in your local government than now.
Start by working the polls, attending city council meetings and joining a senior citizen political organization. If the experience sparks you, think about running for office at your local parks and rec department, zoning board or economic development commission.
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