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This Woman Found the Perfect Retirement Dream Job. Here's How You Can Too

Sarah Max

When Leslie Cogswell stopped by Metolius Artisan Tea late last year, she was only looking to buy her favorite tea in bulk. But after the retired radiologic technologist met the owners — who were hard at work blending tea and making chai in their Bend, Ore., headquarters — she wanted to come back.

“I thought about it and emailed them to see if I could volunteer,” says Cogswell, who quickly earned the nickname Chai Ninja. “About a month in, they insisted on paying me.”

Cogswell, 62, is part of a growing legion of retirees who are taking part-time positions to pursue their passions, make connections — and, of course, supplement their incomes. In the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies’ most recent annual retirement survey, 56% of respondents said they plan to keep working after retirement.

“The traditional idea of retirement is becoming obsolete for a lot of reasons,” says Ric Edelman, founder and executive chairman of Edelman Financial Services. For one thing, Americans are living longer and, in many cases, are healthier. “People in their 70s are healthier today than people in their 50s used to be, which means they’re physically able to work,” he says.

Many individuals count down the days to retirement, only to miss the intellectual challenges and social perks of going to work. There’s also something to be said for a regular paycheck: Among workers who plan to keep a job in retirement, 83% said financial reasons were a motivating factor.

“The good news is that you don’t have to go back to a 40-work week,” Edelman says. “For many people, an extra $1,000 a month can make a big improvement in their lifestyle.”

And with unemployment rates hovering near all-time lows, many retirees are in a good position to negotiate for work that’s interesting but not all-consuming. “There are employers who would be happy to hire retirees and let them work on a flexible schedule,” he adds.

Cast a Wide Net

Then again, you don’t need to return to the same field you just walked away from. To land the ideal retirement gig, pinpoint exactly what you want to get out of a job and what you can offer an employer. Is your top priority to fuel your passion, learn something new, meet different people or simply earn a paycheck?

If income is your primary goal, your previous employer might indeed be your first stop. Make a pitch to your former bosses or colleagues with specifics on when you can work, how you can make their lives easier, and what you can and cannot do as a part timer.

But you have other options too. The gig economy opens lots of doors for flexible work. Such sites as PatinaSolutions.com and YourEncore.com connect seasoned professionals with organizations needing their expertise.

If walking dogs or running errands is more your pace, check out Rover.com or TaskRabbit.com. (For further inspiration, AARP has highlighted 10 part-time jobs that might lure you out of retirement.)

Marianne Ketels greets visitors at George Washington's Mount Vernon, America's first president's home in Alexandria, Virginia.

Let Your Interests Be Your Guide

In your working years, your top priorities may have been salary and career track. In retirement, try setting your sights on what you love. “If you’re an avid golfer, look into working at a golf course,” Edelman says. “If you like to garden, apply for a job at a garden center.” You’ll not only earn a paycheck doing something that interests you, but you might also be privy to valuable employee discounts and other benefits.

You may even find that your existing volunteer work opens doors to part-time paid positions. Before she retired from a 35-year career with the federal government, Marianne Ketels, volunteered at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Virginia. “I’m a history buff and it’s near my home,” she says. After she left her government post, Ketels, now 65, took a three-month break — but then stepped into a position with Mount Vernon’s guest services team.

“I’ve learned so much about the people of that era and the history of our democracy,” she says. “Plus, this is a beautiful place to work.”

Watch for a Social Security Bite

If you’ve already started taking Social Security, there’s one extra wrinkle to be aware of.

If you’re under full retirement age – which is 67 for those born after 1959 – you will wind up giving up $1 in Social Security benefits for every $2 you earn above the annual limit of $17,040 for 2018. Someone making $27,000 a year, for instance, would see roughly $5,000 less — half of that $10,000 overage — in Social Security payments than if they weren’t working. (The math changes slightly during the year you reach full retirement age; you’ll give up $1 in benefits for every $3 you earn above $45,360 until you reach full retirement.)

Once you reach full retirement age, however, Social Security will recalculate your benefit amount — a change that will, over time, give you back the benefits you didn’t receive because of your earnings.

Of course, for many working retirees, the paycheck is just one of many reasons to clock in. Back in Oregon, Cogswell says one of the greatest perks is working side-by-side with colleagues ranging in age, interest and background. “It’s fun to engage in a world that’s different from the circles of people in my retired life,” she says.

Meanwhile, she adds, the work itself is immensely satisfying: “When I’m done making chai, I can put it on the shelf and say ‘Look what I did today.'”