Is It Still Retirement if You Have to Work?
A new world of part-time and temp gigs posted online helps millions make ends meet
By Jeff D. Opdyke
Most Americans don’t have enough money saved to retire on, and Social Security isn’t sufficient all by itself. Where do you find yourself in relation to these figures?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that households headed by those over 65 spend, on average, about $46,000 a year, or about $3,833 a month.
The average couple earns combined Social Security benefits of $2,400 a month, or about $28,800 annually.
That’s a monthly shortfall of, call it $1,450 before figuring in taxes, which pushes our needs up to about $1,650.
In theory, that shortfall is why you have a nest egg. But reality has a way of mucking up theories.
The average retirement nest egg for Americans in their 60s is $117,000, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Draw down $1,450 a month and your nest egg is an empty shell in under seven years. (That doesn’t include investment returns, but a conservative portfolio won’t extend the depletion date very far.)
Worse, averages include highs and lows, and Federal Reserve data crunched by Statista and Forbes show 13% of Americans over 60 have no savings for retirement.
In both cases, earning additional income is the answer, aside from downgrading your lifestyle.
You can, of course, tap into the traditional job market — typically low-skill, low-income service sector work. For many retirees, that’s fine, so they can enjoy the daily routine as well as socializing with co-workers and customers.
Unlike generations past, however, today’s retirees live in the internet age, which offers abundant opportunities to create income from side hustles that aren’t dependent on age or location.
Some of those jobs generate but a modicum of income. Others offer the possibility of meaningful paychecks in retirement. I’ve interviewed scores of retirees who earn a few hundred to few thousand dollars a month through all manner of jobs they create for themselves across various industries, talents and skills. Many of these jobs are based on skills gathered over a career or built up over years, and decades of pursuing hobbies.
Websites such as Upwork, Fivver, Freelancer and Guru allow freelancers (that’s you) to build a profile, then compete for thousands of assignments in areas including web development, all manner of writing, architectural drawing, chemical engineering, language translation, animation, voice-over work, contract law, customer service support, data entry. The list of needs is huge (more than 18,000 at the moment on Upwork), the demand is global and age is irrelevant.
Once you start an account at any of these sites, you can scroll through hundreds of jobs posted in your category and submit proposals for any that match your skills. Or you can consider and accept jobs proposed to you by those in need of your skills.
What you earn will depend on the skills you possess and the time you devote to winning new gigs. There are structural engineers on Upwork, for instance, earning $80 to $175 an hour. Over on Guru, a roofing company is paying $500 to $1,000 for help creating a Keynote presentation. And if you have any experience teaching Microsoft products in a team-based setting, there’s an Atlanta company ready to pay up to $2,500 for 12 hours of classroom-based instruction over two days.
Not every job requires engineering or deep computer knowledge. Upwork, at the moment, lists more than 20 jobs for travel writers — everything from an “adventure travel writer” to “creative travel article needed on elephant tourism.” The pay: anywhere from a set price of about $40 per article, to $20 to $45 per hour for an ongoing blogger.
Don’t care about travel? Jobs exist for cover letter writers, ghostwriters, press release writers, copy editors, resume writers. And on and on. Again, the pay spans a broad spectrum from a few dollars per assignment, to ongoing gigs that pay well above minimum wage. A recent posting for someone to edit a business oriented manuscript is offering to pay between $25 and $75 per hour (the average bid is just over $53 per hour).
Best of all with these gigs, you can set your own hours and work from wherever you want to be.
If you can transfer your skills into an online course, consider a company such as Udemy, which hosts tens of thousands of online courses designed by people with expert knowledge in some particular field and for which subscribers (Udemy has 30 million globally) pay a fee to access. Classes span a wide swath: real estate investing, vocal training, using Adobe Lightroom, meditation, management consulting, options trading, grant writing and thousands more.
Price tags on these courses range from a few dollars to well over $100, which you split with Udemy in various ways. One currently popular course, “Ultimate Drawing Course,” is estimated to have more than 250,000 enrollees and has so far earned income of somewhere between $500,000 and $2.1 million. (The range results from the fact that students can use coupons that reduce the course’s listed price.)
Of course, that’s one of the exceptions. Sixty percent of Udemy courses generate less than $5,000 in sales, while roughly a quarter generate between $5,000 and $25,000. So, you won’t get stinking rich (in most cases) creating an Udemy course, but with a moderately popular course you can potentially supplement a Social Security check fairly decently.
However you approach it, the 21st century has made earning an income in retirement easier than ever. It just takes logging in and finding the best fit for what you’re good at.