20 things we do in retirement

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What will you do all day once you retire? A new study concludes that you’ll spend your time watching TV and puttering around the house.

While this may not sound like an exciting retirement lifestyle, labor economist and author of the study Charlene Kalenkoski says she found this research to be reassuring because it means retirement can be affordable. “Spending time at home relaxing, thinking, reading and watching TV — it doesn’t cost a lot of money,” she says.

Top 20 weekday activities

Retirees Workers
Sleeping 520.6 minutes per day 460.6 minutes per day
Television and movies 223 97.2
Eating and drinking 88.9 66.9
Reading for personal interest 47.5 12.5
Washing, dressing and personal grooming 38.7 44.6
Socializing and communicating with others 34.4 24.4
Preparing food and drinks 33.9 17.2
Caring for lawn, garden and houseplants 30.3 5.9
Household cleaning 24.1 9.7
Shopping for everything besides groceries, food and gas 23 9.3
Relaxing and thinking 22.7 9.4
Using the computer for leisure, except playing games 22.4 8.5
Playing games, including computer games 13.9 5.5
Household and personal organization 13.1 *
Laundry 11.8 *
Travel related to shopping except grocery shopping 10.8 5.1
Travel related to eating and drinking away from home 10.7 6.5
Cleaning up after eating at home 9.9 *
Grocery shopping 9.3 *
Golfing 8.2 *

*Denotes activities that didn’t score in the top 20 of workers’ weekday schedules.

Source: Journal of Financial Planning and the 2010-2012 American Time Use Survey, Department of Health and Human Services

Kalenkoski, an associate professor in the department of personal financial planning at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, looks at retirement as an extension of employment. Her current study utilizes the American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which examines how middle- and high-income retirees spend their time. Participants were asked to keep a 24-hour diary, then they were interviewed over the phone. All participants identified as retirees were 50 or older and weren’t working for pay.

Surprising unpopular activities

If you look at the list of top-20 retiree activities, you’ll see that some activities you might have expected to find there didn’t make the list at all. Exercise is one. “Not a whole lot of exercising going on by anybody,” Kalenkoski says.

And not many people described taking exciting trips. “There are people who did report travel, but travel isn’t an everyday activity. It doesn’t make the top-20 activities,” Kalenkoski says.

Lots to do around the house

On the other hand, sleep is at the top of the activity list. Retirees sleep more than workers. Maybe they are catching up on all those years of work-induced sleep deprivation. Retirees also said they spent more than twice as much time compared to workers on household cleaning.

Other things that retirees do during the week that workers don’t have much time for include cooking and kitchen cleanup, lawn and garden maintenance, grocery shopping and golfing.

Retirement savings implications

What people planning for retirement might take away from this study, Kalenkoski thinks, is the importance of really analyzing how much money you think you’ll need in retirement.

If you believe you’ll be spending almost all of your time on low-cost activities like gardening and cooking, then maybe the conventional wisdom that you need to replace 70 percent to 80 percent of your income during your working life could be high, she suggests. “You might be doing less and enjoying it more,” she says.

Learn more about how to age in place naturally.