At 72 years young, Fran Britt’s about to embark on a 10-day Panama Canal cruise trip, leading a group of 18 people from Holiday City, her 55-and-over community in southern New Jersey.
“We look forward to these trips, since a lot of us didn’t have the opportunity to travel when we were younger,” says Britt, who’s also coordinated hugely successful group trips to Alaska and Mexico.
It’s important for people at retirement age and beyond to stay involved or get even more involved in group activities. “No matter our age, we’re wired for human connection and conversation,” says Katie Krimer, MA, LMSW, a psychotherapist at a New York City-based Union Square Practice. “At 60, 70, 80 and beyond, we want to belong and feel good about ourselves. Group activities post-retirement can help older adults feel less alone in their new chapter of life and can help them find new meaning.”
The media often romanticizes retirement as a joyful time, free of workplace burdens. “However, this doesn’t usually happen without intentional planning,” says Kaylin Morrissey Bridgeman, LCSW, with Marmora, NJ-based Thrive Counseling Services. “Retirement’s a time to really engage your passions, interests and hobbies. You might not know what these are, and that’s OK. This is also a time of experimentation.”
“Retirement’s a time to really engage your passions, interests and hobbies. You might not know what these are, and that’s OK. This is also a time of experimentation.”
Here are 10 budget-friendly ways to get out on the town and have some fun (and help others along the way):
1. Get social in your 55-and-over community.
You may not have to travel far from home for lots of fun activities that appeal to a wide variety of people and interests.
For example, Holiday City’s bimonthly social offerings include comedy and variety nights, wine and cheese and soup and salad days, bingo nights, line dancing and painting classes, and Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day gatherings. Residents can even go on monthly day trips by bus, such as to the nearby Atlantic City casinos.
“We schedule lots of community social events that usually cost around $15 per person,” Britt says. “We want people to get out and be social, especially if they’re widowed.”
2. Join or start a book club.
“There’s nothing like reading a good book,” Krimer says. “Connecting with others over a great novel can be a really positive experience. You get to use your mind – which is so important, as certain mental abilities decline as we age – and discuss your interests with people who are there for the same reason as you are.”
Similarly, if you’ve always been itching to write short stories, a memoir or poetry, look for other people who want to share their creative writing. Your local library is a great place to visit, since they often host free monthly writers’ groups.
3. Get out in nature.
Being around nature (like having plants in your home) and specifically walking in the great outdoors and hearing the birds and other sounds can create significant changes in your mood and even buffer clinical depression, says Dr. Urszula Klich, PhD, BCB, a clinical health psychologist, speaker and author.
“Research found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a grassy area as opposed to those in high-traffic urban areas had decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression,” she says.
4. Check out free museums or zoos.
Lots of museums (for example, most museums in Washington, D.C.) and zoos are free, and even paid attractions also sometimes offer free or lower-admission days to seniors.
“Being on a tighter budget shouldn’t limit our ability to experience art and nature,” Krimer says. “These are terrific experiences that can help keep retirees’ minds sharp and curious.”
5. Attend a free or budget-friendly class.
Your local university, community college or technical school may offer free courses. Sometimes, even grocery stores host cooking classes, or an arts and hobby store might schedule free or low-cost art classes. “You can learn a new skill; and you never know, you might learn something that sparks a second career,” Bridgeman says.
6. Tap into your inner kid and play some games.
Think cards, mahjong, canasta, board games, backgammon, chess, puzzles, word search, Sudoku, bridge, bingo and more. “Typically, people motivate one another when they’re active and can problem solve together,” says Dr. Michelle Maidenberg, president and clinical director of Westchester Group Works, a center for group therapy in Harrison, NY, where she also maintains a private practice. “They can serve the role of pseudo-coach and cheerleader for one another. When individuals feel like they’ve ‘had enough’ and want to give up, they can get direct motivational support from one another.”
7. Take up a sport or join a walking club.
For example, visit your local bowling alley to learn about joining a seniors’ league. Take up golf with a small group. Find a group of people who exercise at the same time every day. Maidenberg says that when you’re involved in a team effort, your fellow players won’t let you slack off or not show up. “Psychologically, if you feel like you have a responsibility and commitment toward other people, you’re more likely to follow through, like showing up at the bowling alley,” she says.
8. Calendar up with free community events.
Think concerts in the park, lectures or seasonal festivals, just to start. Look at your town’s website, as well as those of cities and towns nearby, or stop by your city hall or chamber of commerce to score a list of events going on in the community, many of which are free. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at how many interesting and free activities are happening right now in your local area. Consider even expanding your search to your local arts and historical centers, senior centers and libraries.
“Free events are terrific incentives for people to get out and about,” Krimer says. “Not only can you do it on a limited budget, but you’re also getting out into the community and enjoying the company of people who are there for the same reasons.”
“Free events are terrific incentives for people to get out and about. Not only can you do it on a limited budget, but you’re also getting out into the community and enjoying the company of people who are there for the same reasons.”
9. Volunteer at a local nonprofit or organization.
Whatever your passion, whether it’s kids, animals, the arts and beyond, there’s sure to be a local organization that you can join – a quick online search can show you what groups are in your area. If you belong to a place of worship, you can also check in to see if there are faith-based or community-facing ministries where you can lend a hand.
“Neuroscience research reveals that when we volunteer or otherwise give of ourselves, we engage parts of our brain that stimulate reward centers,” Klich says. “Any kind of connection with others, whether humans or animals, feels good. Close communication, togetherness and touch can trigger oxytocin, a hormone known for its role in social bonding. Oxytocin helps us feel safe, loved and connected in the world and has been referred to as the ‘love hormone.’”
10. Get involved with the arts.
If you’re an art lover, there are so many ways to get involved. Check in with your local art gallery or arts center to learn about gallery shows, poetry readings and other seasonal events throughout the year.
Another hot trend is painting parties, where all attendees paint the same picture as the instructor – like the Eiffel Tower or a beachscape – and then bring home a finished painting to display. Often local libraries will host these parties, where you can enjoy good company and get some good art therapy for a nominal fee.
Do you enjoy music? Schools offer free or low-cost concerts, especially around the holidays or end of the school year.
Overall, getting out and about and participating in activities you love keeps you more active, happier and excited about what each new day will bring. “Being active triggers the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain that regulate mood and can make us feel happier and in general more content with our lives,” Klich says.