In his basement workshop, Ken Hinkle, 78, taps on the screen of his computer monitor. It is displaying his eBay homepage. His finger lands next to his seller rating: 100% positive after 3,000 transactions.
“Not bad for an old guy,” he says with a laugh.
A retired draftsman, Ken repairs and sells old film cameras — mostly Canon rangefinders. “I started selling on eBay in 2001,” he says. “I owned an old camera and I listed it, but I had no idea what the value of the camera was.”
When it sold for $519, Ken’s eyebrows went up. “I started buying more cameras for $30 to $60 a piece. I’d clean and service them, repair broken parts, and relist them for $125 to $225.” Some cameras he found he could sell for as high as $400.
Today, Ken is clearing five figures a year doing something he loves to do anyway — tinkering on machines in his workshop. “Sure, the extra money comes in handy, but that’s not why I started selling,” he says. “I had all day to do whatever I wanted in retirement and I felt like I needed something to do. I could work on cameras in the evenings on my own schedule.”
“I’m my own boss, and I can work whenever I want,” Ken says. “It just doesn’t get much better than that!”
Ken is hardly alone in feeling that way; tens of thousands of older adults are turning to self-employment, either after retirement or just before leaving the workforce. Recently the Health and Retirement Study announced findings that one in ten aging workers go into business for themselves before leaving the business world completely.
Their motivations vary. Some do it to maintain a sense of purpose. Some do it to supplement their income — a fact that gives hope to economy watchers concerned about the effect an aging U.S. population will have on the financial system. And some are like Ken: they do it because it’s something they love to do.
Many people spend most of their lives pining for the day they get the proverbial gold watch. But for others, leaving the workforce can be bewildering. After 40 to 50 years of contributing to a field, it can be hard to just stop working. Some retirees can perceive this change as a loss of purpose or identity, and for them, finding happiness in retirement means finding new purposes and new identities.
If you or someone you know is in this boat, there are all kinds of ways to extend your working years on your terms. Start by looking at what you’re good at, and decide what you can do with those skills that you would enjoy doing. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Consulting. Did you work in a specialized field? Do you have skills or knowledge about your industry that could come in handy to people throughout the field? Consulting requires very little overhead and can often allow you to set your own hours. It might be worth your time to open your address book and call some old business associates to test the waters.
Reselling. You can follow Ken’s route and begin buying and selling items on the internet. While Ken puts work into fixing up old cameras, he also sells some goods as-is. By keeping an eye out for sales at local retailers and online outlets, he comes out with a pretty healthy sales margin just by buying low and selling high.
Creating. Got an artistic streak? Like to work with your hands? Interested in photography? There are all kinds of resources on the internet to sell handicrafts, paintings, photos, and more. Painters, check out ArtPal.com. Crafters, try Etsy.com. Photographers, visit iStock.com. And branch out from there.
Learning. Want to get back in the workforce but worried about a rusty skillset? Many universities and community colleges offer a la carte classes, and some of them even cater directly to seniors looking to get back into the work force. And the web is booming with online classes — many of them free — on a whole host of useful topics. For example, SeniorNet.org is a great place to start when brushing up your computing skills.
Volunteering. And while you’re working on building your new career, why not volunteer some of your time and talents to organizations near and dear to your heart? Churches, charities, care centers, and local schools are just a few places that can always use an extra pair of hands.
If you’re thinking about your future plans, Lutheran Senior Services communities are great places to start. Offering independent living apartments and patio homes, our warm, welcoming campuses offer easy access to assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing should your needs change. For more information or to arrange a visit, click here.