- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 19, 2003

It doesn't take a fat bank account to explore new ideas in retirement. There are dozens of ways to learn a new skill, travel to a new place or volunteer for a cause without spending a fortune.

Some ideas for inexpensive activities:

•Check out your own community.

Public libraries are full of books to check out, no matter what your interests are. You may not be able to afford to go to Brazil, for instance, but you can read about the Amazon. Libraries often offer seminars, lectures and book clubs for seniors.

Senior centers also are a great community resource. The Reston Community Center's Senior Academy, for example, has more than 60 programs, including an annual "Art from Older Hands" show, museum trips and exercise classes. If there is no senior center in your community, then inquire about senior programs at the nearest YMCA or Jewish Community Center.

•Take a course.

Let's say you always wanted to learn how to speak Italian or how the Egyptian pyramids were built but were busy in college studying something practical, such as nursing or accounting.

Retirement is an opportunity to study passions that were put off for careers. Many local universities and community colleges have programs that let seniors audit classes for free or at a greatly reduced rate.

The Institute for Learning in Retirement offers many classes for seniors. Participants can enroll in an unlimited number of classes for a membership fee of about $200 a year. The Agriculture Department has a large program for the study of foreign languages.

The Smithsonian Associates program is an opportunity for Washington-area seniors to learn about the arts and artifacts housed here, says Dr. Gene Cohen, director of the Center on Aging, Health and Humanities at George Washington University.

•Take a trip.

Elderhostel is a nonprofit organization that combines travel with learning at a low cost. The group features about 10,000 programs that 200,000 people took advantage of last year, Elderhostel spokeswoman Cady Goldfield says.

"You can do anything, from studying in your own community to visiting Antarctica," Ms. Goldfield says. "Most of the programs are quite reasonable, with many of them under $500 for five nights, which includes meals and lectures."

Many of Elderhostel's programs are held at universities, where participants learn and live with one another. This year's offerings include everything from courses about opera at Johns Hopkins University's Peabody School of Music to hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Arnold and Joan Marsh of Lancaster, Pa., are scheduled to take their fifth Elderhostel course soon. They already have visited Yellowstone, Yosemite, Lake Powell, Ariz., and Norfolk with the group. This spring, they will go to the Grand Canyon.

"I like the idea of combining education and an in-depth look at a particular place," says Mr. Marsh, 66, a retired naval officer and businessman. "I would rather do that than rush around and be a tourist."

•Go (back) to work.

Work doesn't have to be the all-encompassing grind it might have been for years. Volunteering is a way to share experiences and knowledge while helping others, Dr. Cohen says. About one quarter of seniors still do volunteer work into their 80s, he says.

Many seniors still want to work in some way into their retirement years. Thirteen percent of American workers are 55 or older, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is projected to increase to 20 percent by 2015.

Retirees younger than 65 can make $11,280 without affecting benefits, according to Social Security Administration guidelines. The year you turn 65, you can make $30,000 without benefits being affected. After age 66, there is no limit to the amount you can earn.

AARP also recently polled 1,500 persons ages 45 to 74. Sixty-nine percent of those interviewed said they intended to work during retirement. More than one-third said they would work part time for interest and enjoyment. Nineteen percent said they would work part time for needed income. Less than one-third said they intended to stop work completely.

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