Restaurateur Cecilia Chiang retired in 1991 from her business but you can still find her cooking at home or enjoying meals at restaurants in her neighborhood.
The 98-year-old is well-known for her Mandarin Restaurant in San Francisco, which she opened in 1961 and sold in 1991. She received the James Beard Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, was featured in the book "200 Women: Who Will Change the Way You See the World" and was the subject of a PBS documentary called "Soul of a Banquet." Her son is also in the restaurant business and co-founded P.F. Chang's.
She has been busy most of her life, and that hasn't stopped in retirement. She goes to movies and the ballet. She likes to work with her hands so she plants a lot. She consults for San Francisco restaurants and is involved in charities. "I like to work," she told MarketWatch. "I enjoy what I'm doing. It makes my life more interesting."
Chiang represents the potential so many other retirees and near-retirees face: a long and active life well into retirement. And she's planned for it accordingly. Others should take her lead, advisers say. "A lot of people don't realize how long they may live," said Andrew Crowell, vice chairman of wealth management at D.A. Davidson & Co. Americans are living longer -- the number of 65+ year olds grew from 8% to 12% of the total population between 1950 and 2000, and is expected to rise to 20% by 2050, according to a United Nations Report. The average woman who turned 65 in 2015 has a one-in-three chance of turning 90, up from one-in-four chance 50 years ago. And for newborns -- almost one in 10 girls and one in 20 boys born now will live past 100, according to the University of Southern California's Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
A long retirement filled with work, volunteering and leisure is a positive, so long as retirees are prepared.
Here's what to do to have a retirement like Chiang's.
1. Enter retirement with a plan
A financial plan always helps, but so does having a sense of what you'd like to do in retirement. For some, that may be trying a new type of job, or consulting. For others, that could be moving to another country and spending all day on a beach. A plan is especially important for women, said Jason Ting, Chiang's financial adviser at Merrill Lynch. With the gender wage gap and the fact that women often are out of the workforce longer during their careers than men to care for children and other family members, along with the likelihood that women will outlive their male counterparts, it's crucial to understand the finances leading up to retirement.
Near-retirees should know their assets, liabilities, have a will and discuss their expectations of retirement with family (especially if you have someone in mind to be a caregiver down the road).
2. Go in debt-free
Debt can be crushing at any age, but it can be especially concerning in retirement.
"Debt is a silent killer," Crowell said, especially because retirees have no control over interest rates, which can drastically change how much a person owes on a loan. What retirees can do though is identify what debts they have (any student loans for them or their loved ones, mortgage loans, credit card payments) and consolidate. Standard advice dictates consumer debt should not exceed 20% of adjusted gross income, as well as 28% for housing loans and 36% in overall debt.
3. Get the right advice
Not everyone works with a financial adviser, but Chiang said having one for the past few decades has been helpful. "Not everyone is good, you have to do a little homework and pick the right one," she said. "I have been working very hard my whole life to make money; I don't want to lose the money." For her, having an adviser has helped her maintain the lifestyle she wants.
The country is currently facing a legislative battle over how to define financial advisers and their responsibilities to investors. An Obama administration-era Department of Labor rule that required advisers to act in their clients' best interests and disclose conflicts of interest was killed earlier this year, and the Securities and Exchange Commission recently proposed guidelines to take its place. But advisers in the industry say investors might have trouble deciphering who best to work with. Business and life coach Tony Robbins had suggestions for questions to ask a potential adviser, such as "Are you a registered investment adviser?" and "Do you or your firm receive any third-party compensation for recommending particular investments?"
4. Know what you'll have to pay for
Health care alone will cost at least $280,000 during the span of retirement for a 65-year-old American couple retiring this year, according to a recent estimate by Fidelity Investments. And those are out-of-pocket expenses that do not include long-term care. That figure also assumes they're retiring at 65, but would expand for people retiring earlier or for those who live into their 90s. As for other annual expenses: Older Americans put more than $15,500 toward housing every year and almost $7,000 toward transportation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Some retirees may try to offset their expenses by moving, but even then, there are special considerations to know, such as how states tax retirees, if the location is "walkable" (so that you spend more time exercising and less money on your car) and if there are job opportunities available.
One caveat: Though all of these expenses might seem overwhelming, it doesn't mean retirees should buckle down and spend no money, said Matt Fellowes, founder and chief executive officer of financial advisory firm United Income. The average adult 60 years or older will trim spending by 2.5% every year (or 20% over a 10-year period), he said. "There is a lot more freedom to live life and enjoy life than has been possible in the past," he said, but instead, "they're living more sheltered lives than they could afford because they're overly concerned about the future."
5. Think about side hustles
About 11% of retiree households are currently in the gig economy, but future retirees expect such employment will make up a quarter of their income (to supplement their Social Security benefits and retirement account withdrawals). Jobs include driving for companies like Uber and Lyft, dogsitting and consulting. "It gives people purpose, which is important, but it also gives them income," Crowell said. That work may not even feel much like work, as is the case with Chiang. "I never really retired," she said, "even now."