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How to Create Your Retirement Bucket List

4 Min. Read
Man about to check paragliding off his retirement bucket list

In the movie “The Bucket List,” characters played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman bond over their shared need to complete a list of experiences they want to have before they die.  While bucket lists are cross-generational, a retirement bucket list is particularly significant because it can feel like a “last chance” to fulfill a dream, push a boundary, or gain a sense of accomplishment in a post-employment world.  

A retirement adventure list should guide this next chapter of your life, allowing you to live instead of existing,” says retirement coach Sandra Menzies

What should go on yours? Here’s what experts say about creating a meaningful and realistic list.  

Identify What’s Important to You 

While some people know exactly what’s most important to them in the second half of life, others aren’t so certain.  

“When we stop striving and using our talents, skills, and life experiences, we stop thriving and growing. That is the danger in retirement,” says retirement coach Dee Cascio

Creating a retirement bucket list that will bring satisfaction, happiness, or a sense of purpose requires clarity around what you value and enjoy. To get a better understanding of that and the activities that will fit, complete these prompts:  

  • I’m happiest when I’m ___________. 
  • I feel content when I ___________. 
  • I’ve always wanted to ___________. 
  • If I had unlimited resources, I would __________. 
  • I’ve always talked about visiting ___________. 
  • My favorite thing to do is ___________. 
  • My “what ifs” include _____________. 
  • The people who are most important to me are ___________. 
  • If money were no object, I would ___________. 
  • In the past, I never had enough time to ____________. 
  • When I was a kid, I loved doing ___________. 
  • I have always been really interested in ____________. 

Look for patterns in your answers. They will help focus your retirement bucket list thinking and research. For example, “If they love to help others and that feeds them, then volunteering in the community should be on the list,” says Cascio. 

Brainstorm Ideas  

Be open-minded and use your prompt answers as jumping-off points to brainstorm retirement bucket list ideas. Do this on your own, with a spouse or friend, or by searching online for examples of what others have added to their lists. Apps iWish and Buckist can help you find ideas.   

“Seek inspiration from many sources. Talk to others younger or older to see what they have done. These ideas can trigger that inspiration within yourself —  no item is too outrageous or too insignificant,” says Menzies. 

“Be spontaneous and don’t over-think it. Whether it’s climbing Mount Everest or visiting your cousin in Akron, your bucket list doesn’t have to be sexy as long as it accurately reflects who you are and what you want your life to look like,” adds life coach Shelley Weiss Cohen

Uneaka Daniels, who plans to retire in a few years, jots down bucket list ideas as they occur to her, using a notebook she purchased specifically for this. “When you write down your bucket list, be very specific about what you want to do. I knew that travel was going to be on the list, but I have now listed the exact places I want to visit,” she adds.  

Assess and Prioritize 

When you feel like you have enough ideas to create a meaningful list, Cohen recommends asking these questions for each item on your draft list:  

  • Is this something I can actually do, both physically and mentally? 
  • Would it be satisfying?  
  • Can I afford it? 

Cohen advises remaining open-minded —  even creative — as you answer these questions. “A client of mine on a fixed income wanted to return to Portugal for a long overdue visit with her family. It was number one on her bucket list. With her permission, a compassionate friend started a GoFundMe® page, and as a result, she was able to cross it off her list right before the pandemic,” she says. 

Next, on a sheet of paper, create three columns labeled “Promising,” “Doubtful,” and “Maybe.” Put the items with all three “yes” answers in the “Promising” column, add those with three “no” answers to the “Doubtful” column, and write the rest in the “Maybe” section. Put the “Promising” items at the top of your bucket list because they have fewer obstacles to overcome.  

Take Action 

Finally, create an action plan for each of the first few items on your retirement bucket list. “For example, if you want to be an artist, start taking art classes,” says Menzies. 

Daniels recommends sharing your list with others, too. “You never know if someone can help you do it. My list includes going on a chartered yacht cruise. I recently met someone who operates a chartered yacht, so I have put them down as one of my contacts,” she says. 

Some find that creating and acting on their retirement bucket list adds another purpose to their retirement lifestyle.  

“Many people become complacent and passive after they leave work, especially if they haven’t planned for what will give their lives purpose and meaning. Staying engaged with people and activities that feed your interests and energy are what keep you thriving in retirement,” says retirement coach Dee Cascio.