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Back to school

Affordable ways for retirees to learn something new

Created date

August 21st, 2012

This month, kids all around the country are sharpening pencils, loading up book bags, and heading back to school. Even if your school days are long behind you, autumn can still be an opportunity for you to make a fresh start by learning something new or mastering a skill. In fact, retirement is the perfect time to expand your skills and stimulate your mind. As we age, it becomes increasingly important to remain engaged and inspired in living, says Dave Bernard, author of Are You Just Existing and Calling It a Life? and creator of the blog Retirement Only the Beginning ( Small busy work activities can fill in some time, but with typical retirements lasting 20 to 30 years, we need more. Keeping the mind active and engaged with new challenges is a perfect solution.

Fire up the brain cells

Learning something new doesn t have to break the bank. There are many low-cost (and free!) ways to sharpen your mind. Older adults can literally go back to school by taking lifelong learning classes. Jan Cullinane (, author ofThe Single Woman s Guide to Retirement and The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life, says that in many areas, retired residents over 60 can take classes at local universities and community colleges for free. She also recommends the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), which offers peer-taught classes on a variety of subjects for people over 50. Osher courses are available throughout the country, and Cullinane says rates are low. For example, at the University of Cincinnati, mature learners can take as many OLLI classes as they d like for $80 for each eight-week quarter, Cullinane says. There is also an abundance of learning opportunities available on the Internet. For example, Scott Edwards of OpenSesame ( says his company offers several online courses that may be of interest to older adults who want to get up to speed on technology. Another online learning site is, which bills itself as a community marketplace to learn anything from anyone. People with expertise in anything from baking to woodworking to photography teach online or in-person classes. You may not have to look further than your own social circle to find a learning opportunity. Gather a few literary-minded friends to form a book discussion group. Many libraries offer book club bags, so multiple members of book clubs can borrow the same book at the same time. If you already have a group of friends who meets regularly to golf or play bridge, challenge yourselves to try a new activity. If you re all interested in cooking, for instance, get together to practice new culinary techniques. Take turns finding fun recipes and your only cost will be ingredients. Whatever interests you, make it your goal to go back to school this fall and master something new. As Bernard says: The brain is like any other muscle if you don t use it, you lose it.