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By Mallika Mitra
June 4, 2021
Photograph of Robin Focht sitting on the hood of her RV
Courtesy of Robin Focht

Robin Focht’s 23-foot RV took on a new role during the pandemic: it became her retirement income.

The 64-year-old began renting the 2015 Forester on RVshare for $150 a night and has made up to $4,000 in a month.

“That’s what got me through COVID,” Focht says. “I could not have paid my bills or paid my mortgage or paid for the RV if I didn’t have my rental. COVID put a stop to everything in my life.”

When COVID-19 shook the world, retirees came up with creative ways to bring in income, and many plan to continue their pandemic pastimes even as the society reopens. For some, the extra income was a necessity. Half of today’s workers are at risk of not being able to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living when they retire, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. (Fidelity Investments found that the average 401(k) balance was just $121,500 in the last quarter of 2020 — certainly not enough to live on for years.) For others, the extra cash helped financially support loved ones, or save up for travel or other discretionary fun.

If you’re looking to join these resourceful retirees, there are ways to build off the career you had for years while flexing your old muscles and learning new skills — or even renting out what you already have. Here’s how.

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Be adaptable

Renting out her RV for retirement income wasn’t Focht’s original plan.

She gets a pension from her 14 years working at the Sarasota county government in Florida and is collecting widow benefits from her late husband’s Social Security. But between her mortgage, medical insurance, car payment and everyday expenses, money is tight. She doesn’t want to touch her individual retirement account yet.

Before the pandemic, Focht sold her glass and wall art to support herself. But art shows were cancelled when COVID-19 hit the U.S. So she adapted to the changing situation and decided to rent out her RV. She books her vehicle through RVshare; owners who use the service get RVshare Rental Insurance for free.

Her quick thinking and flexibility paid off.

“If you retire and find yourself realizing that you need some extra income, I think you need to think outside the box,” Focht says. “I think everyone has something to offer and if you work on your strengths and how they can work to bring in income, you may be surprised with what you can come up with.”

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Use what you own

Hedy Katz doesn’t have a RV, but she does have another way to get income in retirement through rentals: the swimming pool in her Los Angeles backyard.

Katz, 58, who ran the administrative side of her husband’s doctor’s office, and her husband retired in 2017. While he has some projects that bring in income, like HIV and AIDS research, Katz wanted something to keep her busy — so when she saw the swimming pool-sharing company Swimply on ABC’s Shark Tank, she knew she had to act.

The company connects swimming pool owners with people looking to rent pools for private events, like barbeques. Katz’s first renter in April of 2020 booked her pool three times a week for three months for his physical therapy sessions. Over time, she added more renters, welcoming bachelorette parties and birthday parties for $60 an hour, and has earned around $20,000.

“It just took off like wildfire,” Katz said. “People love it.”

Katz and her husband don’t rely on the money they make from renters, but it helps them maintain the pool for when they use it themselves (mostly when their grandchildren visit).

“It’s a nice little extra boost that we feel very fortunate to have,” she says.

(If you’re renting out your pool, RV, house or anything else, don’t assume that your homeowners policy will cover liabilities incurred through the business use of your property. Swimply, for example, offers hosts protection via a third-party insurer.)

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Tap your expertise

Francine Levitov, a 73-year old New Yorker, stopped getting dressed up, grabbing her briefcase and heading to work as a public defender 17 years ago. But the skills she flexed in the courtroom still help her bring in money in retirement.

Whenever she’s home, Levitov has a computer window open to JustAnswer, a site where people all over the world can ask experts questions about everything from accounting to plumbing to etiquette. When she sees a criminal law question that intrigues her — ranging from how to get help for a family member in prison to how to file a restraining order — she clicks, researches, answers the question and gets paid. Experts’ pay varies depending on their area of expertise, and Levitov says she made nearly $150,000 this way during 2020 (she admits she’s on the site a lot, at least a few hours everyday, 7 days a week.) During the pandemic, she says she upped the amount of time she spent on the site as the volume of legal questions intensified. Law is a profession that gets more action when times are tough she explains.

Levitov has built up a comfortable nest egg largely from the work she’s done on JustAnswer, but she wants to make sure she doesn’t have to depend on her children financially in the future. Plus, she loves the gig.

“It keeps my mind alive and allows me to learn more about the law and stay current in the profession,” Levitov says. “It allows me to see myself as I’ve always seen myself, which is primarily as a lawyer.”

Wayne Tolkson, a former heavy-duty truck mechanic in Bloomington, Illinois, who retired in 2005 on disability, also uses JustAnswer to make some extra cash in retirement. The 70-year-old answers questions about engine and welding repairs, excessive oil usage and more on the site for four to six hours a day, and has raked in around $19,000 so far this year. Tolkson also increased his hours during the pandemic, spending an hour or two more on the site each day.

Tolkson has a union pension, as well as Social Security, so the money he earns is supplemental income that he uses to help out his two daughters, who are both single mothers. Plus, it’s a way for him to keep up with what’s going on in the industry.

“I enjoy it very much,” he says. “I keep on learning.”

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