8 Ways To Build A Realistic Retirement Bucket List

Retirement can be one of the most fulfilling stages of your life, provided you plan ahead to make sure it satisfies your needs and desires. It requires you to take a retrospective look back and ask yourself, What remains to be experienced or accomplished? What would I regret NOT having done? Here are some helpful tools and strategies. 

1. Brainstorm

Start with a good old-fashioned brainstorming session. Make a list of all the things you’ve ever dreamed of doing, from skydiving to reconnecting with an old high school chum. Don’t stop until you’ve exhausted all possibilities. 

2. Take A Break

Now let it rest for a day or two. Putting it out of sight and out of mind will provide a fresh perspective. Then review your list and resume brainstorming until you’re out of ideas again. Keep in mind there is no magic number to shoot for, as long as the items accurately reflect what you want this stage of your life to look like. Now it’s time to evaluate. 

3. Rate Your Entries

Starting at the top of your list, rate each item on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being the least important and 5 being the most important to you. Then go back and put a line through each item with a rating of less than 3. Don’t delete those items yet, as you may want to revisit them later.

4. Ask These Questions

For those items rated 3 and above, ask yourself the following questions. I suggest you answer them in writing.

  • Am I mentally and physically capable of doing this activity? 
  • Can I afford it? Does it fit within my budget or will I have to stretch?
  • Is this something I really want to do or is it just something I’ve always thought I wanted to do? 
  • Is there a reasonable Plan B? If it’s not feasible to do an activity on your bucket list, is there a more doable option that still resonates with you? For example, if you’ve always wanted to travel to Spain, but you prefer not to leave the U.S., is there another destination you’ve always wanted to visit domestically — maybe even a place with a similar climate, great Mediterranean restaurants, or museum with Spanish art? 

5. Prioritize

For those items rated 3 and above, rank them in order of what you’d like to tackle first through last. 

6. Plan

Starting with the first item on your list, begin planning. Remember, the best plan on the planet is worthless if you don’t implement it. iWish is a great bucket-list planning tool (an app available for Apple) that can help you achieve your goals, manifest your dreams, make travel plans, and more. 

To get the ball rolling, ask yourself, What one reasonable step can I take to begin planning for the first item on my bucket list? Momentum will kick in once you’ve taken that first step. If you’re not sure where to begin, check out this Real Simple article on how to travel the world after you retire

7. Troubleshoot 

Plan ahead for the unexpected. While a bucket list might look good on paper, carrying it out can be daunting. For every item on your list, try to think of any potential blocks or obstacles that might get in your way. For example, if your usual pet-sitter is unavailable when you need her, be sure to have a substitute just in case.

If you prefer to do an activity with a buddy, discuss it with him or her in advance. Don’t assume you’re on the same page without first checking it out. Different people have differing interests, so you may need to find more than one companion. Group activities are great for spur-of-the-moment interaction when a buddy is not available. Local senior centers, community centers, and adult education venues are good resources for a variety of activities — and potentially meeting folks to tackle your bucket list with. 

If travel is a key component of your bucket list and you want freedom without the hassle of planning, group trips may be the way to go. That way, most of the details including travel, lodging, and itinerary are taken care of. All you have to do is pay and show up. Check out Travel + Leisure’s picks for best senior-friendly travel groups for more inspiration.

8. Face Your Fears

It’s also important to face your fears and any tendency toward procrastination when building your bucket list. Often, the items on your list are things you’ve wanted to do forever, but you either didn’t get around to or something always got in the way (see blocks and obstacles above). You kept postponing it until it finally ended up on your retirement bucket list by default. Which brings us back to Number 3: Is this something you really want to do or just something you always thought you wanted to do? 

As you get older, you may not be as fearless or your body may not be as cooperative. If an item has been collecting dust on your to-do list for over a decade, you may want to reevaluate and see if it still makes sense in terms of who you are today. If it scares you, dig deeper. Should you throw caution to the wind or take a more calculated risk? 

Remember those items on your brainstorming list that were rated less than 3? If they still speak to you or if you’re not sure, tack them on to the end of your bucket list and reassess when you get there. Your bucket list is a living document that morphs and changes as a reflection of who you are at any given point in time. As you cross things off, new items might be added or you may decide to delete some for whatever reason. Your bucket list is a dynamic tool that is subject to revision on an ongoing basis.

Bottom line: Will it be now… or never? Imagine being at the end of your life, bucket list in hand. Some of your items are crossed off, some are not. As you review your list, which items do you most regret not having accomplished? That is where you should start. Remember, “You can pray for potatoes, but you better buy a hoe!”

For additional advice, see all our bucket list content here and read up on

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