In the pre-COVID era, retirement parties were fairly predictable. There was cake, balloons, maybe a bottle of bubbly that someone had kept locked in their office desk. Soon-to-be retirees were showered with golf balls, foot massagers, jigsaw puzzles, and whatever else their well-meaning colleagues thought could be useful to someone with an extra 40-plus hours a week to kill.
But when the pandemic struck, it made celebrating a retiring coworker or family member that much harder. What are you supposed to get a person marching headlong into their golden years when we’re all stuck at home anyway? We asked a bunch of new and recent retirees just that, inquiring about the best (and worst) retirement presents they ever received, as well as the gifts they wish they’d been given instead.
For the retiree with nothing but time
Retired model-maker and manufacturing engineer Ed Ruminski, 71, spends a lot of his newfound free time online, surfing the internet, sending emails, and playing games. For that, he recommends giving retirees an iPad. The newest iteration has a 10.9-inch liquid retina display, improved graphics thanks to an A14 Bionic chip, and a 7MP FaceTime high-definition camera with enhanced low-light performance (all the better for chatting with the grandkids). It’s available in a range of colors, including sky blue and green, and shoppers can request free personal engraving.
For the retiree who wants to curl up and relax
Many retirees have worked since they were teenagers. Haven’t they earned the right to chill? Retired school bus driver Christine Archer, 65, says “lounge-y things” make excellent gifts for the newly retired, and specifically recommends fleece-lined Cuddl Duds pants from QVC. “They’re real soft,” she says. “I hardly feel like I’m wearing pants when I have them on, but they’re dressier-looking than sweatpants.” Archer also loves Cuddl Duds’ cushy, sherpa-lined cabin socks, especially in the cold winter months. “They’re perfect for cozying up with a blanket on the couch and enjoying your retirement.”
For the retiree who wants to stay in shape
When Linda Silverman, 65, retired from her job in retail management this past April, she wasn’t thrilled to receive a onesie for her “new lazy life.” What Silverman would have preferred was an Activ5 isometric strength-training device, which she describes as an “easy way to work out and build strength anywhere.” Her daughter and son-in-law, an Olympic rower, got her into it and now she’s a convert, using the Activ5 fitness app to coach her through poses and measure her force. “As someone who has never really worked out, I’m finding myself addicted,” says Silverman. “It’s small, it’s portable, and it’s fun.” She adds that it even helps relieve her joint pain. “I highly recommend it for people over 65,” she says.
George R. Shockey Jr., 73, who retired three years ago from his corporate law firm, has also focused more on maintaining his physical health since retiring. “A gift certificate to a health club like Shift Wellness would be useful and wanted,” he says of the New York–based health and wellness center. “I like it because they have an array of options, including personal training, physical therapy, infrared sauna, and massage therapy.”
When Benigna DeCurtis, 71, retired from teaching in 2015, she was showered with bottles of booze and restaurant gift cards. Those were all great, but what really stands out is the gift she bought for herself and would recommend to other retirees: a MYX fitness bike and accompanying membership, which, like similar models from Bowflex and Schwinn, are more affordable alternatives to the Peloton bike. The stationary bike comes with an interactive touchscreen tablet and hundreds of preloaded workouts; new sessions are added weekly. DeCurtis and her husband have been members of a small local gym for years, but during the pandemic, they’ve turned to daily walks and riding their MYX. “I particularly like the coaches, their enthusiasm, and the way they explain, guide, and encourage me,” says DeCurtis.
For the retiree who wants to stay informed
George Shockey says he has more time to read now, “so a subscription to The New Yorker or The Economist would make a good gift,” as would one of his favorite books, Harry G. Frankfurt’s On Bullshit. Says Shockey, “It provides a guide to understanding much of what passes as discourse in the present day.”
For the retiree who is an aspiring artist
Howard Temner, 75, is a retired graphic designer whose clients once included Marvel, Matchbox, and Tyco. “When he retired at age 73, he found himself with too much free time and in need of a hobby,” says his daughter, Brooke Temner. So he “dusted off some old acrylic paints and found his passion and second act” painting and posting his work to Instagram. Though Howard was given books, golf clubs, and cigars at his retirement, he says what he really could have used was a new set of fresh paint. “I now paint alongside many retirees of all levels and find it’s a mind-expanding, creative endeavor,” he says. “Painting keeps your mind sharp, as it requires intense concentration. It’s a great way to meet new people who are in the same life phase with similar interests.”
Gamblin is his top choice of paint. “I love it because it’s a reasonably priced brand of high-quality oil paint with a high content of pigments in relation to fillers,” says Howard. He likes this introductory set, which includes nine colors in 37ml tubes, because it has “all the colors needed to get started, along with a panel to paint on.”
Toss in a set of four Princeton brushes and a gift certificate for a painting class (Howard recommends both The Ridgewood Art Institute in Ridgewood, New Jersey and The Art Students League of New York, which has online offerings) and you’re golden.
For the retiree who is an aspiring musician
When Jose Baltasar, 71, retired in August from mortgage banking, he was touched by the many thoughtful presents he received, including a set of bass ukulele strings. Baltasar, who has dabbled in tenor ukulele for five years, was touched by the sentiment. Aquila is his preferred string maker.
As for the instrument itself, he likes Kamaka ukuleles, which are made in Hawaii. “I believe they are the best ukuleles in the world,” says Baltasar. “Their melodious sounds are unique and conjure images of the islands.”
For the retiree who is an aspiring (erotica) writer
When author Stella Fosse retired from her day job in biotech at age 67, she continued to write for fun and encourages other retirees to do the same. Fosse wrote Aphrodite’s Pen: The Power of Writing Erotica After Midlife because she noticed a dearth of erotic writing “by and for women past menopause.” A book that has inspired Fosse’s post-retirement writing, and one she’d happily gift to a new retiree, is Rae Padilla Francoeur’s Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair. “Her language is gorgeous and her skill with a sentence will stop you cold,” says Fosse. “This memoir is sure to resonate with newly retired readers who suddenly have much more time for the sensual side of life. And for those of us who enjoy writing, this book is a master course in writing about ripe love.”
She also likes “senior sexpert” Joan Price’s Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex, a classic guidebook to “enjoyable late-life sexuality” that teaches people in their 60s and up how to enjoy better sex even if they face health challenges.
For the retiree who wants to treat themselves
Like many of the seniors we interviewed, Linda Silverman received a gift card to a local spa at her retirement party. She appreciated the gesture, but the virus has made that all but impossible for now. As an alternative, Silverman likes the idea of giving a retiree everything they’d need for a spa day at home. “I would have loved some nice eye serums, face moisturizers, a jade roller — really anything anti-aging/anti-wrinkles!” she says. This well-reviewed jade roller and ultra-smooth gua sha scraper massage the neck and face while simultaneously cooling and tightening skin.
They work particularly well when paired with a powerful anti-aging serum, like Bioeffect’s collagen-boosting EGF serums. Bioeffect’s star ingredient is barley, which is grown in a geothermal greenhouse in Iceland. Used in tandem, they help reduce puffiness, increase skin elasticity, and downplay the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
When Marcia Parks, 70, retired from her admin job at a doctor’s office earlier this year, she received, among other things, a gift card to a nearby spa. Like Silverman, she couldn’t immediately use the credit because of COVID-19 and welcomes the idea of a home spa day — especially a DIY pedicure with Baby Foot, a lavender-scented, hourlong foot-peeling treatment that uses fruit acid to slough away layers of dead skin. For maximum bliss, throw in a luxury candle from Diptyque (Parks likes “a nice, clean, calming eucalyptus scent”).
Both Silverman and Parks agree that a high-quality moisturizer or age-defying face oil would make an excellent retirement gift. “I use moisturizer all the time!” says Parks. “That’s why I don’t look my age.” For daily moisturizing, the Divine Camélia face oil from South Korean brand Femmue is a salve for parched skin. Its oils are derived from Camellia Japonica seeds, jasmine, and rose; tocopherol helps prevent age spots. For hands, Parks is a fan of anything incorporating rich goat’s milk. She particularly likes the farm-fresh scent of the Beekman 1802 collection. This set includes bar soap, hand cream, and a whipped body butter.
For the retiree who thinks it’s always wine-o’clock
“In retirement, there’s plenty of time to enjoy a glass or two of wine at the end of the day,” says George Shockey. “I was recently gifted this Champagne bucket, which I enjoy.” The only thing he’s missing? “A small wine chiller would be useful to store my supply of bottles in my apartment,” he adds. The Koolatron dual-zone thermoelectric cooler stores up to 12 bottles in individual climate zones best suited for each wine. And if you really wanna go big, throw in a bottle of Champagne or wine. One of Shockey’s favorites is the Ridge Chardonnay from California.
Linda Silverman received several bottles of wine for her retirement, but she says what she would have really loved was a subscription to a wine club, adding, “I need better friends!” The Splash subscription box is easy to customize: Choose six or 15 bottles per month, every other month, or quarterly; choose red, white, or mixed; and then decide on the quality (standard, vineyard, or cellar), paying an extra fee for the more premium bottles.
Marcia Parks also loves wine — as evidenced by the seven bottles given to her at her retirement party — and she seconds the idea of a wine subscription. She says she’d also be thrilled to receive a set of shatterproof floating wine glasses that she could use while swimming in her above-ground pool. “Then I could really relax!” she laughs.
For the retiree who isn’t ready to give up their morning cuppa
When Parks was working her old job, she’d wake up around 4:30 a.m. every day. “I love my coffee every morning,” she says. “And even though I don’t have to get up early and go to work anymore, I still have my routine. Only now I sleep until 7.” Parks is particularly enthusiastic about this two-way stainless steel coffee maker from Hamilton Beach, which allows her to make a 12-cup pot of coffee for family, or a single serving if everyone else is still sleeping.
For the retiree who is hard of hearing
BJ Russell, a 60-year-old retired physician, thinks Nuheara’s smart hearing earbuds would make a brilliant gift for a retiree. “I was initially attracted to the claim that they work like a hearing aid, but are much less expensive, allowing for directional focus, adjustment by smartphone, and multiple layers of noise cancellation,” he says of the IQbuds2 MAX, which combine the best of premium hearing aids and wireless high-end earbuds. Russell now wears the Nuheara buds whenever he listens to music or makes a phone call. If he receives an unexpected call, he simply pops the buds out of their case, sticks them in his ears, and they pair within seconds. The communication is clear and he likes the “heft and weight” of the earbuds, the “firm magnetic clunk” that tells him they are well-secured within their charging case, and the glowing red lights that relay charging status. He says if he had received these earbuds as a retirement gift, “I would think fondly of the giver every time I reflect on how indispensable they have become to my daily life.”
For the retiree who likes puttering around the house
You can’t go wrong with a gift card that facilitates DIY home improvements and other fixer-upper projects. Retiree Jose Baltasar was delighted to receive a Home Depot gift card. He used it for yard tools, including “a nice shed to keep my new toys in good shape!”
For the retiree who likes puttering around the garden
Tess and Tom Hardy, a recently retired couple in their late 50s, received several gag gifts at their retirement, including a mug that read Goodbye Tension, Hello Pension. But they also appreciated gifts that acknowledged their personal interests — like the gift certificate they received to a nearby nursery that sells native plants. “It was perfect since we had a strong desire to improve our garden in retirement,” the Hardys explain. Plow & Hearth, Park Seed, and Gardener’s Supply Company are three beloved gardening stores offering online gift cards.
For the retiree who likes puttering around the kitchen
The Hardys also think that a gift certificate for cooking lessons would make for a nice surprise. League of Kitchens, which typically hosts its culturally immersive cooking classes in person, has pivoted to online lessons. These are led by female immigrants, most of them 50 or older, with a deep knowledge of their culture’s unique food traditions. In 2.5 hours, a retiree can learn to make Indian aloo paratha with Yamini, Uzbek-style butternut squash sambusas with Damira, or gnocchi al pesto with Mirta from Argentina.
For the retiree who is using their 401(k) to travel
Even though vacations look a little different these days, “traveling is high on our priority list and in retirement, we actually have the time to create the photo albums, which can be pricey!” say the Hardys, who recommend giving retirees a gift card to Shutterfly or Fracture, a service that prints photos onto glass. “It’s a great way to capture and display scenes from your travels.”
For the retiree who just wants a traditional retirement gift
Ed Ruminski likes the idea of a classic retirement gift, like a handsome watch. Ruminski owns six Invicta timepieces, noting that they’re well-made, “powerful-looking,” and work with both casual and dressy outfits. This limited-edition gold-tone stainless-steel number was designed in collaboration with another retiree: former Miami Dolphins defensive end and outside linebacker Jason Taylor. It includes a trio of subdials and is water-resistant up to 330 feet.
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