When Is It Time To Retire? Well, That Depends.
My husband and I have had this running debate for over five years. It came to a head in 2019 when he was eligible for an early retirement package that included nine months’ salary and health care coverage. I could not understand why he didn’t jump at the chance.
As we started digging deeper into his reasons for continuing to work, we discovered they had nothing to do with money. He reminded me that “retirement readiness” is more than having the money in the bank; it needs to take into consideration all aspects of your well-being—financial, social, emotional and physical.
I recognize that retirement is not always an individual’s choice. People find themselves pushed out of the labor force early due to layoffs, company failures, health problems (theirs or those of a family member) or other family situations. Planning for this possibility can help mitigate the financial distress.
So, for those of us who can choose when to leave the workforce, how do you know when it’s time?
I tell clients that “if I knew when you were going to die and what health issues you would face, planning would be easy.” But your nest egg might need to last 25-50 years past your primary earnings years. A solid financial foundation will determine your retirement options. Review your finances and ask:
- Do I have a realistic idea of how much I spend and where I will spend money in retirement, including health care and potential long-term-care costs?
- What are my sources of income from a pension, Social Security or annuity?
- Is there a gap between spending and anticipated income and, if so, how will I bridge that gap?
- Am I finished with ongoing financial obligations to parents or children?
- How will I mitigate or adjust my plan in the event of potential investment losses?
This is by far the most subjective area and can be the most problematic. Most of our relationships are derived from a common work environment, mostly because it’s easy. For many of us, our friends are our co-workers. Look for ways to replace those relationships. Some ideas include volunteering, finding a hobby or participating in group activities.
Family relationships might also become more important. Make sure you and your spouse agree on how you will structure your relationship. There’s the old saying: “I married you for better or worse, but not lunch every day.”
Work tends to give us a routine and a purpose in life. When you are no longer working, how will you spend your time? What becomes your life purpose?
My husband skipped the early-retirement package because he has a variety of interests and was not sure exactly how he wanted to spend his bonus hours in retirement. He was afraid of being bored. Retirement would be great on a sunny October day, but what would he do on a cold, rainy February morning?
A life lived without meaning is detrimental to your mental health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “retired men were found to be 40% more likely than employed men to experience depression, and the greatest increase in suicide rates between 2000 and 2016 occurred among 45- to 64- year-old men.”
Health is another key factor in deciding when to retire. Again, we might not have a choice if we or a loved one is in poor health or needing care. Others work because they are healthy and enjoy their job. Some choose to retire while they are still in good health, because they want to enjoy an active lifestyle while they still can.
While most people retire at age 61 to 65, there is no universal right age. Spend time to make sure you are financially, socially and emotionally ready to retire. For now, my husband still enjoys his work, but he at least knows that, if his job becomes unfulfilling, he has plans in place for a successful retirement.