How long are you planning to hold down an obligatory job? Are you saving and investing so you can retire at age 66? Are you one of the many who is actually intending to stay on the job until age 70 so as to maximize your Social Security payout? If you are now on one of those traditional glidepaths to retirement, let me share with you the different road I chose to an earlier retirement. And why I consider my earlier departure from the job world one of the most crucially important decisions of my life.
I pulled the trigger on retirement when I was 53 years old. And 53 is not even really that early. Many others have reached or are planning to reach early retirement in their 40’s or even their 30’s. Critics ask: what is the rush? Why put yourself through the saving and spending discipline necessary to achieve an earlier departure from one’s job? What is so terrible about retiring at 66, or even 70, especially in an age of increasing longevity?
Three words: life expectancy and mortality.
How Much of Your Life Will You Live Free?
We all hope to live past age 100. But most of us won’t make it past 85. And too many of us won’t even get to 80. What should that mean for your retirement outlook?
Some of us went to jobs right out of high school, at age 18. Some of us entered the job world later, at age 22 after graduating from college. So let’s say that, on average, we take on a full time job obligation at age 20. If you retire at the now U.S. standard 67 and live to 86, you’ll have spent 47 of your adult years tied down to that job, and your remaining 19 years living job-free. That’s almost two-and-a-half job-obligated years for each year of adult freedom. That’s over 70% of your adult life obligated to a commute and a time clock. Is that really going to be good enough for you? Is that what you are going to settle for? At the end of your life, will you have been satisfied with that?
The More Free Years the Better. Much Better.
My answer to that question was a resounding NO. So at age 44 I started seriously planning, saving and investing so I could retire by age 60. But, at age 50, I realized that I could bring my financial freedom much, much closer if I did some non-sacrificial trimming of my basic living expenses, resolved to keep and take really good care of my paid-off vehicle, and found a Reasonable Cost of Living Area to retire. And taking those steps got me job-free at 53!
Retiring at 53 gave me a big 14-year free life bonus over and above the standard 67 retirement age. Instead of having 19 job-free years ahead of me at 67 (and hopefully more), I now had 33 job-free years at 53. THAT IS HUGE. Instead of spending the expected 70% of my adult life tied to a job, I only spent 50%. And kept the other 50% for me and whatever I wanted to do with it.
Every year YOU can cut from that traditional 67 retirement age reduces your adult work life by 1.5%. But, much more importantly, it increases your future free life by another whole year – which is more than 5%. And isn’t that worth a little non-sacrificial financial discipline?
Younger Years Are Better Years
Earlier retirement doesn’t just give you more years of freedom. It also gives you HIGHER QUALITY years to be free. Starting my retirement at 53 gave me more younger years in which to be job-free and a higher probability that more of my freedom years would be healthy ones.
None of us knows that the future may bring. But I do know that I’ve already had 14 years of healthy retirement in which I’ve been able to engage in the kind of physical activities that almost certainly will be a stretch for me later on. So, as far as my life and its quality go, I am way ahead. No one can take that away from me now.
If you are merely plugging along, taking for granted that you will be just as healthy, strong and mobile at 67 as at 57 (or 47!), stop for a moment and reconsider. You are operating on what is just an assumption. And you know what they say about people who ASSume too much.
There Is No “Comp Time” in Real Life
One horribly wrong assumption that a lot of people seem to make is that staying on the job longer somehow doesn’t cheat them of living-free years. “Oh, I’ll just work one more year (or five?)” they’ll say, as if that time were going to be magically added back on to their lives later on. That is NOT going to happen (and we all know it.) One more year on the job means one LESS year living free. Period. No negotiation possible.
Once I woke up to that unyielding fact, I looked for ways to reduce my basic living expenses that would not require sacrifice but that would deliver added years of financial freedom. And I found enough of those ways to reduce my basic living expenses by a whopping 42% and bring my earlier retirement date 7 years closer than my original age 60 target date. In other words, I used that 42% saved on my basic living expenses to buy myself 7 more years of job-free life. And that has got to be the best money I ever (never?) spent!
So What Are You Going To Do?
Do you still think it is not going to matter at what age you retire? Or are you ready to re-examine your situation to see how you can bring job-free life closer? There are many articles in Retired To Win that can give you ideas on how to do that based on my own personal experience. And there are more ideas on other personal finance blogs. I hope you’ll resolve to apply all the ideas you can to your own situation. Because – very literally – your future life depends on it.
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Image: courtesy of Bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net