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'Stick to the plan': Readers weigh in on early retirement

Yahoo Finance readers voice varying opinions about the stat that more Americans plan to stop working in their early 60s.

For many people, retiring early is the best decision they ever made.

For many others, continuing to work is the engine that keeps them going and gives them purpose.

My recent column on the big shift in how people think about their later years sparked a spirited debate. I called out new data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showing that most Americans don’t expect to work beyond their early 60s. The number of workers who plan to work full time beyond age 62 dropped to 46%, down from 55% four years ago. Only 31% of workers expect to work beyond 67, down from 36% in 2020.

Nearly two thousand of you jumped in to discuss when you retired or hope to do so. A few common threads emerged. Some of you worked in a job you hated, so retiring early was your ticket to freedom. Others had a traditional pension that provided the guaranteed income needed to make early retirement possible. Or you started saving early and lived within your means, so retiring in your late 50s or early 60s was a reasonable choice for you.

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I’m a huge fan of working for as long as you can for the fulfillment and sense of purpose it brings to your life. Reading your testimonials for stepping away from the grind of a job early challenged my thinking and widened my perspective.

The following is an edited sample of some of those comments and my take on them. Feel free to share your insights in the comments section at the end to keep the conversation going. We can all learn from each other.

If you haven’t been working on this since your early 30s, [early retirement] probably won’t happen. We decided in our early 30s that we were retiring in our 50s. So we made A LOT of sacrifices to make it happen. A modest house, driving cars until they drop, modest vacations … If early retirement is your plan, check your numbers and then check them again and again. If you stick to the plan, it can happen.

A reader chimed in with hearty congratulations.

Good for you! Holding off "I want it now" and sticking with your plan has rewards!

Kerry: The beauty of time. Saving enough to be able to retire in your early 60s often does come down to the fact that you played the long game and saved consistently in your retirement accounts from an early age.

A good example: The average savings tenure of Fidelity’s 401(k) account millionaires is 26 years. What that means is that steadily investing over the long term adds up. The average age of a retirement account millionaire is 59. The majority of these savers, however, were power savers. They socked away 17.5% of their pay on average. Their employers contribute an additional 9% to their retirement accounts for a total savings rate of 26.6%.

Shot of a young man going for an ocean cruise on a boat
The average age of a retirement account millionaire at Fildeity is 59. The majority of these savers, however, were consistent power savers. (Getty Creative) (kupicoo via Getty Images)

I retired at 53 in 2021, I convinced my husband to retire a year later at 60. No regrets whatsoever. We don't feel deprived at all. It really doesn't take much in retirement. Life and health are much more important.

Another reader’s take: While working, time seemed to move slowly as I waited for the first company holiday of the year which was not until May. Then the rest of the year went by fast. After being retired for 9 years, I can look back and see all the travels I was able to have, especially with my siblings, one of whom passed away last year. If you can support financially your lifestyle, why keep working? Enjoy life while you are physically able to.

And then this thought: For some of us health actually improves [in retirement] and less medical care is needed. For instance, blood pressure goes down, more time to walk and take exercise classes so weight goes down, and muscles and balance improve. Retirement meant no stress, so better sleep and plenty of time to prepare and eat healthier meals.

Kerry: I agree that you need to savor life. It’s personal for me. My younger brother died suddenly in his 50s. He ran his own business and worked hours upon hours to make sure his customers were happy. He worried about making ends meet constantly and didn’t take vacations. His death was a clear reminder to me of the importance of finding ways to spend time doing things that bring you joy with those you love.

But in order to have that luxury, you need a plan. Most workers haven't spent much time figuring out what their expenses in retirement are likely to be, and retiring early might be a crap shoot.

Half of retirees say their overall expenses in retirement are higher than they originally expected, and over a third of retirees say their travel, entertainment, or leisure expenses, in particular, are higher than they expected.

A cropped shot of a businessman sharing an idea with colleagues at a meeting
"I'm at the top of my game. Why would I want to step away from this?" (Getty Creative) (Yuri_Arcurs via Getty Images)

Like a lot of folks commenting here, my wife and I were financially able to retire early, so we did. Unlike a lot of folks commenting here, I likely wouldn't do it that way again if I had it to do over.

The old saying, 'find something that you enjoy and you'll never work a day in your life,' that was me. And I regret giving that up. I didn't go in every day because I needed a paycheck or benefits, I went in every day because I loved what I did. If you're fortunate enough to be in that boat, consider your options carefully.

And this one made me smile: My dad turns 98 this year and he still works. So if my health allows me I’ll also be working past 70 years old. If you have a purpose in life, you’ll live a long life. If you want to stay home and rot away in a rocking chair, do it. But don’t complain about aches and pains or when a Dr. says you only have 3, 6 , or 12 months to live because you decided to remain sedentary. Among other factors, that can cause a person to die early..

Then this one: I strongly suggest to keep working, if possible. I am 76 and still working full-time, still providing foster care for the past 28 years with my wife, still teaching parent education classes and still very active volunteering in my church. Gives me purpose every morning, despite two total knee replacement surgeries and three corneal transplants. Keep the faith!

Another reader responded to him: God bless you but I retired at 66 and haven't been bored for one second. I'm 71 now and am as healthy and active as I was at 40. Life is very, very short. But each of us has a different path. Whatever makes you happy and fulfilled.

Kerry: As many of you know, I am a strong believer in work of some kind as a positive force in our lives, particularly as we age. It doesn’t have to be about the money.

In a Yahoo Finance interview I did with Chip Conley, author of the new book “Learning to Love Midlife: 12 Reasons Why Life Gets Better With Age,” he summed the sentiment up nicely: “Today we have more and more knowledge workers who feel like, ‘My gosh, I’m in my early 60s, I'm at my best. I feel like I'm at the top of my game. Why would I want to step away from this? Retirement as a word is very triggering for some people. It's not the thing that they're aspiring to because they have seen other people, or maybe they've even tried it themselves to retire, and they got bored and they felt like they lost community. They lost purpose. They lost wellness. Those are the three things that are foundational for living a longer, better life.”

Study after study shows millions of Americans are undersaved for retirement and fear outliving their money. (Getty Creative)
Study after study shows millions of Americans are undersaved for retirement and fear outliving their money. (Getty Creative) (Peter Cade via Getty Images)

I pity the generations who will never know what pensions are. I live very comfortably with a pension and Social Security at the age of 60.

Another wrote; I retired at 56, union pension and benefits … Never looked back.

This reader added: I retired at 63 with not much money saved. Living on a very small pension and Social Security payments. The idea of retiring and doing all this world traveling is all make believe. I live in a retirement community and none of my senior neighbors travel the world. Daily excitement consists of doing the morning crossword and then walking the dog a few times. Day after day. That is it and we are all happy.

Kerry: More than two decades ago, employers began to quit offering traditional defined-benefit pensions and substituted 401(k) retirement plans that employees contributed to themselves with a small match in funds from the employer. Today, just 11% of private employers offer pensions.

For many workers who rely entirely on an individual or employer-provided retirement plan, it's often difficult to save. Study after study shows millions of Americans are undersaved for retirement and fear outliving their money.

One solution for some workers: investment options that provide guaranteed retirement income in their employer-provided retirement plan.

Fidelity Investments, which administers accounts for more than 43 million participants and 24,000 employers, now offers a Guaranteed Income Direct option, which allows employees to convert all or a portion of their retirement savings — from a 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) account — into an immediate income annuity to provide pension-like payments throughout retirement.

Retiring at 62 might be reasonable or sustainable for you. I promise, no eyeroll. But take to heart that the bulk of your thoughtful comments offer this wisdom: It generally requires saving consistently and living within your means for decades, hand in hand with an open mind about what truly brings you happiness. Hint: It’s often the intangibles like spending time with friends and family. Priceless.

Kerry Hannon is a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance. She is a career and retirement strategist, and the author of 14 books, including "In Control at 50+: How to Succeed in The New World of Work" and "Never Too Old To Get Rich." Follow her on X @kerryhannon.

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