A lot of people, when they reach their late 50s or early 60s, find they have an option to take early retirement. If you have that choice, consider yourself lucky. Many employees, including yours truly, get booted out of the workplace in their 50s.
People forced to retire are typically left to their own devices. One colleague of mine used his layoff as an opportunity to change careers. He found a fast-track program to train as a high school teacher and now happily teaches 9th grade general science. But far too many 50-somethings find they are unemployable at any comparable position. I have one friend working checkout at the supermarket and another who takes tee times at our public golf course. One friend who thought he could afford to retire is now trying to sell real estate.
At first it seems very attractive to take early retirement and move to the beach or the mountains, or buy a boat and drift off to someplace warm and wonderful. But before you jump into retirement, here are three reasons to pause to reflect first.
1. You need the money. It seems obvious, but a lot of people don’t do the math. If your kids are still in high school and you have college tuition bills looming, or if you’ve recently taken on debt to purchase a boat and a second home, now isn’t the time to retire. Rule of thumb: If you can’t pay off your mortgage, you can’t afford to retire.
Do you think you can live on Social Security alone? You will be living below the poverty line. According to the Social Security Administration, the average benefit for a retired worker is $1,177 a month. The poverty line for a couple with no dependents is around $1,250 per month.
2. You like what you do. Maybe you can afford to retire, either because you’ve been a diligent saver and investor, or because you have a spouse who is still holding a job. But is that really what you want to do? Don’t underestimate the daily routine you’ve established over the years—the morning coffee on the way to work, the lunches you enjoy with colleagues, and the after work softball league. Think about your actual work. Do you enjoy the challenge, the give-and-take, and the feeling of accomplishment when you’ve completed a project?
Also consider your identity. Are you proud to be a lawyer, accountant, carpenter, chef, or whatever else you may be? A lot of people find self-worth in what they do. Are you ready to be lumped in with the AARP crowd who are simply retired?
3. You have no other interests. Some people don’t play golf or go fishing. They’re not interested in puttering around the garden, and they don’t want (or can’t afford) to travel. If you’ve got nothing to retire to, then maybe you shouldn’t retire. My brother-in-law jumped at early retirement, and happily spends his days in his basement workshop building furniture. That works for him. But then there’s my Uncle Tom.
Uncle Tom worked through his 70s, and even after that managed to linger on as a consultant with an office he could go to a few days a week. The company was what he knew. That’s where his friends were, and it’s all he wanted to do. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement, and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.