Don't cut back to part time too soon. A recent survey of more than 140 midsize and large employers by the human resources consulting firm Hewitt Associates found that 47 percent of the companies offered some form of phased or gradual retirement, typically negotiated on an ad hoc basis between individual employees and managers. By far the most popular form of phased retirement among employees is part-time work, the survey found.
But cutting back to part time at age 50 just because your company allows it probably won't do your finances any favors. "If you're in your middle 60s and you want to phase down, that's great. But too often I hear this proposition put forth for people in their 50s, and in this new world you cannot move to part time in your 50s," says Munnell.
Prepare for the possibility of an unexpected retirement. Some 85 percent of baby boomers plan to work in retirement, primarily for financial reasons, according to a McKinsey & Co. survey. But it's not always as simple as buckling down and working an extra few years. Many older workers find themselves laid off or accept a buyout because they're afraid they may be laid off without the perks later. Health problems and care-giving responsibilities also cause a large number of unexpected retirements. After age 50, "In terms of money, it is much better to stay with the current job," says Munnell. "People who change jobs generally change jobs to lower wages, less in the way of fringe benefits, but they are kind of more comfortable with the new job."
Find a job you enjoy. Almost everyone wishes they had a job they looked forward to going to every morning, but few people have one. Middle age can be a second chance to trade in long hours or a stressful position for a job you always wanted to have. Erickson encourages workers to explore ultimate fantasy jobs like working in Yellowstone National Park or a winery. "Thirty years is plenty of time to go to medical, nursing, or law school and build a second successful career or start a new business," Erickson says. "You need to think big."