[This discussion may or may not apply to you, but it certainly applies to somebody you care about, so feel free to pass it on.]
As I scan the retirement advice landscape, I’m noticing more and more ‘gurus’ pushing a work-‘til-you’re-70 narrative. The reason? The vast majority of American workers will need to work longer than they may have anticipated because of lack of savings and retirement assets, while also living longer lives (making for a longer retirement). And while delaying retirement may be a very sound strategy for the masses, I wonder if there’s another way to look at this blanket advice that may inform how we view our years preceding and beginning retirement. I wonder if there’s a better way to plan for the possibility of a longer career than just indiscriminately moving the finish line to age 70.
Rather than bury the headline, I’ll just ask you this, “If you knew you were required to work for money until age 70, would you make different career choices than if you thought 62 was your finish line?” I think I would. In fact, I did. I left a corporate career at a big, Fortune 500 company, because even at age 26, I could see that the long end of that career offered very little relief from travel and stress. I realized that more responsibility and pay were not likely to translate to more job satisfaction, so I sought a different path. And now I meet people who are so overwhelmed by stress, bureaucracy, or the physical demands of their job that they’re literally counting the days before they can retire from it. And many are counting the years! So again I ask, “If you had to work until 70, what kind of work would you like to do?”
Consider for a moment those who’ve already retired from their main career; many are choosing to work part time. Whether it’s boredom, desire for structure or social connections, or just for extra fun money, choosing to work after work ends is much more prevalent than it’s ever been. And most retirees that I know who work part time choose something very different than what they’d done for the past 40 years. After all, why not do work that’s more fun if you’re doing it by choice?
Applying this reasoning to those who aspire to retire in the future, but may need to work longer, is it reasonable to consider finding more satisfying, less stressful work sooner than later? Could this help avoid the need to count down the days, weeks, and years until you can finally get out of the game? Is it possible that shifting the objective from wanting to be done altogether to instead seeking to do satisfying work for as long as possible might solve two or more problems at the same time?
I can imagine you saying, “But I wouldn’t earn as much money at a job that’s more satisfying or fun! If I stay here, I’ll save the extra money I’m trading my life for and be able to get out sooner!” While you may be correct, I’d simply ask that you consider the possibility that there are other options. I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about your career and what’s best for you. I’m simply asking questions to help you discern if you’re on a path that actually gets you where you wish to go. And asking questions out loud is the best way I know to go about helping people discover what’s best for them, for you.
So does a longer life always require a longer career? Does a savings shortfall mean a person must remain head-down, working longer hours, and sacrificing more years in order to reach the promise land? Maybe, maybe not. I would just caution that we too often accept the gurus’ advice as gospel rather than questioning if there’s another way. If working until age 70 is the only answer, then what again was the question?
All the best,
Adam Cufr, RICP®