Friday, September 9, 2011

Early Retirement: Is It For Everyone?

Today, Dave over at Retirement, Only The Beginning has a column at US News titled Why Early Retirement Is Not For Everyone. For whatever reason, this is a theme I seem to have heard around the blogospher and elsewhere in the last week or so.  It's the ole "I could never stop working and just sit home doing nothing", refrain.

 I'll admit that Dave does make a few good points, especially on the financial front. I also recognize that his article was directed to true "early retirees", those look to leave the working world at 40.  Early retirement should be a thoughtful choice, after examining all the options.  This is especially true for people who have children at home or children who may need to return home (ask me how I know that!).

 However, it's his perspective on what happens to us when we don't work that I find fault with. First, because there are so many folks who are "retired" early due to the current economy (and shouldn't have to feel their minds are less sharp) and second, because I have been a non-worker most of my life (even without children) and have never had a bored moment. Of my twenty five years of marriage, many of them were spent not working at all, and a good portion of that time was NOT when my children were young. Hopefully Dave won't mind my putting my own personal spin on this one.
  • Loss of mental sharpness. Well, first of all, many, many jobs in the US do not require a great deal of mental interaction.  Some jobs are done by rote, some are customer service based, some involve working alone much of the day on repetitive tasks. While we may not hate these jobs, they may not challenge us mentally. Even in today's economy, the biggest mental challenges are not always found in the workplace.  Second, I have a large problem with the perception that the only way to be mentally stimulated is through a paid job.  Many retirees find themselves even more mentally challenged after leaving the working world.  Most people I know read more, many have returned to school, and almost all are learning new skills on a regular basis.
  • Loss of Financial Security.  I'm sure quite a few readers agree with this one,  and I agree as well,  to a point. It is certainly correct that when one retires from their full time job, regular income stops.  That doesn't  necessarily mean income stops. There are other ways besides the working world to guarantee a livable income, including reasonable downsizing. Where I see continued work as a no brainer is in the area of medical insurance.  Many people who don't have an employer plan end up paying up to 30 percent of income on health care(like Bob over at Satisfying Retirement), and that's a disaster waiting to happen. (This is where, as a former multi year resident of Germany, I bite my tongue on the status of American medical care for the sake of brevity).
  • The Need for Keeping Busy.  My take on this is the same as the first objection. I don't know many people who NEED 8 hours of paid work to fill their time. Most retirees (as well as most stay at home folks) end up having more interests and things to do than time.  Heck, my single thirty two year old has a favorite  mantra .... "Who has time for a job?"  I'm not sure I'm that different from other retirees. 
  • Lack of Social Interaction.  This may be true for that group of folks who find their social lives revolving around their jobs.  Most of the people I know who have problems retiring at any age are those who only socialized with work friends or the other soccer parents.  On the other hand, retirees generally find it a joy filling those hours. Personally, I prefer a certain amount of alone-ness or spouse time as part of my day. The need to interact with others all day long enters into it not a bit.  When I want or need interaction, I socialize with neighbors, friends or those folks I meet while involving myself in all those activities that take the place of work. It's much more enjoyable visiting with friends on my patio or meeting for an early dinner than going to happy hour or work parties.
Early retirement (or even regular retirement) can be an adjustment for some people, I admit.  That said, almost every one I know who has taken the plunge is happier, more engaged and more in control than in their working life. This is true of professionals, non- professionals, and even those fixed income retirees like myself. So give it a try, Dave, you might like it.


  1. I cannot agree with you more.
    The part of social interaction. Lately I have given myself permission to be alone (or with my dh). Yes, I talk to my family - but I love my alone time.

  2. Being retired is a joyful time for me. I love having control over my time and not having to rush through things like I did when I was working. Yes, social interaction can be a problem when you live alone but I find I usually meet up with someone just by going out. You don't have to sit home and do nothing.
    Still, I do think there are some people who really don't know what to do with themselves and are better off working.

  3. Donna, i agree that you have to force yourself sometimes to get out-Ive found that since widowhood. I also agree that some folks simply dont know what to do if it was not working

  4. I plan to retire at 58 which means a reduced pension. I would rather have two extra years of NOT working than the extra $$. I have so much that I do (hobbies etc) that working just gets in the way lol! We have purchased a home in PEI and lived there for 7 weeks this summer. We met SO MANY people and had the time of our lives. No need to worry about social interaction, instead I'll be treasuring any "alone time" I get!


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