The decision of whether or not to retire early is one to be considered carefully, and planning for an early retirement is a must.
“It’s never too soon to begin planning for your retirement,” says Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain, managing director for the Stanford Center on Longevity. However, many people have questions about what to expect and how to plan for it.
Why do people retire early?
For some, early retirement is not an option: poor health or workplace downsizing can force people out of the workforce. People who are in poor health, stressed, or burned out also opt for early retirement. However, others are offered attractive retirement packages or have saved for retirement.
What are the benefits?
Early retirement comes with many benefits. Those who perceive themselves to be in poor health, stressed, or dissatisfied with their work find reduced stress and improved health once they retire.
There is also more time to pursue interests. For some it’s creating new work opportunities. For others it’s spending more time with the grandkids or writing that great Canadian novel. Still others find travel or indulging in hobbies or athletic activities to be fulfilling.
Early retiree Michelle Traynor sums up the benefits of retirement: “I really enjoy the fact that I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself now.”
What are the pitfalls?
There can be downsides to retiring early for the ill-prepared, including loneliness, depression, poor health, and boredom.
“We found that most early retirees felt ‘lost.’ They did not know what to do once they were retired,” explains psychologist Kristina Potocnik.
There is also the potential for financial and marital stresses. If only one partner is retiring, there could be resentment on both sides. The working partner may resent having to work while the other sleeps in, and the retiree may resent not being able to travel easily because of the working partner’s schedule. There may also be an expectation that the retired partner take more responsibilities for the care of the home.
If both spouses retire, there could be friction from suddenly having to spend more time together. Planning your retirement together can alleviate these problems because you will understand your partner’s needs and know how to spend your time together.
What if I’m forced to retire early?
Planning ahead for your retirement helps you to be prepared for the unexpected.
If you live in a house you may want to consider downsizing to generate income and place yourself closer to family, friends, health care practitioners, and volunteer/social opportunities.
These days many people are not paying off mortgages prior to retirement. If finances are a concern you may want to think about creative alternatives to your living conditions: cohabitating with your adult children to help share expenses; moving in with neighbours/friends; or establishing a “village” setting where resources are pooled to reduce expenses. This includes sharing a car or hiring someone to run errands.
Volunteering is also a good option. Studies show that many people find volunteering rewarding, in addition to its physical and mental health benefits.
Are there alternatives?
Yes, there are options. There is an increase in the number of older adults in the workplace, and many baby boomers are choosing not to retire. The benefits to companies include the extensive knowledge base and experience of these adults.
Studies show that adults who are employed and engaged in their work generally fare better healthwise. Since some adults choose early retirement because of workplace stress, physical health issues, or dissatisfaction with their work, workers and companies can look to viable alternatives to retiring.
Options for these adults include part-time employment, change in job duties and responsibilities, retraining, reduced responsibilities, or perhaps a different job altogether.
Another option is self-employment. You can retire from your job and either stay in the industry as a consultant or start your own company related to your expertise.
I’ve retired early—now what?
Ideally, you have planned for this event. Your finances are sound and you have established your living arrangements.
Be aware that it is a big transition to go from working to retirement. According to Potocnik, you need to think about what you are going to do with your time as you may feel a sense of loss or loneliness.
Hobbies, physical activities, and volunteering are all good ways to make retirement enjoyable. “If people are physically fit, financially secure, and mentally sharp, many of the problems of aging kind of fall away,” says Dyer-Chamberlain.
If you didn’t have hobbies or actively pursue interests during your work career, it is essential to keep yourself busy and engaged after retiring. Keep in touch with workplace friends by creating events such as lunches, golf, bowling, or joining groups.
Many find travel to be fulfilling. Traynor suggests planning a big trip as a way to keep busy for the first six months after retiring to avoid the sense of loss and depression.
Early retirement can be a very enjoyable and fulfilling stage of your life if you plan for it. As Traynor puts it, “I thought I would be really bored, but I’m not. In fact, I don’t know how I had time to work.”
Tips for a better retirement
- engage your brain—reduce the risk of dementia
- stay socially active—keep healthy and happy
- stay physically active—reduce stress and boost your immune system
- eat healthy—avoid weight gain-related health issues
- don’t smoke—reduce the risk of memory loss
- see your natural health practitioner—ensure good health with checkups
- to maintain and even improve health
- to improve arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes symptoms
- to keep doing the things you love to do
- to increase brain volume and improve brain functions with aerobic exercise
- to increase skeletal muscle mass and improve strength with resistance training