Dear Pete: How to… *not* retire

Originally seen in USA Today and The Indianapolis Star

Dear Pete,
Retirement simply isn’t a goal of mine. I enjoy the work I do, I don’t have that much money saved for retirement anyway, and very frankly, I think I’d prefer to just work until I die. Am I missing something? I feel like people get too bent out of shape about not having enough money for retirement. My plan is just avoid the whole headache by not retiring. — Wendell

Dear Wendell,

You’re right, people do tend to make a huge fuss about retirement, myself included. The assumption is that after 40-odd years in the workforce, a person would like to rest. At least that’s the conventional wisdom. But as you point out, resting isn’t for everyone. Let’s take a moment to decide whether your desire is pragmatic or myopic.

It’s hard for me not to focus on your admission that you “don’t have much money saved for retirement anyway.” An easy conclusion could be that since you don’t have much saved for retirement, you’ve adopted a fresh outlook which doesn’t value retirement. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with it on the surface. I mean, I’ve decided not to pursue a modeling career. Does it matter that my decision is based on what I see when I look in the mirror? Not really.

I think it’s important to mention that many people of retirement age discover they are unable to retire; therefore, they involuntarily come to the same conclusion you’ve come to. The primary difference is that their discovery comes under duress, and some decisions and processes which would have made their reality a bit easier, are no longer possible.

In other words, with a little bit of planning, you will be able to successfully not retire.

Plans like yours fail, however, when predictable realities are ignored. For instance, at some point, your mind will stop working before your body does, or vice versa. This macabre inevitability is what will likely force you to stop working someday. I don’t know when that will be, you don’t know when that will be, but it will happen. Your plan to continue earning income during the traditional retirement years falls apart when you no longer are earning an income and you don’t have the resources to sustain yourself financially. Think of it as a health-induced forced retirement. You must be ready for that.

Your journey to preparing for an involuntary retirement at the conclusion of your voluntary plan to never retire begins at Yes, the Social Security Administration website will determine what’s next for you.

Use the retirement benefit calculator to determine what sort of income will be available to you in your later years. Here’s the simple explanation followed by difficult execution: You must learn to live on the amount of money available to you at age 70, and not a penny more. In fact, you probably should learn to live on a bit less than the amount available to you at age 70 — as soon as possible — to account for future inflation.

For instance, if the calculator tells you that you will have $2,300 available to you at retirement and you are currently surviving on your $2,600 monthly work income, you must wean yourself off of at least $300 per month, by the time you turn 70 and start receiving your benefit.

If you work beyond age 70, understand that you cannot increase your lifestyle once the Social Security retirement payments start coming in. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t. If you do, you’ve just created a tremendous income dependency issue when your involuntary retirement arrives. Sustaining yourself on $2,600 per month, increasing your income at age 70, and then increasing your lifestyle to match the increase in income, can induce nightmares.

Your plan to never retire will work, as long as you accept the fact that you will eventually be forced to retire and you are financially prepared to do so by matching your expenses to your Social Security income as early as possible.

Congrats on your continued career, and best of luck with never retiring.

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