Extreme retirement isn’t for everyone

Whether it’s working late into old age or calling it quits early, extreme retirements don’t suit most people

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(Thomas Barwick/Getty Images)

(Thomas Barwick/Getty Images)

My recent column on planning for longevity attracted some good counterpoints from readers. In it, I suggested that with life expectancy rates steadily on the rise, people shouldn’t get too hung up on early retirement.

However, I recognize that my own preference to “just keep working” (at least for the time-being) is not necessarily shared by everyone.

In the comments section at the above link, one reader quipped: “the author can’t think of anything they would rather do with their time then work.” He or she cites such non-paid activities as volunteering, cultural activities and visiting friends and family. “Those activities would be mentally and socially stimulating, and wouldn’t require that I have to be somewhere at any given moment. I would be in charge of when and how often I participated.”

Well sure, but I’d argue much of that can be accomplished on nights and weekends. I don’t see paid work and other rewarding activities as being mutually exclusive. I certainly can see plenty of things I’d love to do that don’t result in attaching an invoice. One reason for my focus on Findependence has been my wish to pursue longer-term creative projects.

I’ve also argued that as the Boomers shift gradually into semi-retirement, they can find a more comfortable balance of paid work and those rewarding alternative activities. Several years ago, my wife went down to a four-day work week, precisely so she could visit her aging parents, usually on Fridays. Both have since passed away and she has returned to a five-day week but the point remains. Those who are really well to do and who have an extensive network of friends and family can go to a three-day week if necessary, or do what one self-employed colleague of mine does: she works from home from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., then takes the rest of the day off for all these other activities.

I also received an email from an Oakville, Ont. reader happy to be identified by his real name (he even supplied a photo). David Davidson is 62 (as I will be in a few months) and has been working full-time since he was 17.

“After 45 years I think I’ll stop working and enjoy the fruits of my labour before it’s too late…I do get exasperated by all the ‘keep working and never spend your money’ retirement articles I see these days.”

While Davidson agrees with my skepticism about “extreme early retirement” he draws the line at planning to work into advanced old age and having to save enough money to last beyond 100 years of age. “That seems like ‘extreme working’ to me and a way to ensure the financial management business hangs on to my money as long as possible.”

Davidson says he has “scrimped and saved all my life to pay off the house, and put my children through university debt free, all while maxing out both my and my wife’s RRSPs and TFSAs. This was not easy and involved a lot of long hours and sacrifice from everyone.”

Now that they are totally debt-free and the children launched, the couple have more than $1 million in combined registered savings “and we intend to spend it.” (She has a small indexed pension; he does not.)

As a hedge against extended longevity, they won’t take CPP until age 70, but it has “long been my plan to have all the savings spent by our mid-80s. After that, if we need money, we’ll have the house to sell (it’ll probably be too much for us to look after by then anyway) and we can rent an apartment or whatever.”

Davidson says his parents and grandparents had minimal expenses once they passed age 80. “My father and his wife are both 89, in good health until recently, and don’t spend all their CPP & OAS (neither has a pension); my mother and my wife’s mother were the same. My wife’s father died at 68 so there is a downside to planning to live a long time–you might not make it.”

Well, yes, we all realize that. As a friend of mine says, “Live every day as if it were your last, because one day it will be.”

Davidson sensibly counsels enjoying the “really good early years of retirement, before infirmities and just plain exhaustion set in.” He describes my hail-and-hearty 98-year-old friend Meta who still works part-time as “an outlier: the reality is most of us aren’t like that. My father rode his motorcycle until he was 88 so he’s been as healthy and active as anyone could wish for. This year at 89 he has inoperable cancer and most would say he’s had a good long life.”

Editor-at-large Jonathan Chevreau blogs at findependencehub.com and MoneySense.ca. His email isjonathan@findependenceday.com

 

 

2 comments on “Extreme retirement isn’t for everyone

  1. What people actually want is Financial independence. People THINK that they want to retire early and thus are motivated to do ERE, this causes a relatively early accumulation of wealth – which allows them full freedom of conscious in the workplace. With more money comes more options and you can choose work that suits your interest if you are not living paycheck to paycheck.

    Reply

    • Exactly, in fact that’s exactly what I was planning to write next: people just THINK they want to retire early. All these themes are explored at the Financial Independence Hub.

      Reply

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