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When Will You Retire? The Expectation versus the Reality

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The website Motley Fool ( is filled with investment advice and interesting articles. Recently one of these articles caught our eye, because it pointed out just how different our expectations can be from our reality when it comes to the age when many of us actually retire.

What it points out is something we’ve observed many times in our professional practice here at Aging Options: when it comes to retirement age, there is a significant and surprising mismatch between intention and action. Click here to read this eye-opening piece.

The article quotes a recent (2015) study by the General Accounting Office. The GAO surveyed American workers age 55-plus who are not yet retired, and asked a simple question: how old do you plan to be when you do retire? Almost half said they planned to work until age 66 or older, with 28 percent expecting to retire between age 60 and 65. Only a tiny fraction, 2 percent, expected to retire before age 60.

But then the GAO examined current retirees and asked them at what age they in fact retired. The differences, says the Motley Fool article, were stark. More than one-third of today’s retirees actually retired before age 60. Only about 14 percent, one in seven, of today’s retirees called it quits at age 66 or older. In other words, the majority of people retired much earlier than planned. What accounts for this dramatic difference between expectation and reality?

First, there are several factors that explain why many older workers today expect to keep working a lot longer than they eventually do. As the article puts it, “The most obvious explanation is that people are worried they won’t have enough saved up for retirement, and want to add as much extra cash to their nest eggs as they possibly can.” But then the article goes on to point out other reasons why today’s older workers expect to stay at it for several more years. “At the age of 55,” Motley Fool writes, “‘retirement’ is more of an idea than a reality. After working for up to 35 years, many people may have a tough time figuring out how they’ll spend their days after they stop.” What’s more, for those in their mid-50’s, most of their friends are still working, creating even less “social incentive” to retire.

So why do so many adults end up retiring years earlier than planned? The article cites two scenarios, one positive and one negative. The “optimistic explanation” says that, as we grow older, we see friends enjoying retirement, and it begins to look enticing. We may also become grandparents, causing us to shift our priorities and giving us more incentive to cut our work life short and start enjoying our well-earned rest. Many retirees also discover they don’t need as much money as they thought they would in order to live comfortably, so they discover that retirement is more feasible than they had thought.

On the other hand, the “pessimistic explanation” for earlier-than-planned retirement postulates that health problems (your own or your spouse’s) combined with loss of work through layoffs forces some to leave the workplace years earlier than they had once thought they would. The desire to keep working is defeated by hard, cold reality.

But regardless of which scenario you anticipate, we like the conclusion of the Motley Fool article. “At the end of the day, it really shouldn’t matter to you when and why the ‘average’ American decides to retire. Think about when you want to retire, and why. And remember that if there are financial factors playing into your plans to work longer, it’s possible you’ll still have to call it quits earlier than you think. Start preparing now to mitigate the effects of such an outcome.”

In other words, you need a plan – or as we call it, a LifePlan. The best way we know to get started with developing your own LifePlan is to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, held frequently in locations throughout the Greater Seattle area. Space for these popular information-packed seminars is limited, so reserve your space by clicking on the Upcoming Events tab on this website. We’ll help you turn your dreams for retirement into a well-planned reality.

(originally reported at

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