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Brave New World

Mike Zaccardi

I MAY BE THE POSTER child for the new retirement, switching back and forth between standard employment and side gigs, as I seek work that I find fulfilling. I’m not alone: It seems many people are retiring earlier than they planned and then working part-time, moving in and out of the workforce based on need and opportunity.

The annual Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) shows that—while workers expect to retire at age 65—the median retirement age is actually 62. Indeed, in the latest survey, a quarter of today’s workers said they expect never to retire or to work until they’re at least age 70, and yet only 6% of current retirees waited that long.

For some early retirees, a health crisis or disability forces them to quit work sooner than anticipated. Meanwhile, corporate restructurings force others out of the workforce. In the past 18 months, some lost their jobs as businesses closed or scaled back because of COVID-19. For others, a decade of rising financial markets has provided enough savings for them to contemplate retirement. On top of all that, workplace disruptions during the pandemic showed that technology can make consulting and remote work much easier to manage. A recent New York Times article showcased stories of people retiring earlier than expected due to economic changes.

It isn’t just people in their early 60s who are retiring early. EBRI reports that 15% of the retirees surveyed said they retired before turning 55. Another 28% retired between ages 55 and 61, and 39% retired between ages 62 and 65.

I view the increasing number of early retirees as a great thing. But I also believe many folks won’t be happy with a life of pure leisure and instead they’ll want to remain engaged in the world. That might come in the form of more consulting activity, part-time work or perhaps volunteering. Early retirement from the traditional nine-to-five world provides the flexibility for this sort of life. In the years ahead, I suspect even more people will seek some kind of fulfilling work after their main career draws to a close.

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My contention: The traditional work-retirement distinction may be breaking down and a new retirement construct could be emerging. It will be fascinating to dive into the EBRI survey results in the coming years to see if the pandemic has indeed altered the retirement landscape.

My work landscape has certainly shifted. I’m in my early 30s, with a portfolio large enough to cover my (admittedly modest) living costs, making me financially independent. Still, I continue to seek traditional fulltime employment, while enjoying side hustles such as consulting in investments and financial planning, and also teaching finance here in Jacksonville, Florida.

There can be drawbacks to depending on these side gigs. For one, I might miss out on the typical compensation increases for people climbing the corporate ladder. Also, side hustles don’t provide valuable benefits like paid leave, employer retirement contributions and health insurance. Working independently also affects social connections. In my lonely office, there’s no shooting the breeze with coworkers at the coffee machine.

Here’s another thing about side hustles: You have to hustle. You’re your own salesperson. Assignments rarely are presented on a silver platter. In my ideal world, I’d have a meaningful traditional job, while also dabbling in a few consulting projects, including teaching.

Still, working only side gigs for most of 2021 has been interesting. I’ve probably learned more this year than in the prior six years of traditional fulltime work. It’s paid the bills and kept me sharp for my next career endeavor—be it traditional employment or continuing down the independent road. And along the way, I’ve had a glimpse of what the new retirement—or perhaps the new work world—will look like.

Mike Zaccardi is a freelance writer for financial advisors and investment firms. He’s a CFA® charterholder and Chartered Market Technician®, and has passed the coursework for the Certified Financial Planner program. Mike is also a finance instructor at the University of North Florida. Follow him on Twitter @MikeZaccardi, connect with him via LinkedIn, email him at MikeCZaccardi@gmail.com and check out his earlier articles.

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jerry pinkard
jerry pinkard
1 month ago

I totally agree that most people want something more than a life of leisure in retirement. I am 76 and retired for 10+ years. I have done a lot of volunteer work in retirement that has included a global Christian ministry, serve on 2 retirement boards, volunteer work at my church and much more. I get real busy at times but I think that helps keep me intellectually stimulated.

I know a man who sold his company when he was in his 40s. His dream was to play golf every day. After a few months, he was back in business. He said he learned that although he loved golf, playing every day got boring and was not meaningful. His business was meaningful.

Sonja Haggert
Sonja Haggert
1 month ago

I too enjoyed your article and am one of the people you describe. A lucrative job allowed early retirement and the ability to now spend my time writing, something I always wanted to do. My husband also retired early and started a classic rock band, something he always wanted to do. For us, that’s what retirement is all about.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
1 month ago
Reply to  Sonja Haggert

Now THAT is a good retirement activity. Love it. Thanks!

parkslope
parkslope
1 month ago

Another one of your excellent articles. I think that the growing number of workers who plan to never retire is a much more significant and interesting development than the FIRE movement.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
1 month ago
Reply to  parkslope

Thanks! I’m on board with that take. So many new trends will emerge (are emerging).

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
1 month ago

Excellent article, Mike. When it comes to retirement, we’re all different. My dad was still going to the office, which he loved doing, until shortly before his death at age 98. I retired at 65 and haven’t missed work a bit. But the greater availability of remote work, independent and part time gigs, etc., is a welcome development in my book.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
1 month ago

Thanks, Andrew. Great point–each person is different. Today’s environment fosters that wide distribution of interests.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
1 month ago

Nice article Mike. One of my main goals in retirement was to claim autonomy over my time. I knew I wanted to try to stay active with engineering consulting, but I also knew that most consulting work came with tight and/or strict schedules. You have to come to grip with giving up some of your freedom for the Chan e to earn some money and stay engaged. Even many volunteer opportunities require time commitments. I don’t consider this good or bad, just part of the real world.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

I’m noticing that for sure. Even in my consulting work, there is a degree of freedom gone, but often it’s worth it to work with folks of different professional backgrounds.

Guest
Guest
1 month ago

I hope and intend to never retire since my avocation and profession are the same and can be done from anywhere. I feel very fortunate.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
1 month ago
Reply to  Guest

Honestly, I’m on the hunt for that kind of situation. Awesome!

Ormode
Ormode
1 month ago

Freelance writing is intensely competitive, and you have to really work to get jobs. However, there are other areas that are less stressful. EBay resellers who are just trying to make some extra money can do well, and here at my retirement village there’s a fellow who restores paintings and could easily get a lot more work than he has time for. My buddy in in NYC who restores old receivers and amps could easily get lots of work, only he’s too busy working on his rental properties.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
1 month ago
Reply to  Ormode

I have a niche in helping advisors who simply don’t have the time to run blogs and send educational pieces to clients and prospective clients. My background, credentials, skills, and passion all seem to align with that. So business is ok but still lumpy.

Ocher
Ocher
1 month ago

Thoughtful piece Mike. Thanks. As a recent retiree, I’m finding that I continue to be engaged in consulting projects that began prior to retirement and that I have trouble terminating. The flexibility is great but I sometimes regret not saying ‘no’ more often when asked to take on a new project. Disconnecting from work that one loves that I’ve done for more than 35 years is difficult.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
1 month ago
Reply to  Ocher

Thank you! Saying “no” is important and also saying “yes” to projects/clients that could lead to bigger things down the road is also something I try to balance.

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