Can’t Stop Themselves

Luke Smith

I OFTEN MEET PEOPLE who have saved more than enough to retire. In my role as a financial planner, I share numbers with them showing that, if they retire today, there’s a high degree of certainty they’ll never exhaust their savings. I often tell them that, if they ran out of money, it would be because capitalism failed, and we all might as well learn to hunt and gather.

Yet few of these people retire. According to the Pew Research Center, only 17.1% of people ages 55 to 64 are retired, while only 66.9% of people ages 65 to 74 have left the workforce. Moreover, these numbers have been shrinking for decades, though—not surprisingly—there’s been an uptick amid the pandemic. Since the early 1990s, people have been working longer despite rising household wealth and a falling poverty rate.

Why are we working, apparently voluntarily in many cases? My own father, who is nearly 70, still runs his one-man plumbing business, digging holes and crawling under houses, no matter what the weather.

Often, if you ask people why they keep working, they struggle to pinpoint the reason. Still, I try my best to find out why. Everyone is different.

In my experience, some people simply like to be useful. Many of us want to feel needed, productive and important. That’s certainly the case with my father. I’m not sure he would enjoy retirement very much. He likes working with customers, completing a job and putting in a hard day’s work. In my opinion, people like my father should continue to work if that’s what they want. Maintaining a healthy life balance, while enjoying the rewards of hard work, are great reasons to keep working.

Others will tell me they don’t know what they’d do with themselves if they retired. I believe we should all aspire to retire to something. This is where hobbies are useful. I encourage clients to remember the activities they used to find totally absorbing. We’re talking about things like drawing, fishing, writing, playing music, reading, woodworking, golfing, painting, gardening, hunting, traveling, walking or simply spending more time with loved ones.

For other people, it’s the all-too-common inability to recognize what is “enough.” Have we saved enough? Have we accomplished enough? This concept reminds me of the tale of the businessman and the fisherman.

On his annual vacation, the businessman spots a middle-aged fisherman pulling his boat in after a half day, and then heading over to a group of family and friends who are listening to music, dancing and drinking wine.

The businessman asks him, “Why are you done after half a day? You could fish all day, catch more fish, sell more fish, buy more boats, hire more people and make more money.”

The fisherman responds, “Why would I want to do that?”

The businessman says, “After many years of hard work, you could have enough saved to retire, and then spend your days fishing for pleasure, listening to music with family and friends, dancing and drinking wine.”

The fisherman was puzzled. “Isn’t that what I do now?”

Some of us go our whole life without ever defining enough. That’s a mistake. My advice: Be more like the fisherman.

Luke Smith is a CFP® professional and practicing financial planner. He creates customized financial plans for each family he works with around the country. Luke pursued financial planning to combine his two favorite passions: finance and people. He spends his free time with his wife Heather and their family in Maryland. Outside of work, Luke enjoys the outdoors, golf, reading and writing. You can reach him at His previous article was Moving the Goalposts.

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