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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.

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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 Luke.Smith@Wealthspire.com. His previous article was Moving the Goalposts.

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Marla Mccune
Marla Mccune
7 days ago

At 66 I continue working because:
I have the luxury of working when I want and it doesn’t interfere with my other life
the less I work the more I enjoy it
I would probably be volunteering more at something I enjoy less for no pay
if something catastrophic happens more money is always good, right?!

DrLefty
DrLefty
18 days ago

We are 62 and still working. We could afford to retire anytime we want to. Right now, our reasons for not doing so are (a) we have family members that need help (or might), and continuing to pull down an income while we can may be prudent in the short run and (b) we’re not quite sure what we’d do with ourselves if we retired at this point. And, I guess, 62 seems young to retire to me.

I’d say our likely retirement window is 3-5 years from now. It will depend on factors like health and energy as well as if we’re still enjoying our work and feeling that we give our employers their money’s worth. It’s a little unclear to us at the moment.

In the meantime, though, we’re kind of living the “fisherman’s” life. We just returned from a three-week trip through five European countries. We went on several shorter trips earlier in the summer. I’m a professor and have summer off; he works for an employer that gives “unlimited” vacation. He kept up on his email and took a few calls while we were in Europe, but nothing terribly disruptive. I start fall quarter at the university next week.

We figure if we can keep drawing an income and feeling useful, while not postponing things we’d like to do in retirement (e.g., fitness, social life, hobbies, travel), we’re doing pretty well.

Dwain Sims
Dwain Sims
18 days ago

I am 62, and among the folks who could retire, but continue to work for healthcare coverage. Luckily I have a great job that I enjoy, so it is not huge burden for me.

rayanmiller6303
rayanmiller6303
18 days ago

Nice article, seems logical, I find myself fitting partially into all of those camps. Just need to find a way to slow down and perhaps try that “quiet quitting” I am hearing about

IAD
IAD
21 days ago

For me, its the golden handcuffs. I’ve saved enough in my 401k and IRAs, but I need to work until age 62 to lock in the pension and healthcare.

Jerry Pinkard
Jerry Pinkard
21 days ago

I think a lot of people enjoy their work and get satisfaction from it. Why quit something you enjoy for the unknown of retirement? I was like that. I had planned to retire in early 60s but stayed until 66 because my organization was not where I wanted it to be. I delegated a lot of my personal responsibilities to my staff and could have easily cruised for a few more years, but I felt it was time to turn the reins over to someone else.

In retirement, I want to have a life of purpose by volunteering in areas important to me: church, ministries, volunteer organizations, and the like. I enjoy those things and feel they are helpful. I enjoy leisure time but need to balance that with meaningful work.

I had the opportunity early in retirement to do management consulting but I declined that. Fortunately, I do not need the income and I could see that morphing into a major time commitment. I did not want to get back on that treadmill again.

Retirement can be challenging for high achievers. When I told this one guy that I was retiring, he said “So what will you do after breakfast every day?” That was an important question for me.

Paula Karabelias
Paula Karabelias
21 days ago

I think it has a lot to do with how they grew up. I have friends in their mid 60s and older who could easily retire but think they don’t have enough money . They grew up in households where the parents constantly fretted about money even though they were college educated and solidly upper middle class. And their parents likely worried incessantly about money.

My friends fear Medicare because they don’t think they will be able to understand it , so won’t even attempt to read about it and they remain in the workforce .They also have never looked at their annual Social Security statement because thinking about money causes anxiety. They are all college graduates , and one has an advanced degree from a prestigious school.

I have suggested they meet with a financial planner or attend information sessions at their local Council on Aging to no avail. Too anxiety provoking.

R Quinn
R Quinn
21 days ago

Thats a very sad commentary, but I understand it. They are probably bombarded with advertising and commentary that is scary. Actually, its all quite simple.

Jo Bo
Jo Bo
21 days ago

Thanks, Luke, for reminding us of the bigger picture.

In my early 30’s, I began planning to retire at 53, before FIRE was an acronym. I reached my goal — on paper — at 53, but kept working for another ten years.

You’ll likely find as many reasons for working longer than needed as there are oversavers. In my case, there were two. First, at work I was building a support program that I wanted to see to fruition. Getting to see that happen eventually brought much satisfaction and closure to my career. Second, I had experienced a very serious health scare in my late forties, causing me to question if I might be denied health care insurance (although the advent of the Affordable Care Act alleviated that).

Good advice, to retire to something. Doing that has given me purpose, although just living each day as fully as possible can do that too.

Last edited 21 days ago by Jo Bo

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