by Niall Doherty

The title question was raised via the comments recently, and I realized that it’s one I’ve never really addressed. I’d like to do that now, since I’m sure many folks looking to live a life away from the norm worry that they might be setting their future selves up for trash can dinners and park bench abodes.

I personally don’t worry much about retirement, though that may be due to naivety more than anything. I’ll give you my views below, with the caveat that I suspect there are many things I haven’t considered yet or thought through fully. Hopefully this post will serve as a starting point for a good discussion that can help us all make better plans for the future.

Why Do People Retire?

As I see it, there are only three reasons why people retire:

  1. They no longer want to do the work.
  2. They are no longer capable of doing the work.
  3. They are forced to retire by their employer, the government, or the marketplace.

I believe #1 is the most common reason. At a certain point, folks would rather kick back and enjoy the finer things in life than spend another day at the office. After working long and hard for 40+ years, they’d prefer to spend most of their latter days doing things they actually enjoy. They might finally start traveling for more than two weeks at a stretch, spending more time with friends and family, and immersing themselves in their long-suppressed passions, hobbies and interests.

But wait: if that’s the ideal of retirement, I’m thinking I’m already there. Or at least very close.

Because for the most part, I already get to choose how I spend my time, who I interact with, where I go, and for how long I stay there. If I could never retire from my current lifestyle, I think I’d die pretty happy.

What I’m saying essentially is this: I can’t imagine ever wanting to retire. As long as I’m doing work I enjoy, work that pays good money, and work that isn’t physically demanding, why would I stop?

Stale Marshmallows

I wrote a couple of years back about delayed gratification and its strong correlation with success. There was that famous Stanford study where they put marshmallows in front of children and told them not to eat them. If the kids refrained for a few minutes, they were given two marshmallows to enjoy. Those who exhibited stronger self-discipline went on to do remarkably better academically and in their careers.

I sometimes think of the retirement concept as the marshmallow experiment gone mad: Folks spend several decades not eating their treat, only to find, when they finally allow themselves to splurge, that their taste buds have dulled and the treat has gone stale. They waited too long to enjoy life.

Saving For The Future

One thing that’s certainly not ideal about my current situation: My savings. Those of you who are subscribed and have access to my finance reports know that I’m skating on pretty thin ice. One big, unexpected expense would leave me reeling. I’d feel better if I had a tidy, ever-increasing sum tucked away some place safe. I’m working on that.

At the same time though, I believe my most valuable asset will never be a big pile of cash under the mattress. I put more value in what I learn and experience.

Take away everything I’ve learned and experienced and I might as well be dead. Whereas you could take away all my money and I’m confident I could be back on my feet and whistling a happy tune in a month or so. No doubt it would be an incredibly tough and testing few weeks, but I believe I could make it through 1.

For those of you working hard to save for retirement, I’d encourage you to consider the opportunity cost. What are you giving up now and for many more years to ensure a comfortable old age? By all means, be smart and save some money for retirement, but don’t save all the fun for then, too.

Retirement And You

What’s your take on retirement? Do you like the idea of packing it all in at age 65, or would you rather keep working? Are there other reasons people might retire besides the three I listed above? What else might I be missing?

I’d especially like to hear from older folks, those near, at or beyond the traditional retirement age. What would you advise? Anything you’d do different if you could turn back the clock a few decades? Come drop some real knowledge on us young pups.