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Industry surveys and coffee shop talk alike are full of alarming stories about how a growing number of those nearing retirement age will need to keep working past 65. Financial inadequacy is the culprit, especially on the heels of a recession that cut deeply into savings.

But what about those who have no desire, or ability, to work well into their 70s? Is there a way not just to retire "on schedule," but to leave the work force two years, five years or more ahead of schedule?

It can be done, though not everyone has the wherewithal to do so -- and the closer you are to retirement, the harder it is to accomplish.

The key to a successful early retirement is realizing that "everything centers around spending policy," says Jonathan Satovsky, the chairman and CEO of Satovsky Asset Management in New York.

"If your spending rate is under 3%, you can pretty much weather any storm, as long as you are not speculating and putting everything on red," he says. "But as your spending rate creeps past 5%, you are forced to take more risk, and you need the world to cooperate to be able to insulate yourself from the chaos."

A crucial step is to craft a realistic post-retirement budget -- an honest assessment of future spending needs. Doing so requires more than the "guesstimate" many use to predict their future finances. All assets -- retirement accounts, Social Security, real estate and a general portfolio -- need to be tallied with realistic expectations for future gains and losses. Inflation, though held in check recently, has to be considered as imminent. A reasonable assumption, 3%, will erode savings at a compounded rate.

Reducing expenses can mean selling a home and downsizing. It can include moving to another state -- or even outside U.S. borders -- to reduce the cost of living and medical expenses.

Redefining your vision of "retirement" may also be needed.

"Among those who want to retire early, the ones I've seen who are most successful build a little bit of flexibility into their system," says Brent Burns, the president of Asset Dedication, a portfolio engineering firm that works with independent financial advisers and their clients on strategies for retirement income predictability.

"Maybe they mostly, but don't fully, retire. They go back and do a little consulting or part-time work. They also build a plan around their baseline expenses: 'Here's the things we really need to cover, and we'll only do the extra things when we can afford them.' Those are the people who can most successfully go ahead, retire early and start to enjoy the good life. But there's a qualifier to it."

Anxiety over having enough saved can sometimes yield a pleasant surprise for would-be early retirees.

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