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Should you work until you drop?

Many Americans think they'll be working past age 65 -- and some are OK with that.

By Money Staff Oct 27, 2010 7:24PM

This post comes from MSN Money's Liz Pulliam Weston.


Liz Pulliam WestonFrance threw a collective hissy fit at the idea of moving that nation's minimum retirement age from 60 to 62.


Here in the U.S., we shook our heads in wonder. A recent survey by Sun Life Financial found 52% of respondents believe they'll have to work at least three years longer than originally planned because of economic conditions and lack of savings, with just as many expecting to retire at 70 as at 65.

Many of my readers despair of ever being able to retire, and those who think they will often pick age 70 as the point they'll quit work.


 "I'm 57 and I'd love to retire now, but there's no way financially!" a reader named Pam Buford from Kearney, Mo., confided on my Facebook fan page. "I'll probably have to work until I drop!"


At the other end of the scale are those who can't ever imagine walking away from work.


"I don't to plan to retire until I have to," said Tiffany Wright Yatsko, a 35-year-old nurse in St. Louis. "I'm one of the lucky ones that can say they truly love what they do. I'm targeting my [retirement] goals for 2035, [but] hopefully I'll be working beyond that point."


Suggesting that people work longer is often touted as a way to save our Social Security system (by raising the minimum as well as the full retirement age), rebuild portfolios tattered by the recession or make up for a failure to save enough in earlier years.


Working longer is a pretty effective prescription, since it gives people more time to save -- and shortens the period of retirement they'll have to cover.


The problem is that working longer can really be a drag.


Even those who are now enthusiastic about remaining employed forever might change their mind after a few more decades. And I fear too many people who really would like to say goodbye to full-time employment are giving up their dream without trying to figure out a way to make it work.


Some won't have a choice about when to quit. As I mentioned in my last two columns about retirement, many of us -- 41%, according to the latest survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute -- are forced to retire earlier than we planned, typically because of health issues (our own or a family member’s) or a layoff.


The reality is that many people don't age well, particularly if they're overweight or involved in strenuous jobs.

"So many Americans at 60 have already developed serious arthritis, kidney issues, diabetes, cancers, back and knee issues, from driving truck, building houses, landscaping, and their bodies are ready to rest and recoup at 60," noted Larry Doisher, 53, who was forced to retire because of health problems. "My neighbor is struggling to get to his 65 in a few months, and it is killing him."


Desk jobs may not take the same physical toll, but you may still find yourself mentally worn out after several decades of the 9-to-5. Switching gears to a lifestyle where you can pursue your passions or find new interests can bring new life to your years.


For Kenneth Cameron of Altoona, Iowa, that would mean giving back.


 "I would really like to retire at 51 or 52 and do mission, community, and disaster work," said Cameron, who’s 34 and runs a family counseling center. "I don't want to just sit down, but continue to be productive without worrying about the next pay check."


For Bill Kelly, 47, it would mean transitioning from full-time work to part-time -- say 40 weeks a year, for 30 hours a week.


"I wish the government and companies would change whatever rules they have in order to let more people work in a semi-retirement," said Kelly, who lives in Gonzales, La. "This (40-week) schedule would allow [older workers] to keep making money, although in smaller amounts; allow them to contribute their knowledge and skills to the economy; and give them time away from work to pursue some other interests or just to rest their older minds and bodies."


Even people who are fit, healthy and love their jobs could regret the decision to work into their eighth decade. Eventually our bodies start to break down, and we may wish we had spent some of our younger, healthier years doing what we loved while we still could.


That's what is driving Beth Culbertson's plan to pull the plug soon.


"I'm 58; my husband (age 56) is retiring from his full-time position in 18 months. We're planning to sell our current home, and relocate near family and continue to work part-time -- mainly to fund the travel that we love," said Culbertson, who lives in Milwaukee. "It will be wonderful to work on my terms for a change -- not the 8-5, Monday-Friday grind . . . we'll find something to keep us busy and engaged in our new location."


I don't have a magic bullet solution that will get you to an early, or even on-time, retirement if you haven't saved enough or you don't have a fat pension waiting. I will suggest you check into the voluntary simplicity movement and the book "Your Money or Your Life," for people have retired from full-time work decades earlier than their peers.


And I'd strongly urge you young 'uns to save as if you're

going to want to retire someday, even if you don't think you will. I'll bet your older self will thank you for it.


Liz Pulliam Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy." Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. She also helps middle-class families cope at Building a Brighter Future.

Oct 28, 2010 1:33PM
When you must use all of your savings to stay afloat after a layoff, there is no choice but to work longer.  Some older people have medical problems that cost a lot of money, others have helped their families.  Very few have the luxury of "retiring with ease"
Oct 28, 2010 5:50PM
I found that  working beyond 65 helped me stay younger. Being retired has not been good for my health because I don't have my jobs to look forward to going to each day. One person said if you don't work as a laborer, you can work longer. I worked as a laborer for 30 years, then when that was breaking up my body, I went to night school and learned bookkeeping, computers and general office skills which I used for another 15.5 years. Keeping an active mind is necessary to staying young.
Oct 28, 2010 4:15PM
I was heading for a heart attack working for a company whose technology is obsolete. I was offered a buyout at age 55 and took it. I worked part time for very little money until ss kicked in at age 62. I did not have the recommended resources and should have worked several more years if financial security was my only goal. Today, haven't had a heart attack yet. My kids all speak to me. Grandma and Grandpa(me)  watch our grandson 3 days  a week. I head for the golf course on a Monday morning with all those other cars going the other way. I can't seem to remember where they might be going.
Oct 28, 2010 3:39PM
I'm with John; I'm retiring soon at 62. It's to bad people have to work because they can't live within their means. Money, money, is all they think about. I think Liz is doing this article for the government so they can continue to use SS for extra money they need for other really dumb things. I think retirement should be at 58.
Oct 28, 2010 3:26PM

I retired when I reached 55 from GM and stay retired for 7 years.  I has the opportunity to go back to work doing service work helping Veterans and I have been working for the last 3 years doing what I love.  I don't plan on retiring again till at least age 70 or if health issue for myself or my spouse arise.  It not for the money and it is not a job it is giving something back to our Veterans.  Oh yes I am a veteran (Vietnam) too.



Oct 28, 2010 3:08PM

AGS41 asked "Why is the social security tax regressive?  . . . . .Let everyone pay SS on  their full income as does the middle class and we could also be retiring at 60 and enjoy a few years of peace." 


Actually, 90% of taxpayers already pay Social Security tax on their full earnings.  The top 10%, who make more than $106,800 per year, pay Social Security on that amount, but they also pay 70% of all of the income tax collected and, when they collect Social Security, their benefits will be capped as though they made no more than the $106,800 (2010 figures).


Oct 28, 2010 2:37PM

Ready or not, I'm done at 62.


Working yourself to death isn't really living, and I don't need much to be content.


I will be just fine.

Oct 28, 2010 2:23PM
Any answer to this question is entirely subjective.  Also worthy of note, is that despite any one individuals desire to work past 65, one has to consider the fact that old farts are routinely pushed out of positions they've held for years, in favor of younger employees.  It happens every day.  We no longer value the older generation.  We put them in storage facilities.  Many employers simply don't want older employees.
Oct 28, 2010 2:18PM
I am 68 still working love my job just hate the politics of the other human beings. I will not retire soon. I hope I could retire @ 71 if I can if not it really does not matter. My son lost his Job I have to help him. I do not want him to feel bad. I will do all I can to make sure he is on a good footage before I retire. Hope he get a job soon. He is a good person. God willing that also will pass.
Oct 28, 2010 3:33PM
I retired from my career job in 2003 at 58, sold my CA home for a fortune and my (11 years younger) wife and I moved to Texas, a little town near Austin. I got a job here for three years, until I made it to 62, and then retired for good. With my pension and SS, I provide about 35 percent of our household income. My wife still works full-time, for medical insurance and because she's very good at what she does. But we're hoping that next year, when we pay off our house and she gets an annuity from her career job, she can cut back to a part-time job. Our secrets ... paying off the house was work, but a great idea. We have two cars and a Harley, all paid for, and our only debt once the house is ours will be credit cards; I keep a small balance on mine and hers and the house card are paid off in full each month. We have an investment plan which took a beating but is coming back now; we don't plan to touch it for years but it's nice to know it's there. It can be done folks, if you're willing to drop some luxuries and cut spending. I volunteer in town, maintain the house so my wife doesn't have to spend her off time cleaning and we have a wonderful life. Our other secret might be tough for some to use -- we never had kids. Don't work yourselves to death, you're not going to get a second go-round.
Oct 28, 2010 2:41PM

 I retired at 50 due to medical reasons. I'm glad I did! I can do anything I want whenever I want. I've traveled, read as much as pleases me, watch TV, go fishing, even went sky-diving on my 60th birthday.

 I'm much healthier than I would be if I had sat behind a desk until now-66.

 Get out as soon as you're able - enjoy life!!!

Oct 28, 2010 3:27PM
If the college students of today have 50K-75k of debt to start their working careers and that's if they can get a job,  and the older workers prolong retiring for 5-10 yrs.  How are we going to create enough jobs to keep our econ growing so the young workers can payoff their student loans and begin saving for retirement.  The only solution I can think of is to stop working for the man and start your own business and become the man. 
Oct 28, 2010 3:06PM
It's hard enough keeping a job at 55 or finding a job at 55 and the government jackasses want people to try and work to 65....of course, they can retire and draw a huge pension after just 2 years, what do they care about the rest of us!!!
Oct 28, 2010 2:49PM

It is really a hard time the recession is over but when you do not have job. The big corporation sent all  great job to India, China so our young even when they want to work cannot find. They have their college degree but when there is no jobs. It is taking very long to find a job. One have to help them. Life is nothing if you do not help one another.

Oct 28, 2010 2:28PM
Many people don't realize that they can draw Social Security at 66 and still work without any penalty.  Since my wife is 10 years younger than me I plan on working until about 70 and have everything paid off because of the extra money.
Oct 28, 2010 2:55PM
Full retirement benefits should remain as they are for those who want or need them.  If a person has worked at a physically demanding job for 30 years or more, chances are the body is wearing out, and retirement is welcome.  A "standing" job on concrete, or an emotionally exhausting profession (teaching is both) means the body, mind, and emothions are ready for retirement.  The benefits available mean that one is able to work part-time, or at a lower paying job, as one chooses.  I watched my parents, my husband, and my own experience---it's the voice of experience!
Oct 28, 2010 2:40PM

The middle class has been led to believe we deserve very little for our 40 years of labor. We pay the highest percentage of social security taxes.. Why is the social security tax regressive?

The obvious answer is the middle class is unaware of the situation. Let everyone pay SS on  their full income as does the middle class and we could also be retiring at 60 and enjoy a few years of peace . It's not mandatory to retire . For those who want to keep working ,go for it.

Oct 28, 2010 3:49PM

ist.rime...huh?  I work as an independent consultant, and travel for fun 12 weeks a year.  I am not obedient to anyone, anytime.  I am not taking away anyone else's job.  I'm glad you find stuff to do at home.  It's boring to me.  I still have time to read a book a day, mostly non-fiction.  People have different perspectives on what is and is not fun.  My work is fun!!

Oct 28, 2010 3:35PM
I am self-employed so retirement will come whenever its the right time. Although I paid more into social security than 99% of the US I do not expect it will be there for long and/or its definitely not enough to survive on
Oct 28, 2010 1:34PM
As a personal decision to start a family at 45 it will be a while before I can even think about retirement. They will be in college at 65, so probably 70.. God willing.
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