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The Privilege of Retiring When We Want, How We Want // Three Case Studies

Today we’re sharing stories we haven’t talked about before here: the early retirees we’ve known in our lives, and how their experiences both shaped their own retirements and influenced us.

Spoiler: Though all of them retired early, none of them retired completely on their own terms.

And these folks aren’t some anomalies — retiring earlier than planned is super common. We all like to believe that we’ll retire when we’re good and ready, which many people today unfortunately define as “never,” but in reality 55 percent of people retire earlier than they intend to. In case you’re reading this before you’ve had your coffee, let me restate that in simpler terms, because it’s super important: that’s more than half. Meaning: the majority of people retire before they expect to, and it’s the lucky minority who get to leave work when and how they want to.

That’s a sobering statistic.

And this isn’t just an “old person problem,” either. As one of our case studies shows, one early retiree we know was forced to retire unexpectedly at age 30. While we still don’t know if we’ll ultimately get to retire on our terms because it hasn’t happened yet, we know that we’re already among a lucky few for even being able to seriously contemplate that possibility.

OurNextLife.com // The Privilege of Retiring When We Want, How We Want // Most people (more than half) are forced to retire earlier than they plan to because of poor health, ageism or other reasons. What a privilege to be able to retire on our own terms!

The most common reason for earlier-than-intended retirement is health problems. And that’s the driving force behind two of the three early retirements that we grew up around. Ageism is the second leading cause, and that represents our third case study. As we’ve learned, the “when” of your retirement matters a lot, but the “how” matters even more, and can create lasting side effects that stick with you.

Case Study #1: Ms. ONL’s dad

I’ve written about my dad’s disability once before, in our post about why we’re in such a hurry to retire early. What I haven’t talked about is that his disability forced his retirement, but in a deeply unfair way that created some very real ripple effects throughout his life and mine that last to this day.

Ever heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? Most of its provisions took effect in January 1992. How do I know that? Because my dad’s former employer let him go on December 31, 1991, specifically so that it would not have to provide the accommodations to him required by the new law. After spending his entire career with one company, he was essentially discarded with little notice by a heartless employer. He didn’t get to choose his “when” or “how,” but suddenly found himself without a career in his early 40s.

While he didn’t expect that that was his “retirement,” he also felt he didn’t have the choice to go back to work, because that would have meant giving up the long-term disability insurance payments that he got in lieu of a paycheck. And he knew that employers would see the new ADA as a major imposition and would be unlikely to hire someone covered by it.

He had gotten to retire young, but not remotely on his own terms. And he couldn’t spend his time how he wanted to (working!) because of how it had all gone down. Though he’d tell you now that he wouldn’t trade what happened, because it meant that we got to spend so much more time together while I still lived at home, he felt like retirement was something that happened to him, instead of something he chose. And I took away from it a deep-seated disdain for discrimination in all its forms.

Case Study #2: Family friend

We have a close family friend who has always given off the vibe of good health, even when my dad knew him in college. But despite that, he was diagnosed with stage four cancer in his mid-20s, required years of treatment for it, and, after many painful surgeries and rounds of chemo and radiation, was ultimately given a clean bill of health at age 30 — along with his military discharge.

He wasn’t discharged through “separation,” but was given a full military retirement (“retirement for physical disability”). So he had a full military pension for life — along with no clue of what to do with himself.

His retirement was now decades ago, and while he has been acting “retired” for the past several years, for many years before that he was amassing the most random and disjointed resume possible. He tried this, he dabbled in that, he made a go at this. But nothing ever stuck or seemed to be what he was looking for. He didn’t retire when or how we wanted to (if he’d even ever thought about retirement before age 30!), and it sure seems like he’s struggled to find his purpose since then.

Case Study #3: Mr. ONL’s dad

Mr. ONL’s dad was a career government employee, and he knew that his particular line of work had a clear cut-off date: 30 years. It didn’t matter how good you were at your job, how dedicated, how qualified. At 30 years in, you were simply too old and had to move out to pasture.

In his case, he was 55 when his retirement date came along, and it didn’t matter one bit whether we felt he’d accomplished all he wanted to do. Though while he couldn’t retire necessarily when he wanted to, unlike our other cases, he knew it was coming, and could at least retire how he wanted to.

Instead of slinking off into the shadows the way a person too sick to keep working might (or a person deemed too costly to accommodate), he was able to celebrate his retirement with a big party. He was able to proudly call himself retired, instead of struggling to explain his situation whenever asked about it. Having control of his “how” made all the difference.

Lessons We Take From These Real-Life Case Studies

We sometimes joke that we learned a big lesson from seeing both of our dads retire early: Working until you’re old is for the birds! But that’s making light of a whole slew of important lessons we’ve actually learned from their situations, as well as our family friend’s. Here are just the biggest lessons:

Retiring on our own terms will be a huge privilege — The data that show that more than half of people retire before they intend to or are financially ready should be enough to drive this home, but we have seen it in our own lives: Not everyone gets to be done when they say they’re done. And most likely everyone knows someone with a story like this, though they may be too ashamed to talk about it in these terms, and may make it sound like they meant to retire when they did. If we truly get to hand in our notice next year and retire both when and how we want to, we’ll be incredibly lucky.

A long lead-up to ER is a good thing — Two of our three case studies had retirement sprung on them as almost a surprise. And as a result, it felt shameful almost, instead of being something to celebrate, something they had planned for. And they felt adrift because they’d never spent time envisioning what they’d do with themselves, what their purpose would be after retiring. We’ve come to believe that the planning itself is an enormously important part of early retirement, because it helps you feel that the retirement itself is purposeful and deliberate — something to be celebrated. And, more importantly, that long lead-up gives you time to plan what you’ll do with yourself once you’re retired, so you don’t find yourself aimless and adrift.

Related post: What They Don’t Tell You About Retiring Early

There’s no shame in not controlling the “how” or “when” — Sometimes I wonder how much different my dad’s self image would be if he’d been able to proudly proclaim, when asked what he does for work, “I retired early!” (like we plan to do very soon!). Now that he’s a more typical retiree age, he doesn’t get asked this as much, but he never had a good answer to that question in the years in between. And that makes me sad. It wasn’t his fault that he got his disability, and it wasn’t his fault that his company lacked the backbone to do right by him. We have to make a point to remind people and ourselves that there’s no shame in not ultimately making this choice of when and how to retire — that’s the norm, after all!

Always have an exit strategy — What’s perhaps most startling about two of our three case studies is that the guys were forced to retire on an incredibly short timeline. They didn’t have time to plan or to restructure their finances. It was more like they just woke up one day, and said, “What now?” It’s not fun to think about, but any of us could wake up in a similar situation if there was a major financial crisis, or if something happened to our health that prevented us from working. (And remember, our two examples were a 30-year-old and a 43-year-old — not elderly people!) Working toward financial independence is some of the best financial preparation there is, but just as we shouldn’t expect that FI is the end of the game, we also shouldn’t take it as a foregone conclusion that we’ll get to full FI. A lot can happen between here and there, and it’s important to know what we’d do if something big happened today. Both so we’re financially prepared for it, and so that we can at least feel that we had some control over the “how” of our retirement, which we’ve learned is so important.


What’s Your Experience?

Have you known anyone in real life who has retired early? Did they get to retire on their own terms or was it forced for a reason beyond their control? Have you observed anything like what we’ve noticed, that those who retire on their own terms feel they can celebrate retirement more than others who don’t choose it? As always, we love hearing from you guys in the comments!



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107 replies »

  1. That 55% stat is surprising until you really think about it – very few people get to pick when they leave. A very public example (and seemingly fitting based on your examples too!) is professional athletes.

    Many retire way before they want to either due to injury, performance, or some other factor — and usually long before they’ve reached their professional peak (winning a championship).

    The same applies to everyone else, maybe we just don’t think of it in those same terms.

    I think that when the retirement is actively chosen it’s celebrated more because the person had control in the matter. They could “set it up,” so to speak, and have it be something that they initiated rather than forced upon them.

    In a way, I chose my retirement so I knew it was coming. It wasn’t the end of something but the beginning of the next, so it was celebrated.

    If it was forced on me, I don’t think I’d be as happy even if all the other circumstances were the same.

    • I like to think of myself as a professional athlete. ;-) Hahaha. But yeah, you’re so right — it’s not all that different for the less athletically talented ones of us who have to be regular working stiffs. Our careers might be longer on average than pro athletes, but that only gives us the illusion of control over the timing, not *actual* control. And I agree with you — I think having your retirement forced on you would feel entirely different and not like a celebrated thing. (Though now that we’re as far along as we are, I will still celebrate even if I get unexpectedly laid off between now and our plan date.) ;-)

  2. My step dad was forced to retire early due to ageism. His company decided to switch from mainframe to desktop computers – which meant he as a mainframe operated was no longer needed. When he was done with that job it was 2008. There were no jobs open in our area and those he did apply for turned him down because he was in his late 40’s.

    Fortunately my step dad was a great saver before my mom came along and was able to actually retire. He took lots of classes at the local community college (and made every kid upset by ruining the curve lol), and focused on developing his hobbies. It worked out ok for him in the end!

    • Argh — I hate stories like your step-dad’s! And they probably had little interest in retraining him, too, since they could no doubt hire a bunch of 22-year-olds to do that job. But major high fives to him for making the best of it — though I’m super glad he didn’t show up in MY college classes and ruin the curve there! Hahaha.

  3. I don’t have many early retirees in my family – in fact, most wouldn’t know how to save a dime even if they were slapped over the head with a BLOG showing them exactly how to do it!

    The one exception, though, is my dad. He retired at 49 completely on his own terms. He worked his way up through business, beginning as a low-wage enlisted guy in the U.S. Navy. He is a smart guy who made smart decisions about his future and family, and finally called it quits a year before he turned 50. He and my mom spent the next 12 years traveling the country full-time in an RV. He worked harder than anyone I know and now is certainly enjoying the fruits of his labor.

    No other friend of family member, that I know of, retired early. I do know of a family member who quit his job and fled to somewhere that nobody knows, but that’s another story entirely! :)

    • It’s so awesome that your dad was able to pull that off! And he’s part of the lucky minority for retiring on his own terms and creating an early retired life that is the envy of many, no doubt! High fives for him all the way. :-) And you guys will soon be in that same boat — the lucky few who retire when and how you decide. You must be getting so crazy excited!!!

  4. Having an exit strategy is so important. With the way jobs work these days and the unpredictableness of life, it’s a huge risk to not have a plan. Things might be going perfectly fine one day, but we’ll never know when life will just knock us ton. Having plenty of money so that you don’t need to worry about a job is at least one safe step you can take.

    • Absolutely true! We are well aware that not everyone can amass a portfolio capable of supporting you for your whole life, but there is no downside to being as prepared as possible!

  5. I remember getting the email from my dad at work one day. “Can we talk tonight?” He wanted me to look up age discrimination statues. His company was laying him off at 54, and hiring a 35 year old in his place, at a much lower salary. My dad had planned for years to retire at 55, because that was when he would hit the some special numbers in terms of pension. Of course that was likely a motivating factor in his layoff.

    He was pretty close to ready, and he was able to do some contract work on his own terms which allowed him to pad the numbers as much as he wanted, but it is certainly a good lesson. Don’t count on hitting those magic pension numbers–the company has no loyalty to long-term employees–they will be much more concerned with the bottom line.

    • I’m kind of dying to know what happened, but understand if you can’t share — was he able to get anything for what is pretty clearly discrimination?! I hate hearing stories like his! Though thank goodness he was in decent financial shape and wasn’t thrust into a world of hardship by the layoff.

      • He didn’t have much recourse. It is very difficult to prove age discrimination based on current law. It is rare to obtain direct evidence, and circumstantial evidence can be overcome by a claim of a business reason. An employee being “too expensive” can be a legitimate business reason. All the more reason to be prepared, and never take that paycheck for granted!

      • Gosh, that is sobering! I had no idea “too expensive” could be a legitimate reason to discard someone! As you said, all the more reason to save money!

  6. My dad retired a year and a half ago at age 56 (or 57?), even though he didn’t enter the field he studied (teaching) until a few years after college graduation. He was certainly ready and did it on his own terms, and despite having 5 kids, a divorce, and no aversion to debt, he is now debt-free.

    Great point about having an exit strategy. It’s hard to think about planning for the “worst” or at least the unexpected. But it’s the very reason we’re all about “financial flexibility” and keeping expenses low as well as building income and investments. We never want our expenses to be unsustainable because we’ve acclimated to a certain income. That’ll help us do things on our terms, I hope.

    • Congrats to your dad for retiring early and debt-free! That is so awesome. :-) And I have no doubt that you guys would be fine if financial misfortune ever befell you — your combo of low-expense living, a focus on saving, and general gratitude will all serve you well. Though fingers crossed that never becomes an issue! :-)

  7. Thanks for sharing these personal experiences. That 55% figure is staggering, but I’ve seen it among my own family, too. My dad’s early retirement wasn’t intentional; he was laid off in his fifties and my parents decided they could make it on savings and my mom’s income. Then my mom’s work circumstances changed unexpectedly (the school where she worked closed and she was forced to change roles and work for a new incompetent boss); she hung in long enough to reach an anniversary date for benefits before deciding she didn’t want to be there anymore. And they’re the lucky ones, relatively speaking, because they had at least built some savings to cover the gap between retirement and collecting Social Security!

    I wish more people could read your advice here: a long build-up to retirement and an exit strategy are so important when new circumstances are forced upon us. It’s always better to have a plan.

    • Thank goodness your parents were prepared for that gap, even though they didn’t exactly retire as they’d hoped to (definitely not in your dad’s case). And yeah, if nothing but good stuff ever happens to you, there is still no downside to being prepared and having an exit strategy!

  8. My dad planned his retirement to the day. He was heavily invested in real estate he picked up at very low prices (a lot of VA repo condos in the ’70s); he had topped out his retirement accounts every year since their inception and he worked for a company with a pension plan calculated on age plus years of service. He ended up with lifetime medical insurance, 88% of his final pay and a huge inventory of paid off or nearly paid off rental properties. He did very well financially and left mom very comfortable when he passed away four years ago. My husband, on the other hand, was being pushed out by his employer as a result of his declining health (he has a progressive disease), and eventually he was declared disabled and took an early (reduced) retirement several years before he’d planned to do so. The biggest loss to him was the lack of four additional years of service, which caused a major drop in his monthly pension. Having seen both scenarios and many, many in between, I’ve come to realize that you simply must plan on the unexpected from a very young age (basically, as soon as you start earning money). Strive to become FI as soon as you possibly can; from that point on, your future is in your hands, not someone else’s. Things tend to work out for the best anyway, but why not deal yourself the best possible hand you can while you’re able to do so?

    • Yes to every word of this! Strive for FI as soon as you possibly can — none of us think we’ll be someone this happens to (we’re young! we’re invincible!) but the consequences are too great if we face something like this unprepared. And it’s wonderful to hear that your dad retired on his own terms and left things in such great shape! I can only imagine how tough that must have been for your husband to have his retirement go down the way it did. :-(

  9. Although not quite the same, I was laid off in 2008 at the height of the recession so there were no jobs. I took the freelance route not so much by choice, which is why I think I had a different experience than most people who really want to take the leap into self-employment. It’s because of that that an exit strategy or plan b is so important to me. That means, obviously saving money, but thinking of that second career and exploring what I want in what you call “our next life.” I don’t ever want to be caught off guard again like that.

    • I love how focused you are on always having a plan B. You’ve had proof in your own life that you need one at all times, but those of us who’ve never been laid off can get lulled into this false sense of security and this belief that we call the shots. Uh sorry, we don’t! There is never a downside to being prepared!

  10. My own early retirement didn’t happen exactly the way I was planning either.

    The difference was, I was already preparing for early retirement. I was mostly ready.

    With the help of a little severance pay, I realized that “now is the time”! So instead of struggling to work longer, I just let life transition to the next stage.

    Had I not been prepared, life would have been a lot rougher. I would have been forced back to work, and probably accepted some poor position at a bad company.

    • What a fantastic testament to the power of preparedness! You were able to take a golden parachute without panicking because you had gotten your finances in order. So awesome! (And we’re now at the point where if our companies offered buyouts, we would jump at them in a second — it’s the best feeling.)

  11. I had an interesting meeting with an entrepreneur a few years ago. He is the father of one of a brother/sister team that currently own one of our paint shop vendors. They actually manufactured something else, but they bought the paint shop. He told me to never retire early. It’s his biggest regret in life.

    Just last night, though, I was talking to a guy that opened a local restaurant. He claims to be a former CEO for a fortune 500 company and that he “took an early retirement package at 63”. He did the early retired thing for 6 months but he got bored, he always wanted to open a small restaurant, as he worked for his father in a restaurant when he was growing up. He absolutely loves working the restaurant. It just opened in September, and he mentioned how the biggest cost by far is the labor, and how at first, he hired a manager for $5700/mo, but he decided that he could manage it himself. He got rid of the cashier because his wife can do that. It sounds like he did a good job of negotiating the rent because he had perfect credit and didn’t need to open a restaurant to survive It sounds like they’ve invested around half a million into remodeling the structure and building the business, as the space used to not be a restaurant.

    I thought it was a very cool story. It sounds like, to him, managing a restaurant isn’t working. It’s a fun thing to do with his time. They’re actually closed on Mondays because he wants to spend time with his kids, but he still comes in Monday nights for 4 hours to prep the food for Tuesday. He said he doesn’t even care if it makes money or not, his favorite part is seeing the smiling faces on people after they finish their meals. He likes hearing their stories, nothing makes him happier than seeing the city’s fire department bring 8 trucks into the parking lot to have lunch twice a week. He expects to do the local small restaurant thing for at least 10 years. If that’s not living the dream in retirement, then I don’t know what it is.

    • To me, your story is a perfect illustration of how we all want something different from early retirement. The idea of going into a restaurant for hours on a day off, and working almost every day, is rather hellish to me, but it’s awesome that that feels like living the dream in your book! Hooray for having the latitude to define our own dream in retirement. I know that I do best when I have total flexibility, and I get grumpy when work gets too scheduled and regimented, so at least in the short term in retirement, I’m hoping not to take on anything that has to happen at a certain time or on a certain day. Over time, as I detox from work, that desire to keep things looser might fade away, but a job with set hours would just make me wish I was back in my well-paid old job! ;-)

      • Ha, my early retirement dream is certainly not to open a restaurant! it’s his mentality/outlook that I find inspiring.

        That whole “find a job that doesn’t feel like work and you never have to retire.” thing.

        I prefer structure and routine, so I don’t mind the regimented aspect of it all, I worry that with total flexibility I will get nothing done, but I’ll find out pretty quickly if I can make flexibility turn into productivity….and if I can’t the road trip starts to look a lot more scheduled. No big deal.

        I spent the weekend looking up some non profit operations positions and kind of tempted to apply, but I will not let myself pre-empt the road trip. ;-)

      • Hahaha — gotcha! That makes sense. :-) I do think that’s true that work that inspires and excites you doesn’t feel like work (or at least not as much like work). Good for that guy for making that happen. It reminds me a bit of the “traveler vs. vacationer” dichotomy that I learned about several years ago at a timeshare pitch (don’t judge — we did it for free resort credit while on a ski vacation!). Travelers always want to go see new places, while vacationers enjoy going to the same places every year, and find comfort in that. I would guess that vacationers would be folks who’d like routine and a fixed location in retirement, whereas I (a traveler) want nothing more than total flexibility and nothing tethering me to one spot. :-)

        I got kind of excited knowing you’re looking at nonprofit positions, because that could really help you find your passion(s)! But I also really hope you still take your big road trip!

      • No timeshare judgment here. Funny story. My parents actually have multiple time shares. The Hawaii investments have held value (and gave us vacations in Hawaii every year! No shame in being a vacationer, if you ask me, that’s a false dichotomy and there is in fact room for both if you budget for both.), the other timeshares not so much and they’ll probably take the tax loss at some point. I’m told the main reason he went the timeshare route was to have platinum status with Starwood on the hotel side. They also like to travel (a lot), and Starwood platinum status allowed for several hotel upgrades over the years. He’s concerned that the merged program will dilute and that he will not get as many free upgrades. I won’t be going that route myself, but many awesome memories both in Starwood timeshares and hotels. :D

      • I’m sure you’re right that vacationer-traveler is more of a spectrum, not a dichotomy — that’s just how that sleazy timeshare guy sold it. LOL.

        Send him my way if he wants to talk about Starwood-Marriott merger issues — my theory is that it WON’T dilute the elite benefits, at least not under the current system, because they’re not letting you combine stays across both to earn and keep status. You still have to stay all the nights with one or the other, meaning I’m still going to do most of my stays at Marriotts, and will cross over to Starwood only if there’s no other Marriott option, like for FinCon (Dallas Sheraton). :-)

      • I believe Starwood actually sold the Starwood timeshares to some other company that isn’t Marriott, so who knows how all that is going to shake out. He won’t be having elite benefits at all when do officially split the timeshares from the hotels, but it’s definitely been a good run the past 15+ years. =)

  12. White Coat Investor has a great post today about losing a job unexpectedly, and in medicine it isn’t easy to get another one.
    A bureaucratic paperwork snafu, a false claim of sexual harassment, an injury, a noncompete clause in your contract when your group gets sold, false allegations of stealing drugs, frivolous lawsuits… it’s a minefield out there and any one incidence of being unlucky could end my career.
    So planning for the what ifs is and having backup plans are incredibly important. Thanks for the reminder and the inspiration.

    • Thanks for the recommendation — I’ll check out the WCI post! And yeah, I think every profession has its own landmines, though it sounds like medicine is especially fraught (though on the plus side, we’ll always need health care, right? Unlike many other professions that are rapidly becoming obsolete). There is literally NO DOWNSIDE to being prepared at all times! :-)

  13. A very good reminder that events do not always go according to our plan. I have found that the planning process invaluable to be able to adapt to changing situations (both chosen and not).

    Both of my parents are retired. My dad chose to retire as a teacher after ~35 years. The last two years were stressful from working with difficult coworkers, and he decided to retire then. I was glad he was able to retire as the stress was affecting his health. Now that he has been retired for several years he is active in my activities, busy almost every day and in good health. My mom retired a year after being passed over for a director position (she was acting director for a year during the search). Her job involved 10+ hours a day for 6 days and her health and well being were suffering. Initially, she felt like there was more she wanted to accomplish in her career, but after deciding to retire, and being retired she is content with her decision. Now that she is retired, she is in much better health. I think she slept for the first several months decompressing. My parents have been diligent savers and investors that have put them on solid financial footing for most of their adult lives while earning modest salaries. It is really reassuring for me that they are financially stable in retirement.

    In looking at their situation and several of my aunts and uncles and older friends (some who are working and some who are retired), it is rare for the individual to choose their retirement timing (I can think of two). There seems to always be factors out of their control (their health, family health, employer staffing, changes in the industry, etc.).

    Another good reason to keep your house in order.

    • I think I will be like your mom and just sleep for the first few months after leaving work! (That will be true even if I get laid off unexpectedly!) But I’m glad to hear that your parents were both able to retire more or less on their own terms, and that they’ve transitioned well. (That’s a whole other subject! It’s rare to transition smoothly!)

  14. My dad retired early from the phone company at 51 yrs old, not necessarily on his own terms. He’d worked there 33 years, and was planning on working at least 2 more for better medical and the like. His issue was carpal tunnel and after that many years twisting wires, using screwdrivers, and that sort of thing it caught up with him.

    He was offered a package that would give him the medical, a years salary, and retirement benefits as if he had made it 35 years. Like most stories, he hadn’t really thought about what he would do in retirement though.
    Personally, I think it was the worst thing that happened to him, because it led to low feelings of self worth, not having his job as an identity, yada, yada, yada. He struggled with it for a few years before he got his footing and got to enjoy some of his retirement.

    We were forced to face our own corporate mortality during this O&G downturn when it looked very likely we’d both get laid off. While we’d been planning for FIRE anyway, we weren’t close enough to just make it happen. That led to our backup to the backup plan and we figured out what we’d do if/when that happened. It’s pretty scary realizing your career could abruptly end and you have no say in the matter.

    • I feel like you never hear stories like your dad’s, of still getting the full benefits even though he didn’t make it to “full retirement.” Thank goodness he was taken care of! Usually it’s the opposite — people getting cut ruthlessly right before a pension kicks in or before some other moment when the company will have to shell out. All of that said, it sounds like it was still a rough transition for him, which is understandable! And I think about you guys every time I hear about oil prices going up or down (well mostly you now that Prof SSC has her dream job!), and I can only imagine what a roller coaster that must be to think about that all the time. Thank goodness you guys are now well insulated and would be in far better shape than your colleagues if your job went away!

  15. An important reminder that best laid plans are usually pressure tested in ways we couldn’t foresee.

    My first boss had to leave the workplace early due to a genetic condition (Marfan syndrome). He of course knew he had a condition that could manifest in a bad way at any point. It did and nearly took his life. Thankfully he survived and was able to leave work with a disability package – from what I gather not as lucrative as he deserved or his family needed.

    I do wonder what twists and turns our own plans may take over the next 18 months. Mrs. PIE just dodged a bullet in a down-sizing at her workplace and things seem eerily calm at my workplace – in fact too clam for my liking…..calm before storm and all that….. we keep socking lots of money away and growing the next egg every month. The last month or two has not been great in the market although today is a tad brighter. I dearly hope I can say the same thing tomorrow night about 11.30 EST……

    • I’m thankful for your former boss that he was able to get some disability benefits — and that does seem to be the norm that people who get that benefit never have quite enough, because it’s *at most* 60-70% of what you used to earn, and usually still taxable.

      I hope your calm at work isn’t, in fact, the calm before the storm! And fingers crossed we are not facing Armageddon tomorrow!

  16. 100% truth. My own husband was let go with the rest of the company in summer 2009, at age 57. Nothing like losing your job in the teeth of one of the worst recessions ever and being 57. Getting another job in his field was simply off the table. But it took YEARS for him to own up to being “retired.” He was feeling a lot of shame about it. I actually didn’t help because I was panicked about supporting the family completely on my own and was frustrated. I also have been laid off in my former industry (biotechnology scientist) twice, but actually went through (I counted) 14 downsizings during that time. So yes. Anyone thinking that they can spend now and work until 65 or 70 later is playing a very foolish game with reality. You will get pushed out at some point, hopefully you can retire before that happens!!

  17. My father retired early on his own terms. His example – and his encouragement – was a driving force for my focus on retirement savings. I retired at 58 (I’m not sure that qualifies for “early” retirement) by choice. Not only was I a saver throughout my career, I married someone who was determined to retire young(ish) too. Choosing the right partner who shares the same dream can be a critical component of retiring at an age we can still enjoy our freedom from the work world.

    • 58 definitely counts as early! And that’s an awesome achievement! How cool that your dad set that example for you and encouraged you along the way. Amen on partner — I’ve gotten many Qs over time about how to get a partner on the same page about ER, and the answer is, “I have no idea! We just lucked into both wanting the same thing.” ;-)

  18. First off, your father’s story is HORRIBLE. I am so sorry for him! I relate to the gov’t employee story. (ONL reader secret: Mr. T is employed with the gov’t and could retire with full health insurance through the gov’t at 57.5 – part of him just wants to stick it out because the end is already decided, as you said – so that can be a hindrance as well to doing what you REALLY want to do because you’re already sort of technically retiring early at 57.5…). I love your conclusions. And I keep focusing on just working toward our own terms… whether we’ve figured out what those terms are or not yet doesn’t matter. We want them to be OUR terms and we need our finances in line to be able to do that.

    • My dad really would say that he wouldn’t trade any of it, and I know it’s not my place to speak up, but I know how dearly I valued having him home in middle school and high school, and whenever I’d come home from college. That was a real gift. Not that it makes me any less mad at his employer for being so spineless and profit-driven! I suspect he’s not the only one who got swept out right before the ADA took effect…

      I can see how having that date would make it tough to want to leave! Though you know I believe you guys will keep making faster and faster progress, and Mr. T will see the writing on the wall that you guys are set way before he hits 57.5! There is ALWAYS money being left on the table when you leave work, but if we know what our “enough” is, it’s so much easier to walk away in spite of that lure!

      • I keep telling him since they got rid of pensions, health insurance is really the only thing we’ll be leaving on the table. The rest is basically the equivalent of a 401k. And he doesn’t care about the extra money at all. It’s probably the security of the health insurance. :)

      • Oh you know I understand that. The thought of being without access to health care is scarier to me than running out of money! But you have a lot of time between now and then for him to get comfortable with another vision for the future. ;-)

  19. I loved all of these different stories. My father in law retired from the government at 55 as well and he’s happy as a clam. My dad had a bit of a forced slow down/retirement after Hurricane Katrina pretty much wiped out his business when he was in his mid-50’s. I have a long way to go for retirement since we are starting off in a hole with 6 figures of med school debt from hubby but it’s something we think of often.

    • Hi Cat! I’m so sorry to hear about your dad’s forced retirement. That’s a great reminder that even if you work for yourself, you can control the business environment, and so it’s always important to be prepared. And I know you guys have that med school debt to contend with, but you also have mad budget ninja skillz, so I know you can weather anything, should it come to that. ;-)

  20. Personally, I only knows spouses who have “retired” early to raise families and never gone back to work. Other than an Uncle who retired in his late 50’s from a 30+ government career, I don’t really any early retirees (outside of the interwebs). A forced retirement can definitely be tough, especially for those who have defined themselves by their careers.

    I’ve been careful to not define myself by a career because in the end, you’re just an employee and the years or service and dedication mean nothing when it comes to the income statement (obviously some employers are better than others). If I get laid off, I’ll move on to the next thing and be okay. But that’s because I’m in a fortunate situation and have stock piled a nest egg to allow me to do so.

    • The thing we think about a lot is that we wouldn’t get laid off in an economic boomtime. We’d only get laid off if things got really bad, when it would be tough to find another job — but we’re now at a point when we’d be okay if that happened, and it’s awesome to know you’re on that trajectory as well! You bring up the important point about how we see ourselves, which is a whole other post, but equally important to consider!

  21. The reality that more than half of us will be forced to retire earlier than planned is a huge point that too few people highlight. If you don’t mind me sharing (not self promotion, but a related article), here’s an article I wrote on the same problem. “Will You Be Forced To Retire Early? Chances Are “Yes”. Thanks for highlighting this critical risk, one more reason we should all save early, and aggressively! http://www.theretirementmanifesto.com/27-will-you-forced-to-retire-early-chances-are-the-answer-is-yes/

    • Thanks for sharing your post! It’s definitely relevant here! And you’re absolutely right — it’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared!

  22. Very interesting topic and one you don’t hear about much when it comes to retirement. The same thing happened to my aunt as Ms. ONL’s dad. Terrible how some employers treat people who have worked for them for so long just to save a few bucks.

    Good point on having an exit strategy. Very important to know what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it in your next life after work!

    • I’m so sorry to hear that the same thing happened to your aunt! When companies forget that they are really just people making decisions about other people, we’ve truly lost something as a society. But yes, there is no downside to having an exit strategy, or to being prepared for the worst. Not that we can be 100% prepared from day one, but it’s so important to work toward that!

  23. My husband, now 72, retired at age 60. This was planned for early in our marriage. Our house was paid for and we had no debts. Until age 65 when he could collect S.S. we lived on savings as he has no pension. It was fun being frugal for those years! Today we live on an income of $3000.00 per month, drawing from savings and S.S. for each of us. We take an annual vacation, and live in San Diego CA, which is a vacation destination all year round. We are not well off, but have enough to get by. We are thankful he retired young enough to avoid “burnout” at his job.

    • I’m thrilled to hear that things worked out so well for you, and that your husband was able to retire on his own terms. What a gift! And yeah, if you live in San Diego, you kind of ARE on vacation every day! Wonderful. :-)

  24. My dad accidentally retired at a fairly early age and then began a new career. He was a college professor. Our family moved out of state and he was supposed to be able to collect some sort of benefits in the old state while taking on another job in the new state. We ended up moving back home, so he stayed retired . . . until he went to graduate school for fun and now dabbles with some of that work here and there.

    I haven’t really given that much thought to how his experience shaped my own goals. It was always nice to have him around if I was sick at school or when I got home everyday. It is probably one of the reasons why I’m working so hard to be there for my own children. However, he has survived on a very limited budget for the past few decades – and I want us to have more flexibility. At the same time, he did go on to a second career, probably out of boredom. You’ve got me thinking . . . I think there’s a post here :)

    • I definitely want to read your post about this! I definitely hear you on wanting to have more budgetary flexibility. The thought of being on a super constrained income for many years doesn’t appeal to us at all… Which is probably why we are still working. ;-)

  25. Your three case studies are pretty skewed. One disabled person and two government people. While our government does employ a significant portion of people, how about providing examples of people in professional careers (doctor/ medical, engineer, lawyer, teacher)? Something more relatable? Great topic, thanks for writing.

  26. My brother retired early back in his 30’s before the #FIRE crowd was even a thing! He worked 70-80 hours a week when the Florida lottery started up (he worked for them – wasn’t a winner!) He finally quit and cashed out his retirement funds. He bought three rental properties and just kept buying real estate. He owns about 30 properties now – and has them all managed. Definitely on his own terms!

  27. Retire when you want to retire is a huge privilege. It’s really cool to see the FIRE community growing strong every day. :)

  28. My sister in law had car accident a few years ago. She has been unable to work since then. She is 49 and though she does not refer to herself as ‘retired’ it is highly unlikely she will go back to work. The hard part is coming to terms with that. But I like the way you put it. Not many of us can control your the how and the when of retirement as much as we may hope to do so.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that that happened to your sister-in-law. I’ve definitely heard something similar from others, that it takes a long time to accept that you are, in fact, retired after something like that. I can only imagine how tough of an adjustment that must be after something so drastic and unplanned!

  29. I appreciate your thoughts. i think we’ve kind of figured out this year that we are happy to be semi-retired, and while it’s not necessarily what we planned, we are fortunate enough to be able to do it with some lifestyle adjustments. And it’s good, just not what we expected to happen.

    And so we have difficulty talking about where we are. We don’t really talk much about how we got there, just what we’re doing now that we’re in our semi-retirement.

    • I am sure that that is tough to come to terms with the mismatch between plans/expectations and reality! I can see how it would be tough to get your head around parts of it, especially what to call it!

  30. Ok, this scared me! I’m calculating if I can sneak another $500 into my shiny new 401k by the end of the year (ug, more catering) now!
    I really do think about things like this all the time. I so badly want to be financially prepared for emergencies, and I often feel that I am not. Especially as I charge ahead with forming my own business and take a break from focusing on saving. Choices are not always ours to make, and it can be unfair. I just try to make hay while the sun shines, and put myself in the best possible positions that I can!

    • I did not write any of this to make you worry more! Would you be able to consider buying a disability income insurance policy? That could give you a lot of peace of mind, and same with finding out whether you’d qualify for Social Security disability (SSD) if you ended up needing it. But amen to that — choices are not always ours to make!

      • I don’t have any insurance 😳 I just really wish I had bigger buffers of all sorts. Slowly but surely- I almost doubled my retirement savings this year from last year. Maybe next year I’ll get some insurance! One step at a time. :)

      • You’ve made so much progress so quickly, I hope you won’t put more pressure on yourself to do too much too fast. Add the insurance when you’re able, and in the meantime just keep on keeping on. :-)

  31. I’m sorry about what happened to your dad, Mr. ONL. That story made me mad.

    You are right – we are so very, very privileged and it is so easy to lose sight of that fact. Lost close to $20k in the stock market dip in October? Well guess what? Even that is a privilege. Do you know how much you have to have to be able to lose that much and not be reeling? A lot. More than enough to qualify for the privileged badge. Every day I spend not being immensely grateful for my lot is a day that I need to be bopped upside the head (and not gently either).

    • Thanks. :-) Yeah, that story makes me mad when I think about it, too! At least my dad and I have had a lot of years to come to terms with it. And thank you for your reminder to be grateful every day — we try hard, though sometimes do need that bop on the head!

  32. I really empathize with these stories, it’s very similar to my husband’s story. He almost died of septic shock several years ago following what was supposed to be a routine surgery. He couldn’t work for several years, was able to return to work for a short time, and then needed to leave because the damage done was too extensive. He’s been a stay at home dad again now (or you could say, retired) for a year and a half. My father was also laid off/forced to retire from corporate America in his late 40’s. So I very much share your passion and reasons for financial independence and security.

    • What awful stories — I’m so sorry that happened to your husband and your dad! I hope your husband’s health is improving, along with his quality of life. Glad to know, though, that we share that passion for FI and security for similar reasons! :-)

  33. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    My step dad was forced to retire early from the military when he had a serious heart attack at 39. He was not prepared to retired at that age but made the best of it. When he died at 46, my mother was afraid she would lose her home since their finances were so tight. As a result, I have always made sure I had an exit strategy. I made it to 55 and retired recently (considered early at my company). Got the going away party and everything 😀

    • Wow, I’m so sorry about what happened to your stepdad! How tragic to lose him at such a young age. Good for you for learning the tough lesson from the financial part of that and focusing on your own preparedness and exit strategy… and for retiring early! Such a wonderful thing! And glad you got the party. ;-)

  34. Being able to retire on your terms is so much better… In the mega corp where I worked, at one time, people 55+ were offered a package to leave. Not everybody was ready for that – some finnacially, most others more like: what to do now.
    I once saw a guy I worked with, he had been planning well ahead and actually rolled smoothly into his retitrement. He had a lot planned for after Retire Day. I prefer that path…!

    • We’re both definitely at the point where we would jump at the chance to take a retirement package at work, if the opportunity arose. But yeah, it is sad to see so many people over 50 so ill-prepared for retirement that they have to turn down FREE MONEY to keep working. :-(

  35. Stories like your dad’s are why I don’t trust any employers. We are disposable on a whim. I’m really grateful for the lessons you’ve learned from others and the way you’ve chosen to implement in your life and blog.

  36. My mom retired this month on her own terms because her job was so stressful and emotionally wrenching (she was a high school teacher). She doesn’t qualify for the full pension yet and really wants to work since she’s only in her mid 50-s, divorced and in good health. Most people – including most of her peers – would be “stuck” in that job dealing with abusive horrible teens on a daily basis, but because she is financially independent and doesn’t need the money from her job to live on, she was able to happily tell her boss she couldn’t take it any more and resign.

    My dad’s story was more of a forced retirement, even though he owned a family business. The plan had been for him to transition out over a period of years, but apparently his brother (co-owner) pushed him out early before he had a plan. Money wasn’t an issue, and he bounced around to several other short term work stints, but with four kids still at home my mom resented him for not having a steady job and contributing financially in a meaningful way (even though she was a stay at home mom at the time or had just begun her teaching career). This was one factor that probably led to their eventual divorce. Even though they were set financially, she just didn’t respect him for not working.

    • Good for your mom for having the means to quit, and being willing to stand up for herself! How wonderful that she was able to retire on her terms, not someone else’s. :-) And it sounds like your dad’s forced retirement was tough on the whole family. Sorry you had to go through that!

  37. I was early retired by tech megacorp via layoff using unfair retroactive criteria that not surprisingly disproportionately targeted age 50+ workers. Although intent on bailing in a few years, still miffed at getting pushed out involuntarily. Local reemployment unlikely for area that is something of a tech backwater for my niche, experiencing other mass layoffs too. Areas with more jobs have sky high cost of living, so relocation from low cost area not so appealing. Not to mention difficult getting rehired after 57, to put it mildly.

    Oddly, took awhile to figure out I was basically at FI. So my early preparation really paid off. But still rankles to be cast out like deadwood.

    • So sorry that happened to you, Steve! How frustrating. Your story is such a good example of how none of us should take any of our planning for granted, or assume we’re not expendable at work. Thank goodness you were FI and could weather what would have been a devastating situation for many others!