Retirement: The Goal, the Myth, the Legend

For many people, retirement represents a lifelong goal. The idea of spending their "last act" free and doing as they please is enticing, if not romantic.

Truthfully, retirement and the reality of it are changing. Retirement as part of the law has only been a concept since 1935 after the passing of the Social Security act. The retirement age was set at 65 years. Still, the life expectancy back then was only 61, so you do the math on that one.

Retirement is an admirable goal, but should it be your only focus? Should you only plan on living life to its fullest after your work-life is through? Much has changed about the idea of retirement, but many of the problems remain the same.

The Retirement Myth

The life expectancy in the '30s permitted the idea of retirement, for a lucky few at least. The retirement age of 65 meant that not all people would experience life without work.

Now, longevity and medical advances mean life expectancy is 20 to 30 years greater than in the '30s. The increase equates to a need for more savings. Most Americans, roughly 90%, cannot afford to live those remaining years without work. Thus, retirement becomes unrealistic, at least in the traditional sense.

Most people will need to continue working well past the expected retirement age. According to several studies, nearly a third of the workforce has zero savings. Half of the remaining, about 60%, have less than $1,000, and only about a quarter have more than $10,000. People between 50 and 55 have only a median savings of $8,000, including retirement accounts.

Average workers do not have enough money saved for even a single year of retirement, let alone 20 or more. Retirement in the traditional sense is a myth, especially looking at these statistics.

The Retirement Legend

The statistics do not sound optimistic, but hope is not lost. Some people do get to experience retirement. Some people manage their savings well, allowing for a comfortable life after work. Still, for most retirees, life is not what it was.

Most people who choose to retire will need to make concessions. Retirees will need to watch every penny they spend because life is now on a fixed income. Retirement is not like operating on a salary or hourly rate. Earnings do not always ebb and flow with inflation or the economy. Most retirees will need to become frugal.

Many workers have a skewed view of retirement. While your time is yours, it is not spent doing whatever you want. For instance, you may not be able to travel abroad or buy a fancy sports car. The legends of retirement are not always the reality. Often, retirement is a quiet and reserved life, if possible.

The Retirement Goal

It would be best if you rethink your idea of retirement. Retirement should not represent freedom or your ideal life — too many people will not experience retirement for that to be the case. You need to focus on living your best life now, before "retirement age."

Find an occupation you love and wouldn't mind doing for the rest of your life. Remember that as important as money is, it truly isn't everything. While retirement might be the objective, it should not be your only lifelong goal because, for many, the dream retirement is unattainable. That being said, with planning, you can aim for a comfortable retirement.