retirement

When to Retire? Only You Know Best

As you would expect, finances are a major factor—but far from the only factor.

A huge thank you goes out to all who have taken the time to write to me about your retirement experiences. I have read every word of the dozens of detailed e-mails–some of them pages long–and found them eloquent, humorous, poignant and inspiring to anyone starting this phase of life. You covered so many themes that I can't do all of them justice in a single column, but I plan to include as many of your comments as I can in the months ahead.

I'll kick things off with some of your responses to the questions I posed in my February column: How did you make the decision to retire, and what advice would you give?

As you would expect, finances were a major factor–but far from the only factor. As reader Del Richter put it, "One piece of advice I've always remembered is that you will know when to retire when you have enough–and when you have had enough." Many of you echoed that sentiment. "I knew it was time to retire when my clients started retiring," wrote Victoria Warden, who added: "It's better to leave too early and be missed than to stay too late and be pitied." Carl Scarbrough summed it up: "It just wasn't as much fun any longer."

Sometimes the decision was made for you, possibly as the result of a downsizing or other changes in the workplace. "It's time to retire when a problem boss drives you to it," wrote Mary Mullowney. And sometimes it's a spouse, rather than a boss, who is the catalyst. "My wife had been wanting me to retire for three or four years, and I was 77 when I quit," said Earl Wood. At 76, Cynthia Shulman couldn't see herself retiring as a pathologist. "Then my husband said, 'Why don't you stay at home with me?' and it suddenly looked like a pleasing horizon."

Many of you took years to plan your exit, often with the help of a financial adviser. Before he left his job, William Carn even established a daily schedule that "set the pattern for what is now 12 years of a happy and fulfilling retirement." On the other hand, Joan and Don Ressa got their finances in order and made their decision "on a Friday night over a good bottle of wine. We've never looked back." For some of you, the decision was a more sobering experience. Health issues forced Lynne Derry into retirement at age 61. "I am coming to grips with being retired in a smaller way, with hope for bigger things to come," she wrote. Michael Hagedorn "lost a dear work friend to a heart attack at the tender age of 57, and that event crystalized everything for me."

Your best advice. Many of you retired in your early sixties or even younger. Often a traditional defined-benefit pension or an employer buyout helped pave the way. Nevertheless, you are unanimous in your advice to "save–and then save more," in the words of Jay Joyce. "The need to save, save, save cannot be overstated," wrote Joyce. Another reader offered a cautionary twist: "Delayed gratification will help you get to the downhill side. Just don't delay too long or health may interfere with the gratification."

You are also unanimous in advising would-be retirees to think about how they'll spend their time. "Someone once gave me a very simple piece of advice: You don't retire from something, you retire to something," wrote John Nelson. (Look for my next column to see how Kiplinger's readers are spending their time.)

Many of you reassured me and told me not to worry that I have yet to get to a number of things on my retirement to-do list–notably cleaning out closets and renovating the bathrooms. "If travel or grandchildren take precedence over other tasks, such as bathroom renovation, then so be it," wrote Atul Bhankharia. David Highfield retired in 2007 with a list of 20 things he wanted to accomplish, and "I'm still working on that list!"

As for cleaning out those closets, Lynne Derry wished me luck.

P.S. If you'd like to share your experiences, I'm still reading my e-mails.

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