A recent census statistic revealed that only one out of every 10 Americans of retirement age today is financially able to TRULY retire. As in, financial independence. That means not waiting for a Social Security check, not hoping that such and such stock "will just hit $110 for me." Not waiting or hoping for anything.

Being there now.

Or, even better, being there now already at an age well short of 65. I don't think the census looked at that, but I expect that an infinitesimal percentage (some percent of a percent) of all people between the ages of 0 and 65 presently enjoy true financial independence. Of those few, many make their online home at The Motley Fool, which we deeply appreciate. I know this, because I've met many of you, all across the country! And I thank you for lending your knowledge and your experience to others every day via our discussion boards.

For the rest of us, we are left with some important questions:

  • How much money do I really need to save by the time I retire?
  • How can I ensure my money lasts as long as I do?
  • How should I invest both before and after retirement?

    For Rule Breaker investors, we must plan realistically "around" our Breakers for our retirement investments, no? Hey, if you had invested in Rule Breakers such as Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) in 1990 or Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN) in the early '80s, you could by now have retired on those alone, if you'd been patient and persistent. Perhaps you have, and if so, more power to ya. (The Rule Breakers that eventually become Rule Makers may as well be called "Retirement Makers.") But as Rule Breaker investors, we are prepared potentially to lose every penny we invest in a given investment. That is the kind of risk we take on -- nay, embrace. But as much as I may believe in the future of eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY), such beliefs occupy no space in my own retirement plan.

    Today is the final day of enrollment for our first-ever online Motley Fool Retirement Seminar. Sign up and you will be joined by thousands of others who will be Learning Together in order to achieve a goal of mutual interest: financial independence. While we're calling it our "Retirement Seminar," it might as well be named our "Achieve Financial Independence" seminar. It is a seminar for people of all ages, for people who are planners by nature and want to make their plans now, OR for non-planners who should be planning and will actually enjoy the process, done Foolishly. Sign up here

    Of all the stocks in our Rule Breaker Portfolio, I'm curious which one you would consider most suitable for "retirement investing" (the very name of this popular discussion board). Today's poll lists the top five Rule Breakers by market cap and asks which you think will most likely be doing business successfully in 25 years. THAT is the sort of metric I would use for stocks in a retirement portfolio. I think it's very similar to the approach taken by another fellow growth-stock investor: Warren Buffett. Which of the companies on our public markets today will be a vital and valuable businesses in the year 2025? And of our companies, which do you find the most suitable? 

    We admit that one cannot claim with near certainty that any of our companies will be around and thriving in 2025. Some will argue, and I might be among them, that business is changing so rapidly today that what we think of as "1950s predictability" no longer exists in our world at all. Indeed, perhaps we cannot say of any company in the entire world today, with 99.9% certainty, that its value will compound annually at a rate of 12% or higher over the next 25 years.

    Regardless, we must still invest. We must still conceive as best we can of what the world will look like 10 or 15 or 30 years from now and inject our money into the economy of the here and now. Rule Breaker investors are not the sort who need assurance, anyway. There are many other places for you here at Fool.com if you cannot actually afford to lose the money that you'll be investing. Not many can, with us, sit there and watch their portfolios lose in excess of 30% of their value in one year, and not flinch. For us, that sort of action can occur (and has, several times, and will again) in the matter of a few months -- let alone a whole year! That's why the first commandment of Motley Fool investing comes to us in translation, from a very few words that were scrawled on the Greek oracle at Delphi so many centuries ago: "Know thyself."

    If you don't yet "know thy retirement plan," I encourage you to take direct steps to join the fortunate minority of those who will be, in their retirement, financially independent. Most of those who'll get there don't start trying all of a sudden at the age of 54. (If you're 54 or older and not yet ready to retire, don't be discouraged -- you're in the vast majority! But, better news: We are here to help you.)

    No, the truth is that most who do achieve financial independence were planning for it and working specifically to make it happen as early as their 20s... even well before. We have an employee, TMF Mycroft for those of you who know Peter (particularly from the discussion boards), who doesn't need to work for us today; he does it because he's passionate about our mission. (And a great contributor to it.) Peter began saving and investing in earnest at the age of 10. Now, after 20+ years of outstanding investing, Peter is financially independent. In his mid-30s.

    If you do not yet have a plan, I urge you to consider making one with us via the Motley Fool Retirement seminar, which closes enrollment on Sunday, Nov. 5. The seminar begins with you naming the date for your retirement. The rest of the seminar proceeds backward from there.

    What's your date?

    Perhaps you have a plan already. Marvelous! Do you know one or more people in your office or among your friends or your children or grandchildren who would benefit from this message? Scroll back up to the top of this page and locate the "Email this page" link in the blue box, and send it.

    They, and by extension all of us, will be better off for it. Having fewer financial dependents leads to more savings, a better economy, lower taxes, a wider array of investments into the technologies of the future, and a badly needed solution to Social Security. A strong economy isn't some big amorphous "thing" that just happens due to "policy." It begins with the decisions of each of us, of every individual, of you, and of me.

    So, Break the Rules: Actually plan for your retirement. What's your date?

    Fool on!

    David Gardner, November 1, 2000