If you find that in general, you're too happy a person -- too carefree, too at peace with the world -- then pull up a chair. I can tell you how to bring yourself down a notch or two: Just read up on retirement in America today.

Don't get me wrong -- retirement can and should be a wonderful thing, and many people are enjoying theirs immensely. But look up articles on the topic, and you'll find all kinds of depressing reports: People are not saving enough for retirement. Many people haven't really begun saving at all. People are worried about the rising costs of health care. Social Security is ... well ... insecure. Pensions are being frozen. You get the idea.

Here's a new one I just ran across: According to a survey by the folks at Sun Life Financial, a whopping 22% of retirees in America are not being permitted to retire on their own schedule -- they're being forced into retirement! They may be laid off, or they may be offered an early retirement package.

At Ford (NYSE:F), some 38,000 workers recently accepted early retirement packages, while Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) will lay off 5,000 employees this year. A few years ago, nearly 22,000 Verizon (NYSE:VZ) accepted early retirement. Even Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) CEO Henry McKinnell was forced into early retirement recently, though he could receive as much as $200 million for his sacrifice.

You'd likely leave your employer with less.

Why this stinks
An obvious problem with starting your retirement earlier than you expected to is that you're denied the opportunity to plan and execute your life the way you want to. It can have catastrophic financial ramifications, too. Consider, for example, how money grows. Below is a table showing you how $100,000 will grow over 25 years, at 10% per year:


Nest egg









Looks good, eh? Now let's zero in on some of those first and last years:


Nest Egg













You can see that between the ages of 40 and 41, your money grows by just $10,000. But in the single year between the ages of 62 and 63, you gain $81,000. In other words, when it comes to compounding, the more time that passes, the greater the gain. And that's why being forced to retire early can be so disastrous.

If you're suddenly robbed of some time -- especially those last years -- you'll suffer a real loss. Just losing the last three years in the example above can cost you 35% of your would-have-been nest egg!

What to do
So now that I've possibly turned your hair completely white, what should you do with this information? Well, there are several key takeaways:

  • We can't assume that everything is under our control. As our Motley Fool retirement expert Robert Brokamp has noted, "You can't delay saving for retirement, since you might not be earning a paycheck 'later.'"
  • Thus, start saving and investing as soon as possible, and within reason -- no need to start subsisting entirely on your lawn clippings -- try to save and invest as much as you can.
  • Alternately, consider delaying your planned retirement for a year or two, in order to grow your nest egg even more.
  • Remember that the example above is just that -- an example. You probably won't earn an average of exactly 10% over your investing life. Your average might be 8%, 13%, or something else. But if you plan for the worst, you'll be best-positioned for success.

Get smarter about retirement
One last important thing to do is to get savvy about retirement. Read up on the topic and plan carefully for taxes, taking advantage of tax-advantaged savings plans such as IRAs and 401(k)s.

For retirement guidance, I myself refer most often to our Rule Your Retirement service. You can, and should, try it for free for a whole month. Doing so will give you access to all the past issues (and special reports), which feature a host of "Success Stories" profiling people who retired early and are willing to share their strategies. Better still, it can help you invest more effectively, recommending some stocks, bonds and funds poised to outperform.

Here's to being ready for retirement, whether or not you choose when it starts!

Longtime contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of no company mentioned in this article. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.