Are Americans over the idea of retirement?
That's what some recent surveys might suggest. A Gallup poll conducted late last year found that among baby boomers, about a quarter expected to retire early, while another quarter were looking to retire at age 65, and fully 39% were planning to retire at or after 66. And the remaining 10% said they plan never to retire.
Sure, most people retire late because they can't afford to retire early. But perhaps those who willingly avoid retirement are on to something.
After all, just imagine how nightmarish it must be, at the age of 60, to wake up whenever you want to and have no boss to answer to, no deadlines to meet, no meetings to attend, no classes to teach, no bus routes to drive, no blood to draw, and no tolls to collect -- just hours and hours of freedom to travel, read books, and enjoy your hobbies. Horrifying, is it not?!
Come with me as we go over seven ways to avoid the cruel fate that is early retirement.
1. Let luck take care of everything
First off, scrap the thought of planning for your retirement. If you take the time to estimate how much you might need to accumulate to retire comfortably, you might actually achieve that goal. (Many suggest a million dollars, but depending on your situation, you might need more or less.)
The best way to keep an early retirement at bay is to leave everything up to chance. This could leave you with nothing more than Social Security to live on, and given that the average monthly benefit for retired workers is a mere $1,294, or about $15,500 per year, you'll never feel the need to give up your job and the income it provides!
2. Don't rush to start saving and investing
Next, remember that to grow a nest egg that can support you in an early (or on-time) retirement, you have to leave your money invested for many years. Given reasonable returns of 8% per year, a $100,000 investment will grow to $216,000 in 10 years and $1 million in 30 years. If you managed to invest that money at age 30, that nest egg could grow uncontrollably until it hatches in the form of -- gasp! -- a comfortable retirement at the age of 60!
So, if you harbor hopes of retiring late, or never, take your time getting around to saving and investing.
3. Save 5% or less of your income
Next up, be sure not to sock away too much! For a long time, the conventional wisdom has been to save 10% of your income. Well, for many people, especially those starting late, the new guidance is 15% or more. But that kind of aggressive saving might lead you to be prepared for retirement prematurely.
4. Invest your money in only the safest assets
Now that you're saving relatively little for your future, you should be careful what you invest in, lest your hopes be dashed and you end up with lots of money. The stock market, for example, is the best place for most of us to grow money over long periods of time. Over many decades, it has averaged 10% annual returns, but even 5% or 7% returns top many alternatives. Avoid dividend-paying stocks, too, because if they're tied to healthy and growing companies, they could pay out anywhere from 3% to 10% year in and year out.
Instead, take advantage of today's low-interest-rate environment and perhaps focus on savings accounts, CDs, and bonds for all of your investments. According to the folks at Bankrate.com, the average five-year CD yields less than 2%, while a one-year CD yields less than 1%. Better still, the typical savings account is offering less than 0.5%. With returns like those, your portfolio should pace or lag inflation, keeping its value nice and low.
5. Put all your eggs in one basket
Keep in mind, too, that if you're diversifying your assets across a variety of investments -- for example, across bonds, real estate, and stocks of many different sizes and industries -- then you're reducing your portfolio's risk. That's likely to keep your retirement savings growing more reliably, possibly getting you to a retirement-sized nest egg sooner than you'd like. If you avoid diversity and put all your money in a single stock, for example, it could tank and take most of your money with it, thereby ensuring that you don't have to retire anytime soon.
So, to avoid early retirement, put all your eggs in one basket for maximum risk.
6. Ignore tax-advantaged accounts and matching funds
Think twice about using traditional and Roth IRAs and employer-provided 401(k) accounts, as they can help your savings grow faster, delaying taxation (in the case of traditional IRAs and conventional 401(k)s) or allowing tax-free withdrawals (in the case of Roth IRAs and the more newfangled Roth 401(k)s). If you plow just $5,000 each year into a Roth IRA and it grows at 8% over 25 years, you'll end up with close to $400,000, which you can withdraw tax-free! Even more problematic are employers' matching contributions. If you accept that free money, your nest egg can swell much more quickly. If your employer pitches in just $1,000 per year into an account that grows by 8% annually over 25 years, that will turn into nearly $80,000.
As you can see, these tax-advantaged accounts bring the nightmare of early retirement ever closer to reality!
7. Enjoy borrowed money
Finally, a great way to be sure that early retirement remains out of reach is to enjoy life even more right now. Live it up, making full use of credit cards and every other source of credit available to you. Eat out every night, buy a new set of wheels every few years, and take a cruise every chance you get. People saddled with massive debt can't afford to stop working anytime soon -- and if you go crazy enough, you can even say goodbye to your bothersome home!
On the other hand...
It takes a lot to make sure you can never quit your job and get stuck with loads of free time to do all the things you've dreamed of doing. And falling into the trap of a comfortable, financially secure retirement is much easier than most people realize.
But don't despair. You may come to find you're one of those crazy few who want to retire. Alternatively, many people have no choice and end up retiring early because of a lost job or health problems. If you think such a thing might happen to you, or that you might actually enjoy retirement, then you should ignore the advice I've given here and do the opposite -- pay down and avoid debt, develop a retirement plan, start saving aggressively now, and invest effectively for growth, diversifying across investment categories and making the most of tax-advantaged accounts.
Longtime Fool specialist Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, has no position in any stocks mentioned. Nor does The Motley Fool. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.