Many Grownups are now expected to live to 100—so should we still be planning to retire at 65? Blogger Bridget Casey redefines retirement in terms of financial independence and shares how Grownups can start saving now.

For Millennials in their 20s and 30s, retirement can seem like a financial worry far enough in the future to safely ignore. This might feel especially true if you’re facing the pressing economic demands of post-college life, like paying off your student loans or saving up for your first home. Nevertheless, most Millennials understand that they should be saving for retirement, and 43 percent have already started putting money towards this goal.

But is our concept of retirement outdated enough to be retired itself?

When the United States passed a Social Security law in 1935 setting retirement age at 65, the average American was only expected to live 61.7 years. If the age of retirement had been raised to keep pace with life expectancy over the decades, no one would be able to apply for Social Security until the age of 83.

The gap between life expectancy and retirement age has put a strain on savings ever since Social Security appeared. Many seniors who live well into their 80s or 90s are now finding their nest egg will run out before they do. Often, poor retirement planning is cited as the reason we run short of money in old age, but it might be the idea we’ve imagined for the golden years is what we’re getting so hopelessly wrong.

Retirement Plans Should Reflect That We Live Longer, Healthier Lives

Don’t prepare for limited mobility and a feeble mind at age 65, when there’s a good chance you will still be enjoying a high quality of life well into your 80s and beyond. Some studies suggest that, thanks to modern advancements in medicine and technology, Millennials should prepare for centenarian lifespans. With data that suggests you might be blowing out 100 candles one day, the real question becomes:

What do you want your life to look like if you have an entire century to live it?

Assuming you are going to live to 100, it almost seems silly to quit your career two-thirds of the way through at age 65. Experienced professionals with decades of experience bring a lot of value to the marketplace and are the best source of wisdom to teach and train the younger workforce. Opting out of your career when you still have so much to give is like leaving a party early. Maybe you had your fill of the birthday cake, but plenty of people still want to hear your stories.

Thirty-five years without work won’t only be hard on your savings; it could also be hard on you. You might hit your retirement age and find you’re not ready to leave, or that retirement is not everything you dreamed it would be. It’s hard for 20- and 30-somethings to imagine who they will be in their 50s and beyond, but enough retired people experience a letdown in their post-career life that it’s been dubbed the retirement blues. If you thought feeling lost and uncertain about your purpose was angst exclusive to your 20s, it seems you might get another go-around in your 60s.

Instead of setting a target retirement date, doesn’t it make more sense to build a career that you can leave on your terms? Likewise, you might be able to reduce your hours to part-time and find new ways to use your breadth of talent and skills without leaving the workforce altogether.

We Need to Redefine Financial Independence

What most people want when they think of retirement isn’t retirement at all—it’s financial independence. You can achieve financial independence at any age, and still choose to continue working. The difference is, once you’re financially independent, the how, where, when, and why of your work are entirely up to you because you no longer need an income to sustain yourself. There is tremendous freedom and satisfaction in that because it will free you up to follow your passions.

The trick to achieving financial independence early in life is making a dedicated effort to save as much as you can while simultaneously keeping your living expenses low. It is much easier to amass the savings you need to live indefinitely on $30,000 per year than it is to live on $100,000 per year. Once you become financially independent, you can retire any time you want—or not at all.

In other words, one of the best things you can do for your present and future happiness is build your savings as if you’re going to retire at age 50, but build your career as if you’re going to retire at age 90.

Remember: Retirement is a Mindset, not a Number

“Find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life” is a cliché that’s likely too good to be true. Instead, strive to build a life you love, and you will never have to retire.

Bridget-Casey-Headshot

Bridget Casey writes for MoneyAfterGraduation.com.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.

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