You Can’t Work Forever: 5 Reasons Your Retirement Will Be Sooner than Expected

That rocking chair won't be empty for long

There have been multiple occasions where I have read people talk about how they’ll probably end up working for most of their lives.  The comment is usually a part of some discussion of retirement planning, and these people basically convey their opinions that retiring early is simply unlikely.  These people simply expect to keep on working until they’re old, as they don’t see themselves being able to retire comfortably anytime too soon.

Well, I think many of these folks, if not most of them, are wrong.  They think they’ll be working until very late in life.  However, they actually won’t be, based on my guess.

My suspicion is that many people make too many assumptions about their ability and opportunity to work when older.  Instead of thinking realistically, some folks lose sight of the changes that come with aging, in terms of our place in the work force. Along those lines, it just might be that people are too optimistic about how much remaining time they have to work and earn money.

While we want to think that we have a number of years to be able to work, that simply might not be the case.  Here are 5 reasons why you can’t work forever, and will likely retire sooner than you might think.

  1. Your Health.  When we’re young, we have the energy to work long hours. We might not like to, but we might have the capacity to do so. When older, our health might unexpectedly hit some serious bumps in the road. Things happen, whether we like it or not or can foresee it or not.  We may be healthy now, but If we aren’t physically capable of working as we get older, retirement may have to happen. Ironically, we might need to work because of the high cost of health care in retirement.
  2. Your Mind.  #1 above referred to our physical health. However, it’s not always our joints and muscles that give way. Sometimes, we have cognitive issues as we age.   Memory loss is not uncommon, and “senior moments” don’t exactly help one achieve success in this fast-moving world we live in.  The bigger issues are those related to problems like alzheimer’s and dementia.  It’s very sad to see somebody so smart be rendered marginally effective due to such afflictions, but tragically this happens unexpectedly.
  3. Outdated Skills.   It does happen, where people let their skills atrophy over the years.  If this happens, and you try to get back into the workforce later in life, it can often be an uphill battle to get back in the game.  When people get laid off or lose jobs later in life, it can be quite tough to come back. Not always of course, as some do bounce back. But some don’t.
  4. Ageism.  Sadly, this exists out in the marketplace for talent.  I really think that in many endeavors, experience matters and can make a person much more effective.  The thing is, some people don’t see it the way I do, and tend to value fresh, young workers over older, less energetic-looking workers.
  5. You May Not Want to Work.  Yes, right now you might love what you do, and have tons of energy. However, you may just not feel like working as you get older. Some people simply get tired. Maybe this is related to #1 and #2 above, but to a lesser and more indirect extent. But your interest in working might change. You may have to take care of a very sick relative, help with grand kids, or take on some other activity. Bottom line is that your feelings toward work might change later in life.

What’s the takeaway from this? You may want to plan to ramp up your retirement savings efforts now, as you may not have as long to work as you might presently believe.

My Questions for You

Do you plan on retiring early, at a “typical” age, or do you think you’ll work very late in life?

Do you ever think about the “unexpected” things that might happen in the future that could keep you from working when older?

Is saving for retirement an active part of your personal finance strategy today?



  1. says

    I will definitely retire as early as possible. Rather than try to pick a lumpsum number I need, I will determine what assets I need, then buy them as I save up enough to afford them. Self sustainability is my game plan.

  2. says

    I think some people HAVE to work, because they didn’t save for retirement or live too lavish a lifestyle in retirement. But I think that some people certainly are optimistic about how long a company will have them. I want to retire earlier rather than later.

  3. says

    My plan is not to retire in the traditional sense, but change my work style to fit my life as I get bigger savings. Eventually, I want to have a small business that supports me and allows for the lifestyle I want.

  4. says

    Right on. Counting on working in retirement is a poor strategy. Best to consider any employment income after age ~65 as a bonus. One of my sisters-in-law–who lives in a very high cost of living area and has a million dollar+ mortgage–recently remarked she expects she and her husband to work to age 75. There are so many risky assumptions built into that financial plan, it’s tough to know where to begin.

  5. says

    Great questions! Mr. BFS and I are shooting to retire by choice way before our bodies or minds force us that way. So yes, retirement savings is definitely one of our priorities. We sort of put it on hold for the last few months while we build up cash for the downpayment on our new house, but we are still making sure we max out our Roth IRA’s every year and invest something in stocks for right now.

  6. says

    I plan to retire at a typical age or younger depending on how my savings and career goes. I save a decent amount for retirement and it should definitely be enough to retire St traditional age if not earlier.

  7. says

    Very good points! My Dad always used to say that he and Mom should develop some skills that they could use to stay occupied (paid or not) as their bodies/minds slowed. Instead of high pressure intense physical activity, learn something that can let you work at a slower pace, and is easier on your body.

  8. says

    I’m retired! Hahaha.I saved a big percentage of my income since I started working and starting early is a great advantage. Now I have the choice to cut back on working and enjoy the time with our kid. Starting early is also much better than later because the investments compound that much more.

  9. says

    I suppose it’s out there, but I’ve not personally run across ageism as you describe it. In our industry, lots of grey hair on display. Experience is valuable and hard to get. I did have a humorous moment the other day in talking to a new “cub” project manager. In talking about his old workplace, he made a casual reference to “the old guys”. How old, me asks. You know, 40 to 50. We had a good laugh after he realized he’d stepped in it (I just turned 50).

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