Think retirement is out of reach? Here's what you need to know

Jon Healey, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

The pandemic caused tectonic shifts in the job market as workers young and old quit and searched for something better — in their work or in their life. According to the Pew Research Center, a little more than half of adults ages 55 and older had ditched the grind by late 2021, compared with 48% in the months before the first case of COVID-19 was recorded.

If you've spent the better part of your earthly existence punching a clock, you may be sorely tempted to join the throng of cool kids on the sidelines. And if you've been working for a company with 50 or more workers, chances are good that you've accumulated some retirement savings through a pension or retirement plan — especially if you've not spent your career in a service industry.

Experts caution, however, that the transition from a life of work to a life of leisure isn't simple, and that it's crucial to have a plan. David John, senior policy adviser for AARP's Public Policy Institute, said researchers have found that "people who do the planning and do budgeting end up with a much better retirement outcome than people who just wing it or use a rule of thumb."

The souring stock market and the rekindling of long-dormant inflation also throw cold water on the idea of retiring now. "If you ask any financial planner, they're going to tell you, just sit this one out," said Mo Wang, a retirement scholar who directs the Human Resource Research Center at the University of Florida.

But here's the thing. It's misleading to think of retirement as life without work. For many Californians, it's a life with less work.

"Call it semi-retired: You work doing what you have to do for 40 years, then you work doing what you want to do for the next 10 to 15," said John Pilkington, a wealth adviser executive at Vanguard Personal Advisor Services.


That's why some version of "retirement" may be available to you even if you haven't socked away much for your dotage. Many of us haven't — according to the Federal Reserve, in 2019 half of Americans ages 55 to 64 had $134,000 or less in retirement savings. That's not exactly Lotto riches.

The Times consulted two dozen researchers, financial planners and counselors about how to tell when you're ready for retirement. Here are their tips and insights.

When are you financially ready to retire?

If you haven't started planning yet, then the answer is probably "no time soon." That's because retiring successfully is, in part, a number-crunching exercise to make sure you can sustain the life you want to live on the income you'll be collecting.


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