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Retirement Redefined

This week I'm speaking at a conference sponsored by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. I've been hobnobbing with professionals--actuaries, accountants, attorneys, benefits administrators, and investment managers--who are the unsung heroes in the trenches of providing retirement security to millions of working Americans.

Rather than talk about politics or sports, we spend the cocktail hours discussing such exciting topics as when to draw Social Security benefits, investment strategies, and the adequacy of retirement benefits.

Most of us are keenly aware that the traditional retirement of "not working" won't work for most older working Americans--the money and benefits just aren't there. But that's no reason to despair, as illustrated by two conversations I had with an actuary and an accountant--both on the upside of age 65 (now hold on to your excitement!).

Both continue to be actively involved in their work but with two important changes.

  • First, they're not working nearly as many hours as they used to. When they were going full blast, a typical work week could easily exceed 50 or even 60 hours. Now they're down to roughly 30 hours per week.
  • Second, as much as possible, they avoid work they don't like and seek work they like and are good at. They've minimized the tedious paper work and administrative work, and focus on solving client problems, maintaining long-standing relationships, and mentoring up-and-coming professionals.
Their earned income allows them to let their retirement savings grow, and they're maximizing Social Security benefits by delaying the start date. This significantly increases their retirement income when they eventually leave the workforce for good.

Both tell me that life is great; they continue to be productive yet have time to pursue activities they've always wanted to do. They can go on like this indefinitely; they're not hanging on until they reach an age-defined finish line.

With so many aging baby boomers around who don't have the financial resources for a traditional retirement, the example these fellows are setting provides lessons for all of us as we move into uncharted territory.

We'll need to redefine retirement, and many of my colleagues in the field are doing just that. Writer Mark Miller maintains a great website called RetirementRevised. Author and speaker Jeri Sedlar tells us Don't Retire, REWIRE in her book, on her site and in her seminars and workshops. My good friend, John Nelson, co-author of What Color is Your Parachute - For Retirement, actually uses the phrase "retirement redefined." And I like to say that we're not planning for retirement, we're planning for our rest-of-life.

All of us are advocating lives similar to those of the actuary and accountant described above. Also, we're taking our own advice, and I can tell you that life is indeed good.

Whatever you call it, it's gonna be different from our parents' retirement. Better fasten your seat belts.

Image from iStockphoto contributor jhorrocks