It’s Time to Debunk the Retirement Myth

I used to believe the retirement fantasy propagated by the financial industry, corporate America, and the government. Then I realized I had been bamboozled. I made a deliberate decision to wrest control of my retirement destiny away from anyone who was trying to sell me down the river. Now, I live on an actual river.

Yesterday, I watched a grey heron fishing while I drank my morning coffee. Today, just by listening to the sound of the river from the porch, I know that it rained upstream last night. Tourists pay a lot of money to have this experience but to me, it’s a daily ritual I’ve come to love.

A U.S. News & World Report article revealed that baby boomers—like you—are leaving the workforce earlier than expected. Unfortunately, the reason is not retirement. Instead, they worked to the bitter end and then got laid off, or became too sick to work. A Gallup poll taken recently found that most of us Americans do not expect to retire until the age of 66.

But the CDC reports that the average U.S. life expectancy is now between 78 and 79 years of age. When are you supposed to squeeze in that Third Age of blissful retirement?

The cost of living is rising by leaps and bounds, too, widening that financial gap in ways that are sad and scary. The vast majority of Americans have less than $50,000 in retirement savings even though the median household income in this country is $55,000.

How do you replace your income with that formula? Maintain the lifestyle to which you are accustomed and you’ll be broke before the end of your first year off the job…and $5,000 in debt heading into year number two. Financial planners recommend saving about 11 times your current annual income to make up the shortfall and have enough money for retirement.

But their statisticians may be banking on the fact that you’re going to get your gold watch and be buried in the ground before its battery dies. Retirement counselors advise you to save millions just to pay for expensive pharmaceuticals, multiple surgeries, and nursing-home care. All of that doesn’t matter to many of you, though…because a third of Americans haven’t saved a dime for retirement.

An analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data did, however, uncover a genuinely encouraging statistic. There is a strong correlation between how low your housing expenses are and how early you can comfortably retire. I know that’s true because I did it. When I realized that it was time to take back control, the first step was to drastically reduce my overhead. I rid myself of all the square footage I didn’t need and saved enough in the process to move to a large tract of acreage on a beautiful river, surrounded by breathtaking mountains and lush forests, where my rustic cabin cost just $250 a month to rent.

Hey, I’ll take acreage over square feet any day of the week. After I made that move, my total housing costs were equal to what I had been paying for utilities alone. My monthly utility bills? They were suddenly cheaper than the price of two Starbucks beverages.

I got interested in stone masonry and soon transformed that hobby into a paying gig. People paid me to tend their gardens and then gave me all the free produce I could eat. Later, I developed a lucrative, freelance writing career. More importantly, I made my shift to independence while still active enough to fully exploit the opportunities that my new lifestyle provided.

It’s time to rethink retirement on your own terms. Retire your mortgage. Retire your debt. Retire your dependence on institutions that do not serve your needs or fulfill your dreams but instead drain you of money, vitality, creativity, and inspiration.

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