Being retired leaves me with a fair amount of time to look into topics that interest me. As might be expected the whole issue of retirement is one of those things that is of interest to me. Not how to retire necessarily - as I'm already there, but perspectives on retirement - what to do, hobbies, how other people handle retirement, trips, etc.
Inevitably, especially when looking at comments sections of online news articles related to retirement, I come across a certain attitude that really concerns me. The whole issue of pension envy often rears its ugly head. I'm the first to admit that my career choice made it easier for me to retire (defined benefit (DB) pension plan) although I had some significant input into how well I would retire. I'm currently doing a couple of days a week of work with my old employer under contract. I don't need to, but a little extra cash is always nice for projects or a rainy day. In truth, I don't really need to work at all. My point here is not to brag, but simply set the stage for what will follow, that is my advice for how to be able to retire early, or if not early, at least comfortably when the time comes.
Early on in my career I went into my bank to sign my mortgage renewal papers and had a casual conversation with my banker. During that conversation I asked her what I was doing wrong. I recalled how I had seen many people my own age or younger living in bigger houses than I had with driveways covered in new vehicles, boats, campers and the like. Her answer - "You're not doing anything wrong, they are". It turns out that much of the bling that others possess is as a result of borrowed money. I had a good job and found it unlikely that so many people would be making more money than I was, so her response was enlightening.
Had I still been making payments on all that STUFF I would not have been able to retire at 52. We lived within our means, didn't borrow for warm weather vacations, renovations, cars, boats, trucks, campers and general rampant consumer spending. We saved and spent money on what we needed to. We carried no debt except for our mortgage which we pounded away at especially as we neared the point where I could retire.
Not only are many folks stuck with mounds of consumer debt, but the stress that comes with it can cause significant problems in relationships. It turns out that financial stress is a leading cause of divorce in our society. It'd hard enough to retire well when a couple are on the same page. In a case where financial stress is a foundational cause of a divorce the family equity pie gets split up leaving both parties to essentially start over again in separate households. I have former co-workers who went down this road which led them to have to split their pension with a former spouse and then continue on working full time in an effort to gather enough financial resources to be able to retire some day. Now, I know that people get divorced for reasons other than money stress, but money stress is what we're talking about here. Sometimes people change or want something different and pull the plug on a marriage. I get that and there's not much you can do about that. My point is simply that rampant consumerism can have a detrimental effect on relationships and ones ability to retire.
No one is saying you have to live like a peasant your entire working life so that you can retire at some point. Take pleasure in the small things in life. As an example, instead of going out for dinner and drinks with your friends, take turns hosting dinner parties. They're a bit of work but way cheaper and arguably more intimate and fun than going to a restaurant. Depending on how many friends you involve in this you will only have to take your turn hosting every so often. Save for your vacations instead of borrowing and digging yourself a financial hole that will be difficult to fill. When you do go on holidays (because we all need holidays) try to get a place that will allow you to cook your own meals. This is way cheaper and probably better for you. Keep the menu simple so that you don't feel overburdened with making meals - however, do treat yourself a bit and go out a few times - the best of both worlds.
So, even if you are part of a good defined benefit pension plan (not like Detroit or Stockton) you need to make sure that you have your finances in order when the time comes. There's nothing more limiting than a bunch of debt owing when your time to retire comes. Those of you without a DB pension plan need to do the same but also need to sock away a healthy portion of each paycheck to your retirement savings. This is essentially what DB pension plan members do, except that they do it as a group and have someone investing the money for them. Those of you not in a pension plan need to do that yourselves or you need to find a good financial adviser.
One additional point that I'd like to cover is that you should always be striving to raise your earning potential. Keep learning. Get yourself more qualified. Take on additional responsibilities. Strive for promotion. Change jobs if you need to. I've seen too many people who make low wages complain that they can't retire, yet have put in little or no effort to put themselves in a position to make a better wage. Employers don't just give you more money - you have to demonstrate your value for them to come across with more money. If your employer won't, it's time to look for other opportunities. Move if you have to. If there's no work in your area and you didn't move to seek better opportunities you shouldn't be complaining.
In short, it's really up to you. Be careful and responsible with your money. Don't spend more than you make and avoid the stress and possible marital problems that come with indebtedness. From your early working days save 10-15 % of everything you make and invest it for the future - live on the rest. Strive to improve your qualifications and seek higher paying jobs and promotions. Take pleasure in the small things in life now AND when you retire. You can do it, you just have to be very deliberate about it.