What if I don’t want to retire?

COVID-19 put a crimp in all of our short-term plans. But why should it change our long-term goal of being able to retire (or not) as we’ve always dreamed?

Retirement as a concept has evolved since it meant a gold watch at 60, a pension, and maybe a place to winter in Florida.

As life expectancy—and life expectations—have expanded, older Americans seek to stay engaged and relevant. Many want to keep working.

The numbers tell the story: from 1998 to 2018, those in the 65–74 age group who were still working grew from 17.7 percent to 27.0 percent. And the 75-and-older group nearly doubled from 4.7% to 8.7%. [1]

Closer to home, our headquarters of Minneapolis, MN, ranks fourth (after Plano, TX, Washington, D.C., and Anchorage, AK) among the U.S. cities with the most working seniors (age 65 and over). Since 2009, in Minneapolis, that number has grown by 65 percent, while the same population has only increased by 21 percent. [2]

Who wants to work?

Within those reaching retirement age in America, there are three distinct groups:

  • Those who can’t wait to retire and live off the cash flow from their nest egg.
  • Those who are worried about having enough money in retirement savings.
  • Those who have no desire to retire, even if they’ve met their financial goals.

A lot of people in the last group are happy with their work as employees or business owners. They get tremendous satisfaction from it, and instead of seeking early retirement, they want to continue as long as their health permits. Maybe that’s you.

So, what kind of planning do I need?

All three groups need to plan for the future.

If you don’t want to retire, you may naturally wonder if you need  ‘retirement planning.’ So, maybe we could look at it as ‘financial life planning’ for now.

Let’s focus here on you.

What does your later-life work look like?

Medical improvements and healthier lifestyles have changed the outlook for you and your peers. Also, the shift to ‘knowledge work’ and the growth of the service sector has made it easier to work later in life.

Over a third of seniors are still working for personal (and not financial) reasons. [3]

As an over-65 worker, you have choices. You can:

  • Continue working as always.
  • Stay in the same or similar job, maybe part-time instead of full-time.
  • Move to a new job you enjoy more, even if for less money.
  • ‘Work’ in volunteer positions where your pay is in fulfillment.

But eventually, life intervenes with even the best-laid plans. The stock market can tank and trigger layoffs. (There might even be a pandemic.) Technology can make you obsolete. Your spouse could need constant care. Your health could diminish. Or you might feel your energy levels dropping as you age. And you have every right to change your mind about retiring.

Or, a new passion could emerge: the book you never wrote, political ambitions you tamped down because you had a family to raise, or an invention that still could work. To pursue your passion, you need to be able to afford it.

What does later-life financial security look like?

Remember that financial plans for retirement have two phases: the accrual phase and the spending phase. If you develop a plan with a financial advisor and follow it during the accrual phase, you will be ready for whatever comes next.

You are then free to trigger the spending phase whenever you choose. And you can do so with full knowledge that you will have the retirement funds and income streams you will need—and more—for the rest of your days. You will have financial freedom.

In your fifties, if you love what you do, you might envision wanting to do it forever. But as you get older, a yearning grows for greater autonomy and independence. Your top priority morphs from ‘achievement’ into ‘purpose.’

As long as your work provides more fulfillment than your other alternatives, you’re content. But when it doesn’t, you will want to know you have the financial independence and security to walk away.

And—whether you retire or not—at a certain age, you will have to handle retirement-related personal finance issues, such as Social Security, Medicare, and required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs.

For that, you need that ‘financial life plan.’

How does not retiring affect my retirement planning?

Following are 9 considerations if you’re not planning to retire:

  • You can keep making Roth IRA contributions. You can contribute to Roth IRAs as long as you have earned income from employment or self-employment, There are income caps, but no age caps. Roth IRAs provide an effective way to build your estate. You face no RMDs while you are alive, but you’re leaving tax-paid funds to your loved ones.
  • You can keep making traditional IRA contributions. The 2019 SECURE Act removed the age limit on contributions to traditional IRAs for 2020 forward. To contribute, you must have earned income. Contributing to IRAs may be a good strategy if you intend to be in a lower tax bracket once you are required to start taking RMDs from retirement accounts at age 72.
  • You may need less money in your ‘post-work’ phase. The longer you keep working, the less retirement income you’ll need if you eventually stop, as your post-work phase will likely be shorter. However, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) reports that 4 in 10 seniors retired earlier than expected, usually due to a health problem, disability, or a change in their organization. Those may not be odds you want to count on.
  • You may not have to stick to a 4-percent withdrawal rate. A 4-percent annual withdrawal rate may be too high for someone who has to finance 30 years of retirement. (Many financial planners are suggesting lower percentages.) But by working much longer, if you do ever stop working, you can estimate your life expectancy at that time and possibly make more substantial withdrawals.
  • You can maximize your Social Security benefits. If you’re still working, you’re unlikely to need your benefits, so you can easily wait to claim them. Waiting from your Full Retirement Age (FRA) to age 70 will increase your payments by 8 percent per year for life. (No reason to wait beyond that, as there will be no further increases, other than cost of living adjustments or COLAs.)
  • You can double-dip: work and collect Social Security. If you claim benefits after age 62, but before your FRA (at age 66 or later), and if you exceed the earnings limit, part of your benefits payment could be withheld. But those withholdings are not lost; they will be rolled back into the calculations when you reach FRA. And, after that, you can earn whatever you like with no further withholdings.
  • You may be able to take less risk in your investment portfolio. Taking risks is what generates a return on your investments. But, the growth rate of your portfolio may be less critical to you so that you can take less risk. The longer you earn income from work, the less you rely on maximizing your investments.
  • You may have lower healthcare costs. If your employer provides health insurance coverage, you may have the option of staying on that insurance and postponing the transition to Medicare. And your employer-based insurance may be more generous than Medicare.
  • You may be able to focus more on your estate and lifetime gifting opportunities. If you don’t alter your retirement planning to reflect non-retirement, and if you do work late into life, your net worth will benefit. You’ll enjoy the pleasant dilemma of what to do with the assets you will have at death. You’ll be able to leave your mark where it counts for you.

Not retiring shouldn’t mean not planning for retirement. The key is to make the most of the advantages of working later in life, so you live it greatly. If we can help you do that, talk with one of our advisors for a complimentary, no-obligation call.


  1. https://www.bls.gov/emp/tables/civilian-labor-force-participation-rate.htm
  2. https://www.provisionliving.com/node/108
  3. https://www.provisionliving.com/news/survey-reveals-why-seniors-are-putting-retirement