When Should You Retire?

When is the best time to retire? As soon as possible.

One of the most popular articles on the FedSmith.com site is the one about the best date to retire in 2005. Author Tammy Flanagan goes through the “ins and outs” of how to achieve the maximum financial return by picking the optimum retirement date.

The title of this article does not refer to the best possible day to retire. Rather, it asks a broader question that asks the reader to think about the best time of your life to retire.

Without a doubt, the best time will vary from person to person. Here is one opinion: The best time to retire is as soon as possible.

I am an optimist. I generally approach a problem with a presumption that it can be solved. That optimistic perspective underlies the opinion.

Numerous federal employees have told me they were retiring “in a few more years.” For many of them, this means they want to increase their annuity by working longer. They may have already worked 25-30 years but they want to get to 30 or 35 or some other number which will give them a larger paycheck each month.

Another reason to delay: “I am not sure I am ready to retire. I don’t know what I would do with my time.”

Here’s a variation of another comment sometimes heard from long-time federal employees. “They want me to retire to get rid of me. I won’t let that happen; I have worked too long and hard to make it easy to make changes in my program.”

From personal experience, these may not be good reasons for many people. The best time to retire should not be based on increasing your financial assets just a little more. Retiring at 70 with a couple of million in assets won’t do you much good if you are not healthy enough to enjoy it.

I have had several friends who worked hard and were getting ready to retire “soon” or “in another couple of years.” They had worked hard for an entire career and had a good federal annuity they could count on. But by waiting another couple of years, their health declined and they were no longer able to enjoy their retirement. Travel takes energy. A person who feels good can enjoy changes and opportunities. Waiting until you are older may mean you won’t be able to enjoy the trips you wanted or the change in environment you always thought you would enjoy.

And a person who won’t leave his job because others in the agency want to see him go? It is probably way past time to leave. Working for the federal government means working for a huge organization. Most small agencies are bigger than the vast majority of companies. The agency and its programs will survive (or not) and they will change. If you have spent a career in the federal government, you have had your opportunity to make a difference. Waiting another year or two won’t make much difference, if any. It’s not your program or your agency. You have just worked there for a long time. It’s time to move on.

Once you leave your agency, the problems and personalities that were so important won’t seem that significant. Don’t base your decision to retire based on what others think or want.

Retiring early doesn’t mean you can’t go back to work. If you are not happy after retiring, you can do volunteer work or even go back to work for the government in some capacity.

But if you delay, and keep putting off retirement, you won’t have another chance. Don’t be afraid of change. Take advantage of the time available to you. Enjoy yourself. You worked hard for your annuity. Don’t ruin the positive aspects of your government career with a limited perspective.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47