When is the ideal time to retire?

Blog posted

15th June 2018

Are you a Daniel Day-Lewis or a Robert DeNiro? A Paula Radcliffe or a Martina Hingis? Choosing the right time to retire can be one of the hardest decisions you’ll make. So when is the best time?

The sports and movie industries are littered with examples of stars who retired too early, too late, made a comeback but really shouldn’t have, or got it just right.

Acting heavyweight Daniel Day-Lewis chose to call it a day at the tender age of 60; not exactly young, but still younger than many of his contemporaries. The acting careers of many veteran Hollywood actors often go well beyond their 60s – just look at Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Ian McKellen or Helen Mirren.

Some actors seem compelled or driven to continue working for as long as possible, while others fade away (perhaps not of their own volition!).

Sports stars are no exception and the public seems fascinated with the retirement plans of their favourite athletes. It’s not unusual to hear people say x sportsperson “should have quit five years ago” or “they should quit while they’re on top”.

Michael Jordan, the 90s basketball megastar, had three attempts at retirement. After quitting basketball following a family tragedy in 1993, Michael bizarrely returned to a completely different sport – baseball. Following that stint, he returned to a sport he was actually good at before retiring and returning on two more occasions.

Clearly, Mr Jordan had a hard time deciding when to call it a day.

Other sporting stars have stuck with their decisions, though. Sir Alex Ferguson, Marion Bartoli, Bjorn Borg, Sir Jackie Stewart, to name a few, all retired at the peak of their powers and managed to stay retired. It probably helps to have a few expensive hobbies, though. 

So, when is the right time?

It’s not simply a question of finances or logistics, which are obviously hugely important, but also a question of how we feel about it.

We recently conducted some nationwide surveys* looking at attitudes towards retirement and the ages at which people felt they should retire compared to when they thought they would retire made for fascinating reading.

When a group of over 55s were asked at what age people should retire, the results were fascinating. Of those aged between 56 and 65, 28% said retirement should start at 60, compared to just 18% of those aged 66-75 who felt the same.

Interestingly, 32% of the older age group (66-75) thought retirement should begin at 65 compared to a slightly lower percentage (28%) for the 56-65 age group.

Although around 20% for both groups felt there was ‘no particular age that retirement should start’, it’s interesting to see that age 60 and 65 still feature prominently – clearly, state pension age has influenced when we perceive the ‘correct’ age to retire is.

What’s also fascinating is those aged between 18-55 had similar thoughts when it comes to retirement. Around 20% felt retirement should start at 60 and a similar percentage felt the same for retirement at 65.

Despite various reports in the media suggesting young people are ill-prepared for retirement, it appears most believe or aspire to ages 60 or 65 as appropriate ages to retire.

A question of mental preparation?

Assuming your finances for retirement are in order, which is an admittedly large assumption, the timing of your retirement is perhaps the biggest factor affecting how you will live after you finish work.

Think about it. You’ve been working five days out of seven for the best part of 50 years, yet in the space of a day or so that stops. It could be a real jolt to the system.

In some ways it’s comparable to winning the lottery. Winners receive extensive counselling and advice, not despite the positive financial situation they find themselves in but because of it.

Even the organisers recognise it’s a huge physical change in circumstances, but the support available is more focused on the impact on the mind.

Sometimes we aren’t mentally prepared for such a change even if we think we will be. That makes planning in advance, so you aren’t left floundering once you permanently down tools, extremely important.

Could it be the case that when athletes make a return to sport, it’s not because they need to prove they are still physically capable of competing (although undoubtedly part of it), but that they simply weren’t ready for the mental challenge of such a huge change in lifestyle?

In fact, this very subject hit the news recently when a survey found more than half of professional sportspeople have had concerns about their mental or emotional wellbeing since retiring.

Many concerns reflected a sense of ‘losing their identity’ and experience regret or even depression.

Those sports stars who have prepared many years in advance (mentally and physically) and made arrangements to keep themselves occupied after life in the limelight seem to manage much better. In fact, many simply transition from physically competing in their field to management, coaching, or media or even presenting Homes Under the Hammer.

So what might we infer from all this?

  • That there probably isn’t a ‘right’ time to retire for anyone – not a pinpoint one anyway.
  • It’s okay to carry on working if that’s what you enjoy.
  • Mental preparedness is as important as physical or financial readiness for retirement.
  • It can be dangerous to put all your ‘identity eggs’ in one basket – make sure your life does not completely revolve around your job.
  • Planning in advance relieves some of the pressure of retirement and will increase the chances of having the lifestyle you want.
  • Deciding on how you want to live and what sort of retirement you want is one of the most important choices you can make.

Perhaps the key learning from athletes and other celebrities who have managed the transition from working life to retirement is to see it as just that – a transition.

They realised their work could not define who they were for life and importantly they learned to simply move from one stage of their life to another. At Retirement Villages, we like to view retirement in much the same way.

Rather than being an end to your traditional working life, we see it as our residents do – a new phase with new opportunities presented to them.

Many of our residents have taken up new hobbies or have learned new skills, such as joining the village computer club.

Wendy de Smit lives with her husband in Elmbridge Village and is one of the most active residents in the village:

She chaired the Residents Committee for two years and still plays an important role in organising events and activities in the village.

“I have a busy life here at Elmbridge. Although my husband and I have made many friends, I am the one who enjoys getting involved in the life of the village. What’s more there are regular opportunities at Elmbridge to try new pursuits and really make the most of later life. It has a croquet lawn, table tennis tables, pool table, short mat bowls and all kinds of other activities – take your pick.”

That sums up the approach of many of our residents and it seems to be a sensible one to us.

You can read more about Wendy and our other residents on our case studies pages.

*Survey of 2,300 respondents aged 18-55 and over 55, conducted by Censuswide in May 2018.