retirement planning

Why the New Retirement Number Is a Date, Not a Dollar Figure

senior woman hula hooping
Paul Bradbury—Getty Images

Half of workers say retiring when they want, not how they want, is most important.

A decade ago author Lee Eisenberg had many of us fixating on The Number—that level of personal savings sufficient to let you quit work for good. For some the number was $1 million; for others, significantly more or less. The point was to find your own target and keep toiling away until you got there. Only then could you call it quits.

But it turns out the pursuit of some magical savings number may have been a bunch of boom-time hooey. Since the Great Recession, retirement planners have been moving to a different model. Relationships, experiences, time with loved ones, and other life priorities come first. Financial milestones are the new moveable targets.

Certainly it takes money to retire and make the most of your later years. But those on the cusp of retirement increasingly acknowledge that they must plan around what they have—not what they at one time had hoped to have by this point in their life.

Half of workers participating in a 401(k) plan and who believe they have some control over when to retire say they are planning around a specific age or date—no matter how much they have saved, according to a report from Fidelity Investments. That translates into millions of people putting time and relationships ahead of living standards.

Yes, the other half plans to let finances determine their retirement date. This is partly why virtually all surveys on the subject show that people are working longer and see longer careers as the key to a secure retirement. Still, millions of pre-retirees are saying they can be happy with less—and data from the Fidelity survey bear them out.

Four in five retirees say living comfortably has been easier than they expected, even though it may require adapting their lifestyle. A similar share believes they retired at the right time and that retirement is proving to be the most rewarding period of their life, Fidelity found.

Interestingly, while men and women both want to focus on relationships they differ on which ones. Nearly 60% of men say they want to spend more time with their wives, while only 43% of women say they want to spend more time with their husbands, first choosing grandkids (70%). Uh-oh. Maybe this is the real retirement minefield.

Read next: Test Your Retirement IQ

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