What does retirement mean to you? Is it swinging on the porch, watching the world go by? Spending more time with family? Dedicating yourself to a charity you've long been fond of?
Whatever your retirement dreams are, if you want to reach them, you need a plan to get yourself there. Otherwise, by the time you find yourself financially able to quit work, you may not be physically able to pursue your passions.
That would indeed be a tragedy. So rather than find yourself in that unfortunate situation, start building a plan nowthat gets you moving toward where you want to be. That way, once you've met all the plan's objectives, you can retire to spend your life doing what you'd like to do, rather than what you have to do.
What Do You Wantto Do?
Key to a successful retirement -- any successful retirement -- is knowing how you'd spend your time if money were no object. While there are those who work in retirement because they haveto, there are also those who work in a field they love because they wantto. While such jobs may not be the most lucrative in the world, if they help pay some of the bills, they can dramatically reduce the amount you need to save to reach your goal.
For instance, if you love to learn, why not plan to retire to a low-intensity job at a local college? As a staff member, you'll likely get access to the school's facilities as well as either free or deeply discounted tuition. The pay may not be all that great, but so what? If your goal is accessing the education opportunities, it's a great way to go.
Similarly, if there's a charity you'd love to support more, give it the gift of your time and experience. While not-for-profit work generally pays less than the corporate sector, if it's somewhere you had been voluntarily supporting before, why not see what paid position you could fill instead? Any money you bring in is money your nest egg doesn't have to support, and any time spent doing what you love is time in retirement, even if it brings some small paycheck.
What Do You Need in Order to Do It?
Of course, if you're willing to take a pay cut to pursue your passions during your retirement, you'll need to be able to live on that new, lower salary. You've got two basic levers to achieve that goal:
Keep your costs low.
Crack open your nest egg to cover some of your bills.
Naturally, the two are deeply interrelated. To have the ability to build any sort of nest egg in the first place, you'll need spend less than you earn along the way. On the flip side of the coin, the lower your overall costs, the easier it is for the nest egg you do build to cover a significant part of them. In either case, the earlier you start and the more effort you put toward your goal, the easier it is to reach it.
Certainly, in today's era of stagnating salaries and rising food and energy prices, keeping costs down is easier said than done. But remember that the reward at the end of the journey is the opportunity to do exactly what you want to do with your time. If that's not worth sacrificing for, what would be?
How Soon Can You Get There?
If you redefine retirement from "not working" to "doing exactly what you'd like to do with your time," then you don't need to wait until you're 65 with a pension and a gold watch to retire. Instead, it could be as soon as tomorrow, if you've laid the groundwork and the opportunity makes itself available. More likely than not, though, you'll have to first prepare yourself financially and find that opportunity to reach for your dream.
Regardless, once you've reached that spot where you're able to fill your hours with exactly what you'd like to do, congratulations -- consider yourself happily retired. You've earned it.
Motley Fool contributor Chuck Saletta welcomes your comments.