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Buoyed by a sharp rise in stock prices that left many retirement savers feeling flush, the number of U.S. workers who say they’re confident about their ability to retire comfortably edged up last year, according to a sweeping new survey.

Sixty four percent of workers surveyed said they’re very or somewhat confident about their financial prospects in retirement, up from 60% in 2016. Confidence was even higher among those closest to quitting time: 71% of workers aged 55 and older professed confidence they’ll have enough money to live comfortably in retirement.

The big catch to this seemingly good news story: For many Americans, the faith in their ability to live well after they stop working full time seems to be misplaced.

That’s my big takeaway from the 28th annual Retirement Confidence Survey, the country’s longest running look at the retirement prospects for workers and retirees. Conducted by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) with the research firm Greenwald & Associates, the survey reflects the expectations and experiences of more than 2,000 Americans aged 25 and older, roughly split between workers and retirees, who were polled online in January.

“There’s an incredible amount of overconfidence out there, based on erroneous assumptions about what life will be like after retirement,” says Jack VanDerhei, EBRI’s research director. “Many people may be in for an unexpectedly rough ride when the reality of retirement sets in.”

What the survey also makes clear: There are concrete steps you can take to avoid that fate and shore up your finances ahead of, or during, retirement.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the survey’s most important findings and advice for workers and retirees based on their implications:

Failing the scout test

American workers, particularly those 55+, won’t earn any merit badges when it comes to this critical tenet of retirement planning (and scouting): Be prepared.

As the chart below shows, EBRI found that the majority of workers haven’t taken even the most basic steps to prepare for life after work, such as calculating how much they need to have saved to live comfortably, estimating what their expenses in retirement are likely to be or reviewing how much they’ll receive in Social Security benefits.


Older workers are more likely to have done some retirement prep than younger colleagues, as you’d expect, but not nearly enough, the survey showed. Only about half of the workers 55 and up had roughed out how much they’ll need to have saved, what their costs will likely be or how much monthly income they’ll need to cover those bills. Worse, just 37% had thought about how much to tap savings for living costs in retirement and a mere 28% had forecast their estimated health care expenses.

If they’d run the numbers, says VanDerhei, “there’s no way in the world people would be so confident.”

That’s especially true given how little money many older workers have socked away for retirement.

EBRI found that 43% of workers 55 and older have less than $100,000 in savings and investments, and just 38% have $250,000 or more.

That low level of savings helps explain why the percentage of workers who are very confident about their retirement prospects (as opposed to the combined numbers for “very” and “somewhat” confident) are actually quite low. Only 17% said they were “very confident,” down from 18% a year ago.

What you can do: Take advantage of tools to help get a handle on what your expenses may be in retirement (such as this one from Vanguard) and how much you need to have saved by the time you quit full-time work (get a quick estimate here or a more in-depth analysis here).

Read: Don’t feel ready for retirement? You’re not alone

Also, find out how much you’ll be entitled to in Social Security benefits based on your earnings record and anticipated retirement age from the handy calculators on the Social Security Administration website.

Expectations, meet reality

Another fascinating, if troubling, finding from the survey: The gap between workers’ expectations about retirement and retirees’ actual experiences is Grand Canyon-sized.

Take the age at which most Americans expect to exit their careers. Workers reported a median expected retirement age of 65, EBRI found. The actual median age reported by retirees: 62.

As for working past traditional retirement age, three in 10 workers surveyed said they expected to quit at 70 or later, but only 7% of retirees left the workforce that late.

Only one in 10 workers planned to retire before 60, but a stunning 35% of retirees actually did so, typically due to health issues or a layoff.

See: These 4 things are delaying your retirement

Workers also turned out to be poor predictors of where their money will likely come from in retirement. For instance, two-thirds of retirees said Social Security was a major source of their income, but that’s double the percentage of workers who thought this would be the case for them.

More than half of workers expect they’ll rely heavily on workplace savings accounts, such as 401(k)s, for their retirement income, yet only a quarter of retirees said these plans were a major source of income.

When it came to working in retirement, the divide was even greater, with 45 percentage points separating workers’ anticipation of a salary to supplement retirement income from retirees’ experiences working for pay — 79% vs. 34%.

Still, the 34% who have brought home a paycheck in retirement represents a steady increase since 2015, when 23% did. While the uptick is noteworthy, VanDerhei says it’s a little premature to call it a trend because of the survey’s margin of error (just over three points) and because the percentage of retirees working hit the same mark in 2009 only to fall in subsequent years.

“It’s still very risky to assume the luxury of continuing to work will be your choice,” he says.

What you can do: If you’re still working, push yourself to bump up savings in your 401(k) or IRA, maxing out your contributions if possible, just in case the option is taken away from you sooner than you think. The 401(k) contribution limit in 2018 is $18,500; $24,500 if you’re 50 or older. The IRA contribution limit this year is $5,500; $6,500 if you’re 50 or older. “It’s so much easier to bite the bullet now and make higher contributions while you still can,” says VanDerhei.

Don’t miss: 15 ways to make more money in your 401(k)

Already retired? It’s OK to prudently tap workplace plans for income now —that’s why you saved the money. (A commonly recommended formula: Limit your withdrawal to 4% of your balance in Year One, then adjust that amount annually for inflation.)

Yet two-thirds of retirees aim to maintain or even increase these assets, the survey showed, suggesting they’re being ultracautious about spending. That echoes the findings of other recent research from EBRI and BlackRock.

“While it’s certainly better than spending down your assets too quickly,” says VanDerhei, “these numbers suggest many retirees may be living too stringently for their means.”

The boogeyman: health care costs

One area where the survey found worker’s confidence is especially low and retiree confidence is slipping: the ability to pay for medical and long-term-care expenses in retirement.

Forty six percent of workers said they aren’t sure they’ll have enough money to cover their medical bills and nearly six in 10 aren’t confident they could pay for long-term care if needed.

Seven in 10 retirees are somewhat or very confident they’ll have enough money for health care expenses, and that’s down dramatically from 77% in 2017; just 16% are very confident they could pay for long- term care, vs. 20% last year.

Workers and retirees have good reason to be concerned: 44% of retirees told EBRI their health care bills were higher than anticipated and 26% said this about long-term care costs.

What can you expect to pay for health care in retirement? In another recent survey, Fidelity estimated that a typical 65-year-old couple who stop working this year will need $280,000 to cover their health care bills.

That $280,000 figure probably underestimates the health care tab for many retirees. For one thing, it doesn’t include long-term care bills, which, if incurred, typically tack on an extra $172,000 per person, according to research by PwC — and possibly many times more than that if an extended stay in a nursing home or assisted living facility is required.

“The number one thing that ends up wiping out a family who at retirement age looked like they were going to be in decent shape financially is long-term care costs,” VenDerhei says.

The millions of workers who retire before Medicare kicks in at 65 also face steeper-than-average costs. Fidelity found that more than a third of early retirees pay $500 a month or more in health care premiums alone. About half dip into savings to cover these and other out-of-pocket costs, such as copays and deductibles.

What you can do: Just getting an accurate handle on what your health care costs may be in retirement, using a tool such as AARP’s retirement health cost calculator, can be enormously helpful. EBRI found that respondents who estimated their health bills in advance were far more likely to say their actual ones were in line with their expectations than those who hadn’t.

It’s also a good idea to open a separate savings account specifically designated for health care expenses — either a Health Savings Account, if you have access to one at work, or an account you open and fund on your own.

See: Visualize retirement with this planning tool

As VanDerhei puts it, “Take control of the situations in your life that you can control now — such as creating a savings bucket for the health care bills you’ll inevitably face — and you’ll be in a much better situation later on.”

Diane Harris is an award-winning financial journalist and financial wellness advocate. She is the former editor in chief of Money magazine, the first woman to hold the top job, and covered virtually every aspect of personal finance during her 22 years there. She is writing a book on financial wellness and launching a related coaching and consulting business. Follow her on Twitter @dianeharris.

This article is reprinted by permission from, © 2018 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Ken Lopaty, 81, has spent the last 55 years working at McDonalds;

MCD, -0.09%

currently he owns seven franchises across Los Angeles. Before that, he worked a number of jobs in Chicago, starting with selling women’s magazines door-to-door at age 10. He’s been working ever since, with no plans to stop.

Lopaty says that, working, for him, is not only about the physical, but “the mental.” He notes: “It has helped me stay healthy by continuing to exercise my brain every single day. Most people I know who have retired have truly aged much quicker because they don’t have many things that fill their time.” Lopaty also thinks not retiring has helped his marriage “tremendously,” by being out of the house during the day.

Actually, his wife of 64 years, Barbara, loves the fact that Lopaty continues to work, since he’s as passionate about it today as he was when Ray Kroc (that’s right, the founder of McDonalds) showed up at his door in 1957.

To retire or not to retire

Lopaty’s story raises the inevitable question: Is it healthier not to retire?

The answer: possibly.

There have been various studies on the subject in recent years, with mixed results.

A 2017 study from economists in the Netherlands found that Dutch civil servants who took early retirement were 2.6 percentage points less likely to die over the next few years than those who didn’t retire early.

But a new study from economics professors at Cornell University and the University of Melbourne, cited in The Wall Street Journal, found that a significant increase in mortality in the U.S. starts at age 62, when Americans can start claiming Social Security and, ostensibly, retire. The researchers found that 10% of men retire in the month they turn 62 and believe the deaths were concentrated among those men, partly because they became more sedentary and some increased their smoking rate.

And other studies showed that retirement raised the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and mortality.

Retiring after 65 and living longer

A landmark study in 2016 from Oregon State University researchers, however, determined that healthy people who retired a year beyond 65 had an 11% lower chance of dying compared with those who retired earlier.

Dr. Donald O. Mack, a family medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said the study’s authors were careful to first divide workers into healthy and unhealthy groups to try to control for those who retired for health reasons.

He concedes that classifying yourself as healthy or unhealthy is subjective. “Some workers may still feel healthy but have sensed some nonspecific declines that prompt them to retire earlier than others,” he says. Also, he notes, “people who are still working after age 65 are generally in less physically-demanding jobs.” Nevertheless, he adds, the study found they are “healthier emotionally and physically than their counterparts who retired.”

The risks of adjusting to retirement

Something else to consider, says Mack: “forced” retirement or unemployment is challenging at any age, and the risks of adjustment issues are higher than for those who choose to retire.

“For those who choose to retire,” Mack advises, “it is important to plan for the adjustment financially, but also emotionally,” taking into account which activities will give you purpose and gratification.

Another reason to continue working: Dr. Susan Besser, a primary care provider specializing in family medicine in Overlea, Md., says people who retire become more isolated, to some degree. But socialization, she says, is very important to mental and emotional health.

Retirees “don’t have the daily social interactions, not to mention the daily routine to help with mental emotional stability,” she says. “Also, continuing to work increases economic independence, which is also important.”

Finding a job you’re healthy enough to do

This presumes, of course, that your health is good enough to let you continue working. To continue employment and delay retirement, you may need to try to switch jobs to something more accommodating.

A job with lots of lifting and carrying might no longer be the right job if you have severe arthritis. A desk job with some walking, conversely, might help you stay active and improve joint mobility. Similarly, says Besser, “if you work the night shift, that can cause stress on the body, which can lead to poor blood pressure control or poor diabetes control. Working a high-stress job could also cause emotional overload and physical symptoms, so a different job might be better.”

However, working can also be good for some conditions — if you are an overweight diabetic and your doctor has recommended exercise, a job where you have to walk around might help you lose weight and make your diabetes more manageable.

Dr. Anne B. Newman, director of Pitt’s Center for Aging and Population Health, says education also plays a role in whether working longer could let you live longer. A high level of education, she says, is strongly related to longevity. That’s one reason professors tend to live longer and to work longer.

Worsening diabetes in retirement

Besser says she has seen a marked difference — and not for the better — between her patients who retire young and those who don’t.

In retirement, “patients with diabetes may have worsening diabetes because after retiring they aren’t as motivated to stay active and eat out of boredom — so their sugar is harder to control,” she says. Some people who are prediabetic before retiring can develop actual diabetes in retirement “because they are bored and eat more or are just not as active as before.”

Also, says Besser, in retirement, “some patients have worsening joint aches and pains and can develop arthritis — or at least the underlying arthritis may worsen — this is likely due to decreased physical activity.”

New health problems due to retiring

Retirement can lead to new health problems, too, Besser notes.

“A very common one is depression. People who retire early without something else to keep them busy tend to become depressed. They also may have decline in cognitive function because they no longer have any mental stimulation. Many of my patients who retire young lose their vitality, the gusto for life that they had while working,” she says.

Talk to your doctor

Besser advises talking with your doctor about the pros and cons for your health about when to retire. Your physician may wind up prescribing that you continue working.

“Remember, you are trying to stay as healthy as long as possible,” says Besser. “And if a work ‘prescription’ is another part of keeping you healthy, along with good diet, regular exercise, good sleep habits, social interactions and following your doctor’s medical advice about your health conditions, then off to work you should go.”

Helaina Hovitz is an editor, writer, content strategist and author of the memoir “After 9/11.” She has written for 50 publications including the New York Times, Salon, Glamour, Forbes, Prevention, Fast Company, Women’s Health, Newsweek, and many others. See more at and  

This article is reprinted by permission from, © 2018 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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While many New Yorkers are dreading the day Amazon moves into its new “headquarters” in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens and crowds the subway with 25,000 new workers, there’s one group of people welcoming the company with open arms: Executives at other tech firms.

It may seem counter-intuitive that smaller tech companies are eager for a large potential rival to move onto their turf. But New York-based recruiters and tech leaders say they’re using a different playbook from Amazon. They theorize Amazon’s presence will bring in new tech talent that might not otherwise come to New York.

That could mean those new workers will eventually move on to smaller tech companies or come up with ideas for startups on their own, spurring interest from venture capitalists in the area.

According to interviews with 15 New York-based entrepreneurs, tech executives and venture capitalists, Amazon’s move to NYC will lift up the local tech sector across the board, though some warn that it could also make it harder for smaller tech firms to compete for talent in the event of an economic downturn.

“We play the long game when it comes to talent,” said Melissa Enbar, VP of People and Culture at Birchbox, an online subscription service for beauty products.

Enbar said people are attracted to smaller firms for different reasons than large ones, like the opportunity to have more exposure and responsibility early on. She said she expects Amazon’s move will bring a wave of new talent to the city that a smaller company like Birchbox couldn’t afford to relocate on its own.

“Maybe their second job, like after they’re done with Amazon, is Birchbox,” Enbar said.

Amazon’s arrival in New York will certainly mark a significant moment for a city already considered to be the tech hub of the East Coast. Executives and investors said the move reinforces the city as an important place for tech and will help infuse it with venture capital and elite talent.

But what’s yet to be seen is how that talent and money will be distributed across the existing tech companies in the city in an already-tight labor market. While New York tech executives are hopeful that Amazon’s presence will spread the prosperity around, it may only last as long as the economy remains stable, some warn.

“In my experience in the past, when there’s been recessions, there’s always been a flight to safety from tech startups to larger companies that can provide more cash and more security,” said Dan Finnigan, president and CEO of recruitment platform Jobvite. For Amazon, that means “they could be timing it perfectly.”

Still, Finnigan and other tech leaders said Amazon’s move will be a net positive for the city’s startups. At the very least, they said, it won’t change much about the way they’re already competing for tech talent.

“To be honest, this is like the fifth time this has happened,” said Dennis Crowley, co-founder and executive chairman of Foursquare. Facebook and Google both have major offices in New York, with Google planning to invest another $1 billion in its new Hudson Square campus, following a $2.4 billion purchase of shopping and office complex Chelsea Market earlier this year. Between the two investments, Google said it could double its New York workforce of 7,000 over the next 10 years.

Amazon’s impact in New York is largely dependent on the types of jobs it ends up bringing there. Warren Lee, an independent New York-based investor who most recently worked for Canaan Partners, said that Google and Facebook would likely remain the chief rivals for engineering and product talent if Amazon opts to establish less technical projects in New York. Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.

On the other hand, Lee said, Amazon could pose a serious threat to AdTech companies in the city if it builds its advertising arm there, as many suspect was a key motivator to select the marketing mecca. In that case, AdTech companies would have to consider upping their pay and benefits to keep their niche talent, he said. Amazon said it will pay employees an average salary of $150,000 at its Long Island City office.

Amazon’s move to New York could shake up the perception that Silicon Valley is the only viable place to be for tech. But it’s unlikely to overturn it altogether, entrepreneurs and investors said.

When Google first built New York operation in 2000, “it legitimized New York as a destination for engineering,” said Howard Lerman, founder and CEO of New York-based cloud technology company Yext. “The more companies that pick New York as a headquarters, the more likely [engineers are] going to end up staying on the East Coast.”

That’s a stark contrast from the sentiment around tech even a decade ago. When Eliot Horowitz began the database company MongoDB in 2007, “People thought we were kind of crazy for building a pure tech company in New York,” said Horowitz, now the chief technology officer.

“We literally had VCs telling us we wouldn’t invest unless you move to the Valley,” said Mediaocean co-founder and CEO Bill Wise about his time at a previous company. Even now, he said “I still have people who ask me, ‘Oh can you really get good tech talent sitting in New York?'”

But it’s not all about showing up the West Coast.

“New York would have a long way to go to dethrone San Francisco, but I don’t think people in New York see it as a competition,” said Eric Hippeau, managing partner at the New York-based venture capital firm Lerer Hippeau. “It’s not a zero-sum game as technology affects pretty much every sector.”

Besides growing the talent pool for established companies, Hippeau said, Amazon’s move to New York will likely sprout new entrepreneurs.

“You’ll find some people who go work for Amazon and Google and Microsoft and some of the other big tech companies and decide to use their skills to start businesses,” Hippeau said.

Foursquare and Flatiron Health are two successful New York startups founded by Google alums. Crowley, the Foursquare founder, and Nat Turner, co-founder and CEO of Flatiron Health, both joined Google by way of acquisition before leaving to start new ventures. Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche said in April it completed its acquisition of Flatiron Health for a value of $1.9 billion, “on a fully diluted basis, subject to certain adjustments.” Foursquare declined to disclose its valuation for its latest $33 million funding round in October, but said it increased its valuation from 2016 which was reportedly around $325 million, according to the New York Times.

Finnigan, the Jobvite CEO, said Amazon’s move to New York will mark the beginning of a cycle of investment.

“Amazon’s presence will attract capital that will seek out the Amazon alumni,” Finnigan said.

Any initial fear startups had about Amazon’s move to New York seems to have abated for now.

“I’m looking at Amazon the same way I look at J.P. Morgan” and others, said Lorna Hagen, chief people officer at human resources software company Namely. “All in New York, all enormous and all looking to take our talent.”

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I was an avid reader of financial independence, retire early (FIRE) blogs on the path to my own early retirement. They served as inspiration and education.

However, I found them to be an echo chamber. Each tries to outdo the next in an effort to show you how to optimize your life. Then you can retire sooner to a lifetime of carefree bliss.

That’s all great. Except it’s not true.

Sure, there are elements of truth in every FIRE blog. Just as reality TV reflects some elements of reality.

Any time we tell a story, we share details to help convey the message we want. Simultaneously, we leave out parts that don’t fit the narrative.

My wife and I worked hard and planned diligently to achieve financial independence far earlier in life than most people. Last year, I retired from my career as a physical therapist at the age of 41. Seven months later we moved across the country to start a new life we had dreamed of for years.

I envisioned living a life of freedom, purpose and happiness. At times, that has been the case. But that’s only part of the story. In reality, the past year has been one of the hardest of my life.

Here are five challenges we underestimated. Consider them to better prepare for your own early retirement.

1. What got you here won’t get you there

Shortly after leaving my job, I was interviewed by Todd Tresidder on the Financial Mentor podcast. He asked one question that stumped me: “What price did you pay to achieve financial freedom?”

I couldn’t identify anything substantial we sacrificed on the path to FIRE.

Todd made the astute observation that we didn’t experience sacrifice because our actions were in alignment with our values. That never clicked for me until hearing him say it.

Still, there is another layer to this analysis. Both my wife and I are natural savers, but that comes from a different place for each of us.

I’m driven by goals and purpose. I always felt that saving would enable a better future. This made it easy to save money in anticipation of that better tomorrow.

My wife is driven by a feeling of safety and security. Living well on only one of our incomes while saving the other fulfilled those needs.

She started cutting back her working hours about six years ago. Simultaneously, I was figuring out the technical aspects of investing and tax planning.

Even as her income dropped, our savings increased and our net worth grew considerably. Our actions remained in alignment with our core values.

Once we reached our savings goals, I was ready to move on to a new stage in life. For my wife, the idea of shifting from accumulation to decumulation is terrifying.

We realized the need to redefine retirement to line up with both our values. But taking this unconventional path in life is messy as we figure things out.

We’re in the best financial position of our lives. Simultaneously, we have more conflict than ever.

2. Change is hard

I’m fairly stoic. I can count on one hand the number of times I remember shedding a tear in my adult life. Yet on my last day of work, I found myself overcome with emotions.

For nearly 15 years, I worked at the same clinic. Like any workplace, it wasn’t perfect. But it was very good. I was the third newest employee in the core team of eight in my office.

The career I invested so heavily in, the group of people who had become my second family, the place where I spent the majority of my waking hours — in an instant all were gone. With that, a piece of me died.

I found myself unable to fight back the tears as I said my goodbyes. When I left the office, it got worse. I sat in my car and sobbed for a few minutes until I composed myself. Then I drove the whole way home with tears rolling down my cheeks.

Seven months later, we took the next big step in our new life. We moved cross country from Pennsylvania to Utah.

We envisioned our dream life. Living in the mountains. Pursuing our passions.

Again we underestimated how hard change would be.

Changes we thought would be easy were hard. A perfect example was selling a house we didn’t love. Still, that house harbored 15 years worth of memories. It was the only home our daughter ever knew.

Changes we knew would be hard were crushing. Most challenging of all was saying goodbye to family and friends.

It’s important to realize that when you choose something, by default you are rejecting everything else.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid hard decisions. Nor does it mean we made bad choices.

But no matter how well you plan or how much you prepare yourself, change is hard.

Read: There’s another option when the answer to ‘can I retire’ is ‘not yet’

3. Transitions are even harder

I didn’t anticipate the magnitude of the emotions that came with these major changes. But I assumed things would quickly get easier as we transitioned to a new phase of life. I was wrong.

When I retired, everything familiar changed in the course of a weekend. On Friday, Dec. 1, I went to the same job I had gone to for over a decade. On Monday, Dec. 4, I woke up to an entirely different role in life.

I had to learn how to prioritize my day when no one was telling me where to go, when to be there or what to do. I needed to learn an entirely new skill set.

As we just started to settle into new roles and routines, we put our house on the market and started preparing to move.

Life became chaotic. Everything we would take needed to be packed. Things we didn’t want, need or have room for needed to be sold, donated or trashed.

These acts took time and energy. The emotional toll was greater.

Once we finally made the move, we assumed things would get easier. They got harder.

Everything we knew was gone. The simple act of going to the grocery now took an entire morning of wandering aimlessly around an unfamiliar space.

We needed to build a social network from scratch. Yes became our default answer to every offer. In the process, we had little time for ourselves, our relationship and the activities we moved to the mountains for.

We’re now a year into my early retirement and five months into our move. I don’t know when we’ll feel settled. We’re not there yet.

4. You’ll never have enough time

I worked a standard 40-hour workweek. I was required to take an hour unpaid lunch. My commute was about an hour round trip.

Add it up. That’s 50 hours accounted for every week. Over the course of a year, that’s about 2,500 additional hours freed up to do what I want.

Darrow [Kirkpatrick, founder of the Can I Retire Yet blog] wrote a post several years ago about why you’ll become busier after retirement. He also cautioned me personally about not taking on too much too soon.

It wasn’t that I didn’t listen. Things just didn’t compute. How would I fill all that time?

A year after leaving my job, I still feel too busy. I’m waiting to experience my first day of boredom. I wonder how I ever got anything done while working.

A common refrain on FIRE blogs is you shouldn’t retire from something, you should retire to something. I agree. But for those with a Type A personality who is most likely to put themselves in position to be able to retire in their 50s, 40s, or for some even your 30s, this advice probably isn’t necessary.

Here’s better advice. You should retire to something, but you can’t do everything. There aren’t enough hours in the day. You still need to prioritize your life.

5. Priorities won’t magically change

When I was planning early retirement, my mind drifted to all the things I would do with my free time. I would definitely ski more. I had plans to write more and reach more people. Both visions came true.

Despite a substandard season for snow last winter, my wife and I skied more than we had in years. We also frequently got our young daughter out with us. Over the course of one winter, we witnessed her progress from skiing between us with hands held to her leading us down black diamond slopes.

I had similar results with my writing. I finished the manuscript of a book, which I hope to have published by the first quarter of 2019.

My introductory post on this site was picked up by MarketWatch and continues to be popular. In May, I was shocked to find another of my posts syndicated by MarketWatch on the front page of MSN.

But skiing and writing were already priorities. We always managed to ski at least one day a week and do a ski trip every year. I wrote my original blog for a tiny audience and making no money for 3 1/2 years — while working full time.

Other things I envisioned happening didn’t materialize this year. I’ve always wanted to be a better rock climber. I used my work and living too far from climbing as excuses for not climbing more and better. With no job and moving to the mountains … I climbed less than ever this year.

I also thought I would volunteer more of my time. By the end of the year, I’m embarrassed to admit that of my 2,500 newfound free hours … I volunteered five of them this year.

This isn’t to say you can’t change and improve. But to think priorities will magically change because you have more time once you retire is a fallacy.

Read: Why early retirement IS all it’s cracked up to be

Financial independence makes life easier…

We all think life will be better and easier after retirement. To a degree, that assumption is correct. Otherwise why pursue this goal?

When my daughter is up all night sick, it still isn’t pleasant. But I can catch up on my sleep the next day instead of having to go to work exhausted.

She recently had a Friday morning field trip. Instead of having to work, I enjoyed spending the morning chaperoning her and her buddies at a local museum.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Snowbasin ski resort opened. Our family was there. It was the first time I ever got to ski an opening day. I was always working.

The following Wednesday night we got nine inches of snow. On Thursday morning, my wife and I were on the first gondola for a crowd-free weekday powder day.

There are many perks to an early retired lifestyle.

… and harder

But there are also new challenges. Following the standard path through life provides a lot of convenient excuses.

If you’re not being the parent, spouse or friend you should be, it’s easy to blame your job. You “have to” work hard to provide for your family.

It’s easy to stop exercising, to eat poorly or to not pursue goals and dreams when you’re working long hours at your job. Who has time for working out, planning and preparing healthy meals or doing other hard things? After all, you “have to” work.

Many people “have to” move away from their families to find higher-paying jobs. When you choose to leave family to pursue a different lifestyle, it’s harder for those you’re leaving behind to accept your decision.

Creating financial independence means you no longer are beholden to a job or employer. This gives tremendous freedom.

However, with that freedom comes greater personal responsibility. There is no “idiot boss” or long hours to blame for what ails you.

You own all of your decisions. The only person to blame if you’re not happy with your life looks at you every day from the mirror.

No regrets

I hope this doesn’t dissuade anyone from following a similar path to the one I’ve taken. The freedom, security and options that financial independence provides outweigh the negatives.

Just recognize that financial independence and early retirement are not some magic bullet that will fix your life.

You can, and should, learn to be happy wherever you find yourself in your financial journey.

In some ways financial independence and early retirement will make your life easier. In other ways, FIRE creates new challenges that make life harder. Don’t underestimate that.

Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. This was first published on the blog site Can I Retire Yet?

More on financial independence and early retirement:

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As the third federal government shutdown stretched to a week, President Trump blamed Democrats for the deaths of two migrant children who were in U.S. Border Patrol custody.

“Any deaths of children or others at the Border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally,” Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon, claiming that the two children were sick before they were taken into custody.

Any deaths of children or others at the Border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally. They can’t. If we had a Wall, they wouldn’t even try! The two…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2018

…children in question were very sick before they were given over to Border Patrol. The father of the young girl said it was not their fault, he hadn’t given her water in days. Border Patrol needs the Wall and it will all end. They are working so hard & getting so little credit!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2018

For those that naively ask why didn’t the Republicans get approval to build the Wall over the last year, it is because IN THE SENATE WE NEED 10 DEMOCRAT VOTES, and they will gives us “NONE” for Border Security! Now we have to do it the hard way, with a Shutdown. Too bad! @FoxNews

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2018

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security said earlier this week that they have begun conducting more extensive health checks of migrant children detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. An 8-year-old Guatemalan boy died in Border Patrol custody on Christmas Eve, less than two weeks after a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl died while in custody. House Democratic leaders have said they plan to investigate the two deaths.

Trump argued that building the border wall would prevent such incidents from happening in the future. Earlier in the day, he tweeted that he was waiting in the White House for Democrats “to come on over and make a deal on Border Security.” On Friday, the president threatened to close the border with Mexico entirely unless his demands for a border wall were met.

The federal government partially shut down on Dec. 22 after Democrats and Republicans came to a stalemate regarding $5 billion in funding for the border wall. Since then, there has been no strong signs of an agreement among lawmakers. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are furloughed, and thousands more are working without pay.

Separately, the president remarked on Twitter

TWTR, -0.87%

 Saturday that he had “a long and very good call” with Xi Jinping, China’s president, suggesting that progress was made on a comprehensive trade deal. He also commented on the discovery of missing text messages between former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, arguing that their deletion constituted obstruction of justice.

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Investors say further clarity on U.S.-China trade negotiations, the Federal Reserve’s policy intentions next year, and a raft of strong economic data could finally give investors the confidence to dive back into equities – but that could be months away See full story.

Here’s a list of the 80 new store closures Sears has announced

Sears Holding Corp., which has filed for bankruptcy, has announced it will shutter 80 more Kmart and Sears locations. See full story.

Mr. Money Mustache: You can retire super early and have your money last for life

What you need to know — no side hustle required. See full story.

Netflix: Nearly one-third of subscribers watched ‘Bird Box’ in first week

For Netflix Inc., said Friday that “Bird Box,” a new movie starring Sandra Bullock, was viewed by more than 45 million subscribers in its first seven days on the platform, the most for the first week of a movie’s availability See full story.

President Trump blames Democrats for deaths of children at U.S.-Mexico border

“Any deaths of children or others at the Border are strictly the fault of the Democrats,” the president tweeted Saturday. See full story.


Most people know not to panic sell, but what other questions do investors have? Will they be able to retire? See full story.

Want a summary of the top news? Subscribe to MarketWatch’s free After the Bell newsletter. Sign up here.

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Sears is expected to close another round of stores early next year, as the bankrupt department store chain now tries to stay afloat via a $4.4 billion bid from its chairman, Eddie Lampert.

Sears told its employees earlier this week that 80 Sears and Kmart locations across the U.S. will shut by March, with liquidation sales beginning in early January. That follows the announcement of 142 store closures when Sears filed for bankruptcy Oct. 15, and another round of 40 closures announced in November.

It leaves the company with just a little more than 400 stores, which Lampert is now trying to buy using his hedge fund, ESL Investments. Advisors have until Jan. 4 to decide whether ESL is a “qualified bidder” for the remaining Sears and Kmart assets.

Meantime, Sears will move forward with shutting the 80 locations that it revealed this week, including one inside the Mall of America.

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U.S. banks and regulators continue to struggle tracking and curbing money moved through international banks and companies that ultimately is used to fund the North Korean government, according to a report in the The Wall Street Journal.

That’s because North Korea uses proxies with hidden government ties across the globe to facilitate moving those payments, according to the report.

North Korea is able to sell goods using a multi-step process, that starts with selling goods to an overseas company, according to court documents cited by The Journal’s report. The overseas firm doesn’t pay North Korea directly, but a third company as directed by the Pyongyang government. Then, a U.S. bank processes the wire transfer from the purchasing company to the third party.

The third company then pays a supplier for goods needed in North Korea, and the items are sent to the country without any money actually flowing through it, the report says.

U.S. officials also said North Korea is increasingly breaking its payments into smaller chunks to avoid detection, the publication reported.

The Journal reporting comes as the U.S. has tried to tighten the screws on Pyongyang to force it to renounce its weapons of mass destruction, even as President Donald Trump pursues high level talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Last year, the Trump administration signed an executive order giving the Treasury Department broader powers to sanction entities that are tied to these North Korea-linked transactions. Earlier this year, the Treasury Department also released information describing how North Korea uses deceptive labeling of cargo ships in order to facilitate the transfer of goods into the country.

The Wall Street Journal’s full report can be found on its website (note subscription may be required).

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As the streaming video wars heat up, technology companies like Apple, Facebook, Netflix and Amazon are willing to spend billions of dollars on movies and shows that they hope will attract big audiences. On the other side of the market, smaller niche services are testing out a more cost-sensitive model.

Dust, from independent studio Gunpowder and Sky, is a streaming service launched in 2016 that focuses on science fiction content. It spends less than $10 million a year on exclusive titles like “Glimpse” and “Prospect” and to license TV shows and movies including “Roswell” and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” It also has short films like George Lucas’ “Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB” and “Evil Demon Golf Ball From Hell!!!,” which “The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson made as a student.

It’s been able to attract more than 3 million fans and followers across various platforms, including Facebook Watch and Roku.

“We’re going to see a two-pronged approach,” said Floris Bauer, co-founder and president of Gunpowder & Sky, which has offices in Los Angeles, New York and London. “Huge platforms like Netflix, Apple, etc., they’re going to replace the traditional networks and then some. And then, you’re going to see hyper-targeted content within a very specific creative filter, brands which cater to a very specific audience.”

Streaming services for specific genres try to win with loyalty while they may lack in diversity. Fans are likely to be committed, meaning they’re stickier and will more actively discuss and promote the shows.

BroadwayHD focuses on Broadway shows. When it launched four years ago, it had 100 titles and concentrated its marketing in the U.S. But it quickly had to change its payment system to accept foreign currency because of international demand.

“People say they love Broadway, but have never seen Broadway,” said BroadwayHD co-founder Bonnie Comley. “We’re giving access to people who have heard of this brand but never have seen it before.”

The company, which gets much of its content by producing multi-camera recordings of actual performances, pays about $2 million a year to film 10 or so marquee shows. It also partners with Broadway producers, obtains behind-the-scenes content and hosts other exclusive materials. Broadway shows, by contrast, start at $20 million to create and produce, according to Comley.

Subscriptions to the streaming service cost $100 a year, or $8.99 a month. The company is also looking at other ways to create advertising revenue, including sponsored content.

Dust doesn’t charge subscription fees right now, though it sees potential revenue opportunities through distribution deals with streaming live TV services and other ad-supported viewing methods. It also uses what’s popular with its audience to know what short films to turn into TV shows and movies. “Prospect,” which was released theatrically, started as a short film on its service. In the future, it can also license these kinds of adapted content, which come with an audience already, to larger streaming services and media companies, Bauer said.

Even with lower costs, the content business is still risky. Specialized audiences can be tricky, and producers need some luck to find success, said Fred Seibert, founder of Frederator Studios, which launched a streaming service for its animated series called Cartoon Hangover about six years ago.

Frederator built a large audience on YouTube, but wasn’t getting enough revenue there to sustain its business. Now its shows, including “Bee and Puppycat,” the most successful Kickstarter for an animated series, are available for $3.99 through streaming platform VRV.

Seibert said he knows he’s competing with a ton of other shows.

“There are no absolutes in any of these media businesses,” Seibert said. “There are great ideas and great executions. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they do not. There are a lot of lousy ideas that are not great, but executed beautifully that succeed.”

One advantage to niche programming is there can be pockets of hardcore fans across the world, if creators are just able to reach them. That’s what Gunpower & Sky is trying to do with Dust.

“Dust is not on at 6 p.m. on a Monday,” Bauer said. “We’re a 24/7 global channel, as long as we find people who love sci-fi globally. “

Fees and ad revenue aren’t the only financial benefits. ChooseATL, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce’s nonprofit organization, created Thea, an over-the-top streaming service featuring local filmmakers. The service has more than 875 short videos, movies and documentaries across more than 50 channels, which garnered 1.3 million views over the past year. Creators agree to provide the content for free with the hope that revenue will come down the road.

Thea also helps attract new content creators to Atlanta, which can boost taxes, increase economic development and encourage the city’s growth as a creative hub. In the future, the group hopes to get advertising revenue from platforms like Roku and through other licensing agreements to sustain technology costs.

“The future of OTT is this collaboration,” said Kate Atwood, executive director of ChooseATL. This type of service is “building out a whole new journey, a whole new pipeline” for content creation, she said.

WATCH: What the streaming revolution means for the trusty TV

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