Q. Stan, what's a good age for a fit, healthy, financially prepared person to retire?
A. That's a great question — and one of the more pleasant I've been asked. Unfortunately, many Americans are not in your position financially as they enter their later years and must make retirement timing decisions based on money.
But as a retiree who is celebrating his 84th birthday today — Jan. 27 — I believe that what matters most for someone like you is not the age at which you retire but what you do with the weeks, months and years that follow.
So, as you make your plans, ask yourself: "If I am fortunate enough to enjoy a healthy retirement for 20 or 25 years, what will I do with all of that time?" Your goal should be to find a retirement activity that you will love — one that will energize you and provide abundant personal satisfaction.
I have known many retirees who have made many choices — all with their own challenges. Some have started new businesses. Others have volunteered to build homes in poor foreign countries or applied their energies to helping community organizations at home serve the needy. Still others have said, "I'm happy being retired. It gives me time to play some golf and spend time with my grandchildren."
There are no right or wrong choices — only the choices that work for you.
As you look ahead, remember that retirement has two stages. In stage one, people may be in their 60s and 70s, and still quite vigorous. This is the time when many travel, join exercise clubs and engage in hobbies and sports. Stage two, sometimes called the "danger zone," can be quite different. People are in their 80s and 90s and beginning to feel the weight of their years.
So, what is the best age for a healthy, financially prepared individual to retire? The answer, I believe, is: whenever you decide that you have more important things to do — and that it's time to start doing them.
Stan Hinden is a former columnist for the Washington Post specializing in retirement issues. He is the author of How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don’t find your answer there, send a query.