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There’s the ideal, and then there’s reality.

That’s the case when it comes to the ideal age to retire. Lots of folks tell me all the time they’re hoping to retire by their mid-50s. They say things like:

  • “Things here aren’t the way they used to be.” 
  • “I’ve had enough!” 
  • “I want to spend my time traveling.” 

But as soon as people tell me they want to retire early, I get concerned. Most have a dream of early retirement but no plan for how to make it work financially.

Bankrate.com looked at what people think are the best ages for various financial milestones, such as opening their first credit card or buying their first home. Americans, on average, think the ideal age to retire is 61 years old. Here’s a breakdown, on average, of what various age groups thought was the ideal time to call it quits:

  • Millennials (18 to 37): 61
  • Gen Xers (38 to 53): 60
  • Baby boomers (54 to 72): 62
  • Silent Generation (73 and older): 65

“There is nothing wrong with having an aggressive retirement goal,” Bankrate.com analyst Amanda Dixon said about the survey results. “However, if you’re striving to retire early, you need to start consistently setting aside money for the future right now. Time will be your greatest ally if you can get into the habit of saving money while you’re young.”

The decision to retire before being able to collect Social Security or receive your pension — if you have one — has to be done with ample planning; otherwise, you’ll have a short-lived retirement.

“Make no mistake about it: A large chunk of working adults are way behind on retirement savings,” Maurie Backman wrote recently for the Motley Fool. “An estimated 42 percent have less than $10,000 set aside for the future, and unless they manage to ramp up, retiring at 61 will pretty much be out of the question”

Retirement blogger Craig Stephens put together a very useful retirement-readiness checklist for U.S. News & World Report. Go through it to determine whether you’re prepared to walk away from working.

Even if you aren’t ready for an early retirement, it’s a good idea to figure out what you don’t know before it’s too late to make any changes.

Your thoughts

What was on your pre-retirement checklist? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. Put “Ideal Age to Retire” in the subject line.

Retirement rants and raves

I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?

If you haven’t retired, what concerns you financially? You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line, put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

In last week’s newsletter, I asked: Have you had conversations with a young adult child about investing for retirement?

Barbara from Seattle says her children got early lessons about saving, including for retirement.

“I have two children, and both are college-educated and debt-free. One is in her 20s, and the other is in his early 30s. Throughout their early life, they were taught the difference between needs and wants. We paid for their needs, they paid for their wants. When they had summer jobs, I told them I would match any money they put into a Roth IRA. Both had Roth IRAs by the time they were in high school. It saddens me to see so many young adults in debt, and it’s clear some have never learned to manage money. It’s never too early to save for retirement!”

Kristen of Midlothian, Va., wrote: “My 16-year-old started his first job this spring, and we just helped him set up a Roth IRA. I showed him a chart that shows the difference between what you will have saved at retirement if you invest x amount for four years now, versus x amount for four years when you are 30, and he was definitely interested. To help encourage him to invest, we told him we’d match what he puts in each month while he is in high school, which also helps him get to the minimum he has to invest for a Roth at our bank. It is not a lot, but we like that he is starting to think about long-term savings.”

Denise Cook from Bargersville, Ind., wrote: “My husband and I have had many discussions with our kiddos about investing and the benefits of compound interest and have tried to instill some good money-management skills and a saver’s mind-set. That said, we believe that the money they are earning now should be used for college needs. We also support them using any of these funds for travel after the other expenses are covered. (Although I am sure we would wince at a spring break trip.) The goal is to minimize any debt, and then when they are employed, they would have more to put into their investments accounts.”

Laurie Brooks from Tigard, Ore., thinks it’s possible for teens and young adults to cover some college expenses and save for retirement if their parents are in a position to help.

“We opened a Roth IRA for our daughter after she had her first summer job at age 14, working at an arts camp,” Brooks wrote. “We put in the money that equaled what she earned, while she saved that amount — most of it, anyway — for future college expenses. It wasn’t a lot of money, so we could afford it, and it opened the door to talking with her about the need to start early if she hopes to retire one day. We’ve done the same every year. Even if a parent can’t afford to match their child’s entire earnings, they might be able to fund a lesser amount.”

Alan Homer of Mesa, Ariz., had a rant about the cost of health insurance.

“I’m 58 and not retired,” Homer wrote. “I have enough cash set aside for most of my future needs. The one exception is for medical insurance. With individual premiums being so high, along with yearly increases, it is too big a risk to retire. The plan is to work until I’m 63 and, depending on the economy, pay [health insurance] premiums until I’m eligible for Medicare.”

If you’re going to retire and have some gap years before Medicare kicks in, read this: How To Cover Medical Expenses If You Retire Before 65.

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