Unretirement: Part of retirement planning
By Joel Dresang
In 2008, I was asked to write an essay for what was to be a sort of retirement keepsake. The book was to celebrate in stories, statistics and photographs the Hall of Fame career of Brett Favre, the Green Bay Packers quarterback, who had just retired after 17 seasons, three MVP awards and a Super Bowl ring.
But of course, then Favre unretired.
Much to the consternation of the Packers—and the book publisher—Favre changed his mind, eventually playing three more seasons, first for the New York Jets and then, egad, the Minnesota Vikings.
Unretiring is not uncommon, as Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady more recently reminded us. Even among more common workers though, retirement is a moving target. In a paper for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, researchers found that for every 10 workers who retire, one or two change their minds and go back to work after a couple of years.
With an onslaught of premature retirements following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College estimate that perhaps 300,000 retirees might soon unretire.
“Whether they are financially dependent or not, going back to work and being with people that they can relate to is a huge driver for some people deciding to unretire,” Steve Giles said in a recent Money Talk Podcast.
In fact, personal finances are not the leading impetus for unretirement, according to researchers, even those who specifically studied trends during the Great Recession. More often, they say, retirees get reemployed because life after work didn’t live up to their expectations.
Unretirement is an example of how the concept of retirement is becoming more fluid. Longer lives and varied employment opportunities offer more options beyond middle age. Fewer workers are just quitting at a given age and forever swapping a lunch box for a golf bag.
Fun facts about unretirement
- Nearly half of retirees said they’d consider unretiring for the right opportunity (the percentage rose among those who were older college graduates)
- Among workers 65 and older, 39% had previously retired
- 82% of those who returned to work after retirement said they had planned to do so
- Of the minority who unretired unexpectedly, most did it because retirement was less satisfying than they had anticipated
“It’s not about retiring because you never want to work anymore,” Chris Evers said in a recent Money Talk Podcast. “It’s retiring because your finances have given you the flexibility to do with your time what you want to do. And if that means working some part-time gig or doing some sort of side work that is meaningful to you, that’s what the purpose of retirement is in our minds.”
And though personal finances aren’t necessarily the motivation, they are affected by unretirement, which makes the possibility of reemployment another talking point in retirement discussions.
“I think that’s always part of the plan,” Chris says. “It’s an open conversation with your advisor or whoever is helping you with your retirement.”
If you expect to earn income after your retirement, figure that into the calculus of your plans, Chris says. Potential cash flow from post-retirement earnings or business income, for instance, could allow you to retire sooner. If you work again, you might be able to contribute to retirement funds longer or wait to tap them later. Unretirement could affect how you time taking your Social Security benefits.
“There are all types of variables that go into it,” Chris says, “but that’s certainly a discussion that you should be having.”
Thinking ahead can help you anticipate unintended consequences.
The book to which I contributed, “Favre: The Total Package,” went to the printer with a final chapter that covered Favre’s retirement. He announced his unretirement just as the printing had begun.
The publisher stopped the presses, tore out the retirement chapter and replaced it with a quickly compiled guide to Favre memorabilia—including a ceramic mug in the shape of Favre’s head.
At that point, the publisher would have lost more money by scrapping the project than going ahead with the 20,000-book production and recovering what it could through sales. The list price was $19.99. I recently found $4 copies available on Amazon.
Come to think of it, Favre had a knack for faking a handoff.
How (and When) to Unretire, from The Balance Careers
Many Americans Try Retirement, Then Change Their Minds, from The New York Times
Planning retirement via Social Security, a Money Talk Video with Lisa Lewitzke
Retirement 101: Having a plan, a Money Talk Video with Tom Pappenfus
Having the confidence to retire, a Money Talk Video with Art Rothschild
(initially posted March 31, 2022)
Landaas newsletter subscribers return to the newsletter via e-mail.