Wouldn't it be great to call it a career in your fifties and spend the second half of your life doing whatever you want - with no money worries to get in the way? For many Americans that's the dream. Yet when you consider how much you have to overcome to retire early, that dream looks more like wishful thinking. You need a portfolio big enough to support you for some 30 or 40 years. You won't qualify for Medicare until age 65, and full Social Security benefits don't kick in until at least age 66. The only way to pull off this feat is through prodigious saving - at least a third of your take-home pay.
Still, this isn't a bad myth to strive to make true. With four out of 10 workers forced to leave their jobs sooner than planned because of layoffs or health problems or to care for an ailing relative, according to a McKinsey survey, it's hard to go wrong by saving and investing for the goal of an early exit date. If you choose to work longer, you'll have that much more secure an eventual retirement.