When Sam Dogen retired at age 34 with a net worth of $3million he vowed never to return to his grueling job in investment banking.
As a pioneer of the FIRE – financial independence, retire early – movement, he had meticulously planned for 13 years to ensure he had a passive income of $80,000 a year in retirement.
But a decade later, Dogen, now 45, is being forced to join the ranks of the unretired.
Amid soaring inflation and rising costs, he needs to go back to work to be able to afford his kids’ college tuition, which he has calculated could cost a whopping $1.5 million.
And he is not alone. Dogen is among millions of retirees who are heading back to the workplace – whether out of boredom, necessity or both.
An estimated 1.5 million retirees re-entered the labor market in the year up to May 2022, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by Indeed economist Nick Bunker for The Washington Post.
This is a reversal of the trend which saw millions of people fleeing the workforce during and following the Covid-19 pandemic.
And according to a study by payroll services company Paychex this year, one in six retired Americans are now considering going back to work.
Of those surveyed, who had been out of work for an average of four years, 53 percent said it was due to financial pressure.
The study also showed that of those who have already gone back, 55 percent said it was because they needed more money, 43 percent said it was because of inflation, and 32 percent said the main reason was because they feared outliving their savings.
Meanwhile 52 percent of those surveyed went back into the labor force because they were getting bored.
With living costs soaring and the rate of inflation at 4.9 percent – remaining stubbornly above the Fed’s 2 percent target – it is no surprise that Americans’ savings are being hammered, and they are increasingly finding they cannot rely on a fixed income.
Experts have warned that retiring too early can be an expensive mistake as you run the risk of a poorer retirement, or your nest egg being drained.
CNBC’s Mad Money host Jim Cramer once warned that employees who retired too young could ‘pay for it for the rest of their life,’ adding that workers were ‘betting about how long they’ll live.’
Fewer than half of Americans are on track to comfortably retire, after the pandemic and red-hot inflation hammered savings plans.
A report by the US’s largest 401k plan provider Fidelity Investments found that a meagre 29 percent of people are on track to cover all of their expenses in retirement, down from 38 percent in 2020.
Despite managing to negotiate a healthy severance package when he left the workforce in 2012, Dogen now thinks it was a ‘reckless’ decision.
With hindsight, he thinks he should have stuck it out until he was at least 40.
‘I now recognize that 34 was ridiculously young and I don’t think it was wise, it was more impetuous,’ Dogen, who lives in San Francisco with his wife, six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter told DailyMail.com.
‘Staying in work longer would have been smart as it would have given me more savings and more benefits,’ he said.
His wife also retired early from her role in financial operations, and the couple are concentrating on being full-time parents to their two kids – while Dogen has been writing about his journey for his personal finance blog Financial Samurai since 2009.
But he warns that this lifestyle means there is more stress and less stability.
‘There isn’t that security blanket of subsidized healthcare insurance, for example. We pay $2,300 a month unsubsidized plus many other healthcare expenses.
‘There’s also no retirement matching and no paid holidays. So I would say you’re never really completely at ease because there’s always these unexpected variables.’
One major variable is college tuition for his two kids. Dogen calculated that the maximum this could cost in 15 years’ time, given a 5.5 percent yearly growth from current tuition, bed and board costs, would be $750,000 per child – or a staggering $1.5 million for both.
He is is currently weighing up his options for what his next job will be. He has ruled out returning to finance, and in an ideal world would go and work for his favorite team the Golden State Warriors.
However, he is seriously considering moving to Honolulu, Hawaii, where his parents live, and becoming a grade school teacher.
He added: ‘I like to teach, and if you can get a job teaching there, you can help your children get into the school and keep tabs on them – and you get a tuition discount.’
For older retirees it is important to consider the financial implications of unretirement before taking the leap to return to work.
If you are over the age of 62 and have taken social security early, wage income could temporarily reduce your benefits – until at least you reach full retirement age, which depends on the year you were born.
Experts recommend deferring taking social security as long as you can as claiming early results in a lifetime reduction in payments.
But if you do start getting your monthly checks early, there is a cap on how much you can earn from working without your benefits being affected. For 2023, the limit is $21,240.
Once you reach full retirement age, however, you can earn as much as you want from working without it affecting your social security benefits.
Extra income from re-entering the labor market could also trigger additional costs for Medicare as higher earners pay a surcharge for some aspects of coverage.
These extra charges kick in once you earn above $97,000 for individuals and $194,000 for married couples who file joint returns.
Depending on your age and the specifics of your circumstances, you may be able to stop claiming Medicare and pick up a workplace health plan if it makes sense to do so.