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The year Freedom 55 became Freedom 75 ... or Freedom Never Add to ...

As 2010 winds to a close, I've been looking back on the year and thinking about the stories that made headlines in the world of personal finance. This blog spotlighted many of them. From mortgages and record-low interest rates to rising household debt and job insecurity, Home Cents covered a lot of ground and often provoked reader debate.

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One entry that really captured the ire of readers was a June column entitled Why You Shouldn't Retire Early. It was inspired by a survey that found Canadians were becoming less confident that their retirement savings will soon recover the losses suffered during the recession.

"We're living in a different world now, where once-cushy nest eggs have developed deep cracks that will take a long time to heal," I wrote. "It may be time to rethink what retirement will look like for most of us."

It certainly wasn't an original thought. From financial blogs to the hallowed pages of the Wall Street Journal, the question was asked: Will we ever have enough money to retire? 2010 was the year in which even the most optimistic among us began to wonder if we would remain working stiffs until we were stiffs ourselves.

Being a "glass half-full" kind of person, I suggested that perhaps working longer wasn't so terrible. It would give us a feeling of purpose and meaning later on in life, right? But for those who had made Freedom 55 their mantra, it was an anathematic statement.

Rocky 2345 commented: "Every time I read the obituary or death notice of some guy in his late 50s or early 60s, I know I did the right thing by cutting back on my workload in my early 50s and leaving the workforce entirely some six years later. Most people don't have the option of cutting back their workweek to only one or two days a week and most employers are still not interested in hiring people over 55 or 60. The recent death of a 57-year-old 'Bay Street executive' is another reminder that I made the right move over five years ago."

While most posters were on Rocky 2345's side, other readers did not balk at the thought of delayed retirement.

Here's what Ergo Sum wrote: "I am an emeritus professor. My university had no specified retirement age whatever, but for personal reasons I decided to take my retirement at 67. Of course there is absolutely no reason why I could not resume my career now that I am 83 and as fit and healthy as ever. Many colleagues in Europe still work into their nineties."

The professor may be on to a trend.

I've recently read two interesting books about the future of work and retirement. In the first, Stayin' Alive, author Michael Adams looks at the ageing baby boomer population, a group that enjoys more relative health than any generation preceding them. With longer life expectancies, boomers' savings, along with the public pension system, may become strained. This cohort's longevity is actually driving parliamentary discussions of raising the mandatory age of retirement. "Is it practical, or even desirable, to fund a large cohort of people for 30 idle years between the day they retire and the day they die?" he asks. "Although cutting retirement benefits is undoubtedly a possibility in the years to come … I suspect that changes in our health and in society's expectations about later life will simply lead us to work longer."

In her book You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready?, Lyndsay Green interviewed 40 seniors in their retirement residences and came to realize that many were still enjoying work well past the age of 65. Even before the recession, she says, a growing number of Canadian seniors were postponing retirement because they appreciate the income and want to stay mentally stimulated. She quotes Benjamin Franklin: "There is nothing wrong with retirement - as long as it doesn't interfere with one's work."

Here's hoping that 2011 returns all of your nest eggs to their former glory. But the lesson of 2010 may be we shouldn't count our nest eggs before they hatch and that, just perhaps, work after age 65 isn't so bad after all.

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