Returning The Magic To Your “Magic Number”

by on January 29, 2014

As your retirement approaches, you may find yourself with a financial tease: You are allowed to hang up your boots at a certain age, but you can’t draw anything from your retirement (without penalty) until a considerably older age.

That is rough. Like the legendary Tantalus, the things you want are very close but somehow still out of reach. And there you stand, stuck in a job that you’ve lost the energy and enthusiasm for, still with nine or ten years to stagger through before you can reap what you have so laboriously sowed.

But there is hope. You may be able to exercise a little creativity to get the best of both worlds. While you won’t be able to retire altogether just yet, you can execute what might be called a retirement bridge. That is, you leave your current position when you are eligible, then use a new job to keep food on the table until you can begin drawing your 401(k) or other retirement funds.

You’re positioned well for such a move. The volatile, fragile economy has many companies seeking some flexibility in staffing; that is, they would prefer to get employees with shorter planning horizons. With your experience, you can bring the skills they want without the seeking-a-career mindset of other applicants. That makes you more attractive as you apply for jobs.

Speaking of applying for jobs, don’t let it get you down. Maybe you’ve been in your present position for 25 years or so, and you’re thinking that you have no desire to start circling classified ads and making phone calls.

Relax. It’s not your father’s job search. You will spend almost no time looking at newspapers and will instead be checking IT staffing companies for openings. The application and hiring process is incredibly streamlined these days, and the number of jobs you can apply for will be much higher as a result.

There are a few highlight words you may want to watch for, particularly “contract” and “project-based”. Those terms will tell you that the company is not interested in bringing in a worker to clock up 40 hours per week, ad infinitum. Instead, they are geared toward someone to cover a particular project or situation. After that, they may renew the worker and continue him or her in some other role, but the only thing they’re promising up front is the term of the project.

That may not sound very secure, and to an extent it’s not. Project-based employment has a known minimum lifespan. If that lifespan matches with your planning horizon–say two years–you are actually more secure than you would be in other positions that at first appear to be permanent. The company will definitely keep you aboard for those two years, whereas other jobs could fizzle out unexpectedly.

The key is to be frank with the employer. Tell them your situation–just don’t tell them you’re sick of your old job–and state that you’re looking for some diversity of experience and some new opportunities while you’re still in the workforce.

What you may find is a job that provides you just enough years’ worth of paychecks to bring you comfortably across the gap between “you can go” to “you can afford to go”. And that is a real magic number.

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