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Here's What People Are Willing to Give Up in Order to Retire Early

Katie Brockman, The Motley Fool

One-third of baby boomers say they don't expect to retire until age 70 or beyond -- or perhaps never retire at all -- according to a survey from the Insured Retirement Institute. Furthermore, nearly half of boomers surveyed said they don't have a dime saved for retirement.

That can be a disheartening thought for those who can't wait for retirement. Unless you're passionate about your career and truly enjoy working, most people are eager to retire as soon as they realistically can.

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Saving enough to retire at the traditional retirement age is challenging enough, but if you want to retire early, you'll need to make some serious sacrifices. Not only do you have less time to save by retiring early, but you also are going to spend more time in retirement -- so your savings need to last even longer.

That said, it is possible to retire early, even if you're not among the super-wealthy 1%. However, you'll need to be willing to make some big lifestyle changes.

What it takes to live the early retirement dream

If you want to retire early, you'll need to do more than simply cut a few expenses here and there. Not everyone will be willing or able to make these types of sacrifices, but it will be up to you to decide how important early retirement is.

When asked what they'd be willing to do to retire a decade early, more than a third of workers say they would cut their budget down to the bare bones and spend only on costs that were absolutely necessary, according to a survey from FinanceBuzz. Another third said they would pick up a second or third job to save more, approximately 12% said they'd be willing to forgo having children, and 11% would give up their pets. Only 6% of respondents said they would be willing to give up their car.

However, even among those who are willing to make sacrifices, many of them don't believe their goals are actually achievable. Although the most common desired retirement age is age 50, according to the FinanceBuzz survey, most respondents said they realistically wouldn't retire until age 65. When asked what obstacles were keeping them from achieving their retirement goals, the most common response was that they weren't earning enough money.

If you're not earning a sky-high salary, it can be tougher to save enough to retire in your 50s, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. If you start saving early enough, and you're willing to make sacrifices to maximize your savings, you can potentially achieve your dream of early retirement.

To figure out how much you'd need to save to retire early, your best bet is to use a retirement calculator. Think about how much money you expect to need each year in retirement, as well as how long you expect retirement to last. Those two numbers will significantly impact how much you need to save, so the more accurate your estimates are, the more accurate your results from the calculator will be.

When you first see your results, try not to get caught up in the sticker shock. You'll likely need to save well over $1 million to retire in your 50s, which may mean saving several hundred or even thousands of dollars each month to reach that goal. But again, if you're willing to make sacrifices and you start saving early, you may be able to save enough.

Other considerations when retiring early

Simply saving enough money isn't the only thing you need to consider when retiring early. There are other factors, such as healthcare and Social Security, that can significantly impact your retirement.

You won't be eligible for Medicare until age 65, so if you retire before then, you'll need to find another source of healthcare coverage -- because going without health insurance jeopardizes your retirement fund, as it will be quickly drained if you're in an accident or you're diagnosed with an expensive illness. Buying health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace is typically much more expensive than receiving coverage through your employer (especially if you're buying coverage for your whole family), so you may need to budget a lot more money each month to go toward insurance in retirement.

Social Security benefits are another factor to consider before you retire early. The earliest you can claim Social Security is age 62, so until then you'll need to survive on your personal savings alone. Then if you start claiming benefits at 62, you'll receive less each month than you would by waiting until your full retirement age (which is either age 66, 67, or somewhere in between depending on your birthday) to claim.

Furthermore, your Social Security benefits may be reduced if you don't work for 35 full years. Your benefit amount is based on an average of your 35 highest-earning working years, so if you don't end up working at least 35 years, you'll have zeros factored into the calculation for every year you didn't earn any income. Those zeros weigh down your average, thus lowering the amount you receive in benefits.

Finally, you'll need to consider where you're going to withdraw your savings from when you retire. Because you can't rely on Social Security benefits until at least age 62, your retirement income will likely need to come from your personal savings. But if your money is stashed in a 401(k) or traditional IRA, you'll need to pay a 10% penalty on any withdrawals you make before age 59 1/2. With a Roth IRA, you can withdraw any of your original contributions penalty-free, but you'll still face a fee for withdrawing any of the earnings on those original investments if you withdraw before age 59 1/2.

Early retirement is a dream for many, but achieving it isn't easy. It requires decades of careful planning, and you'll likely need to make significant sacrifices to reach your goal. But if you're willing to make those sacrifices, you can spend several decades living the retirement lifestyle you've always wanted.

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