Will You Work in Your Golden Years?

There are good reasons to put off retirement as long as you’re in good shape and enjoy installing wastewater systems.

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Like the trades in general, it’s clear the onsite installing workforce is aging. Heading into 2017, a certain number of you might be wondering how many more years you can stay actively involved in the installing business.

It’s often said age is just a number, and if the body is willing, a tradesman can continue to run a successful business as long as he or she wants to. And perhaps it will become more important for installers to keep working up to and past the traditional Social Security retirement age of 65. Many of you are probably in the group of workers to which reaching 65 doesn’t mean collecting a full Social Security check. For example, if you’re in your 50s, you probably won’t be able to collect full benefits until you are 67 years old.

So you may love your job and have financial reasons to hold off on retirement. If so, you’re in a growing crowd. Recently I received a report from retirement planning expert John Eikenberry (www.eikenberryretirement.com) talking about how older workers are choosing to put off retirement. He cited a Pew Research Center study showing 18.8 percent of American workers are still on the job at age 65, up from 12.8 percent in 2000.


“Some people say they keep working because they can’t afford to retire. Some people don’t want to retire because they love what they do,” Eikenberry said. At age 68, he’s keeping at it and said there are many benefits — including the obvious financial incentives — to keep working well into your 60s. Here are a few:

  • Reduce financial stress. Eikenberry said one of the biggest worries for retirees is living a long time and running out of money. He suggests that even the cash from working a part-time job can help put those fears to rest.
  • Staying physically fit. How many times have you heard that the best way to stay healthy is to keep moving? Getting into the cab of the truck every day and heading out to the job site can keep your heart healthy, your joints moving and your muscles stretching.
  • Giving your brain a workout. Eikenberry cited a 2016 study in the journal Neurology that determined activity and mental challenges may delay dementia symptoms. “Talk to people in their 50s and 60s and you’ll see that does scare us. Work gives us the ability to keep our minds active,” he said.

As for the financial case for staying at work and putting off Social Security payments, Eikenberry said collecting Social Security early, when you qualify at age 62, can drastically reduce your earning power. Take Social Security at 62, and you’re restricted to earning $15,720 annually. After hitting that limit, for every $2 you earn at a job, $1 is deducted from your Social Security payment. The penalty lessens significantly if you wait to retire.


So maybe you’re not quite ready to sell the business or pass it down to the next generation, and you’ve determined to keep working as long as you’re physically capable and enjoy the work. But every year you recognize growing limitations to getting down in the trench and working with a shovel and a rake. How can you ease the burden and continue to run a vibrant installing business? Here are a few ideas for you to consider for the upcoming busy season:

Change the focus of your business
I have met several installers whose strategy was to sell the heavy equipment and transition the business to operations and maintenance. Today’s advanced onsite systems require more care and open up a new niche in the industry. An inspection business requires less equipment to take care of, less physical labor and may even get you out of a big service truck. I recently talked to an installer who moved into inspections and makes his calls in his dream car, a late-model Chevy Corvette. He might not make quite as much money as he did installing systems every week, but his stress level is down drastically and he stays sharp on the latest wastewater innovations.

Trim your workload
Who says you have to work sunrise to sunset five days a week and even stretch it into the weekends when demand is high? Deliberately decide to limit your workload and schedule accordingly. Maybe ramp down to three or four days a week and stop taking on work when it appears you wouldn’t be able to complete all of the jobs on your schedule. Maybe you can partner with a friendly competitor and pass on excess workload rather than make promises you don’t really want to keep. You’ve reached a point where many customers respect your work and reputation and you can say “no’’ or offer to wait and do the job next year.

Add machines that make the job easier
Find smart ways to ditch the hand shovel in favor of automation. Buy a mini-excavator or a skid-steer with multiple attachments to perform some of the challenging physical jobs you’ve always completed by hand. Rakes, drills and trenchers, for example, can lighten your load and speed up your work.

Find a successor to train into the business
If you run a family business, start turning over the tough jobs to the younger generation. They’re the ones with the strong backs and the enthusiasm to grow the business. Let them work the long hours in the hot sun, while you pitch in but act more as the supervisor on the job site. If you don’t have someone to take over, start looking for a prospect who will one day buy the business from you. If you don’t see that as a likelihood, another viable option is to put your business up for sale and offer to stay on for several years as an employee and mentor to the new owner. This way you can draw back on hours and give up some of the stressful decision-making involved with running a small business.

Retire to the office
So you have a crew or two you’ve led over the years? Send them out on their own while you stay back at the office and concentrate on less physical — but just as important — tasks. Improve your marketing program to land more work. Get involved with your state onsite association and push for better industry rules and regulations like you’ve always wanted to. Spend more time educating your customers or getting involved in the community. There are so many ways to build the business that you’ve always been too busy down in a hole to pursue.


Too many people in their 50s and 60s assume their business will be winding down and they’ll want to walk away to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Then many of them figure out that what they enjoyed all along was the challenge of work and running a business.

Over the years, I’ve observed that folks who are driven to build a successful small business are not typically the retiring type. They might try going on a Caribbean cruise or start a model-railroading project, but they usually determine they want to keep a hand in their profession as long as they’re able.


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