Although most affluent Canadians approaching retirement believe they will get to pick the day they step away from their careers, in reality 41 per cent of retirees report they didn't leave their jobs by choice, according to a new report from Royal Bank.

Among the reasons they were forced to leave work early were employer request (41 per cent) and health reasons (22 per cent). But other life events also forced them into retirement, such as needing to care for someone else.

RBC based those figures on its Retirement Myths & Realities survey, an Ipsos Reid survey of 2,159 adults aged 50 and over with household assets of at least $100,000 performed in February and March.  The estimated margin of error on such a sample is  ±2 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Almost 80 per cent of the people surveyed who were not retired believed they knew their date of retirement, and 67 per cent said they would be ready when the time came.

20% got little warning

But among those retired, only 53 per cent said they were ready financially on the day of their retirement. About 65 per cent said they had a year of warning for their retirement date, but 20 per cent said they had one month or no advance notice.

The survey results highlight the need to plan ahead, said RBC head of retirement strategies Amalia Costa.

“Your retirement date may not be something you can control, but you can shape your retirement income plan to take the unexpected into account, so you are better prepared financially, no matter how much time you may have before you retire,” she said.

That means putting money aside in the peak earning years, when many couples have children who are independent.

Costa said it's especially important to check with a financial adviser five years out from retirement, to make plans for if you have to leave the workforce early.

How to cope financially?

The survey talked to retired Canadians about ways they could cope, if necessary, with financial difficulties after retirement. The strategies they said they’d be prepared to use:

  • 79 per cent, downsize their home.
  • 79 per cent, stay in their home and live frugally.
  • 44 per cent, sell other assets.
  • 38 per cent, borrow against home equity.
  • 29 per cent, return to paid work.
  • 16 per cent, rent part of their home.