Retired early

by Tony

For some reason, I had the idea that retirement age is 65, so I just assumed that is when I would retire.

Over the years, my wife and I have lived pretty much debt-free and have therefore been able to contribute the maximums to our 401k plans.

I really don't know much about stocks and that sort of thing, and am really not particularly interested.

Instead of all the slick, fast talk about investing that we often hear, all I know is to spend less than I earn, and this has probably served us much better than all the financial schemes folks engage in.

The company I worked for at my last full time position, had their main office on the east coast, and that is where all the administration tasks were handled.

I received an email one day from the main office, saying that my 401k consisted of very "aggressive" funds, and that I should move them into more conservative funds. I didn't know what all that meant, but agreed to allow the administrator to do that on my behalf.

I asked if there was a local financial adviser who could handle this task for my rollover funds, and it turned out there is. My wife and I went to see that person. To make a long story short, at 60, the financial adviser asked why we were still working.

So, we decided to retire right then. I won't go further into the details surrounding our financial decisions because these are so different for each person, but I think the other aspects of adjusting to retirement might be more interesting.

My wife and I had long prepared for retirement by identifying the hobbies we each enjoyed and making sure that during our working lives, we acquired what we would need in retirement for these. We decided that we were no longer interested in travel because we had both done so much of it during our younger years and had both already seen much of the world as a result.

There were two major adjustments that I found I had to contend with in adjusting for retirement, once I actually arrived at that point.

The first is that, having been raised with a strong work ethic and having my identity in working for so many years, it was a surprise that it was difficult to let go of that. I felt guilty in not having to do anything.

The second is that, despite having carefully worked out our budget with our financial adviser, we didn't account for the fact that, when working and having that regular income and associated disposable income, we tended to spend money in little bits here and there, that added up during the course of the month. There was more of an adjustment in our spending habits than we realized, even though we had always lived debt free.

It has been very fortunate that my work career has translated into a comfortable ongoing ability to get contract engineering work for 3 months a year, working 3 days a week, that pays very well. I don't need to start a business or work at Walmart as a greeter. This was a pleasant surprise, and I have been taking advantage of this turn of events every year.

My wife and I are both involved in volunteer work, teaching English as a second language through our local library system. There are many non-English speaking new immigrant people in our area who are most eager to learn our language and ways as Americans, contrary to popular media depictions of this group of folks. Many of the people we work with are women whose role is staying home and raising the family. When their kids are old enough to go to school, these women then have the time to learn English and begin their exposure to American life.

My wife's hobbies are quilting and reading. She has a very nice sewing/embroidery machine, and a seemingly endless supply of fabric. She has made quilts that hang in the local fire department, her church, and she is part of a volunteer group that makes blankets for premature babies and other items as needed.

My primary hobby is music. I have been teaching myself to play piano on and off, and have played guitar for many years, even professionally many years ago. Rather than rock as many might assume, I play solo instrumental jazz guitar and also solo acoustic instrumental guitar. There is a lifetime of exploration to be had in these areas.

We have both adjusted to retirement and have a nice pace of life going on. I am starting a 3 month contract for this year, next week. 3 days a week is a comfortable pace, and the extra income provides a nice buffer for unexpected expenses so we don't draw down our savings too soon.

Also, working a short term contract helps to keep structure in my life. When we first retire, we are looking at time as if standing on the beach looking out at the ocean. What will we do with all that time? We can end up just wasting away, or we can engage in the many interesting things going on in our respective areas and stay alive mentally and physically. It is our choice.

Comments for Retired early

Click here to add your own comments

by: Wendy,

Tony, this hit me: " I watched and learned from those I have known from the "Depression Era" generation, rather than following the "Baby Boomer" crowd of which I am chronologically a part."

I did the same thing with my parents... I asked so many questions of them! How much did they have in savings when dad retired? Did they pay off their mortgage early? and on and on... They didn't have that much in savings when they retired, though they did own beautiful homes here in Michigan and purchased a condo in Vegas (post retirement). Their day to day lifestyle was fairly frugal and still is.

I am well ahead of the crowd, though I've never had the New home or New cars that my co-workers or family did. We purchased our first NEW car this year, 2018, and my husband is age 65! (and we bought it because it was a great deat, could sell it for more than we paid for it) Woot!

Kudos for bucking the norm!

Response to Anonymous
by: Tony

Thanks for the well wishes! Yes, I realize that many folks are not as well prepared financially or emotionally for retirement. It has taken several years for me to adjust too. My wife just seems to have fallen into it more naturally. :)

As for financially, we are definitely not rich by any means, but we have always lived within our means, and those habits do carry into retirement. Many people we know with equivalent incomes to what we had when working full time, have much more upscale lifestyles that include expensive vacations, large expensive vehicles, lake cabins, etc.

I have never owned a new car, always buying what I could afford, rather than going into debt. My current car, I purchased in 2004 when it was 4 years old (Toyota Echo built in 2000). I am still driving it today and it runs just fine. This is typical of our lifestyle - spend less than you earn.

So, though I attribute several important aspects of our lives to luck, I have to acknowledge that we simply didn't live the lifestyle of many around us. We lived debt-free, except for a mortgage that we paid off early. To us, it was important to be completely debt-free by the time we reached our 50s, so we could really pour on the retirement savings unencumbered. So that was by design.

Now, for those who don't have the same level of income we had, I am sure that no matter what some folks do, it will be a struggle to put much of anything away. That is why I made comments comparing like to like (folks with similar career paths and income that we know), where there are choices to be made. Not everybody in that situation chooses to prepare for retirement as we did.

However, in our condo association, there are several retired folks who had more moderate means and are still doing fine. Thee seems to be a very different attitude toward money in the "Depression Era babies", as compared to the "Baby Boomer" generation. I watched and learned from those I have known from the "Depression Era" generation, rather than following the "Baby Boomer" crowd of which I am chronologically a part.

With regard to preparing emotionally, I thought that I had done that, but still found it a rather difficult transition from working full time and being in responsible positions, to suddenly not having to work. There is a sense of personal value attributed to our working lives that we leave behind when we retire. I found that working a few months a year has helped with that. I think this may be the last year that I do that though. Technology moves fast, and I can definitely see the effect that the years have on me, compared to fresh college grads. I am definitely a bit older and a bit slower, and I am coming around to accept that with dignity. :)


Response for sherry
by: Tony

Thanks Sherry!

A lot of it was just plain luck, rather than careful planning.

I never set out to be an engineer, and not all engineering disciplines are in high enough demand to include retired folks. It seems almost "luck of the draw" for one's career to include just the right experience. Especially in large companies, people can get pigeon-holed and sidelined into obsolescence in the rest of the market.

As for having done well with retirement savings, that too was a lot of luck, especially since I really didn't know what I was doing much of the time.

So all that leaves us eternally grateful that things worked out as they have.


Lucky Folks!
by: Anonymous

It sounds like you two are in an enviable financial situation! I'm sure you realize that not everyone is so well prepared financially or emotionally. My wish for you is to enjoy yourselves and many years of continued good fortune and good health.

Retired early
by: Sherry/ NC

This is a great article and you and wife know exactly what you are doing! Cudos to you!
Y'all have a great life!

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Write Your Own Story Here (others can provide feedback).