Sunday, June 2, 2013

Early Retirement-Is It Right For You?

My late husband was a man with more hobbies than time, and he had difficulty learning the word "no".  The end result was that he was a busy guy. He skied regularly and was a trip captain for the local ski club. He officiated both youth and adult basketball, soccer and softball. He participated in almost every community theater production (generally taking the one non singing/dancing role in a musical). He's been on more school field trips than I, the at home parent, in total.  He traveled and camped with the boy scouts. He and my son regularly played golf after work/school. In addition, we regularly traveled as a family (both on the weekends and for longer periods), and did the regular "family around the house stuff" on many weekends.

He also enjoyed his job.  My husband worked for the government (first in the military and then in the civil service) for over twenty six years.  Although we had begun to discuss where we would retire in depth (mainly because we planned to retire in Germany that required certain logistical requirements), we had no plans to retire early. In fact, my husband was planning to work past thirty years-assuming we could control the location of those final years.  With six years exception, I have always worked part time. I also was willing for our work lives to continue onward. 

While I have many regrets and experienced a great deal of grief upon my husband's death, I do not think we/he made the wrong decision. I do not go around asking myself "what if we had retired ten years ago".  In truth, while I love my life, I was retired at age 55 not by choice, but by my inability to find employment-even part time employment.  I left my job to take care of my husband, stayed off the job while dealing with the attendant issues, and always assumed that I would return to work at least part time until retirement age. In fact, much of my spending during that period was predicated on the idea that I would again be working (and saving).

I enjoy my life, and I find it extremely fulfilling. I am rarely bored and always have things to do. My life, as this blog shows, is mainly rich and joyful. That said, I would not have chosen "early retirement".  In fact, of the "early" retirees I know (in person or online), many have come to that place by circumstance and not by choice.  Again, this does not mean that their retirement is not joyful and full. Many of those "forced retirees" would probably not choose to return to the work place even if that chance were to arise.  Some would, happily. Of those couples who chose to retire early, most have been happy with their choice-on the other hand some have chosen to return to the workplace (or like me, start their own businesses).  It's probably important to note here that for me at least "retirement" does not equal "financial independence", as it does for some people. That version of retirement assumes that you consciously planned never to work just because of money again-and I frankly doubt that particular definition applies to all early retirees.

I enjoy my enforced retirement to the fullest-in fact both I and my husband are the kind of folks that retirement planners hold up as examples:  we both had multiple hobbies and interests, and some of those interests were joint and some were separate.  Our social lives were not tied to our employment (although living on a military/government base overseas does have some effect).  Even so, given the chance, I would probably have preferred to wait until at least my current age of sixty two to retire.  Why, you may ask?  These are my reasons,and my thoughts, which may or may not apply to you:

  • We started our family late in life. That meant that when my husband died and I became unemployed, I still had a child in high school.  While it's all very well and good to say "you are on your own" the truth is that ideally our children should at least be out of college and on their own prior to retirement (in my opinion). And pushing a child out of the house/and or giving him different opportunities than other children in the family simply makes the emotional upheaval even worse.
  • We believed (I still believe) in living in the moment. I realize that on the surface that sounds like the ant and the grasshopper.  Put another way, we were unwilling to live like no one else now (hello Dave Ramsey) in order to live like no one else later. Life is to be enjoyed at it's fullest in all periods. We lived in Europe for much of our marriage and the twenty percent plus that "planned" early retirees save was spent on family travel-pure and simple. Even with my current situation I have absolutely no regret in this area. My children may have fussed at being dragged to another cathedral or castle every weekend but they will remember it the rest of their lives. Almost every single weekend and thirty days a year were spent traveling as a family (and I fully admit that travel was not done via youth hostel). When we were not living in Europe we lived in Washington DC (by choice) with those living and culture costs. 
  • Working another ten years or less would have significantly increased our (my) bottom line, and allowed my son and I to have had a no loan (mainly) education. Having no dependent children, no debt ,and downsizing would have allowed us at that point in our lives to save a huge amount of income.
  • We both worked in jobs that (mainly) energized us and were not physically taxing. My husband did not regularly have to travel for work. He worked long hours during the week but was home on the weekends. Yes, we worked for and answered to other people. This was not a large issue and for the most part both hand good relationships with our (sometimes quirky) supervisors.
  • It is VERY difficult, almost impossible even, to change your mind once you have retired.  Employers rarely hire folks with employment gaps these days (if my son is having this trouble, imagine a forty five year old who travels five years and then wants to go back to work). In some instances, I suppose, you might be able to call your early retirement break a sabbatical or research. In the real world though, add current hiring practices to age discrimination and the bottom line is that there is no going back. Some of us may find part time gigs relative to our own work history or start successful employment.  Going back onto the career track for a few years?  Doubtful.
  • Even though our social lives may not be tied to employment, many of our friends may still be part of the working world. This is certainly true in my case.  All of my friends and all of my family still work - some part time and some at home, but they still work. This means that most of my day time or weekday evening socialization comes elsewhere (obviously my sister and I live together, but if not, I would probably not see her during the week). When I was in Texas, the gals in my swimming group or quilting group all worked or were at home spouses/parents whose partners worked.  While I enjoy socializing with all ages, this does mean that most of the people I interact with during the week (at water aerobics and such) are either young moms with kids at home or folks half a generation older.
  • I personally feel strongly that we have an obligation to be part of and to contribute to society as much as possible for as long as possible. I realize throwing this one out there is asking for more comments/emails than I my be prepared for. In other words, even if I had the money, sail boating around the world would not be the thing for me. This does not have to be tied to employment, obviously.  Still, the bottom line is that for every retiree who increases their volunteering time after retirement, there are as many if not more who concentrate on travel and personal enjoyment to the exclusion of all else. And the truth is, when it comes to retirement income, many of us are giving less than we were when working when our economy needs it most. Again, this is just one observation and I welcome comments and opposing viewpoints as always.
  • In many cases, we may have spent long hours and large amounts of money and effort educating and training ourselves. Sometimes that training may be in something we never really cared for. Sometimes we are able to take those skills into retirement and use them to our advantage and to enjoy them. To completely cast them aside though, to me is a mistake.
  • Finally, early retirement is often extremely costly. Why?  Because of that elephant in the room I spoke about last month. Early retirement medical costs for me are NOT a major factor, but I recognize I am in a huge minority in this area. Almost every early retiree I know (in "real life" or online) is paying a huge cost for leaving their jobs prior to medicare eligibility-in some instances they are paying close to their after tax income.  This is a huge financial cost, and for me, would severely impact any early retirement joy.
For myself, I have managed to forge a rewarding retirement life that includes enjoying my home, travel, volunteering and my own business. I would not change much going on in my life right now-except for my son's situation.  That said, for those who are considering early retirement, it's worth looking at all the sides and all the costs.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with working until sixty, or even seventy. 

What about you? What have you done? What will you do about retirement, or early retirement?


  1. I retired at 62 because of health issues. I really would have enjoyed working longer, but it was much too hard on my arthritic knees even though I had only worked part time for the last 4 years. I am also a person of many hobbies, and now wonder how I ever had the time to work full time! My husband is 64 and still works. He says he will retire at 66, but I'm betting that he will continue to work as long as he feels good. He loves his job, and has few hobbies. Right now the combination of his working/my not working is a good thing. We still have all the benefits (health care, etc), but since I have time to do all of the house care, we are able to travel more on the weekends and vacation during the cooler parts of the year (I was a teacher and had to adhere to the school schedule). I imagine that we will continue this way until it no longer works for him.

  2. Thats the kind of situation we would have had as well, as I was primarily a stay at home/work part time wife.

  3. I completely agree with you that when to retire from paid employment is completely personal, and I would never presume to know what is right for anyone other than myself (and even then I get it wrong sometimes!). I do believe, however, we need to be financially prudent starting when we are young, as life has a way of disrupting our plans.

    In my case, I'm never happier than when we are out in nature doing pretty much anything, or traveling to parts previously unknown. I feel more alive in those situations than I do in any other part of my life, and that hasn't changed since I was a child. I see my 76 year old father still exploring and pushing his boundaries, and I know I'll be exactly the same when I reach 76. Perhaps if you don't have that yearning it's difficult to understand, but it's real and needs to be respected, just as I respect those who seem content with slower paced lives that I don't always understand.

    At the end of the day I simply wish for people to be at peace with their choices, whatever they are. I have to say, though, I'm slow to empathize with those who are not. With few exceptions, I believe most of us have the exact lives we've created for ourselves over a lifetime of small, seemingly unimportant decisions.

    1. I agree that we all have different lifestyles and lifestyle choices. I will say thats it unfortunate for many that in this economy their choices are made for them. I tend to work and volunteer with many of those people and have one for a child. We are not always in control.

  4. Barb another great post! I am 53 and plan to retire at 62, but have to admit I occasionally fantasize about retiring sooner. However, with 5 kids none of whom are "launched" yet that is not feasible. I am fortunate to have a great job I (mostly) enjoy, and have been really saving for retirement since about 45. Agree with Tamara -- should have started MUCH sooner and that's what I tell all my younger friends and colleagues -- start saving for retirement young! Anyway, by working until 62 I will hopefully be able to get oldest 4 through college and pay off house (or nearly) before I retire. And, I will hopefully still be young enough to still do some serious travel. Anyway, thanks for your blog, I love it~

    1. Oh I certainly agree some planning should be done for the future. In my our planning included a job with a guaranteed pension (something pretty rare these days). Unfortunately much of my life insurance was spent on launching that last child but it was still the right thing to do.

  5. I have always said I would 'die with my boots on' - had no plans to ever fully retire because I really love to work. But over the last year or so I've really reconsidered, mainly due to health issues and I'm now planning on retiring when I'm 55, and working just a few hours a week, maybe volunteering to work with teens, which I love.

  6. I also have mobility and pain issues so I can certainly understand that need to slow down.

  7. I am in between Tamara and Barbara.I worked in health care and I HAVE NO MORE ENERGY to "give" 'to society. 30 years of giving was a long haul and I enjoyed it but I am done.

    That said,I am exploring other passions and some of them may actually lead to "working" a bit more.But with an autonomous schedule.

    I want to hike, bike,travel in the U.S.A. more .

    What is the definition of "early" retirement? Is it an age? Retiring before you have enough money to do so??? Retiring when you can no longer find a job after downsizing of a company?

    I have no sense of obligation to "work" for society any longer. I'd like to VOLUNTEER my time as I see fit. That would not be work.

    If I work at some of my passions, I still see that as more of a "hobby" at my age..I'd enjoy it and do a great job, but it would not be a "job" at this point.

    A very rich topic,barbara!!

    1. Madeline sorry to take so long responding, been under the weather a bit. I agree that working at my hobby is mainly not a job,and volunteering is a great goal.

  8. Great post. Has your son considered checking out what the state employment department may have to offer? Ours helps with resumes, job search and interview skills and has open job postings. It is hard to find a job without support I know.

    1. He has been EVERYWHERE and some folks are advertising weekly and he is reapplying weekly. if he didnt have a perfect record in terms of background, I would wonder if there is an issue, but I think its simply that he has been unemployed so long its a self fulfilling prohpesy.

  9. So many good thoughts. I was mostly a SAHM, but worked or volunteered on the side. We were older parents and never thought much about retirement and then when we did there was no extra to put into anything. I was diagnosed with an incurable cancer at 52. Was that a choice ? I don't think so, and I couldn't work or get SSI because I'd never paid into SS enough. Now I'm 60, soon to be 61,and in a very good partial remission. I found a part time job I love at our little branch library. Next year when I turn 62, I can get a small amount of SS and I will and hopefully keep working until chemo limits me. My husband will be 63 and is in excellant health,fortunately, but he will need to work till at least 70 to get the SS benefits high enough to still meet our bills. Right now I need his health insurance as when I'm chemo the pills are $8000 a month, with insurance our copay is $25. So sometimes life throws curve balls you never expected.
    When I was diagnosed, I did all I thought the right things, ate right, exercised,I had taught meditation for years, but I ended up with multiple myeloma.. . So now I'm trying to do the budget stuff, saving an emergency fund ... So ...I like your take on it all, and from many blogs, including early retirement .! Thanks.

    1. Christina again, sorry for taking so long to respond. I agree that it is as much about things we cannot control as the choices we make. I work with so many people who hae literally had things "happen" including a having sister whose newspaper went under ten years ago and who has had no real work since then. I think the best thing we can do is the best we can, and not judge each other about how we got there.

  10. So true,one of the big things I learned, but very simple,is EVERYONE has a story. It is not for us to judge but just share. I really enjoy your ideas, and you have a lot to share.!

  11. Hi Barb,

    I am contacting you because of your interest in retirement and your work as a quilter.

    I'm promoting a contest for a national home builder that is specifically for people 55 and older that I thought would be a good fit for your fans.

    The Greater Than My Age contest is for a new 55 plus community that's opening in Broomfield, Colorado called Skyestone, by Taylor Morrison Homes.

    The contest is open to people who are over 55 and residing in the United States. To enter, contestants simply share a short paragraph about what makes them great, including hobbies, accomplishments (big and little), professions, past-times or whatever they feel makes them greater than their age.

    People can also nominate someone else over 55.

    The winners will receive $1,000 and will be included in a national campaign for Skyestone in Denver.

    I am hoping that you can help us reach more people by sharing a post about the contest. The contest will be ending June 30, 2013.

    Here are links to our contest that you can share, Contest Entry Page:

    And here are our Website, Facebook page and Twitter account, so you can learn more about us.

    Best regards,

    Christy Stevens


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