Retirement: Phase I
I retired a little over two weeks ago. Not on a whim, but as something I’d been preparing for over a span of 18 months. It’s been an interesting transition in so many ways, and some of what I’ve experienced might be helpful to others.
So what’s it like?
The first thing you notice is time. How much you have now and how little you had when you were working. I’ve been employed in one or more jobs since I was 16, a span of half a century. I’m used to having to be somewhere at a certain time to do whatever, and fitting the rest of life into whatever hours remain. When we had children at home and I was working full time and often a part-time job or two, there was little time left.
Now I notice both the quantity and quality of time available to me every day. With the time to make choices, the existence of ample time changes the prioritization of the choices
One resultant change I had not foreseen is my attitude toward chores. I used to hate most of them and now I find them palatable and at times pleasant. Turns out what I really resented all those years was not the tasks themselves but the time they took away from things I’d rather do, such as write, or read, or hike, or ride a motorcycle. With time to do as much of what I want to do pretty much whenever I want, everything changes. Yesterday I spent several hours power washing our driveway, front walk, and steps. Could not have imagined enjoying that previously, which is probably why this chore was about a year past when it should have been done.
Your second revelation may concern how trained you are to work and to look for work. Since the age of 16 I’ve been unemployed for exactly one month, and for two weeks of that month I knew when the next job would start. Most of us have deeply engrained training to get up and go to work, even more so than for a specific job. Breaking away from that mental and social training creates a remarkable transition. I’ve come across all sorts of jobs I could apply for, and my first reaction is to ponder how I could do that job and what it would mean. When I think about it further it usually turns out to be a job I do not want to do. Sometime later it will occur to me that I do not need to apply for a job. This happens every day, and the only change so far is a gradual reduction in the elapsed time from when I think of a job to the realization that I would not like it to the repeated epiphany that I do not need to apply for it.
That could change in a few months if our financial situation proves to be not sufficient. There’s also the possibility that someone will reach out and try to hire me, although at 66 I think the odds of that are remote.
A 3rd consideration that will come into play are the family members you live with. So far Susan has been ecstatic for me, and appreciative of a list of household tasks that have been slid to my side of the board. Still, it bothers me a bit to kiss her good-bye each morning and watch her drive off to work with a jolly revving of the Fiat’s engine. I would think that at some point the working partner would resent the retired half, at least emotionally. For now, she has been completely positive and encouraging, urging me to take as much time as I want to do whatever, or nothing. I think my feelings here relate to my earlier training in work, and some manly man issues about getting out there and earning your keep. I’ve never been troubled by the concept of a wife making more money than I do, but the concept of my not earning any money at all creates a sense of guilt that I hope will fade quickly.
The overall feeling for me so far is a sense of luxury. Not that I am surrounded by gold-plated trappings of wealth. It is merely the notion that I can do many things today, or none, and either way it will be fine. I highly recommend retirement, in other words, if other considerations have been taken care of.
Oh yes, and sleep. You have probably read articles about how most American adults are sleep deprived. When you retire, you have some making up to do! I think I have slept more in the past two weeks than in any comparable two week period since puberty. I can sense now that I am “caught up” and can return to a normal life, except for the minor fact that I am in a new version of “normal.”
The stimulus for thoughts of retirement came from our financial planner, who told me well over a year ago that I could retire any time I wanted to. He based this on our combined assets, as well as the results of an in-depth interview about what kind of life we wanted to enjoy in retirement. Since we are rather simple folk not too likely to be taking up luxury travel, he ran our wishes against the facts of our status and computer projections for stock market performance for the next 30 years based on the last century or so. In other words, he was not just blowing smoke.
Or so I hope. If it turns out he was wrong and that only becomes apparent in five or ten years we will be in a sorry place, but I trust his judgment and data. Susan intends to teach for a few more years, so my retirement became a point of discussion to be mulled over at length.
I also did some casual research by talking to customers at work that were friends and already retired, and this led to some false assumptions. The good news was that ALL of them said:
a. Retirement is a great idea.
b. Don’t worry about the money.
c. Do it as soon as possible.
The misleading part was that I thought that when you retire you needed to be careful about taking on other jobs, even if part time, because if you earned to much you would end up paying a large sum to Social Security. That is what was mentioned to me repeatedly. As it turns out, this is only true if you retire before your “full retirement age,” which for people of my age is 66. It used to be 62, and has been raised a few times as those pesky retirees keep living too long and receiving too much money! If everyone retires later in life, they put more funds into the system and theoretically die sooner, restoring financial health to the system. Turns out that everyone I had spoken to had retired before their full retirement age.
The reality affected me in an alarmingly positive way. I sent in the paperwork with a projected “sell by” date of October 31st. The nice people at the SSA called to inform me of a few things. 1.) Social Security pays on the 4th Wednesday of each month. 2.) There is a 30 day delay. So, if I retired as of November 1st I would receive no money until after Christmas.
As I was thinking to myself “hmmmm…” this nice person continued. BUT, since I had reached my full retirement age on my birthday in March, she could back-date my application to then. I stuttered something about not wanting to ruin my benefits, since I had been working all year, and that’s when she dropped the bombshell that at my age I could make as much money as I wanted.
Still slow to hear the penny drop, I asked what this would mean, and she told me it would mean she would put about 5 months of benefits in my checking account in ten days and I would receive a check each month going forward.
Imagine calling a government office and receiving such helpful and jolly news!
The next problem for you to consider when you do this is that Social Security “benefits” are taxable. The nice lady never asked how much I wanted to have taken out, so I am now several thousand dollars upside down on my 2013 donation to the IRS. I can fix that with a largish check in pre-payment, but do keep this in mind.
It’s only been a couple of weeks, and another essay will probably be along in a few months, but so far it has been an interesting journey, and almost entirely positive.
Copyright 2013 David Preston