One of the first rules we need to learn when we plan for retirement is that there are no rules. Retirement planning should always be in a constant state of flux. Why? Because the rules are always changing. What works or used to work for someone before may not work for the same someone anymore. There is no die-hard way to retire anymore. And truthfully, lately I started asking myself if I should have retired in the first place? How’s that for a rule changer?
We’ve been led to believe that retirement is the end all to end all. We’ve also been delusional to believe that an early retirement is something to be coveted and admired. I can make that statement from experience. I retired at the age of 50 and did all those ‘things’ early retirees get to do, like travel, sleep late and pursue hobbies and lifelong ambitions. What I didn’t know, however, when I retired early was that life was long. Very long. And after the first 10 years of my early retirement were over, when all the traveling I dreamed about was done, when every Lifetime Learning Credit was attended to and mastered, every T was crossed and every I was dotted, what was I left with? For me, it was one big giant let down. I did it all. I accomplished everything I set out to do. Now what?
What I didn’t calculate into my early retirement strategy was the longevity of my life. I always thought I was going to die young as my own mother did. She died of a terminal illness at the age of 58. I thought I was going to inherit her incurable disease. Here I am at the age of 62 and each time I go for my annual physical, no doctor yet has given me that final farewell speech.
For me, retirement is a final step you take before you die. By my taking an early retirement, in a sort of way, I was indirectly preparing for my own death. I was calculating my savings withdrawals based on longevity tables. I was wrapped up in social security strategies, debt levels, will structuring and estate planning. In other words, I was doing the sort of things one does before they die. I was traveling to Europe, skiing the slopes in the winter, summering the Atlantic in August, taking up sports and hobbies I always dreamed about doing but never did. I was fulfilling a sort of self-imposed bucket list.
Of course, we are all going to die. But my taking an early retirement was only exasperating that fact. It was as if I was waiting to die. What was the big rush? Why was I so discontented in the first place that I gave up working for a living and why was I so obsessed with an early retirement to begin with. My mother’s death may be partly to blame. Or was it?
When you’re the young retiree in the group, you are always the one sticking out. You’re always the one who doesn’t belong. I wasn’t making anyone jealous (except my working peers) and I wasn’t impressing anyone either with my newfound freedom. Most retirees I met, let’s face it, have been older than me. People my age were still working. Oh, I met several of my working buddies for lunch a few times, but we had nothing in common. I had nothing in common with my new retired friends either. There was an age gap hovering over me in both directions.
When I got together socially with my retired friends, I would sit and stare at all of them. They were all older than me and they were all talking about things that didn’t interest me in the least. How could it? I was young and vibrant. They were old and creaky. Granted, yes, they were wonderful people but they couldn’t do the things I wanted to do and I didn’t want to do the things they wanted to do. They loved the status quo. I wanted innovation and change. The biggest divide in our relationships was technology. I was a computer wiz. A computer to most of them was something their son-in-laws came over during a weekend and fiddled with.
To give more examples: I joined the Garden Club. It has been in existence for 108 years. Most of the members are elderly women who meet once a month at 1PM in the afternoon. They want the meetings to be over before it gets dark so they can drive safely home. They don’t meet in January or February because it’s too cold and most are in Florida somewhere anyway. Whenever I suggested a new venture to an unseen Botanical Garden or the enlistment of a newer, more innovative speaker who specialized in current trends in perennials, I was denied each and every time. “We never did that before and we most certainly aren’t doing that now!” was always the answer. After 9 months, I quit.
Same with attending Lifetime Learning courses at my local college. The teachers as well as the students were old and elderly, set in their ways and their curriculum reflected it. I was learning the past, which I already knew. There was nothing going forward. I only attended for one semester. Occasionally, I’ll look over the new fall’s agenda but nothing has changed. I’m not interested in the decline of the Holy Roman Empire. I discovered all of that history back in high school.
I bought an RV and traveled America. Since I did it most of the year, many of the people I met were either retired or unemployed. The “younger” campers had their children with them and again, I had nothing in common with them. In turn, I basically spent more and more time with my husband. And here’s the rub, he’s NOT retired yet. In fact, this is my 2nd marriage and my husband is 6 years younger than I am. That’s because basically, I’m a very young looking woman at heart so naturally, I would attract a younger man. He’s perfect for me because I think, act and look younger. So, the relationship is balanced. My early retirement however, upset the continuity. I have to follow his schedule whenever I want to do some activity. I have to travel on his working schedule. I can’t just up and go. I have to wait. I have to be constrained. And now that I figured out I’m not going to die an early death as I had planned, I’ve come to terms with the realization that my taking an early retirement may not have been such a good idea in the first place. I had gotten older before my time.
So, to get back to the beginning of this story when I said no retirement rules should be followed because there really are no retirement rules, here’s another new discovery I just made. Lately, I’ve been reading about the ins and outs of retirement strategies through Social Security. Did you know: Social Security’s Handbook has 2,728 separate rules governing its benefits. And it has thousands upon thousands of explanations of those rules in its Program Operating Manual System, called the POMS, which provides guidance on implementing the 2,728 rules. According to this article: 44 Social Security ‘Secrets’ All Baby Boomers and Millions of Current Recipients Need to Know – Revised! by Laurence Kotlikoff, if I wait for DH to file for Social Security at his full 66.5 years of age, I will get an additional spousal benefit in addition to what I am already collecting from Social Security. So, in ten years from now (DH is currently 56) when DH officially retires, we”ll both be collecting more than I had originally budgeted for.
For me, it feels as if someone just gave me an extra ten years of life! Here I was calculating our end, when realistically, I shouldn’t be thinking about anyone’s retirement at all! We don’t have to scrimp and save and do without in order to have a successful retirement. The calculations have already been done for us. We’ve downsized and saved and lived within our means. We’ve explored and puttered and have run the gamut. Instead of running around like a chicken without a head in anticipation of beating the rap, all I should have been doing was staying on course and not worrying about anything.
Now that I know I’ve got ten years more to live and relax before actual retirement sets in for both of us, that’s what I am going to do! I feel as if some giant weight has been lifted off my shoulders. For me, personally, it was a mistake to retire young. I think I lost a lot of good, productive years by doing so. I found myself a job again with another newspaper and I am back at work, making a difference by being involved in current events rather than the past. I’m back being vibrant again. Important again.
This weekend DH and I had to go to the Apple Inc store to have some minor repairs done to our equipment. DH upgraded his iPhone but a glitch in the download caused his battery not to hold a charge. My MacBook laptop needed a new skin since the current one warped from the heat of all the videos I like to watch. Both were covered under warranty and were fixed at no charge. As DH and I waited in the store for our repairs to be completed, I did what I always do: I looked around, took a photo of what I saw and made an observation. I was the only woman in the store with gray hair BUT I felt very, very comfortable. Here is where I was supposed to be. Immersed with an innovated, well-trained and courteous staff that were versed in cutting edge technology. Here were shoppers and users engrossed in daily life, keeping up with technological advances despite the expense. I overheard one shopper state her iPhone had gotten slow over the two years she owned it and wanted a brand new one! There were work stations set up to teach new users the ins and outs of Siri. Sales stations were visible throughout the perimeter of the store where all your questions were answered by an iPad at a touch of a finger.
You can’t keep up with the world when you are in retirement. Apparently, you stop dead in your track (no pun intended) when you do. It’s as if you are floating in time suspended inside some capsule and all you can do is look at the world change outside of you. Been there. Done that.
I’ve been granted 10 more years to live a full life which will make up for the 10 premature retirement years I lost. They’ll be plenty of time for me to putter in a garden, take a cruise or live on a very strict, self-imposed budget. If you’ve lived within your means, never incurred or have gotten out of debt and are living mortgage free, your pathway to retirement has already been cleared. Take your time. You’ll get there. After all, life is very long. Why are we in such a rush to get to the end anyway?
And so the beat goes on.