If you’d like to be considered for an interview, drop me a note and we can chat about specifics.
This interview was conducted in June.
My questions are in bold italics and her responses follow in black.
Let’s get started…
How old are you (and spouse if applicable, plus how long you’ve been married)?
I’m 61 — Husband is 65.
We’ve been married 38 1/2 years.
Do you have kids/family (if so, how old are they)?
We have two daughters, ages 31 and 33.
Our youngest has been married two years, but has been with her husband more than eight years.
Oldest daughter has been with her partner two years; he has a young son who’s autistic. Other than Kiddo, we have no grandchildren.
What area of the country do you live in (and urban or rural)?
We live in a very urbanized area — in 20 minutes one direction, we can be either in a city of 50,000-plus. If we head the other direction, 30 min. takes us a city of millions.
But we have chosen a very rural area snugged up next to the mountains. The deer come out at night and sleep in the pasture next to our home.
The third direction takes us to a dirt road past some rock formations, then a series of ranches, with cattle and horses grazing out in the fields. We have the best of both worlds this way.
Is there anything else we should know about you?
Husband and I both have Master’s Degrees — his is in Mechanical Engineering, mine is in English Language and Literature. Both from state schools; in fact, that’s how we moved here — so he could get his M.S.
We both grew up in small towns, with parents on modest incomes. (His was career military; mine was a small farmer. Both stayed married to their original wives/husbands until death. His mom remarried, and was widowed a second time before her death. Mine is still alive, though not in good health.)
Husband was in the Navy for 6 years before he even went to college; I went directly from high school to a Christian college, then on to the big state university for my Master’s. (Where I met Husband)
Neither of us was wealthy growing up. In my case, my mom made nearly all my clothes. Other than hand-me-downs from cousins, I don’t think I had a store-bought dress until I was a junior in high school.
Both of us worked jobs after school, starting age 15 and all the way through high school. He worked in the grocery store; I worked in the hardware store, starting at a princely $1.50/hr. Before that, I babysat a lot and worked in the school cafeteria to earn my lunch. (My brother did, too. Lunch, that is.)
We both speak and understand some German, though my comprehension is better than Husband’s. We both had French for years in high school — I tend to mix it up with German now, though. We also understand a fair amount of Spanish…and a few words in Portuguese.
How do you define retirement?
Husband defines it as not working for someone else. His 4-year retirement anniversary will be in Sept. 2020.
I see it more as choosing what I want to do — and when. But then, I haven’t completely stopped working yet, either.
How long have you been retired?
Nearly four years for him — and I’ve been slowing down the past few years.
What was your career and income before retirement?
Husband managed the IT for the transportation department in our county school system. (The busses have a system installed that automatically ‘reads’ students’ i.d. cards when they get on. It does the same when they get off. It’s solved all sorts of problems when tracking missing students, among other things like scheduling and timing.)
Before that, he was a bus driver (his favorite was special needs kids) and a trainer.
And before THAT, he was a mechanical engineer for a variety of companies. In our area, mechanical engineers often worked for military contractors who had 5-year contracts. When the job was done, everyone got laid off, unless the company was fortunate enough to renew its contract. Usually, it wasn’t.
When Husband was in Engineering (about 25 years), he made between $50,000-60,000 annually. When he quit that and started driving a bus instead, his income was closer to $12,000-15,000. Eventually it rose to $20,000 annually (about 13 years). His last three years at the school system in IT netted between $26,000-28,000.
I am a writer, so have done about any and every job you can think of. I did work for a national-circulation magazine for nearly 4 years, and a city newspaper for 2. I’ve been working for myself since 1996, teaching nationally, editing & writing articles and books, writing for blogs, etc.
I’ve also been a certified personal property appraiser for 28 years. Which means I don’t appraise houses and cars, or any kind of transportation — but about everything else.
Why did you retire?
Husband was having increased trouble with his boss in the transportation department. He saw the writing on the wall: she would just make his life more miserable if he stayed. (He had planned to work at least two more years, to beef up his pension.) It wasn’t worth it.
Ironically, he said she had tears in her eyes when he announced he was quitting…she finally knew the hole that would occur with his leaving, but it was too late.
I have started to do much less because 1) I don’t have to anymore financially, and 2) I get much more tired physically than I used to. It takes a lot of energy not only to teach, but to drag those suitcases through airports. I do a few teaching gigs now and then, but generally have gone back to relying on writing and appraising, instead. It’s much easier.
PREPARATION FOR RETIREMENT
When did you first start thinking seriously about retirement and when did that turn into a decision to do it?
I think it started twice: first, when Husband graduated, and we realized we still owed $10,000 in student loans. And this was with us both working, and him getting the G.I. bill all through school! We wasted a bunch of money eating out whenever we felt like it, going to concerts, etc. It had been fun, but I was embarrassed that we’d been so frivolous — and didn’t even realize it.
That was when I really started to read finance books and look into various ways of investing. It’s also when we began buying up savings bonds ($50/mo, to be used for our daughters’ college) and started working on an emergency fund. Oh, and we paid extra on the student loans, as well.
The second time was when Husband got seriously ill, during his engineering days. He was forced to quit — and for three months we had no income at all, except what I brought in part-time, working for the magazine. Fortunately, I had grown up living frugally, and had been practicing that all along.
Our savings were enough to get us by for those three months — then Husband had to work at SOMETHING. He chose bus driving. Little did we know that he would spend decades in the field…but it was clear to me that on an income that low, we had to make every penny count.
That was when we seriously thought about how we could eventually retire. We realized if we counted our time as precious as our money, and were willing to live on less, we could retire much earlier than nearly all the accepted experts at that time said.
What were the major steps you took from deciding to retire to developing a plan to do so?
- First, we took the highest deductible possible on our insurance — for medical, car and home insurance. (We’d sold one house and just moved into the second not long before the bus driving began.) I tried to keep enough in the emergency fund to cover house and car issues.
- We started an HSA account that paid for premiums and medical bills. This was deducted automatically from Husband’s paycheck.
- The school system had a matching program — so the highest amount that would be matched was also deducted automatically. (It wasn’t much, but it came out every month.) We took advantage of every matching program any of Husband’s jobs offered. (Mine never did, unfortunately.)
- We lived on Husband’s income — anything I brought in was ‘gravy,’ used for trips, going out to eat, Christmas presents, special purchases, etc. Even then, I put at least 10 percent in the emergency fund.
- We paid off credit cards every month — with only a few times missed. We used a lot of ‘buy now, interest-free for six months’ plans, as well.
- We only purchased items used — and only after a lot of research and bargaining. All of our cars, as well as our homes, were bought this way — and except for the houses, generally only with cash. (One time, we did borrow money to buy a car from our daughter — and paid it back, with interest.) We broke this ‘rule’ when we took out a loan on our last house — it needed renovating, and we planned to buy a truck and fifth-wheel trailer to live in. We paid that loan back when the house was sold.
- We updated the house itself. Instead of buying new furniture, ours were nearly all Craigslist, family pieces or from the thrift shop. (The one exception was the mattress, bought on sale. Husband had back problems develop from the bus driving.) We put money instead into long-wear siding, double-paned windows, skylights, a new roof and concrete driveway and sidewalks. We were fortunate to have a good friend with a concrete business, and found contractors we could trust for much of the other work. (Again, after much research — or word of mouth suggestions.) We also did some of the work ourselves — like reshingling part of the roof.
- We didn’t have a budget, per se — but in order to pay our credit cards off each month on such a low income, I was very, very aware of how much I had to spend on food, clothes and necessities. And of course, there was the mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities. Covering that hefty property tax bill twice a year was probably the most difficult.
What did your pre-retirement financials look like?
For a long time, our assets weren’t that much — except for the house.
We bought House #1 for $72,000 when Husband was still in engineering; sold it for about $125,000, which made a hefty down-payment on House #2… which we bought for about $162,000. Unfortunately, we purchased House #2 just a few years before our income tanked.
We did have a succession of Jeep Cherokees, all bought used and driven into the ground — or sold cheap to our daughters. We had an Outback, bought for around $12,000, driven for years, then sold for around $7000, to help pay for our youngest daughter’s wedding expenses. We did have a popup trailer/truck combo, purchased for $4000. (Both were eventually donated.)
And I had a textile collection (mostly quilts, handkerchiefs, costume, fabrics, etc.) dating from the 1700s-1970s, that I used for teaching and writing — worth about $15,000, but purchased for much less.
We had no debts, except for the renovation loan on the house. (I’ll explain this in a bit.) That same loan, about $80,000, included what we’d paid for our truck ($32,000, and currently our only vehicle) and current fifth-wheel ($17,500).
Other than that, we both had IRA accounts in the neighborhood of $12,000-15,000 each…plus several of the savings/stock-matching accounts Husband had accumulated while working for various companies. He had several. To our great surprise, by the time he ended up retiring, this all added up to about $125,000! The total is closer to $140,000 now.
What was your overall financial plan for retirement?
A large inheritance from Husband’s mom’s estate let us pay off the house early. That was a godsend, because it meant we didn’t have to scrape to come up with the mortgage payment anymore.
I continued to keep our expenses as low as possible: buying on sale, using thrift shops, growing our own garden and keeping chickens, etc.
All of our large purchases, appliances included, were secondhand. (Again, lots of research beforehand — and only items that had a reputation for longtime use with minimal repairs.) We had always known we would probably sell our house eventually — it was on top of a large hill, with an incredible 50-plus mile view in three directions. (Husband fell in love with it, which is why we sold House #1 in the first place.) But it had 7 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.
I used the downstairs for my business storage and office. (I used to sell a lot more things through my website, including kits, fabrics and books.) When our daughters grew up and moved out, we rarely used any of that space — so it just gradually filled up with STUFF. (I tend to be a packrat who squirrels away ‘bargains.’ Some of these have resold for quite a nice profit…but others just piled up.)
We knew we could get a very good price for our house…if we did some basic renovations. The house exterior was in good shape, thanks to our careful choice of siding, windows, etc. but the inside was still in the 1970s condition we’d bought it as, back in the 1990s.
We spent quite a bit — at least $40,000-50,000 — to have both bathrooms redone; new flooring put in one area, and the old oak flooring refinished elsewhere; new carpet downstairs; and the entire house repainted inside.
We also had some major garage sales and paid for four dumpster loads of STUFF to be taken away. (Some of this was my fault — but we’d also had a flood down in the basement that damaged a lot of items. They all needed to be hauled out, as well as the various greasy whatevers in our garage. Husband is also a packrat who squirrels away ‘bargains.’)
We knew Husband was eligible for a pension, through the state. Not only did he work for the county school system, but he’d also worked for several years for one of the state universities (his alma mater) as an engineer. This, combined with several years of service we purchased at a discount, was enough to qualify him for a pension at age 60. (He retired at 61 1/2.)
Granted, he made less working for the schools at the very end than what he could have for a company…but the pension has more than made up for the smaller salary. Honest.
I knew we could live on just his pension, if we needed to: about $2000/monthly. And we did — but we had several extra expenses (the house and Daughter’s wedding).
We tried very hard not to ratchet up any extra loan money, but it wasn’t easy. We also lost some money to medical expenses, along with Husband’s appendix (it burst) and gallbladder (taken out soon after). Fortunately, our low income qualified us for extra help on those bills.
Did you make any specific moves to prepare your finances for retirement?
We bought a fifth-wheel trailer (a 32-footer) and a truck to pull it. (The fifth-wheel came off Craigslist; we drove to North Dakota to buy the truck.) Then we cleared out the house completely, so it would show better — and moved into the side yard to live in the fifth-wheel.
Then we put the house on the market. Every day, we would sneak over to the house to water, clean bathrooms, vacuum, etc., then hide in the fifth-wheel during open houses and our realtor’s visits. (I got caught in my robe a couple of times at the house, and had to practically army-crawl to get back without being noticed.)
The house took a lot longer to sell than we’d planned — the realtor said it would go right away, due to the view and its condition. It really was beautiful — but not many people wanted seven bedrooms, plus a kitchen without all the bells and whistles. One contract almost went through — then the sellers canceled, only a week or so before the sale finished.
It took time to get another contract, this time to a large blended family who had loved the house from the start, but didn’t have finances enough to buy it. They talked her father into co-signing…and bought the house. They were thrilled — the wife said, “We have enough bedrooms for every kid now!”
Meanwhile, we were living in the fifth-wheel with our two (large) dogs. This was actually fifth-wheel #2; our first one had been involved in a fender-bender accident during one of 2019’s winter snowstorms. (We’d taken it to Santa Fe for one of my appraiser conferences, and had gotten home without incident — until the Safeway parking lot.) When it was examined, extensive water damage was found in the roof area. The insurance company immediately totaled it, and gave us 24 hours to get our stuff out of it.
We’d bought the trailer for around $11,000, but the insurance payout was approx. $17,000 — enough to cover a newer, fancier 32-footer. Which we also bargained way down — that’s what research and negotiation will get you.
We put the $125,000 IRA and various funds into one pot — and hired an investment advisors group to manage that money. Most of it’s conservatively-managed, but it’s been growing. We will start getting a regular check from that money soon.
After paying off the loan, the house sale netted us about $390,000. A big chunk of the house proceeds will fund an annuity that will cover long-term care, if we need it, then end up benefitting the estate.
We put our house up on the market in June 2019. It finally sold, thank God, in late September. We’d needed some repairs done on the new trailer, so lived with friends for a month while that was happening. (Fortunately, they became even better friends out of the experience.) We took the trailer to my mom’s for a few months, then came back for the holidays.
We weren’t sure where we’d go next — but another friend said, “Why don’t you come stay at my place?” So that’s where we’ve been for the past seven months or so.
We pay utilities, do some caretaking and help with chores around the place. In return, we have a beautiful spot overlooking the mountains and pasture, hookups to water and electricity, and we can use his basement washing machine/dryer and freezer. (We do have some things in the garage that have to go into storage at Mom’s, where some of our can’t-fit-it-elsewhere things are.) We do have an extensive solar power array on the roof that we can use in the future while boondocking, as well as water tanks. Right now, it’s easier to use the hookups.
One final thing happened with the profits from the house — we paid for a four-month world cruise! (And yes, we got it at a hefty bargain…about 2/3 off retail, plus a thousand-pound use account while on board ship. It was a British cruise company.) We left the trailer at our friend’s place, and the dogs went to board at our daughter and son’s.
We flew to London on New Year’s Eve, and spent a week there. Fortunately, we did that on the way there, because our cruise was cancelled in mid-March, because of the Covid-19 business. We were in Emerang, Indonesia at that point, with quite a few stops cancelled or changed before that.
Unfortunately, we paid for a LOT of visas and vaccinations we didn’t end up using. Fortunately, the cruise line refunded the month’s worth of cruising it took to get back to London. We’re still waiting to see that money — and the refund from the plane tickets that cancelled without telling us. And we were forced to put up in a hotel room at Heathrow for nearly a week, while waiting for the new plane tickets to be valid.
We were grateful to finally get home in late April…at which point, our daughter and son got us groceries, then met us at the airport with the truck and the dogs. Then we had two weeks of quarantine.
It wasn’t what we’d expected…but we learned a lot, and really had a great time. In fact, the cruise line gave us such a great price that we’re going to try another cruise, next spring — this time, the discount’s about 80%! But we’ve learned our lesson; this will only be about a month and a half. And we arranged for a dogsitter right after we booked the cruise. The refund on the old cruise should more than pay off the new one.
Meanwhile, the house profits are in a six-month CD that matures soon. We’ll put some in an emergency fund, keep some for paying for future trips, and buy that long-term care annuity.
Who helped you develop this plan?
We came up with the plan, but our investment advisors assured us that it was possible. (We thought so, but it was nice to have them confirm it.) Husband was concerned about the long-term care issue; our advisors came up with the annuity to solve that problem.
I was not as bothered by the issue – long-term care premiums are outrageous. My mother-in-law had paid for years on such a plan, only to fall ‘asleep’ on her couch, never having used a cent of it. I worked at a nursing home one summer during college, and it was a nasty place. But this annuity covers home care, as well.
I have been reading financial books like The Millionaire Next Door for decades. (Quit Like a Millionaire is my newest favorite.) We had already learned to live on a very low income. And I knew if we had to, we could put our hand to all sorts of skills and services. (Husband is an amazing fixer of everything from doors to plumbing to toasters, and I can mend, repair, type and cook with the best of ’em.) We’d already lived on less than the monthly pension amount — I knew we could do that. And I was bringing in enough side income to cover any extras.
What plans did you make in advance to leave your job?
That was the hard part — Husband made the decision to retire very quickly and, at least to me, unexpectedly. But we had already built up some savings, and knew the pension would start up soon.
We had a few financially-tight years at first, paying for Daughter’s wedding, house renovations and such.
What were your pre-retirement concerns (financial or non-financial)?
Financially, I wasn’t that worried. I was more concerned about downsizing from a house to a trailer.
Husband, due to his health problems, has been much more concerned about medical costs and insurance premiums. We were delightfully surprised when the final bill for his last hospital stay was so little. I’d figured we’d be paying it off, a bit at a time, for years to come.
We were not as concerned about all the fuss on Social Security because we knew, with the pension and money already saved, that we could get by without it. But we’re happy to take the money, if the government gives it!
Unfortunately — and this still bothers me — Husband’s SS total was penalized because he’d retired from working for the state. So even though he worked at non-state positions nearly 25 years, he still took a substantial hit for having a state-subsidized pension. (It’s called ‘double-dipping.’) He worked hard for that money, and I still think he’s entitled to it. All of it.
How did you handle deciding on and paying for healthcare?
We had medical insurance, until Husband retired, through the school system. It wasn’t great — our deductible was about $12,000. But it covered the really expensive things — like hospital stays, emergency room visits, things like that.
Then we had insurance through Obamacare, with premiums based on our lower income. That was better. I am still on this program.
Husband went to Medicare, with a supplementary plan, when he turned 65 in February 2020. But we pay just as much for just my insurance as we did for both of us.
We also continue to use an HSA. Paying pre-taxes always helps, even if our tax rate is lower.
It is critical, however, that I stay healthy until I hit 65, until I’m also eligible for Medicare. This is a very difficult issue. But if something happens, we’ll pay the medical bills, a little at a time. That’s what I keep telling myself.
How did you tell your family and friends of your plans?
We told our kids first, because they would be most affected. After all, we were selling the family home they’d lived in since elementary school. They were a little surprised, but generally okay with it.
Then we told my mom. (Husband’s parents are both gone.) She thought we were nuts. So, based on their reactions, did my brother and sister-in-law.
Husband’s brothers haven’t expressed a strong opinion; if you grow up in a military family, you move around a lot. And they were career Navy and Air Force. (Husband’s dad was career Navy.) They asked a lot of questions, but have generally been good with it.
I belong to a very large family of cousins, uncles and aunts who have no hesitation in expressing their opinions — pick a subject. They knew we’d sold our house — and for how much, thanks to Zillow. They also knew we were living in a fifth-wheel, because it was parked in my mom’s barnyard.
Mom, who has since gotten used to the idea, says that a number of relatives were convinced ‘the kids are doing this, because they lost all their money.’ She thought this was hilarious, and so did we.
Saving money is just second nature now — my dad was Dutch, so we call it “being a Hollander.” If they want to think we’re broke, let them think it. But the whole world cruise business was a real puzzle to them…it didn’t fit the impoverished notion.
THE ACT OF RETIRING
How did you ultimately retire?
We just ‘up and did it,’ as Husband would say. He packed up his office stuff and brought it home.
Within a month, we were actively planning what to do next.
Within two months, we’d secured the home loan, and were actively looking for a fifth-wheel or trailer, plus a truck to pull it. We didn’t buy that quickly — but we were looking.
We lived that way for a few years, gradually moving toward the house sale and the other events. But first came our daughter’s wedding.
Probably the biggest change was that, for the first time in my traveling career, Husband came with me on teaching gigs. He would stay in the back while I gave lectures and taught classes, and sell books and kits. He also helped me set up and tear down for these gigs. He began taking photos for my books, as well as when I appraised multiple-item collections. So he expanded into a co-partner for my — our — business.
And we often take our trailer; my expenses are part of my compensation, so that means all we have to cover is usually his meals. I can be with him at night, instead of a lonely hotel room. (Or he’s in the room, too!) If we’re in the trailer, I can sleep in my own bed, with our dogs alongside.
That was unexpected — but wonderful.
What went well?
Finding the right trailer (I should say two trailers) and truck, for the right price. (Although I still don’t know if we got suckered a bit on Trailer #1, or if the water leak damage happened during our ownership. But it worked out.) We also did a lot of bargaining and sale-searching…but that’s fun. (I also stopped buying a lot of extra ‘bargains,’ knowing that we’d be sizing down.)
We were fortunate that our new son was very good at construction — he not only renovated our bathrooms, but did them so well that the contractor on the rest of the house repairs was in awe. And Son found some incredible bargains — the 11″ x 11″ tile in one bathroom was only a penny apiece. He’s a treasure.
Our area has had very good rising real estate prices for at least the last ten years. It’s changing now, due to Covid-19 and all the financial uncertainty. Thank God — and I mean that literally — we sold last year. Zillow says prices continue to be sort-of ok, but I have my doubts.
What didn’t go so well?
The time…and effort…and money. It just seemed to go on forever!
Everything took far longer and cost more than we initially thought it would. (Except for the world cruise…which we saved more on than we’d thought.) The whole process of selling the house and downsizing seemed interminable.
How did you ultimately find the courage to do it?
In some ways, it was a no-brainer: I don’t think Husband could have taken much more of the office politics he was forced to endure the last few years. He truly didn’t care, toward the end — just wanted to get out of there.
I was feeling increasingly dragged down by all the things we’d accumulated. We’d had a water pipe break in the basement 3-4 years before, and lost a lot of business merchandise that the insurance company refused to reimburse. It was at that point that I realized — I didn’t care so much about the STUFF, as long as I had Husband and our kids (including the furry ones).
We could have made the first two ‘tight’ years easier by taking more out of the IRA/fund money we put in the investment advisors’ hands. In fact, we almost did. But it became a sort of game to see if we could get through without doing so. And we did. Barely.
We are both Christians, and take that commitment very seriously. Every step of the way, there was a clarity that if we trusted God with our situation, and did the best we could, that He would work things out. The whole experience certainly strengthened and refined our faith, including many so-called “coincidences” that happened at just the right time. This is still happening in our lives.
How was the adjustment, especially the first few months after retirement?
I LOVED having Husband there in the mornings. (Before, he would have to be at work practically at the crack of dawn. Schoolbusses go out early, after all.) He also became more willing, not to mention able, to do some of the small repairs and home maintenance he’d talked about, but never had time for.
During the first few months, we slept in a lot and watched a great many movies. Those mostly came from the library, since we were watching our dollars. If we went out to eat, it was Little Caesar’s or Burger King, generally.
How is retirement life now? What do you like about it and what do you dislike?
Life is much like when we started, except we’re now in the fifth-wheel all the time. (We spent the first few years of retirement in our house.) We have to be careful what we bring in, since space is limited. This has kept me from filling up again with ‘bargains;’ that urge is still there.
We also can drive each other crazy at times because we’re together so much in a smaller space. But when it gets to be too restricting, one or the other does errands, fixes things outside, or we watch a movie or tv series. (Shetland is our current favorite.)
We also go to see the friends we lived with — they, along with a few others, are unafraid of the Covid-19 business.
The rest of our friends, along with our church and our kids, has been especially cautious with social distancing. So we don’t get out as much as we would have liked to, after we got home from the cruise. I’m not complaining — this is just the way life is for everyone in the world right now. Hopefully it will open up much more soon.
The only real problem we have — and that hasn’t been an issue much because of the virus — is that we can no longer host a larger group: about 6 people, including us, is our limit. We also cannot invite relatives to stay overnight. (The couch pulls out into a bed, but it’s lumpy.)
We can’t store a lot of extra anything — food, toilet paper, tools, etc. Actually, given our mutual proclivity for grabbing ‘bargains,’ that’s probably a good thing.
I do miss some of my favorite books — and an overstuffed chair I used to read in. We’ve flirted with the idea of setting up an outdoor room to solve some of the entertaining and space issues — but haven’t done it yet.
What do you do with your time? What does an average day look like?
Let’s see… unless I have a gig, sleep in until 9:30 or 10 a.m. Get up, let the dogs out. (They like to bark at the deer, or a bird. Or the neighborhood fox.)
Make coffee, plus breakfast — always some kind of protein, usually eggs. (We’re currently on a largely protein/vegetables diet.)
Start work on something, or fire up the computers. Work on them through the afternoon, unless we have jobs that need to be done, or other commitments.
Supper — usually I cook, but Husband does, one night a week. He does all the dishes now.
Evening usually is a movie or tv series. (We enjoy binge-watching tv series, and where we are now, there are no stations. We have no cable, but occasionally use Amazon Prime we share with a family member.)
If I have a deadline, I’m usually back on the computer by then — or he is. We knock off around 1-2 a.m. (I’m finishing this at 4:00 a.m. right now.)
I’ve had a book manuscript due lately, and Husband has been doing the illustrations for it, so we’ve spent more time than usual on the computer. That will soon end — then we’ll go for walks more, and finish off some tasks our friend needs done, like painting the trim on his garage and house.
We also plan to do some traveling. (My gigs, except for one in late summer, were all cancelled this year, due to the virus, though I’ve had a few appraising jobs.) The dogs are bored out of their minds right now — but that will change soon.
It is a very quiet and peaceful life. Right now, with all the unrest going on, it’s been essential. But I do need to finish this book.
What are the major activities that fill up your time in retirement? Are there any new ones you’re planning to try?
We do a lot of the same things we did before, except now we do them together a lot more. Husband has the same interest in historical events, people and places I do. We like to explore those. He’s also interested in looking for some of the West’s greatest unsolved treasures — there’s a lot of them out there, and some seem to be actually real. Or really actual, as the case may be.
He still is not a big reader — but I am. He will, however, devour a book about a treasure or event he’s curious about. (I tend to read anything and everything — but that’s part of my job as a writer.)
We both enjoy unusual foods and learning about new cultures. We’ve had a chance to travel extensively in Mexico’s Baja, as well as Panama. And we’ve gone down the Amazon River in Brazil. We hope to do more traveling overseas.
We’ve been four-wheeling ever since we moved out west, and enjoy visiting old ruins and ghost towns. Husband is a hunter, and loves his big game stalking. We’ve enjoyed snorkeling for years — but I hope to get certified in scuba, as well.
I also plan to do some sewing – I’d like to make more quilts, including finishing the two promised to our daughters for their high school graduations. They may get them before they turn 40 or so.
I have not mentioned the music part of our lives — but it is important. For decades, we have sung and played on our church’s Worship Team. (We did this on the cruise ship, as well.) Husband and I both play piano and keyboard, and he plays the mandolin and harmonica. (I hope to get him a ukulele soon — he liked them so much on the cruise.) I hope to learn to play the Irish flute. (We have one — just didn’t use it.) We have a young friend who plays drums, and I plan to swap piano lessons for drum lessons soon. (After Covid — blah blah blah.) I may start teaching piano lessons again; a few people are interested.
What is your social life like?
When social distancing and quarantining wasn’t affecting it, we were seeing friends usually on Sundays, and often once a week, as well.
Now we do see one set of friends every other week, and others here and there. But we have not been to church physically since we returned in late April.
We’ve only seen our son and daughter once, and that was mostly at a distance, with masks on. We haven’t seen our other daughter and her family at all. I am really looking forward to life opening up in the near future.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I would have jumpstarted the whole getting-the-house-ready process much sooner. It took far longer than we thought. Not only that, it took a lot more out of us, emotionally and physically, than we’d planned for.
As far as saving and spending less on everything from food to vacations — I think we did okay there. The only thing I wish is that we’d had more money to invest in our daughters’ college educations. We only had enough to help pay for their first year each, plus a little more. That’s better than our parents could do for us — but still…
Was there any emotional impact from leaving the workforce?
Husband has struggled some with this. He was very proud of the work he was doing…it just wasn’t appreciated. He knows his strengths, and my own business (appraising and writing) has benefitted from it. He does all the IT work for my business, which helps enormously.
I feel a little sad that I’m not doing as many out-of-state teaching gigs as I used to. But I’m grateful I don’t have to do all that lugging through the airport much. It gets old, after a while.
What surprises (financial or non-financial, good or bad) have you had since retiring and how have you handled them?
I am surprised at how well our income versus expenditures have played out. If it weren’t for the travel earlier this year, we would be earning far more than we’re spending. The results of that are already showing up in our savings accounts.
I would have liked to have taken advantage of some of the stock market twists & turns – but we had terrible internet on the ship. And honestly, I was lazy, once we got back. I’m working to fix this now.
When he turned 65 earlier this year, Husband started collecting Social Security. That, plus the stimulus checks, has been a very pleasant addition to life. Now, if we can make ourselves spend some of that money…
What are your future plans?
More traveling!!! I’ve thought about buying a little cabin somewhere, that we could not only use for storage, but park the fifth-wheel at. Our part of the world is quite chilly during the winter months; we’ve talked about staying somewhere warmer. Maybe that is where the cabin would be…or at least some land.
We both would like to fine-tune our language skills. Maybe Spanish, since it’s so popular in our neck of the world? Or because it comes in handy when we’re in Mexico, or further south? We’ve looked into a combination scuba/language school in Ecuador that looks interesting.
We would like to do more volunteering, maybe in the area of music. Who knows – maybe I’ll write another book. I definitely want to do more writing online.
How has your financial plan performed compared to what you had estimated before retirement?
The conservative parts of the plan have been…well, conservative. But they have grown more than originally projected, and we haven’t lost money. That’s important. In general, I’m happy. We don’t need the risk that flashier results would demand.
I think I could have made some money, fooling around with the stock market’s ups and downs. But we were in a location and time that didn’t make that possible. We didn’t need the money, so I’m not terribly concerned. There are still opportunities out there.
I do wish that you could get better interest rates on CDs, savings accounts and such. They’re really awful right now – if you’re lucky, you can get 3%. Usually it’s less than 1%. Awful.
Can you give us some insights into your post-retirement spending and income? How much do you spend annually and on what? And where does the income to pay for your spending come from?
Basically, our monthly income (not counting my contribution, and rounded up or down) comes from two sources:
- $2000 state pension
- $750 Social Security
10% of this comes straight off the top, as a tithe. We use that money as donations toward various organizations, including the Bible church we’re attending now.
My work is cyclical – it can add as little as $50-100, or as much as $2000-3000 monthly. It just depends. The teaching gigs pay far better than just appraising, but entail more physical traveling and long days. I do some judging for competitions, too.
Our expenses, when we’re not traveling, hold pretty steady at $1000-1500 monthly, including $200 for medical insurance (me); $120 life insurance (both of us – soon to go away); $100 (utilities); $100 (phone and internet); $100 gasoline (diesel); $100-300 insurance, parts & repairs for the trailer and the truck. If we need to, I can hold our food costs to $30-50 weekly. Other expenses, like Christmas presents, vary.
When we’re on the road, that figure probably goes up another $300-500 monthly, depending on whether we’re moving around a lot, or going out to eat. So even when we’re traveling a lot, we’re usually making more each month than we spend. That doesn’t even count the extra income when I become eligible for Social Security, not that many years from now – or the monthly check from our investments.
How are you handling Social Security, required minimum distributions, tax issues and the like?
We’re not in our 70s, so the required minimum distribution doesn’t apply to us.
We take special care to stay under a certain amount of income, so we pay less in taxes. Our investment advisors keep an eye on this, as well.
As long as we’re residents, Husband’s state pension is not taxable for state income purposes. That’s nice, too.
Did you return to paid work? Why or why not?
I still do some paid work. I’ve tried to persuade Husband to take a part-time job, feeling that he would be less bored at times.
But he says he enjoys his free time too much. I think it’s more that he can choose to work when he wants to, rather than being told when.
Did you find it hard going from being a saver to a spender?
Ironically, we’re STILL not spenders! That really surprised me – I thought we would be. But the frugal saving approach is too deeply ingrained. Even if I didn’t need to, I would still check the clearance areas. That’s part of “being a real Hollander.”
Oh, and calling up our kids, or my mom, to brag about how much we saved. We also do this strange “poor and needy” business – if one person has a windfall, or a promotion or bonus, the others will call them up and moan about how “poor and needy” they are. Then we promise to send each other an extra nickel or dime in the next letter. Or dollar bill. I know – it’s weird. But we enjoy it.
Looking back, what do you wish you knew in advance?
If you’re careful when you start out, and you keep doing that, year after year after year, it really does add up. It doesn’t look like it will at first – but it does. Even on a lower income. We’re proof of it – and we’ve been living for decades in one of the most expensive counties in the United States. But you must be aware in all areas of your life to get the process to work best.
When I was growing up, my mom said to always be able to do three things well – because then you would always be able to find work. In our case, it was more than three things – but we’ve been able to use a wide variety of skills to help pay our way, in cash as well as swapping.
I should have done this more, instead of coasting at some times in my life. But at least we did it – and still do. And our children do, as well. That makes me even happier, since they combine it with largely frugal living. They also recognize what my dad said was the richest thing of all: having a reputation for honesty and good work. Your good name, my dad would say, is your most precious possession.
What advice do you have for those wanting to retire?
Keep up your skills. Don’t stop reading, researching, investigating. Don’t lose complete touch with your friends and/or colleagues. Don’t hesitate to send a query, or try a letter to a company, especially polite ‘complaining’ letters. These have more impact than you think.
Stay healthy. Losing weight at this stage in life is not nearly as easy. I know this from sad experience. If your body is aching for more rest, take a nap in the afternoon. No one will care.
Keep the schedule that benefits YOU. If you enjoy staying up late, and do better work during that time period – don’t hesitate. If you prefer early morning, do that instead. Just don’t let anyone tell you that preference is ‘wrong’ – because it’s different than theirs. Having said that:
- Do what you want – even if it’s different than your family or friends would. Grow a thicker skin. Try different things. Speak a different language. Many times in our life, our actions have been categorized as ‘weird’ or ‘nutty,’ but they weren’t immoral or illegal, and we came out better because of them. Surprisingly, we found that later we were even respected more because we had the courage to be different! The herd can go without your presence occasionally.
- Live your life with dignity – and treat others the same, regardless of their skin color. Be gracious and generous whenever you can. Speak politely, even if they are not. Ask questions – people love to talk about themselves. (Me included!) You’ll be amazed at what you learn.