Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 544 When should I retire?

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

When should I retire is a question we all consider if we are lucky. I wrote about this topic in the very first podcast of Retirement Talk. It seemed fitting. That was over ten years ago. I'm wondering If my thinking may have changed. I hope I've learned something during this period.

Long ago, my friend, Glen died at age 39: brain tumor. He never had to consider the question of when he should retire. That can happen to anyone. Death is an equal opportunity employer. It can come very unexpectedly. I read a book one time on dying and it said that no matter how you think you are going to die you will most probably die from something else at some other time. It is a hard to predict. That is one of the factors that make choosing when to retire so difficult. If we knew life would end within a week, a few months or a few short years it would simplify the decision. If we knew; but we don't - and that makes all the difference.

Some good friends just retired three years ago. He wanted to quit work because it was just so draining and had starting to become boring. He was a teacher of English and the hours spent reading papers and doing a thorough job was becoming too demanding. Life was filled with stress.
His wife loved her job working in a supply department at an oil refinery. Though a college graduate she had found this job right out of college and fell in love with the physical aspects of it and the excellent working conditions. She turned it into a career and would have stayed a bit longer but decided to retire at the same time as her husband. They are around 60. They felt no need financially to continue work.

It seems to have worked out well. They love being retired. Last week they had us over for lunch and they talked of their love of being spontaneous. They talked of taking a trip  driving or flying perhaps in the morning. We left around 2pm and around seven that very evening we got an email from them that they were in Salem, Oregon - over three hundred miles south of us.
What I have learned over the past ten years is that there are a myriad of reasons to retire just as their are many reasons to continue working. Each situation carries it's own specifics.

When my friend Glen died at age 39 it raised a red flag for me. My father had died of a heart attack at age 52. I had reason to expect a similar fate.  When the State of Alaska offered us an early retirement package in the late eighties we took it. I had taught philosophy for almost 20 years.  It made me very conscious of the importance of time in consideration of what one did with one's life. We loved our jobs and our life in Alaska but realized that our time was absolutely limited. I was 44 and Brenda was 41. We jumped ship.

We got lucky. We didn't die early. We are now entering our 31st year of retirement. We have never been sorry for our decision and we have never entertained the idea of getting another job. I did have to work once for a very short time in a part time position to qualify us for social security and the benefits that come with it in the form of medicare. I fulfilled the requirement at the basic minimum and that was all.

We have never lacked for something to do. Our financial condition seemed to stay pretty much even. We live as well or better than we ever did while we were employed. We have always tried to live by the motto of spending less than we make. It has worked for us

Our world has certainly expanded in so many different ways  Though we loved Alaska and teaching we found a new home in the Pacific Northwest. Many varied activities and interest have emerged that fill our lives. Our days are never dull and certainly not empty. Would we recommend retirement at first opportunity? Based on our experience - in a heartbeat.

Two of our old friends retired from teaching and then went right back to work in different jobs: one as an art gallery owner and art teacher at a university and one as an administrator for the National Education Association. They didn't really retire. They just changing jobs. I think that is fair to say. They each seem to like what they are doing.

I know one neighbor who seems lost since he retired. He can't seem to make up his mind as to what he wants to do. It has been perhaps a ten years and he still seems to hang his head. I don't know the details. Perhaps he has been that way all of his life.

When we retire we just don't know what the future will hold. This is when the word 'luck' pops into my mind. Hopefully luck will follow you all the days of your life. Will we enjoy a few good days or years and then come to the end of the line?  Or will our time stretch out before us and allow for many years of retired living? We hope for the latter. Luck has to play a role.

Will our retirement dollar hold up over the years remaining? This question can never be answered definitively. We felt like we could bet on our health insurance since the State of Alaska guaranteed it in our retirement package. So far the state has not gone bankrupt and reneged on our policy. This is one area where we were very lucky. Our health has continued to flourish. We find ourselves not only capable of getting around but we can enjoy life most of the time - except for long flights - those just drive me over the edge.  

Just today an old acquaintance stopped by our coffee shop. She was divorced at 38. Entered law school at 40. And at age 78 is still practicing law and loving it. She waved as she left our little table and laughingly said, “I will never retire”.

All of these issued need to be considered when contemplating retirement. This is one of those times when we have to think for ourselves and act for ourselves. No one can do it for us.

I gave this topic much more attention in earlier episodes of this program. You might want to listen to few programs from 2007. They are more detailed and philosophical.

This is Retirement Talk.

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