Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 782  When should I retire?

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 15 years ago. I'm wondering If my thinking may have changed. I hope I've learned something during this period.

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

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 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: He within the last week and she within the last three months. He wanted to quit work because it was just so draining and 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. We will see how that works out.

What I have learned over the past fifteen years is that there are a myriad of reasons to retire just as there are many reasons to continue working. Each situation carries its 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 35th 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 interests have emerged that fill our lives. Our days are never dull and certainly not empty. Would we recommend retirement at the 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 it is fair to say that.

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 dozen 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. We didn’t know if we would  enjoy a few good days or years and then come to the end of the line? Or if our time would stretch out before us and allow for many years of retired living? We hoped for the latter. And luck has ridden with us. 

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. And I think they are now a thing of the past. 

All of these issues 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 a few programs from 2007. They are more detailed and philosophical.

This is Retirement Talk.

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