Happy Ending

Kristine Hayes

AS I CHILD, I REMEMBER reading a series of “choose your own ending” adventure books. These novels allowed the reader, at different junctures, to choose how they wanted the main character in the book to proceed. I always enjoyed rereading these books, creating a different story each time I progressed through the pages.

At this point in my life, I’m beginning to feel like my eventual retirement is a bit of a “choose your own ending” adventure. The age at which I finally leave my job, the place I eventually live and the activities I’ll ultimately pursue: All of these feel like they’re up for grabs on a daily basis. I’m constantly playing out different scenarios in my mind, imagining one life after another. What will it take to get me to retire? It comes down to a few basic elements:

Savings. For now, my goal is to have a net worth of at least $500,000 before I stop working fulltime. I’m currently on track to hit that number by age 55. But if the stock market took a dive, as it did in 2007-09, I’d likely need to continue working fulltime for at least a few more years.

Housing. I’m planning to leave the Portland, Oregon, area when I quit my current job. Tax rates and housing prices are among the many factors that’ll drive my relocation decision.

Of course, there are other issues to consider as well. I certainly wouldn’t mind living somewhere that gets more than 68 days of sunshine a year. It’s also important to me to find a place where I can participate in some of my favorite activities, including dog training and competitive shooting.

Employment opportunities. Because I’ll likely need to work part-time for a few years, I have to figure out what type of job to pursue. Having been in my current fulltime position for 20 years, I find it difficult to imagine doing anything else.

I debate whether to freelance or get a part-time job with one employer. The final decision may hinge on my retirement account balance. If the markets have been kind, I may feel more comfortable attempting to freelance. If my budget is tight, I’ll probably resort to finding a job with a solid schedule of hours. The decision will, no doubt, also be closely tied to where I end up living. Freelancing would allow me more freedom to live wherever I wanted, while holding down a more traditional job could mean having to live in or near a larger metropolitan area.

Other considerations. Access to health care, an area’s political climate and overall cost-of-living expenses will also ultimately factor into my retirement equation. How will all this play out? For now, I’m still choosing my own ending.

Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. Her previous articles include Material GirlHomeward Bound and Council on Aging.

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