Why I Won’t Wait

Juan Fourneau

FINANCIAL EXPERTS often advise retirees to delay claiming Social Security. Their actuarial tables and statistics make a compelling case. Still, as soon as I’m eligible, I’ll strongly consider claiming Social Security.

Why? I never knew either of my grandfathers. My mom’s dad died of a stroke when she was age 19. One of my favorite photos of my parents’ wedding is that of my uncle—my mom’s oldest brother—walking her down the aisle. My grandfather never got to see my parents wed.

My dad’s father died very young as well. Dad had no memory of his father. My dad Jorge passed away at 72. I was grateful he had 10 years of retirement, and was able to enjoy his grandchildren and have some years of leisure. He had earned it after almost 40 years at a retread factory.

One summer, I worked as a temp at the same factory. Despite the modern machines and far safer working conditions, it was hot and the work physically demanding. I was 25 years old and in good shape, but it was still tough. It made me appreciate the work my dad did to support our family all those years. Along with his pension, he was able to retire only by claiming Social Security benefits at age 62.

My father-in-law Mike was a kid from a working-class background. The only high school graduation gift he received was a Vietnam draft letter. After a tour of duty that exposed him to Agent Orange and constant military combat, he came home and started a small business as a plaster contractor. He made a living. He didn’t get rich. For more than 15 years, to earn extra money, he worked at the local bowling alley after a full day of backbreaking plaster work.

When I met my wife, he no longer had his second job, but continued hanging plaster ceilings and doing repair work fulltime until he claimed Social Security “early.” He continued to work part-time, doing small jobs until he paid off his mortgage and was able to retire fully. To say his work was hard on his body is an understatement. His knees, back, hands and neck all paid a price for the incredible workmanship he displayed with his craft.

I’ve had it easy compared to my dad and father-in-law. But I did work a swing shift for 20 years. One week, I’d work 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. I’d get the weekend off and go in Sunday night for my week of graveyard shifts, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. On Friday morning, I’d get off work at 7 a.m. and not have to return until Monday at 3 p.m., when I’d start my week of 3-11s.

I always slept fine when I was on the graveyard shift. But as I got older, it began to wear on me. Currently, I’m just working straight days. I didn’t expect working a straight day-shift schedule at the plant to be that different, but it’s been enlightening to see how much better I sleep and feel.

I understand the numbers and statistics that support claiming Social Security benefits later. But I can’t help but want to hedge my bets and claim my benefits at age 62. I’m 100% certain that, if I’m still working at the plant at that age, I won’t hesitate to retire and claim my benefits. That would go double if I was still working a swing shift.

Hooking up a railcar in subzero temperatures at 3 a.m. in January isn’t something I’ll be doing if I can supplement my retirement savings with Social Security. The numbers a financial advisor can show me in his temperature-controlled office won’t be enough to convince me to go to work on a wintry Iowa Sunday night for one more shift than is absolutely necessary.

Juan Fourneau’s goal is to retire at age 55. When he isn’t at his manufacturing job, he enjoys reading about personal finance and investing. Juan, who is married with two children, can still be seen in the ring on the independent professional wrestling circuit. He wrestles as a Mexican Luchador under the name Latin Thunder. Follow him on Twitter @LatinThunder1. Juan’s previous article was Taking on Tenants.

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