MARCH 31 MARKED the fifth anniversary of my retirement from fulltime work. Back then, I didn’t think I was retiring and I’m still not sure I really have retired. Instead, over the past five years, I’ve described myself as semi-retired. But a recent HumbleDollar article provided a better description of my situation: I’m in a “phased retirement.”
How have things gone, what have I learned and what would I have done differently? Below are my five key retirement goals:
How am I doing on these five goals? Family has always been of primary importance to my wife and me. We have two adult sons who married wonderful women, and they’ve provided us with three fantastic grandsons. We try to spend as much time with them as possible. We also have a large extended family in and around Philadelphia, as well as in North Carolina. We enjoy seeing them regularly and have cherished traditions that we work hard to uphold.
Still, the pandemic has made all this more difficult. Our younger son, his wife and their new son spent much of the pandemic’s first year at our New Jersey beach house, so we got the chance to watch our youngest grandchild grow. We saw less of our older son, his wife and their two children. They live in New York City. But when their employers and their children’s schools shut down at the start of the pandemic, they decamped to Central California, where they own a second home and our daughter-in-law’s family lives. They expected to be away a few weeks. But those two weeks turned into almost 18 months. Happily, they’re now once again within driving distance.
I’ve always been analytically oriented—too much so, some might say. I was fortunate to have a career that allowed me to use that part of my mind. I worried that, when I stopped working fulltime in 2017, I wouldn’t find something to replace my work. Luckily, I was able to secure a number of consulting opportunities in each of the last five years, performing engineering analysis and spacecraft testing, and writing proposals for government contracts. These tasks have helped keep my mind sharp and provided welcome extra cash to supplement my pension.
I also continued to improve my financial planning knowledge by completing the Retirement Income Certified Professional, or RICP, program. This consisted of nine college-level credits covering all aspects of a retirement income plan. In addition, I began volunteering for the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program. This let me give something back to the community, while also using the analytical and financial skills I’ve developed over the years. In addition, it keeps me grounded when I worry about our financial situation.
Goal No. 3—cultivating friendships—was one that my wife and I were particularly concerned about. I knew that a large part of the enjoyment I got from work stemmed from the friendship and intellectual stimulation offered by colleagues. After I left my job, I made a point of attending and organizing breakfasts, lunches and happy hours with former colleagues. I also organized a wine-making team that included both family members and work friends. This was a fun social event, and it included spouses. I’ve learned that maintaining friendships takes effort, but it’s well worth it.
Our retirement plan has evolved over the past five years. My wife started a new job the week after I stopped working. It was an opportunity she didn’t expect—a leadership position with a nationwide health-care development and management company. She worked there for more than four years, earning a good salary, enjoying medical benefits that covered both her and me, and adding a significant sum to our retirement accounts.
Last year, we sold our primary residence and moved fulltime to our vacation home. We knew we’d downsize at some point, and accomplishing that by selling in a hot real estate market was a pleasant surprise. With our housing situation settled, and with income from my pension, future Social Security benefits and our retirement savings, I’m comfortable that our retirement plan is on a sound footing.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from the past five years is not to take good health for granted. One of my primary retirement goals was to get healthy and stay physically active. This has been the biggest disappointment of the last five years. I assumed that having more free time would lead to more exercise and more physical activity. There have been periods where I was more active and began to feel better, but they were interrupted by injuries, the pandemic and illness.
The good news: 2022 is going well. I’m part of a formal nutrition program through our health insurance, which helps a lot, and I’ve lost weight. I’m trying to exercise regularly and feeling better than I have in a long time.
When will my phased retirement become full retirement? I recently agreed to take on some consulting projects. But I also recently woke up on a Tuesday morning convinced it was Saturday—so maybe I’m more retired than I think.
Richard Connor is a semi-retired aerospace engineer with a keen interest in finance. He enjoys a wide variety of other interests, including chasing grandkids, space, sports, travel, winemaking and reading. Follow Rick on Twitter @RConnor609 and check out his earlier articles.