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Learning to Retire

Kristine Hayes

SEVEN MONTHS AGO—on my 55th birthday—I walked away from a job I’d held for 24 years. That day, I got in my car, left Portland, Oregon, and began a two-day roadtrip to Arizona.

My husband, who retired in 2018, was already living in our Phoenix-area home. I was looking forward to joining him, but I questioned how well I’d adapt to my new life as a retiree.

During my 1,300-mile journey south, I had plenty of time to ponder my future. I wondered how my husband and I would cope with the hot desert climate. I questioned if we’d have sufficient income to cover all our expenses. I was unsure how I’d deal with the vast amount of free time I would have.

Now, just half a year later, I feel comfortable with my decision to leave behind fulltime work.

Moving to Arizona in May meant dealing with the summer heat right away. The hottest daytime temperature we endured was 115 degrees. We learned summer heat requires waking up at 4 a.m. to get outdoor activities completed while temperatures are still in the 80s and 90s. During the heat of the day, we often visited one of the swimming pools or climate-controlled gyms located in our retirement community. We also spent time catching up on the various television series we enjoy.

Aldo the corgi getting in his steps on the treadmill

Exercising our four dogs in the heat required some creative solutions. The dogs logged many miles on a treadmill we purchased for them. We had an air-conditioner installed in our garage so we could use the space as a training area.

Financially, we’re doing fine. My husband’s income stream includes a state pension, Social Security and rent from a home he owns in Washington state. His pension includes an annual cost-of-living increase, so inflation hasn’t been much of a burden. I have a pension, a 403(b) and a Roth IRA, but we don’t plan on tapping those until I turn 65.

While our income decreased in 2022, so too did our expenses. Since 2019, we had been paying mortgages on two homes—one in Oregon and one in Arizona. We sold our Oregon home in the weeks prior to my retirement, eliminating a major money drain.

Other expenses decreased as well. The utility and property tax payments on our Oregon home were higher than what we pay in Arizona. Oregon’s 9.9% personal income tax rate is over twice as high as Arizona’s. We do pay sales tax in Arizona, but many items—including most groceries and prescription medications—are exempt.

The money we netted from the sale of our Oregon home is sitting in a cash account, earning 3% interest. Those funds provide us with peace of mind. Should we face a large, unexpected expense, we know we have enough cash to cover it.

The dog training business my husband and I started in June is beginning to turn a profit. The money we make helps offset some of the costs associated with our own dogs. The real benefit, however, is the feedback we receive from clients. Helping residents in our community develop better relationships with their four-legged friends rewards our souls.

What about all that free time I knew I’d have once I retired? It’s devoured by all the activities I never had enough time for when I was working. My husband and I spend our days playing with and training our dogs. We ride our bikes almost every day. We take sunset walks through the neighborhood and we’ve rediscovered the simple joy of reading books.

I admit learning to enjoy a slower pace of life hasn’t been easy. For 30 years, my life followed a set routine. On weekdays, I woke up, spent the day at work, returned home and slept. Weekends were almost always devoted to home improvement projects and house cleaning.

I vowed to take a break from my hectic schedule when I retired.

At first, I wasn’t very successful. I spent hours each day organizing our new home. I scrubbed tile grout, replaced door knobs and cleaned carpets. Slowly, I learned how to unwind. My housekeeping standards are no longer as stringent as they once were. If the dirty dishes sit in the sink overnight, it isn’t the end of the world. The stack of papers I’ve been meaning to file away can wait a bit longer. I’ve learned I can even indulge in the occasional afternoon nap.

People sometimes ask me if I miss my job. I don’t. For 30 years, working was just a means to an end. Time will tell if I ever return to regular employment either through choice or necessity. But for now, I’m adapting to my new life as a retiree just fine.

Kristine Hayes Nibler recently retired, and she and her husband now live in Arizona. She enjoys spending her time reading, writing and training their four dogsCheck out Kristine’s earlier articles.

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