Why I Retired

Ken Begley

IT TOOK FIVE FALSE starts to write this column. Each time, I’d inundate readers with information. So, here’s a sixth try.

Have you ever seen those questions to financial advisors on the internet that say, “I have [insert dollar amount]. Can I retire?”

How the heck could the advisor give a reasonable response? To answer the question, it takes more than simply knowing how much you have in the bank. You need a lot of personal and financial information to make the decision to retire. Much of it has to do with personality and family situation.

Let me tell you how I decided to retire at 60. Retiring at that age wasn’t my plan. But I came to the decision that it was for the best. Here’s why.

I’ve generally had at least two or three jobs for most of my working life. I’m not a workaholic. But you do what you have to do when you have a good wife and five kids.

My wife Cindy and I have contributed to 401(k)s and IRAs for decades. She stayed at home to raise our kids for 12 years and she’s nine years younger than me. She works at a local bank as a teller. Cindy plans to work until age 59.

Our ace in the hole for retirement has been my pension from 43 years of active and primarily reserve military duty. The pension started at age 60, increases each year with inflation, is larger than my future Social Security check and includes a family medical insurance plan through Tricare. We have no debt and we had two children in college at the time I retired. Both were covered by scholarships then and both are now employed.

My last civilian job was working as an accountant for a company that printed magazines. Well, paper and ink had a good 2,000-year run, but that has been rapidly ending with the invention of the internet. The company had been dying a slow, painful death. That’s just the way it was.

Many jobs were done away with over the years. But that was not the case with me. I watched folks above and below me get pink slips. Then their work would fall on my desk. I seemed to have had two important attributes: I could get the job done and I was a bargain. I never got paid overtime because I was salaried, and yet I did endless overtime.

All the overtime and stress at a company that appeared to be on the road to bankruptcy was affecting my health, with high blood pressure and other medical problems. But I just couldn’t seem to pull the trigger and retire. The plan was to bank my military retirement checks and work until at least age 65.

Then one Sunday, which was routine for me, I was at the plant and a supervisor I knew came by my desk. We got to talking about retirement. I mentioned that I could retire if I wanted to. I had run the figures once, and then had a financial advisor see if he agreed. He did.

My friend looked at me in astonishment and said, “Ken, why are you here on a Sunday if you can retire? This isn’t a dress rehearsal for life. This is it. You don’t get a second chance.”

He was right. If you enjoy what you’re doing, then by all means continue to work. It will probably extend your life a lot more than retiring. But if you have the means to retire and you really don’t like what you’re doing, it’s time to go. The extra money you make might not pay for the medical bills that could result from your decision to stay. You only have a limited number of years in what I call your “life bank.” Don’t spend most of this bank account doing something you don’t want to do.

Retirement worked for us. Our marriage got stronger by bringing down our family stress level. I do all the housecleaning, laundry, dishes, mowing, grocery shopping and 1,000 other little tasks around the house. Cindy trusts me with everything but cooking. Smart girl. All Cindy has to do is commute two miles to work and come home in the evening. Also, we eat out a lot. Smart boy.

Sometimes, retirement is the best answer.

Ken Begley has worked for the IRS and as an accountant, a college director of student financial aid and a newspaper columnist, and he also spent 42 years on active and reserve service with the U.S. Navy and Army. Now retired, Ken likes to spend his time with his family, especially his grandchildren, and as a volunteer with Kentucky’s Marion County Veterans Honor Guard performing last rites at military funerals, including more than 350 during the past three years. Check out Ken’s earlier articles.

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