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When and Where?

Dana Ferris

A LOT HAS BEEN written, here at HumbleDollar and elsewhere, about the “when” of retirement. Not surprisingly, there are strong opinions.

For example, I’m a member of a Facebook group where the overwhelming consensus is, “Don’t work one single day longer than you absolutely have to.” Of course, many people don’t have the luxury of choosing their ideal retirement date because life intervenes: They get let go from their job or experience health issues that dictate the answer to the “when” question.

Despite reading and thinking a lot about the next stage of life, my husband and I are still struggling to set an exact retirement date. Beyond the “when,” we also have had hours of discussion about the “where.”

The “when” question. We both turn 63 this year. Thankfully, we’re in good health. I’m a tenured university professor, so I have the security of knowing that I—not my employer—will choose my exit date. My husband is employed in the private sector and doesn’t have the kind of job protections I do. Still, it seems the “when” decision will be primarily in our hands and won’t be imposed on us.

We’ve identified two possible exit dates: July 1, 2025, or July 1, 2026, when we’d be turning either 65 or 66. I think we’re both pretty clear that we’re ready, mentally and emotionally, to be done with our day jobs. Leaving on the earlier date would be our preference.

Why the ambivalence? In a word, money. An extra year of earnings would help us save more cash for the “bridge” to Social Security and that bridge would be 12 months shorter, plus we’d add another year of contributions to our retirement accounts. The pension I’ll receive when I retire is based on service credit, and another year would add 2.5% to that number.

Between our pensions—my husband is already receiving one because he retired from the state of California in 2016—and eventual Social Security, we should be able to live comfortably in retirement. We receive high-quality health care through his retirement system, and it’ll coordinate with Medicare when we reach 65, so that’s not a concern, either. We also have long-term-care insurance and well-funded retirement accounts.

Honestly, we could both give notice next week and we’d likely be fine. But you never really know what curveballs life will throw you, so having more of a cushion seems prudent. At this point, we have the health and energy to keep doing our jobs for another two or three years. We know that we’re in a fortunate position in terms of both our earnings potential and our job security. Also, because I get extensive time off during the year, as well as occasional sabbaticals, we’re not delaying the travel we want to do until after we retire.

There’s another wrinkle: Once I start drawing a pension, my net income will likely be slightly higher than what I get now. The reason: I have so much service credit, plus I’ll no longer be making pension, Social Security and deferred compensation contributions. There’s no real reason for me to work that extra year. Yes, there’s a financial incentive for him to work longer, but not me. Would he be happy if I was retired and he was still working? Would I feel badly about it?

The “where” question. Like many aging empty-nesters, we’ve considered moving closer to one of our two kids when we retire. We have no grandchildren yet, so that’s not a consideration. Our younger daughter currently lives in a beach community about 450 miles south of us. It’s a nice area and, as I’ve previously mentioned, we love the ocean. The university town where we live now is inland and very hot in the summer.

As we’ve read and thought about retirement, one theme that repeatedly comes up is the importance of relationships for healthy aging. While we might enjoy living near the ocean and being closer to our younger daughter, would we be able to make friends and find purposeful activity in a completely new area?

We’ve lived in our town for more than 30 years. We have friends, we’re on good terms with our neighbors, we like the condo community where we live, and we’re active in our church. I find comfort in knowing who my dentist, optometrist, hairstylist, Pilates instructor and massage therapist are. In addition, my status as a professor emerita will give us opportunities to stay involved with the university community, along with discounts on tickets at sporting events, the excellent regional performing arts center on campus, and so forth.

As we’ve thought all this over, it makes sense to us to stay put in our longtime hometown. This is our place. This is where we belong. We also understand that things could change as we age. We might need to put down a deposit at the local continuing care retirement community, which has a lengthy waiting list. If grandchildren come along or we find we need more help in the future, we could always revisit the question of living closer to our daughter.

What’s right for one person or couple may be completely wrong for others. My husband and I are getting closer to the answers to these important questions. At least we’ve narrowed down our options somewhat. But this is harder than it might seem. I may be writing a completely different article six months from now.

Dana Ferris and her husband live in Davis, California. She’s a professor in the writing program at the University of California, Davis, and is the author or co-author of nine books on teaching writing and reading to second language learners. Dana is a huge baseball fan and writes a weekly column for a San Francisco Giants fan blog under the nom de plume DrLefty. When not working, she also loves cooking, traveling and working out. Follow Dana on Twitter @LeftyDana and check out her earlier articles.

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