My Retirement Prep

David Gartland

I DON’T KNOW THAT MY life has been all that different from that of others. Still, what’s happened to me has—I believe—been good preparation for retirement. Here are seven life lessons I learned on my journey from childhood through to my departure from the workforce just before my 70th birthday.

Lesson No. 1: Doing it yourself can save big money. My older brother got me interested in cars. This was the late 1950s and 1960s, when drag racing and international road racing became popular in the U.S. Teenage boys back then were primarily interested in three things: girls, sports and cars. My brother was only interested in girls and cars. I was an eight-year-old trying to keep up with my older brother. I didn’t like girls, so cars were an easy choice.

I helped my brother work on his cars. I learned they weren’t so intimidating and could be understood with a little effort, and that doing your own repairs could save a lot of money. The problem: I assumed my brother would help me like I helped him. But I didn’t have a girlfriend. My brother did, and the girlfriend didn’t like time away from her. Helping out a little brother wasn’t permitted, so when I did repairs, I had to do them all by myself.

Lesson No. 2: Nothing lasts forever. When I was age 15, my father had a massive heart attack and died in the room next to where I was watching television. It was a shock that he was gone. The pain hits all at once. Then, over time, you come to accept it.

I’ve since watched others suffer through long, drawn-out illnesses like cancer. Heart attacks, at least, are quick. At 15, I needed guidance to help me through my teenage years. I didn’t get it. I had to navigate this period by myself, and the result was a lifelong focus on self-preservation.

Lesson No. 3: Being alone doesn’t always mean being lonely. The kid who lived across the street from me came from a family of five children. He was my age, so we were in the same grade throughout school. I thought of him as my best friend. But he didn’t consider me his best friend, just a friend. I ended up spending many hours by myself. My mother encouraged me to pursue other friendships, which I tried, but none measured up to the kid across the street.

Being alone forced me to find things to do by myself. TV was an easy solution, but one my mother strongly discouraged. Reading was encouraged—I came from a family of readers—but it wasn’t one of my favorite activities. Bike riding was an activity I enjoyed, as well as walking and repairing things. All are activities I continue to this day.

Lesson No. 4: Know the basics of managing money. My family were savers, so I had both Christmas Club savings accounts and regular savings accounts from an early age. After my father died, I thought we were poor and began a lifetime study of money management. Knowing the basics, coupled with the availability of mutual funds, allowed me to manage my investments without making a lot of mistakes.

Lesson No. 5: Real estate isn’t a guaranteed road to wealth. I bought my first home when the company I was working for moved from New York’s Wall Street to New Jersey. The firm assigned a real estate agent to work with me, along with a territory I could select from which qualified for the full transfer package. It was a godsend. I moved from a studio apartment in Brooklyn to a two-bedroom townhouse in northern New Jersey.

I subsequently changed jobs, and my new employer also moved, from New York City to central New Jersey. This meant another transfer package. Good thing it did. The price that the transfer company was willing to pay for my home was 17% less than I had paid.

The saving grace was that my employer covered the difference between what I paid and what I received from the transfer company. This allowed me to buy our current single-family home. From that point on, to make sure we were never underwater on our home loan, I accelerated mortgage payments to pay off our loan in 15 years instead of 30.

Lesson No. 6: The best things in life are free. If you’re like me and avoid buying things, your appreciation grows for those things you do have. You also lean toward doing things that don’t cost anything. Like going for a walk. Or taking a bike ride. Or sitting in the backyard and studying the behavior of birds who visit the bird feeders. Or sitting in the backyard and studying the cats who also study these very same bird feeders.

Lesson No. 7: Physical fitness is a lifelong pursuit. As a kid, I regularly failed physical fitness tests and never made the cut for a sports team that I tried out for. Still, I had a goal: not to be fat. Not being an athlete isn’t as important to me as not being overweight. Watching what I ate, drinking water instead of soda, and going for walks and bike rides has led to a level of fitness that I can still maintain today at age 72.

The above seven life lessons have, I believe, prepared me for a successful retirement. How so? Here are seven things I’ve noticed about retirement:

  • You have less interaction with others than when you’re working, so you need to get used to being alone.
  • Your financial position may not be as good as when you were working, so it’s good to be happy with the world’s freebies.
  • Repairing what you own saves money and, after a lifetime of working, helps keep you engaged.
  • As you get older, so do the people you know. You need to get used to losing those around you.
  • Holding a mortgage in retirement adds to your financial headaches. Pay it off.
  • Nobody will care about your money as much as you do. Learn to be your own money manager.
  • To live a long life, you don’t need to be a gym rat. You just need to move regularly throughout the day.

David Gartland was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and has lived in central New Jersey since 1987. He earned a bachelor’s degree in math from the State University of New York at Cortland and holds various professional insurance designations. Dave’s property and casualty insurance career with different companies lasted 42 years. He’s been married 36 years, and has a son with special needs. Dave has identified three areas of interest that he focuses on to enjoy retirement: exploring, learning and accomplishing. Pursuing any one of these leads to contentment. Check out Dave’s earlier articles.

Do you enjoy HumbleDollar? Please support our work with a donation. Want to receive daily email alerts about new articles? Click here. How about getting our twice-weekly newsletter? Sign up now.

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Free Newsletter