Count Me Out

Dana Ferris

MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE movie is the Coen brothers’ 2000 classic, O Brother, Where Art Thou? At one point, Holly Hunter’s character, Penelope, declares, “I’ve said my piece and I’ve counted to three.” Her estranged husband, played by George Clooney, understood from long experience that once she had “counted to three,” her mind couldn’t be changed.

Last summer, I wrote an article that explored the decisions my husband and I are working through about our retirement date and location. I concluded, “This is harder than it might seem. I may be writing a completely different article six months from now.” Well, here I am, not much more than six months later, and my own immediate future is coming into focus, at least the “when” part.

In my earlier article, I said that we were deciding between July 1, 2025, and July 1, 2026, as our retirement date. I received a lot of great questions in the comments section, including several along the lines of “You sound ready—why wait?” and “Run the numbers. Would an extra year really make that much of a difference?”

Why wait? My university pension will be based on three things: a multiplier based on my age at retirement; my years of service credit; and the average of my highest three years of salary. The age factor maxes out at 60, so that’s no longer a consideration.

At my rank—I’m an advanced full professor—I get reviewed for merit increases every three years. I was reviewed in 2022 and was fortunate to receive the highest possible raise. I decided then that, unless a health crisis intervened, I should stick it out until at least 2025 to lock that final pay increase into my pension calculation. That’s also the year I’ll turn 65, hit 35 years of service credit and become eligible for Medicare. It just feels like the right time to me.

By next year, I’ll also have enough credits for one more quarter of paid sabbatical, which I already have approved for this coming winter, and then I’ll return for my final quarter of teaching next spring. (If you take a sabbatical, you can’t go straight into retirement or a new job, or you’ll have to repay the university for that time.) I earned that sabbatical and don’t want to leave those unused credits on the table.

Run the numbers. As I intimated in my previous article, the reasons behind the possible later 2026 retirement date were financial. But like some readers, my husband encouraged me to “run the numbers,” so I did. It’s impossible to know to the penny what my pension would be in 2026 vs. 2025, but I can get pretty close. I estimate that an additional year of service credit would add $468 a month, or $5,616 a year, to my pension. That’s a nice sum, but it isn’t worth an extra year of my life if I’m ready to leave the workplace.

What’s changed? In hindsight, I think I was looking for a sign that would guide me toward one retirement date or the other. Then I got some news in January that has made it crystal clear to me that I want out as soon as possible.

Thankfully, it wasn’t bad news from the doctor. Rather, it was very unpleasant and surprising workplace news—a departmental reorganization that’ll dramatically change my day job. I was already tired and burned out after a few rough years as department head during the pandemic. This latest development clarified for me how ready I am to be done with this institution.

Though I still enjoy teaching, advising graduate students, research and writing, I can do some or all of those things when I’m retired. In fact, recently one of my publishers contacted me and asked if I’d do a new edition of one of my books. I asked if I could write it starting in July 2025, and if I could add a younger co-author, and the publisher said yes to both.

I think that a writing project during the year after I retire will be an enjoyable way to ease out of the workplace, especially since it allows me to mentor a younger scholar during the process. I’ll also be finishing up on several students’ doctoral dissertation committees in 2025-26, which professors are allowed to still do after they retire.

Finally, one other thing that’s changed: My husband and I are both coming around to the idea that we don’t need to retire at the exact same moment. As I have outlined, it doesn’t affect our bottom line much if I work an extra year or don’t, but it would make a difference if he continues to work. He still feels valued and motivated in his job, and he doesn’t have a clear vision yet of what he’d do with his time if he were fully retired. He may keep going for several more years, possibly cutting back on his hours over time.

For me, though, it’s 2025, and I’m not kidding. In fact, I’ve counted to three.

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 X @LeftyDana and on Threads, and check out her earlier articles.

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