WE BEGAN IN 2019 to think seriously about what we wanted our retirement to look like. My husband had retired in 2018. I was aiming to leave my job in 2022. We were hoping to have a plan in place long before my final day of work.
Our first step was to decide where we wanted to live. We were both eager to escape the Pacific Northwest, so we zeroed in on a couple of potential destinations.
I RETIRED ON MAY 27, 2022, which was my 55th birthday. I chose my birthday because it was the earliest date I could leave my job and still be eligible to receive the early retiree health-care benefit offered by my employer.
Mentally, I was ready to go. I’d been employed at a small liberal arts college for 24 years. I’d been there long enough to see an almost complete turnover of the faculty and staff in my department.
I’M IN EXCELLENT health. I avoid overindulging on sugar and carbohydrates. I exercise every day. I hope to live well into my 90s, if not longer.
What if I don’t live nearly that long? From a financial perspective, it makes little difference if I pass away before I tap my retirement funds. The value of most of my accounts wouldn’t be affected by my premature demise. My husband would simply inherit my 403(b) and Roth IRA accounts.
AT AGE 55, I’M PERHAPS a bit young to spend time reflecting on my life. My maternal grandmother died at 101, so I could have many more decades to go. Nevertheless, I find myself more nostalgic now than I was just a few years ago.
I often think back to my childhood and how it shaped who I am today. In 1976, when I was in fourth grade, my parents purchased a two-and-a-half-acre property in a small town outside of Eugene,
NOW THAT I’M RETIRED—and living in a warm desert climate—walking has become one of my favorite activities. Most days, I log between six and eight miles trekking around our neighborhood. I usually listen to a podcast during my journey, but it just serves as background noise. My real focus is contemplating dog training strategies or the subject matter of my future HumbleDollar posts.
Some days, I play the “what if” game.
MY SIMPLE BUT successful financial life is the result of four lessons I learned through the school of hard knocks.
Lesson No. 1, learned as a child growing up on a farm: Chores are not optional and are never accompanied by cash bribes. Lesson No. 2, learned as a college student: Spend all your time studying, working jobs and sleeping, and you can earn a degree without taking out a loan. Lesson No. 3,
MY MOM TOOK ME to a local credit union in 1981, when I was 14 years old, to open my first savings account. I don’t remember how much money I initially deposited. But back then, I had two sources of income. Each summer, I sold a pig at our 4-H fair livestock auction. That typically provided me with $200—funds I budgeted for school clothes and supplies.
I also earned money by showing livestock at our county fair.
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.
WHEN I SUBMITTED MY first article to HumbleDollar almost six years ago, I was sure it would be rejected. I was a divorced, middle-aged woman living alone in a small apartment. I assumed my personal finance story wouldn’t be of interest to readers. Now, after writing almost 90 pieces, I realize my insights—while different from many other writers—appeal to some portion of the site’s readership.
Over the years, it’s dawned on me that some of my fellow HumbleDollar contributors have far more wealth than I’ll ever have.
WHEN I ANNOUNCED I’d be retiring at age 55, the most frequent question I received from friends was about how I’d pay for health insurance. They knew I wouldn’t be eligible to receive Medicare for a decade. They also knew paying for 10 years of premiums would likely leave a large crack in my nest egg.
Fortunately, I was able to take advantage of a health insurance benefit provided by my former employer. As an early retiree,
FOR MORE THAN 30 years, my primary hobby has been training dogs. I’ve trained my own dogs, winning multiple performance titles along the way. I’ve also devoted years to coaching dogs, and their owners, as part of a dog sports team. I’ve spent thousands of hours—and thousands of dollars—attending dog competitions.
My husband shares my passion for dog training. He spent nearly three years training one of our German shepherds to be a member of a canine search and rescue team.
MY HUSBAND AND I CAN now say we survived our first Arizona summer. When we moved from Portland, Oregon, to Phoenix, we weren’t sure how we’d cope with the abundant sunshine. There was also another unknown: How much would it cost to keep our home comfortable when the temperature outside soared?
We heard stories about residents in our retirement community paying upward of $350 a month for electricity during the summer season. Since we’re living on a fixed income,
I’M EMBARRASSED TO admit that the best piece of financial advice I’ve ever received is also the only piece of financial advice I’ve ever received. To make matters worse, the advice came from someone who stood to profit from the guidance he was providing.
As a child, I don’t remember a single family discussion about money. There were no dinner table talks about the stock market. There were no lectures about saving, spending or investing for college.
I ADMIT I’M ENVIOUS of people who feel passionate about their careers. People who have no desire to stop working. People who can’t imagine how they’ll fill their days when they finally retire.
I spent 37 years in the workforce. My first few years, I held multiple part-time jobs to put myself through college. Once I completed my master’s degree, I began working fulltime. For 30 years, work was just a daily chore.
During three decades of employment,
I CONSIDER MYSELF to be a reasonably skilled do-it-yourselfer. I’ve tackled painting, plumbing and even small electrical projects with the help of YouTube. I figure I’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years by completing various projects myself rather than hiring a professional.
A couple of months ago, our utility provider offered my husband and me a deal on a new “smart” thermostat. The utility would give us the thermostat for free if we agreed to sign up for one of its energy saving programs.