Mary Beth Writes

I just made a list of fourteen friends who have retired in the past five years. Of the fourteen, SEVEN retired early and abruptly when their employer’s business practices, for various reasons, changed or failed.

There is a myth out there that retirement is a fixed event with a date one knows years in advance. Then at the desired retirement age there will be a company party where one gets a memento from their employer - and after that they live aimlessly, trying to find purpose.  

Have you seen “About Schmit” with Kathy Bates and Jack Nicholson? That’s the story they keep shoving at us. That we will be financially secure but clueless about what to do all day and thus bored out of our gourds.

Stereotypes are cheap. We are living in a world where capitalism is eating its own tail. If you are an older person and you have a stable job, is it anchored to a lower salary than is warranted for your experience and work ethic?

Have you been to an Ace hardware store lately?  If I ever want to date again (never) forget the dating apps, I’m going to get a job at an Ace and see what happens.  Its where, in my opinions, the guys who once did big jobs and then lost them,  go to work out their underfunded retirements. Or at least that’s my take on the amazing customer service.

Once we get past the stupid jokes, conversation about retirement becomes tense.  “… Research indicated that 37% of retirees had to stop working sooner than anticipated. And the longer people (had previously) planned to stay in the workforce, the less likely they were to achieve their goals.” (source)

I’m bringing this up because Len and I are in early retirement. We love it, but our journey here was not the smooth culmination of a well-honed plan. Actually, someone once asked Len what our retirement plan was and he replied, “We think we can go back to back and shoot our way out.”

I could see that my job was not going to last so I applied for many others. But at 63 that next “rewarding” job was never going to happen.

Len has decades of marketing, advertising, managerial experience and amazing computer skills.  He was easily hired by young marketing firms run and staffed by people in their 20’s to early 40’s. They paid him half what he should have earned but he worked hard anyway because that’s the kind of baby-boomers most of us are – and then when the small company’s fortunes shifted they would start laying off a few people - and the folks over 50 were always the first to go.  I suspect this is true for many professionals our age. We can get jobs at new, small companies but if they begin to struggle… “woops, there goes another rubber plant …”

When a rough thing happens to just you, it’s personal.  When that rough thing keeps happening over and over to many people – it’s political.   So next time you vote - VOTE FOR POLITICIANS WHO CARE ABOUT AND HAVE WORKABLE SOLUTIONS FOR WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ORDINARY PEOPLE INSIDE OUR ECONOMY RIGHT NOW.   

Have you read "Nomadland" yet? I wrote this review last year. READ HERE

If you don’t already belong to AARP, pay the modest fee and join.  https://www.aarp.org/  The website and monthly newsletters are filled with good information including updates on legislation that affects older Americans. Plus, those little cards are worth big discounts!

Here are some “when retirement happens to you” realities that we didn’t understand when we stumbled backwards into this. Some are related to Unexpected Early Retirement.  Some are just plain retirement surprises!

First; one will have Feelings. Acknowledge and deal with them.

One needs to let go of the shame about being “let go.” A flourishing stock market and low unemployment rate do not make up for losing the last few years of the salary one worked their whole live to attain. Most of us are not destitute when this happens, but we don’t have what we expected to have. Like the bumper stickers of our youth said, “Shit Happens.”

Fully acknowledge what happened.  We shouldn’t have been shunted to the side at 62.  We shouldn’t have had the parameters of the pensions we worked towards for decades changed on us in our late 50’s. We shouldn’t be hired and fired like temp workers.  Acknowledge that one is angry, sad, scared, and worried. Don’t immediately shut down the conversation with others or the questions and explanations whirling in your head. Take time to get used to the new reality.  

Next! If you qualify for unemployment, apply ASAP!

There’s this:  If you need health insurance and are not old enough to qualify for Medicare – Hello Crazy! Basically, you are going to need to COBRA your company’s health insurance, or go on your spouse’s insurance, or obtain insurance through the Affordable Health Care program.  COBRA is generally the least expensive - and in certain circumstances is the most fun.  If a company of mostly younger people laid you off, your 18 months of COBRA will keep their ‘average employee age’ up, which makes their insurance more expensive. 

We weren’t intentionally seeking revenge, but it was satisfying when we realized this was happening.

THIS IS BIG. Learn how Social Security works!

Look at the Social Security website; https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/;  It’s packed with information you can understand if you take your time. Read through it. Jot down what you don’t understand. You can get some answers online or over the phone; you can also set up an appointment to meet with a representative to learn about how social security will work for you. Here in Wisconsin some (all?) counties run no-cost seminars where an expert explains the system and then takes questions.  Check your county’s website.

Every Social Security or County Resource person we talked with through the process of determining how much we would each receive, when we would take it, and how Medicare and supplemental insurances work – every single person was smart, respectful and patient. They gave us helpful handouts and lists. Contact them. Learn how it works. Don’t apologize because you are confused; their jobs partially depend on our confusion!

(I know one of my readers spent her career working for Social Security.  Hey, Chicago Friend of Yore, do you have anything to add here?)

In my opinion this is the least talked about but possibly the most important. Attitude counts. Unexpected early retirement shouldn’t have happened to you, but it did and now your choice is; how are you going to respond?  You can be a pathetic victim – you have every right to authentic grief and anger because you went to work, earned your paycheck, saved, invested, made plans. But retirement came too quick anyways.

But do you want to spend the rest of your life as a victim?

Nah.

We still have choices, skills, abilities, friends, assets, humor, and hell, we are The Baby Boomers! We were born to be Wild! We waded through the Big Muddy, found our Horse with No Name, drove fast down Thunder Road while wearing our Boots that were made for Walking. We got by with a little Help from our Friends who have Hearts of Gold.

We’re gonna keep on swinging, keep on singing. Ain’t gonna let no one turn us around now  YouTube- Joan Baez!

Play music early, often, and LOUD!

Get clear on the difference between how retirement looks and how it feels. We’re the generation raised on advertising; remember wanting a Slinky because they were so heavily advertised during our kid shows? Remember finally getting one? Remember how cool it was for a couple minutes … and then how boring? (To ruin this, Len just said he loved his Slinky. Well, my Slinky was dull and ended up tangled in my stuffed animals. Every (wo)man has his/her toy.)

Too often retirement is sold to us like Slinkys. If we don’t think about who we are and what we most love to do - we will think retirement is supposed to be what they are showing us. Cruises and tours. Second homes in tropical places. RV’s bigger than our first apartment. Tango classes, hot-air ballooning, coaching our grandkids’ teams.  All these things ARE awesome except - are they what WE want or - are they Slinkys? 

I love seeing new and exotic places. I hate the stress and boredom of packing, getting to planes and trains early/on time, finding the next hotel in a city where English is not their skill and their language is not mine, seeking out places to eat, and being up on time for the next day’s tours. I am a person made for travelogues and documentaries, not actual international travel.  Coincidentally, this works so much better with my budget.

Instead of trying to do what they tell us we want to do, spend time and energy honestly figuring out what makes you so interested and content that you lose track of time. Build a lot more of that into your retirement. Edit out the Slinkys.

We have encountered a lot of lovely slow surprises in this retirement gig. We like getting up later and slower. We like the “free” membership to the YMCA (comes with most supplemental insurances, ask when you are signing up). We now have one more place to feel guilty about not going.

Our house stays neater longer. Since we are living in a smaller house we can clean the house and do the yard work in less than a morning and it doesn’t even have to be Saturday! Buying groceries on Monday morning still feels like I’m playing hooky from something.

It’s not simple to find the right balance between “busy out there” and “accomplishing things one cares about in here.” When should one say yes because they love that activity and those people?  When does one say yes to because we are citizens of our community and we believe we ought to contribute to the general welfare – and also because this administration throws justice and decency out the window at every juncture? When can we say no simply we don’t wanna?  I read recently that retired persons tend to volunteer no more than they did when they were working. That’s crazy!  This is still early, healthy retirement! We need to contribute but we also get to pursue our own avocations.  It’s just as complicated now as it ever was.

We still ‘work’ and I don’t know why. Len and I spend hours per day ‘working’. I write. He figures out computer language and builds websites. Sometimes we get paid for these things, usually we don’t. Is retirement the black light on one’s true calling?  You look at what you are doing and sure enough, it’s pretty much what you told people you wanted to be when you grew up.

I didn’t see coming that Len would take over cooking most (not all) of our dinners.  I love this.  Who knew a girl could spend this much time not in a kitchen?

A big retirement issue for many is isolation and loneliness. I can imagine that happening down the road as we become older and frailer; which means friendship building now might be our best investment towards future happiness. We joined the local Unitarian Universalist congregation (you don’t have to believe in anything but civility and questions) and now we have new friends. Plus we also have our veteran friends in our former community. Our kids are settling-in to their lives so we see them more now that we did in their middle 20’s. And there are those grandbabies! Sometimes it overwhelms us, since we are introverts.

But early retirement is a good time to take stock of one’s social life.  One of the saddest things I heard recently was an interview with a sweet older woman in a nursing home. She was explaining that her life had been filled with wonderful relationships but now she was the last of her group of friends.  She explained, almost whispering, that the people around her in the residence were lovely but there would not be enough time left to build what she used to have.

Here is one more thing I have learned about early retirement! “there are some studies that show that people who retire earlier – find better health and live longer – depending on the health habits of those people. Exercising more, moving more around your house to clean it and do gardening and yard work, eating better because you have more time and inclination to cook from scratch (and it saves so much $!) and sleeping more – live healthier longer.” (source) 

Here’s to long, healthy, generous, and interesting lives.

If you haven't read my interviews from last year of Helle and Franc doing retirement on far less money than they had expected; here they are.

Helle 

Franc

...

"Forever Young"   Bob Dylan   (click to hear the song) 

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the light surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

 

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Comments

Awesome read. Hitting particularly close to home. So glad I have a good friend to teach me the ropes! I’m giving this to Garry to read too!

Welcome to the Fun Stuff Years! Well, actually I know you have another year or so to get the tread tacked down on your retirement. You guys are gonna rock it. Bring out that LOOM!

My retirement came through a change of life. Widowhood. Certainly not what I expected my life to look at at 58. I went on leave from by job at a bank when my husband was diagnosed, but actually left my job once the reality set in that my time was better utilized at home, and with my husband. I am grateful I had that option. In order to continue to heal, I have made to decision to stay off the rat race,and the marketing of what life should look like at my age. I have reduced my expenses, and live frugally and with intention, so that I may stay retired. When Cobra ran out, I was able to get a policy through the ACA ( I am hopeful that this will continue). I am teaching myself new skills, study different subjects and do a lot of my own home maintenance. It's not always easy. But, this is what is. I have found kindred spirits through different blogs, for which I am grateful. Thank you for another excellent post. Patricia/Fl

Pat, I went back and inserted the URL's of the two interviews I did last year of Helle and of Franc. Like you, Helle fell into a frugal and careful retirement after her husband passed away. I'm respectful of the smart, hard choices women and men makes these days to live well when it would be so easy to live pitifully.

Thank you, Mary Beth. I enjoyed reading both interviews. Helle's experience certainly resonates with me. Patricia

Thanks for this excellent perspective, great tips, true inspiration and as is the Hallmark of our generation, truly groovy tune references to better position in life.

This took me forever to write because i kept getting swept into the music!

Marybeth, I love your writing and always feel refreshed and renewed after reading your work. Thanks for attaching the Dylan song link too! I sent it on to my son who turned 40 today.

Thanks! And happy birthday to the mother you became and are, who was also born 40 years ago!

I really identified with your Retirement Smackdown piece. It happened to me. I wasn’t ready, was surprised, hurt and a little bitter about it all. Now, with some time and distance (I’m now in the Southwest) I am relaxed, and becoming quite comfortable with my life. I am adjusting and remembering the person I was years before the jobs I had for the last 20 years. It is kind of exciting.

Yup, at first it hurts. The ole self-esteem gets dents in it. And then we stand up and look around and realize we can invent our own life and go at our own speed - and this is far more interesting and challenging than we ever felt at all those jobs.

Your advice was accurate and correct!

THANKS!

Lovely read, as always. Sharing with my mom who was just fired from her job of 5 years. She's 70, very talented, but not "hireable" in traditional economy. Grrrr.

This is so nuts. People who need the paycheck and have already proved themselves as good workers - your are right. Grrrr.

This is Len, and this is a great look back at the last few years. Mary Beth saw me dealing with employers at the last couple of jobs, and urging me to chuck it and enjoy our retirement. I didn't think it'd be possible, and, more, I didn't want to think that it had 'beaten' me. Well, it didn't beat me, I beat it by cashing in what we've worked for all our lives and working harder than ever at things we enjoy. One point of clarification: The picture of me and a friend on a bicycle shows Jack, the oldest of my biking buddies from Racine, and the only one of that gang who is still profitably employed full-time.

All the advice columns tell you to put off Social Security. I am not sure that's true in all cases. It is true that if you delay taking SS, you will ultimately get more per month. BUT, you will have missed the income you would have received if you would have started earlier. There is an age at which the amount you have received, in total, would have been greater had you waited -- in our case it was when I was nearly in my nineties. Is that what you want? We decided that we wanted to have more fun now rather than have a small amount more per month when we are older. And, it keeps Mary Beth from getting a job at Ace Hardware (which really does have terrific customer service).

I love retirement!! I worked in a factory as an industrial painter for 14yrs and hated most of it... When the lighting company I worked for decided to move it was the best decision I never made and sent me on the adventure that became my life... I won't say it was easy at first but I grew into it ( it's easier to work for someone else and get a paycheck than to figure out your own way ) The freedom I felt not having to punch in to a job that didn't nourish my creativity was worth the lean times... And I made it to retirement so I guess I did something right... Oh and I happen to like the slinky I got at my father's Christmas party that Webster Electric held every year for us kids... I still like the sound it makes as it goes down the stairs when I pull it out of it's box every now and then ( YES, I still have mine )

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