Let’s start by setting the scene. How did your retirement come about?
I worked for the federal government and always wanted to retire as soon as I was eligible. I was in the military early in my career but was working as an administrative law judge when Covid happened. Around that time, I started to realize that the pace of things was slowing down, and I wasn’t enjoying work as much, so it was a good time to transition. In the end, although I hoped to retire when I was 55 or 56, after I got my administrative law position, I needed to stay for a certain amount of time to be able to retire with a higher pay grade. So, I ended up retiring in February of 2022, when I was 58, to take full advantage of that.
What does retirement look like for you these days? Is it different from what you might have expected?
We ended up buying a vacation home in Arizona near our grandchildren — we have two — so we come to Arizona a few times a year, which I hadn’t expected but has been great. I’ve been to elementary school so many times now, I feel like I know the Pledge of Allegiance better than I did when I was in school! I recently signed up to do volunteer work through the VA. Plus, in college I was a member of a historically Black sorority, and I recently reached out to start doing volunteer work with them again. I’ve also traveled quite a bit. This year I went to Mexico for a week and stayed with a woman who I’ve been taking online Spanish classes with. I went to Asia with a friend, traveling to Seoul, the Philippines and Thailand. I took a train trip with another friend from the Bay area out to Denver to see Rocky Mountain National Park, then to Utah for Arches National Park and some other National Parks in that area. I’ve done little day trips with my grandson — my husband doesn’t really like to travel — and some California trips with friends to places like Napa and Monterey.
Although I’ve managed to be somewhat social, we don’t have a lot of connections in Arizona since we don’t live here full-time, and that has been difficult for me. I miss that daily social interaction. I like people, and I always liked interacting with my colleagues. Seeing those people every day, and having that daily purpose, has been something I really miss. The other thing I’ve realized is that my technology skills are not up to par! I just bought an iPad and I know I’m going to have to take classes to get the most out of it. When you’re in the workplace you’re forced to use new technology. Not that I was a techie before, but now I really feel the lack of that knowledge. It's something I have to actively work on.
How did you prepare to cover your expenses in retirement?
A couple of ways. First, I participated in the federal government’s pension plan. They have the standard pension plan you get when you work a certain number of years, and then something called the Thrift Savings Plan, which is the equivalent of a 401k with a match. Then, when I was 27 or 28, I started working with a financial planner, setting aside a certain amount of money in a mutual fund product. One day a man came to the base and was offering a free spaghetti dinner in exchange for learning about this other investment program. So I went, got my free dinner, and started investing with that company. Initially it was about $25 a pay period, and I increased the amount to eventually about $750 a month. That, plus doing my pension plan with a 5% match, was one avenue. I also did the Army Reserves, where you earn money for your time and get a military reserve retirement account. With all my pension money, I haven’t had to touch my investment account yet. I anticipate I’ll probably end up taking money out of there to be able to do additional travel at some point, but for now I’ve been comfortable. Because I was active-duty military for so long, I also qualify for VA disability benefits. So that’s how my plan worked. Basically, trying to max out as much as I could, working to get as many benefits as I was eligible for.
What has surprised you most about retirement, whether money-related or otherwise?
For me, the social aspect surprised me the most. When I come down to Arizona, I don’t have a lot of friends, and that’s not something I know if I can remedy. We’re not here a lot. Then, in the Bay area, a lot of my friends aren’t retired yet, so scheduling time to do things with them can be tricky.
What would you have told your younger self about life in retirement?
I would have told my younger self to be aware of the power of compound interest (I still show the young people in my life the mug my financial advisor gave me years ago that has a chart explaining compound interest on it!), and of starting to put something aside young. I probably should have put more in when I was younger. I don’t feel like I’m hurting financially, but when I’ve talked to young people, such as interns in our office, I’ve told them to start young. Another thing I would have told my younger self is to do a side hustle. For me, my military reserves ended up being a side hustle. If you can try to use that money for your fun, extra stuff, then you’re not taking that expense from your daily income.
What advice would you give others who are currently preparing for retirement?
Depending on your personality, I would tell people to consider their community after retirement. If you’re an introvert, you may be perfectly happy not interacting with people. If you’re not, then that change impacts you. In Arizona I have a Pilates class I go to, but that’s pretty much it. We’re not there enough to make lasting relationships.
I also think I grew up in a time of more delayed gratification. I think young people nowadays aren’t willing to do that as much. They want bachelorette parties in Spain when they can probably find a good place in the states! Just to be more mindful of their future. I’m comfortable, but maybe if I had started investing at $100 instead of $25, maybe I’d be in a different place.
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