I have been officially "retired" from my full-time, paid position since October 1st. And since then, I have noticed something that happens fairly regularly: In general conversations with friends and family they ask me: "How's retirement?" or "Are you enjoying retirement?".
If my wife is with me, she sometimes gets the "Is he driving you crazy yet?" question, to which she jokingly responds with something like "He was doing that long before he retired" (very funny).
I usually answer, "It's great," or, "It's been really nice, I am really enjoying the flexibility I have with my time, but I do sometimes miss my job and my co-workers." The person then smiles, and the conversation is over since they heard what they expected.
But almost nobody asks the more basic and relevant question: "What in the world are you doing with all your free time now that you are no longer working in a full-time job"? Perhaps because they aren't that interested (which I can understand), or they don't want to pry; or maybe, they are afraid I'll give them a long, day-by-day or week-by-week account – a major snoozer. But no matter what the reason, the "what exactly do you do all day?" question hasn't really come up.
Well, in this post, I thought I'd share a little about what it's been like to be "retired." This post may not interest you, in which case you can close down your browser and do something more productive. But I realize that many aspire to it, and dream about what it will be, like, so you may be interested after all. If so, here are some of my initial observations.
It seems a lot like a "staycation."
It feels that way because I spend a lot of time at home (which I was already doing since I used to work-from-home and I was at my desk for most of the day). The difference is that I am free to come and go during the day since I am not "tied" to a job.
Like many do on a "staycation," I was busy with a lot of different things around the house when I first retired, but I was also doing some "work" and some "fun things" (more on this later in the article).
My daily routine isn't all that different.
I get up at about the same time and my morning activities are about the same. One of the reasons for that is that I didn't have a morning commute before I retired (I worked from home and occasionally traveled out of town to my company's offices in another city about 2.5 hours away).
I intentionally haven't altered my "routine" very much because my perspective is that I still have work to do, which is how I spend most mornings. But because I am not working a full-time, 8 to 5 job, I have much more flexibility during the day to do different kinds of things at various times during the day. So, I may work a while in the morning and then again later in the afternoon or early evening.
My week involves work.
As noted above, I still "work," just not in the same ways I used to. If I were to track my time since retirement, I think I would be averaging at least 20 or 30 hours a week "working." Up to now, this has involved a variety of things, including writing and publishing several blog posts, responding to emails, working on several book chapters, volunteering as a reading tutor in a local elementary school, working as part of a team from our church that served a homemade soup lunch to all of the teachers at the school, preparing to teach a Sunday School class, working on a stewardship class for my church, financial coaching/counseling, etc.
I initially spent a lot of time getting all of my our Social Security and Medicare insurance things in place. The process went relatively smooth for me but took longer than expected for my wife. I started the whole process about two months before I retired. In retrospect, I should have started at least three months before. That's because, for my wife, we had to first apply for benefits on her record and then be denied—a process that took about two months—and then reapply for spousal benefits based on my history. These things are de-coupled from Social Security's perspective.
Due to the time of year (early Fall), I also spent a part of several days working in my yard (re-seeding, fertilizing, watering, etc.). I enjoyed being able to get outside during this cooler time of year and to pace myself with the work— typically, I would have to squeeze it all in on a Saturday.
Speaking of work—you might be surprised to hear that I just recently applied for a job. Well, a part-time job that requires me to work a few hours, one day a week, if that. It is at the company where my son works doing something that I think will be "fun." I will make a few bucks, make a few friends, and have a chance to have lunch with my son once in a while. It felt strange filling out the online application.
The amount of social interaction is about the same.
Since most of our relationships are in our church and family, that hasn't changed much. I do see some of my neighbors a little more often, especially the one across the street who is also retired.
I do miss the working relationships I had previously, but most of them were in another city. Over the last few years, I had the privilege to work with some great folks and to make a lot of friends, and I miss getting to see them on the occasions that I traveled there (I worked from home the rest of the time). I hope to reconnect with some of them from time to time.
One of the reasons I applied for the part-time job at my son's work was I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to meet new people and experience something very different from what I have done in the past.
I enjoy fun and recreation.
This is, of course, the "spice" of retirement—the freedom to do more of the things we enjoy. But although I've been retired for over two months now, the only thing I've done out of the ordinary was to NC coast for a couple of days of pier fishing while my wife was out of town with my daughter visiting relatives. It was a blast–I caught some Spanish Mackerel, Bluefish, and Spots.
My wife and I also took a trip to Florida, which was our first "vacation trip" of the year. We stayed with some family at their place in Ft. Pierce. While there, I tried my hand at surfing (after 35 years)—which was fun but not too successful—and also did some kayaking in a saltwater lagoon. We had a great time, and it was wonderful not having to "count vacation days," so we were able to stay a few days longer than we normally would have.
One of the things that I like about being retired is that I can get outside anytime during that day. Since I like to take long (5 to 6 mile) fast walks for exercise, I can do that during the day instead of the early evening when it is dark (especially in the wintertime). I like to hike in the NC mountains, so I'll be able to do more of that as well. I also have some home exercise equipment and an elliptical machine that I can use whenever I want, but that has always been the case.
I recently learned that most Medicare supplemental plans include a free gym membership. Any gym or exercise facility that participates in the "silver sneakers" program accepts the Medicare payments (I don't own any "silver sneakers," by the way). I haven't looked into it much further, but it would be an excellent way to get out and meet others.
I am managing our finances a little differently
As I noted in an earlier article, my wife and I are now living off our Social Security benefits and our savings. I haven't started withdrawing from my IRA yet as I've been using some of my non-retirement savings up to this point. We will probably begin IRA withdrawals sometime in 2019.
My plan to make monthly withdrawals, with 10% withheld for taxes so that I don't get hit with any penalties come tax time, and the money is deposited directly in a checking account. To start with, I am withdrawing from the cash reserve I have in my IRA, and I will do that for as long as I can. (It is being replenished each month/quarter with the dividends and interest income from my investments.) I don't know how long it will last as that all depends on how much I withdraw and how much income I have from my investments. Once it starts to get below what I want to have in reserve, I may decide to sell some assets to raise cash. Given the volatility of the financial markets, I would rather not have to do that when prices are down.
My wife and I have not changed our budget since I retired on October 1st, but we are going to do "retirement budget" that we will implement starting in January 2019. I don't expect it to be a lot different than what we have already been doing, but we will need to make some tweaks here and there.
We are continuing to give to our church and other ministries just as we always have. I made a decision not to alter our giving just because we are in retirement; I am going to trust the Lord for the provision to do so.
Retirement "feels" different.
Retirement feels a little "dreamy" at times. It's a bit like being on vacation and getting anxious about getting back to your job. Because I left a full-time professional career with a nice salary, four weeks of paid vacation, and generous benefits, it was a major, life-altering decision. I also did it somewhat sooner than I had planned (I wasn't initially considering retiring in 2018).
On the positive side, I left behind a minimum 40 hour work week with a somewhat fixed schedule, which limited my ability to do other things when and where I wanted. Although I was doing challenging work that I enjoyed, I now have time to work on other things (such as writing a book), but I don't have a regular income coming in the form of a paycheck like I use to—that definitely "feels" different too.
Like many of you, I have been saving in some amount for most of my working life, and it "feels" very different to stop saving and start spending (what retirement planning professionals call going from the "accumulating" phase to the "distribution" phase.)
Flexibility is the best thing about retirement
The thing I like the best about retirement is flexibility. It lets me vary my schedule so I can work when and how much I want, and from anywhere I want (subject to technology limitations). I still have quite a few scheduled obligations, and I think that will increase in the future, but it is nothing like being tied to a desk M-F in a 9 to 5 job.
I have never been one to believe that life revolves around work. Sure, our job requires commitment and a lot of our time, but I have always thought that church and family were the higher priorities so I have fit my work into life rather than the other way around. I have always tried to make church and family our most top priorities and to structure my work around my life. Now that I am retired, that is much easier to do. The challenge is keeping the right amount of structure without impacting the flexibility we enjoy. Plus, I want to make good use of the time that God has given me.
I'm not sure if my wife would say that she had directly benefited from my retirement as yet (I was already at home a lot of the time.) I do try to help out a little more around the house, and I can take care of some things more readily than I used to. My wife has been very supportive about my retirement, and we have been discussing plans for things we would like to spend time doing together. She is very busy with the women's ministry in our church and other activities, so her routine hasn't changed much either.
As I also shared earlier, we are staying in the same house we have lived in for over ten years, at least for now, so there is no major transition in our immediate future. (Some retirees downsize, move to a warmer climate, etc.) I have done a few projects already, but there is always something to do, which we'll get back to when warmer weather returns.
Retirement is a gift.
I am very fortunate to have had the ability to retire. Yes, I have thought about it and planned for it, but I still believe that it is a privilege and a gift from God. Therefore, I want to steward it well by doing the things that God has called me to do while knowing that I am also free to enjoy the good gifts that he has graciously given to us as well.
I don't ever want to take it for granted. I don't ever want it to be all about me. And I certainly want to make sure to practice wise retirement stewardship of the time, talents, treasure, and testimony that God has entrusted to me for as long as I live while endeavoring to finish well to the glory of God.
So far, so good.
So, all in all, I would say "so far, so good"; I have no regrets about retiring, at least not yet. I think it will be fine as long as I can stay busy and productive doing the things that matter the most. I will provide another update in a few months to let you know how things are going.