The last time I saw Ron and Cindy, they were both miserable. Both had been working long hours in jobs they could barely tolerate. Ron’s company had undergone a complete management overhaul. He was having difficulty adapting to his company's new culture and his ever increasing job demands. He had gained weight and was suffering from depression. Cindy, who was a special needs teacher, had just finished the most difficult year of her 32-year teaching career. After much soul searching and a little financial planning, they both decided to retire early at the age of 56. That was two years ago.
Here are their thoughts this past weekend on early retirement:
Ron looks fantastic; he has lost weight, is more relaxed and is happier in retirement than he has been in years. He spends his time reading, relaxing and puttering around the house. His current project is painting the outdoor shutters. He feels early retirement is the best thing he ever did.
Cindy is another story; she can't help but wonder if it's all been worth it. First, there was the process of finding a new job. After ending her teaching career, Cindy who is a very social person, decided she still wanted to work, but in a less stressful, part-time capacity. She found a job working as a cashier for the local pharmacy. She soon realized working with the public can be trying. Also, mastering the pharmacy’s cash register was not an easy task. Despite working fewer hours, she still finds herself working with difficult people and dealing with work-place politics, only now she makes less money and has no benefits. She thinks she may have been better off staying where she was at. “I knew that job like the back of my hand.” She has accepted a part-time teaching job at her old school for the summer.
Then there was the market turn-down last fall. Their portfolio lost 50% of its value. To continue to make ends meet, they had to adjust their budget by curtailing eating out and canceling all travel plans. They both acknowledge if they hadn’t retired before the downturn they would probably both still be working.
What is the moral of this story? I have dreamed of retiring early for years, actually since the late 90’s when my 401(k) was earning double digit returns. This fantasy usually includes a little part-time job, maybe in retail, just to get out of the house. After talking to Cindy, I realize work is just that – work. If I can’t afford to or don’t want to retire completely, I may be better off staying where I’m at until I can.