Friday, January 11, 2013

Boomer Retirement - What "a long strange trip it's been..."

Fishing on the Blue River (Colorado)

OK, I did it.  I "retired" officially.  I will get my first Social Security check next month.  I worked  a lot of hours last year and, frankly, I'm tired of working so much.  So I applied for reduced Social Security benefits early (I know, I was going to wait until I was 65 or 66, but then I came to my senses).  After helping my daughter with her wedding costs and continuing to pay for both of my kids' educational loans last year, I decided that this year I would work less.  My husband and I would like to take more time to travel to see our family and interesting places in the world. My daughters are 28 and 30 so they are independent.  My husband will turn 73 this year.  I will still work a few hours a month as I continue to pay off loans, but I will cut back my hours as an on-line rater for ETS to about 60 hours a month.  We will have enough income to pay our bills, save a little, and still travel a bit, so why wait?
Camping at Navajo Lake (New Mexico)
So I join the great tide of "Baby Boomers" calling it quits in the past decade, letting the next generation take over our places in the workforce .  It has been a strange and drawn out retirement for me who,  like so many other "Boomers",  continued to work after "retirement".  My path to retirement began early. I worked 27 years for a Fortune 500 company in California when they booted me out at age 54.  After participating in so many joyful retirement celebrations over the years at my company, I received none.  I and seven other 50+ year old employees with long service records were laid off on December 31, 2004 (one day short for me to get a full pension).  It was strange to be in a nebulous world of being "terminated" employees but not voluntarily retired as we were like walking dead people in the plant.  People looked past us as if we weren't there. They didn't give any of us a "retirement" party ( although they did have doughnuts one day in our department to "celebrate" our departure). I received a severance payment of several thousand dollars and applied for my unemployment benefits.   The reality for me was that I was 54 years old and could not see myself handing out resumes to prospective new employers in my previous field of procurement and contracts.   I wanted to start a new career as an English language teacher overseas. I had been preparing for my post-retirement new career for three years. I received my TESOL certification after two years of evening classes at UCSD while I worked days as a procurement professional.  I had completed my Teaching Practicum and two years of unpaid volunteer service as an ESL tutor.

My decision to begin a new career required me to "downsize" and economize after my lay-off.  I elected to continue my health insurance for myself and my dependent college-age children via the protection of the federal COBRA law.  I used my severance to pay the $495 monthly premium.  I decided to put my house on the market (which was in a ridiculous "bubble" at the time).  Timing is everything.  I was able to sell my modest 45 year old ranch-style home in just two months for what was an obscene amount of money. 

Leaving San Diego in home since 1969.
After paying off all my debts and giving my children  thousands of dollars for college, I followed my heart to retire in New Mexico, purchasing a modest double-wide as my retirement cottage on an acre of land in the mountains east of Albuquerque for less than $100K.  I thought I now had it made and began looking into overseas language schools to teach at (being paid to travel seemed like a great new gig for my retirement years).

My little Shangri-la at 7,500 ft. elevation

I even had a hammock for those lazy summer days...

...and lots of wildflowers and wild birds to enjoy...

...and  a hot tub to enjoy the clear starry nights

In the summer of 2005, I was negotiating with an English language school in Chile to work as an English Teacher when I met my future husband.  I ended up turning the Chilean job down.  I received unemployment benefits for six months, then found a $7.50 an hour job as a grocery store cashier. It was a "union job" so I was looking forward to benefits like health care and job protections. Unfortunately, in recent contract negotiations, the union had given up benefits for new hires for the first year of employment and I never did meet a shop steward on the job.  I was treated badly by management, so I quit after a month.   Life took a turn for me again. In 2006, I rented out my home in the mountains and got married to Ron  and began work as a K-12 Substitute Teacher in Rio Rancho.  I also volunteered as an English  teacher for adults working at an Albuquerque workplace. In late 2006, I was hired by Educational Testing Service  to score their on-line tests for non-native English language speakers. And that is where I've been working for the past 6 years.  No benefits, but with a good hourly rate and great flexibility in scheduling my work, all done in the convenience of my home on-line.

My office at home.

By 2006, I had to convert my COBRA medical insurance plan to an individual plan.  I was shocked to find that insurance companies rejected my application for coverage due to "pre-existing conditions".  I hadn't planned on having no medical insurance in my pre-Medicare years.  Fortunately, in the 1980's, the New Mexican legislature set up a public-private partnership to cover those of us without employer-provided insurance who cannot get individual insurance due to "pre-existing conditions" and/or exhaustion of COBRA coverage.  I got medical insurance for myself (no dependents) at age 55 for about $424 a month.  Unfortunately, this monthly premium grew each year to ultimately consume 25% of my income by 2010.  I applied for an early retirement pension (with reduced benefits) just to pay for my medical insurance.   I will not be eligible for Medicare until January, 2016.  And now, I have "retired" again by starting my Social Security benefits.

I feel lucky because many "boomers" my age have not been as fortunate in their "retirement" years. For so many, Social Security will be their only source of retirement income and so they will work well into their seventies to supplement their Social Security. The odd fate of being laid-off too early ended up with my selling my house at the "top" of the market rather than after its collapse.  I am very aware that so many people my age were not so fortunate and were heavily indebted when the market collapsed and they lost their homes, equity and assets.  I am thankful that government "safety nets" have been there to help me navigate the rough road of pre-retirement in the past decade.  I had six months of unemployment benefits after my layoff, a 16 month extension of eligibility for my employer-provided medical insurance because of the COBRA law, and I was able to get individual insurance because of state law and will be eligible for less expensive medical insurance in 2014 because of the Afforable Care Act  (Obamacare).  I am thankful to the Machinists' Union that I was eligible for an early retirement pension.  And now I am thankful for Social Security that I have paid into since 1968.
I want to concentrate on creating art in 2013.  With more time off and with the completion of my art studio (remodeling the garage), I'm hoping on spending more time on my creative self. That and visiting the kids and grandkids, seeing old friends, reading more, gardening, some camping and fishing, and a little travel....

Spending time with family and grandchildren...
...growing flowers
and vegetables...

...and travel...maybe even a cruise this year.


  1. Good move. I did the same thing at 62. Not that I didn't like teaching still but I wanted to travel and do other things while it was phsically able. I've never looked back....:)

  2. Welcome aboard the good ship Retirement! And congrats on all you've achieved along the way. Don't make too many plans. You just might feel guilty if you don't accomplish them. And you don't want to be feeling guilty in retirement.

    Have fun with your adult kids and grand kids. That's been the best part for me.

  3. Letting you go 1 day short of a full pension is despicable and in my opinion borderline illegal for a long term employee. You sure have had a rough go of it but I like how you have taken control of your life and have accomplished a great deal with less.

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