Deciding if I was ready to retire early from working at a major utility company with great benefits for 23 years posed many questions. The two major ones that nagged me the most were as follows:
Will I Be Financially Stable Enough to Maintain and Continue a Comfortable Lifestyle?
I started considering early retirement by taking a realistic assessment of my current income and debt.
My research began three years before I retired at age 57. The company's recommended retirement age is 60. I had a mortgage, regular utility bills, monthly insurance, car notes, and numerous open credit card balances, including a bundled cable package with internet, home security, and cell phones.
How will I manage all of this and other living expenses by receiving a fixed pension? Additionally, I questioned if I was prepared to pay more for medical costs until Medicaid begins at age 65 and Social Security at 62. I also factored in my health condition, age, job satisfaction, and one of many future goals to become a best-selling author.
Review My Spending Expenses
First, I carefully reviewed my income and current spending expenses. The highest open credit card balances were of great concern. When I was about to make an online payment on my credit card, I received a message suggesting I pay $20 more than the minimum amount to save money on interest by reducing my balance faster. By paying more than the minimum balance due, I was able to pay off three of my most expensive credit card balances in 18 months!
This was a great start and provided me with more available funds. It was time to budget everyday expenses like groceries, entertainment, and more. But how?
Using Smart Home Technology
Next, I reviewed my monthly utility cost and use. The gas and electric bills were higher in the summer and holiday months. Curtailing my home's energy use made a considerable difference in price. I followed the recommended gas and electric energy efficiency tips provided by the utility company. For example, my home and clothes dryer is heated by natural gas. I purchased a smart home thermostat, and in a few short months, there was a significant drop in the gas bill. I was able to install the thermostat app on my phone. It allowed me to schedule and control when to heat or cool the temperature in my home. Now, no matter if I am at home or away, I can schedule when to heat or cool the temperature in my home. In addition, replacing my light bulbs with ENERGY STAR® certified LED bulbs and appliances provided an excellent cost saving on the electric bill.
What's the Future Look Like?
There was still more work to do. I needed to begin estimating my future spending expenses. I made a list of anything new I planned to do in retirement, like travel, purchase real estate, home remodeling, entrepreneurial ventures, etc. Next, I subtracted expenses that I expected to go away after I retired. Daily highway tolls, commuting expenses, wardrobe, personal care, and dining out for lunch regularly were among a few of the expensive culprits. So I contacted my auto insurance agent and signed up to have my driving habits monitored. My monthly insurance costs decreased by about $100 within 5-6 months with a safe driving record! I currently do not drive half as much as when I drove many miles daily, and my cooking more vs. dining out helped lower my expenses. With these simple tips and a few more, I was able to see a decent ballpark figure to work with on future spending. For a more in-depth analysis of my current expenses, I decided to consult with a Financial Advisor. Overall, I found working with a team of financial experts gave me a greater sense of financial comfort. The process was pretty simple. I was first asked to provide my and my husband's outstanding balances on credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, retirement accounts, etc. After doing so, within one week, I received a detailed portfolio that determined I was in good financial health to retire.
Having a Financial Advisor Helped
According to a 2020 survey from Schwab Retirement Plan Services, the average 401(k) participant thinks they'll need $1.9 million to retire, a 12% increase from the previous year's survey. In addition, my financial team provided valuable money-saving tips to practice before retirement. For example, contributing more to any savings accounts like an annuity, IRA, or 401(k) will provide additional future retirement income.
Furthermore, a financial advisor can successfully assist you with taking your financial goals to the next level. For example, they work with insurance specialists, estate attorneys, tax professionals, and more to achieve this.
You can check out the many websites designed for retirement planning. Calculator tools are available to determine how much money you might need in retirement. By entering critical information like age and income, you should receive a snapshot comparison of your projected savings and retirement goals. For example, according to MSN Money, a 30-year-old making $100,000 annually looking to retire at age 65 should save $13,187 each year for a total retirement savings of $1,246,221. It's essential to start saving early in life. For example, a person beginning to save in their 50s, earning an income below $100,000, and wanting to retire at age 65 would need to save significantly more.
The final step for me was to contact my Human Resources department. I learned even more about my retirement benefits by regularly communicating with the HR Rep and viewing my personal benefits account online at work. Medical insurance costs would increase a bit; however, it wasn't going to bankrupt me. So, financially, I was good to go!
Am I Emotionally Ready to Leave a Corporation I Invested a Lot of Time and Energy in Towards Their Success and Growth?
Being employed at a company for several years, I could not help but become emotionally involved in my work environment. Most of my team members and favorite co-workers became my friend and are like a second family. I found myself continuously around them more than my own family. Then there are the many successes and promotions I achieved individually and as a team that were recognized and generously rewarded. I often contemplated on several occasions if I was emotionally prepared to leave a life of many outstanding benefits, perks, training, achievements, and career growth opportunities, which would perhaps be in exchange for a potentially plain existence. This and many other things made it difficult to pack up my desk and say goodbye. I have proudly worn many job hats here. Alternately, I have also experienced a few minor setbacks along my career path but have always brilliantly and professionally performed the required job duties and beyond.
Beginning of the end
Before I retired, I was asked to take over an undesirable job assignment that was supposed to be temporary. The Managers needed someone with experience to dive in and hit the ground running immediately. They were losing a worker due to promotion and needed my skill set to replace them. I accepted the challenge, knuckled down, and effectively accomplished great work strategies for success. The work tasks were ones I had achieved, taught, and promoted away from many years ago. Once the time came for me to attempt a new promotion or a transfer, several things prevented this. Primarily, finding talent and experience in this position to execute the work was very limited, which caused me to be stuck and tread backward along my desired career path.
I explored many avenues to move on to another job assignment. Not growing professionally in this role due to a lack of interest and job opportunities, I finally entertained the idea of retirement as the answer. Now I could focus on unrealized dreams and overdue personal fulfillment. This decision was also heavily driven by urgent family caregiving needs that commanded my full attention.
Time For a Change?
Suddenly, I imagined a carefree life without managing multiple complex projects, tight deadlines, budget constraints, very long work hours, demanding and angry customers, and restricted career growth. As a result, I was approaching retirement age and eligible for a pension too. So when I put that all into perspective, I knew I was fully ready to detach from fast-paced corporate work-life emotionally. I fondly reminisced about my numerous work experiences at other companies beginning from the age of 15. So yes, I was ready to retire!
Having a great network of family and friends solidified this decision even more. They encouraged me to pursue other opportunities where I would shine and find more meaning and purpose. My sister and best friend told me that I deserved retirement. I had to believe in myself and my life goals because it could provide freedom, peace, and contentment in my golden years. So far, so good. It's been one year now since I retired, and I am enjoying the fruits of my labor on my own terms. I am happy and remain determined and disciplined to pursue a long-awaited career writing a best-selling novel.
Best Wishes with your retirement journey! When your time arrives to decide if you're ready to retire, I strongly request that you carefully evaluate if you are financially and emotionally prepared. These are the beginning steps in making this vital and life-altering decision one you will not regret and can fully enjoy.
Retired at age 57, living in suburban Chicago, Tracy has started a new chapter as a writer of novels and the president of an active book club.