I was planning on getting back at being a regular blogger this time reflecting on life at the pivotal time of retirement. And then suddenly I disappeared again. It was because I had these great plans sharing what our new life looked like. I had planned to share the fun times, the surprises, and the challenges that came with this new phase. We got challenges and they were nothing like we imagined. As the world was rapidly changing, when I thought about our challenges I felt blessed that my challenges were so small to what some others were facing so I decided to sit it out for a while.Continue reading
Life in the country is one where you are responsible for all your water; your freshwater and your wastewater. When we lived in homes on public utilities we liked to think we were conscious of our consumption, but in retrospect, we did not even begin to understand water. I think most folks on public systems are not truly aware of the impacts they have on fresh and wastewater. This last week we were reminded of the cycle of water for the home.
We live in a cold semi-arid climate in southwest Montana. It means we get an average of 13 inches of moisture. That is snowmelt, rain and anything else wet that comes from the sky. Only 13 inches of moisture occur each year to flow into streams or rivers, replenish aquifers, be used for irrigation, furnish wildlife and humans with water, support the native and non-native landscapes and everything else that needs water. We are too cold for the cactus most people think of in a semi-arid climate. Instead, we are covered with bunch grass, sage, and a few slow-growing trees.
When you live in an arid or semi-arid climate you are much more aware of the scarcity of freshwater. If you live in the country with a well I think you are even more aware of your freshwater source. I look out my kitchen and see my wellhead every time I do dishes. I drive by it each time I leave and return home because it sits near the road. I am lucky because my water is plentiful, soft, nearly mineral-free (based on the lack of buildup in my shower, and tastes great because it has no taste.
When we moved here we made modifications to our home to conserve water in every way we could because though we had been on a well before this was our first time on a septic system. We swapped out all faucets for ones with aerators. We changed shower heads for something that would restrict our use without thinking. We got a front-load washing machine for the single reason of how much less water it uses than a top loader. We made sure all our toilets used a minimum of water. We don’t water our lawn. When the natural moisture causes it to go dormant, it is okay with us. We treated water like the precious commodity it is. Not only did we want to consume less water, but we also wanted to generate less wastewater for the septic system.
Our septic system was here when we arrived. We read up and researched how to treat our septic system correctly for function and to help it last as long as possible. We had it pumped on even years and did not send “bad” things down the drain. We are on our same gallon of bleach that we had when we moved in here 18 years ago. We try to use the least damaging to our septic bacteria, but effective cleaning solutions for dishes, sinks, floors, and toilets. Grease is collected and put in the trash. Obviously, we generate as little wastewater as possible based on the paragraph on our consumption. In spite of all these proactive actions on our part, it failed last Sunday. What that means is the drain field stopped draining and the tank filled up and backed up.
We had no clues or warnings this was going to happen so we ended up with a failure in the middle of the winter. We were able to get someone out here on Monday and pump the tank. We were told the solids showed that yes we should have had one more year before it was pumped. Unfortunately, the liquids were topped out and then some. We are working with our contractor to look at what may have caused this failure. Our system is 30 years old which by all standards is at the end of the lifecycle. This year we have had inadequate snow cover and there are folks around the area who have had their leach field freeze for the first time ever. This is all complicated by the fact it is winter and it is not like we can walk out in the drain field and see what is different right now from the other 17 years we have been here. Once we understand this a little better we can move forward on the “what next?” step.
I shared this with you all not because I wanted to gross you out, but because I am hoping that this will remind all of you that water is precious. Freshwater to drink isn’t unlimited and there are many things that dip in the usage pool of that precious resource. Wastewater, though most of us don’t think anything of it other than to flush the toilet is an issue out there. If you learn a little about your usage of both and change one habit to be a better water steward then I will be please and thank you for being aware, when it would have been much easier to not be.
Sorry I missed last week. I was under the weather. RangerSir and I hunkered down at home and worked our way through the nasty crude making its way throughout southwest Montana. It was while we were laying low that we were reminded that retirement is in many ways just like life was before retirement.
One of the things that I think people about retirement is that this is some imaginary transformation that takes place in life. You wake up and your life is different in so many amazing ways. That somehow you are a different person in a different life. You are the same person you were the day before you retired. Actually, it is like your pre-retirement life than you’d imagine. Life doesn’t change much when you retire.
In retirement you still have to grocery shop, do laundry, pay the bills, walk the dog, cook dinner, and other tasks that keep your household running. Yes, you suddenly have time to meet friends for a game of racquetball at 10 in the morning three times a week, rather just one night after work. If you did not like to exercise before retirement, you will not likely change your mind just because you are no longer required to show up at work. You might have time to try a class in yoga or tai-chi. You will find time to try new things and discover some you like and some you don’t. If you were not a reader before retirement, you won’t likely become one after. There are exceptions to everything, but I don’t think your likes and dislikes change too much. The choices you have for your free time open up. The excuses you have recited for years suddenly are not bound by lack of time so things can change. You can add some new things to your life, but many of the old things still will need your attention.
Retirement is full of opportunities if you allow yourself to explore them, but your old life and all that goes with it will still need your attention. Enjoy the new, and continue to embrace your old life, because it is what got you to this destination.
There are things that are on our life list we want to cross off that we haven’t gotten to before now that we are retired. We are making some plans to take care of some of those. But retirement isn’t all about running around non-stop crossing things off your bucket list. Yes, you have time to do some things you could not carve out of your busy lives before, but many of your days are doing those same simple things you enjoyed doing every other day of your life.
Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to read and/or comment on my return to blogging. I am hoping to move over to some of the fun things about retirement, but comments and emails have let me know folks have some questions and concerns about how we did it. Here are some of my thoughts on what got us to the point we could retire.
First and foremost it started with saving. I wish it had been as easy as putting money in a savings account that paid 5% interest. If you are olden enough you may remember those days when a standard passbook paid that rate. You may have read about a janitor who saved big sums of money doing just that. Unfortunately, those days are gone, I suspect forever. Our history of saving started when I went to work for a company that had a 401k when they started in 1978. RangerSir and I started saving then and have not looked back. No matter who we worked for, we have always participated in the 401k, always making sure to saved enough to get the match even if it meant we had to cut out other things.
You can not have it all, and many things really aren’t necessary. We lived in apartments in fringy neighborhoods. I never had a car until after we were married for nearly five years. I took the bus to work, grocery shopping and everywhere else I needed to go because it was much cheaper. Everyone has guilty pleasures. I was willing to cut out things or work a second job to be able to afford my wants that were not necessary. I will freely admit I have a love affair with good shoes. I have been known to visit the Hostess stale bread shop regularly to save for that magical pair of hunter green leather shoes I still remember 30+ years later. When Ranger Sir and I built our home we wanted new furniture because it was about 2.5 times the size of our prior home. We did not need a second table for the formal dining room, our old one was in the kitchen and perfectly functional, but we wanted it and so much more. I went to work for a store that carried furniture and he went to work for a home store that had appliances and hardware. We both had good white-collar jobs at the time, but we did not want to save for a year or more to get what we wanted and so second jobs made it possible much sooner.
My parents never owned a home, and RangerSir’s parents did not have their own home for many years. We felt that our parents not owning their home was one of the things that made retirement for them near impossible. We were convinced that we would not only own a home, but it would be paid for before retirement. I will say the downpayment was one of the hardest things we ever had to come up with. It was one of two times we dipped into our 401k (paid the penalty and the taxes.) Our first home was not as nice as our prior rental, but it was that foot in the door. We constantly were putting extra money on our mortgage all the time. On our first home, every Friday we would round down our checking account and take the excess to the savings & loan who held our mortgage and put it on the principle. Sometimes it is the little things that make a difference. In the end, we met our goal of having our home paid for before we retired.
Another thing I think made a difference for us was every promotion and raise was split with us and our 401K. Even if it meant we lost ground. What I mean here is when you get a raise of $50, and your health insurance premium went an additional $50, we still split the raise $25 more to the 401k and $25 to us. I can say there were many times we felt like we were losing ground, and on paper we were, but knew we wanted to retire someday and so we realigned our spending. Sometimes it was very hard. I feel it is getting harder and harder to be middle class.
Lastly, the thing we did that I think was the hardest was we took control of our 401k as we changed jobs. We never took the money we saved and spent it. We generally rolled it from the 401k to an IRA. I honestly would have been happy if it was as simple as that and letting it compound interest like the old fashing savings account but it wasn’t. I am sure we could have done different things and made more with our IRA/401k money. We have had five, if my memory serves me correct, financial advisors. We have asked each of them how they make money on us point-blank. If we didn’t like the answer they weren’t for us. We have told them how we feel about risk in real terms i.e. if my IRA lost $2000 how would we feel. Not some imaginary “how risk receptive are you?” question. There is nothing real about that; it is all relative to each, the person asking the question and the person answering the question. As we approached retirement our financial planner said we should take our money from our house when we sell it, put it into the market where we would make more money than the new house mortgage payment each month. My risk tolerance said, “are you smoking crack?” We remember market corrections before and we are due in our minds for another one. One of our retirement goals we have always shared is to be mortgage-free. To have an advisor we had been working with for nearly ten years suggest that said he wasn’t listening to us and we sought out someone else. We have found that as we have gotten closer to retirement our risk tolerance has gotten less and less. Managing your money is hard. I sure think that the idea of having no 401k and instead some business with all their smart accounting types setting up and managing a defined retirement plan would have been much nicer, easier and less stressful. But those days are gone. Businesses models have changed and it isn’t going to happen for most of us. Our retirement is going to be at least partially sponsored by how we save and what we do with our savings.
What worked for us will not work for others, because each of us is different in our wishes and what we are willing to sacrifice to get there. Our goal was to save like crazy, pay off our home and retire at age 55. We were willing to work more than one job at times, forego vacations, and purchases to make it work for us. We missed that age goal, but the rest of it we managed to do and it all made retirement possible. We plan to travel some and have budgeted for it. My wish and statement to others thinking about retirement is to make a goal and then move toward it every day. Know you can not have it all ever. There is a cost to everything and sometimes you have delay what you want because the time is not right. There is a give and take to everything in life. Make the decisions that will allow you to control as much as possible of that given and take and when and how you do it.
Wishing you much success.
The two things we do most in our adult life are sleep and work. It should come as no surprise that when you retire a big part of your identity is suddenly in question.
Yesterday, you were a worker bee who folks depended on to turn up and make a contribution. You had some kind of job title no matter what kind of job. You were a cog in the wheel of some kind of grander scheme of the workforce.
When you retire suddenly you are just you again. You look in the mirror and you don’t see the same person you saw before. No one notices if you sleep in late. No one misses you because you don’t show up. You have no guidance from your employer on what you are expected to accomplish each day. You make all the rules for your time, who you interact with, and even in some cases what you wear.
RangerSir is making the transition into retirement living. He is a little lost and feeling his way around. He is exploring who else is retired and has time to “play” with him. He is remembering things he liked to do when he was younger and once again trying his hand at them. He is checking out things that folks have been telling him about to see if he is interested. He is dragging his feet on somethings and embracing others.
He watches me get up and buzz around with deliberate purpose each morning. It is a bit mystifying to him. Having retired before him I have already made my transition into managing my life for me. I have a list of daily chores I need to do. I did this because I never want to spend a single day of my retirement cleaning house, doing bills, laundry or any other mundane chore. I have it set up so even on my worst day I never spend more than 40 minutes doing my chores. Once my chores are done I am free for the day. I can read. I can spend it with my arty friends. I can spend time in my studio sewing, painting or anything else that moves me. I try to get 250 steps in 10 hours of every day. If my Fitbit tells me that I am in danger of not getting it done. I hop up and head to the treadmill or outside to get 5 minutes of activity to meet my goal. He thinks that is plain crazy. I do yoga in the early morning 4 days a week. I don’t think he yet knows about that. It is what I have discovered works for my household, my mental health, and my physical health for me in retirement.
Even though we have been married nearly 40 years and are philosophically and our moral compass is the same, we are different in many other ways. I am a morning person and like a clean house, but hate to clean. He, on the other hand, is a night owl and would rather spend a single day—all day–doing things I think of as chores and drudgery. He likes TV, and I like to read. I have several hobbies I enjoy but hate exercise. He likes physical activity but does not have many hobbies. We are very much opposites in many ways. He has to figure out what works for him, and what he wants to do. No rush. He needs to try things. Explore. As he finds his groove we will then have to figure out how to mesh our wishes and needs to make both of us happy.
We are already working this out. I am doing some of my Fitbit time walking with him, a sort of exercise together. I go meet with my “Art Ladies” when he goes to the gym. We are making our way through this all.
It is a time of discovery for both of us. It is a time of change for both us. It is another season of life and all the changes that come with it.
After a long hiatus, I am going to try working on this blog again as we enter a new season of life, retirement. I will be sharing challenges, things we do, things we discover and anything else that pops into my mind as I look out the window and enter the next season of our lives.
RangerSir and I attended his retirement party last night. Life will never be the same, which is good and sad at the same time. Keep watch as we share more about this new life.