The Disadvantages of Early Retirement

My first question is: Retire from what? The obvious answer would be retiring from one’s job, but a more accurate definition might be retiring from someone else’s claim on my time and resources. If I’m going to go with what I feel to be the more accurate description, then the major disadvantage would be that I’d given my career nothing but the best years of my life, without forcing it to accept your slower, less aggressive years. Phooey on that. I wouldn’t give anybody or any thing my best, then leave just crumbs for myself. In fact, my husband and I planned our working lives exactly on that principle.

We took our retirement in the middle.

Neither one of us have been very good at planning for the future, but at some point in our early 40s we realized that this death business applied to us, that we weren’t the only two immortal people on the face of the earth, and that life was a lot like money and needed to be spent with care. We actually sat down and planned how we’d manage the fourth, fifth, and hopefully the sixth and seventh chapters of our lives. It’s a good thing we did, because there were some tough time ahead.

We had been good little parents and dutifully saved for our daughter’s college education, but we were so wrapped up in our saving and excitement about her future, we forgot to consider the empty nest syndrome (we only have one child). Finding ourselves sitting around with nobody else in the room kind of smacked us upside the head. It was a period of loneliness, interlaced with spurts of melodrama. One day our daughter would call crying and begging to come home because she was so miserable, then the next week she’d go days without calling because life was just so thrilling, stimulating, and full of joy that-whoops-she plum forgot she had a home and two abandoned parents still parked there.

We’d just about gotten used to it being the two of us and buying milk by the quart, instead of the gallon, when both of our parents started to ail. It began with my mother, then soon after that my husband’s father had major health issues, and hot on the heels of his health problems came his mother’s cancer. For three years all we could do was hold our breath and hope we could run fast enough to catch up with one crisis after another. Within 18 months, all three of our parents had died, along with assorted aunts and uncles. There was a point when we realized that the entire top tier of our family was gone, and that we were now the elders. That was not good news for anybody in the family. It was a miracle that we realized we were the ones the younger generations would now look to for wisdom, just as the time came when we’d decided earlier to retire in the middle. We needed to get away to unwind from all the chaos, have some time to grieve, and brace ourselves for being the grown-ups.

First we downsized our style of living, signed up for our meager early retirement checks, and then we packed our bags. We took off for Europe, cruised down to Mexico, went to Europe again, came home and went out for breakfast at 3 a.m. if we felt like it, and started hiking the mountains surrounding this valley. During this time my husband took a job with Starbucks. We were retiring in the middle, not stupid. We knew we’d need medical coverage, and Starbucks offered that for employees who worked an average of 20 hours per week per quarter. Besides being a fairly easy and quick job, we saved several thousand per year by not having to buy our daily mochas. I quit the gym to work at a bookstore, where they ran me silly 15 hours a week and paid me seven bucks an hour for the workout. Both of our part time jobs were flexible and left plenty of time to take off and do as we pleased, until our saved money ran out and our grunt jobs weren’t enough to pay the bills. That’s when our mid-retirement was over.

I’m now back at work with a pharmaceutical company, where the employment application asked: “Are you up to the physical demands of the job, i.e. sitting for two hours at a stretch.” Yep. I’ve got that one covered. My husband added teaching a few classes at the community college to his Starbuck’s work week, but only enough to keep his income under the line that allows him to still collect his retirement check. There’s no ambition to the work I do, and no ladder to climb like there was with the work I did before mid-life retirement. When my day is over, it’s really over, and my time belongs to me. Ditto for the husband.

Both of us like our low stress jobs. We like having some structure to our lives, and an excuse ready in case our daughter has children and wants us to babysit. Between the loss of our parents, our daughter growing up, and us getting out to experience some of the world, our priorities have changed a lot. Our values have changed, and we’ve found that we’re the richest when we’re tight on money and loose with our imaginations on how to amuse ourselves.

I suppose our employers will take a crow bar and force us out of our jobs at some point, but by then we’ll have saved a little more for our last retirement, and have enough creative resources to live cheap and long on some obscure tropical island, or maybe a little condo somewhere in town. I don’t think I’d want to take early retirement and have all those years wiggling ahead of me without structure. I also feel more capable of being an elder, now that I’ve taken the time to explore the world and have had a hearty romp at being carefree and a wee bit reckless in my prime. I’m ready now to be wise and give counsel to the younger generations because I don’t feel I’ve given up anything or lost out on a vigorous retirement, which both I and my husband so rightfully deserved. My only regret is a not having a mountain of disposable income. I can’t romance away the pleasures of luxury, but like the song says, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you just might find, you get what you need.” Thanks, Mick. I appreciate you singing my song for me.