“So where are you from?” the driver of the shuttle asked my husband and me as he drove us around Walt Disney World on our recent vacation. When we answered him, it turned out he hailed from a small town just a short drive from where we live – proof that it is, indeed, a small world after all.
“How’d you end up in Orlando?” I followed up.
It turned out to be a loaded question. It also turned out to be one of the most enlightening discussions I’ve ever had on how to have a successful retirement.
We’ll call the driver of that shuttle Joe – because it’s easy to remember and I, unfortunately, have forgotten what his name actually was. Anyway, Joe told me that when he and his wife first came to Orlando on a family vacation in the late 1970s, they fell in love with the area and vowed to return after retiring.
But they did more than just make a vow; they started making plans, too.
Joe told me how they took advantage of the first generation of 401(k) accounts offered by their employers in the 1980s. He told me how he urged his children to attend public colleges and universities instead of pricier private schools, with the promise that if they did, he’d pay their way. He told me how when he retired as a principal of a public high school five years ago, he didn’t hesitate when a neighboring school district offered him an administrative job, allowing him to double dip on his retirement, a second salary, and leave his Social Security alone. He also talked about how his wife – who’d always worked part-time as a CPA – found new enthusiasm for the field after receiving a full-time job offer from the staple of Orlando-area economics: Disney itself. He told me how when that full-time job required that the couple move to Florida, he opted to rent out his house back home in a down market rather than sell it at a reduced price.
What Joe Taught Me
In short, Joe told me his entire financial life story in about 15 minutes. Here are the lessons I took away from our conversation:
- I’d always heard that you should leave your Social Security income alone for as long as possible; I’d even seen the charts, showing how you can bring in so much more from Social Security if you don’t touch it until you’re 70 as compared to 62. Joe mentioned that by delaying his payments until his late 60s, he increased his monthly checks by nearly 50%.
- Work as long as you can. Not only did Joe take advantage of a post-retirement job offer – allowing him to continue saving money, rather than switch to spending from any of his personal pension plans or his retirement accounts – he embarked on yet another job once he arrived in Florida: driving the Disney shuttle. He said he enjoyed his second career even more than his first, because he knew there were no strings attached: “No pressure to move up. I just keep driving, and that’s it.” Work without the pressure? Sounds divine. Joe’s wife, by his account, was loving her second career, too.
- Joe and his wife owned their old home outright, which is why renting it rather than selling it made a lot of sense for them. He can still use the property as an investment, and wait to sell it until the market picks up again.
- They set goals early on, and evaluated their progress regularly to make sure they were on the right path. His story seemed to be the antithesis of those ING commercials,where errant savers just throw whatever money they have at their retirement accounts, without really thinking about what they’ll actually need in their golden years.
- Helping your kids while still living within your means. Joe knew that his dreams may be compromised by sending three kids (two girls, one boy) to pricey private schools for college; he encouraged them to seek lower-cost schools, promising to help finance those dreams under his terms.
My Retirement Plan
So how are you planning for your retirement? Are you saving money? Investing it wisely? Do you have a goal in mind? Are you constantly reviewing that goal, making sure you’re on the track to attaining it?
Before meeting Joe, my answers to these questions were closer to “Uh, I don’t know” and “I guess” than a decisive “Yes.” IthoughtI was doing enough, but now I realize that I was simply throwing money blindly at a hazy, far-off dream. Our retirement years are still 30, 35, maybe 40 years away, but that doesn’t mean it’s too soon for me to chart our course. Sure, the goal – and the path to it – may change, but I’ve never heard anyone say, “I regret saving for retirement so early”… and I doubt I’ll be the first.
Reader, what is your goal for retirement? What, if any, steps are you already taking to get there?