The Seven Dollar Surprise

$7

The new year has ushered in another milepost for my retirement.  Last weekend I received in the mail the final amount of my monthly pension.  Since I retired in August, I have been receiving an interim payment until my former employer finalizes my annuity.

Fortunately the annuity is merely one leg of my three-legged retirement income stool. Because I took advantage of early retirement one year prior to my official date, I have to wait another year before I can receive the second leg, a supplemental payment that provides a bridge to Social Security at age 62.¹  The third leg is my 401(k) “nest egg” that I hope to delay from touching for as long as possible.

I had promised my former H.R. officer “Blue Eyes” (first written about here) that I would let him know when I received this final annuity amount.  A perfectionist, Blue Eyes likes to compare the figure to the estimate that he himself had created in the months before I flew the coop.  I duly scanned the pertinent pages and emailed it to him for his perusal on Monday morning when he arrived at the office.

This final annuity also reveals for the first time the amount that will automatically be paid to my ex-wife, per our divorce decree.  By prior arrangement, I forwarded the information to her attorney.  Within two hours I received a cordial response verifying receipt.  She also immediately confirmed our earlier agreement that for the next year I can pay a reduced alimony.  This reduction is the difference of the payment my ex will receive from my annuity and the full alimony amount specified in the decree.

This gets us through the next 12 months.  Starting next December though, when the amount of the supplemental is also verified, I may need to contact my tailor for a fitting of a new suit of armor (I’m noticing a bit of a “retirement paunch” appearing above my belly lately.  Winter weight?).  At that time, we will have new negotiations over what I am hopeful will be a permanent and revised (i.e. lower) alimony amount going forward.  In a spirit of anonymous goodwill, I am refraining from calling my ex by her blog nickname of The Revisionist.  But it does help now to copy in her lawyer into all alimony-related e-mails.

Meanwhile, the ever-efficient Blue Eyes indeed got into work on Monday morning and pored over the scanned figures I sent to him.  The strict slave to perfection that he is, he immediately noticed something wrong.  Pulling up my paperwork on his computer, within minutes he found a pay change discrepancy that the central personnel staff neglected to take into account when crunching their own set of the same numbers.  He then fired off an e-mail to me asking me to call him ASAP.

Excitedly, I called him.  As Blue Eyes began to explain to me what he found, I had delusions of grandeur going on in my head.  I was already imagining how wonderful it will be when the true annuity amount will soon become $200 or $300 more than what it is presently.  Vacations, a new iPad, and that vintage stereo system I have my eye on are now finally within reach!

I should admit that most of what he said to me made absolutely no sense.  I heard phrases such as “pay differential” and “sliding scale,” plus an explanation of at least two mathematical formulas that my accountant would enjoy.  I was just patiently waiting for him to finally get to the bottom line as I mentally decided between a leather or chrome iPad cover.

Finally I heard him come out with a definitive wrapping-up sentence in which a dollar amount was mentioned.  But because I was mentally dancing with excitement, my brain didn’t quite interpret correctly what he was saying.  I asked him to repeat and he said that the difference he found was seven dollars.

Seven dollars????   Are you kidding me???!!!   

He happily told me that he would update all the information as soon as we ended our conversation, and then transmit it to the central personnel office.

You are a young guy and that $7 monthly difference will equal $2100 over 25 years,” he proudly explained.

It’s hard to argue with such reasoning.  And of course, he’s absolutely right.  That is seven dollars that should be coming to me, and of course I am overwhelmed by his actions on my behalf, a now former employee.  He did NOT have to do that for me.  But boy, that long weekend in Nassau curled up on a blanket with my gleaming new iPad sure did disappear in the blink of an eye.

Some context and perspective is always healthy.  There are millions of people whose pensions have long since bit the dust because they worked for companies that are bankrupt and no longer exist.  Likewise, millions more work at minimum wage jobs and are counting on Social Security to still be around when they become old because it will be their only source of income. So I do therefore consider myself very fortunate in spite of what I think are setbacks in my way sometimes.

Retirement is about accepting change.  There are changes in income, insurance plan details, doctor and medication co-pays, etc.  There are also emotional and sometimes geographic changes that impact friend and familial relationships.  The ability to cope with such changes, bounce back, and move on from them is what’s important.  In the main, I’m pretty amused by my seven dollar episode.  But in a year I’ll have to deal with a more significant exchange with my ex-wife and her lawyer that will result in yet another change, and I hope that I’ll continue to stay amused.  As singer Emily Sailers says, you have to laugh, otherwise you’ll cry your eyes out.

Two tall mocha lattes cost around $7.00.  My treat.

¹  At 62 I will have a choice to start Social Security or not.  But whatever my decision, this wonderful supplement from my former employer will end at that time.  At the moment it’s my intention to delay Social Security for as long as possible.  Anyone got odds from Vegas on this?

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13 thoughts on “The Seven Dollar Surprise

  1. All tough decisions. My husband started SS early because the financial person (who I did not like) convinced him that over time providing he lived long enough, it would be equal and he would be enjoying the money sooner. I, on the other hand, held out until I got full benefits. I didn’t need to start it so it made more sense to me. Part of that of course is what you need and the difference in $$. My friend took it early because it was a difference of less than $10. Your ex is one lucky person. I haven’t heard of permanent alimony since the 60s. Most times it’s considered transitional until the spouse can get the education or skills needed to get a job or until the children are out of the house. I wish you the best of luck with your decisions and your newly found $7.

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  2. Yes, California divorce laws are quite generous for long-term marriages (ours was 20 years). I decided immediately that I would never become embittered by the experience because I feared doing so would keep me that way. I don’t want to be a permanently bitter person. She will always receive her portion of the annuity because of the length of our marriage, but I do hope, pray, and keep paws crossed that she’ll remarry so that the alimony will at least end.

    I have heard those same arguments about Social Security payments equaling out over time should you start it early and live a long a life. But I believe that if you’re in a position where you don’t need to take it, then you should hold off. That’s still going to be my game plan. If I’m blogging in seven years, I will post my decision then. 😉

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    • You are a smart man. Truly it’s only money. My ex was married three times. First wife had 3 (wonderful) children with him. We both got a generous settlement that allowed us to rebound well in the job market. He bounced back and remarried (someone his daughter’s age) and has adjusted to a different life style quite happily. None of us are bitter and all of us are happy but I do have friends who continue to snipe at their exes. The worst is through the kids.

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      • Whenever I hear about men being with women way younger than themselves, I always think of that great Steely Dan song, Hey Nineteen. I love that line, “We’ve got nothing to talk about.” But hopefully your ex does have something to talk about. 🙂 Yes, it’s only money. You have to move on gracefully. Life is too short to keep it all the regret inside.

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    • In my specific case, although the California “DissoMaster” software rules for both family lawyers and family court judges alike, my wife made very little during our marriage. She had the “fun” job of being a travel agent that provided very little pay. I had the serious job that did pay. So when the software crunched the numbers it ended up so lopsided that, yes, she gets alimony forever. As I’ve written earlier, if you know a man for her that is breathing and has a salary, please contact me. And don’t drink that Venti vanilla nonfat chai latte too fast — these things need to be savored.

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