Recently a former co-worker and I were discussing our respective retirement incomes. She ended one of her emails to me quoting the old adage about money not buying happiness. And she’s right, it certainly cannot. But her mentioning this familiar phrase did get me to think about how the choices we make in search of happiness often intersect with the practical realities of our daily lives.
For instance, take my wife.
Okay, well, first enjoy this quick Henny Youngman joke and then I’ll make my point. Sorry, but I think there’s a written rule somewhere that if you use that comedic term of art, you are required to follow-up with an actual Youngman one-liner.
Gorgeous literally came into my life offering two things: (1) her unconditional love, and (2) the largest amount of kitchen accessories I have ever seen outside of a Williams-Sonoma store. As you can imagine, I have reaped the benefits of having both of those gifts. Some things are indeed priceless.
What Gorgeous did not bring to our marriage was money. She walked away from a long-term relationship in which the man in her life held strong to very conservative values and views when it came to money. Specifically, none of it was placed in a joint account nor anything specifically set aside for her personally. She was provided for in all areas but not with any specific financial remuneration. As a result, when she left that relationship she did so without the benefit of normal legal protections that one normally receives from settlements, alimony, etc. In addition, she also had no FICA or self-directed Social Security payments made during the 30 years of that relationship. So from 1982 to 2012 her Social Security record literally has zeros noted next to each year.
My response to this situation? I put her to work immediately to start earning an income and paying those important Social Security and Medicare taxes, etc. Then…
… I decided to retire in very short order. Pretty crafty, eh? I have conservative values too, but only as they pertain to me apparently.
My decision to take early retirement was predicated on the fact that Gorgeous and I would swap financial roles. Where I was the primary wage earner when we married, she assumed that mantle once I left the workforce. We are able to do this because she has a growing and very loyal client base who call her regularly to avail themselves of the services that she offers. But for her business, I would not have been able to retire early.
Between her income and the monthly annuity I receive from my former employer, our living expenses have fortunately come out lower than the original estimates we drew up in the months prior to my retirement. This is in part due to our living in a lower-cost state such as Florida, which has no personal state income tax, and our also residing in a third-tier city on the state’s “Treasure Coast.” What we lack in the way of available shopping offerings than what them fancy locales to the south and west of us have (i.e. West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Sarasota), we also gain by living in a slightly provincial yet affordable place to live. Or, as I continue to remind my favorite film review blogger, JustmeMike, “$3.99 matinees here daily, Baby!”
All of the above elements being in place are key to the relative success of pulling off this audacious retirement move.¹ For instance, should Gorgeous’ income suddenly take a dramatic downward dip, I would be in the position of pounding the pavement in search of a part-time job quicker than you can say the words “Wal-Mart Greeter.”
Fortunately I have no children and Gorgeous’ only child is a 25 year-old adult who is financially self-sustaining (Hi, A). Other than a monthly alimony obligation, I have no monetary responsibilities to anyone other than the two of us and the Florida state lottery.² This too was an essential consideration in our decision for me to retire early. For example, I have several friends who are either still with children in college or helping to pay off their offspring’s post-graduation tuition bills.
The good news is I have no children of my own; the bad news is likewise that I have no children of my own. Someday I suspect one of my nephews will be called by a rehab facility about me. He’ll arrive with his sunglasses-wearing spouse who will stand in the corner of the room staring and not say anything, while constantly texting away on her phone and glancing up at the clock on the wall. There’s my 2:30 am nightmare!
But to forestall or possibly even negate such an occurrence, Gorgeous has embarked upon a savings plan that fulfills all of the wishes she had when she was a pre-middle aged woman. For the first time in her adult life she is now a proud owner — and when I say proud I am speaking of something akin to euphoria — of a Roth IRA invested in a mutual fund emulating the Standard and Poors 500 index. Last month she took $1000 from her latest earnings and made an initial investment, and this was followed by her first regular monthly contribution this month too. She’s determined to make regular such investments over the next year and beyond.
It was exciting and endearing to watch her make her first actual investment after years of only dreaming of such a possibility. Instead of staring at the Food Channel above her elliptical during her gym workout, I am noticing more and more how she’s instead glancing at CNBC as she learns the stock ticker symbols for the Dow, NASDAQ, Russell 2000, etc. Our morning coffee chat is lately more about the differences between stock and bond funds than Charlie Rose’s socks.
The maximum allowable amount to contribute to an IRA after the age of 50 is $6500 a year. It’s Gorgeous’ goal to invest that amount if not this year than next, and continue to do so for as many years as her business income allows. In spite of not contributing to Social Security for 30 years, she still is fortunate to only have three more years of contributing to make the minimum for a basic benefit. This is because of the years that she did contribute prior to the period when she stopped working. Let’s hope whomever wins the next election has a plan that will somehow keep the Social Security trust fund from going bankrupt. Perhaps Mr. Trump might have a few ideas about this since he seems to feel bankruptcy was a boon to his own business acumen. A fellow can at least fantasize for that anyway.
We’ll know in a handful of years how our plans shake out. If you see me wearing a blue vest and pointing to where the vitamin aisle is, you might have your answer.
Until next time…
¹ To my knowledge, I am the first of all of my same-age peers who retired early.
² As posted earlier, feel free to contact me if you are single male with both a pulse and an income. I have a woman I’d love to introduce to you.