If you are 60 or older, have enough money and are considering retirement, you might retire after reading this blog post.* Nobody wants to die sooner than expected with plenty of money. Case in point: a few years ago, I was shocked by the death of Joe, a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher colleague, for five reasons. He was only 66, had plenty of money/pension benefit, he enjoyed retirement life with his friends, those friends encouraged him to retire too, but the most interesting reason–he was torn for years until it was too late.
My late husband, Dan, on the other hand, retired and enjoyed retirement for 15 years. Both Joe’s and Dan’s untimely death and the threat of health issues are constant reminders to be prepared for retirement a long time before death decides to do this for us. We often dismiss diseases and death as too uncomfortable topics to discuss and assume that we will live a long time. The realities of a shortened life, we believe, happen to other people. Both Joe’s and Dan’s deaths were unpredictable and shocking. But it is a persistent reminder that life and our time of death have a schedule, too.
Many people look forward to retirement life and have many plans. Most of us think about life after the career as an opportunity to do something different and meaningful full-time. Most of us agree that a less stressful and fulfilling lifestyle sounds wonderful. Reading, traveling, learning new skills and experiences, devoting to a lifelong hobby with all of your energy focused, supporting causes and organizations that reflect your political or social values and spending time with family and friends are lovely.
While Joe had a higher than average pension benefit and had additional assets to support his retirement activities, he didn’t think about life after his career. When friends nagged him to retire and live in Palm Springs, he was too frightened to make the jump. He complained he would not know what to do. His rationale made little sense as he regularly came out to the desert, enjoyed his time, the parties, square dancing, and the Palm Springs nightlife. Joe was friendly and had no problem making new friends. So, he had a pretty good idea of what retirement was like, as he already experienced the best of it and most of his friends were retired.
Still, he wasn’t convinced. The idea of picking up stakes and leaving Los Angeles and moving out to the desert was impossible. This tug and pull about retiring versus working continued every year for a long time.
Finally, he announced to his friends that he really, really decided to hang it up. But just before the new school year began, Joe changed his mind again and returned to work! OMG! His friends and I were stunned. Sadly, he taught for only six more months. At which time he complained of a persistent cough to his doctor. He died a few months later from lung cancer. Life can be both random and predictable, cruel and beautiful. For Joe, it was random and cruel.
On the other hand, my late husband Dan planned for both living a long time and dying prematurely. How in the world did he plan for both? Dan and I were fortunate that we had already experienced an advanced warning about unpredictable health threats years ago. At age 53 I was diagnosed with stage 2, colon cancer. I was depressed, bewildered and afraid for my life as you imagine. I was also angry at my body for betraying me. I worked hard and did all the right healthy things: avid runner, health food nut, nonsmoker and nondrinker and excellent shape all my adult life–all for naught. I got a symbolic slap in the face that life is impermanent and all we have is now.
From my cancer experience, Dan considered what life could throw at us, too. As promised he retired as soon as he turned 59 years old after planning during most of his working life. Like many other early retirees, he did fun activities such as hiking and climbing the ladder to becoming the president of a favorite Los Angeles hiking club, Great Outdoors. A few years later when I retired at 61 years old, we sold our properties and moved to Rancho Mirage California. We toured the country with our fifth-wheel trailer reuniting with friends and family. We wrote a book together about investments and planning for retirement. Although Dan also died prematurely at 74, he was fortunate that he planned and enjoyed retirement life.
Readers, here is the bottom line: If you have saved enough money and you want to retire, don’t wait. Retire now! Do yourself (and your students) a favor and allow the younger teachers who have the energy, stamina and the creativity to work. If you have enough of a pension benefit, social security and you have already socked away money on your own, you are financially ready. Hopefully, this article will at least help you distinguish between your emotions (fear of change) and logic (have enough financial support).
Perhaps contracting cancer at 53 was a good thing as it forced Dan and me to think about priorities. Don’t fall for the statistics which give the impression we will live a long retirement life, and that it’s always “somebody else’s” who gets cut short. Retire now!
*Many people LOVE their careers, as much as retired folks LOVE the freedom and wonder of retirement life. My first school principal and my sister worked until they were 83. They loved their work and were lucky and healthy both mentally and physically to work and enjoy what they did for so long. They would not be happy doing what most of us retirees do: enjoy our volunteer activities full time, traveling and entertaining and to be deliciously finished with our bosses’ agendas. This blog post is for working folks who genuinely like the idea of the retirement lifestyle but are either undecided, afraid, or torn about taking the plunge into life after the career.
*Stephen A. Schullo, Ph.D. (UCLA ’96) taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for 24 years and UCLA Extension teaching educational technology to student teachers. Steve wrote investment articles for the United Teacher-Los Angeles (UTLA) newspaper for 13 years. Thrice featured retirement plan advocate in the Los Angeles Times and U.S. News and World Report. He co-founded an investor self-help group (403bAware with a colleague, Sandy Keaton) for teacher colleagues and wrote 6,500 posts in three investment forums since 1997. Frequently quoted by the media, testified at California State legislative hearings and honored with the “Unsung Hero” award by UTLA for his retirement planning advocacy.
For the last eleven years, he continues to serve on LAUSD’s Retirement Investment Advisory Committee (RIAC) as a “Member-at-Large” and former co-chair. The committee monitors the 403(b) and the award-winning 457(b) plan of 55,000 former and current LAUSD employees, worth $2.2 billion in total assets. Lastly, Steve and his late husband, Dan, were featured participants for the award-winning documentary, PBS Frontline: The Retirement Gamble, aired April 23, 2013.
Steve is the author of an additional new book, released last year, “Fighting Powerful Interests: Educators Challenge Tax-sheltered Annuities and WIN!” A story of how a handful of LAUSD educators struggled for years to improve the 403(b) to no avail. But we never quit! We were instrumental in LAUSD’s implementation of the new 457(b) plan, and ended up with a “Plan Design” award.