Peter Dunn, Special to USA TODAY
Published 7:01 a.m. ET July 19, 2020
USA TODAY’s Janna Herron explains the theory behind the FIRE movement – Financial Independence, Retire Early
My employer just came to me with an early retirement offer, as they’re struggling due to the economic downturn. I’m 62 years old, while my husband is 63, and together we have about $1.6 million in retirement accounts. I’m the primary breadwinner in my family, and my current income is $70,000 of our $110,000 household income. We don’t have any debt, and live very frugally. We need only about $3,000 a month, all in. The offer would pay me $50,000 to retire immediately, and they would pay our health insurance until we’re eligible for Medicare. We’re currently not drawing on Social Security retirement yet. Should I take it and just focus on spending time with the grandkids?
Early-retirement packages will be all the rage in the coming months, and each one has the ability to convince a person, otherwise unprepared for retirement, that they should retire. Fortunately, Elizabeth, this is not the case with you.
Between your husband’s income, Social Security, and the income you can safely and repeatedly generate from your retirement assets, you could generate somewhere between $8,000 to $10,000 per month. Given you’re a self-described frugalista, the real key is deciding what sources of income to tap first, and what income sources to save for later.
Set an appointment with a financial planner, and ask her to put together an income strategy based on your health and other factors. And the fact they’re paying for your health care coverage solves yet another usually tough problem.
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As much as I want to make your question about math, I think the bigger issue for you doesn’t involve math. Why? Because the math of your situation has made your situation not about math. In other words, you can easily retire today, with or without the $50,000 early retirement sweetener. Therefore, the real question is whether you’re emotionally and socially prepared to retire.
Retirement is not an extended vacation. It’s not a day off followed by several more days off. It is an entirely different stage of life. Just like going to college, getting married, having children, and becoming empty-nesters challenge every ounce of your psyche, so does the completion of your work career.
Recognizing the gravity of life change is vital to thriving on the other side of it.
One of the most impactful aspects of America’s willingness to discuss and acknowledge mental health over the last decade or so has been the normalization of checking in on your own mental health when major life events occur. Yes, retiring after decades of work is a wonderful and momentous occasion, but it can also play some games with your feelings of self-worth and accomplishment.
The world is your oyster. You can retire from paid work for good. You can change careers. You can work part-time. You can become a volunteer or even a super volunteer. Some people wait until they retire to explore these possibilities, but it’s vital to vet different ideas prior to turning in your retirement paperwork.
It’s conceivable for you to be a retiree as long as you were a worker. This happens all the time for people who retire in their 50s, and it’s absolutely possible for those who retire in their early 60s. Not only should this fact make you look long and hard at the math, but it should also make you look long and hard about your lifestyle plan. When is the last time you had 168 hours every week to do whatever it is you want to do? I’ll answer that for you: Probably when you were a teenager.
If you’re able to come to terms with what’s next, and that reality is more or equally pleasing as your current reality, you will receive $50,000 to do something you would/should do for free anyway. However, if you haven’t begun to define what’s next possible in the next stage of your life, the $50,000 carrot may simply not be worth it.
Retirement for you is not about the math, and that’s how you know you did an excellent job planning for retirement. Now it’s time to harness that same diligence to determine what’s next.
Peter Dunn is an author, speaker and radio host, and he has a free podcast: “Million Dollar Plan.” Have a question for Pete the Planner? Email him at AskPete@petetheplanner.com. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
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