Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

What an eye opener.  I had no idea how many decisions there would be prior to retirement! I know that not everyone has the exact same situation but there are so many things to think about.  As I’ve been learning, listening and reading, I feel like I’m peeling layers from an onion. 

One question leads to another, other questions lead to a decision point and all decisions have a bearing on other decisions.  On the one hand, I’m finding this exhausting and confusing and on the other hand I’m realizing that I’m grateful to have the time to figure this out.

There are many decisions in life that are temporary or short term.  You can change your mind when the circumstances change in the future.  But a number of retirement decisions not only have a consequence, several of them can’t be changed later.  Mostly, all of those types of decisions would be easier if you knew when you or your spouse were going to pass away.  But, unfortunately there are only so many times that you can go on those calculators that ask, “How long will I live?”  The answer is always the same.  Pretty soon you realize that since no one knows the time or date of your death, you will never have all the information you’ll need to decide what choices to make.

Many of these decisions are related to finances, but there is a relationship to your retirement dreams.  How much your dreams will cost, where you will live and what you plan on doing everyday all have a bearing on your decisions.

I think working on your purpose and goals is a great place to start. Knowing what you are good at, knowing what you love and knowing how you can serve others – if those things can intersect and it doesn’t cost too much – that would be magic!

But after you know your purpose, there are quite a few important decisions to consider.  While I don’t have all the answers or even all of the information, here is list of some things that we are talking about.  Having a trusted financial planner has helped us, but in the end, the decisions we make are completely up to us.

Social Security – draw early, at full retirement age or wait until 70?

Pensions – Cost of Living Allowance or not?  Survivorship at 100%, 66.66% or 50% or none?

Take withdrawals from retirement savings or cut expenses?

401(k) or 457(b) – Keep where they are or roll over to an IRA for more investment options and less fees?

Retirement dates – day of the month, or a specific month, what is better?

Life Insurance as a Pension Maximizer – Good idea or not so good?

Medical Insurance – COBRA, State plans, private insurance if you are retiring before medicare eligible?

Housing – Live in the same house or in the same community or change it up and move?

Leave accrual cash outs – take the cash or put into Deferred Compensation to avoid taxes?

To celebrate retirement – Have a big party, take a trip, or save the money?

There are books and articles and advisors.  There is research you can do and there are spreadsheets and charts to read and analyze.  Some things take more time than I realized.  We know it is up to us to make those calls and get the answers we need.  

For example, before I can apply to retire from the State of Washington retirement system I have to get an estimate.  The first time I requested an estimate it took 4 weeks and they made a mistake.  My second time around it will take 5 – 6 weeks.  I’m still waiting.  Only after the estimate has been provided and I agree with it can I actually take the steps to apply.  There are documents to submit like marriage certificates, birth certificates and forms to sign that all take time to find and submit.  I’m so glad I’m doing this now.

We are weighing and deciding the cost versus the benefits of the various survivorship options for my pension.  This is a decision that I get one chance to decide.  Depending on my choice there could be heavy discounts every month for the rest of my life.  But if I want to consider a term life insurance as an option, before I can even understand the cost of different coverages, I’ll need to have a third party medical evaluation and the underwriting can take 45 – 60 days.  Also I learned that if I’m insured before my next birthday, they’ll use the earlier date to set my rates.  Who knows all of this stuff?

My conclusions so far:

There are “no bad ideas” when you are brainstorming

There are more questions than answers early in this process

There are lots of people out there that their entire job is to help you

All of this takes time – the phone calls, meetings and appointments

You will never have all the information you need

You don’t know how long you will live and so there are no guarantees

Once you pick a retirement date the clock is ticking

The best decisions are made when you have more information

You need some time to evaluate what is best for you and your partner

We are getting closer everyday, but we are not there yet!

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

Costa Rica will have to wait

I have been blessed to accrue a large amount of leave time as a director.  Sometimes when you are responsible to provide leadership support for a large department, it is very difficult to take all of the leave time you accrue.  Part of my final compensation will be a cash out for some of those hours.

I’ve been thinking about what to do with the money I’ll receive from the hours I didn’t have time to take while working.  Should I put it in my deferred compensation, save it or spend it on my kids and grandkids?  It really is a blessing to me and there is no bad option for us.

My plan is to use some of the money and take my two children and their spouses and my four grandchildren to Costa Rica.  There would be ten of us.  I would love to split time between a beach experience and the jungle.  I hope to  take them to Manuel Antonio National Park to explore the park and enjoy seeing all of the wildlife.  https://manuelantoniopark.com

Staying once again at The Tulemar Resort ( https://www.tulemarresort.com) in what are essentially tree houses among the monkeys and the sloth would be an amazing experience for my four grandkids.  They are the perfect ages, 8, 7, 7 and 4 to learn about nature and actually see the birds, animals and crocodiles they have only looked at in picture books.  

Seven year’s ago, when our girl’s trip took us to Costa Rica, we loved that the Tulemar Bungalows were essentially a cage for the humans.  The windows were open but covered in wire.  Every morning we could hear the jungle birds and then all kinds of monkeys would be screeching from a distance and we could hear them coming toward our bungalow.  They would pass by every morning looking at the humans inside the cage, it was an incredible experience that I want to share with my family. I have known I wanted to bring my family back there if we could. 

We are fortunate to enjoy a close family relationship and the kids and the cousins love to be together.  In my generation, we didn’t do very much in terms of travel anyway, but we very rarely went anywhere with our parents, especially  once we were adults.  Being the parents of millennials is a completely different experience.  Our kids have included us in their proposals to their future spouse and even let us help them with planning their honeymoons.  Of course we paid for a part of their honeymoons so maybe that was why!

Every year we take at least one tropical vacation to Mexico together during the wet Pacific Northwest winters and we try to find a place to rent on a river or a lake in either Washington or Oregon in the summertime.  Our kids and grandkids and even sometimes our dogs love to take vacations together.  We have recognized that life is short and making memories is so important that we all make it a priority.

While I recognize that we are truly blessed, I’m still a little sad and disappointed as I look forward to my retirement date.  I had imagined that we would be taking this long awaited trip to Costa Rica   A trip like this requires planning usually a year in advance and with the pandemic raging across the United States it is unclear when we can actually start planning again.  For now, it is on my bucket list and for this year at least, Costa Rica will have to wait.

Conversations for Possibility

One of the things we’ve been doing a lot lately is having what we call “Conversations for Possibility”.  When I was learning about decision making for work projects about 15 years ago I learned that when there is money or a deadline attached to a decision, it can cause stress and conflict.

Because decisions have real impacts, on when something will happen and how much it will cost, the stakes are higher.  Sometimes our “lesser” selves come out and instead of looking at all of the options, weighing the pros and cons and deciding what is the best decision based on the information we have, we can become scared and emotional.  

By starting our evening walk and talks with a clear answer to one of these questions, “Is this a conversation for possibility?” or “Is this a conversation for decision?” we have actually enjoyed the process of planning for retirement.

We are both noticing that without a deadline or a real cost, the stakes are lower and we can honestly share our hearts. However, when we know a decision is needed, it is not so easy.  For our future activities, we’ve talked about international places we might want to visit when it is safe.  We have imagined possibilities for travel in the United States but bounce back and forth between getting a travel trailer and camping or a boat and cruising Puget Sound.  We’ve talked about spending more time doing things we already have the supplies and equipment for, such as hiking, snow skiing, camping and biking.  We’ve talked about trying something completely new for both of us or just one of us.  Golf lessons for me comes to mind.

For us, it isn’t only about activities.  We have a huge family and reconnecting with them when it is safe to do so is important to both of us.  We haven’t celebrated a holiday with everyone since last Christmas.  The last family reunions we hosted in our backyard had 80 people in 2018 and about 75 people, including cousins we found in Ireland, in 2013.  We are very hopeful we can bring everyone together again.

We have also explored ways to give back to our community.  Will we do this together or individually?  How will our schedules work together when things start to return to whatever “normal” becomes.  In fact, we went back to church for the first time after 6 months and our life group will be meeting this week in person instead of a Zoom call.  This is an area that probably will need the most attention for us.

For my husband and me, these and other questions are being talked about at least two or three times each week.  They aren’t long conversations but they are intentional.  Having numerous “conversations for possibility” is helping us recognize there are some real decisions that will have to be made.  Because there are some important deadlines for decisions that are now about six months away, we want to be ready.

It really is a project!

As I’ve been thinking about retirement, I’ve realized that getting ready to retire is a “project.”  The text book definition of a “project’ is that it has a beginning and an end, a scope, schedule and a budget.  It also has a clear purpose (usually a mission or vision) and a desired outcome.  But the main thing that sets a project apart from our day to day life is that:  IT IS SOMETHING YOU’VE NEVER DONE BEFORE!

Treating getting ready for retirement like a project, similar to planning a special event like a party or a wedding, has made sense to me.  I love to learn and research so I’ve been spending time listening to archival podcasts.  Some of my favorites so far are Episode 27, Go Do Enjoy!, Episode 30, Retirement as a Couple, Episode 33, Non-Financial Aspects of Retirement and Episode 47, What a Retiring Executive Needs Besides Money.  What these podcasts have done is provided me with ideas for areas I need to explore.  I love listening to the stories and examples and there are always some resources mentioned, including lists, books by the speaker or even other podcasts.

Maybe you’ve never planned a project but anyone can do it, especially if you are using best practices from project management.  Some practical things I could suggest is to purchase just a few things that aren’t that expensive.  Find a whiteboard or something that is laminated that you can write on with dry erase markers or if you are old school, get a chalk board and some chalk.  Purchase a calendar that shows the entire year and can be written on with dry erase markers.  Find lots of colored sticky notes of various sizes (I like the 3” x 3” size) and add a package of giant White Paper “Post its” (25” x 30”).

Start brainstorming with your spouse and talk about all the things that would make retirement for you amazing.  For this exercise, there are no constraints.  Don’t let worrying about time and money limit your ideas. Each person can write their dreams on a pile of sticky notes.  Be sure that you write only one idea on each sticky note.  Go crazy, because it is not real, it is just little pieces of paper. 

Then put up a large white post-it and start sharing your dream notes, one at a time.  Place your dream notes on one side and your partners on the other.   For each idea, listen to your partner and probe deeper with questions like, “Tell me more”, “Why do you like this idea so much?”, Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?”.  The point here is to make a safe space in your relationship to dream and listen.  Try very hard not to make negative comments or criticize a dream.  I always say when we are brainstorming at work, “There are NO bad ideas!”.

Take turns sharing your ideas until they are all up in front of you on the post-it.  Take a few moments just to look at your list.  Now the best thing you can do is stop here and sleep on it!  The next day, you’ll be glad you did because your subconscious mind will be processing all of this new information.  They’ll be less emotion and it gives each person the ability to have a deeper understanding of their partners dreams without the pressure of having to make a real decision.

The next time you take a look at this, start by asking yourselves a few questions.  “Where do we overlap?”  “Are there any of our dreams that match either closely are almost exactly?”  Talk about those for a while.  Are there lots of them or just a few?  Move those notes to another page that says, “How can we make these dreams a reality?”  You can begin the steps toward comparing your dreams to your financial situation.  You can decide together your priorities, how much they’ll cost and identify options to make the same dream happen but maybe with a lower cost.

Next, look objectively at where you don’t align at all.  That should be okay as long as there are at least a few things you want to do together.  Knowing what these things are can be the beginning of some wonderful opportunities for compromise and negotiation.  Turn off the television and grab a beverage on the patio, take a walk, or go out for dinner, just find a place wherever you can focus on listening to each other.  For a couple to be healthy, I think there is always a balance.  There are things that my husband loves and it would be unfair of me to ask him to give them up.  There are things that I love to do that I don’t want to give up, and fortunately for me he would never ask.  

Retirement seems to be an amazing chance to re-imagine your life, have deep conversations with your partner about what is important and a chance to create a flexible plan on how to get there.  This is just one step in the process of making a plan.  I’ll share with you what comes next when I get a chance.  Now back to work

No Party for You!

For many years I’ve been thinking about my retirement party, the one I planned for the office.  As an extrovert I know and love lots of people. I was so excited and anticipating the opportunity to gather friends, colleagues and family together, mostly to thank the people who have encouraged and supported me throughout my career and to say goodbye.

However, I realize that not everyone is like me.  I’ve noticed that a number of retiring employees specifically ask for “no party!” Many of them say they just want to disappear one day, never to return.  Others want something small, maybe some breakfast items at their cube or in the break room. A few have asked for a gathering in a conference room with their immediate team members.  

I have always wanted a huge party, but I don’t think that will happen for me.  Currently in our state, we are not allowed to have gatherings larger than five people.  For us, like many of you, that has meant weddings, sporting events, concerts, working out at a gym or going to a bar is just not allowed to happen. At this point, public schools are closed and our offices won’t open to the public again until January 8th, at the earliest.

I’m sad that I’m not going to get my big party.  I suppose it will save me some money, because I was planning on paying for it myself. For years, I had envisioned nearly every detail.  I had a menu chosen, an agenda for our activities and a list of people to invite.  My children and grandchildren knew that they were going to have to miss work and school and come up for the big day.  

My plan was to end my career with a big party and from there whisk my family into a shuttle to the airport and fly to Costa Rica for my “graduation” trip. Since all of those plans are now extremely unlikely, I’ve decided that over the next six months, I’ll be thinking about how I can move to my “life reimagined” without a milestone, party or a trip.

All of us have had to make changes to our plans.  In my own family, my niece didn’t get to experience her senior prom, end of the year activities, graduation or a party with family to celebrate her accomplishment.  Even her graduation trip to Italy with my sister was cancelled.

While it will definitely not be the end of the world that I won’t get the party I had always dreamed of, I feel that when March 28th gets here, it will be a bittersweet ending to my time at the county.

However, I’m recognizing that because I am blessed and have much to be grateful for that I should instead focus on the future and start now to plan for the things I can do!

I didn’t expect this!

While listening to some of the podcasts there have been several times when either Kathe or a guest has said something that really caught my attention.  She was sharing about how couples can, over a long marriage, stop sharing activities with each other.  They have separate but parallel lives and then all of a sudden, they are together 24/7.  Navigating this can be either rewarding or challenging and can sometimes lead to divorce.  Since for us, divorce is not an option, the activities we choose in retirement will require lots of conversations and some give and take.

I already explained earlier how much my husband loves to golf.  About 15 years ago, he thought I should learn.  I wasn’t really excited but I went along with the idea.  I was fitted for clubs, took a few lessons, I even got golf shoes and some cute outfits.  But I was really terrible.  I don’t think I have the best hand eye coordination and I missed the ball nearly as much as I actually hit it.

I was working full time by then and my job was very stressful.  As far as golf, either I didn’t have time or wasn’t willing to make the time to play or practice.  The worst part was that he was trying to “help” me.  He would watch me swing and then miss and he would try to give me little golf tips.  I didn’t take the correction well and it felt like I was being criticized. I still think that husbands shouldn’t coach their wives on the golf course unless they are professional instructors, and even then I’m not so sure. I just really didn’t have a passion for it so I didn’t make it a priority. We talked and at that point we sort of agreed that, “golf is your thing, it’s not mine.”

As we were packing for our get-away to Idaho, I found out that my two long-time friends have taken up golf.  My husband blew the dust off of my clubs in the garage and threw them in the back of the truck, “just in case you want to play.”  

Our first morning, they all wanted to play.  We went to the Priest Lake golf course.  Who knew that I would have so much fun?  I told my husband to not coach me and he only slipped a few times.  What I learned is when you play with girls it was completely different from what I remember.  We don’t keep score, we encourage each other and as long as my husband wasn’t trying to coach me, I was having a blast!  

Of course, I missed the ball and it didn’t go as far as I wanted but I connected with enough good swings that it was fun.  One friend said that she just thinks of it as a “beautiful walk in a park and if the ball doesn’t land in the right spot and you’re worried about holding someone up – just pick it up and keep going!” 

I was worried that my husband wasn’t having fun with me along for the round but he said he was “really happy I was trying.”  He talked about future adventures we could take and that if I wanted to take this up more seriously now that I’m retiring, that I should.  He said, think of it this way, “it doesn’t matter how good you are playing, because you’re playing against yourself and the course, not me.”  

What a surprise, we played two rounds of golf at Priest Lake and I was so excited that we decided to go to another golf course called Twin Lakes Village. At least in Idaho, when you play during the week, it is less crowded and I didn’t need to worry about slowing others up because there were less people on the course.

Right now, I’m practicing for retirement.  I’m trying new things and I think I just found another vision for my life.  When we got home from our trip I signed us up for “Couples Night.”  A local farmer has a turf farm and he has opened up a little driving range.  The range allows for social distancing, two buckets of balls, two drinks and then the golf pro comes over and gives you tips.

It was a date night!  We even ordered take out from the little food truck on a gorgeous warm, summer evening.  As the sun was setting over the valley, I realized how grateful I am for this chance to try golf again with a completely different attitude.  For retirement, I can try out an activity that my husband and friends love to do. An activity that I can enjoy when we travel, all with my best friend.  

On my retirement vision board, I’ve added new clubs, new shoes, a new bag and some golf lessons.  Oh and I probably need to get a cute outfit as well!

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