Are You Ready For Freedom at 55? Early retirement is NOT for the faint of heart
The First Day of the Rest of My Life
Nearly four years ago, when my husband was 55 years old, we were inching our way toward the goal of every couple from the baby boom generation, reaching that holy grail for empty nesters - Freedom 55. As a couple we had successfully raised four sons to adulthood so we were both fairly confident that we would be able to proceed with life on a better path than some of our peer group who had fallen victim to the addiction habits that tend to be the bane of the "boomer" generation. Our most expensive "habit" (aka our children) were all gone from home, replaced by two small dogs. This gave us the same number of legs under the dinner table but a much reduced grocery bill each month.
Our plans were made and I had finally convinced 'the husband' that selling our house and getting our equity out of it was the best route (in reality the only one) to go. We had found a realtor that had the energy level necessary combined with endless optimism and she was coming that evening to sign the final papers and put up the for sale sign.
Coping in Difficult Times
Things can fall apart quickly
After all that we have experienced over the past few years there is one thing I can tell you with certainty – no matter how much you plan and try to anticipate how everything is supposed to go, there’s a curve ball waiting for you around the corner. For us, that curve ball came on the same day that the realtor was coming to put up the For Sale sign on our house. As soon as my hubby came in the door from work I knew something was up. When I asked brightly “How was your day?” his response of “Could have been better” combined with the pink slip that was laying on the counter between us summed everything up.
That's the first lesson we had to learn on our road to retirement. Emotionally you need to be ready for the unexpected because no matter how well you plan things can still change in a heartbeat or less. Plus they don't necessarily have to change very much to completely derail your forward progress. In our case nothing much had changed, we still had a house and some income but we needed to get our minds into downsizing and simplifying mode and we hadn't done much planning for real retirement to that point.
Ready for Freedom at 55
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Time Keeps on Ticking
Almost three years later we’re still afloat, our house did finally sell (after 376 agonizing days) and we relocated some five hours north of where our two younger sons grew up. We're still not relaxing poolside with drinks in our hand in the evenings though. The reality is that we’re still regrouping.
Less than six months after our move we were forced to dramatically restructure our personal finances as we (in common with a many others) fell victim to the economic crisis of 2008. Our house had sold for a greatly reduced value leaving us with more credit card debt than our retirement savings plans could pay off AND still keep us in groceries. We had made large changes involving a move to somewhere that housing cost less but not much else does. Excitement at being back in a small town similar to where we both had grown up was tempered by the reality that we were going to have to spend a large portion of our retirement time learning the skills necessary for survival. No more 9-5 hours at a 'regular' job means no more 9-5 pay checks at the end of the week.
We are back in the game though. Our first year of "freedom" was filled with more moves than anyone should have to make and along the way we've learned the ins and outs of what it really means to be freelance worker from home. Health is becoming more of a challenge as my husband struggles to cope with the arthritis his Doctor warned him about many years ago.
On the plus side we've landed a job that combines several of our personal passions into one, while allowing us lots of free time to pursue some of our many and varied interests. All in all life doesn't look quite so bad. We’re still regrouping, instead of going pay cheque to pay cheque as we did when our kids were growing up, we’re on a week-to-week basis financially and so far we’re doing okay. The dogs are still getting fed at least, so they’re happy and if the pack is happy then that’s a good thing.
Pitfalls of Early Retirement to Watch Out For
We're All in This Together
The other day my husband and I spent some time listening to some songs from Simon and Garfunkel’s generation defining Bridge over Troubled Water album. We debated a bit over which song from that album really spoke to the things that our generation is experiencing right now. Between us, we couldn't decide between the title track and El Condor Pasa. Sitting here looking at the lyrics, I’ve decided that it is without a doubt the last verse of El Condor Pasa that sums up the feelings of most of our generation in a few simple words. Simplifying, downsizing and all the heartaches that go along with life's changes along the way definitely trump any other option.
I'd rather feel the earth beneath my feet, yes I would. If I only could, I surely would.