It’s hard to say the two words together and not feel like they’re an oxymoron. “Old news,” “organized chaos,” “civil war,” “early retirement” … it sounds about the same. Perhaps the thought of “early retirement” incites a bit of manic laughter, followed by a self-loathing tear or two. It’s not unlike a desert mirage, something you always aim for, something that beckons, teases, yet the closer you get the more it fades into more of the same sand as far as the eye can see.
For many, the traditional idea of retirement, not working for living wages, won’t ever happen. Still for others, it’s simply game to play. A game of what you need, what you have and what they [employers] will give you.
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, early retirement – any time before age 67 – is within one’s grasp if you serve in the public sector. According to varetire.org, the Virginia Retirement System or VRS is, “an independent state agency based in Richmond, delivering retirement and other benefits to covered Virginia public sector employees.” This includes public school teachers, political subdivision employees, state agency employees, public college and university personnel, state police, Virginia law officers the judiciary.
But for one retired Montgomery County law enforcement officer, who just turned 55, the idea of hanging up his punch card was not a goal. For now, Sean Rayne works part time at Power Zone in Christiansburg. He loves the people, the energy of a busy retail business and the ability to take off for local adventures with his wife at a moment’s notice.
“I wanted to do something I like when I left. Something when I wake up, I think, ‘oh this is cool to go to’. I can’t sit. I have to do something because generally I’m very active.” After some thought he adds, “Everyone I know who just retires and stops, dies within a year or two.” A humbling thought, but something to consider, nevertheless.
However, he still believes a temporary stop is important. “When you retire from a job you are burned-out from, you need a little down time to think ‘OK, I want to do something else, but what?’ Save a check or two to afford this.”
Early retirement means having the freedom to choose something you enjoy while you are still at an age to enjoy it. Anne Wheeler was a science teacher and cross-country track coach at Giles County High School for 32 years, loving it so much she went for that extra two years.
“Retirement was not even on my mind. I loved the kids. I probably flunked retirement,“ she laughs. Wheeler was not yet 54 years old when she stepped away, a bit reluctantly, from teaching.
When she was 12, she worked in the family’s hardware store and recalled the times fondly. While she was still teaching, she started having conversations with her husband about opening a small-town mercantile shop. “I always wanted to have a little shop like this,” she gestures from behind the register at Pearis Mercantile in Pearisburg, a life-long passion now going on 10 years.
The shop is housed in an old Esso station her family also owned. It is filled with unique wares and consignment arts that you won’t find in any neighboring town. Offering something different to the area was very important to Wheeler. Adjacent to the main store is an outfitter section she stocks to resupply Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. “Everything but shoes,” she says.
If VRS is not something you can rely on (or even if it is), still do your homework, which should include a good bit of math to calculate whether you can afford early retirement. According to the Social Security Administration’s website, most financial advisers say you need approximately 70% of your income to live out your gainfully unemployed days comfortably. The accrual of funds can come from 401(k) plans, pensions, investments – both personal and those offered by employers – and, of course, any personal savings or forthcoming inheritance. So be nice to Aunt May.
It is excellent practice to check annually on whatever “system” you are relying on to fund Life 2.0. Also, strongly consider starting a relationship, if you don’t have one already, with a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®).
Larry Price, a 1998 Virginia Tech graduate, started doing his math homework and focusing on early retirement when he turned 40. To him the equation added up to: “Work hard now. I just wanted to work really hard so I could start the longest vacation of my life,” Price candidly states. He and his wife, who both work for private companies, plan to retire at age 58.
With the safety net of a well-funded retirement, the freedom to pursue a second career or embark on that really [really] long vacation – and to achieve either one within a timeline considered “early” – is to be celebrated. Besides, people would probably stare if you started a vacation with crazy-eyes laughter. And if you calculate all things correctly, you might even get to forgo the “self-loathing tear” part altogether.
Nancy S. Moseley is definitely manic-laughing her days away. Such is the life of a freelance writer. Her mirage looks like traveling the states in a reasonably-sized camper trailer. Naturally, ample time in the desert is planned.