January 3, 2017 by Jean
When I retired in 2014, I didn’t have any doubts about doing so. I did have some anxieties, however, about the unknowns of managing money and time in retirement. As my third year of retirement begins, it seems a good time to consider how I’m doing. This “New Year’s Check-Up” post will focus on money and time; a second post will consider physical and emotional well-being.
Assessing how I am doing with finances is easy because I am a compulsive budgeter who keeps track of every penny I take in and spend on a spreadsheet that I designed for this purpose more than twenty years ago. One of my New Year’s Day rituals is to balance my household accounts and set up my budget for the new year. I create a year-end summary sheet in my spreadsheet that shows how much I budgeted for each category in the year just ended, how much I actually spent, the balance in that category at the end of the year, how much of that balance I will carry over into the new year, and my budgeted amount for the new year. This year’s summary sheet showed that I had overspent in some categories (food, education, garden) and underspent in others (clothing, entertainment, household). Overall, however, I had spent hundreds of dollars less per month than I had budgeted. This gives me confidence that I can live very comfortably on a budget of $2600 per month. This meets all my needs and wants, with something left over for a few luxuries.
I’m anticipating some financial changes in the next two years. For the six years before I retired (the years after the financial crisis of 2008), I saved as much money as I could. My plan was to live primarily on savings for my first three years in retirement, letting my retirement savings continue to grow and maximizing my monthly Social Security benefit by waiting until age 70 to start collecting. Those savings have lasted through the first two years of retirement and into the third. In this third year, however, my savings will cover only about 2/3 of my budget and I will need to begin taking withdrawals from my retirement funds. In the following year, 2018, the three years of health insurance coverage from my former employer that were part of my retirement agreement will end, and my expenses will increase to cover Medicare Part D and a Medicare supplement. Also in that year, however, I will begin to collect my monthly Social Security benefit and I will need to start taking required minimum distributions from my tax-deferred retirement funds. Happily, the organization that holds my retirement funds, TIAA, offers some free financial advising; I have an appointment to meet with their local financial advisor later this month in order to begin planning for these changes.
All in all, I am entering my third year of retirement with a sense that my finances are in order and under control.
I am generally as good at time management as money management, but getting a handle on my time use in retirement has been a bit trickier. In the first year of retirement, my life was taken over by a combination of major construction on my house and a winter with record-breaking snow and cold. In addition, my plans to structure my life around a regular volunteer activity didn’t work out. By April of 2015, when I signed up for a choral workshop and a Senior College course, I was suffering from cabin fever and feeling a bit socially isolated.
In the second year of retirement, I overcompensated. In the fall of 2015, I set up a weekly dinner with my next door neighbor and taught a course at the Senior College. As winter began, I was happy to have the weekly dinner in place as a hedge against social isolation; and I also learned that I had been accepted to the Master Gardener Volunteer certification course, which would begin in February. In January, in a surge of “new beginnings” energy at the New Year, I inquired about auditioning for the Maine Music Society Chorale and filled out an application to serve on a committee for my local government. The result of all this was a crescendo of activity through the winter and into the spring, including my weekly three-hour Master Gardener class and its accompanying homework, and frequent singing rehearsals along with daily practice on my own as the chorale prepared and sang two concerts. To add to the flurry of activity, I took a course at the Senior College in April-May and began taking courses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens toward a Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture. In May, I began serving on my town’s Conservation Commission. Also in May, I completed my Master Gardener certification and began working on three different Master Gardener volunteer projects. Whew!
In my third year of retirement, I’m trying to move toward a “just right” mix of activities and time for relaxation and solitude. The question is what to cut back. I am continuing my weekly dinners with my neighbor from fall through spring, an occasion that we both enjoy and that provides me with needed social interaction during the winter months. I also find that choral singing enriches my life more than I could have imagined. (I made a decision, however, not to try out for the Maine Music Society Chorale’s smaller acapella group, which would have added many more hours of rehearsal and singing commitments.) I’ve learned that lifelong learning makes me feel more alive than anything else, which means that I will continue my involvement with the Senior College as both a teacher and a student and my course work at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. One place I expect to cut back this year is on my Master Gardener Volunteer activities. One of the three projects I worked on in 2016 will be completed by spring of 2017. Of the remaining two, I hope to devote my volunteer hours to the one I enjoy most and enlist another Master Gardener volunteer for the other. I have not yet decided whether to continue my service on the Conservation Commission, which I have not found very satisfying, when my term ends this June.
Overall, retirement is turning out to be much less “retiring” than I had expected. I seem to be turning into one of those retirees with a life so full that I can’t remember how I found time to work!