Monday, April 27, 2015


The Turrell Riverhouse -- Our Dream Home
     Achieving the American Dream was my goal from the time I was in my teens and I worked hard my entire life to reach it. I believed that if I worked my forty-plus hours each week, paid into the Social Security system, put money into a savings account, and set aside money in a supplemental retirement account, I would be living comfortably when I retired. I was taught by my parents, my teachers, and my co-workers that I must work full-time for 45 to 50 years in order to live the American Dream and retire well-off. But, did I really want to work THAT many years?

Work Until I'm 66 Years Old?

     To be properly prepared for retirement, we were taught, we should work until we were at least 66 years old to start collecting our full Social Security benefits. (I've learned to despise the word "should".) Sure, the Social Security plan would allow us to start collecting a reduced monthly payment at the age of 62, but every article I have read recommended that it is financially unwise to start collecting early. Statistically, our lifetime total payments would be higher if a person waited until 66 to begin collecting. But, do I want to work until I’m 66? I'm 58 years old now. Can I face working eight more years?
     We were coached all of our professional lives that opening an IRA or 401(k) retirement plan was an important step in assuring that we retired with sufficient money to live the lifestyle we had become accustomed to.  Our accountant encouraged us to contribute to our IRA annually. My husband, Jon, and I faithfully put money aside each year. We even borrowed money some years to be sure we had maximized our retirement contribution and reduced our income tax obligation. But it never seemed to be enough according to the formulas we read when we researched the amount of money we were “supposed” to have set aside for retirement. It seemed impossible to save the recommended amount before retirement! Did we really want to keep up this pattern until I turned 66?
     I was a pharmacist for over 35 years. As an college-educated, career-oriented young person in the 1970’s, I was brainwashed that the proper thing to do was to use your college degree and work as hard as you could, make as much as you could, and achieve, achieve, achieve every day until you reached the proper retirement age. If you didn’t, weren’t you wasting your education?
    Jon was a building contractor and owned his own construction company for over 30 years. As a man of the baby boomer generation, he had been conditioned and taught throughout his life that his role was to be the bread-winner in the family. He took it very seriously and worried every day about having enough money for that month, for the coming years, and for retirement. He was convinced that he would work until he was at least 66 years old and possibly until the age of 70 to maximize his Social Security income. Over the years, with Jon's expertise, we designed and built beautiful homes that we lived in for two years, then sold them at a profit without having to pay Capital Gains Tax. We did this for almost twenty years and it was one of the ways we built our nest egg for retirement.
One of the Homes We Built For Investment
     When the recession began impacting our financial plans in 2007, Jon and I had a rude awakening. We had finished our dream home on the Rogue River in Oregon in 2005 and had invested heavily in the real estate market. Jon had finished the development of a small subdivision and had completed building two upscale spec homes. We put them up for sale just as the market took a dive. We watched our American Dream go down the drain as we scrambled to avoid bankruptcy. We were forced to sell the two spec homes for much less than it cost us to build them. When we had to sell our dream home for less than half of what it cost to build it, we thought our hearts would break. We had been sure we would live in our beautiful Turrell Riverhouse for the rest of our lives.    
     Plans changed. We switched into financial survival mode. We moved into one of our two-bedroom condo units that had been one of our rentals. By this time, we had two of our original eight condo units remaining, having sold six of them to stay afloat. Our plan had been that these rentals would provide us with supplemental income in our retirement. Now, six had been sold to pay bills, one was our primary home and we decided to put the last unit up for sale. We didn’t know if we had the strength to start over, to battle our way back. It seemed hopeless. We began to rethink our future.
We Downsized into A Two-Bedroom Condo Unit
Work until I'm 70 Years Old?

     We were tired and frustrated. We had worked so hard to get where we were before the recession and we had lost most of it. We were stressed all of the time. We worked at least 60 hours a week and didn’t spend enough time exercising. We were not living a healthy life and we felt trapped. Now we had a big decision to make: Keep working until Jon was 70 and I was 66 to maximize our Social Security benefits the way so many people we knew were doing, or find a way to live simply and inexpensively so we could retire now and live a healthier life.
     We were ready for a simpler life. We both knew too many people who had finally retired at the age of 66 or older only to become terminally ill and unable to enjoy their retirement. As a pharmacist, I saw this too much in my practice, patients becoming very ill or dying at an unexpectedly early age. We decided we wanted to retire early and enjoy life while we were young and healthy, even if it meant living on much less money. We just had to figure out how to do it. We had always been able to accomplish anything we put our minds to. We could figure this out too, and we did.

Wait to Retire until the age of 59 ½?

     I could wait until I was 59 ½ to start withdrawing money from my IRA without paying a penalty to the IRS. But I didn’t want to wait even one more year. I had begun to dread working even one more day. I decided that I wanted to retire before the age of 59 and I did. You can, too. 
     This blog is about the steps we took in order to leave behind our stressful pursuit of a financially well-off retirement and begin our search for a simpler, healthier, happier life. We have tried several lifestyles in our search, from living in Ecuador in a condo unit that we owned, to renting a condo unit in San Pancho, Mexico, to our current life as full-time RVers in a 32 foot Southwind motorhome, living half the year in Mexico and half the year in the United States. Regardless of whether you choose to live in a brick-and-mortar home or an RV, the steps to achieving early retirement and living a healthier, happier life are similar. We are still nomads at heart so we find that we enjoy the flexibility of living on the road at this time in our lives. The day may come when we will rent or own a home without wheels again. Or we may just park our motorhome on a beach somewhere and live there happily ever after. Regardless of the type of home, we have found a way to live a simpler, healthier life and are happy that we did. 

     I was able to retire before the age of 59! I feel free!
We Downsized into our 32 foot Southwind Motorhome
     This is just the introduction to our story of how we retired before I turned 59 years old. I invite you to follow our adventures by following me on "Google Plus (G+)"  or by entering your e-mail in the "Follow by Email" space at the top of this blog. You can also view our adventures and my eBook on my website at . 

     I am now retired from pharmacy and I am following my passion....writing my blogs and my books! More to come...