Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Analyzing the Early Retirement Decision

We Need Retirement Now, Before the Straightjacket Phase!

How Do I Decide It's Time for Early Retirement?    

     Some days, my job as a pharmacist made we feel that I was headed for the loony bin, soon to be carried away in a straightjacket. The practice of pharmacy and our health care system are not what they were 35 years ago when I graduated from Oregon State University's School of Pharmacy. The chain drug store workplace has become a bit insane, with pharmacists, technicians and cashiers working at a frenzied pace. At times, I felt like I was pulling my hair out trying to keep up with the workload and provide good care to the patients. This work pace couldn't be healthy, either mentally or physically. Wouldn't it be best to retire while I still had my sanity?
     I had to analyze this decision to retire before the age of 59 very carefully, though I frequently wanted to surrender to my urge to throw down my pill-counting spatula and walk out of the pharmacy. I'm actually a very serious, usually calm person, the kind you would expect your pharmacist to be. I'm very organized, very methodical about most things in my life, even a bit obsessive-compulsive. I carefully analyze every decision I make in my work and my life (is that why some people have called me "anal"?). Isn't that the kind of person you would want to fill your prescriptions, to ensure that you get the correct medication, the prescribed dose, and the exact directions that the physician ordered? I told myself that I could not make a rash decision about early retirement; it required my usual methodical analysis.
     But, let me whine a bit more... After filling, on average, 150 prescriptions per day, 4 ten-hour days per week for about 30 years, I realized I had methodically analyzed, filled, and verified over 18,000 prescriptions and counselled patients on about one-third of those. After cranking out, on average, one prescription every three to four minutes, as fast as my mental capacity would allow, for over 30 years, I realized that I was tired of being a pharmacist and annoyed with the practice of pharmacy as a whole. I wondered if my sanity could survive another eight years of filling prescriptions. Eight more years seemed like an eternity. The thought of early retirement started to creep into my thoughts more frequently. 
     When I began to consider retiring at the age of 58, my reaction was rather emotional for a typically serious person. Envisioning the freedom of retirement gave me such a sense of relief that I actually felt euphoric at times. It felt like the right decision. But being the analytical person that I am, I attempted to take the emotion out of the formula. I had to evaluate the pros and cons of this decision. I used my usual decision-making formula to help with this dilemma, a "Pros and Cons Balance Sheet" in its most simplistic form: two sheets of notebook paper and a pen. 

Cons for Retirement Before the Age of 59

     On the top of one sheet of paper I wrote "Cons for Retirement Before the Age of 59" and began to list the disadvantages of early retirement. This list was easy and obvious because each item that described why retirement at the age of 58 was a poor idea revolved around the fact that I would have less money. Of course, my husband, Jon would retire when I did, but I'm an independent woman and felt I needed to hold up my end and pay my own way. Therefore, my analysis is for the "Pros and Cons of Early Retirement" as they related to me at the age of 58.  I could only think of five reasons not to retire before the age of 59, so surely the balance would tip in favor of early retirement.

1. I would have very little income while I was waiting for my books and blogs to begin making substantial money. There is a good reason that writers are told "Don't quit your day job" when they first begin publishing their work: the income barely dribbles in.

2. I would not be contributing anything to my retirement funds and I had not yet accumulated the recommended amount needed for a comfortable retirement. Most financial experts would advise against this.

3. I had very little in my savings account and would be cutting off my most significant source of income when I stopped practicing pharmacy.

4. I would not have access to my IRA retirement fund until the age of 59 1/2 (without paying penalty)

5. I would not be eligible for Social Security for more than three years.

So HOW would I afford to retire before the age of 59? There could be many rainy days ahead and how would we deal with them? We knew we would make the most of our rainy days. The HOW is a topic for another blog article. One step at a time...

Let's Make the Most of the Rainy Days

Pros for Retirement Before the Age of 59

     At the top of my second sheet of paper I wrote "Pros for Retirement Before the Age of 59" and started listing the advantages of retiring early. These were the reasons that I felt I needed to retire soon. When I finished writing the reasons, the list wasn't very long. But each reason that I wrote down seemed heavy with importance for me. I realized that other people who feel the need to retire early probably have a very similar list. Why do we continue to work if we feel that our job is such a heavy burden? We continue to drag ourselves to work every day because we feel we should, because we have to. I've decided to eliminate the word "should" from my vocabulary.
     Below is my list of seven reasons to retire before the age of 59. I encourage others who are considering retiring this early to make their own list, but I imagine that each list would be very similar to this one, with a few individual variations.

7 Reasons to Retire Before the Age of 59

1. I’m Burned Out on My Job 

The lyrics to the song, "Take This Job and Shove It", sung by Johnny Paycheck always made me chuckle when I heard it in my younger days, imagining myself saying it some day when I was fed up with my job but knowing I would never really having the guts or rude manners to say it. But in the past year, when I started ending most work days thinking "Take this job and shove it, I ain't workin' here no more!" and really wanting to say it, I knew I was getting close to my time to retire. That song may have been written by David Allen Coe about factory workers, but many days I could relate to the lyrics. Often, as a pharmacist, I felt like an assembly line worker, pushing out as many filled prescriptions as I could to keep the boss happy. I could really get rolling on this topic, but I'll save it for another day.

2. I’m Stressed Out and Need a Simpler Life 

The years of working long hours to pay the bills and build a nest egg for retirement, only to see the recession of 2008 demolish it, was enough to discourage anyone. The struggle to survive that recession financially was very stressful for me and Jon, as I'm sure it was for many others. The negative impact of daily stress on physical and mental health has been well documented. I have known for years that I needed to simplify my life to improve my health and extend my life. As much as Jon and I talked about simplifying, it took getting serious about early retirement to make us start taking the steps. The steps we took were painful at times and required hard work, but a simpler life and reduced stress after retirement made it all worthwhile. Early retirement was the right decision.

3. I Want to Live a Healthier Lifestyle

 Working full-time kept us too busy and tired to do much else at the end of the day but grab a bite to eat and relax with a good book. We worked out at the YMCA once a week but knew it wasn't enough. We cooked at home when we had the energy, but more times than not we talked each other into going out for dinner. We wanted a lifestyle with more time for daily exercise and preparing healthy meals. Early retirement would allow us the time and energy for both.
We're Not Ready for the Rocking Chair, We Just Want to Enjoy Life!
4.  I Suffer During the Long, Dreary Winters. Moving to a Sunnier, Warmer Climate will Improve My Health

Some people suffer from arthritis and other ailments that are worsened by cold, damp weather in the northern climates. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also called winter depression or winter blues. Winters in Oregon and much of the Pacific Northwest are gray and dreary, with endless days of cloudy skies and rain or snow. Months of this cloudy, wet weather, a lack of sunshine, and being trapped indoors can bring on winter blues, now recognized as a common disorder. Jon and I both experience some of the symptoms of SAD during the winter and have found that spending time in sunny Mexico helps combat the depression. In addition, I found that as I aged I didn't tolerate the cold well. The warmth in Mexico helped that, as well. We decided that living in Mexico during the winter was the best treatment for SAD and cold intolerance. Early retirement would allow us to do that.

5. I May Become Seriously Ill, Disabled, or Possibly Die Before I Reach the Full Retirement Age of 66

This may sound morbid and pessimistic. But working as a pharmacist from the time I was 23 years old has shown me that many people face unexpected illness or accidents that leave them disabled at a young age. I've seen many others who expected to retire at the the age of 66, begin collecting Social Security and their retirement benefits, and enjoy the good life, only to be diagnosed with a terminal illness at a younger age. I became determined to live the good life along the way as much as possible. And then I was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening cancer. That was my wake-up call. Retirement before the age of 59 sounded better than ever!
We Want to Enjoy the World While We Are Young & Healthy

6. I Want to Spend More Quality Time with My Husband, Children, Grandchildren, and Mother

Freedom from our jobs would allow us to travel more to visit our family members. My mother and our children were spread across the country from Oregon to North Carolina. Our three granddaughters were growing up fast and we didn't want to miss out on their childhood. We wanted to travel to where they live and spend a week or more at a time with each one. Retirement would allow us to visit our family members for longer periods of time!

7. I Want to Spend More Time Doing What I Enjoy

I want to stop saying "I'll do that someday". I want to do the things I enjoy now, such as traveling, reading, rollerblading, bicycling, hiking, listening to live music, going to Zumba and yoga classes, and writing! One of our favorite things is to "Follow the Music".  Early retirement would allow us plenty of time to travel to concerts around the country.
Boondocking in the Redwood Forest at the Subdudes Concert
     The balance tipped in favor of early retirement! There were 7 reasons to retire before the age of 59 and only 5 reasons not to. 
     I read my list of reasons to retire early and I felt that each reason was important and real. These were the reasons WHY I would retire soon. I made the decision that I would retire before the age of 59 and enjoy my retirement years. Once I made my decision, I felt free! I told my husband, Jon, that I hoped he would retire at the same time that I did, when he was 64 years old. He agreed, though he was worried about the HOW of retirement when we definitely did not have the recommended amount of money set aside. I told him that we would figure it out, just like we have with every challenge we have faced, with perseverance. And we did! More about that in future blog posts....

Additional Justification for Early Retirement

     I was happy to read a recent article by John Maxfield of "The Motley Fool" that helped validate my own decision to begin retirement early. The article was called "Why Smart People Take Social Security Benefits Early" and actually refers to starting to take Social Security payments at the earliest age possible, 62, not about retiring before 59 like I am. But, at least I felt better knowing that I only have to survive on my investment income for three and a half years before the Social Security Administration makes my retirement more comfortable. My favorite quote from "The Motley Fool" was "taking benefits early has less to do with fancy breakeven analysis and more to do with your personal goals for retirement. If you can wait to take Social Security benefits, that's great. Go ahead and do so. But if you can't or don't want to, then there's no reason to second-guess your decision to take them early." To read the entire article, click HERE .
   Jon was relieved to read "The Motley Fool"'s opinion also since he had decided to begin taking his Social Security payments at the age of 62 after agonizing over the decison for a year. Once he had been receiving monthly payment checks for over two years, he felt comfortable retiring from his work as a building contractor. We both decided to retire early, and I'm glad we did. After all, we do everything together, and I'm glad we do.

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