Be Careful What You Wish For

One of my dreams about retirement was that I would never again have to deal with anyone with whom I didn’t want to deal. This was a comforting thought all those years when I was working trying to appease unhappy customers, motivate recalcitrant employees, and calm agitated executives. 

Unfortunately, the reality is significantly different from my dreams.  Since retiring and moving, I have had to deal with multiple people with whom I would rather not deal.  Here is a partial list of them:

The junk guy I hired to haul away the leftover boxes from moving

The electric company guy

The gas company guy

The cable guy

The internet guy

The tree trimmer guy

The first sod guy

The second sod guy (once the first guy’s sod died rather immediately and spectacularly)

The lawn treatment guy

The electrician guy

The second electrician guy (after the first electrician guy inherited a bunch of money and called in rich before completing my job)

The sprinkler guy

The first handyman guy who replaced the large steps at my mother’s mobile home with tiny little steps she could manage

The second handyman guy I hired to take away the rubble left by said first handyman guy who replaced the mobile home stairs

The home warranty guy

The air conditioner guy

And the list goes on.


It isn’t that any of these are bad people.  In fact, most of them are very nice.  Or at least, they say “yes ma’am” a lot which is not, I realize, strictly speaking, the same thing.  Still, I would rather people say “yes ma’am” and at least appear sympathetic than snarl in my face.  Also, I did genuinely like most of these folks. The problem is that I’d rather not spend my time, money, and energy fixing the problems these people represent.


Also, these vendors in this new community don’t exactly have a sense of urgency in responding to their customers’ requests (or at least this customer’s requests). They are also pretty optimistic, which is a euphemism for “living in a fantasy world,” when they tell you how long it will take to complete jobs.  I think making an appointment to show up at any given time is always contingent upon how the fishing is that day.


Another of my dreams of retirement was moving to a place where the pace of life was a bit slower and I didn’t have to do everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  That dream has come true.  It is nice not doing everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  The thing is- no one else does, either. 

Now it’s your turn!  What are your thoughts?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at 

Terri 🙂


Moving Day

About three years before I planned to retire from my job in the southwest part of the country, I purchased a house in the southeast part of the country.

 To fully grasp the significance of that statement, you probably need to know something about my general disposition.  I am probably the most risk averse person on the face of the planet.  I took an extremely responsible federal job in 1981 that paid the paltry sum of $10,900 per year solely because I figured I would never have to worry about getting laid off or eating cat food when I was old.  Any extra money I ever had went into a plain old savings account.  I own one share of stock, in the Disney Corporation, not because it was financially sound, but because I thought the ornamentation on the stock certificate was appealing.  When employees all over the federal government were converting their old, tired defined benefit retirement plans to more aggressive investment plans, I stuck with the original plan.  The last time I moved anywhere was in 1991 when I purchased a tiny condominium located less than five miles from the rental property where I was living at the time.  I never turned that condo over for a detached home when the real estate boomed or busted. 

 This fiscal conservatism served me well.  Through inflation, gradual progression and promotion, and, frankly, simple longevity, I ended my career making about 17 times the annual salary I made when I started.  The savings accounts, while not resulting in huge wealth, are liquid and secure.  The tiny little condo ultimately increased in value by about $80,000 in the time I owned it.  And the Tinker Bell graphic on the Disney stock certificate graces the wall in my new home very nicely.  As to the tired old defined benefit plan, it enabled me to retire right on schedule.  Many of the people who changed plans to take advantage of the nineties stock bubble are postponing their retirement now because the bubble burst.

All this goes to show that purchasing a house 3000 miles away to rent out while I was awaiting my retirement was completely out of character for me.  However, real estate prices and interest rates were way down and I happened upon a real estate agent in the new location whose main line of business was managing rental properties.  She also had a history of living near our home in the old location.  If I was ever going to take a chance, this seemed to be a good one to take.   Since I had saved a nice chunk of change to put down on the house as a result of “practicing” paying another mortgage, I was confident that I could afford the house even if I did not get tenants.  I wasn’t thrilled to have the house sitting vacant, so I did have a few anxious months until the property manager found tenants.  After that point, everything was easy.  The rent, minus the property management fees, went into an account every month and the mortgage payment magically deducted itself from the same account every month, as did the HOA fees.  Once in a great while, I wrote a check for some insurance or some minor repairs.  I even had positive cash flow.  The only pain was doing my income tax return to show the rental income and expenses.

 In fact, things went along so swimmingly, I  sort of forgot that, one day, I would be turning my life upside down, moving 3000 miles from my little one bedroom condo in the west, and taking up residence in that rental property. 

 The neighborhood where Max, my longtime boyfriend and POSSLQ (Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters), and I were living in my tiny little condo had been declining over the past several years.  The real estate bubble burst rather messily, leaving quite the aftermath in our quiet little community. Many of the owners, wanting to move on to detached houses but unable to sell their condos for what they thought appropriate, rented their small units.  They were not too particular about who paid the rent, as long as someone did.  Noise, crime, and general shadiness increased.   The police visited as frequently as the UPS truck.  Sometimes, we were the ones inviting them to stop by, when the neighbors’ “disagreements” seemed to cross the line to “potentially dangerous domestic disputes.”  People also often hosted parties on their patios, during which the entertainment seemed to involve the guests regaling each other with tales of their various criminal activities. Since drunkenness doesn’t exactly come with a volume control, we heard it all… at any hour of the day or night.  The people below us, who seemed to be away from home at least 13-14 hours a day, had two yappy yorkies.  The people insisted the yorkies did not bark, or, if they did, they barked no more than average dogs.  Technically, they might have been right.  It wasn’t so much barking as ear-piercing screeching that went on for literally hours some days.  However, in my mind, the real issue was HOW WOULD THEY HAVE KNOWN IF THEIR DOGS WERE BARKING, SINCE THEY WERE NEVER HOME?!

In short, the neighborhood transformed.  It changed from a quiet community of young married couples and older retired people into something resembling a compound of frat houses.  During that iteration, we tried to ignore the irritants, but ignoring things became more difficult when Max retired and was exposed to the issues all day long.  Ultimately, the transformation took a more sinister turn and the frat house occupants started talking about guns and drugs and beating each other to a pulp.

 With all this being said, one would think I would have been anxious to go.  Max certainly was.  In the year before my retirement, he kept counting down the days until we could move.  He researched television cable and satellite companies near the new home.  He studied possible internet companies.  He made decisions about these items like A YEAR before the planned move.    He made frequent suggestions that maybe it was time to check out realtors, contract moving companies, and put the condo on the market.  I really wasn’t ready.  The condo still felt like it was home to me. I didn’t feel any need to begin the moving process months and months before it was actually going to happen. Plus, remember that my rental property in the southeast was doing just fine and I had kind of forgotten that I was one day actually going to live there. 

Still, I agreed that it wouldn’t hurt anything for Max to begin working on the moving issues, which he did with great aplomb.  Finally, I yielded to pressure and interviewed a couple of realtors… six months before our expected move date. I agreed to put the condo on the market because the realtors all said it was a good idea to have the house for sale during the summer, but I didn’t believe it would actually sell any time soon because I couldn’t see anyone buying the condo and waiting for six months to occupy.  I had no intention of vacating the premises before our ultimate move across the country.

Silly me.  The condo actually sold within a week of listing.  The buyer was purchasing the condo with an occupant mortgage but said he was fine with waiting until December to move in.  It soon became clear that he had no intention of ever residing there.  He was buying it to rent and was perfectly happy to have built-in tenants for six months.  So, I would be paying rent on my own house for months before moving!  Okay, I know that it was no longer my house after I received the very healthy purchase price from the escrow.  That transaction not only paid off the remaining mortgage on the condo, but also allowed me to pay off the mortgage on the house on the other side of the country.  A rational person could not argue that the condo was “mine” any longer.  It still felt very, very odd to write that rent check every month… and that probably also helped me let go of the “home” place the condo had in my heart.

There were other factors in the last several months in the condo that helped ease the blow of actually leaving.  Because we had packed away much of my “stuff” when we put the condo on the market, most of my personal thumbprint was buried in storage and a safety deposit box.  For several months, when I looked around the condo, I no longer saw my history.  Those four walls became a place to sleep, watch TV, and make millions of arrangements for the big move.  That space was no longer where my life happened.  In the last few weeks, there were so many things happening, between my retirement celebration and the impending move, I didn’t really have time to think about what it would be like to be gone.  In short, the emphasis of our lives was on the process of leaving, not the result.

Still, when the day actually came for us to begin our great adventure and the movers finally removed everything left in the condo, it wasn’t easy.  Max and I stood in the empty condo and I looked around a last time.  I remembered how it felt when I first moved in, some 23 years before.  I was so proud and so happy and so excited.  I bought the condo all by myself and I pleased only myself.  When Max moved in about a dozen years ago, it was because his presence increased my joy.  Many of the people I loved who have since passed from this life spent time with me in this condo.  My father, who died in 1996,  spent a couple of weeks with me when I first moved in, doing odd jobs and helping make the place home for me.  I raised my little welsh corgi mutant here and she went to doggy heaven as I sat on this floor and held her in my arms. My work life morphed from a job to a career during the time I lived here.    I met the love of my life while living here.  In this condo, I first learned how to be truly happy with myself and evolved into the person I am today. 

The moment of nostalgia was intense, but it passed as suddenly as it had come.  I shed a tear or two, but never felt the hurt I expected to feel.  It was a little disorienting to walk out the door, but not particularly painful.  I think, as I looked at the empty condo, I realized that the history I made there was not in the space, but in my heart.  And I am taking my heart with me, wherever I go.

So what are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment to share your perspective.  In the alternative,  you can email me at

Terri 🙂

The Elephant in the Room

Most of the people I know struggle with one major obstacle in deciding when/if to retire.  Can they afford it?  We might as well face it.  Money is a big deal.   Few companies offer retirement benefits any more.  If the recession/depression of a few years ago proved nothing, it proved that our own sense of our economic stability can be fleeting.  People are living longer and their money must go further.  Medical costs are rising.  Social Security benefits on their own aren’t usually enough to provide the lifestyle most people want.  Additionally, many people look forward to having the time in retirement to do things they don’t have time to do while they are working.  Typically, those things cost money.


I may not be the best person to comment on the economics of deciding when to retire because I am one of the few people still blessed with an employer-sponsored defined benefit pension.  While nothing is completely guaranteed in this life, my government pension is about as secure as it gets.  Also, I am far from a financial expert.  I would not presume to give anyone advice on how to evaluate all the economic ramifications in making the very personal and complex decision about when to retire.


What I am an expert on, however, is worrying.


When I was thinking about retirement and trying to decide if I could make it work economically, I did the computations every which way to Sunday.  In every scenario, it seemed clear that I would be fine.  Still, I could not get over the feeling that I was somehow missing a key consideration and would end up destitute, eating cat food for Thanksgiving dinner.  As worriers tend to do, I came up with some strategies to try to control the thing which I feared.  While my strategy did not completely end my anxiety, it helped a lot.  I thought I’d share what I did, in case any of you world class worriers out there might find them helpful.


I call it my “Three Ps” plan to financially confident retirement.  Note that none of these “three ps” actually involve amassing any wealth, changing the amount of money you have, or saving on expenses.  Smarter, more financially savvy people than I can probably tell you how to save and grow your retirement funds.  I am going strictly from the point of view that “it is what it is.”



Create a tentative budget for living expenses, based on what you currently spend. Make sure to include regular savings to build an emergency fund.  You may not need to save as much as you do while working, since you are no longer “saving for retirement,” but you can’t just start spending willy-nilly without saving anything for a rainy day (remember, I’ve moved to the southeast where there are many, many rainy days!) Then consider what is it that you really want to do in retirement and how much money will it take to live the way you want?  Be realistic.  Many people say they want to travel in retirement.  But do you really think you will or is it just something you say because you don’t know what else to do?  If you do want to travel, what would that look like?  A lavish beach vacation once a year?  A six-month tour around the world that will likely never be repeated?  A constant caravanning hither, thither, and yon to visit friends and family?  And will those friends and family members feel obliged to put you up when you are there hithering and thithering and yonning, thus saving you the cost of a hotel?  If there is a hobby you want to pursue, will there be ongoing expenses associated with it or is the cost mostly to obtain equipment, which you may already have?  Whatever you decide is important, make sure you include funding your retirement dreams in your living expense budget.  If it turns out that your retirement income will not stretch far enough to cover those dreams, you can determine how much longer you need to work to fund them.  Then, you decide if your dream to travel or take up polo is a bigger dream than your dream to stop working right now.  Only you can decide that.


Pay off your mortgage

Admittedly, this may not be a strategy that everyone can employ.  It might not even be the smartest use of money (remember my caveat on not being a financial expert), but there is a huge intangible benefit.  No longer paying that mortgage, usually the largest of all the bills we pay, is incredibly liberating.  You suddenly have all of this money every month.  If nothing else, you are assured of being able to afford shelter, a basic human need.  After all, once the mortgage is paid, that roof over your head is all yours.  Of course, sometimes that roof needs to be repaired and you need to account for those maintenance and carrying costs, but mortgage is the real killer expense.



For several years before I actually retired, I “practiced” living on the amount of money I calculated to be my retirement income and saved the rest of my salary and other work-related funds.  The benefits of this practice were twofold.  First, I built up a nice little nest egg that I used, in part, to put the down payment on the home I bought for retirement (which I paid off when I sold the home I had in my old state).  Because of this savings, I also knew I had a nice little cushion built up to tide me over any delays in actually getting my correct pension.  Secondly, living on only the money I expected to have in retirement proved to me that I could live and live reasonably well on the pension I expected.  This was a terrific confidence-builder and security blanket as I “took the plunge” into retirement.  Now, many people might not be able to live on what they expect to have in retirement while they are still working because they are still paying expenses that they do not expect to have in retirement- like a mortgage if you are going to be paying it off before or when you stop working or college tuition if you are waiting for that last child to graduate before you retire.  You can still employ this “practice” strategy.  Figure out how much you are paying for those expenses that will be retiring from your budget when you retire from your job and add that amount to the amount you expect to have in retirement income.  Then, live on that total and bank any employment-related funds above that “expected pension plus expenses that will get to stop paying at retirement” amount.   Even if there is nothing left over to bank, this exercise will give you the opportunity to really analyze whether the income you will have in retirement will be sufficient to fund the life you want to live.


At the end of the day, it is a scary and exhilarating decision to leave employment income.  While we dream of the day we can retire and enjoy the life we worked hard to attain throughout our careers, that elephant in the room trumpets financial doubts pretty loudly to those of us who tend to worry.  On the other hand, maybe it isn’t an elephant at all.  Maybe it is just our own insecure, self-doubting selves causing a ruckus over nothing.  I think the best strategy is just to think things through, analyze your finances realistically, and then…. Just Trust…. Yourself.

Terri 🙂


So what are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment to share your perspective.   In the alternative, you can email me at