Sunday, March 15, 2009

I didn’t chicken out. My retirement decision is now irrevocable.

I didn’t chicken out. My retirement decision is now irrevocable. I had the choice between a retirement incentive of one year’s salary (no benefits) and a sabbatical (a half-year’s salary and benefits) with the option of retiring or returning at the end of the sabbatical. March 15 was the deadline for the decision.

Before the financial meltdown, I wouldn’t have given it a thought—I was taking the retirement incentive. I didn’t need to hold onto that option to return.

The economic mess made me think twice. I have one of these dithering, ambivalent- about-everything personalities. I would have spent that entire sabbatical year fretting: Should I go back or not? I decided that I needed finality. An irrevocable decision is scary, but it’s a relief that a decision has been made.

If I had any serious doubts about the wisdom of retiring, they were laid to rest when I opened my work email yesterday and saw a bereavement notice: the husband of a colleague, a man I think in his late 60’s, had died. I come from one of those families where people keel over from heart disease at an early age. If genes count for anything, the best I can hope for is low 70’s. I want to use this time well.

My husband and I are both (we think) healthy and although not as sharp as we once were (or thought we were) we have our intellectual interests and the capacity to pursue them. I don’t want to spend whatever time I have left doing the same old thing I have been doing for over 3 decades. Now on to the next stage.

These "should I or shouldn’t I retire" conversations are going on all over. According to my own unscientific survey, people with partners are more likely to take the plunge. There will be 2 social security checks, maybe 2 pensions, 2 greatly diminished 401k accounts. But then as that bereavement notice brought home to me, 2 can suddenly, unexpectedly become one.

My husband and I can live happily in retirement on less money (as long as we have each other). Much of what I like to do doesn’t cost money—-reading, puttering in my garden. My one expensive taste is travel and, in recent years, my husband I have been traveling upscale (for us). He thinks we can still travel, if we scale back.

I can deal with cutting back but I can’t go back to the way I traveled in my 20’s. (Not that he’s suggesting anything this draconian.) I bummed around Europe in the late 60's staying in youth hostels and crummy flop houses. I traveled around South America in the early 70’s in rickety little buses. Now the buses have to be air-conditioned, the bath rooms in the room--not down the hall--and no lumpy mattresses. Getting a good night’s sleep can be challenge at this stage of life.

So the traveling plans may have to be scaled back or maybe put on hold, but that’s okay. In 7 weeks, I will be free!!!!