I had it all planned out how I would buy the big ticket items I knew I'd need in the next few years, getting them paid for before retirement reduces my income. I bought a new 42" high definition television (the better for watching NASCAR). I got new glasses. I replaced my old computer last year. I'll be heading into my golden years with a car showing less than 13,000 miles. I was proud of myself for planning ahead, not something I'm known for.
Then the enormous old maple tree in my front yard was struck by lightning. The arborist I called to check it out told me, "if it falls, it's gonna' fall on your house and, trust me, it is going to fall...sooner rather than later". So I shelled out $600 I wasn't expecting to spend to have a tree cut down.
Then in the middle of a monster heat wave, my air conditioner quit. The technician I called to check it out, shook his head. "Dead," he said, "you're gonna' have to replace it". So, the bit of savings I'd hoarded to ease me into my non-working years took another hit.
Now, I'm paranoid. My refrigerator is about 15 years old. What age is that in refrigerator years? Is it a senior citizen now, like me? And what about my water heater? It's the same one that was here when I moved in in 1989. Will it be the next thing to go? Is my foundation beginning to buckle? Is my furnace fixing to falter? What about the ancient blue spruce that was the maple's closest neighbor? Will lightning strike twice in almost the same spot?
Retirement is rather like having a baby. Yes, there are people fortunate enough to have everything well in hand before they embark on this new adventure. There is money enough set aside for summer camps and tennis lessons and college costs prior to the child's birth.
Most of us don't have that luxury. If we wait until all systems are go, we'll never become parents. If we think about all that could possibly go wrong and try to prepare for every eventuality, we'll keep putting it off until it's too late. We have to be willing to take a bit of a flyer. Go for it and figure it out later. And usually, it works out just fine.
I have friends who will probably never retire. They have a figure in mind that they have to have to make their old age "safe". But life is never safe. Sometimes you just have to grab your dream and run with it.
My in-laws pinched their pennies before my father-in-law's retirement. They did without. No new television to make their golden years more pleasant. No new car. No vacations. They wanted to add to their nest egg to make their senior citizenship more secure. Shortly into his retirement, my father-in-law was diagnosed with a painful, wasting, ultimately terminal disease. He needed constant care. There was no choice but to enter a skilled care facility. My mother-in-law went too, not wanting to leave the partner with whom she'd spent 50 plus years.
Within months, the dollars they'd spent a decade scrimping to hoard were gone and they were on Medicaid. "If only I'd known what was going to happen," my mother-in-law said after her husband died, "I'd have talked him into buying a camper. I'd have made sure we had some wonderful memories to take into the nursing home with us."
I know if I talked to a financial planner, they'd advise me not to retire so I'm not gonna'....talk to a financial planner, that is. I'm just going to do it. I've spent 50 years going to work on my employer's schedule. Now, I'm going to live life on my schedule - and lightning-struck trees and dead air conditioners and aging refrigerators be damned.
For 5 decades, I've filed reports and talked to clients and kept books and served drinks and kept minutes of meetings. Now I'm going to read and write and watch NASCAR and sit on my front porch watching little kids with ice cream cones go by.
August 15, 2011 - that's it. I'm going to dive off that board and hope like hell that I can keep my head above water. I don't want to look back in regret that I waited to late to enjoy it.