Thursday, June 10, 1999

How I Retired Early and Foolishly

by Marion C. Dannert

Last month I wrote a Fribble on some of the Lessons My Father Taught Me. Dad's principles were so practical, that they served me well, even as I moved into a world my Dad had never known. My father retired after completing 42 years with one corporation. My husband and I were able to retire comfortably, much earlier, much younger.

When our third and youngest child was a senior in college, my husband was offered full-pensioned retirement. He was fifty-two. The pension wasn't large, but we'd always saved and the math projected that it would work. The house was paid off, our retirement lot was purchased, and the dog had died. (You know the old joke about the true beginning of life being when the last kid graduates from college and the dog dies? Funny but true!)

So how did we do it? We did it by applying basic Foolish principles and (as Dad always said) a little good luck. The laundry list that follows includes some of the behaviors that allowed us to retire early with more than enough money.

1) Have a plan (where, when, how). Know what you want and what you can reasonably afford. Be honest about how much and how little will do.

2) Research and visit where you'd like to go. (There are great real estate buys all over this country. But they're not in my home town of Greenwich, Conn. You want to pay for a zip code? Be my guest. As for me, I like my island, waterfront homesite in North Carolina at 1/4 the price (and 15 minutes by boat from the Outer Banks.)

3) Know where all your money goes. (By knowing this, we were able to save almost all of my salary, while providing college tuitions for all three of our kids.)

4) Designer stuff and Disney vacations were not in our plans. Our kids did not get to buy most of the Madison-Avenue-peer-pressure stuff. We didn't value it. I would go 20 bucks for sneakers, they had to earn anything beyond that. We had great vacations together, but not real costly ones.The kids always had jobs from about age 12. These were mostly summer jobs until age 16, when work after school was included. They played instruments and had private music lessons. Money was spent selectively on priorities.

5) Don't listen to the Wise when your own experience disagrees with their advice. Wise friends, card-carrying analysts, told us that we should not own municipal bonds. Our tax-bracket was too low, they said. Thanks, but no thanks. We like tax-free income, too, even though we're not wealthy. The Wise also told us that as retirees, we should not own so much Lucent stock. No thanks, again. Lucent has already split twice since we bought it. The funny thing is, we've been retired for 8 1/2 years while our Wise-peer is still slaving away advising investors.

6) Practice volunteering, so you'll be ready for some meaningful activity when you retire. There are more worthwhile causes out there than you can discover in one lifetime. And, they all need help. Working as a literacy volunteer with a Russian woman, I found satisfaction and a great new friend. Teaching Sunday school gave me the opportunity (and the cast) to produce that play I'd written. Volunteering at my library helps me feel like a contributing member in my new community. Serving as docents at a local historical site, my husband and I feel even more connected with our new home.

7) Find your passions. Retirees need exciting, passionate involvement. Golf, tennis, reading, writing that novel, painting, quilting, making a real difference -- Habitat for Humanity and growing fabulous roses are two of mine. Entertainment is not enough. Finally, in retirement, you have enough time. The time will only be valuable if you invest it with effort, thought, and passion.

So go on girl (or boy) as we say in the South, when we're excited. Make that plan. No, you don't need all those millions folks say you do to retire. You need a plan. You need to develop interest until it becomes passion. That's all you need.

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