Back to the Future: The R-Word

I was very surprised when I came across this post from January 2011 because I thought this part of our journey had come much, much later.

Brett and I have long called ourselves “accidental retirees.” We had never thought much about or discussed retirement although we did save, but at the beginning of 2010 we did not believe we would ever be able to retire. We were drowning in debt at that point, had depleted our savings, and we were still raising young children – retirement was nothing more than a pipe dream. While we had committed ourselves to getting out of debt we were unable to see ourselves ever surviving without being employed somewhere. However, it appears that after just one (very difficult) year of debt reduction, we were not only thinking about but apparently actively starting to plan Brett’s retirement!

The game-changer was not only the elimination of over half of our debt, but discovering Brett would qualify for an additional family allowance from Social Security. Before January 2011 we had no idea such a thing even existed, let alone that we would qualify for it. I remember Brett and I talking with a counselor at Social Security, and finding out that because we had three children under age 18 that we would receive the full allowance, at least for a couple of years. With that, and with Brett’s military retirement, a small pension from his employer, his regular Social Security, and our debt eliminated, retirement became an affordable reality.

Brett did not retire in 2012 – that didn’t happen until June 2013 because stuff continued to happen and the rest of our debt did not get paid off as quickly as we hoped. However, at the beginning of 2011, we finally knew where the path we were on was taking us and how we were going to get there, and we had an even bigger motivation for finally getting rid of our debt. That journey never really got much easier, but knowing what awaited us at the end made a huge difference. 

The R-Word

No, it’s not Rest, Relaxation, Reuse or Recycle. The R-word here is Retirement. 

Brett is eligible to retire (Social Security-type retire) in just a little over a year. This is both exciting and somewhat frightening at the same time. The date is coming fast too, although frankly, not fast enough for Brett. He wants to be done with work yesterday, although he plans to continue working at his current position until the end of 2012. His huge desire to retire is the primary factor behind our urgency to pay off our debt.

The conventional wisdom is that you should work as long as possible, and put off taking your Social Security benefits in order to draw the full benefit upon retirement. We’re in a somewhat unique position though because we have dependents under the age of 18, so Brett will be eligible to receive the full family allowance for a while along with his standard Social Security payment. It makes sense for him to retire earlier rather than later. Social Security, along with his military retirement and pension from his current job, will provide us with an adequate income when he does leave his job. He will probably continue to work part-time somewhere because he’s not a sit-around sort of guy, but that’s an unknown for now. Right around when the time comes for our youngest (YaYu) to age out of eligibility for the allowance, my Social Security and pension will kick in to bring our income back up, although my pension will probably be just enough to buy milk every month. We’re not going to be rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ll be OK, especially if we don’t have any debt.

One thing we are talking about now is whether to stay in Portland or move elsewhere and if so, where? Brett and I are both getting tired of the rain and the cold of Portland winters, but the girls love it here. Any move would have to be done after Meiling graduates from high school in 2014 as she does not do particularly well with change, and is the most embedded here. But I’m not sure we will want to stay an additional four years after that for YaYu to graduate. We have long dreamed of moving out to the Oregon coast, but realize we would face the same weather there as we do here. Although I’m originally from California, I have little desire to go back there, and any place on the east coast would be too far away from our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson in Japan. Hawaii is a possibility, although the cost of living is quite high there. We have lots to think about, and thankfully don’t need to make any quick decisions.

We made some not-so-smart financial choices in the past and would be in even better financial shape if we’d done a few things differently, but we also did some things right or smart, like making the commitment for Brett to stick it out with the navy for 22 years, even though it was not an easy life. Adopting three children when we were in our mid- to late-40s was maybe not a smart financial move, but the right thing for us, and the best thing we ever did in every other sense. Going back to school in our 40s and borrowing for that was also not the brightest choice we made, but we’re both glad we have our degrees, and in Brett’s case it has paid off. Sticking with his current employer for all these years has also turned out well, although he could have made more money elsewhere. His Fortune 500 company has provided incredible benefits that no one else could come close to matching, and some of those will continue to be there after retirement.

If I know just one thing now, it’s that time passes way more quickly than you ever think it will and suddenly something like actual retirement looms. When we were young, when Brett was deployed, time seemed to stretch out forever. I never gave much of a thought to retirement or what we’d be doing or how we’d pay for things but all of a sudden . . . here it is. “Old people” were always talking about retirement and saving and investments but we felt like we had forever to get there. How wrong we were! We know that Social Security, in its current form, should be there for us and for that we are immensely grateful. For our son, or our daughters, or others younger than us, maybe not. We’re lucky and we know it.

P.S. I was doubly surprised to see Hawaii mentioned this early as well, as I remembered that as coming much later too.

P.P.S. Neither of us has ever had to (or wanted to) work after retirement – with a changed, more frugal lifestyle, our income, approximately two-thirds of what we earned pre-retirement, has turned out to be enough that we haven’t needed additional employment.


18 thoughts on “Back to the Future: The R-Word

  1. Thanks so much for sharing these older posts. I’m very interested in hearing how you arrived at your decisions.


    1. It has been fun for me to go back through all my old posts – most of them have banal, but some of them, like this one, were very surprising. I had no memory of talking about retirement, let alone Hawaii, this early. Somehow things gelled, and here we are!


  2. It’s always interesting to hop into the time machine and go back and read your thoughts of nearly 10 years ago. Ha, so Hawaii is too expensive, you must laugh when you read that and realise you managed to successfully pull off moving there not once but twice. A lesson for all of us, never say anything is impossible if one is determined to make it happen. Best thing is to develop a dream, then make the plan and execute said plan so the dream becomes a reality.


    1. I think more than us figuring out how to make dreams a reality has been figuring out how to adjust dreams to fit reality without destroying the dream. That’s been the most difficult part of all of this over the years. We always start out wanting to do XXX but only have the income/time/etc. for XX or X. The important part for us has been accepting that and being happy and satisfied with being able to do only X or XX, and then working toward that.

      Hawaii is still expensive! We figured it out before, but things have changed and we’re struggling with it this time, especially the cost of food. But, gas is cheaper than it was when we left, and our rent is lower than before, and with utilities included. We’re also up against replacing so many items that we got rid of before, never thinking we’d return this quickly.


  3. I love this retrospective with your reflections on it. Funny that Hawaii was mentioned early. You are so right – you think retirement is for others. And then it is THERE. Mr S is 60 next year. We are not sure when but it has to be something we seriously plan for. We still have a mortgage and our house is in serious need of repairs. It’s a heritage listed house, so the work is extra costly.


    1. Once Brett retired from the navy we felt “safe,” probably too safe all things considered and weren’t as aggressive about saving as we could have been. Again, there was always time (he retired from the navy at age 42). We spent our savings adopting the girls. Maybe not the brightest thing to do financially, but the right thing for us – we’d do the same thing again.

      The smartest decision we made though was Brett staying in the navy for retirement. It wasn’t an easy thing for us to do back then, but because of it we’ve always had a roof over our heads, as well as good health insurance and other benefits.

      I’d love to see some pictures of your home sometime. The older homes we saw in Australia were absolutely charming (and we’re not really into older homes).


      1. We feel likewise safe with our govt teaching job. Security of tenure. The additional leave we accrue. Mr S has enough to take a whole year off on full pay. So we also haven’t saved as aggressively as we should have.

        House needs a lot of work. When we get it done, I’ll take lots of photos. It is a cute place.


      2. That security of Brett’s navy retirement is the greatest benefit of all. When he retired he had three months of leave saved, so full salary while we transitioned (which was still difficult). I don’t think it kept us from saving, but we were totally ignorant of what it would cost to raise three additional children – those costs kept growing all the time and it felt like we could never keep up, nor at the end was there enough income to stay afloat AND contribute more to retirement. We wouldn’t do things any differently, but we’ve only been able to see the issues we faced in hindsight.

        I will look forward to seeing pictures of your place someday!

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  4. i started seriously planning for retirement when I was 26 and opened my IRA . I also started working for a Government pension when I graduated from college at 21. I always wanted to retire young but was not able to retire until I was 58. I always planned to travel while I was still young enough to enjoy it. Alas, I became a caregiver for my parents, but I have traveled vicariously with you on all your journey’s.. Thank you so much for sharing.


    1. When Brett was on active duty, we barely had enough to make ends meet. We saved as much as we could but it wasn’t much. These days people on active duty have more options – the benefits are better (as they should be). We always used our transfers as a time to travel, and did two tours in Japan for the cultural experience. Our retirement benefits have been well worth it though – we are grateful that we’ve always been able to afford a place to live, and have had good health insurance, because Brett staying in long enough to retire. He could have made a LOT more money on the outside though.

      Your parents are blessed that you have been able to care for them. And who knows what the future will bring? I believe you can still travel when you’re older, even on your own, and enjoy it. My mother traveled into her 80s – I hope Brett and I are able to do the same.


  5. Love the back stories, since I didn’t find your blog until you were in Hawaii. You guys were really disciplined! FWIW, I’m sure most of us have made some not-so-smart financial choices. But sometimes my bad money choices paid off and led to great adventures. 🙂


    1. The old blogs are actually pretty blah, in my opinion (lots of recipes and other not so interesting things), but occasionally I come across a post like this one that surprises me. It was fascinating to see when the idea of retirement took hold as well as thoughts of relocating. We have always been “practical dreamers” – not afraid to dream, but then taking the time to figure out how to make it come true.

      I agree about bad money choices paying off and leading to great adventure. We wouldn’t change anything that we did in the past even though in hindsight somethings look like not-very-smart choices.


  6. Thanks for this “memory Lane” post. It gives me some of the back-story of your life before I started reading your blog. You have done a fantastic job of putting in the work needed to realize your dreams.


    1. My mom always said that having money was what allowed you to dream. I’ve always thought the opposite, that dreams are always free, and if you truly want to make them come true you will find a way to come up with the (sometimes extra) funds you need to make the dreams a reality.

      I love being able to make things happen, make dreams come true. Right now we’re in a very strange place for me because there’s no way to make actual plans for the future because who knows what that’s going to be. I’m having to readjust my thinking, and our goals, and it’s not easy.


    1. That’s a very good guess! Looking back, I am surprised by how well we survived past recessions. But I’m more surprised by how early we were able to consider retirement, and how early we were talking about Hawaii! 2010 was a horrible year for us, and yet apparently we did well enough that we were able to see a light at the end of the tunnel.


  7. Another great back post. I agree that dreams are first and then you figure out how to do it. I remember sooo many posts about that survey site you earned points on.i am just not that disciplined!
    I was reading this tonight and thought you might enjoy it if you hadn’t seen it.


    1. Ah, Swagbucks! I used to spend so much time with that, and did earn some fabulous rewards. I am doing it again, but not every day. Whatever I earn, I earn, but there will be no big goals with that like I had before. Every little bit will help though.

      I won’t be surprised if YaYu’s college does not reopen in the fall. The dorms are very crowded as all students except for a few seniors are required to live on campus. It will mean a huge savings for us if it happens, but I know YaYu will be very sad. She misses her friends and her boyfriend so much. They spend hours on the phone or with Zoom every week keeping in touch.

      I think what’s hard for us (well, me anyway) is that we currently don’t have any big dreams. We are committed to getting YaYu through to graduation, but that’s about it right now. I like having a big goal though out in front of me so I’m sure we’ll come up with something one of these days.


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