Want to retire early? Quit buying sh-t!

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Being retired leaves me with a fair amount of time to look into topics that interest me. As might be expected the whole issue of retirement is one of those things that is of interest to me. Not how to retire necessarily – as I’m already there, but perspectives on retirement – what to do, hobbies, how other people handle retirement, trips, etc.

Inevitably, especially when looking at comments sections of online news articles related to retirement, I come across a certain attitude that really concerns me. The whole issue of pension envy often rears its ugly head. I’m the first to admit that my career choice made it easier for me to retire (DB pension plan) although I had some significant input into how well I would retire. I indicated a few posts ago that I’m doing a couple of days a week of work with my old employer under contract. I don’t need to, but a little extra cash is always nice for projects or a rainy day. In truth, I don’t really need to work at all. My point here is not to brag, but simply set the stage for what will follow, that is my advice for how to be able to retire early, or if not early, at least comfortably when the time comes.

i shop terefor i amEarly on in my career I went into my bank to sign my mortgage renewal papers and had a casual conversation with my banker. During that conversation I asked her what I was doing wrong. I recalled how I had seen many people my own age or younger living in bigger houses than I had with driveways covered in new vehicles, boats, campers and the like. Her answer – “You’re not doing anything wrong, they are”. It turns out that much of the bling that others possess is as a result of borrowed money. I had a good job and found it unlikely that so many people would be making more money than I was, so her response was enlightening.

debtHad I still been making payments on all that STUFF I would not have been able to retire at 52. We lived within our means, didn’t borrow for warm weather vacations, renovations, cars, boats, trucks, campers and general rampant consumer spending. We saved and spent money on what we needed to. We carried no debt except for our mortgage which we pounded away at especially as we neared the point where I could retire.

Not only are many folks stuck with mounds of consumer debt, but the stress that comes with it can cause significant problems in relationships. It turns out that financial stress is a leading cause of divorce in our society. It’d hard enough to retire well when a couple are on the same page. In a case where financial stress is a foundational cause of a divorce the family equity pie gets split up leaving both parties to essentially start over again in separate households. I have former co-workers who went down this road which led them to have to split their pension with a former spouse and then continue on working full time in an effort to gather enough financial resources to be able to retire some day.

Now, I know that people get divorced for reasons other than money stress, but money stress is what we’re talking about here. Sometimes people change or want something different and pull the plug on a marriage. I get that and there’s not much you can do about that. My point is simply that rampant consumerism can have a detrimental effect on relationships and ones ability to retire.

No one is saying you have to live like a peasant your entire working life so that you can retire at some point. Take pleasure in the small things in life. As an example, instead of going out for dinner and drinks with your friends, take turns hosting dinner parties. They’re a bit of work but way cheaper and arguably more intimate and fun than going to a restaurant. Depending on how many friends you involve in this you will only have to take your turn hosting every so often. Save for your vacations instead of borrowing and digging yourself a financial hole that will be difficult to fill. When you do go on holidays (because we all need holidays) try to  get a place that will allow you to cook your own meals. This is way cheaper and probably better for you. Keep the menu simple so that you don’t feel overburdened with making meals – however, do treat yourself a bit and go out a few times – the best of both worlds.

So, even if you are part of a good defined benefit pension plan (not like Detroit or Stockton) you need to make sure that you have your finances in order when the time comes. There’s nothing more limiting than a bunch of debt owing when your time to retire comes.

Those of you without a DB pension plan need to do the same but also need to sock away a healthy portion of each paycheque to your retirement savings. This is essentially what DB pension plan members do, except that they do it as a group and have someone investing the money for them. Those of you not in a pension plan need to do that yourselves or you need to find a good financial advisor.

One additional point that I’d like to cover is that you should always be striving to raise your earning potential. Keep learning. Get yourself more qualified. Take on additional responsibilities. Strive for promotion. Change jobs if you need to. I’ve seen too many people who make low wages complain that they can’t retire, yet have put in little or no effort to put themselves in a position to make a better wage. Employers don’t just give you more money – you have to demonstrate your value for them to come across with more money. If your employer won’t, it’s time to look for other opportunities. Move if you have to. If there’s no work in your area and you didn’t move to seek better opportunities you shouldn’t be complaining.

In short, it’s really up to you. Be careful and responsible with your money. Don’t spend more than you make and avoid the stress and possible marital problems that come with indebtedness. From your early working days save 10-15 % of everything you make and invest it for the future – live on the rest. Strive to improve your qualifications and seek higher paying jobs and promotions. Take pleasure in the small things in life now AND when you retire. You can do it, you just have to be very deliberate about it.

Fall Vacation

Focus, focus, focus. You’d think that being retired would at least leave you with enough time to make the occasional blog post. You know that thing retired people say – that they are busier than when they were working – it’s true. I think it’s the lack of discipline that comes with not having a schedule. Your time just seems to go here, there and everywhere.

Some part time contract work (no I couldn’t resist as it is too financially lucrative and helps pay for the holidays like the one we’re on now), hobbies, volunteering, a kitchen renovation with me doing the plumbing, electrical, tiling (my wife painted because I can’t stand it),etc, and the rabbit hole of YouTube have limited my motivation to post.

We are currently poolside in Palm Springs where the e-mail to post feature of WordPress is coming in handy for this posting as I jab furiously at my BlackBerry with my thumbs.

We drove south and spent a night in Roseburg, OR and then two nights in San Francisco where I hadn’t been for about 25 years or so. Fantastic city – highlights were Fisherman’s Wharf, specifically Pier 39, Alcatraz, and a bus tour of the city. I sure do love that San Francisco sourdough bread. I think that I’ll try and cultivate a batch of sourdough started when we get back home. I need another hobby, but sadly probably not the carbs…

Will be spending the next few weeks soaking up the sun so as to get through the cold, wet winter weather at home.

Wishing all my American friends a Happy Thanksgiving!
Sent from my BlackBerry®

Too much time on my hands??

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I guess part of adjusting to retirement is finding a healthy balance in what you do every day. My wife and I just spent three relaxing weeks in Palm Springs, having gone back there after having returned home a month earlier. It’s a lot nicer to sit out by the pool in the sunshine than hide in our regular home from the rain. We didn’t do much – pool for a few hours in the morning and then again in the late afternoon for a few hours (4:30-6:30 or so). In between we either hid in the air-conditioned house reading, surfing the net, or went to the air-conditioned mall or movie theater. The trips to the theater resulted in my seeing Ironman 3, Star Trek: Into the Darkness and The Great Gatsby. Ironman 3 and Star Trek were both viewed in IMAX 3D which was awesome.

I’m one of those people who is interested in lots of stuff; that is, I know a little about lots of things but not a lot about a few things. In short, I’m kinda curious. The internet, wonderful tool ( read: time eater) that it is allows me to explore the many things that pique my interest which ultimately leads me down the rabbit hole that is difficult to escape from.

I don’t know how I got there, but my latest line of internet queries has led me to the possibility of building an electric car, energy self-sufficiency, earthship construction (environmentally sustainable housing – query it), emergency preparedness including living off the grid and preparing for the coming (armageddon, collapse, peak oil, nuclear war…insert your favorite tribulation here_________). Interesting stuff to be sure, but it’s a little unsettling to know that so many people are expecting things to get really bad in the short term. And here I am a mere 14 months into my retirement. Having said all this, there sure are a lot of creative people out there practicing their skills at keeping themselves and their families safe no matter what is thrown at them.

Spending most of my money on a remote plot of land, building sustainable housing off the grid, and raising chickens, cows, pigs and operating a garden or greenhouse – as romantic as that notion is – seems like an awful lot of work – which certainly doesn’t fit with my view of retirement. If the shit hits the fan, I, like most other people will have to figure out how to get by on the fly.

Note to self: Stay away from scary internet sites that suggest the world as we know it is about to end…and find something else to do…

On the running front I’ve settled on running 5k’s every second day or so, with the occasional longer run thrown in. Much more than that and I start hurting in places that force me to back off a bit. All in all I’m happy with the fact that I’ve been running consistently for over a year without a significant injury.

Back to digging my bunker…Just kidding…. :)

A day at the beach!

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Yikes, other than a mini-post a few weeks back, you folks haven’t heard from me for almost three months! I’d love to have all sorts of excuses but, sadly, I don’t have any. I guess I’m simply in retirement mode. I’m easily amused so I’m finding that I don’t have the problem of being bored that some retirees report. There’s no longing to go back to work – even after a full year off. That was one quick year.

IMG-20130505-00127We’re certainly getting our share of travelling in, having spent time in The Netherlands, the South of France, and as of next week, three separate trips to Palm Springs. Speaking of France, we flew to Marseilles, rented a car and drove along the south coast to cities including Cassis, Cannes, Antibes,  Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer  and Monaco / Monte Carlo. If I have one piece of advice for anyone planning to travel to the south of France it’s that you need to get a copy of Rick Steves’ Provence and the French Riviera. The book is easy to carry in your backpack and is an incredible resource for travelers. Hotels, transportation info, places to see, restaurants, and local customs / idiosyncrasies are well laid out and very helpful. No matter where you are going Rick Steves has a great guidebook available through Amazon.

Also, if you are renting a car, GPS is a must as it removes a whole layer of complexity from your travels. Most GPS providers allow you to purchase and download destination maps which you install before you head out. My purchase of a European map for my TomTom GPS was money well spent as I used it in Holland, Germany and France. Amazon has a great selection of GPS units available.

Today we spent a nice day at the beach now that temperatures in our are have climbed substantially (32C or 90F). Hung out with the kids and had supper at the beach as well. All in all, a perfect day.

My running has been going pretty well although I’ve had to back off on the mileage a bit. I had managed to get up to 10K with some regularity but find that my right knee was clicking a bit and was a bit tender. After a few extra days rest the soreness went away and I can do a 5K without much of a problem. This morning’s 5K was good and the knee feels fine. I think I’m learning the truth of the saying – one that my brother is fond of – which states “You can’t out-train a bad diet”. I went from about 250 lbs to 220 lbs where I’ve been sitting for the past 2-3 months, in spite of a regular running regimen. I have to get serious on the diet aspect of my lifestyle. Hopefully a further reduction in weight will result in a merciful break for my knees.

My next post will be from beautiful Palm Springs California…

Thoughts and Prayers for Boston

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flagA terrifying and tragic day for those affected by events in Boston today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families and friends.

Americans are a resilient people and will get past this. Law enforcement folks are no doubt digging deep and will bring the perpetrators to justice. It’s too early to point fingers, so please folks, don’t jump to any conclusions until we have more information. Sent from my BlackBerry®

Running to and from my bi-weekly run with a friend…weird…

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This morning I did something that I would never have done before my most recent return to running. I have a standing bi-weekly appointment with a friend of mine for a run.  We usually drive to a local park and meet there for the run. Today, however, I was stuck at home without a vehicle. Rather than ditch our plans, or have him come to pick me up, I told him that I would run from home and meet him at the park which is some two kilometers (1 1/4 miles for you non-metric folks) away.

Kinda cool how running is becoming easy and enjoyable enough for me to run to and from my run. (I know it’s the same as simply going for a longer run, but it’s the actual conscious decision to forgo the use of a car that counts here!)

This afternoon I had the crap scared out of me. My wife, who has a long list of post-retirement home improvement projects, wanted to go to the local home show, so I said “sure”. You know the kind of event, the one with the caramel corn booth, the micro-phoned cleaning implement and cooking hucksters, fudge makers, and the on-the-spot orthotic booths (don’t ask me why they are there, but they seem to be ubiquitous at these types of events). Strangely, there were even some displays that actually had something to do with home improvements such as flooring, counter-tops  windows and the like.

It quickly became clear to me that retirement was pretty much over, for two very simple reasons. First, actually completing the projects on my wife’s wishlist was going to keep me very,very, very busy. Second, the costs involved in replacing  counter-tops, flooring and fireplace re-surfacing was going to give my retirement nest-egg a serious shit kicking…making me wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to stay at work!

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Lemon Meringue Pie and the metabolic dilemma…

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DSC03207I ran a 10K this morning, burning off over a thousand calories in the process, then came home and whipped up one of my favorites this afternoon…Lemon Meringue Pie. (——->>>>>)

The more I think about this, the odder it seems. Granted, running and cooking / baking are two of my favorite things to do, but it seems somewhat ironic that I’d make something that will replace those hard-lost calories so easily and quickly. It is tragic just how easily an hours worth of hard work can be undone by simply scarfing down a piece (or two) of pie. This bit of metabolic magic doesn’t seem at all fair…

T-minus 5 hours until my fork hits the pie though…I’m soooo weak….

I’m Cloudy on iCloud

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I’ve spent the evening trying to setup and figure out how Apple’s iCloud works. I’ve been able to get my iPod Touch to sync with iCloud and then move iPod generated notes, photos and contacts to my iCloud account. Now using my iCloud e-mail on my iPod Touch to make this posting on my Freedom 52 WordPress Blog. I’m getting my electronics all set up so that I can stay connected when we head to Palm Springs for the month of March. We have a place there that we share with some other folks. I can’t wait for a healthy dose of sunshine.

In spite of the poor weather I’ve been able to keep my running up. Two 10k’s and a 5k so far this week; we’ll see what distance I feel like tomorrow…now let’s see if this post works!

Sent from my iPod Touch

Greek Delight! …and other stuff…

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greekIn my last posting I mentioned my attendance at a cooking class gifted to me by my former colleagues upon my retirement. I came away from the class quite impressed with both the venue (www.wellseasoned.ca) and the chef (www.chefdez.com) and took the opportunity to cook a Greek dinner for my family this past Sunday.

I spent a good part of the afternoon in the kitchen squeezing a lot of lemons and peeling garlic as it seems that most Greek dishes are infused with healthy quantities of both. I made Hummus, Tzatziki Dip, Greek Salad, Chicken Souvlaki and Greek Roasted Potatoes all from scratch (carefully following the recipe and tips provided by Chef Dez). I’m happy to say that the meal was a definite hit with the family and I was pleased with the results myself. Thankfully most of the items can be made one at a time and ahead of time and can be stored in the fridge, in fact for some dishes prior preparation is an advantage as it allows for the flavours to meld and mature. The only things I had to do in the last hour was to roast the potatoes, skewer and barbecue the souvlaki and mix the feta cheese into the Greek salad. It was a lot of work but was very much worth the effort; I will make this meal again.

Running is going very well as I completed a 10K this past Thursday and again this Saturday. I followed up these long runs with an easy 5K today to help stay loose (It’s funny that a 5K is now my default easy run!). I remain injury free since resuming my running hobby this past May when I retired. It only took me the better part of 30 years to figure out that I needed to listen to my body so as not to over train and invite injury. My dog is enjoying the 5K runs, but I think I kicked his ass (figuratively of course) when I did a 10K run with him this past week. He may have to start asking me how far we are going before he is so eager to leave the house from now on.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, something I had trouble doing prior to retirement. My current favourite genre is the fictional counter-terrorism / counter-insurgent action novel by authors such as Vince Flynn, Brad Thor & Dalton Fury whose heroes kick lots of terrorist butt all over the world. Not sure if people like these characters really exist, but it makes for a good read.

Tomorrow it’s back to the local Food Bank to volunteer and give back a little to the community that has given me so much.

Cooking Classes

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In the year or two prior to retiring I had mentioned to my colleagues that at some point in the future I’d like to take some cooking classes. A lifelong lover of food I wanted to become more proficient at preparing great food. On my last day of work my colleagues presented me with a gift certificate from a local gourmet shop that hosts cooking classes led by local chefs. This allows me to attend four different classes, the first of which I attended this evening.

Well, this evening I attended my first class that focused on Greek food, specifically hummus, Greek Salad, Souvlaki, Greek Roasted Potatoes, and Tzatziki Dip. The class had about 20 or so students and we watched as the chef entertained us and produced these dishes. The class was humourous, informative and filling. The food was wonderful and, in my opinion, was better than the Greek food I’ve eaten in restaurants.

My thanks to Chef Dez (@chefdez) (www.chefdez.com) and the Well Seasoned Gourmet Food Store (@wellseasoned1) (www.wellseasoned.ca) for a terrific and tasty evening.

Chef Dez at Well Seasoned

Chef Dez at Well Seasoned

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Souvlaki, Roasted Greek Potatoes and Tzatziki Dip

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