Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Whilst I'm on the subject of retirement

I had an interesting exchange with the social security agent last week. By the way, Social Security is to be commended for the customer service focus their employees have. I have not talked to a person on the phone or dealt with an agent in person who was not courteous, polite, and helpful. A far cry from the usual stereotype we imagine when dealing with government employees.

During the course of our conversation I explained my own reasons for not wishing to retire now, or when I hit the full benefits age of 66. Frankly, I enjoy my work too much and still feel the thrill and energy derived from the challenge. This person's comments to me were he'd seen a number of people delay retirement only to pass away before they collected their contributed portion of the taxes, or their employer's contribution. He told me that it is estimated that at full benefit you get what you paid in in taxes back in the first three years of collection. You get back what your employer paid in during the years 4-6. His ending comment was you want to make sure you get what you paid in before you die.

Well, let's examine that. Suppose I had not built up a nest egg, that the only source of income I would derive would be from social security. Perhaps I still owed on a home, credit cards, personal loans on a boat, motorcycle or some such item. If I retired at age 62 my retirement income would be $1100 per month. I couldn't make it. I could not survive.

The real issue is each person is responsible for their own decisions. While I've heard financial experts explain that if you start drawing at age 62 and live to age 85 you will draw a larger sum of money than if you wait till age 65 and draw till age 85. So what? What if your monthly income is not sufficient to support your financial needs during that period. What kind of anxiety and stress will that create not only on the person but his/her family? I don't particularly care if I get my tax money back. I care more about being able to support myself and my wife, to be able to do more than just subsist than I care about the total amount of money I get over 23 years as opposed to 20 years. I am out to maximize my cash flow not get my tax money back. I don't have use of that tax money now, nor did I have in my earning years. Why should I be concerned about getting that money back when to do so wouldn't accomplish my aims in retirement.

It just goes to show that you really need to understand your needs. You have to understand the best way to fulfill or accomplish those needs. Financial counselors who advocate long term benefits over short term needs are not necessarily providing the best advice. You really need to look at the streams of income you will receive upon retirement and whether or not those streams will be sufficient for your needs. That's the decision point.

Urban and I have the same problem

I just finished reading an article on CNN by a writer discussing why Urban Meyer, Head Coach of the Florida Gator football team, changed his decision from quitting to taking an indefinite leave. Essentially the pressures of the work created health problems. But in the article the writer also felt Coach Meyer had come to a decision that his coaching days would extend beyond his 5oth year. Urban Meyer's dilemma surfaced during a conversation between he and Steve Spurrier head coach of the University of South Carolina. During a dinner conversation Meyer asked Spurrier why he hadn't quit before he was 60. Spurrier told him that when he was Meyer's age he never thought he'd coach into his 60's. Then the real issue came out, "What else am I going to do" Spurrier stated. Therein lies the crux of the issue.

I am not rich. I do not have a six-figure job. My social security check will probably represent over 50% of my income in my retirement years. My goal when I was a young man was to retire at age 50 and spend the rest of my life fishing, hunting, and enjoying life. Now I am 65 and don't know when I will retire.

Money is an issue. I don't have much debt. Our debt consists of a mortgage on a piece of rental property and a home equity loan that I used to renovate our log cabin. Between the two the payments would be about $600 a month. Not bad. Our living expenses are low, taxes and insurance probably average about another $400 a month. Social security for both my wife and I will probably yield $2500 a month, another $380 in a retirement from Case, say $600 a month in rent income and maybe a little draw from my investments and I can get to around $4000 a month without too much trouble. So net living expenses could be $2500 to $3000 a month. That isn't too bad.

The problem is, what am I going to do? I have a work shop, I have a lot of tools, and Terry keeps my "honey do" list quite long. I now have a boat, a canoe, and I have guns for hunting. I haven't fished in years, I haven't hunted in years. I dream of doing both, but I haven't done them for quite some time. I have a nice set of golf clubs, but I only play golf once or twice a year.

Listening to others, reading about Urban Meyer's dilemma and I have come to understand what I have done to myself. I have taken my work into my life. Work defines who I am. All of my adult life I have lead organizations and managed people to achieve some outcome. I am very good at it. I have built self-sustaining organizations. I have provided people who worked in my organizations the opportunity to participate, to become part of the success, and to grow and develop their own careers. My interest has been in solving problems. I lie awake at night thinking and devising methods to overcome issues and enhance the outcome for the organization. When I work I have no hours. If I need to be in early I am. If I need to stay late I do. Nights and weekends my mind turns to the issues, the opportunities, and the outcomes. My workdays do not fit a routine or a schedule, I've never allowed them to.

My youngest daughter has built a wonderful life devoted to her family. Yet, the genes run deep. I know she gets caught up in the mental busyness of work. She doesn't sleep well because her mind turns to the issues. Yet, she does maintain a scheduled work day, in by 8 out by 5. My work day begins when I want it to and ends when I want it to. That is the magic of my job and what I enjoy. However, when home on a weekend, or as now between Christmas and New Years I find my ambition stymied. I don't do a lot of work in my shop, my "honey do" list gets ignored or feebly worked on. I can feel a restlessness and concern of what I should be doing. My health becomes an issue, aches and pains I don't notice when I'm working now make me feel old. I sometimes feel like I'm just sitting around waiting to die. I'm only 65 for cripes sake, and I'm in good health. I should have 20+ years ahead of me, many of them with me able to physically do things. Yet I find myself lethargic and worried.

I enjoy it when my wife is off and we can do things together. I don't feel so restless and directionless. Perhaps that is the curse create for ourselves when we allow work to become part of the meaning of life, instead of using work to allow us to develop meaning in our life. I don't know the answer, but I do know and understand Urban Meyer's dilemma. It is a problem many face when they reach that stage in life when success isn't the issue anymore. It becomes more personal than that. Good luck Urban Meyer, we'll both need some.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A New Pet Peeve

I am sitting here this morning looking at Face Book and seeing what is going on with the few people I maintain as friends. I also got a nice email from a person I work with that was a cute message with snowmen and sprigs of holly decorating the message. The content hoped my day was filled with the little things that occur that make the day seem to flow and be pleasant. It had a religious point to it, and I don't object to that. What I do object to is at the end of the message the sentences urging me to send this message on to someone you might be thinking of, or care about. Even that isn't too bad as I do have some friends I would like to tell them I am thinking about them and I care about them. However, then comes the threat. If you don't pass this on it means you don't care, or you don't believe in God's love, or some such threat. That pisses me off. I delete those emails regardless of content. I've seen emailed chain letters that threaten your economic status, your mental health, or you relationship with God if you don't pass them on. I delete them, every damn one of them.

This time of year I've heard parents say to children, "If you don't behave Santa won't bring you any gifts." What a hell of a thing to tell a kid. Why don't we just blame our lack of ability to teach, model, instruct or discipline behavior on some third party. I know, like God. If you don't behave you'll go to hell. That'll get the little buggers into the behaving mode.

Anyway it really makes me angry to get messages that imply that I am not a worthy person, or don't care, or whatever fault they emphasize when they do not know me. I might pass a really nice message on if I wasn't threatened.