I have a plan. My plan is to retire fully in three years so that Bill and I can enjoy more of the active travel we love while we still can. We’ll go cross country skiing in New England and have friends over for wine and cheese after a play or movie. We’ll paddle our kayaks on the Mississippi River and take the train across Canada. We’ll go hiking in New Zealand. Instead of a long weekend with the grandchildren, we’ll spend a whole week. (If that’s ok with you, Linda.) I’ve got a little piece of paper in my wallet with the remaining months listed. On days when workplace tensions run high, I take it out and mark off the months that have passed.
In pursuit of my plan, I have expense and income spreadsheets with different scenarios. We’ve got another spreadsheet, updated quarterly with our savings. I’ve run the options through online retirement calculators. The numbers seem to work. Our health seems to be holding up.
How do you decide if your plan is sound? The reality is that for most of us, once we’ve hit the retirement button there will be no “undo”. We might be able to go back to work but we are unlikely to make what we did at the height of our earning years. This is a decision that involves some anxiety, some fear of the unknown and unknowable.
I was born in the early 50s in the United States of America. For most of my life, I’ve known a stable world. Recessions were blips in a generally positive economy. Life spans expanded and old people grew fitter. For people of my great grandparent’s time, retirement often meant poverty or dependence on children. Not for my grandparents or parents, even though both had modest incomes. With a little prudence, planning, pensions, and social security, retirements could be enjoyed. Three years ago, I felt certain that my retirement world would be similar. Most days, I still do. As I said, I’ve got a plan.
So when I cross the last month off my list, will my plan hold? Will I be ready to move ahead? Or will I have waited too long and not be able to do the things I hoped to do? None of us can see into the future. We can only make the best plan possible and take the leap when the time comes. And so like a fantastical cross between Aesop’s grasshopper and his ant, I spend some time playing in the summer sun and some time shoring up stores for the winter.
The last two stanzas of, “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns (slightly modified with some of the Scottish dialect replaced by more modern English)
But Mousie, thou are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
oft go awry,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!