Random-Lee: What I’ve learned this past year

In one of my earlier columns, I wrote about retirement and all the issues, questions and decisions I was facing as a brand spanking newly retired person. I’m still there, but really enjoyed some of the replies I got that offered advice and insight into similar personal experiences. Harry Roosevelt replied on line about the fulfilling things his “active” retirement has allowed him to do, like starting a new business, serving on non-profit boards, taking classes and serving as a volunteer.

And I want to personally thank Reno Cuno for sharing her story, including some of the challenges of a spouse’s early retirement and some major decisions she is still facing as she reaches her own retirement age. Many others gave me thoughts about what to do, what not to do, and – well, let’s just say that I have come to realize it’s a complicated process, just like finding that first job and beginning your working life at the other end of the spectrum.

I still don’t have all the answers, but here is what I have learned so far in the year since I retired from my business of 30 years:

  1. “Fixed” income is variable
    I started out by figuring how much we could comfortably and safely take from investments and retirement accounts, and then budgeted what we needed for expenses. Not exactly rocket science, except that the math fell short by $2,000/month! It definitely worried me until I figured out that we could either find a way to earn that much, or we could save that much! Just amazing how many extra dollars we have “found” by cutting out bottled water, coffee at Starbucks (well, most days), the weekly cleaning lady, the monthly yard service, using the library instead of buying books, having just a pedicure instead of a mani/pedi, using generic drugs…and so on.
  2. Social Security is not simple
    We had originally planned to take Social Security at 62 to make up that budget shortfall, but cancelled our application on the advice of both our accountant and financial planner, who claimed we would have to return all the money based on some deferred income due to us in the next few years. Turns out they were wrong and we missed a whole year’s worth of income when in fact the deferred payment didn’t count since it was actually earned in the year before we retired.
  3. Family dynamics change upon retirement
    We have always paid for the kids, whether it be family vacations or dinners out. Worked fine when we were in our peak earning years and they were just beginning careers, marriages, families, mortgages. But now things are reversed, and it’s time to let them pick up the check more often.
  4. There’s more than one way to skin a cat
    In the past, we have enjoyed planning and hosting elaborate dinner parties for groups of friends – which means we ate all the costs for the wines and food. But recently we’ve begun doing “joint” dinners where each couple brings a course, both the food and wine, leaving us with just the main course to prepare and serve. Last week we had six guests who brought appetizers, a soup course, a pasta course, a cheese course and dessert. What a cost and time savings — and everyone loved the shared effort.
  5. Retirement isn’t always a joint endeavor
    Because our shared business life kept us on the same schedule most of the time, I expected we would automatically have the same rhythm and joint activities in retirement life. Not so. I like to sleep until 8 or 8:30 a.m., while he still likes to get up at 6 a.m. He is off early for a workout at the YMCA, while I prefer long walks in the afternoon. I have not yet taken up the volunteer causes that he is ready to embrace.

We do agree on one thing, however, that some joint activity is needed to pull our days, our lives, together. There is always dinner in the evenings, and family calls and visits but, I sense, long term there needs to be more. A good friend is taking up golf so she can play weekly with her husband. Other acquaintances have bought an RV and plan to see the USA. I’m sure the rhythm will come for us, perhaps on our bikes, or at those ballroom dancing lessons we’ve discussed, or some other new activity. We just need to find the time.

* Lee Miller welcomes responses. Please email them to leemiller229@gmail.com


About Lee Miller

Lee Miller began her writing career with four books about Pennsylvania/east coast wines and the creation of Wine East magazine. She then went on to found the Chaddsford Winery with her husband Eric, where she turned her pen to promotion, advertising, public relations and marketing of their successful business venture for 30 years. Last year Lee co-wrote the new wine book, “The Vintner’s Apprentice” with Eric, and retired from the Chaddsford Winery to pursue other interests. She is currently working on a book about her life in the wine industry and exploring the retirement life. Her goal in writing a column for Chadds Ford Live is to generate dialogue and elicit reader response.



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