I’ve been thinking about retirement.

th-3A recent freelance experience suffused with mega-micromanagement left me teeth-grindingly irritated and wondering, “What if I just quit?”

Pipe dream, at least for now. I’m too young to collect Social Security and not quite far enough along in my personal retirement savings to stop contributing.

It’s not that I don’t like what I do. Writing is as natural as respiration. Even if I quit writing full-time I’d likely freelance here and there. Lately, though, I’m viewing time as more important than money, and resenting the hours spent on non-life-enriching stuff.

We now interrupt our regular broadcast to check our privilege: Plenty of people in the world don’t have the freedom even to consider such a choice. They work until they die, and with their last breaths apologize for not contributing more to the family and for costing so much money to bury.

I know that I am in a pretty benevolent place: I can work from home, the job is interesting and lets me help people, and I get to see DF for lunch every day.

Which brings me to the main reason I want to retire.


My partner and I got a late start and I’m increasingly aware of how finite time really is. I want to spend more time with DF without having to take it from somewhere else: work, visiting my daughter, hanging out with my nephews, catching up on “iZombie” with my pal Linda B., exercise, sleep.

All those things mesh, but something always gets shorted.


Retirement: More time?

Again: Privilege! I know that I’m lucky to have the setup in which I currently live. But like one-half of the blogging duo Nicoleandmaggie, I believe I could fill my days pretty handily without paid employment.

In a post called “What would you do if retired?,” she wrote about how she spent her time while between jobs:

“I have plenty of hobbies including riding horses, reading, napping, and fostering orphaned kittens. I have friends to see and cool places to go. I could do some traveling. … I will probably never live long enough to read all the books I want to read, so I’d be happy to do that for a long, long time…being temporarily retired is awesome!

“Though making money is awesome, too.”

And there’s the rub: the need to support oneself. Sure, I could quit looking for most work and live really carefully – which we do anyway – until collecting reduced Social Security at age 62. Part of me wants to do this: to fill the rest of my days with DF, friends and family, books, walks, theater reviews, travel and other things that make me happy.

But that’s not the smart move. Making money is, at least for a while longer.

He and I are lucky to have found each other. We know that. Sometimes, though, we wish we didn’t have to spend so much of our lives together being apart.

Readers: Did you ever think about retiring early? If you plan to do this, how will you spend your time once it’s your own?

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  1. I have not retired nor has my husband but we are starting to seriously look into how he can retire from the 9-5 grind at age 55. Time is limited and my husband and I are becoming very aware of that. So we would prefer finding a way to do what we love rather than what we have too.

    I do want to say you really need to stop apologizing for your successes and calling yourself lucky. There is no luck without hard work. You are the hardest working person I know. You do deserve every wonderful thing you have.

    • Donna Freedman

      Aw, thanks. I do believe that I’m lucky, i.e., blessed, in that I get to do what I do. But I also am starting to acknowledge that it wasn’t handed to me. I worked for it.

      And now I’d like to step away from it. Some of it, anyway.

      Thanks, fellow Jersey Girl, and I hope you guys figure out a way to do everything you dream.

  2. Dream of retirement but we are in our early 50’s and just not enough money saved to live on until early retirement. I did however make a plan in my life that after 50 yearly vacations or every other year will be done. We are heading to Ireland this year to start the promise and are very excited. You just never know what tomorrow will bring so saving, working and living a little more is the agenda for us!

    • Donna Freedman

      Travel while it is yet possible to travel! I am writing this from Beverly Harzog’s house near Atlanta, in fact.

      I’m with you on the “saving, working and living a little more” — maybe you should put that on a T-shirt.

  3. Tina in NJ

    we managed to keep contributing to his 401(k) the entire time Son was in college. If Hubby’s job evaporated (I’m a SAH mom), we’d be okay, but he should be able to hang on for a few more years. We still have a teenager at home, so mucho travel is still a few years away. Lots of changes right now, from kids growing up to friends getting divorced to parents dieing to our own health issues. It is definitely time to stop and look down the road ahead and figure out our direction.

  4. Hoo boy, there’s nothing like a crappy client to make a person want to scrap the whole deal! I’m wondering if some more stringent curation and perhaps a mini-retirement/sabbatical might prove helpful here.

    I’m feeling this question right now though, as I’ve been considering how we might make our escape from the country if a certain candidate is elected president. My work skills require me to stay in North America, and moving to Canada would mean sitting for yet another’s licensure exam. How I wish we could live independent of earned income for, say, 4-8 years!

    I’d love to spend more time homemaking, traveling, and volunteering with folks who need support.

    I’m excited to see where this seed-thought takes you, though, because when you set your mind to something, it usually gets done!

  5. I did retire early–kind of, LOL! I actually have a little po-dunk gig subbing for a gal every now and then. BUT, I can say no whenever I want.
    DH retired early, too, although he missed the social aspect of working. He owned a restaurant so decided to work for various local caterers. Again, he can always say no, so it’s on his schedule. We’ve done this for the past six years. I love being retired. I’ve gotten so many deferred projects done at home (didn’t know I was so handy!). We’ve done some travelling: Ireland for the two of us in September, and I’m walking the Camino de Santiago in May/June with a friend and my sister-in-law. Yes, my pension would have been much, much higher if I’d kept working but since I’m a frugalista (like you), we’ve managed just fine. No regrets at all.

  6. We did retire early -although I do blog. We love it and just watch our p’s and q’s very carefully like I know you already do. We watch our grandchildren, I crochet, garden extensively, and nap! You would love it!

  7. Pretty timely post…It seems that every once in a while a life event makes us stop and think…For some it may be a tough assignment or health issues. But for me recently it has been folks passing. Recently my Dad passed and it gets one to thinking about how fleeting life is. Then my electrician, a trusted friend that I have known for 40 years becomes ill and passes within a month. I had just stopped and spoke with him weeks prior … and “poof”…He was 63. Rather than quitting it has made me try to live my life a bit more “deliberately”. It seems to me life is way too short to do things you don’t find enjoyable.

    • Donna Freedman

      “Life is way too short to do things you don’t find enjoyable.”

      This ++++.

      I’m sorry about your family’s loss. As Mr. Dickens noted, life is full of partings — but knowing this doesn’t make it any easier.

      • Thank you for the kind words Donna. Mr. Dickens, IMHO, in a few words summed it up.

  8. The second bout of cancer forced my early retirement at age 54. While it took a number of years to recuperate and adjust to this I now enjoy it immensely. I am into my 9th year, hubby into his 6th year of the best job we’ve ever had. We still live frugally but I travel and visit about 20 weeks/year. Right now we are vacationing with youngest son and his family, sharing a 2 bedroom condo in Florida. When back at home we’ll start gardening in the greenhouse, read and write a book, knit socks and start planning our next adventure. You’ll have a room waiting for you if you and DF ever travel to Northern Michigan!

    • Donna Freedman

      The reason you had to retire is a bummer, but bravo for making it work for you. Your days sound like the ones that I want.

      And thanks for the invite! But be careful what you wish for.. 😉

  9. Cathy in NJ

    Even though I am in my 50’s, I don’t want to retire. I like what I do and the people I work with. For a science nerd, its a happy nest of engineers. My husband and I both work for the Navy so I see him every day for lunch.

    I think it would take me time to figure out what to do with myself if I was home. Since I have a teen daughter going to college in two years it is probably a good thing that I want to be at work.

    What I would like is not having the daily adventure of the jersey commute, bring on the Star Trek transporter beam. Also while I am dreaming nerdy dreams, I would like an extra hour in the morning to put myself together that no one else had. So 6am -7am would be two hours long for me, but in the rest of the world only an hour passed.

    • priskill

      This is a nice counterpoint — happy nest of engineers sounds great, even to this English major! As a “science nerd” maybe you can get cracking’ on that transporter beam 🙂

  10. This really hits close to home. Bryan is 57, and has been reminding me since our first date (almost 4 years ago) that he “could die tomorrow”. He could live another 20-30 years, but then, I’m only 37, so I might live another 20-30 years without him. It really is heartbreaking to think about how short time really is. Emphasizing this, we had 5 people pass in 2015, of all different ages: Newborn, 25, 36, 55 and 87. You never know when you’ll be out of time!

    The age difference also makes it really hard to plan for the future. Bryan could have retired with a nice sized pension at age 55. Right now, he isn’t interested in full retirement, but is considering retiring from his union, and going into business for himself. He loves working in an industry where he can take 1-2 months off during the winter, and go somewhere warm. He’d love for that to be our life together. But I don’t have a pension, and have very little in my 401k. I’m against us building a life together that I couldn’t support if something were to happen to him, especially when I might be in my 50’s or 60’s when/if that happens. And yet, if he leaves me his pension, he’ll take a drastic cut, especially considering our age differences.

    He’s worked hard, and deserves to be able to spend what time he has left doing what makes him happy. I want to enjoy his “golden years” with him. And yet it makes me feel guilty concentrating on my own financial future, and the impact it may have on me once he’s gone. Planning for a life based on the death of a loved one feels so wrong. Of course, there’s always a possibility I could go first, which is why he’s the beneficiary on my life insurance policy. Unfortunately, insuring him would be very expensive, and for what we’d get, it seems more prudent to put the money into savings.

    The choices are never clear-cut. But I don’t think making each other a priority is a bad thing. Time is precious, and once it’s gone, you can’t get it back!

    • Donna Freedman

      Yours is a pretty complex case — and a good illustration of how important it is to use the time we have as wisely as possible.

      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  11. I understand. I miss Den when he is gone and wish there was a way that we could be together more.
    Maybe you and DF could start a business/writing together?

    • Donna Freedman

      That’s definitely a possibility. He should at least write a memoir, because his life has been pretty darned interesting.

      Even more so since I joined it. 😉

      • I guess that is every couple’s dream to find a way to make money and be together. Maybe Den and I could start a brewery. Den would drink the profits. Hmmmm, maybe something else.

  12. “grindingly irritated”. This hits very close to home for me. I must think more about this. After tax season.

  13. Lazyretirementgirl

    I “downshifted” seven years ago, at 55, and fully retired in 2012. I have never looked back. My parents were classic greatest generation people — grew up during the depression, dad fought in the pacific, mom built airplanes in San Diego to escape the ozarks, they were masters of thrift and deferred gratification. Then, at 67, dad retired and almost immediately had a psychotic break, from which he never recovered, dying after 13 years in various institutions. So, after a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice, a toweringly unfair end. Once we figured out the mental problems were insoluble, the next step for me was a very hard look at my life. I left my first husband, my firm, remarried very happily and found a much more satisfying job. My mom, who will be 90 this summer, tells me over and over how happy she is that she and dad traveled before he got sick, and how grateful she is for the good years they had. All in all, a very sobering experience, and certainly deeply influenced my decision to retire young and enjoy my wonderful husband and life.

  14. BurnedOutInTexas

    I love my work but hate the corporate crap. So my husband and I are trying to build a business on the side where we could work together. I would, well not exactly retire, but downshift into that. Everything now is either about stuffing more into savings or investing to reduce the cost of our room & board while I still have a steady paycheck.

  15. Donna, I can sympathize with your irritation. I am semi-retired mostly by choice. I quit a full-time job last summer. The situation was toxic. Small company with tremendous turn-over. The stress was causing physical symptoms. I had saved up more than a year’s worth of salary, and DH has full-time job, working from home. I decided it just wasn’t worth it. I will be 60 next month. I did find a nice part-time job working at a good company with great people. Looking for a full-time job now a days is crazy. I could write a full blog post about it.

  16. I do dream of early retirement and plan for it but I don’t have a bead on it just yet. It’d be nice to take a sabbatical every few years, though, spend time doing mostly the things I love, without worrying over whether our money will last the next 30+ years.

    That, though, feels too uncertain for me. I have this lingering worry left over from my parents’ experiences that I won’t be able to get re-employed if I take time off. Maybe that’s paranoia (and experience with the discrimination against women of childbearing age if they take time away from the career track), or maybe that’s just a realistic view of how I work and how the world works. I don’t know. But I do know that if I swing this early retirement thing, I am going to RELAX for a minute, dangit!

    • Donna Freedman

      Not being able to dive back in is an issue with me. People have very short memories when it comes to freelance writers.

      And I hope you can retire early. Heaven knows you’ve pulled more than your weight, i.e., supporting your family of origin.

  17. For a while I thought I would be forced to retire early by health problems. And I was philosophical about it. I knew that it meant selling the house, and many other things I own, and living at a lower cost-of-living level, but I thought it was okay if that is what it took. Now I think that I probably can wait till age 62 or even a bit later, depending on how I feel then.

    I am one of the lucky ones who will have a pension plus savings plus social security. But man what a difference the last few years will make! I’m very happy to have a few more to build up the pension and the social security payments, since the longer one waits, the higher the monthly payments will be. The difference? More than $700 per month. That’s over $8K more per year!

    When I was in my 30’s, I could never have predicted how crucial the last five years of employment can be. It is never too late to get a better job, better benefits, or negotiate a higher salary. I wish I could tell women younger than me that they need to keep reminding themselves to push for more, and envision the wrinkled face of their future self: you’re fighting for her. It’s not selfish. And it’s not too late. As long as I am still working, my salary and benefits all matter a lot to my retirement.

    I’m grateful that I’ll probably have those last few years to consolidate my retirement, but if I had to leave early, I’d do okay. Not great, maybe, but I’d get along well enough. What would change is choices: there’d be fewer alternatives, more musts, and little in the way of luxuries, but life is more important than money, so I’d be fine. I’d be happy to be able to retire at all. That in itself would be a win. Now, I’m working not for money so much as the ability to have more choices about where I could live, and what kind of life I might want to have after work.

    • Donna Freedman

      Glad you didn’t have to retire early due to the health issue, and gladder still that you will be OK even if you do cut it a bit short.

      Having a few more years’ worth of employment is important to me, too. But we’ll see.

      Thanks for being a consistent reader and commenter.

  18. Boy, do I long to retire! Especially after a day like today when I left for work at 7:15 AM and got home at 9 PM. Putting away a little more $$ but am hoping to be retired in 22 months. I worry about health insurance, though. I have had the luxury of very good, portable coverage. I started looking into coverage on the individual market, but it appears that I can’t replicate what I have now via our group plan. 5 years away from Medicare-so if I retire at 62, I can COBRA for 18 months but still need another 18 to get to 65 and Medicare.

    • Lazyretirementgirl

      Depending on where you live and your income, your Obamacare care options will be varied. I pay around 550 a month ( no subsidy, too much income) for a very narrow network hmo with a 3500$ deductible. If I have a serious problem and need the Mayo clinic or MD Anderson, I am screwed. I am in a small city, Santa Fe, in a lightly populated state (NM) but in more populous areas, there are still better options. Good luck!

      • It is the narrow network that worries me. My sister had a rare and aggressive form of thyroid cancer which thankfully was caught early. She had surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York. They saved her life. I live in NJ between NYC and Philadelphia, both of which have hospitals on the cutting edge of treatment. I want to be able to access those hospitals when I retire-but even the more expensive individual plans appear to have narrow networks. Maybe the health insurance topic would be a good topic for Donna?

  19. Ruby Julian

    Last year my husband and I, who are in are late/mid 50s, essentially dropped into a lower gear with employment. We both had very stressful jobs requiring long hours without overtime pay — mine didn’t pay much but his did — and within four months of each other, we left them.

    Within five weeks, he found a new job that pays about 30 percent less but it comes without the endless nights on call and extended days. Just this week I started a part-time position (3 and a half days a week) that pays less than my old job, but when I’m out of hours for the week, I go home and have time for my second “job” as an uber-frugal person.

    During the nine months that I was staying at home, we got tons of small home repair jobs done (I am handy), and we aggressively worked at cutting expenses. We have always been frugal, but I had the time to kick it up a whole bunch of notches. We discovered we could live comfortably on his salary, while still paying down our house — our only debt — at an increased rate, saving for retirement, and putting our son through community college debt-free.

    So we are putting everything I make toward additional payments toward the mortgage, with the aim of having it paid off in about four years. We are so much happier now. We know so many people who pass their last decade working in sheer misery because of fear of making a change, and we’re so glad that we did.

    When we do retire, we’d like to travel a little and do some volunteering, but our hobbies are simple and frugal: gardening, reading, puttering around the house. We’re looking forward to it.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks for sharing this, Ruby. It’s giving me a lot to think about — and believe me, I was already thinking! Hope it helps others, too.

  20. Thanks for the link!

  21. I don’t expect to retire early unless the universe drops a big load of cash on us. We got started late with savings, and in fact I am the only one saving for retirement now. At least we are both high-income earners, so our social-security benefits should be decent.

    I am 50 and hubs is 56. I will be booting him off my employer’s health plan as soon as he is eligible for Medicare, and in the meantime am crossing my fingers that he does not have a serious health event or injury because he is self-employed, which means no disability insurance.

    We are buying property in the Sierra foothills, and the plan is to build a small, efficient house up there to retire to. Our cost of living there will be approximately 30% of what it is in L.A., and it’s gorgeous country. We will be up above the smog line, and below the snow line. 🙂

    And if I ever catch up with my reading, I will go for walks in the woods.

  22. I retired 1 1/2 years earlier than planned due to the deaths of two daughters-in-law, my parents, a nephew and a battle with breast cancer. I just needed a break!! Am loving retirement caring for my grandchildren, volunteering, reading, gardening, etc. I was able to finance some remodeling when my former employer asked me to come back for a few months over the next 2 years at my old pay! Financially, we watch our pennies and still have a wonderful life.

    • Donna Freedman

      I’m wincing at the amount of pain (emotional and physical) that went into that decision, but glad to hear that you are now enjoying a wonderful life. Healing thoughts are coming your way.

      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  23. Carolina Cooper

    We now interrupt our regular broadcast to check our privilege: Plenty of people in the world don’t have the freedom even to consider such a choice. They work until they die, and with their last breaths apologize for not contributing more to the family and for costing so much money to bury. Wow, Donna. You DO have a way with words. This is the life I see daily here in the Dominican Republic, and most Americans have no clue. I feel blessed beyond words to have social securitY and a pension.

  24. priskill

    Sing it, sister! While I am in total agreement — 1st world problems! How dare I complain!– I feel similarly. Am always bemused when people claim that they would be bored in retirement — um, no. And, yes, I have to remind myself how lucky I am to have a job, etc. etc., but sometimes I am tired of catering to small children. I just want everyday to be Saturday! The many stories here of partial retirement are so compelling. But I took my retirement when my daughter was little and gradually went back to work when she was in school, aligned with her schedule. Husband’s income is variable (self-employed) so my healthcare and income are needed. We are 58 & 59, healthy so far, so I guess we keep working. As always, thank you for hitting the nail right between the eyes, as a friend used to say.

  25. Diane C

    I’m from a big family, so frugality is my middle name. After cancer at 22, I knew I wanted to get married, have a family, be a SAHM while the kids were little, go back to work for a while, then retire early.

    Except that I didn’t find my “One & Only” until I was 54. In the interim, I worked, traveled, saved my ass off and made every effort to enjoy my life as I was living it.

    Just after I got married, my company issued i-pads that tracked us 24/7. Oh, hell no! With DH’s encouragement I exited that job by calling it early retirement. Oh boy, did I have plans…

    Three weeks later, my new FIL died and we realized something was wrong with my MIL. Yup, Alzheimer’s. Since neither of our houses had a downstairs bedroom, we fixed them up, sold them and shopped for a new house where his mom could live safely with us and DH’s college-student son. Then we emptied and sold both of her houses. Busy time.

    I went from being single and autonomous to being married with two bonus kids (only one at home), two dogs, a cat, a MIL with Alzheimer’s and a big-ass house to take care of. DH is still working, as he loves his job and we can’t travel much now anyway. We even sold his motorhome. Being retired is nothing like I expected, but I am pretty darn happy anyway.

    All of this is to say that the future is not guaranteed. There is no perfect retirement. There will never be enough time to do all.of.the.things. Enjoy every moment as it is given. Save for the future, but balance your life with as much joy as you can create now. Don’t long for a perfect future (i.e. retirement) that may never come. Save, dream and plan, yes, pine, no. Today is the gift. Unwrap it with a six-year-old’s glee as often as you possibly can.

    • Lazyretirementgirl

      What a wonderful outlook you have, Diane. It was a delight to read your comment.

    • Donna Freedman

      “There is no perfect retirement. There will never be enough time to do all.of.the.things. Enjoy every moment as it is given. Save for the future, but balance your life with as much joy as you can create now.”

      This +++++++++.

      Thanks for sharing your story and your hard-earned wisdom, and bless you for what you’re doing to help your MIL.

    • Wonderful story and a great positive outlook on life.

      Thank You

  26. Camping Nana

    So, I have been listening to older people talk at work and weighing pros and cons concerning retiring at 62 (with cut in benefits)and retiring at 65 or older (with more benefits). What is the best option? I am 53 and hubby is 55. Of course I would love to retire tomorrow if I could, as I know that I would always keep my calendar full with all the things I want to do. It is all I can do to keep hubby working now, as he swears he is ready to get out of the rat race and sit on our front porch (yes we still do this in Alabama)at age 62. What are your thoughts?

    • Donna Freedman

      No “best” option exists, alas, because each situation is so different. If I were 53 I’d be very cautious in terms of how much I’d contributed to Social Security and also to my own personal retirement plan. Once you’ve stopped working you’ll be subtracting from rather than adding to such funds (unless you pick up freelance here and there).

      A new definition of early retirement seems to translate to “quit old job and start a new one/create a business/sell a product.” But that could wind up being just as much work as the initial career, especially as you’re building a name for yourself.

      My one piece of advice would be to read up on the subject. Read up extensively, as in more than one blog/book. Ask a librarian for all new recent books on retirement/retooling one’s life — and if the books aren’t available, ask for an interlibrary loan.

      And I wish we had a porch to sit on. However, the greenhouse that DF built does have a small deck area, so we did some sitting there last summer. It was very nice to look out over our (relatively) small urban homestead and anticipate picking and eating what we grew.


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