Our first installment of the Hero’s Journey is Corinna’s reinvention into retirement. Corinna retired as a Secretary seven years ago from City government. Since that time she’s learned a lot about herself and gained a clearer understanding around her relationship with money.
Ordinary World – What it’s like before the adventure
Corinna had been working for thirty years and enjoyed her lifestyle. Her first boss in the City Treasurer’s office had suggested she put $5 into savings every month and then double it every time she got a raise. After 20 years she had increased her biweekly deduction from $5 to $150 into the Deferred Comp account offered by her employer.
The Deferred Comp account gave her a high yield interest rate and non-taxable income. The catch was that she could not access the money until she retired, passed away, or went through some unforeseen situation, such as a deadly disease. Early in her career she had invested a portion of that money in the stock market, but lost several thousand dollars. After that Corinna stuck with what she knew.
In addition to her deferred comp account Corinna had a city pension. Her other major investment was a condo she bought in March of 2009 after a friend had insisted it was a great deal since the housing market had tanked. Her mortgage payments were manageable and all was well with her money.
Call to Action – An opportunity arises
Shortly after purchasing her condo, something unexpected happened. In January 2010, the City announced they were offering a Golden Handshake, in other words, early retirement to anyone who was eligible. At 54 years old she was not entirely ready to retire, but Golden Handshakes are hard to pass up. They add one year of service to retirement benefits; over 20+ years of retirement this could be a nice chunk of money.
Refusal of the Call – We’re all slow to change and would probably prefer not to do so
She wasn’t quite ready to make the decision and thus decided to check with others on their experience. She worried about the condo payments, especially since most people say you need to pay off your home before retiring.
Meeting with the Mentor – There’s usually someone who has crossed that path before us
Corinna interviewed quite a few people before deciding what to do next. There were three people in particular who stood out
- A Maintenance worker who was happily retired. He had invested his money in property and now lived a full life with family and loved ones. Maintaining his rental units kept him busy and he had a full social life.
- A Police officer who had a larger pension and a smaller life. Work had been his main source of enjoyment and purpose; retirement was not going well. This is a clear warning that retirement from work requires a full re-imagining of life.
- The City manager had the best pension as you can imagine. His pension would cover his mortgage payment, day to day living expenses, and a full international travel schedule. Although Corinna did not have as comfortable of a pension, it would cover her mortgage and simple lifestyle. As for international traveling, that’s never been Corinna’s passion so she would not miss it.
Crossing the Threshold to the Special World – And all of a sudden, you’re in a new phase of life
In addition to interviewing retired City workers Corinna also spoke with a financial planner to make sure she could live on just her pension. With a clear blessing from her financial planner Corinna was ready to take the plunge. Her last day of work was December 30, 2010 and her first day of retirement was pure leisure.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies – The adjustment period begins
Corinna is an attentive listener, has a great sense of humor, and wants to get to know everyone. As you can imagine her social life expanded to fill up her newfound free time. A natural night owl, Corinna found that retirement allowed her to go to bed at 3am and sleep till late morning.
She took her deferred comp savings as a lump sum, and now that it was within reach she remodeled her condo to celebrate retirement. During our conversation she shared that in hindsight it would have been better for her to only take out what she needed rather than all of it at once. While working she had been able to save so much because the money was out of reach, but now it was only a thought away. Having access to it meant she kept her lifestyle the same even though her pension only gave her half the income she had earned during the last few years of her career.
In fact, she was well into her second year of retirement when she actually fully realized how drastically her income had changed. Plus she was now being paid monthly instead of biweekly like she had been accustomed too. Corinna shared how she had to change from getting whatever she wanted to considering how it fit into her budget. This was especially hard around weddings, birthdays, and of course, Christmas. Moreover, as a government employee she had become accustomed to an annual cost of living adjustment and to an ever increasing income. It was a big change to start living within her lower means.
Approach to the Innermost Cave – Building self-confidence and a new lifestyle
Once she was settled into retirement she got to decide what to do next. In her words, “there is a lot more trial and error in retirement than in day to day working life.” As anyone with a regular work schedule knows, each day can blend into itself and work naturally brings its own challenges, distractions, and routines.
In retirement each day is a blank slate. Corinna took advantage of this by trying a bit of everything. She volunteered, did some work under the table, and caught up on Law & Order marathons. This relaxed attitude is what financial planner Mitch Anthony calls the new “retirementality”: he argues that we all want to continue to be part of our community even after full time employment is over.
I loved her attitude towards part time work, because it’s what I consider financial freedom: “Part time work is great, as long as you enjoy it.” For two years she worked with a friend as a piano tutor for kids. Not only did she get extra cash, but she also got to hang out with excited kids and learn to play the piano herself. During another six month period she worked as an office manager for a local nonprofit that focuses on health. There she learned about healthier habits and was of service to the community. Although she left both positions after some time, she told me to “Always be a good employee. You don’t know when you might need the job again or when you might need a reference.”
During her fourth year of retirement a friend asked whether she could rent her spare room while figuring out some personal issues. Corinna agreed and she soon realized her guest room became a nice source of extra income. Not only that, she realized she liked having roommates especially when she knew it was beneficial for them too. In fact, I was getting ready to rent her newly opened guest room when she decided that it was time to sell her condo. In total she had four roommates and I would have been the 5th. Corinna heartily recommends that anyone considering retirement keep in mind that if things get tight or an unexpected expense comes up renting a room is a viable source of extra income.
The Ordeal – And the final transformation
A week after seeing Corinna’s condo to see whether I wanted to rent her room, I received an excited call from her. Her neighbor had just made a huge profit on her condo. Corinna then spoke with her friend/realtor who asked whether she was interested in selling. Corinna had originally bought the condo because the opportunity landed in her lap; at this point it looked like it was time to take a new opportunity. She had already been considering leaving the City she resided in because of the high cost of living and to be closer to her son who lives three hours away.
To make this decision Corinna did what she does best: she interviewed other people and weighed out her options. She spoke with friends who had downsized after retirement about their experience, she interviewed different realtors, she discussed living with her son for a year as she figured out her next steps, and she even discussed the tax implications with her financial planner. The potential profit was sizable because she had purchased the condo at a firesale cost and had taken advantage of the first-time home buyer program. Now she was at a crossroad: she could sell the condo or start investing in termite removal…
After seven years as a condo owner, the thought of letting go of upkeep and a mortgage payment was very appealing. With the help of her friend/realtor the two set off on an adventure of staging and selling her home. He put the condo on the market and Corinna was assured that he would go above and beyond to make sure she got the best value out of her investment.
Reward – A transformed hero…
In less than two weeks of being on the market her condo was sold! Corinna was newly free. She made a comfortable profit and now resides with her son for the next year to figure out her next steps. She had stayed with him and his family before so she already knows the area. In fact, she connected with her spiritual organization before moving there to make sure she would be able to keep her active social life. As you can imagine, Corinna is now creating a new set of close friends. Plus, she still travels back to her old City to visit family and friends.
Road Back – …returns with a new perspective…
Corinna’s new problem is figuring out what to do with her new pile of cash. She’s actively talking with others about what new opportunity makes sense for her. This is similar to where we started her story: she was given the option to take the Golden Handshake, now she has a larger nest egg than ever before. The skills that helped her decide whether to take the Golden Handshake are now being tested again.
Atonement – …and a clearer understanding of their relationship with money.
In the past ten years there have been a lot of changes in Corinna’s life. From buying a condo to selling it, from being employed full time with the same organization for 30+ years to leaving three jobs, from living in one City to moving to a whole new area. Through it all she’s had to tap into her inner resources and work with others as she made life altering decisions. Some of the continual money struggles are being disciplined with her lower monthly income and avoiding panic whenever the news mentions trouble with her state’s government pension plan.
Return with the Elixir – Transformed, she is ready to hear the call of the next journey
In Corinna’s words, “follow direction, after double checking it.” She worked hard to find the right expert, rather than just taking the advice of anyone who walked her way. She has always questioned the expert in order to get to know them and to feel confident in her decision. Whenever she’s made big changes, there’s been fear, but there’s also been a willingness to take an opportunity. And that’s what a hero’s journey is all about.