By Norris Burkes Jun 25, 2017
In answer to a reader’s question, I paraphrased Mark Twain to say, “The rumor of my retirement has been greatly exaggerated.”
“I will definitely keep writing my column,” I assured her. “I retired only from two of my three jobs. In 2014, I retired from the Air National Guard and last month I retired from healthcare chaplaincy.”
But she wasn’t the only one asking questions. Many of my hospice colleagues and friends were surprised I was retiring, just shy of 60 years old.
“How can you retire early?” they asked.
“Don’t get your financial advice from a chaplain,” I told them. “However, I can help you with two spiritual questions I asked myself about retirement.”
The first thing I grappled with was, “Are you living within your means?” While it sounds like a question from your financial adviser, it really gets at the spiritual issue of greed. If greed prevents you from reducing your spending, you’ll have a problem since retirement will often cut one’s income nearly in half.
That’s why we began preparing two years ago by cutting our employment to half time hours. My wife split a pre-kindergarten teaching position and I took a per diem chaplain job working only 25 hours a week. We sold our suburban home and moved into a double-wide mobile home at half the cost of the old, two-story McMansion.
As the months passed, the numbers proved workable. Any greedy impulses that remained began to subside. Honestly, it wasn’t that hard to do. We were ready. Our kids were out of the nest and finished with their schooling.
However, we couldn’t have addressed the first question if we had not answered the bigger spiritual question: How much is enough?
Most financial planners will tell you that you can never save too much. You need to save 15 percent of your annual income toward retirement, but since most of us don’t do that, we’re advised to save every dime. Take a second job, they say. Delay taking Social Security and work until you’re 70. And if you have to, rent a room in Norris’ double-wide.
Don’t consider any of these options until you first decide how much is enough.
I know a rich man who’s saving so he can retire with 11K a month in pension income. He’s killing himself over the anxiety that he won’t be able to keep his mansion and his big toys.
I’m not like him and you probably aren’t either. But there are ways in which we bear a resemblance.
In retirement, and perhaps long before, we need to ask whether we really need two cars? Do we honestly need the latest cell phone or greatest big screen TV? Can we find refreshing social connections in libraries, churches and service organizations? Or does our self-image rely on fashion store clothing, expensive gyms, restaurants and country clubs.
How much does one need to possess before one can claim, “I’m good enough” or “I’ve made it”? Must we collect more and more to feel that we are worthy? Is it all about feeling better than someone else? If it is, then I suggest we’ve likely made the transition from ownership to slavery.
At the end of the day, my wife and I decided that our lives are full. We have enough, not just in future finances, but also in terms of happiness now.
Next week, we’re ditching the double-wide to travel worldwide. However, as I assured my reader, I will continue to write as long as my editors will allow.
The reader seemed happy with my decision to keep writing. Stay tuned, however — sometimes my wife changes her mind.
Read Burkes’ past columns at www.thechaplain.net. Write him at email@example.com. Twitter @chaplain or call 843-608-9715.