As 2013 thunders to the end, looking back, the last 6 months have been thrilling for hubby and me. For the last 35 years, we’ve lived a normal, regular, somewhat boring existence (with a few exciting moments such as the birth of our children, their high school graduation, college graduation) while constantly striving to live comfortably while saving for retirement.
My father always wanted me to have goals, and before I went off to college, he sat me down and discussed goal planning with me. Where do you see yourself next year? in 5 years? and in 10 years? He also cautioned me to re-evaluate those goals once a year, as many things can change. I went off to college agreeing to one year at a time, and I told him, I’ll re-evaluate every spring if I want to continue on into the following year. Each of the 4 years of my university time was an adventure, and I was glad that I continued and finished.
Once I got married, started working, and having children, my goals centered around, getting the kids to the next year. Let’s get through this school year, have a nice summer vacation, then we’ll do it again next year. When school or college is dominant in your family, it’s easy to make 1 year goals. Mostly, my goal was the coveted summer vacation, with a few Thanksgiving and Christmas trips along the way, which of course, we all enjoyed. I worked to live, but never really ‘loved’ my work. Hubby worked to live and really didn’t enjoy his work, either.
We both held the goal of retirement, someday, in our hearts, and we both worked hard at saving and investing, so that we could accomplish this goal. And we both always dreamed of coming back to Ecuador to live.
Well, to be truthful, I also dreamed of retiring to a 1 floor walkup garret in Paris or a village cottage in rural France; or a beach house on the Cote D’Azur or even the Costa del Sol, but I knew that we probably would never be able to afford that. If the stock market keeps surging as it has recently, this dream just may become a reality someday. One can only hope!
Once the children are grown and on their own, it’s trickier to fashion long term goals. Working seems to be a day to day, endless drudge, and retirement often seems far far away. Should I stick it out in this boring job since I might be able to retire soon? Should I take that job offer that seems better? I might hate it. It might turn out to be a bad decision. Maybe I’ll just stay here. It’s easier to do the same habitual tasks and duties every day, as we get older, than change them up. Change becomes the enemy as we age. Many people talk about doing exciting things, they talk about making changes, but in fact, it seems easier for many to just stay in the same old rut. I dreaded the whole process of moving, changing it up; I was petrified that if we both retired and stopped receiving regular paychecks, we would spend off all our money, with no jobs, and we’d be broke and unhappy.
Or so I thought.
In 2010, we made the decision that we didn’t want to wait ‘forever’ to retire and make our dream of moving back to Ecuador a reality. Hubby would work until he turned 60 and then he would retire, while I would continue with my writing, insurance & tax clients. This decision was fine with me until it became a reality. Then I started to panic. For 36 years, we had depended on hubby’s job for security, retirement deferments and health insurance. Of course, I’d almost always held a job (except for those short periods when the kids were newborns and the first few months of each time we moved) and that meant I also had my own retirement funds, my own insurance. Still, that permanence of hubby’s working had been there for more than half my lifetime.
About this time, hubby’s company contracted with JPMorgan Chase to offer retirement services, and this included an online ‘retirement tracker’. Not only did this site track the employee’s retirement status, forecasts, and give advice, it also included an application in which the employee could enter ALL retirement and savings vehicles (as well as the Chase money), using links to each retirement fund account so that this app could update your funds daily. This page showed your entire retirement $$$ amount in huge numbers, and it updated daily.
Up to this point, hubby really had no idea just how much retirement money (or even day to day cash) we owned. Yes, he knew that both he and I had various different 401k’s, IRA’s, life insurance and annuities. I paid the bills, I was busy paying off the house and I would regularly sock money away while also making our quarterly IRS tax payments. As long as he had enough money to buy what he wanted to buy, as long as we were comfortable, he was happy. He really didn’t want to know.
However, once he began to see that BIG number, he decided, heck, I can retire soon! Why not now? In 2011, he decided, I’m going to tell my company that I want to retire at the end of 2012. Yikes! I panicked. The end of 2012 was a year and a half away! I had this awful thought that as soon as he notified them of his decision, they would say, ok, why don’t we just pull the plug now. Many times, when hubby was transferred, and I would give my 2 week notice to my current boss, it never failed. OK, well, you might as well just take off now. Only one time did the opposite happen: Houston, 1994, UNUM Life insurance. My boss was leaving, the new manager hadn’t yet settled in, and they wanted me to stay on for a month, not just 2 weeks, to help with the transition. I gave them 3 weeks, and they were very good to me at the time.
Hubby’s company responded with a congratulations, buddy. Let’s find your replacement and then you can spend 2012 training that person. They spent much of the rest of 2011 searching and interviewing, and of course, 2012 was spent training, mentoring, observing and accompanying this new replacement while he began to take over hubby’s position. For my hubby, it was a great year. He had a traveling companion to Mexico, he was no longer alone, on his own, in a sometimes violent and scary country; he was able to turn over many of the mundane tasks of data crunching and reporting to the newbie; he was able to wind down and receive many pats on the shoulder and words of kudos from his clients and coworkers. They were also very good to him, right up until the last day, the day that he was able to choose, of work..
During 2012, I kept busy with my usual writing and taxes, but I also began the planning and purging and gifting and donating. It began with some difficulty, slowed when I couldn’t decide, then finally speeded up when I began to enjoy the task and was rushed by the impending deadline.
Here’s what helped me to purge. To clean out closets, drawers, cabinets, etc., don’t do too much at once. Put on a favorite music CD that lasts about 3 hours, pick a target, and get yourself 3 bags or 3 boxes. Label each one either ‘keep’, ‘donate’, and ‘throw away’. Go through the closet or drawer or space for only the time that the music is playing and put each item from the target area into one of the boxes or bags. Don’t go back into the donate or throw away bags, leave them as is, and when the music stops, deal with those boxes right away. You can go through the keepers later and maybe decide to gift some or donate some. I let my kids go through the keep and donate bags before I got rid of them. Makes a job that seems way too big doable by breaking it into smaller tasks.
Hardest for me was going through all my pictures. Hubby spent hours transferring old slides and negatives onto a hard drive, but I couldn’t deal with the pictures easily. Finally, I divided the pictures into piles. Pictures of my kids, I made 2 piles, one for each kid. Pictures of my parents or my family, I made 2 piles, one for me and one for my sister. Pictures of anyone else, that I didn’t want to keep, I make other piles. 1 for this cousin, 1 for that cousin. 1 for this friend, 1 for that friend. Next I packaged them all up and mailed them to those people. If they throw them out, that’s ok, I just couldn’t throw them out myself. And maybe I gave them a few moments of enjoyment, looking at those pictures.
I stayed busy all of spring 2013, doing taxes, writing. Hubby stayed busy riding his bicycle in the morning and painting all the rooms of our house in the afternoons. He made a few trips that spring, a trip with our son to bicycle down the Natches Trace; a trip to visit his mother and aunties and cousins. We listed our house, decided on a storage closet for the few items that we would ship to ourselves in Ecuador later, and reveled in the fact that yes, this was truly happening for us.
In April, I finished all my clients’s taxes, and we embarked on a 3 week cruise from Florida to California through the Panama Canal, one of my personal goals that I had wanted to accomplish for many years. Neither of us could ever leave our jobs for more than a week or so at a time and to go through the canal, it requires a minimum of 14 onboard days.
While on this ship, we received 2 sale offers on our house, and managed to counter and accept one offer. Whoohoo! our house sold fast, and we were glad. We had been prepared to leave the house on June 1, our flight to Ecuador date, empty, but still for sale, if necessary. Now, we wouldn’t have to do that.
Getting rid of our stuff now became a big rush, and we knew that we’d have to sell our car, too, but we didn’t want to do that too soon…the logistics of moving out, selling a car, making sure we had all our stuff packed and stored…..whew. It became a big task, but we were very lucky. The gods, the stars, the cards, whatever you want to call it, were in our favor.
We closed on our house 5 days before our flight out. We stopped at a car dealership, on a whim, a week before our flight, just to see what they might pay us for the car. They gave us such a great offer, that we couldn’t refuse. We accepted their offer, and their cashier’s check, and they drove us to a car rental agency, where we rented a car for a few days. We moved into our daughter’s house for the last few days, bought a few last needed items for Ecuador, packed our bags, and flew here, to Ecuador.
Here in Cuenca, we were lucky to find a condo that completely suits our needs, furniture that all fits together and that we enjoy, and I’ve had a blast trying to figure out what kitchen item I need to buy to make whatever dish I want to make.
Hubby has found a gym, is teaching spinning classes Monday through Friday, 6 to 7 pm; I’ve gotten involved with a few dog rescue orgs; we’ve made good friends and friends who are only acquaintances who may become good friends tomorrow. We borrow books on our kindles to feed our reading obsessions. Hubby hates to shop; I spend hours browsing the stores, the mercados, the shops. I have time to bake bread when I want, I have time to chat and visit either over a cup of coffee or tea (or a Coca Light) or spend a whole day with a friend.
Life is good in Cuenca, retired, for us.
The custom in Ecuador for New Year’s Eve is to buy an ‘effigy’ – a stuffed mannequin, some human sized, some small, some with masks and costumes, others with old jeans and shirts. Our taxi driver on Saturday had a midget sized effigy tied onto the front bumper of his taxi. At midnight (and sometimes before midnight) everyone burns the effigies; this is the ritual burning of all the ‘bad’ of 2013, and the smoke wafts in the new year, 2014, which is supposed to be a good (or a better) year for all.
I asked hubby, if we were to buy an effigy, what ‘bad’ significance of 2013 would it symbolize for us? We couldn’t think of a thing. Nothing.
Maybe we’ll burn one just so 2014 can maybe be better than 2013. 2014 will have a hard time making a better year for us! we are grateful for all our blessings of this past year; we are grateful to our children for telling us to ‘follow our dreams’ and continuing to keep us in their lives from afar. We are grateful for all the luck we’ve garnered this past year, we are grateful for both our old and our new friends who helped us make the transition from the old home to the new home an easy one, and a good one. We are grateful that our investments have greased the way for us; we are grateful that our family hasn’t suffered any major health or financial catastrophes so that we have been able to afford this wonderful life in Cuenca. We are grateful to all our neighbors, shopkeepers, government workers and all who have helped us here. I am grateful that my Dad taught me to save. We are grateful that Ecuador has developed to the status that it has, so that life is so much more comfortable that it was 40 years ago, here. I am grateful that I joined the Peace Corps, back in 1976, so that I could come to Ecuador, meet hubby, get married, have 2 wonderful kids, live a great and pampered life, and live an even more comfortable and more pampered retirement. I am grateful that I have reached age 60 and hubby to 61 without any major health problems. We are grateful that we are here.
In keeping with the theme of goals and resolutions for 2014, this picture encompasses both mine and hubby’s 1 year goal:
We are happy. Happy New Year to all who read this, and Prospero Ano Nuevo to you all!