Checking off that pre-retirement checklist

Anyone who has retired or looking at it in the near future knows exactly what I’m talking about, there’s this long list of things you want to get it done before retirement, or feel you HAVE to get done in order to be able to retire. Everything from getting things in order with your home to making sure you have enough money to even be able to retire.


I’ve never taken the time to write it down, but that long list has certainly been in my head for the last couple of years and probably longer. With eight weeks remaining before I close the office door for the final time, there’s a little anxiety about getting all those things checked off but overall I feel pretty good about it.


I share my list only as an example for those nearing retirement themselves, you're not alone in thinking about these things, and those who are much younger but curious about what the future brings for them. Certainly, everyone’s list will be different and for many, there will be no list at all. While there are many things in life where I am well known for flying by the seat of my pants, a life decision as momentous as retirement is not one of them.


For better or worse, here’s my checklist, or at least some of the major points:


Vehicles – My old car had well over 100,000 miles on it. I’m one of those who drives vehicles almost until they die. I knew I would need to buy a new one before I retire when, hopefully, I’ll hit the road for a lot of travel. I checked that one off around Thanksgiving in 2019.


In addition, I have a Chevy S-10 truck I’ve had for almost 20 years. Told you I keep ‘em until they die. I anticipate one of my retirement projects will be a long list of needed repairs on my parents’ home and will be using the truck to haul materials the 135 miles between here and there.


It is in desperate need of a tune-up, which is still on the to do list. I’ll check that off the first week of retirement when I have time to get it into the shop. The money for which I’ve planned to take from this year’s income tax return.


Home – I’ve long wanted to upgrade the counters and paint the cabinets in my kitchen. I knew if I didn’t spend the money to do that before retirement, it would never happen. Once I retire I won’t want to spend the money on it. I also finished that project in 2019 with new butcher block on the large center island and quartz countertop made of recycled blue glass around the sink.

Kitchen area with island, stove, sink and refrigerator.
Check those kitchen counters off the pre-retirement list.

I also wanted to get the carpeting replaced in the master bedroom but there just hasn’t been time for that. In my defense that’s a fairly simple project and was easy to put off until time will be on my side in the very near future. I will get it done this summer as soon as the carpet place offers that free furniture moving promotion.


Similarly, there is a long list of projects around the house I want to do but instead of the pre-retirement checklist, they are on the retirement checklist. That list of things we plan to take care of in retirement that don’t, necessarily, cost a lot of money but will take time and some sweat equity. Boy, that’s a long list.


Replacements – As it turned out, I had a lot of things that needed to be replaced. It started out relatively small and morphed as time went on. Originally it was an ipad, laptop and desktop computers. I dropped the computers from the list, thinking instead I will use those until they can be used no more, replacing the desktop when the time comes but maybe doing without the laptop all together.


The ipad I currently use is an old one that belongs to my work so I’ll have to get that replaced and have always planned to take care of it next month. (The rest of my tax return after the truck tune up will be paying for that.) I've really come to rely on the ipad and will probably just use that instead of the laptop I mention above.


A new water heater was on the list of things I thought wouldn't happen for a few years yet but it didn’t wait. I replaced that two weeks ago. The hope now is it will last me until I move out of this house, whenever that is, so I won’t have to worry about replacing it again.


Also on the list was cutting the cable. I did that last month. I dropped the cable company, switched to Metronet, a fiber internet provider, and subscribed to YouTube TV, saving probably $50 a month and, just as importantly, the frustration of dealing with the cable company.


By the way, Darling Daughter makes fun of me but I've always had a second cellphone, kind of a home phone if you will. I use that number for contests I enter and other things where I want to avoid using my main phone, as well as avoiding the calls and texts that come with that. Cutting cable, meant losing the home phone so I signed up with Consumer Cellular for 15 bucks a month. That doesn't include data but if anyone wants me badly enough they'll call and leave a message.


Health – As much as it pains me to admit it, but my fitness and weight are on the list. I felt good about where I was when I went hiking in the Smoky Mountains back around Thanksgiving, 2019. Sadly, the holidays came right after that and a few pounds snuck on. Then covid hit and more weight came along with that.


Even though I continued to exercise the entire time, winter forced me inside and the intensity was less. I also tend to be a stress eater and there has been a fair share of that this past year.


Long story short I gained a little weight, ok, a LOT of weight. So, my goal has been to get back to where I was during that hiking trip by the time I’m officially retired. I’m very happy to say I have just three pounds to go and am optimistic I will not only reach that goal by the time you read this but drop a few additional pounds as well.


The Mortgage – This was a big one. I moved to my current home two years after my wife died to be closer to work. I was commuting close to an hour, one way, for 10 years prior to that. My goal was to have the new house paid off before retirement and was fortunate enough to give myself a birthday present by writing that last payment check in December of 2019. That has given me 18 months to put a little extra into the retirement fund.


The Elephant In the Room – The biggest item on any soon-to-be-retired person’s list is finances. Am I going to have enough money to do what I want to do in retirement?


Full disclosure, I don’t know if I will. I know I’ll have enough to cover my expenses. I’m not especially concerned about that. What I don’t know is how much there will be after that. If you’re one of those lucky people who knows they will have quite a bit more over expenses it probably isn’t as big of a deal.


For me it’s going to be tight and a hundred dollars here or there will be a big deal. The problem is you really don’t know how it’s going to play out until you do it. I have Excel spreadsheets with numbers all over them and I think I have a good idea, but I just don’t know for sure and yes, that makes me nervous.


None-the-less, this is how I planned it out:


Social Security – As a widower I’m able to claim my wife’s Social Security instead of mine. The advantage of this is I can wait to claim mine until I turn 70, when it will be considerably more than if I began claiming my own now.


The disadvantage is she only worked part-time for several years prior to her death, so what she receives (what I will be receiving) is considerably less than mine. Still, I think it’s worth it to me to get by on less for the next five-plus years until I turn 70 to take advantage of the higher amount I receive then.


By the way, I do tend to be a little paranoid about things, I’ve talked with the Social Security office three different times over the last 18 months just to make sure I understood that correctly. The LAST thing I wanted to happen was to turn in my retirement at work and then find out I couldn’t collect on my wife’s Social Security.


Savings – This one I do feel good about. I’ve worked with my credit union to have different accounts within my overall savings accounts. I have specific amounts I want to reach in each of those before I retire and am confident I’m gonna get there.


One of those accounts is what I call general savings. That’s the account that will cover those expected and unexpected costs I know will happen. Expected things like replacing the 20-year-old air conditioner and furnace, and unexpected things like when the car suddenly breaks down.


A second account is for Darling Daughter’s wedding. Honestly, that ones been taken care of for a long time. I told her many years ago how much I would give her for a wedding and that money’s been sitting in savings for a while. It does look though, we're going to have the opportunity to spend it next year.


Third is travel. I’m hopeful I’ll have enough retirement income after expenses to take a two- or three-day trip a month, but two- or three-week trips won’t be in the cards. Knowing that, I’ve been putting money aside in a travel fund for more than 10 years, a little money each month from my check along with outside money from teaching classes part-time, selling my artwork, birthday gifts and other miscellaneous things.


In addition to savings accounts, I put money in a couple of CDs around the time my wife died, anticipating I would need money for something, someday, and it was a good way to save it away and forget about it. They've grown over time and now I’ll be using them to cover the cost of a new roof on the house, that I know is coming in another year or two, and that next new car that, hopefully, I won't have to buy until several years from now.


The point in all that is it puts me in the place where the big expenses are covered, other than a major disaster like a house fire or tornado. That means my income from investments and Social Security only have to pay my monthly expenses and annual ones like insurance and property taxes. Barring the proverbial unforeseen circumstances, I don’t have to try to save money back each month “just in case.”


Yes, I’m fortunate. I know I am and I’m very thankful for it.


Finally, there’s that 401K, 403B, whatever you want to call it. This is where that nervousness comes in for me. I don’t have a pension so, other than Social Security, I’m entirely dependent on that retirement fund for my income. As goes the stock market, so goes my income.


I have what I call my number. That number I knew I had to reach in order to do what I talk about above, that minimum amount that would comfortably cover my expenses. I couldn’t retire unless I was at that number. Fortunately, the market has done well the last couple of years and I am at that number.


The next number is where I feel comfortable if the market suddenly takes a dive I will still be at my original number. That’s the one that makes me nervous. I’m not there and I don’t know if I can reach it by retirement day. A slight dip in the market over the next two months and I won’t be there. Even with a flattening out of the market I probably won’t.


As we all know though, there’s no guarantees in life. There’s no money tree growing in the back yard so there’s little I can do about it now. I’m a little nervous about it but I’m just not going to lose sleep over it


I’ve done the best I can. I’ve checked off as many things on that list as possible so ready or not retirement, here I come!

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Never saying,
"I wish I had"

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