Sometimes you meet the most interesting people when you least expect it. A utility line was pulled out of the side of my house and the cable company came over to repair it. Steve, “the cable guy”, was very helpful in making the repairs from the bucket truck. When he came down from the telephone pole, I noticed that he was not a 25-year-old. He happened to mention that he thought he’d be retired by now. Not going up to the tops of telephone poles. And, not hoping that he’d be winning the lottery soon.
First Career Was Very Promising
Turns out, working for the cable company was a 3rd career for him. He was originally at Digital Equipment Corporation, a wildly successful early electronics company with offices around the world. He was a “line guy” for DEC. His job was out in the field installing all kinds of computer electronics. This was, of course, before the advent of desktop PCs, laptops and iPads.
Until DEC missed the PC revolution signs, Steve worked hard and built his technical expertise. He made a good living, earning around $25 an hour back in the late 1980s. That gave him about $52,000 a year. He lived comfortably enough to work on his golf game on the weekends. And to take trips out to Cape Cod during the summer with his buddies.
His pension plan was growing and stock ownership seemed like a great bet. By the time Steve celebrated his 40th birthday, he knew he was on pace to retire early. Certainly by age 55. Just before the crash of 1987, Digital stock hit a high of roughly $199 a share! Then, overnight – crash. Share prices plummeted and ultimately fell to a low of $25 in 1998. Steve’s pension and plan for retirement went up in smoke.
The Sure Bet is Winning the Lottery
By Memorial Day of 1988, Steve was out of a job. But, he wasn’t overly concerned about finding something new. He had a great skill set…and, after all, he had been successful at the industry-leading technology firm for almost 20 years. After enjoying the summer on the golf course, Steve started his job search. It quickly became apparent that something had changed and finding a job turned out to be a challenge.
Unexpectedly, he landed a position in a law firm, setting up their internal computer networking. That lasted 2 years, then he was once again looking for a new job. Fifteen years ago, he started with the cable company and has held a variety of positions. They offer a 401(k) and he has been socking away money aggressively for years. The company offers a match, but it has decreased the match over the years.
Now, at age 58, Steve is rethinking his future. He’s strong, healthy and able to go up and down telephone poles. But, this is not his “dream job”. He’s thinking that he’ll still be able to retire early, but his plan would be a sure bet “if I can just get lucky by winning the lottery!” he told me.
Looking at Retirement Realities
However, he’s not sure what he will do about health care coverage if he retires too early. The cable company helps with some health care costs before Medicare, but he needs to take a look at the details.
His biggest concern is family longevity. His mom is over 80, and his yia yia (Greek for grandma) died at 100. And, he has two aunts who also lived beyond 100. They were healthy, energetic and independent up to the end.
The biggest lesson he takes from his family’s long life spans is how important it is to stay engaged and involved. His mom still works. Her new boss is all of 28 years old. His yia yia stayed busy and got out of the house every day until she broke her hip at age 99 ½.
Steve doesn’t have specific plans for his early retirement just yet. But he knows that he will keep busy, be active and participate in life. He thinks retirement will be a great time of his life. He’ll be out of that bucket truck and spending that lottery money as soon as he can!