“And I’m going to love it!”
You know it’s going to be a fun interview when your guest starts off with, “It’s 18 days till retirement! Or, it could be more… Or maybe not…” Well, just what does that mean? I asked Kim, a younger baby boomer born in 1959, to further explain. She expanded her comment, “I know it’s my time to retire, but my boss doesn’t yet have a replacement for me. And I’m not just going to leave him in the lurch.”
Ah, got it. Ideally, Kim will retire at year end 2022. But the reality is she’ll continue to do some work in January and February. Typical of a baby boomer’s work ethic, Kim is making sure the transition is a smooth one. It’s important to her that her replacement is well trained and ready to step in without missing a beat. She is grateful to her bosses. They have been wonderful to work for. And they opened up an opportunity when she needed it to start phasing into retirement. But first, back to the beginning…
Kim’s Journey Began Working in Local Farms
Kim is a native Washingtonian, born and raised in beautiful farm country north of Seattle.
When she was growing up, kids worked in the fields. They picked strawberries and raspberries by the flat. Cucumbers were a staple crop grown in the area, “But you had to be big enough to carry a 5-gallon bucket full of cukes. Or have an older sibling who could do it for you,” Kim shared when talking about what it was like to work in the fields. There was also work to plant or pull tulip and daffodil bulbs.
This area of Washington is one of the world’s largest producers of spinach seeds. The kids spent summers “roguing spinach,” Kim recalls. This is where you cull the male spinach plants from the female. A critical step in spinach seed production. Here’s a great article that showcases the process and the kids’ experiences.
“Once you were 16, there were more and better opportunities. You could work in the cannery or drive the pea viner. That was a much-coveted job!” More on how peas are processed here.
Kim’s Social Security Earnings Record Starts at Age 13!
Kim fondly recalls these early working years, “ We had frozen cans of pop wrapped in foil and used wooden outhouses over pits. The “berry bus” with dust-covered seats picked you up at 7:30 a.m. and brought you home at 3:30 p.m. Our transistor radios hung from our belts. We had our raingear handy. It’s what we did. All our friends were out in the fields. And we earned more than a little pocket change.”
In fact, Kim’s Social Security statement shows her earnings starting at age 13. Back in 1972, her summer in the fields grossed a whopping $156! While it doesn’t sound like much today, it went a lot further back then.
Moving into the Professional Ranks of Corporate America
Kim graduated from the University of Washington. She attended college at a time when women were building the ranks of students. Married her husband (now her ex) in Washington. And raised her two delightful children in the same area. Like many boomer women, Kim had opportunities that went well beyond what mothers had in previous generations.
And she took full advantage of her opportunities. Kim’s career was by all accounts extremely successful. She started as a marketing service coordinator for an insurance company and continued to rise through the ranks. It was a hard-earned, well-deserved achievement when she was promoted to vice president. She was an equal contributor to the family’s finances. And constantly challenged to perform at the highest level at work and spend enough time with her children.
Masterfully, she juggled it all. For 24 years she was on a great career path at a terrific company. She had her financial plan laid out, her retirement savings on track, and college tuition for both kids in the works.
And then the rug was pulled out from under her.
When Someone Else Calls the Shots
When a new executive team comes into any company, shake-ups are likely. Kim was working during one such time of this transition. She was running a $6 billion operation and managing a $24 million budget. Her team was delivering growth year over year. And with her two decades of experience, she felt secure in her position.
However, the new CEO had other plans for the company. That included replacing most of the management team with men from outside the company. Existing leaders were cut. Including Kim. Like so many corporate senior managers in their 50s, Kim was caught up in the changing of the guard. And overnight, her six-figure salary came to a crashing halt.
Her plan had been to work five more years for the insurance company. That would secure both her retirement savings and pay for her younger child’s college.
Divorced just a few years earlier, Kim knew how critical this job was to her family’s financial security. But she was forced out, as so many boomers have been during their careers. In corporate American, someone else always calls the shots.
There’s No Crying in Baseball…or Corporate America
Never one to cry for long, Kim brushed off her resume and started looking for a new opportunity. Maybe this would be a blessing in disguise. A chance to create new goals and set a course for a new direction. Her original goal, set 25 years ago, was to be the boss. To climb the corporate ladder to a successful position. And by golly, she got there. In a male-dominated industry to boot.
But being in the senior leadership team was a demanding role. The hours were long, weekends belonged to the job. Maybe this was a good time to scale back just a little to find more balance.
Designer suit pressed. High heels at the ready. Kim’s new adventure into a job search started with enthusiasm. After all, she knew a lot of people in the industry and had a sizeable network.
Wishful Thinking: Maybe It’s My Time to Retire
Her first target was to find another role in another large financial firm. However, there are no other similar companies in her area of Washington. As she looked toward other firms, she discovered limitations she didn’t know she had.
Having an MBA was never necessary on her up-the-ladder climb to success. But now, without those letters, her resume wasn’t making it through the non-human recruiting bots. If her resume did get through, word came back that she was overqualified for the positions. When she met with colleagues and hiring managers she found she was pigeon-holed.
So, she was underqualified without the MBA and overqualified based on work experience. You’ve got to be kidding. Throw in that’s she’s a woman over 50 and hope was fading fast.
Throughout the many months of searching, Kim couldn’t help but think, “Maybe this is a sign. Maybe it’s my time to retire?” Her head was wishing, but her bank account was clearly saying something else. As a realistic planner, Kim knew it was too dangerous to tap her emergency savings. And she was too young to tap retirement accounts.
Creativity, Flexibility, and Sneakers Needed
When faced with big decisions, people tend to rise to the occasion. Kim had several promising leads for a new position if she were willing to relocate. She wasn’t opposed to moving, but her son was newly in college and her daughter a junior in high school. Timing just didn’t line up.
After getting the family resettled post-divorce, uprooting the kids at this stage was a no-go. Plus, she was already helping her mom and stepdad with some support and care.
So, it was time to get creative and be flexible. Kim hadn’t worked in a retail store before, but heck, they pay a living wage. And, lots of pre-retirees and retirees work in retail jobs.
In 2011–2012, job postings were hard to come by. The country was coming out of the great recession, and employers weren’t so keen on hiring. One of the large employers in Kim’s area is Home Depot. When there were job postings, Kim decided to send in her resume.
She got an interview and a job offer on the spot. They’d like her handle customer service. Must have been the black designer suit she wore to the meeting. Turns out, she really needed sneakers.
Minimum Wage and a Whopping Dose of Reality
The nice manager was happy to offer Kim the job. He even laid out the hourly rate: $11.75. “What was that?” Kim asked, one hundred percent sure she hadn’t heard that correctly.
“Eleven dollars and seventy-five cents per hour is our starting rate for customer service roles,” the manager repeated.
In the financial services industry, there is no recognition of the minimum wage. Every position starts substantially higher than minimum. After all, in this industry we know that no one can save for retirement if they earn minimum wage. All of this is going through Kim’s head as she assesses where she is at this very moment.
The following week, her fancy clothes are tucked into the back of the closet and she’s wearing sneakers to work. At Home Depot. And the reality sets in. She’s now going to see up close the other end of the income and wage spectrum. She hadn’t made minimum wage since working the fields. After her career success, this was something she never saw coming. And never imagined.
Yet, we all need to earn a living, put food on the table, and get benefits. And this job delivered those basics. But at what cost?
“You are on your feet all day. It is terribly difficult.”
Kim started out on a part-time basis. And very quickly discovered what it meant to be on your feet all day on every shift. “It is terribly difficult.”
Furthermore, your work schedule is completely random. When stores are open from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., that’s great for the contractors and trades people. And, great when you’re doing a project at home after business hours and need a screw or a piece of wood. But for the workers, it’s a nightmare.
There is little advance notice when you’re a part-timer. Your schedule is set each week. But can change at any time. There are ongoing coverage issues and a revolving door with the staff. Some days you’re on at 6:00 a.m. others not until noon or 2:00 or 6:00 p.m. Who knows?
There is even a shift the workers have coined, “clo-openings.” This is where you close the store after 10:00 p.m. one day and are scheduled for the 6:00 a.m. opening the very next day. Weekends, nights, mid-days, they all need coverage. And the staff is at the mercy of the manager.
Success and Time for a Change
Not surprising, Kim was a star at Home Depot. She helped customers with a smile and made life easier for her manager. She was quickly promoted to full-time and took on additional responsibilities. At the end of four years, her hourly wage had increased to $15.00/hour—a 28% increase. When inflation was running at 2% per year. The percent sounds great…the income change is small.
Now with an insider’s view of working as a low-income worker in America, Kim was concerned. If you’re a retiree and just want some supplemental income, this isn’t a bad gig. But so many of the workers are young. And many have families. They have an impossible hill to climb.
After four years, she knew it was time to get back into the financial services industry in some capacity. She wanted regular work hours so she could fit in other family commitments. And she missed the conversations and complexities of the retirement industry.
“Keeping up your network is critical,” Kim remarked. “You may be on a different path for a while, but your network still wants to hear from you. And, you never know when one email will land you in a new job.”
“You have typos…”
Kim called a long-time industry colleague when she noticed some typos in a printed (well, digital) article. She let him know, “You have typos in the latest piece you published…”
Before she knew it, her quick phone call turned into a thank you and a job offer! “Do you want to edit my articles and papers? And, with your project management background, can you take on some additional projects?” her colleague asked.
Once Kim started working for this colleague, word spread. Soon she was supporting two others with editing, program management, and interfacing with their clients and colleagues. She could set her own hours and cap her workdays at a few hours per day per client.
This was an ideal arrangement for Kim. She had taken on a larger role with “elder help and operations” as she calls managing her mother’s care. It took more than a few hours to find the right advanced care home that specialized in caring for people with memory loss. Kim also helps a couple other elders in her community. And, she stepped in when her sister was in declining health before she passed.
“I’m 63! It’s my time to retire!”
It’s been quite a journey to date. With more than 50 years in the rear-view mirror, Kim has a tremendous amount to be proud of. You can especially hear it in her voice when she talks about her kids. And her career success at the insurance company.
The last dozen years have been rockier than she would have chosen, yet she is in high spirits. And is in total charge of her today and her tomorrows. “The other goal I set for myself was to retire at 63,” Kim shared. “And I reached that magic age in 2022. It’s my time to retire!”
Even with a great job arrangement, it’s still a six-to-eight-hour day in front of her computer. She’s losing interest in some of the more mundane parts of the job. And as she’s honest with herself, “I just don’t want to work anymore.”
A convergence of events occurred in 2022. The pandemic had quieted down, but it profoundly changed how she viewed her future. She is excited about retiring. Her mom is settled and getting proper care. The kids are securely in their jobs. Her elderly neighbors are on a schedule thanks to Kim’s organization and operations.
A Trip to Switzerland Was the Turning Point
It is time to focus on what she wants to do while she is young enough and physically able.
The summer of 2021 turned out to be more meaningful than she knew. Kim took a trip to Switzerland. Home of her ancestors, many cousins and extended family. It was a most amazing trip. And a reality check.
It’s really hard to travel. Every boomer thinks their retirement plans will include lots of travel, but it is strenuous. Those who have desk jobs find some muscles they didn’t know were in their bodies. And there are many aches and pains that come with travel.
Kim found that traveling coach is no longer comfortable enough. The 800 stairs up to various castles were about 775 too many. But she did discover how trekking poles made walking over the rough terrain so much easier.
This trip was not going to be Kim’s last. She plans to return to Switzerland, and in fact, is booking her 2023 trip this month. Plus, both kids live far away. She wants to spend more time with them in Idaho and Oklahoma. They work odd hours, so she needs more than just a weekend to visit. These are key reasons she knows it really is her time to retire.
Making Sure Her Money Would Last Was the Final Check
It’s certainly not lost on Kim that her goal to make this her time to retire now is fraught with some economic challenges. Really? Inflation has to be high now? After 40 years of steady 2%? Really? The market has to be putting on a show filled with a lot of daily ups and downs this year? After 10 years of uphill?
But these are realities of market cycles. She didn’t choose to turn 63 in a year of higher than usual economic turmoil. But Kim is ready.
She understands sequence of returns and planned for a reasonable withdrawal strategy and investment strategy. She’s staying the course on the investment front and in her decision to retire. Kim is considering the value of buying an income annuity for lifetime, guaranteed income. As a single woman, having more predictable income is better for her older years.
Her plan is to wait until 70 before claiming Social Security. Deciding the draw-down from her own money versus when to claim is a balancing act. She can reassess each year depending on overall market conditions. Either way, Medicare starts at 65 and she’s circled that date on her calendar.
A DIY Retirement
A long-awaited kitchen remodel may be delayed a year or two. The deck needs to be replaced. Not urgent. Otherwise, everything in her house is manageable. And, thanks to those years working at Home Depot, she can handle any DIY home improvements and projects!
Kim’s fully ready to be retired. It is absolutely her time to retire. She and her college girlfriends have plotted and planned from the beach for a few years now.
She’s so looking forward to new possibilities. And creating a new life that doesn’t revolve around her computer screen. Her near and far networks of friends offer ideas, places to visit, and important connections. It’s time to celebrate the first two-thirds of the journey. And invent the next third.
Kim’s story is inspirational. Not every woman who has the career rug pulled out from her in her 50s gets back up. But Kim figured out a way to stay independent, hopeful for the future, and resilient. She is quite a role model for younger women. And especially for her own grown kids who are just getting started.
Now it’s time to embrace the next third of the journey. Kim’s in charge. She can create any kind of DIY retirement she wants. And it’s going to be great!
More Inspiring Boomer Stories as You Start Out the New Year
Val followed her passion when creating her time to retire. And remains great friends with her daughter.
Pat’s idea of retirement includes a lot of working. And NASA loves that she’s bringing space and science to so many young people. Not everyone has a specific time to retire.
And, for more insights about the challenges boomer moms struggled with, read Work-Life Balance, Is There Such a Thing?