I retired too early. My decision was pressured by a crisis. That led to other choices — some bad, some good. But all of these originated with my decision to take early retirement.
My partner had a serious accident at home and died two months later. I spent those months in hospital visits and imagining a hundred “what if?” scenarios.
Retirement offered a convenient escape to deal with those “what ifs,” when and if they occurred. Bad choice. My health was good. I liked my job, and money wasn’t a looming problem due to serious planning ahead. But I could have, should have, stayed at the city for another two to four years.
A flood of crises
Psychologists mark a major life crisis as an extremely stressful event — the death of a dear one, financial downturns, job loss, relocating, divorce, and retirements are examples.
For a time, personal crises seemed to come in rapid succession for me. After my partner died (crisis No. 1), I immediately retired (crisis No. 2), then faced expenses alone that we had previously shared (crisis No. 3). Too young for Medicare, I added the burden of health insurance (crisis No. 4). Finally, I decided to sell the house, buy a condo in Galveston and move (crisis No. 5).
All this happened within about a year. Luckily, friends supported me and I kept a level head; I did not panic, cry, or languish in pity.
Keep calm and make good choices
This flood of crises could have been debilitating. Instead, I took control and made sound choices.
I started in PWE at age 45. Other than getting a decent job, security and benefits topped my list of job requirements, not a top salary. (After all, it was the city.) My initial retirement “magic number” was 70 — age plus seniority — but I missed that by less than six months when the budget ax raised it to 75.
Then, good news: I had a great opportunity to buy into Pension Plan A, which I did immediately. I enrolled in DROP when I hit the 75 magic number and accumulated about four years of pension savings while continuing to work. The optional 457 Plan, an equivalent of a 401K for public employees, provided another great independent investment opportunity.
What I learned
If I learned anything, it was to not get pressured by a crisis. Maximize retirement plans and evaluate options.
Things worked out OK for me. But it could have been better had I continued working. I reacted too quickly, did not take a deep breath and seek out advice from friends and professionals.
Even if retirement is years away, look at available financial options. Take a lesson from me and don’t repeat my mistakes. It will pay off.
Michael C. Jozwiak is the guest retiree columnist for this issue
He worked with the city for 19 years before retiring in 2012. Jozwiak now lives