What Was the Smartest Thing You Did to Prepare for Retirement? By Bob Lowry
This is logical follow up to the previous post, What was the Dumbest Thing You Did in Your Retirement Planning? After admitting a mistake or miscalculation, let's turn our attention to what worked so well we'd like to brag a little about it.
I will start the ball rolling with what allowed us to retire after my business failed and then transition into a satisfying retirement. It was a decision that seemed difficult to accomplish at the time. But, without it, I might still be living for a paycheck.
When I married my wife, Betty, I was 27 years old and not making much money working for a radio station in West Virginia. She had a job that paid about as poorly, but with careful budgeting we were doing OK.
The "smartest thing" was to start a savings plan in our very first year together. Frankly, I don't remember how much we set aside though I am sure it wasn't substantial. What was important was establishing the habit of paying ourselves first. We bought mostly zero coupon bonds which were quite popular then and provided for tax-free growth. As my income grew so did the contributions.
Regular investments continued for the next 24 years. Starting seven years after our marriage I also set up an IRA account. The two large companies that employed me had defined benefit retirement plans. Too bad I didn't stay long enough at either job to have it make much difference.
When I started my own business I began a Keogh plan. Later, my company contributed to a retirement plan. Importantly, that IRA had its last contribution in 2001 but I have yet to start taking any of the funds that have been growing for 35 years. The Required Minimum Distribution law will force me to start withdrawing money next year when I turn 70.
That means that from 2001, when I retired, until Social Security payments started in 2011, Betty and I lived off the savings account we began in 1976. As I noted, we haven't touched the IRA money at all. Inheriting some money from my parents starting in 2015 certainly helped delay the start of the IRA drawdown. But, that had no effect on our ability to live for 10 years strictly on our savings.
Did we skip some of the "toys" that those around us were enjoying? Sure. Old cars, smaller TVs and vacations in tents or a small popup camper suited us. We were cautious by nature and determined by decision.
The end result was a savings account healthy enough to retire when we did, and an IRA account that will take care of us from next year forward.
How about you? What was the smartest thing you did to prepare to retire? If you are still working, what have you done to get ready? It certainly doesn't have be financially-oriented. Maybe it was earning an advanced degree. Or, maybe you decided to skip college and run with your great idea. Who knows? The "Smartest Thing" can be almost anything that worked for you.
Let's share our ideas and successes so everyone can learn.