What does the word RETIRE mean to you?

***I’m in Thailand!! For the next two weeks I will be reposting some of my earlier lesser read posts. Though wi-fi will be sporadic, I plan to check in from time to time should you write a comment. 🙂 I hope you enjoy and I’ll see you back here in a couple of weeks!***

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Boring.  How about fresh salty beach air blowing through your hair while you yell to the cabana boy to bring you another Mai Tai?  Or is it spending more time with your grand kids – taking them to baseball games and roasting marshmallows by the side of the lake?  Does it mean paring down your belongings and packing whats left in an RV to tour the National Parks and see each oceans coast line?  Why do all of these mental images have me landing at some body of water???  🙂  The point is – retirement means something different to each person.

illinois retirement pension
image via

For many Americans, retirement is the bright white light at the end of a long dark and damp tunnel.  The end to the means.  The fat gleaming orange carrot and the end of a long shabby thin string.  2 vacation weeks a year to look forward to until you can reach the end of that long long tunnel.  We arrive at the age of 65, or in my generations case, 67, to a land of new opportunity that many are too tired or sick from the past 40 years to even enjoy.  I hope dearly for myself, AND FOR YOU, that this won’t be the case for us…

When I began my career as a flight attendant, I had no idea it would be just that, a career.  I thought I was interviewing for a job I would keep a couple of years but, instead, I stumbled into a career I am now celebrating my 15th year at.  Who knew?  What I hoped for my future at the age of 23 is vastly different from what I hope for now.  The morning my training class found out we were hired was followed by an afternoon of quick fire decisions about our future.  Which roller bag to order?  Which uniform pieces look most flattering (Answer? None.  Seriously.  They were high wasted, pleated, beige tapered pants.  Awful.).  Do you want to join the 401K and, if so, how do you want to invest you hard-earned peanut slinging cash?  What?!  Can you ask me about the pants again?  We were young, dumb, and completely unaware that the decisions we made that day would last for years to come…including the pants.  😦

Thankfully, I had the foresight to join our 401K plan.  I also joined the Employee Stock Purchase Plan which purchases shares of our company stock at a 10% discount.  Sweet!  I have no idea what I invested my 401K in originally but several years later I had a financial adviser boyfriend look at it and he reallocated everything, which I’m guessing means I didn’t do so great on my own. Years after that, when the market crashed, my husband was afraid of the banks melting down and advised me to move it all to low risk investments.  Of course, the damage was already done and that made me lose tons of shares that I would otherwise still have now that the market has come bouncing back…But who is to blame for my investments??  ME!  I left it up to someone else on multiple occasions without doing any research of my own.  I was clueless…

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In the past few years I got wise.  I am happy to have found that our company offers a wide array of investment options including some Vanguard funds to which I am somewhat bias towards.  I put 20% in (tapering down as the year goes on so as not to over fund it) and enjoy my companies staggering 9.6% match (which is in addition to my 18k max – KA-CHING!! ).  I used to split my contributions between the traditional and Roth 401Ks but recently switched to investing completely in my traditional 401K.  I am enjoying the benefits of a lower adjusted gross income at the end of the year but am also diversifying by having opened a Roth IRA as well.  The best of both worlds!

So, now that everything is on the right track – what does my retirement look like?  Well – I want to retire EARLY!!  I don’t want to wait until 67.  Though I don’t remember much about that half day in November almost 15 years ago, I did manage to capture one moment of clarity among 4 hours of static…

You can retire as a flight attendant with full benefits when: Your Age + Years of Service = 65

Well, yippy ki-yay, motherf#&^*%#!  By my calculations, I have a little under 7 more years on the dirty bird to launch myself into retirement bliss…Kinda.  This calculation only works for flight attendant benefits – I still can not take money from my retirement accounts until the age of 59.5 and won’t receive social security benefits until 67.  I can, however, quit my day job and still travel at a highly discounted rate!!  Yeah!!  So, November 2022 is considered Phase 1 of my retirement plan and is entirely accomplished by my years of service.

Phase 2 of my plan has more to do with how much I work and how much I can save between now and 2022.  According to the simple chart below from Mr Money Mustache’s very popular post, The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement,  if I can continue to save at my current rate of 75% (not including my 401K), then I can potentially retire in 7 years…oddly, around the same time I can retire from my air hostess ways with full bennies!!  Since I have a head start on my savings I am dropping that 7 years to 6…shhh – don’t tell anyone!!

Via THIS amazing post by Mr Money Mustache

Now, there are some ins and outs to this type of math and I find it to be a loose assessment of some unforeseen variables, most importantly your health.  Along with that, the market will go up and down, as will your investments.  A 4% withdraw rate assumes a 7% appreciation minus inflation of 3%.  That part I can’t control – but others, I can.  Cost of living is a huge one as I currently own my condo with no mortgage.  Should that change (and it shortly will – more on that later) my cost of living no doubt will go up.  Hopefully my income and overall lifestyle will remain the same so my savings rate can continue to thrive. In the meantime, I will throw all caution to the wind and run with these numbers…

Phase 1 + Phase 2 = The Ability to Retire in 2022 at the age of 44!!

Notice I didn’t say “Retire in 2022 at the age of 44″?  Yeah, I have no plans to retire.  My job is easy, pays well, and has great benefits including super health insurance at low rates.  As of now, my airline has no minimum hours that we have to work.  That is a rarity for the airline industry.  With no minimums it means I can work as little or as much as I want…and I do.  I once took 2.5 years off a and didn’t fly a single trip!  Of course, no minimums could change with our next contract at which point I would have to reevaluate staying on.

But back to the business at hand.  For me, retirement means having the ability to choose.  To choose to go to work or to choose to go on a trip.  To be able to work in my garden one day and head off on a work trip the next.  Perhaps I could take a volunteer position at an animal shelter and fly only on the weekends.  Heck, I might take a year off and drive that aforementioned RV coast to coast.  Who knows?!  For now, the future seems bright.  I realize a lot can happen in the next 7 years but the thought of being able to retire some 20 years before my peers feels insanely agreeable to me at the moment.  🙂

** Have you done the math?  When are you aiming to retire?  What are the biggest factors in your way?  Drop a comment or shoot me an email!  We are all in this together!!  🙂 **

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