A Christmas (True) Fable

Tis the season to receive long, chatty messages tucked into holiday cards, describing the year’s significant events for family members including the dog. But this year, I received one such missive by email, that I thought I would share with my readers, hoping to capture the pure joy of financial planning and self-discipline working out in the long run.

It came from an acquaintance in the media business, a man I had worked with a few times over the years but certainly didn’t know well. I remembered he had sent a group email about his plans to retire, a sort of business farewell. His holiday email greeting was an update on those plans.

“Trish and I have settled into retirement. We love Tennessee. We love meeting new friends and playing lots of golf, as well. . . .We are both in several golf leagues, and we have joined a league for couples, too. If weather cooperates we plan on playing golf throughout the winter months. We recently returned from Myrtle Beach, where we went with a group of friends – you guessed it, to play golf! We are looking forward to an extended trip to Ireland and the Netherlands in the Spring.

Trish just finished her annual cookie bake-a-thon. We put up the tree and decorated the house, and we are ready for the holidays to commence. Wishing you all the merriest of Christmases and a prosperous 2018.”

Wow, I thought. Retirement, the good old-fashioned way. It wasn’t all the golf that struck me, since I don’t even play golf. It was the financial ability to just stop and enjoy a new kind of life. For years, I’ve been writing about retirement in my books and columns. Now, in a paragraph or two, he had proclaimed this goal not only possible, but he had reached it.

I responded by email, asking how he had achieved this lifestyle -- a perfectly wonderful, ordinary retirement. Did he win the lottery? Forget to have children? I knew him as a very hard-working, very service-oriented small businessman – but did that add up to a worry-free retirement?

I could hear his cheery laugh as I read his response: “Morning sunshine! Wow, aren’t you still the little reporter!”

And here are his exact words:

“I officially retired January 1, 2017 at age 67 and sold the business to my partner. My wife, a nurse for over 30 years with the same hospital organization retired in June 2017 age 65. We had to wait till she turned Medicare eligible before we could afford to retire.

We both had 401k(s) to which we invested the max, 6% annually since its enactment. My wife's company had a match, mine did not. Through those vehicles we saved roughly 1 mil combined. During our 42 year marriage we were not penny pinchers, EVER. Vacations every year. We owned our house. Our son was very active in sports so we had costs for Baseball, Swim team, band. We have a piano, my son played drums and guitar so we purchased those things and I was in the studio/TV biz forever so there was always some $1000 piece of electronic gadget that I HAD TO HAVE. We made our share of bad and or marginal decisions (like my purchasing the company in December of 2007... Boy I wish I had a crystal ball) but we still made it through, plus we always gave to charity.

Thankfully, it all worked out and with the sale of the company in January 2017 along with the 401ks and SS we gross about 100k per year through the first three years of our retirement. After that we will begin to tap our reserves to make up the diff between SS and life!”

And that, as a great journalist used to say, is the rest of the story. An ordinary American life, filled with hard work and family, and a regular savings/investment program over the years. Forty years ago, when 40l(k) plans first came into existence, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was around 1,000. Every year they invested the max– not brilliance, but just persistence.

And it paid off in the long run.

Yes, they’ve had a lot of blessings – of good health and family, and a legion of friends. But it’s an ordinary American success story. It’s a wonderful holiday greeting. And I think it’s an inspiration to us all. That’s the Savage Truth.

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