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Early Retirement Journey: It's Highs and Lows

Financial Journey (featured column)
by Karen Kuebler

Our retirement journey was more of a rocky path than a paved highway! We are just a normal couple that experienced many of the same challenges and made some of the same mistakes that most couples do.

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In the first two years of marriage, we had managed to pile up a large amount of personal debt. And I decided to quit my job to return to school full time. In June, 1980, I resigned from work, registered for full-time classes in the fall, and enjoyed spending the summer months with my children for the first time in five years.

Before I move forward in time, however, it would be helpful to share some background information. My husband and I had come from very different types of experiences with regards to money, both spending and saving habits. My husband was an only child with wonderful, loving parents who enjoyed spoiling him! In his defense, he is not a spoiled adult, and over the years he has refined his spending habits!

I grew up in a divorced situation, my Mom was working hard to make ends meet, and at times she had to resort to Public Assistance. I remember an experience in the fourth grade where my teacher took me shopping for shoes because she thought it was appalling for me to walk in the rain with holes in my shoes. My parents were also very loving. Even though they were divorced, I was able to see my Dad regularly. I didn't realize how poor we were because I was more concerned about feeling loved, yet I felt different from the other kids at school. My experiences had more subconscious effects on me than I could possibly know at the time.

My Mom remarried when I was 12 years old. At this time, with both parents working and living in a nice home, life felt comfortable for the first time in five years. I even had my own room! My Mom started giving us an allowance of $5 a week when I was about 13. In 1964 this was a lot of money!

Along with this allowance she gave me a budget book with envelopes to divide the money at the beginning of the week for various spending categories. The seeds of my budgeting skills were being planted! I learned that $5 a week wasn't quite as much as I first thought once I realized what was expected of me.

Basically, I was responsible for my lunches, clothes, tithing, gifts for others, and anything else I fancied. At the beginning of the week I would divide the money into the envelopes and I was ready to go! I'd take a trip to the store to buy some food for my lunches for the coming week, and of course, some candy bars. At this time a candy bar cost a dime! When I was ready for more candy or food (these were very high on my priority list!)

I would simply borrow money out of the tithing envelope, the gift envelope, etc. I would worry about those later. You see, I was learning creative financing and how to get into debt at an early age! I supplemented my allowance by babysitting at $.50 per hour and discovered how to meet my expenses through moonlighting. Oh, the things we learn in our youth when we don't even realize it!

The reason this background is important has to do with the different ways my husband and I viewed spending and saving when we first married. My strong need for financial security came from not feeling secure during some very impressionable years of my life. This continued to affect me into adulthood. I needed to save a regular amount of money on a weekly basis, even in the leanest of times. My husband wasn't really concerned with savings. He made a comfortable income, and he enjoyed living within that income.

He was a collector when we met, so he enjoyed spending when he found something he wanted. I remember harboring secret feelings of fear as we went to Disneyland on our honeymoon! He had always been a Disney collector, and I hadn't reached the comfort level yet to say "No, I don't think we should buy that." Fortunately, over the years, our differences have helped us to strike a good balance in our spending and saving behaviors.

There was also another shift in our habits. I learned how much fun it was to have money to spend! We started furnishing our home together and fell in love with antiques. We worked at the same company and would spend our lunch hours going to nearby antique stores. After work, we would pick-up the items we bought during lunch. Some times we would find something else to buy while we were in the store after work! We quickly were caught in a vicious cycle of spending.

Needless to say, our credit cards were maxing out one at a time. No problem. We would go to the Credit Union, take out a loan and pay off the credit cards. Then the credit cards would be maxed out again within six months. No problem. Back to the Credit Union, refinance the loan and pay off the credit cards! I really don't remember how often we refinanced our loan at the Credit Union, but I think it would be safe to say it was at least three times, maybe four.

I wish I could tell you all of the debt was for furniture and other non-disposable household items. At least we would have collateral for our debt. But we had used our credit card for many disposable things such as gasoline and dining out. When I quit work in 1980, we had a large outstanding debt to pay off at the Credit Union. And, we were going to be reducing our income by one third!

That first summer and following year were a time a major adjustment for us. We learned to appreciate the value of a dollar! I had to get used to not working outside of the home. I am thankful for my earlier childhood experiences. It helped me to return to my roots and practice many of the basic skills I had learned. We actually started to have fun when our family was required to live within our means and simplify our lives!

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Copyright 2001 by Karen Kuebler. All rights reserved.

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