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One Step Back Two Steps Forward

Financial Journey (featured column)
by Karen Kuebler

Karen continues to share her personal journey toward retirement with us, because she says it is one filled with hope, promise, faith, gratitude and unexpected solutions to problems.

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I like to share our personal journey toward retirement because I think it is one filled with hope, promise, faith, gratitude and unexpected solutions to problems. We moved into our temporary living quarters in San Diego during the summer of 1984 while we waited for our home to be completed. True to his word, the builder found a furnished apartment for our family and cats and covered the rental. To say we were grateful for all the builder had done for us would be a gross understatement. We were relying solely on faith since neither one of us were employed at this time.

My husband had started sending resumes to San Diego in March, knowing we would be moving at the end of June. He had a couple of interviews in April and May. There was one company where the prospects looked particularly promising, but we received word that the open position had been filled internally. This was very disappointing because we had really high expectations that he would get a job there. My husband told them that he really liked the company and the people he had met, and if anything should open up in the future he would be interested.

He was contacted again in May and asked to come back to interview for the position that had opened as a result of the internal transfer. The new position actually turned out to be a better fit for my husband, even if the title wasn’t quite as prestigious. It is funny how you can get hung up on trivialities because of ego, but we let go of pride this time. My husband was officially offered and accepted the job four days after we arrived in San Diego. We believe it was all meant to be.

How were we doing financially at this time? My husband did receive a lump sum retirement which we put into a rollover IRA. It was a nice nest egg, but it wasn’t nearly sufficient to cover our needs for retirement. We also knew that we couldn’t touch it for many years without paying an early withdrawal penalty. He received a good severance which helped ease our fears and covered our living expenses during the time he was job hunting.

At this point, one would think with everything working out for us, that we would be miles ahead in our savings! I wish I could tell you that was the case. Instead of treating the severance money like an emergency fund, and trying to protect it with all our might, we were lulled into the false security of having a *cushy* savings account. We used most of the money to upgrade carpets and flooring, purchase odds and ends for the new home, landscaping, etc. At the time we thought everything worked out fine, since he did have a job and we had income to cover our living expenses. Later, we looked back at the carelessness we had exercised in our spending. We *still* had not learned the concept of saving. That severance would have made a great savings fund for emergencies and other contingencies, but we had spent most of it. We had learned our lesson with regard to debt from our earlier experiences, so at least we didn’t have any credit card debt!

We moved into the new home in September. The school year began for the boys and for me. Life continued at a pretty normal pace. However, we still had not focused on future retirement savings. We were paying 11% on our mortgage, and we were making "interest only" payments. We had not made plans for when we would start paying down the principle on the mortgage. We had become careless with our spending throughout the summer months of 1984 as we were having fun fixing up the new house. Who would have thought we’d *need* to fix up a new house? We even dipped into the savings from the severance to make several mortgage interest payments because we were being careless with our spending.

Other than the rollover IRA, our liquid savings had dwindled to almost nothing. We had not set up a savings plan. My husband was not investing in his 401K yet at the new company because there was a requirement to be employed for a year prior to investing. At this point in our journey, retirement still didn’t look like it was very close on the horizon!

It took me another three semesters to finish my schooling. It sure did feel like a long hard road. There were times I never felt I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Somewhere along the line I had changed my major, realizing that I didn’t want to be limited to working in only Accounting positions. My decision on a B.S in Business Administration, with an emphasis in Finance, would eventually open more doors and opportunities than an Accounting degree. It was also much more interesting to me. I graduated in December, 1985. I was hired by a large bank into their Operations Management Training Program through a campus interview during my last semester. I was scheduled to begin working with them in February 1986. I’m starting my career finally, at age 35!

My beginning salary with the bank wasn’t anything to brag about. Actually, it was one of those things that I hoped none of my family would ask me. First, I have never liked discussing my finances with others because I feel it is a private issue. Second, I would have been embarrassed to admit what I thought to be a low starting salary after all the work I put into getting my degree.

Unfortunately, the banking industry and I did not make a very good match. I found myself dreading each morning when I had to get out of bed for work. That just wasn’t like me at all. I *hated* the work. It did not present the kind of challenge I was looking for in a job. I needed something that required more creative problem solving skills. I’m not a quitter, though. I felt so guilty about the idea of leaving after only being with them for a few months.

In May, 1986, my husband’s mother was in a very serious car accident. She was in the hospital until November before she died. This crises caused us to change directions in our lives. Not only was I miserable with the work I was doing, but the job also required me to travel by car to other regions in Southern California on a frequent basis. With my Mother-in-law suffering from her injuries from the accident, neither my husband nor I were comfortable with my traveling so much. I gave my notice to the bank, as difficult as it was for me, because I felt like a quitter. We didn’t know that this decision would change our lives and my path in my career.

During the last two weeks at the bank, they decided to place me in a branch where they were short-handed. This branch was only a mile from my home! There were a couple of Business Park developments in the area, and many employees came into the branch to deposit their paychecks. I asked customers how they liked their company and if they would recommend it to others as a good place to work. I know, sneaky! Always looking for an opportunity. When I left at the end of the two weeks, I had six referrals to companies in the area I lived.

I followed up on the leads and began by making cold calls to each company. I had the name of the Human Resources Manager and the name of the employee who had referred me. I found a position with a company within two weeks. This is where my career path took a u-turn! The company I went to work for had a position open in Human Resources. I loved working with people, and my thought was to get my foot in the door of a good company. I could find internal opportunities to grow once I had proved myself.

Now, here comes the scary part. If I thought my salary was low at the bank, the only position they had available was a clerical position within Human Resources paying less than what I had made at the bank. Everything about this company felt right. I *really* liked everybody I met and the people I would be working with, and the company had great growth potential. The idea of accepting a clerical position after working so hard to get my degree was a humiliating experience, but I still followed my instincts and accepted the position.

Within four years at this company, I was promoted several times. My final position was Human Resources Manager. The experience I gained was phenomenal! I would have never predicted that my career would have gone in the direction of Human Resources after pursuing my degree in Finance.

We learned many important life lessons through these experiences. We both had to let go of our pride and follow our hearts. I learned about taking a few steps backwards sometimes in life, in order to make some leaps forward. We learned through a sad family crisis that life’s decisions are not always obvious. We learned to follow that inner voice that ultimately will lead us down the right path!

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Copyright © 2001 by Karen Kuebler. All rights reserved.

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