Today is a big day for Linda. Really big. Once in a lifetime big. So is this post. Get a drink.
It's her last day in the office after 35 years, 7 months, and 15 calendar days. Technically, she's still a City employee for a while longer. She has current and accumulated vacation to use up, and lieu days, so someone in the office has to do all the math to make sure she's paid for all the right number of hours, and that everything is balanced and closed off in an orderly way.
Some people coast into retirement, with a weeks or months long winding up of affairs. Not Linda. Since the beginning of the year her business unit has been an ant hill stirred with a stick on several fronts. The current plan is not to replace her because there is a software package coming real soon now (any month, really!) that can do much of her job. Except, well, details that are troublesome and difficult for the managerial mind to grasp.
They gave her a checklist of things that must be done before she goes, and she's been chugging through it, repressing the people asking her to look into various other things, of which there are a great many and they all have to be done RIGHT NOW. I told her to bring out The Look, the one that reduced one of her bosses to say, "I'm being glared to death."
Yes, she's happy. She is done. Done like dinner, and more. We had thought about doing something to celebrate, but mainly she wants to collapse in a heap for a little while. I can understand that. It will take a while to sink in.
It's been a bit of an evolution. A bunch of years back I wanted her to retire the instant she hit her 85 factor. That would have meant a few years till she could actually draw her pension, but my thinking was that if we couldn't afford to live on one income at that point, we'd have done something terribly wrong. That particular work place was poisonous, and I wanted her out of it.
Much of the last decade has been in a much better place. She tracks money going back and forth between the City and various property developers. That is the limit of my understanding, and I don't want to understand any more. We decided that since she mostly enjoyed it, working a few "extra" years to plump up her pension a bit, and fund some home stuff was a good idea.
There is a pension calculator tool that provides an estimate of your pension. She has been consulting this regularly for years, calculating our expenses, her pension and income from other sources. Plus tracking my investments and the potential return from them. (No workplace pension, remember?) She started from a place where a "fixed income" meant poverty, and has been slowly evolving to a place of understanding in her guts that it isn't true for us. (Not that we're going to be taking yearly round the world cruises in the finest cabin on the Queen Mary or anything.) It doesn't matter who told her we'd be fine, she had to do the numbers herself, and let them settle in. Again and again. Years, and I'm not kidding.
The pension numbers are sort of like a reverse mortgage. When we bought our house, it seemed like all the money in the world, and we had to scrape to make it. We were fortunate there were no expensive emergencies the first few years. Every year we got a statement of the amount paid and the principle still owing. I think the first year we paid off about 95 cents of the principle. Slowly it gets whittled down. The interest rates dropped, and we got paid more, so the amount of the principle generating interest dropped, and it got paid down faster and faster.
The pension is the opposite. I worked for the City a few years a very long time ago. The first pension deductions were painful, but I didn't have a choice. I got a statement that my pension amount was the cube root of diddley squat. Being honest, if I'd been offered the choice I probably would have taken it as cash. It seemed at the time there were lots better things to spend money on.
Linda was the same. Over the years the pension amount grew slowly. About 20 or 25 years in it starts getting worth noticing and paying attention to. For some people, the pension becomes so valuable they can't leave the job. They call it the golden handcuffs. Then you start getting tired of work and begin to think of alternatives, and you're glad it was deducted and invested. It's one of the ways that money works for you, if you let it.
Now, before you get all excited and start ranting about gold plated pensions, keep in mind that for at least part of that time she was not especially well paid, and that is reflected in her pension. Read this rant from a couple years ago for more details.
The bigger part of the journey is emotional. Keep in mind that handing in your retirement notice at the City is irrevocable. It doesn't matter that you made a terrible mistake, or acted out of short term anger. So you want to get it right, and credit to the City, they go to some effort to help people get it right. This is one of those major life-changing decisions.
I've left so many jobs over the years I can't even count them all without writing them down. It's old hat to finish up and move on. Linda has been in this position almost 10 years, and was in the one before that a long time. She stressed about that move, and a change this big has been stressful as well. Not just the pension math. She has friends from that job, some retired some still working. She has a routine, trading time for money. The security. So much of our society revolves around people working, that it's hard to make the choice not to be working. Even if you don't have to anymore. Force of habit is a powerful thing.
Linda has seen any number of people working at the City succumb to various ailments that change their working life or affect their retirement plans. Just this week one of her close co-workers was diagnosed with leukaemia and just started treatment. He's a few years younger than us. I think it's safe to say this will have an impact on the remainder of his life, working or otherwise.
Some of the cruelest outcomes have been people that finally retire after working much longer than they "needed" to, and drop dead after a few years. We don't want that to be us. We have plans. We've both worked hard to maintain our health. By current standards we've got another 20 years or so, maybe a little more. We want to enjoy them.
Part of the retirement process is cleaning out her desk, and bringing home all her personal property. There is a surprising amount of it. One thing she's hung onto all these years, right back to day one, is vacation statements. If she wanted to go through them, she could figure out exactly how many hours she was working, and how many on vacation. I'd better not laugh, I cleaned out one of my drawers of paperwork and found a pay stub from 2009. Still, it has to be dealt with. She has been dumping boxes of paper into the shredder. She has a decade of cover your ass emails to archive. I don't even know what all.
One of the things is a digital picture frame. It has vacation photos on it, plus I think some of my recent photos with the good camera. I'm looking forward to finding a place to have it going. There are almost certainly photos on it I haven't seen for years.
One of the stresses of life that we don't think about much is the whole getting up and getting to work thing. Traffic is going to suck around here for a while so I'm glad to miss that. Getting to work, and getting home seems like it's always a rush, and the day you're running a bit behind seems to be the day when stuff goes wrong. One of the things that makes me crazy about her work is that people notice if you're late, or you take too long at coffee or lunch, or leave too early. Then they beak off about it.
The last time I can remember for sure an employer caring about my work hours was at NOVA, when I had to deal with faxes time stamped up to 4:59, but not the 5:00 ones, and I could go as soon as they were done. Since then my employers have assumed their people were grownups, able to manage their time to meet their deliverables as well as deal with all the other stuff in their lives.
We are looking forward to getting up when we get up, having coffee on the patio, discussing whatever our plans for the day are, and getting about them as seems appropriate. I've got a few more work days left on this contract, 9 to be exact. After that the alarm clock is going to start gathering dust. I'm sure there will be days that one or the other of us wants to be up at a particular time for some reason. All things considered, to have both work careers end essentially at the same time is pretty amazing. I'd like you to think we planned it that way, but no. It was an accident. Plus I don't think I'm done working. There might be a few more part time short term contracts here and there. Or there might not be. I'm not going to lose any sleep about it, or go looking under rocks desperate to find the next one.
But mostly we want to sleep till we wake up. This might get interesting for us. I'm mostly an early bird now. Linda is a bit of a night owl, at least as much as she can be with having to wake up early for work. It will be interesting to see how that shakes out.
We've decided that we are mostly going to be home bodies this summer, enjoying the garden and puttering about the house. Relaxing. Coffee/lunch/other activities with buddies. We want to get out to the mountain parks for some hiking and sightseeing, but that's about it. Later on we'll plan a big retirement celebration trip.
Linda is home now, escaped at last. She had to work right up to the last minute. Not that anyone was standing over her with a whip, just trying to get things as orderly as possible for her despairing
co-worker who now has to do Linda's job in addition to all the stuff she didn't have time for already.
The big celebratory dinner? Tonight it's pizza and wine. Maybe something more elaborate tomorrow. She's all giddy and giggly with happiness, and that's only two sips into this glass of wine.
She has been fixated on this day for a while now. It's been crowding out lots of stuff. It's almost been as stressful for me as for her, waiting for it to happen. Now she's free. I am taking bets on whether she gets another cell phone or not. The one from 2002 died and hasn't been replaced. I'm pretty sure that some of her buddies would like to text her, but she doesn't believe it.
I think Monday is going to be a celebratory or ceremonial sleep in.