Preparing for retirement
Mental preparation important

By Stacee Sledge, for The Bellingham Herald

Being financially prepared for retirement is obviously key — making sure you have enough income for food, housing, and medical costs. But it’s equally important to be emotionally ready, which can be more difficult for some — and it’s not something your financial advisor can counsel you through.

Kay Rich is a fitting example of retirement done right.

After nearly 30 years in various positions at Western Washington University , her last and longest stint as Director of University Residences lasted for nearly 18 years, Rich enjoyed her final day on the job last December. She’s made the move from hectic workdays to relaxing weekdays admirably.

She decided three years before retiring that age 65 would be her working watermark, and then took steps to make the mental migration as smooth as possible. “Two years ago I sold my house, so I wouldn’t get into making all these transitions in one fell swoop,” Rich said. She’s now comfortably settled into a condo.

Unexpected additional job responsibilities in her last 18 months at Western found her working a majority of the time in a new space and with new people. It was a mixed blessing that helped ease her out of the department she’d led for nearly two decades.

“My situation wasn’t as dramatic as working for [the same department] for 17 or 18 years, and one day walking out the door and saying goodbye to everybody. It was a slower transition away from that group that had really been my family.”

Another unanticipated benefit of the job shuffle was that her last 18 months were exhausting. “By the time it was my last day on campus I was so ready to be done: emotionally, physically, everything. So that was where it was a real blessing to have that additional responsibility put on me for that length of time.”

Kay’s defined her first day of retirement as terrific. “I had to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight to Seattle and then on to San Diego and right into all the holiday stuff — a fairly normal pattern, because I often go to California for the holidays.”

She followed that trip up with a whirlwind of mini-getaways. “Friends have invited me for years to join them at their time shares, but I never had the time. Now I was able to say ‘Oh, yes, I’ll join you in Mexico .’ ‘Oh yes, I’ll join you in Hawaii ,’” Rich said with a laugh. “So I went every other week for much of January and February and part of March, and then I was home for three weeks, and then I went to my daughter’s in San Diego for the month of April.”

“It wasn’t for several months, until I quit all the hopping around, that I’d have these moments where I’d think, ‘Oh, I’m supposed to be somewhere. Where am I supposed to be?’”

By giving herself three years to get used to the idea, Rich made the emotional leap into retirement somewhat easily. But how prepared was she fiscally?

“I have a good pension plan, I have social security,” she said. “After my girls finished school and both got married, the money that had being going into their college and weddings went into supplemental retirement.”

“The other thing I did during most of the last year that I worked is, I calculated what I thought my income was going to be from social security and my state retirement and I lived on that,” she said. The remainder went into the supplemental retirement account, which Rich likely won’t touch for several more years.

Rich keeps busy with a handful of volunteer activities, once of which will take her to Australia next spring to lead a study tour. But for now she makes it a point to say no to most requests.

A friend asked her at yoga one morning how she was adjusting to the life of a retiree. “I said, ‘Well, sometimes I feel a little guilty that I’m not going to work each day.’” Rich recalled. “And she said, ‘Kay, take advantage of having a year where you’re a human being rather than a human doing.’ I think I’d read that somewhere before, but of course it had new special meaning to me,” said Rich.

“Having an opportunity to just be — to get up and do whatever you want on a given day — you really learn some new things about yourself. There’s a whole discovery phase that I’m going through.”

Rich recently found herself back on campus, running an errand. “I realized I was walking at a normal, human walking pace,” she said with a laugh. “When I was working I was always rushing. And it just struck me that I was walking leisurely looking at how pretty the trees looked, noticing the squirrels.”

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