Planning for Un-Retirement

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Blog Series

Planning for “Un-Retirement”

HSA Heath Savings Account

Yvonne came to me with one question: “Can I afford to leave this all-consuming stressful job, and instead work at the non-profit I’m passionate about? It won’t pay nearly as much, but I’ll be so much happier!” I’m going to walk you through the process we followed to help her answer that question.

If you’re considering a departure from “corporate,” leaving the comfort of a regular paycheck and benefits, you know it’s a multi-faceted decision. Money is not the only consideration. Nor should it be the most important one!  I encourage all women to think deeply about

  • what brings you joy and gives you energy,
  • how your relationships are affected by your work,
  • your physical and mental health,
  • and how you can move forward feeling engaged and making a difference.

And we must acknowledge the reality of the world we live in. Unless you live off the land, grow your own food, and can fix your own plumbing, you need to think about money!

 

Here’s my suggested framework to look at your own numbers and decide if you have enough to head out the door.

Step One: What does your current life cost?

There’s no way to get around the need to assess your spending. Lots of women feel really uncomfortable with this part. There’s some unspoken internal (or presumed external) judgment going on – of how many dollars you have and/or where they’re going. Remember – the numbers on the page aren’t judging you! Numbers are just numbers. Whatever shame and guilt you might be feeling is coming 100% from your own head. Please be gentle with yourself! Try to set that judgment aside and instead adopt an approach of scientific curiosity. What can you learn from looking at these interesting numbers?

You need to figure out your Burn Rate. That’s the amount of money you’re spending each month (don’t forget the things that occur less than monthly, like vacations, holidays and gifts, insurance and taxes). Also consider if you’ll need to add in health insurance costs, if that’s something you now get a work but will not in the future!

 

Step Two: What if you pare it down to the bare minimum?

What’s your “ramen noodle budget?” (BTW I totally stole that term from a client – thanks K.A.!)  This is not about how you want to live, it’s just an exercise to understand if you had to cut down to survival mode, what would that number be? If things go sour, what could you squeak by on?

 

Step Three: What financial resources do you have?

Add up your assets. This is an important exercise no matter what’s going on in your life! Look at how many dollars you have AND what types of dollars they are. The type of account they’re sitting in affects their liquidity, accessibility, taxation and risk. What are your income sources? Do you have any that would continue if you leave your job? These could be things like rental income, side businesses, annuities – or for the future, pension plans and Social Security.

 

Step Four: What might your new chapter cost?

Is this change going to require some monetary investment to get started? Training or certification, supplies or equipment, software or subscriptions? Do you need to build a website, rent an office, hire some help? If you’re considering a completely new field and don’t know the answers, find people to ask! Tap your network, and your networks’ network. Remember those Informational Interviews we did back in college days? It’s amazing how many kind-spirited people are willing to help. They can point you toward helpful resources, or suggest mistakes to avoid.

If you will have start-up costs, where is this money going to come from? Do you have savings you can tap? (Ideally not inside your retirement accounts, as they should be earmarked for your living expenses down the road (and remember the 10% penalty that applies to most withdrawals before age 59 1/2). Would you take out a loan? If so, be sure to factor in the loan payments to your future expenses.

 

Step Five: Calculate your Runway

Math time!  (You can do this – everyone’s phone has a calculator these days. :))

  • Start with how much of your assets you are willing to spend to get going.
  • Subtract any start-up costs (step 4)
  • Divide the result by your monthly Burn Rate (step 1)

The result is the number of months you could float yourself if no revenue comes in from the new initiative.

 

How does that number feel to you?

If you don’t like the result, are you willing to make some cuts to your ongoing spending? Maybe to move somewhere closer to your ramen noodle budget? How important is this reinvention to you? Are you willing to make some sacrifices? Try to be realistic!

If your answer is zero months, or a very small runway of time, maybe you can set a goal of building up to a comfortable number before you jump. Maybe you start working on the new idea part-time while you’re still earning an income. Or you think about working at Starbucks for the health insurance while you’re ramping up.

 

Step Six: How much do you think you’ll make?

And how long will it take? Remember it’s always safest to use a conservative number in your projections. We like positive surprises much better than the opposite!

I want to acknowledge that leaving corporate doesn’t always happen on our schedule! Forced reinvention has been a reality, especially for women of a certain age, for a very long time. And COVID has only made it more indisputable. We can’t always lay down these nice, neat plans before we’re off the cliff. So it behooves all of us to have a reinvention plan in our back pockets!

 
Also consider: What could go wrong?

Some say jumping without a net brings a higher likelihood of success. As a financial planner, I like to err on the other side. Think about the potential pitfalls now, since we humans make better decisions when we’re not in a state of high and stress. What will you do if getting off the ground takes longer than expected; if you reach the end of your runway and income is not covering your living expenses?

  • Would you turn to other ways to bring in some revenue? Think now about what those might be.
  • Would you be willing to sell some of your investments? Decide today in which order and how it would work.
  • Would you ask a friend or family member for a loan? Have some conversations and plant the seed sooner rather than later.
  • Would you tap the equity in your home? Understand the pros and cons of that move and talk to a lender now.

Maybe you have a line you would not cross. You could give yourself a set amount of time, and if it’s not working you move to Plan B. You decide ahead of time on a certain number of dollars of your assets you’ll use, then you’d move to Plan C.

 

Yvonne’s Happy Ending

Yvonne and I talked through these steps and crunched her numbers. She did quite a bit of self-reflection and talked to trusted people in her life. She decided to save as much as she could for 6 more months, then make the leap. This also gave her time to have an orderly transition in the job she was leaving, to not burn bridges and to keep her network strong. Today she feels lighter and more fulfilled than when we started working together!

Like Yvonne, if you follow this framework, do some math and think through your options ahead, I know you’ll feel more confident moving forward.

Stephanie McCullough

Stephanie McCullough

Founder & Financial Planner

Our focus is working with women 45+ who are facing a financial future on their own and are looking for a true partner in money decision-making. I help professional women reduce financial stress by aligning their money story with their deepest-held values. I am a non-judgmental financial advisor. My team and I work hard to create a safe space to have the intimate conversations necessary. Since money touches all the most important parts of our lives, we have to talk about it all before we can decide what you should do with your dollars.

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Financial steps widow first year

Ask An Expert

Ask an Expert – What financial steps should a widow take in the first year?

Jason Conger Financial Advisor

Answered By

Linda Lingo

Money Coach

Linda@LindaLingo.com

Question

What financial steps should a widow take in the first year?

Answer

You may be experiencing a range of emotions when your spouse dies. Unfortunately, these feelings don’t go away instantly, and when you start working with your finances, you may feel emotionally overwhelmed. What you are feeling is normal.

However, now is the time you must start pulling the pieces together so you can protect yourself and be your own advocate. It will also be helpful to have a trusted friend or relative help you through this period.

Get a notebook/journal and start writing everything down, because you will not remember having some conversations and certainly not the details. You will feel like you’re operating in a “fog” the first couple of months.

 

Begin to organize information:

1. Start a filing system for quick and easy retrieval of information.
2. Create a calendar with important due dates.
3. Keep a log in your notebook of actions taken, including the date and contact person.

Contact your professional team: attorney, tax preparer, financial advisor:

1. Gather your estate documents like will, and trust.
2. Talk to your tax preparer about pertinent tax issues for the current year.
3. If you’re the executor of your husband’s will, manage the estate settlement process with the guidance of your advisors.
4. Discuss your finances with your financial advisor.

Review your cash flow for the first year:

1. Prepare a statement listing where money will come from and where it needs to go in the first six months to a year. Include a list of regular bills.
2. Liquidate certain assets that don’t have a penalty such as certificate of deposits or annuities with a death benefit.

Collect benefits:

1. Locate your spouse’s birth certificate, Social Security number, marriage license, military discharge papers, financial account statements and company benefits brochure you may need to collect certain benefits. Keep these papers in your organizational folders.
2. File for Social Security benefits at www.ssa.gov.
3. Contact your life insurance agent to start collecting benefits. Review payout options.
4. Collect veteran’s benefits by contacting the Department of Veterans Affairs if your spouse was in the military.
5. Rollover your spouse’s IRA into your own.
6. Contact the HR Department of your spouse’s employer to collect unpaid salary, vacation pay, sick pay, bonuses, pension benefits, and other benefits due.
7. Take a pension from your husband’s qualified retirement plan or roll it over to your IRA after reviewing the options and your financial circumstances.
8. Contact the financial aid office if you have a child in college. They may be eligible for increased financial aid.

Adjust health and other insurance coverage:

1. Make sure you have your own medical insurance coverage.
2. Notify all insurance agents for auto, homeowners, liability, long-term care, and any other policies.

Review assets and liabilities:

1. Create a financial net worth statement, a list of all you own and what you owe.

Complete the estate settlement:

1. Change the title and beneficiaries on investments, life insurance, vehicles, safe deposit box, retirement accounts. When you’re ready to change the names on your credit card, send it in writing with a copy of the death certificate.
2. Joint checking account should be left open for a year so you can deposit checks payable to your spouse.
3. File an estate tax return if federal or state estate tax is owed. This is due nine months after death.

Take care of yourself:

1. Consider joining a support group for widows or talk with a counselor.
2. Remember self-care including exercise, yoga, meditation, massages, bubble baths, facials, and chocolate!
3. Read a good book about widowhood. There are several good ones, including “For Widows Only!” by Annie Estlund.
4. Keep in touch with your female friends.

Move forward with new goals and your new life:

1. Create an updated financial plan focusing on short-term goals first. Keep it simple and manageable.
2. Update your will and estate plan.
3. Expand your social circles. Meet new people who know you as yourself and not as half a couple.
4. Be careful about entering a new relationship too quickly. Be wary of guys looking for a “purse.” Keep your finances to yourself.
5. It may not seem like it, but there is life after grief.

It’s ok to postpone major decisions during the first year when possible. You don’t need to rush, especially with your big decisions. You will be bombarded by well-meaning friends and family with their suggestions for what “the right decision” is. It can be very helpful to have a trusted friend help you think through some decisions you’ll make. For example, do you pay off your mortgage, or move in with your daughter?

You are at a very vulnerable time following your spouse’s death. Go slowly. Be gentle. Give yourself time to heal.

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