Saturday, June 28, 2014

Why Miser Mom won't retire (yet)

At random intervals over the past several years, I've mentioned that I've been sort of pushy about getting my husband to retire.  To wit, in a week, he'll go part-time, sort of like a phased retirement.  So at some point, you gotta wonder:  if it's good for the gander, is it good for the goose?  Why don't I keep making retirement noises for myself?

Well, I'll start with the usual mutterings.  Perhaps they sound more like excuses than reasons, but they're actually sort of true:
  • Praise.  I tend to be good at what I do, and I get a lot of pats on the back for that.  It's really hard to turn my back on pats on the back, if that makes sense.   Ain't nobody going to give me gold stars for being retired well.
  • Money.  As in, as long as I am lucky enough to be married to the guy I love, who is not a black-belt tightwad like his wife, then we actually need to earn money to pay for frivolous things like packaged cereals, cable hook-up, and store-bought clothes.  [Random aside: I've been harboring fantasies again about getting rid of our refrigerator.  You really have to pity my husband for being married to me.]  We'll need a more money in our retirement fund to support us in the lifestyle he's accustomed to.  
  • Health Insurance.  There are many ins and outs to this, so I'll just say that medical insurance is a small factor.
  • Love.  Most of the time, I love my day job.  
    • I get to work with a huge variety of people, most of whom are really sweet and well-intentioned.  
    • I get to hang with amazingly smart people.  It's heady to see different aspects of the world through the eyes of people who are steeped in economics, astronomy, choreography, literature, sociology, and more.
    • I get to do a lot of different things -- teach, do research, work across my college on a bunch of different committees. It's nice to have structured variety.
  • Absence of negatives.  I don't have a lot of dis-incentives.  My commute (unlike my husband's 80-mile commute) is 2 blocks.  My boss is not manic.  Etcetera.
But there's more.  There's a little secret I'm going to let you in on -- sshhhhhh!  The truth is . . . we're gearing up in a serious way for me to retire, too.  

Now, this isn't going to happen as soon as my husband retires, for all of the reasons I mention above, plus one more (which I'll describe below).  I've run the numbers a bunch of times, and I figure there's a really good chance we'd be financially ready for me to leave work just four years from now -- which happens to be when I've worked at my college exactly half my life, and also the date the boys graduate from high school.  I got serious enough about this plan that I actually visited our HR department to ask some nuts-and-bolts questions about post-retirement life.

The HR department popped my bubble.  "You're not allowed to retire then," they told me.  "You can resign, but you can't retire, because you won't be 55 yet."  And 55 is a few years beyond four years from now for me.

So, what's the difference between "resigning" and "retiring"?  Well, if I resign, I wouldn't get our retirement health benefits . . . but those are honestly so pitifully yucky, I don't care.  If I resign, I wouldn't get life insurance . . . but with all the kids grown up and a nice nest egg, I wouldn't need it anyway.   If I resign, I wouldn't be an emeritus professor . . .

. . . and that is the real rub.  Because the benefits of being "emeritus" are exactly those things we frugal people say that money can't buy, plus some of the things that make money and power such a draw for us all.  If I resign instead of retiring . . . 
  • I'd lose access to campus facilities (the library, the gym, the email list, the free food events).  
  • I'd lose my "institutional affiliation" -- without that, there are lots of times it would be hard to keep doing the math I love.  (That's because journals, electronic arXivs, and professional meetings often require that some institution certify you're not a nut job pretending to be a mathematician; if I resign, there's no one to swear I'm legit).
  • In a significant way, I'd sever a connection to the people on my campus.  There are all sorts of quasi-social/quasi-professional activities that are open only to employees (and "emeriti" professors count as "employees" for most of these, but people who resign clearly do not).  
It's this last reason that's the kicker.  If I wait just a few more years -- . . . um . . .  I mean, if I work just a few more years -- then my guy and I have a bit more cash cushion.  Even more importantly,  we get to keep all those structural ties to the community where I will have spent more than half of my life, and where I've spent all of my professional life.  

Money might not be worth staying at a job you hate.  But a strong community is worth staying at a job that I like.  So I'm going to retire . . . some day.   When I'm old enough.


  1. I liked this talk about hard choices:

    1. I've skimmed it, and like what I see. I'm going to have to dig deeper eventually. But fortunately, staying at my job until I'm 55 instead of bailing out when I'm 52 isn't really a hard choice for me!

  2. Emeritus is definitely worth it. At your uni, will they still let you have office space? Maybe it just depends on the department, but I worked at places that would and places that wouldn't.

    Health insurance seems to be the biggest. My parents are close to actual retirement age, but they won't be retiring until they can qualify for medicare. Too risky/expensive to do otherwise.

    1. Office space: there's a chance I could get office space, but it's not always great space. If I lived further from campus, I'd care more about this -- we live so close to the campus that my home office could function effectively as a work office.

      Health Insurance: (which I try to call "medical insurance" in my own head) my husband will qualify for medicare in 4 years, whether or not I retire. I've played around with the health exchange sites and also my employer's plan's site, and from what I've seen of insuring myself off of medicare for a decade, I'm not biting my nails. At any rate, those costs are part of the computation of whether my parachute is large enough that I'm able to jump out of the airplane.

  3. It would be worth it to stay for the life insurance. From what I understand, unlike other inheritance money, it is not taxed, so a good "gift" to your kids. Also is free or reduced tuition an incentive for your future high school graduates? A friend of mine works for a small arts college and her daughter can go to school there or another school in a network of private colleges with reciprocal privleges.

    1. Ooh, college costs, good point. So, yes, if my sons were more academically minded, it would *definitely* be worth sticking around for the tuition benefits alone. As it is, they're not likely to be headed for one of the colleges on the "exchange" list, so my college will kick in something on the order of $10k per year per kid. That's not chump change, but it's not a deciding factor, given our existing college savings. At any rate, between me staying at work until I'm 55 and the boys headed (mostly likely) for a local, inexpensive trade school, my college will cover basically all their schooling.

      Plus, we have 529 plans and UGMA accounts, so the boys actually are set up with more money for school than they actually need -- they should be able to start post-school with a bit of financial cushion. -MM

  4. The average age for college profs retiring is, last I checked, 72. That's because we get paid to do what a lot of people would want to do in retirement anyway!

    p.s. Can you take a sabbatical/leave for partial or no pay?

    1. Yeah, when I "retire", I'm going to finally have so much more time to do math! Yay!

      As for "time off" -- well, I didn't want to make the post even more complicated than it already is, but yes, that's a big part of the plan. I'm hoping to take a leave of absence to go work at the NSF for a year (I'm in the process of trying to arrange that now). After that, I'll take a year sabbatical. When I come back, I have 5 years of teaching/committee work, and then I get another sabbatical (if I'm still here and not retired). So there is a heck of a lot of variety built into the next decade, no matter what. I can't complain about being stuck in a rut!