measure twice cut once

Measure Twice, Cut Once (A Reader’s Story)

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In recent months I’ve been sharing more reader stories, and they’ve been well received.  If you enjoy reading about other people’s journeys on the road to retirement, you’ll enjoy today’s post.

Today we’re featuring the story of Michael, a reader of this blog who also enjoyed reading my book and is well on his way to retirement in 4 years.  As a newbie woodworker, I could relate to the title he chose for his story:  Measure Twice, Cut Once (or, How to Have a Resilient Retirement). 

I think you’ll benefit from his story.  I’ve added some commentary throughout his guest post with my thoughts on Michael’s retirement preparation. 

Let’s chat in the comments:  What do you think Michael is doing well, and what advice would you give him as he prepares for retirement?

Today, a reader shares how he's preparing for retirement in 4 years.  He's measuring twice, since he only gets to cut once. Click To Tweet

measure twice, cut once retirement story

Measure Twice And Cut Once 

Greetings and welcome to my retirement journey! Hopefully, some things which I am learning will be helpful to you.

First, a little background…

My retirement date is planned for December 31, 2024 after working for 36 years in the chemical industry (two companies). I’ll be 62 years old when I retire. Both my wife and I are lucky to have non-contributory pensions. She plans to work for at least five more years after I retire since she likes her job so much. The last tuition payment for my youngest is in three weeks so there will be a well-deserved household raise. We live a simple lifestyle, have no debt, and live within our means.

Michael smiling as retirement approaches…

The plan is to ensure readiness in three life areas before I pull the retirement trigger.

Measure twice, cut once!

The three areas of preparedness are:

  • Financial health
  • Physical health
  • Emotional health.

Mastering all three, or at least being proficient, is a critical part of my journey. 

Fritz’s comment:  I love how you’ve targeted three specific areas of preparation.  Too many people focus exclusively on the financial aspects of retirement.  This is one aspect of your retirement planning that many people should strive to replicate.  Especially impressive given that you’re still 4 years away from The Starting Line. Well done.

Let’s look at each of the three areas in turn:


Financial Health 

Many people focus on the amount of savings which they have as the major retirement milestone. We are focusing on cash flows from multiple sources including:

  • Pensions
  • 401k
  • IRAs
  • Roth IRAs
  • Brokerage account
  • Social Security

We’re planning on deferring Social Security until we are 70 years old to get the maximum benefit that will be there for the rest of our lives. The added benefit is that it is indexed to inflation so as our costs go up, we get a bigger monthly check. I have been contributing to a 401K since 1988 but have only contributed the maximum permitted ($19,500 plus $6,500 catch up in 2020) for the last five years. My employer also contributes a 100% match for the first 5% of my salary.

The power of compounding is amazing. Being a math geek, a spreadsheet plots the actual versus anticipated savings amount since 1995. As of today, we are seven years ahead of plan. Said another way, the amount of money we thought we would have at 65 we now have at 58.

Our retirement income will come from a roughly equal mix of pensions, Social Security and investment income.

The plan is to have four years of cash in the bank to protect against unanticipated emergencies and stock market volatility. We have a bond ladder maturing each year from 2014 through 2019 so no money will be withdrawn from stock accounts until I am 67.

Budgeting is not my favorite activity but I’ve tracked the monthly delta between what we’ve earned versus what we’ve spent. Since we always paid ourselves first we just needed to ensure we spent less than we made on a monthly basis.

Beginning three months ago we started tracking every dollar spent to better understand our spending and project cost increases going forward. Our current budget is not what our retirement budget will be since we still have a bit of children expenses (remember the last tuition payment plus her apartment and food). Measuring how the money is spent will allow us to adapt to the changes in spending habits as we move into retirement lifestyle.

At tax time this year I’ll have our accountant model what our taxes would be under various retirement scenarios. This will allow us to plan on a steady cash flow which exceeds our bills and tax requirements. The “extra” money will go into a brokerage account. We plan to keep investing into retirement.

Fritz’s comment:  Kudo’s for building a diversified income stream for retirement, and for beginning to track every dollar spent.  We also tracked our spending when we were 2 years from retirement, and something everyone should do as you’re finalizing your retirement plan.  Knowing what you’re actually spending, and estimating how it will change in retirement, is one of the 5 Simple Steps to Retire. Double bonus for doing a deep dive on your estimated retirement taxes with a professional, another area many people overlook.  Comparing your estimated retirement income to spending is the key objective in determining your financial readiness to retire, and “measure twice, cut once” is a key lesson in this critical area of retirement planning.


measure twice cut once walking

Physical Health

The pandemic has closed the health club where I used to exercise so I adapted and now walk five to ten miles per day. As practice for retirement, I do this during the day. In the winter season, the time choice is the warmest part of the day. Listening to audiobooks while I walk allows me to accomplish two things at once. The audible.com subscription ensures fresh content each month. There are also podcasts and “The Economist” to keep me up to date on all the news. I weigh myself daily and modify my menu to keep in the desired weight range.

Fritz’s comment:  Focusing on physical health is critical as we age and has been a focus in my retirement.  Michael and I had an email exchange about his health insurance after he submitted his story, and he advised that he’ll be fortunate in being able to purchase insurance from his previous employer through age 65.  Make sure you’ve “measured twice and cut once” on all your retirement expenses, including health insurance.  It’s a huge issue for anyone retiring before the age of 65.


emotional health

Emotional Health

The goal is to “retire to” something versus “retire from” something. My job is very rewarding but pre-pandemic travel was 50% of the time and mostly international. I’m looking to do worthwhile things while keeping my feet in the USA. Sailing has been my hobby for the past decade and I look to get out at least once a week during retirement. It gives me an excellent opportunity to bond with family and friends as we sail around the local lake. I am still deciding if I want to get a part time job to help the transition from full time work to a life of leisure .

For the first six months of retirement I’ll take a sabbatical and not work. This should give me ample time to decide if I want to work for pleasure or look for volunteer opportunities in the community. I might also take that cross country train ride which is on my bucket list.

Fritz’s comment:  With four years to go until retirement, you’re ahead of the curve by recognizing the need to focus on emotional health.  You’ve got plenty of time to figure it out, and the fact that you’re already thinking about it bodes well for your transition to a great retirement. 


Final Thoughts

Four years of planning is a long time but the ability to get an equivalent job in this area of the country after I retire at age 62 is not highly probable. Reading books (“Keys to a Successful Retirement” by Fritz is excellent), listening to retirement podcasts and YouTube videos have become a daily routine. Discussing the future with my wife and children makes the transition easier. I know there will be mistakes but I hope the preparation will guarantee that we do not make unrecoverable ones. In future posts, I plan on going into more depth into the financial, physical and emotional programs which I am following.  I also hope to continue sharing some helpful tips for others as they finalize their plans for retirement.

Fritz’s comment:  I commend you for starting your retirement planning four years before your planned retirement.  It’s one of the biggest decisions we make in life, and no one has ever said they over-planned for retirement.  I would encourage you to enjoy the journey, however.  Four years is a lot of life, and you won’t want to look back with any regrets. Some folks focus too much on the destination and forget to enjoy the journey. I don’t perceive that issue with you, but it’s a good reminder for all of us who are on the journey.  I look forward to hearing how your progress evolves and welcome you back to share your progress as you near The Starting Line.


Your Turn:  What tips do you have for Michael as he continues to work on his retirement plan?  Does he have any “blind spots”?  Are there things you did as you prepared for your retirement that he could benefit from?  Let’s chat in the comments… 

26 comments

  1. Hello Fritz,
    I cut mine twice and it is still too short!!
    I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a prosperous, healthy new year!
    Saludos,
    Jörg
    +++

  2. Thoughts for Michael: Stay current with your professional network as you wind down at work. You may be surprised at the demand for your consulting time after official retirement. A few hours here and there can be very satisfying.
    Also: don’t skip the weight training while your avoid the gym; aerobic fitness is only part of the puzzle! When we travel, which is several months at a time, we use hand weights and whatever’s available. Finally, encourage your wife to participate if she doesn’t already – strength training is even more important for women as we age.
    All the best!

  3. wow, on the 32 years of max(ing) 401k. Big Congratulations. I can only imagine how well those must’ve done (although you don’t mentioned where you invested – vtsax?)

  4. At the end of this year, I will have been retired for 5 years. I left a company I had worked for for 28 years and, at the time and at the age of 60, quite honestly, was not my decision. Still, I received a good severance package and had a very healthy retirement fund. One ‘plus’ in terms of timing is that I had just married the man of my dreams and moved back to my hometown where I grew up.

    One thing we all learn is that retirement is not a ‘one size fits all’ and it’s also not always apparent in the beginning what will be the best path to take. I retired to my hometown that I had left 30 years earlier with no real plan. and my husband was still working. I am an action oriented person, so being at loose ends was not easy. I used the contacts I had to find people that might have something that I could plug in to. Yet, no matter who I talked to, I couldn’t envision myself being part of their organization. I had been a runner of half marathons for years, but am an ‘interval’ runner and struggled to find like-minded people in the community.

    Over time, I began a yoga practice at a local studio and connected with an old friend who is a bike rider for regular rides. I spent time with my wonderful new in-laws and joined a Meet-Up group of ladies who met for coffee or lunch on an irregular basis. In no time, my life was full, but still lacked purpose, which tried my patience. But this also meant I was there as my in-laws’ health declined, to spend time with them. My mother-in-law passed away in December of 2016 and my father-in-law had to be moved into assisted living immediately, as he had dementia. I visited him daily and also took on the task of clearing the possessions in the house they had lived in for nearly 50 years. Since my husband had a fair amount of financial responsibility for his parents, he retired a few months after my father-in-law passed away.

    My husband and I, who both love to travel, came up with a plan to spend a year travelling the world. We sold everything except a handful of items that fit into a 10×10 storage unit. At around that time, my running partner of 15 years from my days working in Atlanta, offered me an opportunity. He is the lead immigration partner in a big law firm and they were looking for contractors to prepare letters for candidates for work visas sponsored by their employers to come to the U.S. Bingo! This turned out to be my dream job. My husband and I left the country on April 2, 2019 and spent six months in Europe, three months in SE Asia, nine weeks in Australia and New Zealand, and two weeks in Hawaii before getting back home on March 11, just in time for Covid. I did my contract writing job for the entire year we were away, roughly ten hours per week, and I do it still.

    I’ve picked back up with bike rides with friends here, but have not gone back to the yoga studio – instead, I work out in our condo with a few kettlebells and hand weights.

    This was never part of a grand plan, but my patience paid off and I feel that I am in the right place for the moment, looking forward to travelling in the U.S. and Canada when we all get vaccinated! My year of travels is chronicled in my blog, youandmeodyssey.com.

  5. Fritz, Thanks for sharing Michael’s story. I wish more people were as proactive as him in planning and preparing for retirement “life”. I’ll just comment on the fitness part. Being fit has so many benefits and isn’t hard if you make it a habit. I was returning from a hike the other day and ran into my overweight, smoking neighbor. He joked “there you go again. I couldn’t make it as far as the main road”. And he’ll probably not make too far living either. Sad to see.
    BTW: It’s 9:05 am and I’ve got 3.8 miles and 7500 steps under my belt. Back out at noon with my grandson for a another 3 mile walk on our slushy roads.

  6. Michael, thanks for sharing. I am also 58, my wife 54 and I am on a 3 year countdown. I have always saved 30+% of my/our income and invested. I lost my shirt on a rollover in the dot.com bust, but learned from it and have never trusted anyone else with our investments. I read and have followed the “Random Walking Guide to Investing”, read Kiplinger and the Kiplinger Letter and find that adjusting my portfolio annually to their guidance serves us well. That said, we still are not to our minimum amount to retire. It’s amazing how much it will cost us in the years before Medicare!
    We are starting to think and talk a bit more about retirement as we watch out principle grow, and know we will want to move (NY is expensive) With our Son in college, we were beginning to do more together and are focussing on health, diet, etc. same issue with health club, but not as diligent as you. Once things return to normal and our Son goes back to live at college, we will again explore our interests, hiking, downhill skiing, yoga and hopefully some travel to visit some areas we may want to eventually live.
    The retire to mantra is important. I too am thinking of working part time for one to two years after 61 to stay engaged and find some interests. I am on our church council and would like to be active in a charity. I think our biggest challenge will be learning to be together more. We have some diverse interests, so, will just need to learn to adjust the next three years to giving enough space to accommodate our unique interests.
    The kicker is whether my wife will actually track expenses long enough to get a baseline. I have use a budget spreadsheet for over 30 years, which has been close, but agree we need to do a test run.

    I have read about and admired some of the concepts of the FIRE movement, working in retirement as gig work sounds interesting, but it would be nice to that by choice and not necessity.

    Good luck and look forward to hearing how your story progresses.

  7. He is a fortunate, not many chemical companies have pensions, not many corporations of any kind. However, unlike Social Security the real value of pension payments declines with inflation so while they are great at first, inflation often renders them insignificant after a few decades. But generally spending also declines as people age so there is that. The only thing I didn’t see was something to give him purpose. And he could use more hobbies, especially shared ones with his spouse. But he’s well on his way to a great retirement.

  8. One question on putting “extra” retirement income into a taxable account. Wouldn’t you be better off not taking more than you needed from your retirement accounts in the first place? That is, for example are you effectively taking $X from your Roth IRA and putting it into your taxable account where the growth will be taxed versus growing tax-free had it dated in the Roth. Or maybe I’m not understanding properly. Thanks.

    1. I’ll work with my accountant for Roth conversions as well as funding the brokerage account.

  9. As a former federal civil servant, I could have retired at age 62 and received a pension, but I decided instead to stay an additional 2 years, so that I could have a smooth transition between myself and the person who was to take over my duties. What I had seen with other federal civil servants is that some just gave two weeks or a month notice and there was not a good sharing of knowledge so that the person taking over that job could be successful. I enjoyed the work I did, but my goal was to leave when I felt that my designated replacement could do my job as good or better than me.

    Additionally I agree that I made sure to have no debts in retirement. My house was paid off and the various income streams from pensions, investments, IRAs, 401Ks, and having a plan to take Social Security at age 70 to maximize the benefit is key to a financially successful retirement.

    The emotional side was important to me as well. I stay active as a volunteer with my local Boy Scout troop organizing high adventure activities such as backpacking, canoeing, kayaking and sailing to challenge and inspire young people. Physically I exercise daily to keep up with the Scouts and lead by example.

  10. They’ll do very well. An area to consider:
    > Financially: Don’t underestimate how much you’ll spend annually in retirement. We retired at 55y/o and have been retired for just over 10 years; we find that we still spend as much annually as when we were working. What we found was that our annual spending hasn’t gone down, it’s actually increased since we retired. When we retired one of our goals was to maintain the same lifestyle as when we were working. So, we’ve kept doing the things we were doing, and added to that. Plus, we now have three grandkids that we didn’t have a decade ago. No doubt we spend (probably too much) on them!

    Again, be cautious about estimating future spending too narrowly.

    1. Good advice! You rarely here this perspective; usually the “you’ll spend less in retirement than in your working years”, but I could definitely see spending more just doing general “things” in retirement, not necessarily crazy travel/vacations.

  11. Thanks for your thoughts! I resonate with your three-fold approach to financial, physical, and emotional areas of life. Also powerful are your thoughts on income streams, long term saving, budgeting, workouts (wow, I need to rethink this!), and sabbatical for discovery.

    I am 58 and a long-time saver and budgeteer with perhaps 30 retirement books under my belt (meant to show curiosity not accomplishment!). My advisor gives me a green light for retirement at 62, but I am still personally working on withdrawal strategy, ROTH conversions, taxes, and health insurance. I have found the following thoughts helpful as I gravitate to non-financial topics:

    • Plan for what you want/should become more than what you have become.
    • Anticipate the psychology of declining accounts and loss of work identity (Cliff of Irrelevance).
    • Cultivate a list of factors and activities for a happy retirement. Start dabbling in them now.
    • Consider the active roles you will have in retirement (I have at least 6).

    Best to you all. These are great days!

    1. Good advice, thanks!
      One question:

      Consider the active roles you will have in retirement (I have at least 6).

      What is an example of “active roles”?

      1. For me, active retirement roles include Disciple, Husband, Empty-nest Dad, Grandpa, Pastor/Treasurer, and Engineer (if I work some). Maybe also lead a financial club, book club, or Bible study. Some of my retired friends are so busy one wonders how they ever had time for work!

        1. Thanks – looks like a great, fulfilling list! I still need to sort out exactly what my roles will be!

  12. I would like to retire in 5 years and have begun to make the right moves toward that goal. I continue to pay extra on my mortgage so that it will be paid off when I retire. Every 6 months, I increase my 403b contribution. I am an avid quilter and enjoy spending time in my sewing studio. I have been selling items I make and that is what I plan to do more of when I retire. By getting started now, I am creating a following that will help support my business in the future. I enjoy reading Michael’s story and I’m glad that I have a plan for my future.

  13. Thank you Michael for sharing your plan. Of the three areas I believe health is the most important by far. To achieve the greatest vitality and prevent metabolic disease I suggest that you and your wife consider a whole foods plant based diet. I am the same age as Michael and I converted to the vegan lifestyle at age 54 and it has been life changing for me, I almost feel like I am aging in reverse! I took up calisthenics and strength training and I am completely drug free and perfectly healthy! Food is our medicine! Give it a try. Start with “Forks over Knives” and check out Dr. John A. Mc Dougall’s web site for lots of free information on a plant based lifestyle. It will save you lots of money as well. What good is retirement if you are going to doctors appointments all the time? Best wishes.

  14. Financially speaking, I did a dry run for almost 3 years before retiring at 55.
    Except for the obvious work-related expenses, I ran the rest of our budget at retirement level.

    😉

  15. Not often mentioned is the power of an HSA. Contributions, withdrawals for medical expenses and investment growth are all tax free. We contributed the maximum beginning five years before retirement (no one at our company mentioned them until we actively sought out information) and used those funds to pay for medical insurance until Medicare kicked in. I made the decision to delay SS until age 70 and am using the HSA to pay for Medicare and Part D premiums in addition to vision and dental expenses. My supplemental medical insurance is tied to a pension and comes directly off the top of my monthly payout.

  16. I encourage all as part of your plan to seriously look at how to fund long term care. We have a policy for spouse but mine lapsed (long story). So as I modeled retirement cash flow and saw a pretty good balance at end of plan, felt OK pulling the trigger. So with the trigger imminent, I’ve begun digging into the weeds and I admit, a bit concerned. Too late now, but believe we are still OK, just eroding the cushion.

  17. Thanks for the continued inspiration with the guest posts. I am less than a year away from retirement. My wife and I have been actively planning the next stage of our life and I am fortunate to have made some good decisions along the way that will strengthen our financial situation once I retire (there have been some poor decisions as well…just not consequential). I just finished reading all of your blog posts and have been incorporating some of your ideas in my planning. It has been interesting reading the retirement planning and execution process through the lens of a person actively on that journey. Also, the write up on Boone Pickens was interesting to me because I am an Oklahoma State alum. I live down the road in Augusta and I can empathize on the Atlanta traffic since I go there occasionally for work.

    This retirement gig takes a lot of preparation, perspiration, and education in order to successfully make the transition. I tell my younger co-workers to start planning early and reference them to this blog and others along with some very good podcasts. Too many people “end up” retired rather than make a planned transition. It is great to read about like-minded people that don’t take the process for granted. A serious mistake this late in the game may be unrecoverable since our runway is short…and then there is Medicare!

    1. “I just finished reading all of your blog posts”

      Wow, DomS, that’s a LOT of reading! You’re in a rare club with that accomplishment, I know of only 4 other readers who have read every post. I’m sincerely honored and pleased to know my work is helping on your final sprint to The Starting Line.

  18. Michael – congratulation…you are leading a well rounded life.

    Your success is primarily due to the fact that you organized the over the year’s efforts in three areas: Financial, Health and Emotion (the Emotion area I termed it as Relationship).

    Most people you have come to know over the years that see themselves successful are only accomplished in only 1 out of three.

    At 58 years old, you have another 20 years of good life you have worked hard and earned it. Invest those 20 years in the Health and Relationship areas…Good Luck Michael!

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