I was sitting in the Donut Hole in Rosemary Beach, Florida having recently retired. I was chatting with a new acquaintance and asked him what he was doing to prepare for retirement. Without letting a second pass, he replied, “I’ve been preparing for retirement since I was nine years old.” I think my eyes popped out of my eye sockets. I expected him to answer my question by talking about books he had or was reading on the subject. He explained that he’d open his father’s office for the cleaning people to enter and lock it up when they finished their work.

When does retirement begin? There are four stages to beginning retirement. It begins from a government perspective; when a person becomes conscious that there’s a financial cost to retiring; when a person or couple identify their dream for retirement life; and finally, it begins when a person retires. The government begins the retirement process the moment Social Security and Medicare taxes are deducted from one’s paycheck.  These taxes are tied to one’s income in the United States.[1]Deducting these taxes is when the government retirement system gets rolling for a person even though retirement hasn’t actually started. I wasn’t thinking about retirement when I worked my first summer employment gig as a twelve year old in Fairfield, California pitting peaches. I was thinking cold cash in hand after I cashed the check. This was when my parents applied for Social Security numbers for my four brothers and friends. I don’t remember seeing those Social Security and Medicare taxes listed on my pay stub, but the government was thinking retirement for me in 1964.

The next stage is when a person or couple consciously includes some kind of financial negotiation or planning for retirement. Before my wife and I married I interviewed for my first pastoral ministry position. The denominational retirement program was on the table as part of the salary and benefits package. I can’t say I was thinking retirement then because we were focused on gainful employment for me and of our upcoming wedding.

A couple years later, we renegotiated the retirement component of my compensation package because we were thinking of moving in another direction for ministry. This adjustment to our retirement program included a larger life insurance policy on me so that if I died before my work life was completed, my wife would receive the death benefit amount to help her financially. If I died after retirement but before her she would still be the recipient of the death benefit to assist her financially in retirement. These decisions deepened our thinking about the breadth of retirement planning.

The third stage in the retirement process is the dreaming stage when a person or couple imagines the kind of retirement life they want to enjoy. Retirement planning becomes more intentional. Around 2000 my wife and I rolled several of our retirement accounts over to a brokerage company. We established a relationship with an agent who assisted us with retirement planning. The planning included goal setting, maximizing contributions and periodically reevaluating the plan. During the past five years the planning addressed the topic of when we would start receiving Social Security payments. We also added the building of our retirement home to the plan. The house building component made the dream more tangible. It included location, choosing to live near relatives and the anticipated costs for the dream. The completion of the house build is almost upon us.

The final stage is retirement itself. Many people are postponing retirement for various reasons, which might be job satisfaction, good health, financial need, etc. For me, I signed up for Medicare Part A in the first quarter of 2017 before my 65thbirthday. Signing up for Medicare Parts B and D occurred in March 2018. When did retirement begin for me? March 31, 2018. I am retired now, but I have taken a part time job to add additional revenue to our income in order to decrease the amount of money I withdraw from my 401K. My retirement has included relocation, giving myself a transition period before starting another job and preparing to move into our retirement house.

When does retirement begin for you? The process to it started when Social Security and Medicare taxes were first deducted from your paychecks. Depending on your age, you possess a certain degree of awareness of the need to think about the financial aspect of your retirement life and dream that percolates in your heart and mind. Hopefully, the percolating dream is or will motivate you to be more intentional about retirement planning. It is never too early to start planning. The government has already started its financial planning for your retirement. Isn’t it about time that you take responsibility for your retirement planning? If you’re still young, ask your parents about their retirement planning or interview retired relatives about their strategy. The important thing is that you decide to make a plan. If you need help, which most people do, make an appointment with a financial advisor. If you’re a person of faith consult with a spiritual advisor for assistance. You’re welcome to contact me for further details about my story.  It’s your retirement to enjoy, not the government’s retirement. Work on your plan before retirement so you can start your retirement with a plan.

[1]https://www.irs.gov/individuals/international-taxpayers/social-security-tax-medicare-tax-and-self-employment, accessed 4/7/2018 at 8:25am.

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