When you spend your life dedicated to your work, it’s difficult to imagine what the days will be like when at long last, you are able to retire. It’s definitely an exciting time, but also bittersweet. Leaving the workforce means saying goodbye to many of your responsibilities, getting used to not seeing your associates every day, and passing on the reigns to someone new.
I’m feeling all of these emotions and more as I prepare to officially retire, leaving my position as CFO at Pacesetter, a job that has meant so much to me for the past 34 years.
I’ll admit, I feel blessed. Some people don’t have the opportunity to retire at my age, or at all. Others leave their companies unprepared to deal with their absence. While I know the team at Pacesetter will miss me, I’m also confident that they are prepared to keep innovating and moving the steel industry forward without me.
As someone who has reached retirement under what I consider to be ideal circumstances, I feel that it’s my duty to pass on what wisdom I have to younger associates still saving up to retire, and older associates getting close to this great milestone. Here are a few pointers that make the road to retirement smooth and attainable.
1. Start saving early on
The importance of saving money early on can’t be overstated. I know that young people hear this all the time, and that for too many, there’s not much to save between loans, bills, and other expenses. Save anyway, and as soon as you’re able, because it’s better to save a little than nothing at all.
If you have a job with a 401k, this is a great start. Contribute as much as you can. If your employer provides matching contributions, be sure to contribute enough to get the maximum match. While needing reform to remain viable, you are already contributing to Social Security which will provide monthly benefits after you reach your retirement age. However, Social Security alone will not be enough. There’s no time like the present to save much as you can afford. Whatever your situation, it’s worth talking to a certified financial planner to come up with a plan that works for you.
2. Budget for today and tomorrow
Retirement plans, 401ks, and Roth IRAs are great ways to save money that will accrue in value without your ever having to touch it. But just because you have a solid plan doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stick to some sort of budget throughout your adult life.
This means being responsible with your money and paying attention to your debt. You don’t necessarily have to live a frugal life, simply one within your means. Many of us overestimate exactly what our means are, and end up spending more than we can afford. The better educated you are with your finances, and the more you can adhere to some sort of budget, the more money you can carry over into retirement when the income from work stops flowing.
Budgeting also helps us save in the present day to make those big and necessary expenses without feeling too squeezed. This doesn’t mean you can’t splurge, or that you have to sacrifice personal joys in the present just to be stable later on. Because odds are, if you aren’t enjoying your personal life while you’re working, retirement won’t be much better—no matter how much you’ve saved.
3. Prepare with your employer
Your employer can be a huge asset as you save for retirement, especially if they offer benefits like enhanced 401ks and/or solid pension plans. When you are looking for job opportunities, whether as a young person or someone mid-to-late-career, remember to keep this in mind! When the time does come for you to retire, you want to be sure your company has helped you reach your goals, and is prepared to move on without you.
Pacesetter offers a 401k plan, which has made a huge difference to me as I head toward retirement. They also worked with me at the right time to find a suitable replacement. As I prepared to leave Pacesetter, I spent time working with those taking over my responsibilities so we were all comfortable that the team would be in great shape when I left. Passing on the reins to our new CFO has been an honor. As my retirement approaches, I feel grateful for all Pacesetter has given me and confident in the company’s future.
4. Remember, retirement is not the end
Lastly, some people retire and miss work, or have literally no idea what to do with their lives once they are done. My advice is never to sacrifice personal life while working—always make time for your family, friends, and hobbies, because when you retire that’s what will be waiting for you. Pacesetter has been a great workplace in this regard, because the company is very understanding of personal responsibilities and has a number of family-focused benefits and initiatives.
Think of retirement not as an end, but a continuation of some of the most enriching parts of your life. It’s also a new opportunity for you to try new things: travel, learn by taking classes, write a memoir, join a dance class, you name it. I know that as much as I will miss Pacesetter, I will always be part of the family.