Today's grativibe is about learning a lot from our close friends who are a few years ahead of us in the retirement path. This is an interview with one of my best life-long friends who happened to be my favorite teacher as well, Mr. Bill Bauer.
Q: Describe your outlook one year before your retirement as a teacher. What was going through your mind?
I had seen several of my cronies retire from teaching, which is a way of life not a profession, and get old fast with little to do with too much time on their hands. That being said, approaching retirement I planned a three step, three year exit, all based on a financial incentive which my school system was offering for anyone with 21+ years in the system (I had 33.5) and declaring by February at age 55 - don’t use it and you lose it. I was going full bore, coaching football in the fall (which actually started in the middle of August), advising the high school and middle school ski clubs and building musical scenery during the winter, and then coaching baseball in the spring. Needless to say summers were kick back time! I didn't “hit the wall” in the fall of my first year of retirement, suddenly finding myself with nothing to do. I phased out - sort of like my idol and great runner Walter Stack’s quote, “I started slow and tapered off!” I dropped football one year, baseball and the musical the next, and in my final year only managed the ski clubs - something which made winters in WNY bearable.
So when the 2002 school year began, I spent the first day on the golf course, calling all my buds that were still in the classroom and wishing them well. From there it was golf, steelhead fishing, and cross country skiing, with a little bit of student teacher supervision for SUNY Fredonia. Life was good. From time to time I’d show up at school with a cup of Tim Hortons coffee for my wife, who was still teaching. And, I began to cook!
Q: Did you and your wife enter retirement thinking you had sufficient savings to last you your whole lives, living the way you wanted, even if that wasn't your actual plan?
Yes and no. We were sort of empty nesters living in our original home without a mortgage and two incomes from teaching. What they say is true - when you retire from teaching in NY, you actually have more cash in hand than when you were working. Remember though, that you are no longer investing and saving the same way and your taxes are significantly lower. Thanks to my investment counselor who gave me a book to read, The Wealthy Barber, we had begun using the 10% plan of paying yourself first and investing in teacher based IRA’s and Roth savings plans. That is the 'Yes'. The 'No' reared it’s ugly head when we decided that the cold climate of WNY needed to end and we broke ground on our new home in South Carolina on 6 acres of land we had purchased about five years before my retirement. The building loan arrived, and eventually it was mortgage time again! Prior to making the decision, we had our finances reviewed by two separate investment folks who both said, “Go for it! And don’t look back!”
Q: Tell me about your move to South Carolina. When was that in relation to your retirement and what drove that decision?
Fredonia was a great place to work and raise our kids, but after they finished college and were out on their own, and being retired, we decided that we really only enjoyed a few months of the year. We had zero family in the area, the kids were in Colorado, my wife’s family all lived below the Mason Dixon Line, and my relatives were still on Long Island.
For several years we had traveled to Charlotte, using my mother-in-law’s house as a base, and ventured in all directions but North in search of a place to retire. Florida was too flat and although we loved the ocean, the little blue evacuation signs that dot the highways steered us inland. We checked out the mountain areas of NC and GA during the winter and summer. The winters were sketchy with light snow and ice, and the summers were cool and refreshing, but often foggy, and depending on which side of the mountain you were on, daylight disappeared quickly. On a return trip from Helen, GA to Charlotte we drove across Hartwell Lake near the border of SC and GA, and stopped into a realty office and took a ride. Six months later, we returned and bought 6 acres of land on a hill across the street from the lake! Now we're a half day’s ride from the coast and an hour from the mountains under the sunny skies of South Cackalackee. Oddly enough, we had just watched the movie Sudden Impact, a story about a meteor that was heading to the earth, would cause a massive tidal wave, and only those 600 feet above sea level would not be washed away. Our house rests at 670 feet!
Q: After a year or two of retirement had passed, what was your view of working during retirement? Also, what was your DESIRE and you NEED to work? Compare that to your thinking a year before retiring.
There were NO plans to work as part of our relocation to SC. Taxes were low, our income was okay, and we were ready to learn to live in the south and use our investments to supplement income. Being planners, however, we had both brought our credentials with us over Easter break before moving in July 2003 and gave them to the local school systems and Clemson University. On the day we were moving in, August 1, with movers carrying everything we owned into the house, my wife’s cell phone went off. It was a Saturday and the local school district asked her if she would come in for an interview tomorrow, Sunday, for a 6th grade ELA position that had just opened up. Did I say Sunday? A church-only day on the Bible Belt? One interview, a new job offering, and two days later she began the start of school in a new classroom. That left me with the job of unpacking the boxes piled high in the garage of our new home - which is fodder for another story someday. We didn’t need or plan on the income, but it was a great addition to the checking account, and my wife really wasn’t ready to retire from teaching. We had just both really needed to escape the cold and snow that lasted for so many months and begin to enjoy 12 months a year.
Q: Tell us about your retirement "jobs" - you seem to have fallen into some great ones!
My situation was different. Nobody called me for a job, but after unpacking the boxes, planting trees and shrubs, and having done student teacher supervision for SUNY Fredonia, I figured I’d check out the same role at Clemson. I was playing golf, riding my bike, hiking, and fly fishing in the nearby mountains, but made a phone call in November to the Director of Field Supervision to see if there were any openings. He informed me, much to my surprise, that I had been hired to play a major part in a new middle school education program, The MAT (Masters of Arts in Teaching) and was expected to meet with my immediate director in December! I guess it was a good thing I called.
I began part time in January being paid per diem, and like my wife’s salary, it was not needed but stalled the need to tap our investments. One day I was told they wanted me full time and made me a faculty member and put me on salary. What was I thinking?! Back to work? Well it was pretty easy, I worked out of my home office, made my own schedule, and attended a few meetings a month, plus I was working with adults, career changers entering the field of education. I still hiked, fished, and played golf! I really enjoyed it, giving back to the field of education that had done me well for so many years. My wife retired after three years in public ed, and I hung around for 15 - until at age 71 ½, I was forced to begin taking mandatory withdrawals from my IRA’s.
My other “job”, if you want to call it that, is that of a travel writer. What began as an answer to a newspaper ad for someone to write about local golf courses for a new quarterly magazine has changed the course of my retirement. To explain in sixty words or less (an impossible task), in just the last six months, my wife and I have spent multiple days in towns like Abingdon, VA, Helen GA, and Augusta, GA, wining and dining and taking in all the CVBs (Convention and Visitor's Bureaus, for the non-travel writers) have to offer. Breweries, wineries, distilleries, restaurants, hotels, inns, and of course golf courses have been the topics of countless travel articles I’ve written for several outlets over the last 15 years. The beauty of it all is that the trips are comped and I get paid for the articles!
I wouldn’t want to have to make a living as a travel writer, having seen many of my colleagues have to literally work at it to make ends meet. For me this is simply fun. I’ve been on many solo adventures as well, skiing in NC, fishing and kayaking the lakes and rivers in the southeast, sporting clays, zip lining and rafting, and getting lost on countless golf courses and beaches from Florida through the Carolinas. My most recent was a four day adventure to Kissimmee, FL, staying at the Embassy Suites, dabbling at Disney Springs, chasing gators at Gatorland, and playing golf at three championship resort golf courses, all as a guest in return for an article I’ll publish next fall. With PGA credentials, I have attended the Masters and PGA Championships and several other events. When I disappear for my three or four day jaunts, I tell my wife if anyone calls for me, tell them “he’s working!” Check me out on billbauer.org!