Retirement: A new career path filled with extra benefits

Times staff writer Helen Huntley at her desk in the newsroom. Huntley is retiring from her 37-year career with the newspaper.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Times staff writer Helen Huntley at her desk in the newsroom. Huntley is retiring from her 37-year career with the newspaper.

The online dictionary I consult at dictionary.com tells me that to retire is "to withdraw from office, business, or active life, usually because of age: to retire at the age of 60."

Fat chance of that.

Workers all around us are redefining retirement as switching gears rather than withdrawing. They stop working at one job, start working at another and call it retirement.

I'll soon be one of them.

I am retiring Aug. 29, ending a 37-year career at the St. Petersburg Times. Before I have a chance to settle in a rocking chair, I will be launching a new career as a financial adviser, setting up shop in downtown St. Petersburg.

An "encore career" like I'm planning might soon be the most common path for people leaving jobs in their 50s and 60s.

I've known many older people who joked about failing at retirement; some of them "retired" three or four times. Last year 30 percent of 65- to 69-year-olds were in the work force, but they were still the exception rather than the rule.

Now most baby boomers are saying they don't want to fully retire. A recent survey from investment firm Charles Shwab found 71 percent of 44- to 62-year-olds say they want to work in retirement.

Until just a few months ago, retirement wasn't on my radar. After working so many years, I wasn't about to leave any of my Times benefits on the table, which meant working at least three more years. Then the Times offered to give me my benefits early and throw in a bonus. The offer, part of a program to reduce staff costs, almost seemed designed for me.

I say "almost" because I'm in good health and not ready to call it quits. And it's not easy to leave a lifelong career behind. Although the journalism business is going through a painful transition now, I believe strongly in the value of journalism in shedding light in dark corners and providing information that helps people make good decisions about their lives. And some days it's really fun. I got to interview John Templeton, Jack Bogle and other great people and even help catch that crook, Lou Pearlman. I have loved many things about my work and I support the education of future journalists through a scholarship fund at the University of Florida, my alma mater.

But this decision was about the chance to try something new. One of the most enticing things about an encore career is the opportunity for personal growth that a new line of work offers. I like the idea of a flexible work schedule and continued engagement with the fascinating world of the financial markets. I like the idea of doing something different but still being able to use the knowledge I've gained writing about business and finance.

I know I will be in for an adjustment. Instead of offering broad advice to thousands of readers, I'll be giving detailed personalized advice to a small number of clients. Instead of working in a big office, I'll be working in a small one, initially with just one other person. And, of course, there will be no paycheck. As anyone who has ever launched a new business knows, it's both stimulating and scary.

But if I can earn enough to cover my living expenses, there's a big potential payoff for me — and for anyone else who works in retirement. Every year you keep working is another year you can delay tapping retirement savings and Social Security benefits. My normal retirement age for Social Security is 66. If I were to start collecting at 62, I'd get 75 percent of my full benefit, but by waiting until 70, I'll get 132 percent.

A big consideration for me is that at not-quite-59, I most likely have a lot of years ahead of me to finance. My parents are still living at 84 and my grandparents all lived into their 80s. My Great Aunt Josie even made it to 100. I don't plan to still be giving financial advice at 100, but you never know.

Retirement: A new career path filled with extra benefits 08/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 21, 2008 12:40pm]

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