Thursday, February 12, 2009

NPR - The 3 year gamble

I retired December 2005, two to three years earlier than originally planned. I had crunched the number for my annuity, Thrift Saving Plan, and the cost of living. Or so I had thought then, once in the fall of 2004 at a retirement workshop and again in the fall of 2005. After weighing the costs of retirement and continuing to work, I left. If I manage my money, I won't have to work except for myself doing what I love and want to do with the rest of my life.

So, as a mental exercise I asked if I had stayed to December 2008, would I be better off, both financially, or worse off by the lost time while fighting to keep my career alive at the hands of a disagreeable boss. In the fall of 2005 I had won an appeal over my performance evaluation, and even though the unsatisfactory rating (one of 5 sections) was overturned by the regional personnel office, granting me my better than satisfactory rating again, it was clear my career was toast.

Since I was past retirement eligible to transfer, meaning any transfers would require a minium three year agreement to stay (not legally binding and more a personal one), I was looking at seeing my job description being redefined even more as all the work I had done and built a reputation on help the office and agency was slowly being transferred to other employees and my work pushed to stuff I long hated.

In short, I was facing the next 2-3 years of hating my work and my boss even more. So, I retired. But has it been worth the financial losses?

Well, for one when I crunched the numbers then and recently I discovered the estimates of my annuity were quite accurate, with $100 of my monthly net income. The loss from annual salary increases and years for seniority were pretty much covered by the annual cost of living increases in the annuity.

For another I discovered that my TSP portfolio was worth about the same when I cashed it out as it would be now, even after the 3 years of additional contributions. The financial meltdown and stock market drop overshadowed any gains from contributions.

And lastly I discovered the only money I really lost was the 20% net income drop from my salary versus my annuity.

So it boils down to was that 20% worth the time? And the answer is a resounding yes. If I had to start now what I started then, it would have cost more (photography business and projects) and delayed other plans where my health and fitness become significant issues. I have no doubt I'm not where I wanted or even hoped to be, but I'm confortable with what I've accomplished and done.

And now I have those three years behind me as experience and have lost the stress and strain of the work environment I left. The only career and job tension now is self-created, by me to do and learn more and continue with my photography and life in the direction I love and wanted.

There isn't a paycheck they could have given me to change that. I miss some things about my former career, especially the role the USGS plays in people's lives in this country, and with the many colleagues I left, the hydrologic technicians who are the best at providing the basic water resources data this country needs and uses everyday. I miss them and I miss being a part of that.

But that's all I miss because I love working and learning photography, working on making a personal photography business, and working on my photography projects, the Mt. Rainier photography guide and the early (1880-1920) history of Mt. Rainier National Park. I have those three years of work on the long path of my life to do more. There is no end here, only my end when time runs out and my God says it's time and I've done good.

That's something money can't buy, the freedom to be and do without reservations or restrictions, just mine own. And so far I'd say I've won the bet. Time and gravity are another matter, as no one wins those bets, only God.

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