Empty Nexter: No honey, you can’t retire yet

By Carrie Perrien Smith

The last thirty days have been full of milestones.

We just celebrated my husband’s sixty-first birthday, the fifteenth anniversary of his proposal to me, his thirty-year service anniversary with Walmart, and our two-year anniversary of moving into the distressed house we shouldn’t have bought.

In addition, I also quietly celebrated the ten-year anniversary of my company, Soar with Eagles. We even did our annual review with one of our financial planners, where each year, my husband asks, “Can I retire yet?”

All these milestone events make me ponder what is next for this pair of empty nesters.

The vision for the Empty Nexter series is to help empty nesters make the most of the years between 40 and 60. But like everyone else, I have questions. The answers to them aren’t black and white. Our future and the economy are unknown. However, we know we have much more to offer this world. Every day, I wake up and pray that God will help me make the most of the day ahead. I’m perfectly capable of wasting every single day on my own. Being productive in this attention-deprived world requires divine intervention.

I’m the big picture planner in our family. My husband Tom is the tactical, finish-it-and-move-on, done-is-better-than-perfect person. I think out loud in incomplete sentences, long-term plans, and variables. Tom is more of a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of guy. He just wants to know what the plan is so he can move forward to execution.

And occasionally he asks, “Can I retire yet?”

Tom is a few years ahead of me; thirteen to be exact. He’s a Baby Boomer and I’m a Gen Xer. I gauge our life plans based on his age.Our financial life was pretty sweet before Tom became obsessed with moving into a bigger house. The old one was the size house you retire into, and we had a small mortgage. He was afraid we couldn’t get financing once he retired — a valid concern. We didn’t want to move the business out of the house, but we used 22 percent of the old house for the business. We needed more space.

So we became accidental land barons.We bought empty residential lots, decided not to build, and then sold them. We also bought a fixer-upper after a nine-month house search. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a decent sales price on the original house so it is rented for now. Hopefully, that chapter will close after my tenants move on and the housing market improves.

But to be truthful, I’m not sure we shouldn’t finish this fixer-upper and move back to the original one. Tom loves the new house. It has a pool and it is beautiful even if every single mechanical item is at the end of its useful life. Just today, I realized the toilet upstairs needs to be rebuilt. And it’s a two-story house. It just doesn’t seem practical. I wish I had a crystal ball so I could plan better.

But if I’d had a crystal ball two years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it anyway. I didn’t know that I would ever want to run for political office or sing in a rock band but here I am. Both take a ton of time and that has sucked up the time that I allotted to fix up house we bought. I was unprepared for how much more my body would ache now and how much I would slow down. I don’t know how I juggled all the demands on my time when my daughter was growing up. I’m not really sure when or even if my ability to super-multi-task will return. And frankly, I don’t know if I want to run at that pace anymore.

When we were going through the house search, I was talking with my friend Rob Farinholt about challenges of finding a house that fit our needs. All the houses we considered felt more like a temporary residence or an investment property. In his typical way of sorting out the million details I’m evaluating, he says, “You’re right. It is just a temporary house. Everywhere we live on earth is temporary. Our true home is waiting for us in heaven.”

From then on, I looked at where we live through a different set of lenses. It doesn’t matter where I live but what I do with the time I have. The new house feels like a vacation home when I’m not dealing with something that has broken. And since I office from home, the days when I don’t have to leave the house for meetings or errands feel like I’m on vacation. That is a really, really cool feeling.

But now, I am staring the reality of my husband’s question, “Can I retire yet?” The extra $1,000 a month this house costs (mortgage, utilities, and maintenance) means that he cannot retire yet. And should we keep a house that we couldn’t fully utilize for the next thirty years.  We might want to move into something easy care without a yard to maintain. Maybe we will decide to ditch home-ownership completely. I’m definitely lukewarm on the idea of selling both and building something ideal after calculating realtor fees and closing costs. Once you factor in interest, home ownership is not the wise financial investment it once was.

So in the absence of the crystal ball, I’m finding myself exploring all the options. It’s fairly unusual for a forty-eight-year-old woman to consider these decisions so seriously, but my planning is based on my husband’s age. Our family gets old so it pays to really think seriously about the next few decades. We’ve got another six months at least to make a decision about selling the original house and we could always rent it another year while we finish the fixer upper.

In the meantime, my husband is content with going to work every day. But I still feel like I did when I told my young daughter she couldn’t have a cookie every time I tell Tom, “No, you can’t retire yet.”

Carrie Perrien Smith is mama to Darcie and a pack of black dogs (Jazmin and Midgieboy — in pack order), grandma to Robert, wife to world-traveler and Walmart-blue-bleeding Tom, daughter to Wayne and Phyllis, speaker bureau and publishing company owner, Business: Engaged! small business radio show host, community activist, singer in a party band called Paper Jam, and home improvement junkie. Follow her on Twitter @soarwitheagles or contact her at carrie@soarhigher.com.