In pursuit of financial independence and personal fulfillment

Retirement is like a freeway exit — once you get there, you’re gonna need directions

It wasn’t my proudest moment.

Shortly after graduating college, I packed up my SUV with everything I thought I would need for the next three months and made my way to Chapel Hill, N.C. I was lucky enough to score a prestigious internship that would send me to a copy-editing boot camp for two weeks and then off to a newspaper for the remainder of summer.

Only the best and brightest editors from around the country earned a slot in the program.

On the day boot camp ended, I was to travel to my internship city, Myrtle Beach, S.C. After the morning good-byes and repacking the SUV with “the essentials” — which included two enormous speakers and the receiver to power them, as well as a stripped down electronic drum set — I set off down I-95 South for the three-and-a-half-hour jaunt to Myrtle Beach — a nice dot on the map.

My plan was simple: I would arrive at the apartment I rented, unload my SUV full of stuff, and immediately drive to Atlanta, where my new boss was expecting me to join a weekend conference for newspaper interns in the chain.

My execution left a lot to be desired.

This was before every cell phone had a built-in GPS. It was before practically everyone had a cell phone. (Although I was certainly a laggard for my age.) For some reason, in my tiny brain I just figured I would drive to Myrtle Beach and somehow find my apartment.

I knew to take I-95 to U.S. 501 and my apartment complex was “off of 501.”

I had no address. I had no map. I had no earthly idea where I was going once I got to the big dot on the map.

I’m here — now what?

I drove until I hit the ocean.

Having not actually seen a sign for the apartment complex, and realizing Myrtle Beach was much bigger than I had imagined, I pulled into a shady motel parking lot and found a pay phone.

At 4:45 p.m., I called the apartment complex to ask for directions. (Insert cliché male joke here.)

“Hi. I’m supposed to move in today, and I’m not quite sure how to get there.”

“Where are you?”

“Uh, a motel in Myrtle Beach.”

“And you think you’re moving in today?”


“We close in 15 minutes, and you’re at least 20 minutes away if you’re in Myrtle Beach.”

“I have to move in today. I have a car full of stuff that I need to drop off and then I have to leave immediately for Atlanta for the weekend.”

“If you can make it quick, we’ll wait for you. Do you know where Highway 501 is?”

Yep, just a college graduate with a highly selective internship for a job that requires attention to detail who started driving with no directions, no sense of time, and the vaguest idea of what would happen when he arrived.

Kind of sounds like the way many people approach retirement.

Aiming for “retirement”

When many people think about retirement, they think of it as a city-level destination on a nation-sized map. But when you zoom in and get a metro-area map, you see the complexity within what was once a dot. Suddenly you need those fine-grained directions instead of driving toward the ocean.

You’re navigating city streets, not interstates.

Just like when moving to a new city, you have to evaluate your retirement and decide what’s important to you. This will help determine where you “live” and whether you can afford the lifestyle you envision.

  • How much can you afford each month?
  • Is your retirement more like a dream home, or a fixer-upper?
  • Do you need to downsize?
  • Are the activities you enjoy financially close by, or are they going to be more like occasional trips?
  • Are there other ways to get where you want to be?
  • Are you bringing along a bunch of stuff you don’t really need?

You’ll have to navigate tax implications, withdrawal rates, market movements, portfolio allocation, and other topics differently once you cross the city lines of retirement than you did when you were cruising down the freeway looking for the exit.

Don’t do what I did.

Chart your own map or rely on a good financial advisor as your GPS guide, and do it well before you cross city lines. It’s no fun to be lost in an unfamiliar place, calling a stranger for directions and hoping you’re not too late.

How are you planning for life after retirement?

1 Comment

  1. Cubert

    Good stuff! I wrote a post about my imagined first day of early retirement last year. I still ponder what it looks like, but right now, the planning takes center stage.

    I love your story. Before Google Maps and cell phones, we had to rely on good old paper maps and pay phones. There were some frustrating navigational moments back in the day.. How soon we forget.

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