When it comes to an officer’s retirement, it’s been said there are three groups of retirees: those who stayed as long as possible, those who left angry and bitter, and those who left happy and on their own terms. I suppose few of us fit neatly into any one category. For me, I did leave angry toward the command staff of my old department, but I had planned long ago to retire at 50 years of age and was happy to leave on my own terms. I loved the guys I worked with on the street, but I was fed up with the internal political garbage.
The magic day was March 2, 2020 — the last day of my career as a law enforcement officer. A little over two years later, I find myself writing this article addressing an area in which I have zero expertise. How could I develop any profound knowledge after doing something one time? I’m going to be brutally honest in this article. While this is nothing new for me, this time, I’m writing about some personal subjects that make me uncomfortable sharing in this forum. The bottom line is that while preparing for retirement, there are some things I did right and some things I wish I knew a little more about before making that leap.
It’s been said there are three groups of retirees: those who stayed as long as possible, those who left angry and bitter, and those who left happy and on their own terms.
Be financially secure
Some of the best financial advice I ever received was from an old sergeant named Buz Sawyer. He told me early in my career to contribute as much as possible, and a portion of each pay raise, to a 457 deferred compensation retirement plan. I took his advice, and that money is still compounding interest, waiting for the day we need it. By the way, a 457 plan is a type of retirement plan available for most government employees that allows you to contribute pre-tax money for later use. There are tax advantages to this type of plan, but you should consult with a qualified financial advisor for more information as soon as possible.
My wife and I met in college when we were broke and living meagerly. Once I got started in law enforcement, we continued to live within our means. I packed my lunches and drank the nasty coffee at the police department instead of eating out and paying $5 for coffee every day. We still had our toys, like snowmobiles, motorcycles, horses and such. But we bought what we could afford after paying the bills, contributing to the 457 plan and paying a little extra toward principal loan amounts each month. Instead of buying a new vehicle every three to five years like a lot of my co-workers, we saved for the future.
When I retired, we had planned a move to a more tax-friendly state with a lower cost of living. Instead of remaining in a state with a high personal income tax and cost of living, we moved to a state with no state income tax and much lower cost of living. This decision was like giving ourselves a raise.
Aging parents are difficult
After moving out of the state I was born and raised in, we moved 2,200 miles away to a state with a completely different culture. Believe it or not, this was an easy adjustment. The difficult part came shortly after we arrived to our new home. My wife’s father was getting older, had a knee-replacement surgery and was on the verge of not being able to care for himself long term. Having him in the same home as us was our plan, so I thought I was mentally prepared for dealing with an aging parent. I was wrong.
I was prepared for the various medical issues he faces and the inevitable struggles to recover. I wasn’t prepared for him to undergo what appears to be a complete personality change. He has become socially isolated, uncommunicative and petulant. He doesn’t have much good to say about anything, and just being around him irritates me.
If you’re someone who doesn’t have any experience with aging parents, it’s easy to say, “They took care of you for 18 years, now it’s your turn.” I agree, but it doesn’t make daily living with these things any easier. Instead of dealing with problematic command staff and co-workers, you get the opportunity to care for aging parents. It’s even more mentally and emotionally exhausting, but a career dealing with the same problems on the street can prepare you for dealing with aging parents. Patience and silence can go a lot further than bluntness in this case.
When I retired, I planned on running our firearm training business full time. Then COVID hit and all our classes got canceled, rescheduled and canceled again. I was angry and maybe a little difficult to live with for a bit. Maybe a lot difficult. Fortunately, it gave me time to rediscover some of the things I used to enjoy but never found enough time to do.
I started shooting a lot of USPSA and IDPA matches. Where I live, I can shoot six to seven matches each month. I met some nice people who love to shoot, and I got the chance to greatly improve my own skills. I have won a few trophies at regional-level matches, won some money and have taken the opportunity to explore some areas of my new state.
Between our training business, shooting matches and taking care of the property, I run out of hours in the day. Staying busy is important and keeps me from wasting the day away in front of the television. Find a few different things you enjoy doing and stay busy.
Stay physically fit
Within just a few months of retiring, I quickly lost 20 pounds. I was busy taking care of the property and garden instead of sitting at a desk or in a patrol car for hours. I was eating a regular diet instead of working shift work and snacking on the goodies left on the break room tables. Today, I’m a full 25 pounds lighter than the day I left the police department.
I rediscovered the benefit of regular exercise. I’m determined not to be the guy who retired and died within five years. You can’t sit in a boat fishing every day or vegetating in front of the television without gaining weight. Find something you enjoy and get moving. Between dog walks, working on our property and garden, taking care of our horses and riding my stationary bike each day, I feel much better than I did 25 pounds ago. Enjoy your retirement. You worked hard to get there, so make the most out of it. Besides, if you earned a pension, the longer you live, the more they pay!
Work on your relationship
This may be the most difficult section for me to write, but it may be the most important. Marriage is easier when you’re working 40-plus hours a week. When you get home, you’re glad to see each other, knowing that in a few short hours you have to go back to work. But when you retire, more time together can be tough for each of you, even when you have a strong relationship. The adjustment will take time, but if you give it a chance and practice patience with each other, it can happen.
My bride is an angel and tolerated the anger that accompanied the COVID year and class cancellations. She has been caught in the middle of dealing with me, her aging father and my reactions to his behavior. She has encouraged me to pursue my competitive shooting interests and continues to be a huge part of our training business. The first year of retirement, we weren’t on the same page. Little misunderstandings built up into real frustrations. She was dealing with her father and that relationship as well as her newly retired husband and our relationship. We are committed to each other, so we have been able to work our way through those issues.
Your marriage is going to change. Your household chores and responsibilities are going to change. Who knew that I would be the one doing most of the cooking? None of this seems like it should be a surprise, but I was shocked by the extent of the change. You should both realize that being retired is going to be a complete lifestyle adjustment. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
Overall, I’m one of the lucky ones. I don’t miss the job at all. I write for a few different publications, and our training business keeps us in regular contact with firearm instructors all over the country. I didn’t have to go cold turkey. I miss some of the people I worked with, but I don’t miss the hours, the politics, the reports or the radio. Overall, one of the things I learned as a retiree is how fantastic it is to be part of the check-of-the-month club!