Charting a course to a secure retirement: Member stories

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Continued from Charting a course to a secure retirement.

Women have to navigate unique barriers in order to secure their retirement. While these barriers put many women at a financial disadvantage when it’s time to retire, there are steps they can take to help minimize or eliminate them.

Everyone’s life experiences are different. The stories these three Wisconsin educators share illustrate that point and may inspire you to take some positive steps now as you embark on your own financial voyage.

Peggy

Peggy Weber just finished up her final weeks at Osceola Elementary. At just age 55, she’s retiring after 34 years in education. She’s feeling good about it and she should because she did a lot of things right—intentionally or not.

“My dad really encouraged me to get into education. His family had gotten through the depression with the help of his mother’s steady income as a teacher in a one-room school house, and he felt there was security there. I started college as a business major but he kept nudging me. I finally took some education classes and really loved it.”

Peggy has always been a saver. “The notion of spending what I have to and saving what I can has been my philosophy all my life without really thinking much about it.”

She started a 403(b) early on with just a small monthly amount. “My husband had a 401(k) at his workplace, and I thought I should have my own investments. Because the contributions were payroll deducted, I never missed the money.” Peggy made a point of increasing her contributions as her salary increased until she maxed out.

“I understand the idea of sacrificing the wants of today for long-term gains. I think that comes from growing up on a farm. I’m fortunate to have had that messaging and lucky to have made good decisions at the right time.”

Peggy was married for 30 years and had two children. “My children were born in May and June so I didn’t lose time from work for maternity leave.” She divorced several years ago which had a financial impact, but Peggy says it was manageable because they were both conservative in their spending and she had her 403(b).

Last year, Peggy had a Retirement Income Analysis with Brenda from Member Benefits. “I went into the process kind of blind. I knew I had done a lot of things fairly well, but I didn’t feel confident I was really OK. After the meeting, I just floated out of the office. I felt like a million bucks. And, I thought of my dad who passed away seven years ago. It was a moment of appreciation. ‘Dad, I’m going to be okay—more than okay.’”

Janice

Janice Delo taught 7th grade science in Milton for 25 years. She retired earlier than she expected because of her husband’s declining health. “We wanted to travel and do other things on our bucket list while it was still possible. It was a difficult decision because I loved teaching, but I’m glad now because he was gone a lot sooner than expected.”

Jan’s husband, Les, passed away in April. “We were about 50/50 with managing our finances. It helped that we were on the same page about spending and saving. We made decisions together. We lived a moderate lifestyle which allowed us to put money in our 403(b) and IRA accounts. And, our master’s degrees gave us a bump in pay.”

One decision they made was to pay up their long-term care insurance policies a few years ago when the benefit was being eliminated. “It was a really nice benefit and a good decision because, eight months later, Les went into the hospital and then to a care center and never came home again. We only tapped into the policy for about a month and a half, but it was still comforting to know it was there and that I will have it, too.”

Jan thinks that most people will need long-term care services at some point. Her mother has Alzheimer’s and just moved into an assisted living facility. “She doesn’t have long-term care insurance so she’ll have to spend down her assets and get Medicaid,” Jan concedes. “After being in the facility with Les and seeing what’s involved, I understand why it costs so much. We didn’t have kids and I want to make sure everything is set up for those who will take care of my estate. I’m very happy to have the insurance.”

After Les died, there were a lot of financial tasks to deal with. “I didn’t have any idea of what needed to happen. I had an eldercare attorney that was very helpful in guiding me through the process. I also met with Brenda at Member Benefits and I consolidated most of my retirement accounts because it’ll be easier to manage.”

Pat

“What really changed things for me was when my husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. He passed away nine months later. Suddenly, my family was down to one income. I was totally unprepared. Blindsided,” shares Pat Howell, a retired teacher from Monona Grove School District.

Pat was left with three children (two in college) and all of the family finances to tend to. “We hadn’t talked about our finances before Brian passed away, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.”

Fortunately, Pat had started putting money away in a 403(b) when she started in the district in 1991 and she also took advantage of opportunities to learn about finances by attending seminars offered by WEAC’s Bob Moeller. “Learning about and managing finances has been an ongoing part of life. It’s a different discipline with it’s own language, and I have relied on others to know that language and help me understand it,” Pat says.

She had to make some big adjustments after Brian died. Bob helped her set up a plan and figure out the big picture. “It was a huge benefit to have access to Bob back then and now Brenda at Member Benefits. They have helped me find ways to save, set goals, and create a plan to achieve those goals.”

Pat says the biggest obstacle for women in becoming financially secure is the tendency to rely on someone else. “Be as active and knowledgeable as you can in managing your money. Knowledge is power. That’s not to say you have to figure everything out by yourself. You don’t. Other people can help you. Having Member Benefits available for educators is a great asset. Take advantage of this resource.”

Losing her husband so soon was not how Pat thought things would go. “You just never know what direction your life will go in,” she explains. Pat managed to get her three children through college. “It was a pay as we go process. We worked as a team. They were expected to contribute and they did,” she says proudly.

She also retired pretty much according to plan...because she had a plan and she worked it. 

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