Retirement Lessons From Those Who Have Gone Ahead

By Martha M. Hamilton
Sunday, June 3, 2007

One of the great things about working in a newsroom is that you're surrounded by lots of smart people who love to tell you what they know. Just try to stop them.

If I'd only known when I came to The Post as a baby reporter in my 20s that I could learn so much from co-workers instead of believing that I had to discover it all myself.

Some of those very smart colleagues have departed The Washington Post newsroom in recent years, many as a result of two buyouts that allowed longtime workers to leave on generous terms.

But they're still out there, so I thought it was worth it to pick their brains about planning for retirement. I put out a query to a message group called Post Partums and called my colleague from long ago, Stan Hinden, who wrote a retirement column in The Post after he retired in 1995 and is the author of "How to Retire Happy."

Most of my former colleagues are still working. Like many others leaving longtime jobs, instead of knocking off work, they opted to "downshift," moving to jobs with fewer hours or less stress or a different set of satisfactions.

I don't think any are at risk financially. We have pensions to provide lifetime income, in addition to whatever Social Security and retirement savings we were able to accumulate. So in many ways, we're luckier than most. But we've had our ups and downs as a group. And here's what we've learned:

First of all, don't wait to think about retirement. Do it now, while you're working, so if you aren't prepared financially, there's time to fix it. "I never got to the point of saying to myself, 'Look, pal, retirement may be years away, but it's coming and you really have to plan ahead,' " said Stan. He wishes he had sat down earlier to figure out what retirement income he had coming, what his expenses might be in retirement and how to close the gap, possibly with the help of a financial adviser.

"The consequences are that we could have been much more comfortable in terms of our financial situation than we are, though we're not bad off," he said. He could have saved more and invested better, he said. "The fact that I was a financial writer didn't necessarily mean that I knew how to handle my own finances."

Al Crenshaw, on the other hand, wrote a column called Cash Flow for the Sunday Business section for many years. As a result, Al was able to do just what Stan wishes he had. "I spent my last 20 years at The Washington Post being paid to think about this stuff," which helped him as he financed his house, put his kids through school and saved for retirement, into which he has settled comfortably.

And don't think about just the financial issues. There are other issues, too, both emotional and practical. (Imagine life without an IT department!) Retirement is a wrenching experience for many of us because our work and our identity are hard to separate.

Former foreign desk editor Terri Shaw has started a fabulous new career as an interpreter and translator. She's her own boss, sets her own schedule and makes more per hour than she did at The Post. "It took me a long time to stop reading every word of the foreign file, but now I pick and choose what to read and only get furious occasionally when I spot a stupid typo!" she said.

Former columnist Bob Levey also has moved on successfully to two subsequent full-time jobs. "But for me, the issue has been cutting loose from the battleship that was such a solid home for so long (36 years in my case)." He is happy financially and still sees old friends, he said. "But to move from The Old Homestead to a series of tents has caused sleeplessness, rootlessness and occasional aimlessness," he wrote.

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