Retiree Interview #1: Angela The Retired Flight Attendant - 'I Have To Say, My Childhood Shaped Me For My Adult Life...'

by: Dividend Growth Investing & Retirement

This is the first in what I hope to be a series of interviews with retirees from all walks of life. The goal of the series is to hear from a broad range of retirees to help better prepare mentally and financially for retirement.

You can see from this survey of pre-retiree Ontarians aged 45+ that leading up to retirement is a particularly stressful time as large life changes are contemplated.

Source: Ontario Securities Commission September 2017 "Investing As We Age" Report

Hopefully, this interview series will give you some insight from those who have already been through it. Learning about what they did right and the mistakes they made should help you on your own retirement journey.

"It's good to learn from your mistakes. It's better to learn from other people's mistakes." - Warren Buffett

Interview Structure & Topics

The interviews are conducted with real people by email, but I've changed their name to help keep them anonymous. Some of the retiree responses have been edited for grammar and flow, but beyond this, it is in their own words.

Having your financial affairs in order as you prepare for retirement is important, but so is preparing mentally for such a large life change as you transition from "Regular work" to retirement. That's why I asked a mixture of financial and quite personal (State of mind, lifestyle, and relationship) questions related to four topics:

  1. Background
  2. Leading Up to Retirement & the Aha-Moment (The moment they first realized they could retire.)
    1. General Questions
    2. Finance Questions
    3. Aha-Moment
  3. Life in Retirement
    1. General Questions
    2. Retirement Expenses
    3. Retirement Income/Portfolio
  4. Advice (Although there is advice sprinkled throughout the other topics too.)

Ok, let's jump into the interview.

Retiree Interview: Angela the Retired Flight Attendant

"I have to say, my childhood shaped me for my adult life…" - Angela

In today's interview, I was privileged enough to interview Angela, a retired flight attendant from Quebec. Her upbringing and parents had a big impact on her that ultimately set her up well for a financially secure and happy retirement.

Angela had a lot of wisdom to share, but I felt she did a really good job of reinforcing the importance of:

  • Saving early and often and living within your means,
  • Talking to aging parents about their living preferences before major health problems, and
  • Focusing on the important things in retirement, like family, friends, and health.

Background

Angela, now 70, is a retired flight attendant who retired at 55 after 38 years working with the same company. She is married with two kids in their 30s and first met her husband (A pilot) on a flight. He retired five years after her. She lives and grew up in Quebec, Canada.

Angela is enjoying life in retirement and is in a good financial situation largely based on habits that were instilled at a young age by her parents. You see, Angela immigrated to Canada with her parents and sibling at a very young age after World War 2 destroyed a lot of the homes and job prospects in what is now Slovenia.

I found her coming to Canada story fascinating, but she can tell it better than I so let's jump in…

DGI&R: What's your story?

My parents immigrated to Belgium from what now is Slovenia. We immigrated to Canada in the 50s from Belgium where my dad worked in the mines. Coming here, we had no help from anybody. The ship we came on lost all our luggage, the church where my mom went to ask for some help had the Catholic priest give her hell for not having more children.

For a while the 4 of us slept in the same bed, in one room in a rooming house, until my parents got jobs and rented a bigger apt. There we shared the same bedroom. They had boarders to help pay the rent. My mom did all the cooking and laundry.

My dad had many difficult jobs, sometimes 2 in a day and my mom also worked shifts, so my brother and I were alone many times. She first cleaned houses then got jobs in different places. When he could my dad hunted or fished. From my mom, I learned how to sew and cook, and from my dad, I learned how to skin rabbits, pluck ducks and hens (Where we lived for 1 year and my parents raised chickens to sell) and grow vegetables.

My parents were very strict. I had to give them 1/2 my salaries, that left me not much for socializing, but I did manage to save a bit each payday. I moved out at 18, then back at 19, to finally leave at 20.

When I left at 20, 1st I even made a couch, bought stuff 2nd hand and refinished, bought a used VW and kept it for 14 years and learned how to do bodywork! I sewed most of my clothes, window coverings, cushions, cut my own hair. Basically, if someone could do it, I could also.

At 17, I started as a secretary in small local companies in Quebec, at 17 ½ I got a secretarial job at the airlines and started flying at 20.

From my parents, I learned how to save (reluctantly). My dad also was able to retire at 60, he is now close to 100. They bought houses, fixed them up, and sold at a little profit.

If they could they did all themselves, vegetable gardening, fruit trees, Maintenance/repairs (house, car, and equipment).

Unfortunately, my mom passed away at 89 from a stroke, but she did have a few years of pleasure… grandchildren, able travel on my passes, to visit our European family and Florida to be with friends.

DGI&R: What does retirement mean to you?

Enjoying life, my family, my friends, my dogs, and feeling a ton of bricks lighter now that my dad is in residence.

Besides visiting my dad, keeping occupied doing things I like now that I have the time and still have energy and health… golfing, pickleball, badminton, bridge, partying, volunteering and now time to travel.

DGI&R: You mentioned that you are "feeling a ton of bricks lighter now that my dad is in residence." Can you elaborate on this?

Since my mother died I had to take care of my dad with most of the things involved: banking, housekeeping, house maintenance, laundry, groceries, garden, and medical (meds and MDs appts, and emergencies at the hospital). My family helped when they could.

I tried to talk to both, about moving into a senior's residence, when Mom was alive, but since they had help from the family, they wanted to stay in their home stating that it would be too expensive and that 'we' should take care of them.

My mom had early onset dementia. I took care of all the above mentioned for both of them. It was almost a full-time job between the two of them. At 89 she fell, broke her wrist, fractured her pelvis, spent weeks in the hospital. A few months later had a massive stroke. She died five days later.

DGI&R: Any advice for retirees looking after their parents?

Talk to them about where they would like to live eventually. Look up the available places and costs, have a list.

Talk to them about what they were doing at the same age you are now. My parents were traveling and enjoying life, whilst at the same age, I was responsible for them.

Tell them how much care, time, emotions are involved in taking care of an elder living at home, sometimes alone and about the dangers of being alone at home (Falling, medical crisis, fire, break-ins, etc.).

Leading Up to Retirement & the Aha-Moment (The moment they first realized they could retire.)

Leading Up:

General Questions:

DGI&R: At what age did you start seriously thinking about retirement and begin planning for it?

I started really planning in my 30s. My 1st house was paid, we had money so we bought a bigger one, since I was expecting my 1st child.

DGI&R: It sounds like you were quite young when you started seriously thinking and planning for retirement. What was your plan at the time? Did you know what age you wanted to retire at in your 30s?

No, age really, then retirement was 65. Like I said, all I knew and got from my parents was 'SAVE" which I did. I thought I would retire at 65, but the opportunity came at 55, and monetarily life was good so I took early retirement.

DGI&R: What resources did you find the most helpful when planning your retirement?

Saving, that's all I knew then, and how to do it (and well).

DGI&R: What were you worried about before retirement?

That I might outlive my money, get divorced, or that I would be seriously ill, or one in my family.

DGI&R: Were those worries justified in retirement?

No.

DGI&R: At what point were you most worried, and why?

Just days before giving in my notice to take a retirement package.

DGI&R: What were you worried about at the time?

That I made the wrong decision, that the cost of living might go up every year, that I would outlive my money, and that my husband might leave me. It was silly because I had a reasonable pension, money saved, a husband that loved me and healthy children.

DGI&R: What should you have spent more time worrying about before retirement?

Nothing more, everything turned out OK, still married, and healthy, with healthy sons and a relatively healthy father in a senior home.

DGI&R: How did you prepare mentally for retirement?

My job as a flight attendant gave me lots of days off. I saw my parents enjoying themselves, at home and traveling on the passes I gave them.

DGI&R: Your upbringing and parents seem to have a big effect on your spending philosophy and that appears to have prepared you a lot for the financial side of retirement. It sounds like watching your parents later on in life when they retired also helped you mentally prepare for retirement too. What about watching your parents' retirement helped you prepare for your own?

I saw that they had money to last them a long time, yet they did not want to spend any of it. I figure with my lifestyle and income I have nothing to worry about unless, of course, I have to go to an expensive senior's home when the time comes. I also came to the conclusion that I should enjoy some of the money I saved.

DGI&R: In preparing for retirement, what did you do right and what did you do wrong?

I think I did OK. My lifestyle did (does) not cost me much.

Finance Questions:

DGI&R: What was your investment strategy leading up to retirement?

RRSP, GICs, Mutual Funds, Cash, and mortgage-free home, and no debt.

DGI&R: What did your investment portfolio look like at different stages of your life?

Age 20: GICs, bank savings, and house paid off by 27

Age 30: GICs, bank savings, bigger house paid, mutual funds

Age 40: GICs, bank savings, mutual funds

Age 50: GICs, bank savings, mutual funds

Age 60: GICs, bank savings, mutual funds, and stocks

Just prior to retirement: still have all the above

DGI&R: How and why did your portfolio change over time?

Everything is as before, my investment funds re-invested, except now, I invest in more companies on the stock market, mostly using the dividends.

DGI&R: How did you figure out how much money you would need to retire?

Not much, because every month after paying my bills, I still have money to save. Of course, having a husband pay 1/2 the bills helps a lot.

Reading the Financial post column on people getting ready to retire.

DGI&R: Did you have any debt prior to retiring?

None.

DGI&R: Should one work until all debts are paid off?

Yes, except maybe a bit of mortgage.

DGI&R: What's your philosophy on debt?

You should only have what you can pay off monthly. i.e., mortgage, cash (credit card paid monthly).

Buy used cars, essential clothing, limit socializing, traveling, restaurants. Don't get swayed by ads, saying objects will make you happier.

DGI&R: What financial decisions did you delay too long?

I guess it would be investing on the stock market. I did not know much until the past three years. Did not read the financial section of the paper, I do now.

I was buying bank GICs when I realized I would make more money and pay less taxes buying their stocks!!!!

Aha-Moment (The moment when you first realized you could retire.)

DGI&R: What were you doing immediately before retirement?

Working, enjoying my time off with family and friends, and traveling because my children, husband, and my parents were alive and healthy.

DGI&R: How did you decide it was time to retire?

The company gave us an offer of 5-year cash incentive to leave.

DGI&R: What was the deciding factor or aha moment?

That I would be a fool not to leave, (much as I loved the job, it was hard on my health) and cash-wise, I would be getting about the same monthly with my company pension and government ones.

DGI&R: When did you know for sure what day you'd retire and what made up your mind?

I left the last day of the offer, being paid 5 weeks of vacation time that I had not used.

DGI&R: What were you most excited for in retirement?

Being able to sleep and not having to wake at 4 am or losing a night flying out to Europe.

Eating the same time every day.

Being with my family a lot more, seeing my husband more, going out with my friends.

Being able to travel and not worry if I was going to get bumped and not be able to be home for work.

Life in Retirement

General Questions:

DGI&R: What did you think your ideal or planned retirement lifestyle would look like prior to retiring? Now that you are retired are you living like that or has your ideal retirement lifestyle changed?

Yup, enjoying myself.

DGI&R: What did you find most difficult during the transition from working to retired?

Nothing, no transition, just healthier …

DGI&R: What strategies did you use to make retirement or early retirement happen?

Save money, learn how to do things myself, live within my means, and having the patience to wait for something I wanted to buy.

DGI&R: What were you worried about before retirement, that in retirement wasn't that big of a deal?

Sickness, or divorce.

DGI&R: Now that you are retired, what do you worry most about?

Making sure my health is good, my father cared for and helping my sons establish themselves. But they are both a lot like me and live within their means and save.

DGI&R: Any regrets in leaving work?

Yes, it was a fun job, meeting new people, discovering new cities, but very challenging and very tiring.

DGI&R: Did you find a second career or start a small business?

No.

DGI&R: How do you spend most of your time now?

Golf, with friends and husband, badminton, pickleball, bridge, computer research, stock market research, taking care of my dad (Close to 100), helping my sons, cooking, gardening, and volunteering.

Basically, enjoying my time with family & friends, in all sorts of ways.

DGI&R: What do you enjoy most about retirement?

All of the above.

DGI&R: What surprised you most about retirement?

That I would enjoy it so much.

DGI&R: After retiring, were you bored? If so, how did you deal with this?

Never bored, days are too short.

DGI&R: How did your family react to your retirement?

They were all happy.

DGI&R: How did it change the relationship with your partner and close family?

My husband, sons and family liked the fact that I was now at home more often.

DGI&R: Do you recommend retiring at the same time as your partner?

Not really, unless they have made plans that they both can live with; i.e., new job, traveling, sharing house duties.

I see some couples that are now retired and have no idea on how to spend their time, either together or apart. Some seem to be fused at the hips, others, resent too much time together. Their identity was their job, now they are lost.

We are now in a routine, he takes care of some things, I others. We play golf together, go on golf trips, play board games, do odd jobs around the house together, help out our children, my brother, and father.

DGI&R: What was your initial reaction to your partner's retirement? How did the relationship change when they retired?

Being in the airline industry, we knew exactly when we had to retire so there was no reaction to his retirement.

We are more relaxed, he has his favourite pastimes and friends, and I mine. We enjoy our time together and since we were independent before, we continue to be so now.

He gives me a lot of leeway.

DGI&R: How did you deal with retirement anxiety? Any tips for readers? (Feelings of uneasiness as you begin retirement are common among recent retirees)

No anxiety. If properly planned and thought out with money saved, housing paid, expenses reasonable, and you have medical coverage it should not cause uneasiness.

DGI&R: Did you experience a loss of identity or a loss of your personal value? If so, how did you overcome it? Any tips for readers?

A bit, because I had a great job, but I now have a new personal value with all my ventures to keep me busy and as a person that others come for advice or help.

DGI&R: How long did it take to transition to your new retirement identity? What was this process like?

Did not take long, a few months. Realizing I now had tons of time on my hands to do what I wanted (until my parents started needing me) I traveled with my friends or visited over-seas relatives, golf trips with my husband and friends. For years, I was part of a retiree association helping on the recreation side: planning corn roast, golf games, sugar shacks, Christmas parties, and their charities. That is where I realized I like to help out, not with cash but with my time and devotion.

DGI&R: Did you get depressed? If so, how did you deal with it? Any tips for readers? (A2013 study from The Institute of Economic Affairs states that "Retirement increases the probability of suffering from clinical depression by about 40 per cent")

No depression.

Retirement Expenses:

DGI&R: How much did your expenses change in retirement compared to before?

About the same, but for different things.

DGI&R: Do your expenses really go down during retirement? What expenses go up?

Work-related expenses down, life style higher i.e., golf, travel, restaurants, gifts.

DGI&R: What are different ways you have cut expenses in retirement?

While I (we) still can, try to do most of my (our) own things, i.e. gardening, lawn maintenance, house/home upkeep, personal maintenance, and grooming.

DGI&R: Did you have to lower your expenses and significantly alter or downgrade your lifestyle choices and habits in retirement?

No, but at 70, I am thinking I should be spending more on myself.

DGI&R: Do you regret retirement or parts of it due to having less money?

Not the money, but flying to different cities, expenses paid, and working with buddies.

DGI&R: How have you managed medical expenses?

Quebec health plan and we pay for a company plan to pay the difference.

DGI&R: How have you managed health insurance during retirement?

No problem, as we pay a premium to continue with drugs and dental.

DGI&R: How has inflation affected you in retirement?

Not really.

DGI&R: What kind of worries does a retiree have with respect to inflation?

Just paying more taxes. personal and municipal.

Retirement Income/Portfolio:

DGI&R: How do you pay for your retirement?

Pension checks: company, Canada and Quebec.

DGI&R: Do you really need lots of money to retire?

Can't answer that, depends on lifestyle and family circumstances.

For me, I have enough, but now I 'should' start to spend more on ME.

DGI&R: What % of your salary did you need in retirement?

I am getting about 1/3 of my salary, but I still manage to save every month.

DGI&R: Do you have a recommended % of pre-retirement income needed in retirement?

No, but I think it would depend on the lifestyle of the person.

Maybe, try to live a few months on what they think they might need.

DGI&R: Do you still do part-time work to generate cash flow in retirement or are you living off other income sources solely?

No job, just pensions, and re-investing within my portfolio.

DGI&R: Are you ever afraid of running out of money or out-living your savings and investments? What is your back up plan?

Not afraid now, as I have been retired 15 years, and all seems to be OK with interest coming in from all my investments.

DGI&R: What is your investment strategy now that you are retired?

Same as I have been doing, and hoping to generate cash on the stock market, this for fun, not for need.

DGI&R: What does your portfolio look like now that you're retired?

Growing, in all, since I do not need to take anything out for now, but planning on taking a RRIF at 71.

DGI&R: Do you use an advisor to manage your investments or do you do it yourself?

Had a bit of advice from my husband, a young fellow at PHN Mutual funds, talking with friends, reading the paper, researching morning star and the TSX and of course reading up on the Canadian Dividend All-Star List which I found 'very' helpful.

DGI&R: Is there an optimum asset allocation between stocks and fixed income investments (e.g. GICs, bonds) during retirement?

Personally, I like to spread my money evenly amongst all my investments, and keep some cash in a bank account in case of an emergency.

DGI&R: When did you decide to turn off the DRIPs on your dividend stocks or ETFs or do you still keep DRIPs on in retirement and why?

Never used the DRIP, when I get dividends I re-invest when the time/stock is right.

Advice

DGI&R: If you could tell yourself one piece of advice what would it be?

Do as I did: save, save, be rational/reasonable on expenses, and have no un-needed, unpaid debt.

DGI&R: What advice would you give to your younger self?

I think I gave it to myself since I started working. Save as much as possible, be reasonable.

Don't spend on foolish expenses and don't go into debt.

DGI&R: What would you have done differently?

Not much, married a richer man (Joking).

DGI&R: What is the biggest mistake people make leading up to retirement?

Not planning, not having enough saved, and spending too much on non-essentials.

Do they really need the latest gadget, smartphone, biggest TV, restaurants, the shiniest car, the latest fashion, more jewellery, or vacations 2-3 times a year?

DGI&R: Any other wisdom you'd like to impart?

Save, live within your means, marry someone that you can love forever, love your children, take care of your parents and friends, enjoy the simple things, be thankful for your good health, and be happy.

DGI&R: You must be a very experienced traveler working in the airline industry for almost 40 years. Where was your favorite travel spot? Any unique spots that you really enjoyed?

I love Barbados and Croatia, especially Opatija or Pula.

And of course, my Slovenia, Ljubljana, Piran, Portoroz, Postojnska Jama and visiting my cousins in Italy, Grado or Trieste, or Sydney, Australia.

I love cruising on big ships out of Lauderdale or Miami.

Going to all-inclusive resorts, or golf trips with girlfriends and husband.

I will now be able to start again since I know my dad is in good hands when I am not there…

DGI&R: Thank you, Angela, for answering all those questions!

Summary

Leading up to retirement is a particularly stressful time as large life changes are contemplated. Hopefully, you learned something from our interview with the retiree Angela that will help you on your own retirement journey.

I personally found her coming to Canada story and early life fascinating. The savings and lifestyle habits that she inherited from her parents in adolescence really helped set her up for a happy and financially secure retirement later on in life.

Angela had a lot of wisdom to share, but I felt she did a really good job of reinforcing the importance of:

  • Saving early and often and living within your means,
  • Talking to aging parents about their living preferences before major health problems, and
  • Focusing on the important things in retirement, like family, friends, and health.