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Advice for young teachers

A comment that TRA staff often hear from teachers who are in the process of retiring goes something like this: “I wish I’d known this when I was younger.”

We took to Facebook recently to ask our senior TRA members what advice they have for working teachers about retirement planning.

Their answers reflect much of what we hear from teachers every day: how to ensure that there’s enough to live on in retirement, thoughts about how to fill their time, and ambivalence about leaving the classroom.

Allen Beaton says there is no right way to retire well. “Just make sure you have put away enough. I was very happy teaching, but I also wanted to do other things. I love to travel and now I have the freedom to do it when I want,” Beaton said.

Bill Haring recommended visiting with a TRA retirement counselor early. “They are very helpful in planning an early exit strategy,” he said.

“Be sure you understand every part of it – TRA, [Social Security], Medicare, etc.,” Sue Westegaard cautioned. “It is very easy to make a mistake.”

Several retirees said that they had used fee-based financial planners. Karen Berger made a detailed plan – income, expenses, distributions – with a financial planner and was pleasantly surprised to learn that she needn’t worry. Deb Neher advises younger teachers to maximize savings to a deferred compensation account to supplement their eventual TRA pension and Social Security income.

Some retirees’ advice was specific about what it means to get your financial house in order, drilling down on some essential nuts-and-bolts bits of wisdom.

“Two to five years before you retire, fix all the things around the house, make sure your vehicles are in good shape, and pay off all credit cards,” said Scott Coffman.

Though many are joyful and positive about retirement – “There is much outside of the classroom to enjoy!” “Find your next passion!” – others caution against leaving the classroom too soon.

Sue Rolfson said she misses the feeling of life purpose as well as the income. Tom Dalen and Ruth Koehler agreed.

“Don’t jump too soon. If you love your job, you will never have to go to work,” Dalen said.

“If you still love teaching, stay in it as long as you can,” Koehler added.

Larry Klueh suggested substitute work to “help offer continuity to wonderful young teachers.”

“Remember that it meant a load of extra work to take a day off – but if a teacher can give the class to a competent sub, the load is less! And the kids are great!” Klueh said.

Great advice from teachers who’ve been schooled about retirement issues. And then there are the TRA Facebook followers who, perhaps with a bit of wistful 20/20 hindsight, couldn’t resist responding with tongue planted in cheek. There’s this, from Tim Sheie:

“Start saving aggressively 20 years ago.”