Home > The writing on the wall, a fork in the road

The writing on the wall, a fork in the road

January 14th, 2018 at 11:08 am

It's 5 am. Once again, my best thinking takes place in the early morning hours, at a time I'm not even aware I'm "thinking." Thoughts just appear.

And these are my thoughts.

In the next 5 years, I am going to suffer some pretty significant losses. I am concerned about how I will cope, and the toll these losses will take on my emotional health, but at the same time, I want to be there for those who are important to me. For someone who has no spouse or children, what is most important? Close friends and extended family.

My oldest and closest friend R. has advanced prostate cancer. It's been a long journey, but last night he told me, after wrestling with a choice between starting chemo and entering a clinical trial, that he's going with the chemo, ASAP.

He has spent much of the last few years preparing for his death and over this time, he's divested himself of much of his material wealth, probably giving about $200,000 to his younger niece. He's rearranged his condo so his bedroom is on the first floor, prepaid for his funeral and has gotten his ex-wife to agree to nurse him toward the end and look after his dog when he dies.

In short, he has done what he does best: plan and prepare.

I know I will take his death hard, for though our relationship has always been rocky, we've stuck with each other since I met him in my late 20s. He probably knows me better than anyone else, and I know him pretty well too.

The prostate cancer, which he has talked about often, has been a part of his life for years, but maybe it never seemed real to me because outwardly, it didn't affect his life too much; he takes various drugs that kept it at bay. But now, things are getting real. The cancer has progressed. They have found little tumors all over his body. Hence the chemo.

Still, in recent conversations, R. always wants to know what's happening with me, and what my trials and tribulations are. He's ended the call with encouraging words; he's always been good at reminding me of things I have to be grateful for, my accomplishments, and what I've done well in my life.

Then there's my father, who will turn 85 in a few months. His health is stable now, but he has a variety of health challenges, and anything could happen in the next few years.

And finally, there is my cousin J. J. has 2 things in common with my friend R: they are the same age (70), and they both have prostate cancer. J. is still in the phase where the medications he takes keep the cancer at bay, so he is not as far along as my friend.

J., too, is dealing with his prostate cancer (and other health issues), but instead of preparing for death, he is preparing for the best life he can have in what time he has left. He is doing this by getting serious about his health. He told me he wants to get back in as great shape as possible, thru diet and exercise, so that his quality of life is as best it can be and then he hopes for a quick, not lingering, decline leading to death.

He lost 20 pounds in recent months; part of it is, I think, that he wants to look attractive for the 20-something with baby he plans to marry soon. He, too, is grabbing the bull by the horns, pursuing a relationship with a young woman most would think is foolish, doomed or even disgusting. But for a man who stuck it out with an unhappy marriage to an alcoholic for much of his adult life (he was asking my father for advice not long after my own parents split up, and that was when I was 6), I understand his desire to wring some enjoyment and happiness out of life before he goes, and this is what he wants.

He told me last night a probation officer was scheduled to do a home visit of his house prior to the release of the woman from jail, which could be in as little as 2 months time (she was arrested/jailed for drug possession and resisting arrest). Two of the conditions for the home inspection are no alcohol, and no firearms.

So my cousin spent this weekend emptying his house of guns and ammo. He's a huge gun enthusiast and owns many extremely valuable weapons. (Something I personally abhor but I just overlook it for the sake of our friendship, which I enjoy.) He and his friend brought them all over to his friend's house, but after seeing how much space they took up in his friend's garage, they then moved all of it to a storage locker. My cousin estimates he has some 15,000 rounds of ammunition.

This brings us back to "the writing on the wall." I see that I will probably lose 3 very important people in my life in the next few years. I want to enjoy these people while they are still capable of doing so and are still here. I want to spend more time with them and lend as much support as I can when they the going gets tough.

Because they are the most important thing in my life.

I also want to build a stronger social network. While I'm working these crazy hours, I don't feel I can do that. I always pictured myself getting more involved in the many clubs and groups in my adopted hometown community, but I just don't have the time or energy to do that while I'm working full-time.

I want to build that stronger network to help prop myself up after I lose 3 key people in my life.

Which leads me to thinking about leaving my current job, at least in the form it exists now.

Last night I did another quick check of where I stand with retirement savings. I used the T. Rowe Price calculator, which reassured me I should be in reasonably good shape, whether I stopped working now or in 2 years time, whether or not I collected Social Security at 62 or later.

So I'm thinking of telling my boss I don't want to work full-time anymore. I've been there for about 4 months and haven't really been happy, mainly because I don't have control over the length of my workdays.

I'd been planning to talk to him about my future there, hopefully next week, after they return from some national sales meetings our company has been planning for, for months. My plan was to grit my teeth and tell him I wanted to become a "permanent freelancer," which would mean they'd make me an offer *right now the headhunting agency is still writing my paychecks) and pick up half my health insurance premiums on a healthcare exchange plan. And then I would stick it out for 2 years and see how I felt about retirement, or not, after that.

But now the probable short time remaining for some of those close to me has me rethinking things a little. Of not working for 2 more years, because I'm not sure my father, cousin and friend will still be in good shape by then, or even alive.

This is one reason why I've worked so hard to save for retirement (aka, "freedom"). To be able to make decisions that truly are best for me. Now yes, my financial well-being may also be "what's best for me." I do still hesitate a little bit, mainly due to the uncertainty about high health insurance costs until I can get on Medicare in 7 years time.

I'm also feeling a little pressured to make a decision very quickly, because ideally, I would make up my mind about what to do before committing to anything like the arrangement i described at my company, unless i was really going to stick with them. And I'll need to decide that quickly because my COBRA ends Feb. 28 and I'll need to know when I choose a healthcare exchange plan whether I'll qualify for subsidies or not.

When I used the T. Rowe Price calculator, i factored in health insurance costs based on 2018 premiums on the healthcare exchange of about $775 a month, leaving full-time work at age 59 (the software wouldn't allow me to set it at my current age) and making just $16,000 a year. (Presumably I could make at least that at some kind of part-time work.)

I DO want to have some kind of part-time work to lend structure and balance and a sense of productivity to my life while at the same time not allowing work to dominate my life, as it does for most people.

I keep thinking about this one woman at my office who has been there since the company started, around 2009. She's just 2 years younger than me, married with no kids. My guess is that because she told me once her husband works 2nd shift, he is not home when she gets home, usually around 10 pm, and so she must
figure, why not work late at the office since she's going home to an empty house anyway?

It just seems to me she's essentially sacrificed much of her personal life for this job. And I think others have too, which made me understand better why they mostly seem willing to regularly work very long hours, because casual friends have probably dropped by the wayside a long time ago and so their only real "friends" are the people they work with. I noticed this in observing how much they seem to enjoy each other, and how, whereas I generally love to bolt out the door when I know I can, many of them tend to hang around talking and having extended conversations with others before they leave, or on their way out the door.

Anyway, that's just a side note. My experience has been that you usually end up losing friends after leaving a job; it's just too hard to maintain friendships with someone who may not live near you, and with most people being busy raising kids, etc. So I never wanted to rely so much on workplace friendships, because they seemed ephemeral to me.

These are just some of the thoughts swirling around in my head. I think I would do alright, financially, if I left full-time work now. My hope would be that if I told my boss my desire to scale back to a strictly part-time role, he would make that happen, while having to hire another person to pick up the slack. That's what I would hope.

I would pay for my own health insurance, continue a frugal lifestyle, work part-time somewhere, if not where I am currently, and spend a lot more time with family and friends. Not to mention, enjoying my own life more and feeling more relaxed.

What do you think? Would you still stick it out with work for a while longer? I could do that. I just wonder if it would be the right decision.

20 Responses to “The writing on the wall, a fork in the road”

  1. scottish girl Says:

    Hmm, I think I'd leave now if I could. Of course, I don't really understand your health care system, but if it's the same now as in two years, then I'd do it. Anything to spend more time with the important people in my life.

  2. AnotherReader Says:

    At $16,000 income, you are not eligible for an ACA subsidy. You would only qualify for Medicaid, and that's if Connecticut has expanded Medicaid. I don't know how your exchange works, but in California, if you input $16,000 as your income, you are directed to apply for Medicaid and you are not offered an ACA policy. The Federal money for expanded Medicaid is being cut. With your MS, do you think you are going to get the expensive drugs you need from Medicaid?

    With no teeth in the individual mandate, the exchanges are likely to fail over the next few years, before you get to Medicare. What will you do if no medical insurance is available because of your pre-existing conditions?

    The stock market is due for a major correction. What will you do if the market drops 30 percent? Interest rates are going up, not down. Bond values will drop. Bonds may not mitigate your losses in the next downturn. Both asset classes may drop in value simultaneously. Sequence of returns risk is a serious threat in your situation. What decision would you make if your portfolio were worth 30 percent less today?

    In your shoes, I would continue to look for acceptable full time employment with health insurance. I would work at least until 62, and maximize the savings and investments during that time. Unless the health insurance picture changes, I would consider working until I was eligible for Medicare.

  3. creditcardfree Says:

    I don't think it's wrong to consider all that you are in your situation. And for the most part I'm giving you a big high five to go for it! You have shown your ability to live on less over the years if needed. I know healthcare is a big factor that is really hard to gauge at this time, THAT would be my only concern, yet you still have a lot of cash to whether a storm. That is the freedom it provides. You would likely NOT go bankrupt as long as you have some form of health insurance and paying for the premium without a subsidy is also the freedom the savings has provided you.

    If you really liked your current job and hours, I'd probably encourage you to stay a bit longer, but I really see how this job has impacted your work/life balance.

  4. PatientSaver Says:

    In Connecticut, Medicaid (not health insurance) would come into play at income levels of under $16,000, but the number I threw out there for p/t work was kind of random. If, in best case scenario, my current employer agreed to let me scale back my hours to 25 hours a week, say, at my current rate of pay, my gross would actually be over $40K, so I'd qualify for regular health insurance with a subsidy.

    I doubt Congress would let Obamacare collapse entirely without providing some other avenue for the millions who rely on Obamacare now. Here in CT, it's pretty popular, and the number of those enrolled this year is at 95% of the number enrolled last year, and that's notwithstanding a 29% average premium increase.

    But even so, CT Medicaid would cover my MS meds, as long as i switched to generic Copaxone (my plan to do so anyway).

    The likely correction sometime in 2018 is problematic. I don't believe in market timing, but in this case i would be tempted to maybe take 10% of my current 35% US stock exposure and park it in a safe place outside the stock market.

  5. MonkeyMama Says:

    Working in the same financial field as Dido, I agree with any advice she's given you over the years. You are more prepared to retire now than most people ever will ever be. I'd take the wonderful free financial planning advice that she gives you. Bogleheads also gives great advice if you want more experienced brains. They tend to be conservative and I am guessing you will get mixed opinions. But is a wonderful resource.

    I also feel that people over dramatacize these type decisions. It's not like you can't change your mind and find more work if need be. I don't view these decisions as permanent as most seen too.

  6. MonkeyMama Says:

    P.s. the Medicaid/aca rules are not a concern. Plan around, yes, but you just sell off investments (0% tax rate) or convert some of your IRAs into Roth's. Ask dido.

  7. PatientSaver Says:

    Thanks, MM. You're right, if I needed to, I could always cash in some taxable investments, which would be counted as taxable income. Just enough to clear the $16K threshold.

  8. ceejay74 Says:

    All great points on both sides. Things are likely to get worse before they get better with both healthcare and the market. But you are one of the most resourceful people I’ve ever come across, so I have no doubt you’d find ways to make ends meet. Good luck with whatever you decide!

  9. Dido Says:

    I agree with MM--Bogleheads is a wonderful resource to ask for opinions. They have some *really* expert people over there, and a variety of opinions. I started following them after getting a consultation from an Ameriprise advisor back about 15 years ago, and deciding that I could learn to do a better job myself. It was the consultation with the Ameriprise advisor that lead me to decide to become a financial planner in the first place.

  10. Dido Says:

    And yes--if a better work-life balance is what you need, then you can consider yourself "financially independent." I *would* continue to work part-time until Medicare kicks in as that is your biggest expense and you have the pre-existing health condition risk.

    I don't do "retirement plans" for clients. I do "financial independence reports," and I agree with MM--there are always possibilities for work in the future, although more likely of the freelance kind than the regular paid employment you've had for most of your career. But that is true for *everyone* in these days of the "gig economy."

    If you need more time for spending on relationships that won't be there that much longer, that is important, too, and is something that you likely WOULD regret if you didn't do it and would not regret if done.

  11. PatientSaver Says:

    Just want to update something I mentioned about CT residents' enrollment in our state's healthcare exchange. It's not 95% of last year's enrollment, it's actually 2.3% higher than last year....and again, that's despite a 29% rate hike.

  12. AnotherReader Says:

    Yes, PS can manipulate her income to qualify for the subsidy, and that would be a smart thing to do if she does not want to go on Medicaid. However, if she gets a well-paying job that pushes her income up, she might have to pay back some or all of the subsidy. Getting all of this right will not be easy.

    With regard to financial planners, they have a place, but they generally work off software that projects the future based on various combinations of past results. Anyone that uses a few of the retirement calculators - the Fidelity version, FIREcalc, or even the simplified T Rowe Price planner can do a basic job of determining their ability to retire.

    The more sophisticated analyses are by people with a lot more knowledge and skill than a typical financial planner. There are multiple ideas on how to deal with sequence of returns risk, glide paths, and similar issues that can affect your retirement. A reasonably sophisticated person can learn about these issues on their own. Bogleheads is a useful site, as the folks over there are generally knowledgeable and many are better sources of information on complex issues than the typical financial planner. also has a number of successful DIY retirees that are very helpful.

    In the end, we, not the financial planners, live with the results of our decisions. I personally would not rely on the T Rowe Price retirement calculator to make decisions, nor would I rely on advice from a random person on the internet, even if they had a job as a financial planner.

  13. frugaltexan75 Says:

    What about getting a job at something like Starbucks - where you can work part time hours and get insurance? Income doesn't seem to be the main issue for you, but the insurance is.

  14. Dido Says:

    AnotherReader mentions a number of good sources and is obviously familiar with the retirement planning literature. Not every financial planner uses a canned package. Any financial planner whom one takes advice from should be vetted. It's a frustration that anyone can call themselves a "Financial Advisor," and there is indeed a great deal of variability in the quality of persons who have that title.

  15. Dido Says:

    And, absolutely, it is PS, not anyone giving her advice or suggestions, who needs to live with the consequences of her decisions.

    A nice low-key job like Frugal Texan suggests at a place like Starbucks, Whole Foods, or Costco, that offers insurance to part-time employees might be a nice stop-gap to deal with the insurance issue.

  16. Petunia in a Flower Garden Says:

    PS, I wish you well in making this important decision.

    Sixteen years ago I gave up my career to spend my life raising what turned out to be my only child. You are absolutely right in that time spent with people that you care about cannot be replaced. I also realized that I had no/very few friends, and I have been able to make friends during this time which has improved my quality of life tremendously. Now I am looking at & involved in the work world again, and basically starting close to the bottom. But I have no regrets and would do it again in a heartbeat. While we can plan to the best of our ability we cannot forsee everything in our futures. We are surprisingly financially sound and my prediction was that we would tread water only until I went back into the workforce. We don't always know the doors that will open in our futures.

  17. rob62521 Says:

    My heart goes out to you and what you are realistically facing with those three important people in your life. If you can swing it financially and health insurance wise, I'd say move on from this job which you don't care for all that much. You are setting your priorities and I think you are wise to do so.

  18. LivingAlmostLarge Says:

    I wish you well making this decision. I hope any advice we give you is taken to heart because we only have the best.

    I think you should quit. I think it'll be okay. I haven't had time to run the number but it appears from first blush and glance that you are okay. Now that being said it's hard to say because what would happen with stock market correction or the cost of healthcare becomes impossible. On the flip side you have a career that has lent itself to freelancing and picking up work/income.

    But have you considered working at a part-time like starbucks that allows you to buy health insurance?

    FWIW I don't plan right now on going back to work ever full time. But that could change in a snap. I'm hoping that I can get away with working part-time and cobbling together an accceptable lifestyle. I don't think you are living an extravagent lifestyle so you probably do have enough to endure the ups and downs of the market and even healthcare.

    But only you know and can decide the risk.

  19. kashi Says:

    In your shoes, having limited time with three people I care about, the investment resources, and the freelance capabilities, I would probably quit. In addition, my grandmother passed away from MS in the early 1990s at the age of 72 and was sadly bedridden for the last 10 years of her life. Granted, she didn't have access to the medications there are today, nor was she probably historically as healthy as you are, but that would give me pause as well. Life is short and you just don't know what's going to happen. I completely understand your hesitation though, as I am also single and child-free and have a very limited friend group. It's a tough call to make.

  20. MonkeyMama Says:

    "Any financial planner whom one takes advice from should be vetted. It's a frustration that anyone can call themselves a "Financial Advisor," and there is indeed a great deal of variability in the quality of persons who have that title."

    Absolutely. My comment was not at all meant to be, "Listen to Dido because she is a financial planner." I think PS understands what I Was saying. I think I was pretty clear that I completely evaded her question and steered her towards higher quality financial advice. (& if PS misinterpreted what I said, *shrugs* because she's obviously not the type to just turn off her brain and do whatever random people on the internet say).

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