I’m a boomer who’s about to retire at 59. I’m nervous about retirement because I’ll have less income and too much free time.

  • After 20 years of teaching in Texas schools, I am retiring early at 59.
  • My pension will be less than half of my current salary, so I’m going to freelance to make ends meet.
  • I’m also nervous about the free time I will have and the total lack of structure.

For the last 20 years, I’ve had the same two alarms set ever weekday — one at 5:15 a.m. and one at 9:17 a.m.

As a Texas high school teacher, the 5:15 alarm is really just a formality. After 20 years of early rising, I’m up before the sun with no prompting required. The 9:17 a.m. alarm is also deeply ingrained; it’s the official attendance time when I’m required to pause my instruction and take attendance. It’s Texas’ official “time of record” by which schools are funded on daily attendance.

It’s the schedule I’ve followed for two decades. But after this week, neither time will matter. I will walk away from teaching and into early retirement at 59, which makes me more than a little nervous.

My income will now be cut in half
I’m unnerved by several things. I’ll be “living smaller” on less income. With my pension, my income will be less than half what it has been. My expenses will be lower but won’t be cut by 50%.

I’ve been a remote adjunct instructor at a local community college for the past year, concurrent with my high school job, but the rules of my pension require me to sit out this Fall semester. It took me years of applying to secure that adjunct position. I worry that being forced to sit out the busiest semester of the academic calendar will push me to the back of the adjunct line once again. The pay isn’t great, at about $50 per hour, but a few classes certainly can help close the gap in my income.

Since I won’t be making nearly enough, I decided to accept a remote writing job, but it doesn’t have benefits and won’t have any structure or routine. While I’ll be doing something I care deeply about, I will still be below the salary I earned this year.

I’m struggling to understand how I will fill my time
For 20 years, the more than 200 teachers in the building have been my daily interaction with adults. We lunch together, and I’ve shared the rollercoasters of their lives. They’ve been there to discuss and weigh in on my classroom dilemmas and personal predicaments. Where will the new voices of reason come from?

Wary of only my spouse for interaction, I have big plans. I’ve applied to join a committee for my community — one that meets monthly to review permits for home improvements, paint colors, and landscape design.

Two Mahjong sets have been growing dusty in my closet for decades. I’ve found a beginner’s group that meets twice monthly that I have every intention of joining. I’m hopeful that Mahjong will keep the cobwebs from settling into the corners of my brain and give me a new group of peers.

Additionally, it’s been easy to push off any amount of formal exercise with the “I don’t have time” excuse. Now that I’ll have the time in retirement, what will my new exercise regime look like? For 20 years, it’s been steps in the school building that have been my only exercise. I’ve always known I need to stave off osteoporosis with weight resistance training, but now will be the time to pick up a dumbbell.

I’m not sure who I am without my job
Finally, for the last 20 years, I have proudly proclaimed that “I teach high school” to anyone who asks about my employment. What will the next answer be? I haven’t found one that I’m comfortable with.

I’m not quite ready to say, “I’m retired.” That phrase carries too many negative connotations for me. More than 30 years later, I finally understand why my former mother-in-law didn’t embrace her new status as “grandmother” with any enthusiasm. Titles carry weight, and I’m not ready to shoulder “retiree.”

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