On the last day of 2013, my husband Bob-O and I shut the doors of Electron Connection, our off-grid renewable energy design and installation business. We had been talking about and planning this moment for a decade. Retirement is new to us. When asked, however, we still know what day of the week it is. When we don’t know the day, will we have arrived?
We realize how lucky we are to be in a position to retire. We appreciate the twists and turns of life that have allowed us to reach our modest goals. Of course, as you age, it is always in your mind that you will retire some day. Unless you have a job that pays into your retirement years, though, you have to plan and save whatever you can.
Bob-O and I have worked hard to be in a good place financially and mentally for this new lifestyle. We paid into our individual retirement accounts for years and we paid off our land and house, so we have a place to live and garden.
We have been keeping track of what we call our “nut.” We have a spreadsheet on which we enter the various monies that are expended each year to maintain our lifestyle. Every year, our property taxes go up, so we record that. The yearly filling of our propane tank, the money spent on firewood to heat our home, life insurance, health insurance, vehicle insurance and registration, Internet services—they all are updated on the spreadsheet. There are no columns for electricity or water, but there is a column for road maintenance. Some costs fluctuate so much it is hard to keep track accurately. Vehicle maintenance is one cost that can change very quickly. We have to guess at that. While we know that our expenses will change (some up, some down), we thought it would be useful to have enough data to give us a clue in reckoning a baseline.
We have not carried debt along our road of life, and have paid for everything with cash. Many years ago when Bob-O applied for a credit card, he received a polite letter saying, “I’m sorry, Mr. Schultze, but not everyone is meant to have a Visa card.” It was only after we had signed the mortgage on our house—and entered into the biggest debt we’d ever had—that we started to get offers for credit cards in the mail. I still don’t understand that.
Our mortgage was for 13.8 years, but we paid it off in six. Bob-O made a spreadsheet of our house payments and interest charges. By adding any extra money we had to each month’s payment, which was applied to the principle, we were able to shave years off the tail end of the payment schedule. Boy, did that feel good.
We tackled the high-dollar improvements on our homestead while we were still earning wages. Double-pane windows, extra insulation, cement-fiberboard siding, replacing the deck, and building a shop were all important projects that took a bite out of our savings. We have never lived an extravagant lifestyle, so saving our money was not too difficult. We live too far from town to eat out or take in expensive entertainment often.
When we go to town, we have a list. We start at the farthest store on the list and work homeward. A lot of times, because of business, only one of us could go to town. I would make Bob-O write out the hardware list so I could just hand it to the store help. Since we got cell phones and Bob-O installed a cell-signal booster at our house, I can take a picture of a part and text him, “Is this it?” I love technology.
We’ve toyed with the idea of post-retirement jobs. I will, of course, keep writing this column. Bob-O will continue to support his previous clients and friends with their RE systems. But after a visiting houseguest had “smoothed and fluffed my aura,” we conceived the idea for a new business: a drive-through smudge and fluff (DTS&F). A smudge, a bundle of dried sage bound with string, is burned to “cleanse” something or someone with the smoke. The idea behind the DTS&F was that before a road trip, you could get your car smudged and your aura fluffed at the same time. Goofy? Sure! But so were pet rocks, and they sold like hotcakes.
As with any business, it is all about location. We happen to live fairly close to Mt. Shasta in northern California. The mountain is considered the center of the universe to some. Others believe it is a focal point for angels, spirit-guides, spaceships, and the home of the survivors of ancient Lemuria, which is believed by some to have sunk under the Pacific Ocean a little more than 12,000 years ago. If a DTS&F were going to succeed anywhere, it would be here. Los Angeles is too far south.
That’s a joke among us—we already have full-time jobs here at the old homestead. A lot of our “prepping” has been honing our self-sufficiency skills to help us in our retirement. Learning how to grow and preserve a large part of our food is an important part of our retirement plan. Our gardens, orchard, and vineyard grow larger every year. Last year, our “grand dried bean experiment” proved we could grow enough dried beans to last us two years. Drying, canning, fermenting, and having a root cellar has added our homegrown food to our self-sufficiency. We are truly excited this year because both of us will be gardening all season long.
And that’s where we want to be—with a list of projects that have been on hold because both of us need to be present. We’ve also been looking forward to long walks and other pursuits. Now, what day is today?
Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze is driving her electric garden vehicle at her off-grid retirement home in northernmost California.