After going through a divorce in her late thirties, Judy Peters felt scared, alone, and financially out of control: “I thought, ‘How am I going to do this? I’ve got two kids and a huge house with an interest rate of around 18%.’”
Fast-forward to the present day. Peters (not her real name) is a 67-year-old millionaire. Along with her recently retired second husband, Peters can travel where she wants.
How did she manage such a turnaround?
It all began when, back in the 1980s, Peters’ divorce attorney referred her to a financial adviser to help her start again. Her adviser explained financial concepts in a way that Peters could understand, enabling her to handle her finances confidently for the first time.
Once Peters got a handle on basic money management, she started talking about long-term goals with the adviser. “When I first went to him, I was 38 years old and in the office supply business,” she recalls. “We sat down and looked at the numbers. He said to me, ‘Well, if you ever want to retire, you’re going to have to sell a lot more pens and pencils than you’re selling now.’”
Peters realized he was right; it was time to change. With her adviser’s guidance, Peters learned how to set financial goals. They’ve worked together as a team ever since, and he continues to hold her accountable for those goals.
The adviser recommended that Peters keep her finances simple, make more money, and spend a lot less than she was earning. Peters was in a sales role on variable compensation. Every month, she just put her income into the same account from which she paid her bills. Her adviser recommended that she have a separate account for her commissions and write a check for her monthly bills (usually around $3,500), allowing the rest of her income to sit and earn interest. This enabled Peters to control exactly how much she was spending. “It was very helpful, because the remaining balance was totally separate,” she says. “I didn’t see it on a daily basis, so I didn’t spend it.”
Peters found the financial planning experience to be incredibly valuable. Having a positive relationship with a financial adviser helped Judy overcome several obstacles to achieve what she has today: financial freedom. When friends tell Peters that they are doing their own financial planning, she shakes her head and thinks, “Wow, why would you try to do this on your own?” Choosing the right adviser is crucial, though. “Trust is everything when working with an adviser,” she says. “You need to make sure that they understand you and that you understand them”
Financial Skills Leads to Financial Freedom
After being laid off from her job in the office supply business, Peters decided in 1993 to leave the corporate world and start her own business. Peters has been running that business for years, selling promotional products from a home office.
Peters used her financial skills to run the business and build wealth. She continues to budget in retirement, using a spreadsheet to keep track of her expenses. She pays for everything with a credit card, continually imports all of her expenses into the spreadsheet, and pays off the balance in full at the end of every month. Her business expenses are kept completely separate from her personal spending.
Including the mortgage on their home (currently at 2%), Peters and her husband have approximately $65,000 a year in expenses. The mortgage is their only debt. They cut their living costs almost in half by moving from their house in Boston to a log cabin they had built in Maine.
Her personal goal was to save $1 million. She achieved that milestone almost four years ago. Her and her husband’s current net worth is nearly $3 million, comprising a mixture of investments in various accounts.
Enjoying the Quiet Life Now
For Peters, retirement is about time and quality of life. Even with a fully funded retirement, Peters continues to work part-time because she enjoys what she does. She can work from anywhere, as long as she has online access. She spends part of the week making money—taking care of clients she’s served for years—and the rest of the time relaxing or traveling with her husband. She also sees her two kids and six grandkids, who live a five-hour drive away.
So many people think retirement is just about the numbers, but Peters chalks up her happy retirement to her lifestyle. She paints an idyllic picture: “It’s pretty rural here, which is nice. My husband putters around the yard. We’re out in the woods, so he’s chopping something and he loves his snow blower. He’s making all these little paths through the woods so the deer can come. We have motion cameras out there so we can see all the critters that are out there at night.”
Peters and her husband are living proof that retirement can be whatever you want it to be, as long as you plan for it and seek the advice of a professional when needed.
Peters’ accountant told her that the best way to get back at her ex-husband was to become extremely successful. He was right.
Katie Brewer, CFP, is the president of Your Richest Life, where she works virtually with Gen X and Gen Y professionals, helping them create and stick to a financial roadmap to live their richest life. Katie is a fee-only planner, a founding member of the XY Planning Network, and a member of the Financial Planning Association. She is also proud to be a Fightin’ Texas Aggie.
Judy Peters is among many retirees and semi-retirees whose journey to financial freedom is featured in the free eBook to which Brewer contributed, The Definitive Guide to Becoming the Retiree Next Door, published by MoneyTips.com.