One Couple's Retirement Plans: Puttering, Selling, and Schooling

Len Arnold's retirement as an accountant for a computer software firm is still 14 months away. But for the past two years, that major event has been a central topic of conversation for Mr. Arnold and his wife, Bunni.

They have calculated their finances. They have read articles about places to retire. They have received what Arnold describes as "3-1/2 tons of literature" from chambers of commerce. They have considered how they will spend their time. They have even traveled from their home in Berkeley Heights, N.J., to Asheville, N.C., for a Creative Retirement Exploration Weekend.

Fourteen years ago, Mr. Arnold's job as general manager of a chemical company ended following a merger. Despite a sweetened pension, he says, "I was too young and too active. I wasn't ready to rock." He moved to a competing firm as a salesman, staying eight years. Now he works four days a week for the software company.

"You have to be prepared to take a considerable drop in salary and prestige," Arnold says. "You can't live your whole life saying, 'I used to do this and I used to do that.' All that matters is what you're doing today."

But preparing for tomorrow is essential too. Arnold's accounting background makes him aware of the need to plan. "I've seen people lose their jobs and decide to retire. But they have no more idea what to do with themselves than fly to the moon."

For the Arnolds, ideas for retirement include working as real estate brokers, since both are licensed. They also look forward to what Arnold describes as "a little time to spend puttering in the garden, time to go fishing, and time to go antiquing."

The Arnolds, who have been married since 1990, each have three children from previous marriages, scattered from Maine to California. Says Mrs. Arnold, "We decided long ago that where our children live should have no bearing on where we live. They might move to Timbuktu." The couple has chosen Brevard, N.C.

Mrs. Arnold, who will leave her job as an executive secretary when her husband retires, hopes to continue her longtime modeling career. She would also like to earn a liberal arts degree, "just for satisfaction."

Whatever one's choices, she says, "You have to redefine productivity. And you've got to do what you want to do. Give it your best shot."

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