Furlough: Dry Run for Retirement?

I woke up this morning and wasn’t sure what day it was. After Day 4 of the 2013 furlough, I seem to have settled in to being at home and not caring if I go back to work. So far I have done a bit of gardening, lots of laundry, had a manicure, and saw my podiatrist. Not exciting but soothing. Reality does set in when I remember I might not be paid for my days of leisure. I should be stressed—I’m not. I’ve decided to view the furlough as my dry run for retirement.

Looking back over my 30+ years working for the federal government, I don’t recall ever voluntarily taking more than one day off at a time to just stay home. When I take vacation, I am going to visit family or friends, exploring new places or attending specific events or classes. If I added up the money I’ve spent on airfare, mileage, hotels, and other travel costs over the last 35 years, I would be a wealthy woman. Not that I regret a single dollar spent. Well, I do regret paying for the night at a Days Inn where the bed was harder than the floor.

Even when my time off was involuntary, I didn’t spend the entire time at home. To be honest, I have no memory of the 21 day furlough in 1995/96. That furlough included Christmas and New Years. I think I was visiting my sister and her family in California. I remember being stressed about being paid because I was living in a high cost city and didn’t have a savings cushion but not much else.

In my 30+ years with the feds, I have been RIFed twice. RIF is lovely way of saying I was made redundant. Not surprisingly, both RIFs occurred during Republican administrations while I was working in programs or positions that assisted low-income or economically disadvantaged areas.  

In the spring of 2002, I lost my job with a federal bank regulatory agency, which no longer exists, when it cut 20 percent of the staff. Luckily for me, I was a couple of years shy of 50 and was eligible for severance pay. With the severance pay, unemployment benefits and an intermittent job as an usher,  I survived for a year while looking for work. It wasn’t voluntary but it wasn’t bad.

After I was separated, I loaded up my car and drove from Seattle to Maine and back. I stopped along the way to visit family and friends and accomplished my goal of seeing all five Great Lakes. I decided to go ahead with a scheduled tour to Carnevale in Venice and frittered away many pleasant hours planning my costumes. The traveling and planning kept me sane during my job search. I learned to be frugal, or at least to spend more prudently. When I finally found another federal job (believe me I looked in the public and private sectors for a year with no results) I took a 60 percent pay cut just to get back into the federal system.  

So, here I sit, pondering life as a federal employee during and after the furlough. The last four days have solidified my plan to retire next August. In fact, the furlough has strengthened my resolve to retire and recharge.

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