Steve Blechschmidt traded in his seat at the corporate table for a home in the Colorado mountains and he couldn’t be happier.
When Steve was offered a promotion during a company reorganization, he knew it wasn’t the right move for him. “I knew deep down inside that I didn’t want to put in the effort it would take to do one those big jobs properly,” Steve said. “Those jobs are hard, hard, hard.” Instead, he suggested a compromise that helped him transition into retirement.
In 2015, Steve offered to work remotely as a contractor, performing a critical function for the company. It was less money, but it was also less stress. The company management team agreed to his terms and he worked in that capacity for four years until he was laid off.
“I never decided here we go. Now’s the time (to retire),” Steve said. If he hadn’t been laid off, he would have kept on working.
However during his transition time, he and his wife, Carol, took steps to make retirement possible. They moved from Denver, Colorado to the mountain town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado where he has lived for the past six years.
They also became debt-free. To him that meant no house payment and no car payment. “Debt is slavery. You are a slave to the bank,” Steve said. “I don’t need a lot of money to live. Being debt free is very freeing, a game changing place to be.”
Being debt-free also allowed him to not worry about bringing in additional income and he was free to pursue his real passion full-time: playing the guitar.
Becoming a Full-Time Musician
“I’m a musician now,” Steve said. He plays finger style guitar. “It’s the way Chet Atkins plays the guitar.” He said he feels a passion for guitar that he never felt when working in IT.
Steve practices between one and four hours every day. “I play ambient music in beautiful settings,” Steve said. You’ll find him playing his guitar at wine tastings, very nice restaurants and world’s deepest hot springs that are right there in Pagosa Springs. ”I love giving someone a moment of peace visa via a guitar,” Steve said.
He started playing the guitar at 38 as a promise to his daughter. When she was ready to give up on her piano lessons, he made a deal with her. “If you keep up with your piano lessons, I’ll learn to play the guitar,” Steve said. She did and as a result, he learned to play the guitar.
Something happened when he picked up that guitar, “A tremendous passion came over me. Some people even think I’m a bit of a nut in how hard I work at playing the guitar,” Steve said with a chuckle. “It’s not an easy way to play a guitar.” He loves playing the guitar and practices between 1 – 4 hours a day.
Making Retirement Work
In addition to playing the guitar, Steve spends quite a bit of time preparing wood for the winter. He has a permit to chop down wood to help heat his cabin and of course has household chores and a honey do list to keep him busy.
“Still, I have those retiree days where I say ‘What day is it today? Wednesday? Thursday?’” Steve said. The only thing on his calendar are gigs.
“I like being completely in control of my days and schedule,” Steve said However, he understands the importance of having some type of focus in his life. “It’s important to have something to latch onto and for me, that’s music.”
He has a word of warning to people contemplating retirement. “It’s important to not let yourself dissolve into nothingness,” He said, “it’s easy to drink too much, eat too much, watch too much TV and not do a damn thing in retirement.”
He encourages people to find their passion and start working on it even before they retire. “Begin now to understand your passion and begin working on it,” Steve said.
Planning Out Finances in Retirement
In addition to his plan to become debt free, Steve also credits his and Carol’s attitude towards money as a contributing factor to their retirement success.
“My wife and I have always been down to earth people. I like old pickup trucks rather than BMWs,” Steve said. “This lifestyle of not wanting fancy glitzy things has served us well.”
In addition, Steve said he and his wife have never been big travelers so that was never really part of their retirement financial plan. “We chose live in the Colorado Rockies. Every day is a vacation. People come to where we live for their vacations.” Steve said.
But Steve never really had a true plan for retirement. Instead, he decided to figure it out as he went along.
He said he was lucky enough to do well in some real estate transactions. That money helped him until he was able to collect social security at 62. “I took it as soon as I could,” Steve said. Carol’s retirement and Steve’s social security take care of their monthly expenses.
In addition, Steve uses his guitar playing to supplement his retirement income. “It’s very hard to make a lot of money being a musician,” Steve said. However, he said, “In a good month I can make about $1,000.”
They have savings and a stock portfolio that they can leverage for any unexpected expenses.
Handling Health Insurance
Steve is fortunate enough to be covered under his wife’s medical plan. As a retired school teacher she had a medical plan that continued even after she retired. Even though she is now on Medicare, her insurance will continue to cover him until he turns 65 in three years.
However, Steve said he has not really needed much health care so far. He describes himself as a “dietary nut” who has been blessed with good health. He doesn’t eat processed sugar and eats completely organic food. He does still like to indulge in a beer occasionally. After all, he lives in Colorado where good craft beer is everywhere.
Steve stays fit walking in 7,500 foot altitude and preparing the wood pile for the long Colorado winters. He also loves preparing wood for winter including chopping down trees (with his permit) and stacking wood.
Advice for Others
Steve said he believes what is most important in life is contribution. “I think you need to contribute and I contribute through music,” Steve said. “You need to find your passion. Grow your skill set at your passion. There is no magic, secret sauce, you have to work your ass off.”
If you would like to know more about Steve or hear him play the guitar, go to his website: SEBguitar.com.
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