“Retirement is the best decision I ever made!” said Carol Opalski Hewitt.
In April of this year, Carol retired from her job as a Project Manager at T. Rowe Price and she and her husband Mike Hewitt moved down to the Del Webb community in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Carol was only 59 and four months when she retired from T. Rowe Price but she knew it was the perfect time to leave. In March, she finished up 2 ½ year project. “I knew it was my swan song. I just couldn’t continue work 60 hours a week anymore,” Carol said.
But Carol and Mike had been thinking about retirement for a while. Seven years ago, while vacationing in Myrtle Beach, they decided that it was the perfect place for their forever home. It had everything they wanted. Sun. Beaches. The ocean. Warm weather. Low taxes. Close proximity to an airport.
Since Carol’s children and mother still live in Baltimore, it was important that there was a quick and convenient way for them to get back home. Super convenient, economical flights from Myrtle Beach to Baltimore made it the perfect location.
About three years ago, it was time to figure out how to make early retirement possible. Mike had left the workforce in 2001 to take care of their children, so many of the decisions were based on Carol’s income.
They met with a financial adviser at T. Rowe Price who helped guide them through the planning process. “The homework came back to me. How much do we need to retire?” Carol said. Carol emphasizes need rather than want. They needed to consider insurance, health insurance, long-term care insurance and other necessities. But they also considered their wants such as travel, new furniture, a golf cart and other entertainment. The fun stuff. Luckily, Carol and Mike were on the same page when it came to retirement goals.
“You work all your life. You want to enjoy your quality of life while you can,” Carol said.
Finding the Right Community
Then they had to decide where in Myrtle Beach they wanted to live. They looked at three different communities long before they were going to retire. In addition to Del Webb, they considered Waterford Plantation and Berkshire Forest. But ultimately, they decided on Del Webb because it was an active over 55 adult community. “You can be as busy as you want to,” Carol said.
At Del Webb, there are two different builders you can chose from to construct your home. Carol and Mike were able to choose from five different models. “From down payment to settlement was six months,” Carol said. The community has an active calendar of events, pool, concerts and many different groups and activities.
Since moving there, Carol, always an avid tennis player, has taken up pickle ball and plays 5 mornings a week. Her days are now busier than they when she was working.
They have developed a group of about 12 couples who they spend time with going to concerts, hanging out at the pool and going to dinner together.
In addition, Carol does volunteer work like helping out at community concerts.
When her sister said she was worried about Carol staying busy, her response was, “Don’t worry, I am.”
Getting Ready for the Move
After deciding where they were going to move, it was time to make a plan. “Plan the work and work the plan,” Carol said.
As a project manager, Carol backed into her dates. She knew when they were moving and then decided when each step needed to happen.
The first step was to start to cleaning out. It took about eight months. “We were fairly aggressive,” Carol said.
“You need to decide what do you will need in your new life.” Things like her china and vintage martini glasses were some of the things that weren’t going to make the move.
Instead, they sold or donated many of the items. “Catonsville Marketplace and Catonsville Yard Sale are great,” Carol said.
Her advice. “Down size. Down size. Down size.”
In addition, Carol and Mike have two children and their stuff was in their house. Their daughter had already moved out and bought a house, but didn’t take everything with her. Carol and Mike drove her things over to her house and left them there!
Their son was still unsure as to whether or not to make the move with them, but after deciding to stay in Baltimore, he moved out in about three days and took all of his stuff with him. Phase one completed.
Selling Their Home
Next, they needed to sell their home. Because of the hot real estate market earlier this year, Carol and Mike decided put their house on the market on December 26th and sell it themselves. It sold within 4 days. Then they negotiated with the buyers so that they could stay in the house until they were ready to move to South Carolina. “I put the plan in motion and everything fell in line,” Carol said.
Before listing the house, Carol researched other listings and picked and chose key words to get their listing noticed.
They made the decision to not make a lot of upgrades or repaint their home because the next buyer would probably want to make their own design decision. It worked out for them.
Selling their house quickly and for a good profit was key to their retirement plan. “It helped that our house had appreciated so much,” Carol said.
Deciding What to Move
Next, they decided on what they wanted to move. Even though Carol was committed to getting rid of the clutter, there were some things that she decided were worth moving. “It’s important to look at things with a different eye,” Carol said. For example, they decided to move their brown bedroom furniture.
However, once they moved down south, Carol used her newly acquired chalk painting skills to paint it grey and white so it looks beachier. In fact, she has become so good at chalk painting that she has been helping some her friends with their projects as well.
Life In South Carolina
“The best part about being retired is doing what I want to do, when I want to do it,” Carol said.
She doesn’t miss routine of work because she has a new routine. She is on the pickle ball court bright and early at 8 a.m. 5 days a week.
In addition, each week, they review the calendar of events and decide what they are going to do. Of course, errands still need to be done. Wednesday is food shopping day because seniors get 5 percent off. “I take Mike with me because I’m not a senior yet,” Carol said.
They’ve had no problem adjusting to spending more time together. “I think COVID helped with the transition,” Carol said. But they are not spending that much additional time together. Mike doesn’t play pickle ball, instead he walks the dog. At the pool, she hangs out with the girls and he hangs out with the guys.
Carol said she likes having friends around who are of similar age and similar interests. The only bad part about their new friends is that many of them are Steelers fans. Go Ravens!
Finances and Paperwork
Even now that they are retired, Carol and Mike still consider expenses and do paperwork.
“Your expenses will be higher your first few months after retirement,” Carol said. For them, they wanted to buy new things for the house and try new restaurants. However, after a few months of being retired, she sees those expenses are starting to normalize.
Except health insurance. Health insurance is their biggest expense.
At this point Carol is on COBRA and will stay on that for the next 18 months. “It’s very expensive because our son is still on our plan,” Carol said. After the 18 months, she will have to go on the open market or pick up the insurance through T. Rowe. Still, they knew health insurance would continue to be a big expense and they planned for it.
The one down side to retirement so far has been paperwork. Carol has been inundated with paperwork. The biggest challenge was working with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration to get their car registrations changed.
But there is also quite a bit of insurance paperwork. It’s not only the paperwork that is a challenge, it’s also finding new doctors. “It’s difficult to find doctors down here that are accepting new patients,” Carol said. Right now, she and Mike are flying back to Baltimore for their doctor’s appointments while they wait to get doctor’s appointments booked out in the future in South Carolina.
But with round trip ticket to Baltimore under a $100, it’s working for now. However, Carol doesn’t want to go back to Baltimore too often. “There’s so much going on here, I don’t want to miss anything,” she said.
Carol and Mike are loving their new life in South Carolina. They are meeting new people, starting new hobbies and keeping busy. Still, sometimes Carol likes some down time.
“This morning I was getting ready to head out to pickle ball at 8 when it starts raining and the texts start flying. ‘Are we going? Are we not going?’” The decision was no pickle ball that day. “So, it was nice to have a second cup of coffee and get some things done around the house,” Carol said. Retirement is everything they thought it would be…and more.
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