Webinar presenter Dr. Brenda Uekert answered a number of your questions after her presentation, "The Great Escape: Planning Your Early Retirement from the Justice System." Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: What is a master naturalist?
Dr. Brenda Uekert: There are master naturalist programs in every state, they're organized very differently. The one in Virginia is headed by the folks at Virginia Tech and includes multiple organizations like fisheries, and game, and inland, the state parks. For me it required doing some training — they were at night, three-hour blocks twice a month. Training started in September and finished in March. It's volunteer services, every year I get certified. To get certified I need to do at least 40 hours a year with volunteer work and 8 hours of continuing education. It's a wonderful organization similar to the master gardeners but much more fun — sorry for all the master gardeners. We do wildlife mapping and bluebird trails. It's a wonderful group of people.
Audience Question: How do I know if it's time for a change versus just dealing with the normal challenges of my job?
Dr. Brenda Uekert: I would actually suggest taking a little chunk of time off using some of your vacation days. Take at least two weeks off. I think that's what really was the catalyst for me, because how did I feel coming back and the thing lingered for months. It wasn't like yeah, I'm back from vacation, I'm having a hard time getting back into it. Sometimes quite honestly you don't know. If somebody had told me 8 months ago that I'd be sitting here delivering this webinar and I didn't have my old job, I would've said, "You got to be kidding, what happened to me?" Everybody has that breaking point and I didn't know I had a breaking point until it got pushed. You can deal with so much and part of it is to take that time off, begin to look at other things and hopefully you go out on your own terms. I didn't because I hit that point. For everybody it's going to be different but if you take some time off and you come back and you still can't go back into the groove of things and you just last for weeks and months. That's a pretty good sign that you need to be really looking elsewhere. It doesn't hurt to look elsewhere, I encourage everybody to just go on LinkedIn. If you don't have an account there and see what types of options — if you want to get into another job if you want to just totally forget it and retire. It's important to just know what it is that you want after you leave.
Aaron: I'm going to do something I rarely do and echo your sentiments. In many ways, the Justice Clearinghouse was my way to start trying to pull myself out of criminal justice consulting that I've been doing, at the time, it was about 17 years. I was getting tired of it.
Audience Question: You mentioned if someone would've told you 8 months ago that you'd be doing this webinar, you would not have believed them. Are there ways that you can recommend that we talk to friends about burnout and the additional options that they have without offending them?
Dr. Brenda Uekert: My organization was and is suffering from extremely low morale. Amongst my colleagues, we could talk and complain but I think it's difficult to talk to colleagues about this. Mostly because I think when you get into this hole, you get stuck. There's a level of complacency in the workplace so few people are willing to take the risk of actually leaving. I think for the people that I could've spoken to, they wouldn't have been within my organization. I had a vast network of folks in the areas that I worked with. A couple of people knew what was going on that I could have spoken to. There may be people around your age, I think that's helpful, that you might know them, they may be in a similar position. But that wasn't in my own organization — I think that's important. Everybody's situation is different too but if you're the main provider of the family, you might be freaking out, about how you cannot quit your job, you cannot possibly be serious. Those are not exactly the things that you need to hear either. Quite honestly, there's a growing number of folks, they're life coaches. In fact, every week now I go to a meeting with entrepreneurs. There's a life coach there who can help me at the point where I'm overwhelmed with trying to build this course. She says, "Hey, come see me. We can sort through everything that's going on and try to get you moving forward and get the priorities down." They're not therapists, they're life coaches so it's a whole different branch. I think if you can find somebody like that who can sort through all those factors and they're pretty independent, that's what I would do now.
Audience Question: I've got a pension. How much should I estimate for tax percentage for my take-home pay would be?
Dr. Brenda Uekert: There could be a pension specialist out there but the first mistake is thinking of it as an income replacement. Think of your pension as how much of your expenses is it going to cover? There are all kinds of ways that people are retiring early in this incredible movement of thirty-somethings, forty-somethings who are just calling it quits. Part of it depends on where you're living. It's just this whole concept of geographic. People are moving from very high expense areas to low expense areas and finding that they can retire very comfortably. There are so many other factors but really think about your expenses and a big one is the mortgage. People are sold into buying these big houses, expensive mortgages. If you have the mortgage knocked out and you're living below your means, that's a huge factor as you think about this. Think about your pension as how many bills will it let you pay. Is it going to help you with the mortgage? What percentage of expenses will it cover, not income.
Aaron: There's a blog called Mr. Money Mustache, the guy's out of Denver, there's a connection to me here in Colorado Springs just south of Denver. Really great content. I'll include a link on the resource page.
Audience Question: One of my biggest post-employment concerns is access to healthcare. Are there options available today that you can recommend?
Dr. Brenda Uekert: Great timing because you can look at healthcare.gov. That's really the way to go because if you through private insurance it's going to be harder to get if you're older and if you have anything on your medical past, if you've got a pre-existing condition that they're not going to cover. You can find out very quickly what it's going to cost. I'm in the midst of I have this small business how can I manipulate my income so that I can bring my health insurance down. I can go to healthcare.gov and if you look up for the plans if you get to the right place and this is going to be part of my course — walking people through this. You have about 4 different income categories. For me, I've got it covered just myself and if I make $48,000 due to Virginia's Medicaid expansion, my premium will be about $120 a month. If I make $49,000 my premium goes up to about $650. If you can determine how much income, if you're way above that, you're going to be paying a lot for health insurance. It's as simple as that. Almost in every case, if you go with the lower premium even if there's a higher deductible, you're still saving money. I'll be honest I'm on Cobra and I pay $800 a month. My daughter who is an adult, she has no health insurance and I had covered her before. If I were to cover her under Cobra, $1,500 a month. I'm looking now at healthcare.gov because I can pay less especially if I can keep my income down to a certain level. We just had elections and that is one of the top concerns of everyone, being able to access affordable healthcare insurance.