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Sally Hurme (Part 2)

Episode 52: Finding Purpose in Retirement, with Sally Hurme (Part 2 of 3)

Sally Balch Hurme is an estate planning elder law attorney and an author of six books. She worked on Capitol Hill for six years, and she realized that it became apparent that a woman needed an advanced degree. She took the LSATs right after a congressman recommended that she learn shorthand and then recommended that the male staffer go to law school. She went to law school in the ‘70s when there were very few women students or professors. She started a practice in Alexandria, Virginia, when there were very few women attorneys. When she decided to start a family, she withdrew from the partnership. She cobbled together part-time positions for a couple of years, so not to have a gap in her resume. Networking brought in opportunities but she never really applied for a position. One position led to another, including 23 years at AARP, eight years teaching elder law as an adjunct professor, and six books. 

This is the second of three podcasts with Sally. Listen to part 1 here.

Welcome, Sally.

Thank you, Lynn. Good to be back with you.

I’m glad that we had a chance to get back to number two out of three as we talked about. This one we’re going to do on getting the most out of retirement, and the third topic we’re going to discuss the next time we get together will be on survivor planning, what to do when a loved one dies. So let’s dive in today, for the second one of three podcasts, on getting the most out of retirement. So tell me, what does that mean to you, getting the most out of retirement?

Well, I wrote a book with that title, Get The Most Out of Retirement, as I was both approaching and getting into and then living retirement. And I recognized that there were lots of things that people who were either about to retire or had already retired just hadn’t really thought about ahead of time, about just what is this life like in retirement. And I tried to focus on making sure that new retirees or newly retired get full advantage of all of the various options that they can take advantage of. There are so many things you can do in retirement when you have your own schedule, but you still have to fill your days. And we all know that retirement really isn’t a 365-day-long vacation. It can be an opportunity to relax and have a slower pace, if that’s what you want. To include some travel, if that’s what your goal is. But three years out, you’ve got to ask just how many rounds of golf do you really want to commit your life to? It is very important for the success of your retirement to really know all of your options, maybe try a few new things, and make sure that you really still have purpose in your life.

There’s the key: purpose. And I say that because in the book that I wrote, Power of the Purse, I devoted a whole chapter to that idea of something more than leisure in retirement, because as I said, if leisure becomes what you do every day, then that becomes your job. And now your job is leisure! You have to find somebody to play golf with, somebody to travel with, and it just becomes, it loses its value when that’s all there is to do in life. And the other thing I think that is really an issue for people that they don’t see beyond this is, “Oh great, I’m going to be a built-in babysitter for my grandchildren.” And then the grandchildren, they grow up, and they don’t want to be around grandma and grandpa anymore, and now you say to yourself, ten years into retirement, or sooner than that, “Okay, now what do I do?” And if there is no sense of purpose other than “I’m going to be a glorified babysitter,” well when that job ends, now you’re back to where you started and you say, “All right, now what do I do?” The answer is what?

Well the answer is there’s lots of things that you can do, whether you’re starting retirement or ten years into retirement. But it really is, there’s so many different options, but you really do need to consider what it is that is meaningful to your life.

And what would you say to people who say, “I have no idea. I never gave that any thought. And now I’m faced with twenty more years or so of my life and I have no idea what I want to do with that.” Where do you start?

Oh, where should you start? Well, I suggest that you start by basically looking back and really having sort of a thought, a process, maybe spending some contemplative time. How did you get to where you are now? What were the things in your life that were important to you? Who were the people that were important to you? I talk about the fifteen steps to getting purpose in retirement, and the very first one is reflect on the broad strokes of your life up to now.

What does that mean?

What made you happy when you were 30? What was fulfilling for you at the age of 40? How can you build on those things? You know, what motivated you twenty years ago? How would you answer the question “I’m so glad I decided to…” Do what? And I fill that in with “I’m so glad that I decided at a relatively older age to go to law school.” That is in broad strokes probably the one decision that gave me the most purpose to my life. Not everybody obviously is thinking about going to law school, that may turn off a whole lot of people! If you look back over your life and see what gave you the most pleasure, which was the most meaningful, who were the people that you were most pleased to be with, and thinking back as to what successes they were. They may have been small, it may have been winning a, you know, a prize at the county fair for your quilt. But what stands out as you look back over your life as “Gee, I’m glad I did that” or “I’m glad I decided to do that” or “That was really successful.”

Well, let’s take your example, the one that you just mentioned, the thing you’re most proud of was later in life going back to law school. How would you then translate that answer into finding purpose in retirement? 

I’m continuing to apply my legal skills even though I’m no longer what you might call a “real” lawyer. I’m not a real lawyer anymore!

And then there’s the classic line I just play when on TV!

Yeah, right! 

Okay. But you took something that really meant something to you and brought that into retirement and looked at that and said, “I can do something with this for the better good.” 




So answer this question for me if you can. What do you think retirees do in the early years of retirement that make a big difference, good or bad, in the later years? 

Taking, of course, financially taking stock of what you have and how you are planning on making it last. But also…I think it’s probably…new retirees should, unless they absolutely positively know what they’re going to do, they should take some time to try new things. Take some time to experiment with something different, instead of saying, “I’m going to do X for the rest of my life, which is something totally different than what I’ve ever done.” It might be that you’ve got in the back of your head that you want to start your own business. If it’s in a completely different field than, you know, what you’ve been doing in the past, then take a baby step rather than, let’s say, sinking your life’s savings into doing something dramatic and expensive.

Yeah. Yeah, you know, at the time when I wrote my book, which was four or five years ago, when I was doing some research on this, there was a wonderful website that was called Vocation Vacations. And the idea behind that was that you could sign up to do a three-day shadowing of someone who was willing to let you be their protégé for three days and watch what they did in the world of business, whatever it was that you were thinking about. So the one that always stuck out in my mind, only because of personal reasons how much I love it, was a chocolatier.  

Ah ha! 

There was a guy who really would allow someone to come and stay in his home with him and his wife and just shadow him for three days and watch what he did and how he did it. Learning the business side of it, learning the customer relations side of it, learning the actual mechanics of making the chocolates, and it was a fascinating idea, fascinating concept. There were so many different kinds of businesses and jobs, careers, all that that you could test out. And it’s like what you said before, before we actually decided to record the call, about taking baby steps, taking little steps toward looking at this. And I think the most critical thing is in that first year, or even before that if it’s possible, of having people just check out some of these things before they dive in full-time. And you also mentioned something about living arrangements. And I’ve often said that to people as well. They think that they need to sell a house and move to Florida, or move to South Carolina, or move to somewhere. They jump in, they sell everything, and they move, and they find they hate it.  


So you take the baby steps, and you’re absolutely on target with that. So tell me a little bit more about what that means to you. 

Okay. Well just a further example as to how, what I mean by taking a baby step. Instead of selling the house and moving to Arizona, Florida, wherever, try it for six months. Rent some place where you think you might want to move to. Get to know what the various neighborhoods are. Talk to the people who are there. Go to this location in the worst season. Do you want to be in Florida during the hurricane season?

How timely for that question!

Yes. Do you want to be on the main coast in February? Try it for some period of time so that you really have an opportunity to see what it is like. Same goes for making a decision, let’s say you do want, you think that you want to move into a senior living community, or you want to invest in a continuing care retirement community. Spend…make yourself an active nuisance by hanging around at odd hours, not just on the weekend, but try it late at night. Is this really the lifestyle that you want? Don’t just believe what the marketing agent tells you about the nirvana of how wonderful place X is going to be. And then other baby steps, you know, you were talking about, you know, shadowing a chocolatier so you really know what a day in the life or a couple of days in the life of a person might be. Another way to take those baby steps is volunteer at doing X. Volunteer at the hospital to see if you really want to get more involved in providing health care services. You know, maybe you’re thinking about being a med tech of some sort, as a new opportunity. Spend some time in the hospital. Maybe you’re thinking about wanting to…try your hand at teaching, even though you’ve never really been a teacher. Well, volunteer in the school system. There’s so many non-profits who are doing great things who would be delighted to have you use your skills that you develop during your active working career. Volunteer, see if it’s something that you want to get into more heavily. And if it could be, then develop into a paid position. And if, let’s say you have a marketing background, volunteer to help write a marketing plan for some local community group. If you’ve got some IT background, volunteer to help some non-profit to develop their, improve their website. Volunteer at the local library to read to the kids, to see if childcare delivery might be something that you wanted to actively, you know, more further pursue for money.

How about, I’m just thinking of some of the, what we would call non-traditional careers. And specifically, I’m thinking about older women who are looking at this and saying, “Well, you know, I could be a babysitter, I could be a teacher, I could be a tutor, I could be a lot of those traditional things.” What about maybe “I’d like to take a course and be a diesel mechanic.” You know, something way out there that’s just so non-traditional. And I think that if you’re doing this the right way, if you really look at researching retirement as though it was going to be something a lot more important than your next vacation, you really would want to look at things like this and just say, “I have all the freedom now to do whatever I’d like to do. What’s something new that I could learn that might also generate some income, and it would be something I would love to do?”

Or just go take a class for the fun of learning something that you really haven’t ever pursued, that’s totally out of your aligning. You know, it could be an art appreciation course, or learning to speak a foreign language. On my bucket list of classes that I want to take, I really would like to know, take a class in geology, just on…we’ve got all this info, you know, on earthquakes, and how the land forms and how rivers create themselves and deltas and canyons and I would think that…that’s the kind of course that, I’m not going to become a geologist, but it would give me a nugget of additional information just for myself, just because I want to know it. Not because, you know, I have to take it for continuing education for my licenses, my job, or because somebody says “You have to take that course.” I would take it because I wanted to, I want to. And I think people need to know that almost all state universities have significant discounts for in-state residents in the in-state colleges. And in my book, I have a lot of resources about the websites, where to go to find out what people over 65 can take courses for. Sometimes, you know, it may be the course is free and it’s just for, you have to pay, you know, the lab fee. I was surprised at what significant discounts there are in most state universities and colleges for senior residents.

Let’s say the name of your book again. Get the Most Out of Retirement. Is that available on Amazon?

Yes it is!

Okay. So there we are, folks, let’s remember that. Okay. Let’s take another crack at this from another perspective. You and I had talked about it, and I have discussed this with several people I know who have actually done this. The ins and outs of retiring abroad. What are the things we need to be watching for, and really is it the great nirvana that everybody thinks it is? 

Well, again you need to go do a whole lot of homework before you pick up stakes and move to country X. From a legal point of view, there are a number of complications that you have to plan ahead for. One is for your health insurance. Medicare does not follow you, will not pay for your medical expenses if you’re living out of the country. I know that lots of people talk about “Oh, I can go live some place because health costs are so much lower.” But that may not be the reality. Some countries have very restrictive residency requirements to become eligible for whatever their healthcare system is. You would need to determine if whatever insurance that you have, there are a couple of Medicare supplement policies up at the higher end, which will cover some medical treatment abroad. But Medicare and most of the standard Medicare supplement plans will not cover you at all. So you need to determine whether you’re going to be able to obtain what we call ex-pat insurance. There is international health insurance that is available. It is pricey, but that is something that you are going to need to determine.

Another thing that, of course, with your finances, with today’s, you know, online wireless banking, mobile banking and so forth, it may be a lot easier for you to conduct your day-to-day financial affairs. But it’s important to know how you are going to transfer money from, whatever, your American resources to your bank abroad. Keep in mind that under the Patriot’s Act, if on any one day you have over ten thousand dollars in a foreign bank account, you have to report that to the IRS, because of the concern for international drug trade and so forth and terrorism. But you’ll also have to pay attention as to whether, what and whether you will need to pay taxes in the other country. It depends on whether you have American income versus foreign income, you may be paying taxes both in the United States and in the other country. Just because you’re living abroad doesn’t mean you can avoid U.S. income tax.

The other legal consideration is how much time you’re going to spend abroad versus how much time you’re going to spend in the United States. And that has to do with whether you are going to change your residency, and it gets rather complicated about maintaining your U.S. citizenship and having the right visa for the other country. Again, it’s very important to be in touch with the embassy for the other country as to what kinds of visas would be available to you. Are you going as a student? Are you going as a visitor? How long does the visitor’s visa be in effect? If you’re planning on working, will you be able to get a work permit or a visa that will allow you to work? And a lot of European countries in the EU and so forth also have special visas for retirees, because people in Europe are probably even more mobile from country to country than in the United States. And a number of countries do have retiree visas, but to obtain one of those you have to able to demonstrate that you are going to have a steady source of income. These countries don’t want retirees coming and then becoming a burden on their social system. So to obtain a retiree’s visa, you’re going to have to demonstrate that you have, that you have an annual income of X, Y, and Z and it varies from country to country. Otherwise, they’re not—

Does that include Social Security from this country?

Yes, Social Security will follow you, and you can continue to receive your Social Security, it can continue to be direct deposited even in a foreign bank account. So that Social Security will follow you where Medicare will not follow you.

Okay, wow. Big difference. So it sounds like there’s just a huge amount of paperwork and pre-planning that has to get done before you say “I’m going to go to the Dominican Republic, or I’m going to go to Mexico, I’m going to go to Canada,” whatever it is. And the net effect of all this, is it really that people are, they can actually live there for less than they can here?

Well, it depends on the country and the cost of living there. But again, taking those baby steps, I would highly recommend before you make the decision that “I’m going to permanently move to another country” is to, you know, live there, stay there for six months or however long a visitor visa you can get. And live in the community, see what it’s really like. Are you going to be able to get the prescription medications that you routinely take? Is that going to, is that formula, is that going to be available in the pharmacies in the local community? How much really are the utilities? The gasoline, the availability of electricity, the availability of communication systems, wireless systems. You know, is your phone going to work? And in your budget, be sure to budget travel. How many times are you going to want to return to the United States to see family? And you also have to take into consideration your medical condition. If you have any kind of chronic medical condition, are the medical services as advanced as they are in the United States? Will you be able to get the ongoing cancer care, for example, that you would expect to receive in the United States? Is that really going to be available? I think a lot of people talk about how inexpensive medical care is. Well that might be for some sort of surgery or face lift or something, but that’s not the medical expenses that most of us have, that we have to face. It’s going to be that chronic care, it’s going to be the long-term care, it’s going to be the medications and I don’t want to be a downer, but you really have to think through. You may be perfectly healthy now, but in five years from now, are you going to get the medical care, the long-term care that you would hope to get in the United States?

I think in our final couple of minutes we have here, why don’t we segue into something you and I were talking about relative to spouses, and how important it is for us to have these conversations with our significant others about the intentions we both have for what would retirement look like. And make sure that we can somehow get that both on the same page, or at least allow for some differences. So you mentioned something about you had a certain expectation, a plan for retirement, which was kind of waylaid by some medical issues, but at least you had a plan of something you intended to do, whether it was formalized or not I don’t know. But most people don’t even think about it, they just kind of blindly walk into it as though it’s just a continuation of where they were. So let’s talk about that, and if you would share that story.

Okay, sure. Well you may think that you’re the most important person in retirement, but you’re really not.

I think a lot of people do!

Your retirement is going to impact everybody around you, from the colleagues that you are leaving to, probably even more important, your family and those that are close to you now. Your spouse and your kids are going to be significantly impacted by your decision to retire and the decisions that you make within your retirement. And there really, let’s just stick with the spouses, and I have a, probably a very common story, I should have known better. But my husband actually decided to retire ten years before I even was really thinking about retirement. And I was perfectly happy for him to retire, because I had this wonderful expectation of what he was going to do in his retirement. And I vividly remember that I took these little Post-it notes and wrote down all of the jobs that I wanted him to do in his retirement. And, you know, fix the plumbing, create a new wall, you know, do something in the garden, you know, sort out the basement, clean out the garage, organize the attic. And I put these all on little pieces of paper with sort of this naïve expectation that he would pull one out in the morning, find one that he wanted to do, and that’s what he would do for the day. And when I got home, it would be done!


Magic! Well, that wicker basket with all of those honey do…choices! I was giving him all these choices of things that he could do! Well, that basket went on top of the breakfront and was never touched again. And I have to tell you, 15 years later I was going through some stuff and I found that basket with the honey do list and my husband and I had this uproarious time going through, figuring out had any one of those things happened over 15 years and they didn’t.

No, of course not.

But I just threw them all away because it’s not going to happen now!

Yeah, but that was your idea for him for retirement.

That’s exactly right.

Okay. So what was his idea of retirement?

Well, his retirement was, the reason why he was retiring, is because he didn’t want anyone telling him what to do and when to do it!

Oh no! That’s too funny.


So you gave him the list of what you wanted him to do. That was perfect, that was perfect!

Uh-huh. We had to have some, I had to reorganize my thought process about what he was planning on doing in his retirement. Communication about how your retirement is going to affect all those around you is not something that can be ignored, postponed, or forgotten.

Yeah it is, it is really critical. I was actually in a meeting today with a couple, both of whom were not from this area originally. And it’s funny that we were talking about retirement. And she wanted to stay put, and he wanted to move to Florida. And at least they acknowledged that, they had talked about it, and I didn’t know that there was going to be any kind of compromise on this but apparently they’ve discussed it enough to the point where there was a compromise. That he would stay for a couple more years and then would see how it all works out. But that conversation with a financial advisor forced that issue, whereas if that hadn’t happened, I think both of them would have gone on continuing to just live day to day, with the expectations that that’s how each of their lives was going to work with the other, but they had never shared that information. That could totally derail any kind of financial planning that anybody does. Yeah.

Because, you know, selling a house, moving, determining where you’re going to live, what kind of place you want to have, has significant financial consequences.

It sure does.

And if one person thinks that they are going to buy an RV and travel around sort of rootless for a year visiting all of the national parks, which is a fabulous idea, but you still, is that the same idea as your spouse has, who really has in the back of her mind that what she wants to do is to go back to school and get her certificate in dental hygiene?

Yeah, big difference! I can’t agree with you more, because I believe that people have never really given themselves permission to let their own dreams come out. They’ve lived their lives according to what our society expects. They got married, they had the kids, put the kids through school, now they’re looking at “Oh well, maybe, you know, it’s time for us to start thinking about what we want and retirement” and yet they’ve never had that kind of a conversation because it just wasn’t something you talked about. And for our parents, for them it wasn’t even an issue, they just kind of went off into the sunset, or they blew it all on a couple of cruises and whatever and then they were done. But I think that baby boomers have a very different perspective on that time of life. It’s a time for us to say “I want to figure out what I can do that’s going to make a difference in the world” because we learned to do that long time ago. And it has this completely different aspect of life showing up than it would have been had they not given it any conversation, any thought, anything like that. In my own experience working with baby boomer couples, I have noticed that more of them are interested in doing things that they’ve always wanted to do that would give back to society, in some way, shape, or form. And it’s not the Peace Corps, but it’s something like that, even if it’s local. But there’s a desire to want to give back, and also to have some time to do some of the things they’d like to do. So I don’t know if you see something like that in the people you’ve spoken to or when you did the research for your book, but that’s what I’m seeing. Do you see the same?

Yes, I definitely see the same. And I think that the boomers are…it’s slowly dawning on them through perhaps lots of repetition that hey, we’re talking about twenty years. And if you think of all the changes and decisions and ups and downs that you have between age 20 and 40, or between 40 and 60, that seems like forever between 20 and 40. But you’ve got, you probably most likely have another 20 years, at least! And giving back and having purpose, as we started the conversation, is so beneficial to your own personal health and personal well-being. That you’re more likely to get as much from whatever it is that you decide you want to do as the contribution that you get back.

I know we’ve shared this thought before, but it’s worth saying again, that retirement planning is not just about the numbers. And it’s all about the quality of the life you’re going to live in retirement, that 24/7, 365-days thing of, you know, “What do I do to fill in the space now?” and it’s really an important question to start asking. Unfortunately, not too many people talk about those things when they go to see advisors, who talk about financial planning or retirement planning, it seems to be too soft an issue. And frankly there’s no money in it, I mean that’s just the bottom line. You can’t get paid in a lot of cases to do that kind of counseling, but it is to me the most important piece of retirement planning because that determines how happy and how successful you are in retirement!

So regardless of what you want to do with distributing your wealth as part of your estate plan. 

Mm-hmm, yes, regardless of it is right. It used to be that our parents were so worried about preserving that wealth and passing it down to the next generation, that they forgot about living their own lives. And I’ve seen that so many times. But I think today’s baby boomers are seeing it from a very different perspective, and I’m glad. You know the book that was written How To Die Broke? It was just a great concept!

I know, I’m going to spend my last dime on my last day.

Okay! All right, good for you I like that. So thank you again, Sally Hurme, I really appreciate your contributions to this story about retirement, and I would say to all of you, my Power Of The Purse community, I hope today’s podcast was helpful in enriching your understanding of financial issues and how it can help you achieve your life goals. Sally, if anybody would like to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

The best way is by email, and it’s very simple. It’s just my name, sallyhurme@gmail.com.

Okay. And thanks again, Sally, for sharing your time and your knowledge, and until the next time, thanks for listening. And remember money is not the enemy, your ignorance of it is. Goodbye!

Thanks Lynn!

Okay, wonderful. Thanks again for sharing your time and your knowledge, and until the next time, thanks for listening. Remember, money is not the enemy, your ignorance of it is. Goodbye!

How to contact Sally:


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