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To Retire or Not To Retire, That is The Question!

To Retire or Not To Retire, That is The Question!

I was recently reading an article by David Nixon of Nixon Consulting that contained some very good retirement advice. It was published in the Memorial Business Journal produced by Ed Defort, from NFDA on April 7th, 2022. The basic theme was how to decide when to retire. David encourages owners to plan many years in advance for this momentous life event and is solid advice. In his article, David talks about the 2nd most important question to ask when we make such a life-changing decision. The question is, to ask your spouse what they think. In my case, it was my husband, Monte. A number of years ago, when I was thinking about the decision to retire, I reached out to my business coach and a financial consultant who told me the same thing, “ask your husband what he thinks.”

Monte and I first met over 10 years ago, when we were dating, he asked me when I thought I would retire. He had already retired from education and coaching at age 50 with full benefits and compensation. He chose to move to Missouri where we made our home together. He sold his house in Colorado and left his children, his family, and friends, and his bands (he is a drummer) because we were in love, and we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. We told our realtor in Colorado to keep an eye out for a small ranch for our future retirement, as we both loved his home state and someday, we wanted to return and have a place in the country with horses. I was 55 when this was discussed and decided. I told him I thought I should retire somewhere around 60 years of age. That may seem early for some of you readers, but because my dad had died at 53, I had no intention to stay too long in the business. 60 was not that far off and came up rather quickly while I was still working full time and growing my business. Not a month after Monte sold his home, our realtor found an amazing 40-acre ranch close to where he lived. Suddenly, we had two homes. We came to visit as often as we could, had management retreats onsite for team Baue, and had many family and friends visit.

When I hit that magical age of 60, I remembered the promise to my husband that I was going to have to probably “fudge” a bit, as I was unsure if I was ready to retire. He understood, but I could tell he was ready for me to slow down—at least a little. But was I?

Those who know me well knew that this was going to be a difficult task to slow me down. I had hired a business coach, so I reached out to him and others, to help me prepare for retirement. I had all my legal and estate affairs in order. I had found out a couple of years before this decision, that my son did not want to buy the business, nor thought he would stay much longer as funeral service was not his passion. My daughter was out of state working as an event planner and was not interested in the family business either. I also talked to my professional friend Dr. Alan Wolfelt who along this journey was certain that slowing down was not in my vocabulary.

I did some deep soul searching and thinking during the years that led up to the business sale, especially while on the back of a horse. I realized by age 61 that I was ready to move on to other areas of my passion that I enjoy and at the same time slow down just a little bit more too.

I read a great book my coach suggested, titled How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie J. Zelinski. The author talks about a 2001 Cornell University research project which shows that while retirement is good for men’s physiological well-being, those that retire from their primary career are happiest and suffer the least depression when they find some sort of other work. This study surprisingly did not find much difference among women, who seem to be more adaptable in retirement. I suppose that I am built more as a businessperson of my generation and trend more like the men in respect to facing total retirement. Fully retiring never really appealed to me and I knew it was time to do something different.

I knew that because of the size of business Baue had become, serving over 2500 families combined with all its lines of businesses, it would need to be sold to a larger company. For some people in business, this is an easy decision. They buy and sell businesses all the time, it’s a business, not a way of life, not a personal mission, as it was for me. Funeral service was in my heart since I was in my early 20s. Deep down inside, however, I knew I was ready for a change. I also knew that I had taken Baue’s as far as I could in its growth, as it needed new ownership to take it further. I was proud that I was leaving it as a healthy viable business with a great management team in place. A sports analogy comes to mind, in that it’s always good to go out “on the top of your game!” That is where I was at age 60.

As my son and I began to look for buyers, we wanted to ensure that our staff had great job opportunities, as they were the very best of leaders. We began looking at the various companies that could afford to buy Baue’s at its current EBITDA value and eventually, it came down to a final 3. It was an interesting educational experience taking what I had built, assessing the many buyers in our market, meeting with various corporations, and making a final decision. I was very grateful to my good friend and financial consultant John Schmitz, CPA for “holding my hand” throughout the entire process. He taught me about mergers and acquisition best practices and along with my business coach, he helped me learn to “let go”.

The sale of Baue took place in June of 2019 to Park Lawn Corporation and they have done well in their management of our family business. The leaders who were with me for many years, most of them have incredible jobs and growth opportunities.

Was it hard cleaning out my office? Sure, it was. Was it weird not going in every day, not having my phone ring 24/7? It was in some ways, a relief. I had a new sense of freedom where my husband and I now could enjoy more time together. Some travel with friends was involved at first, lots of horseback riding too, hanging at our ranch, and just spending more time together filled our first year.

The pandemic arrived less than 8 months after the sale. After hearing about the realities that took place for our many friends in funeral service, I realized that I had indeed made the right decision to sell the business and retire from ownership. It was a sad and difficult time for so many in funeral service and my heart’s prayers went out to those friends in ownership that were struggling to serve families, find PPE, protect, and care for their staff at the same time.  As I had the time to comprehend and learn what funeral service was going through, it occurred to me that so many of the owners, managers, and funeral directors might need some help and guidance after the pandemic was over.

Having some time to think about my future during the Pandemic led me to the founding of Your Funeral Coach, a personalized coaching and mentoring firm serving small to medium size businesses. I am grateful to my coaches and mentors for helping me make the hard, yet wise decisions about selling and starting a consulting company from scratch. This small business now fulfills my mission to “help” others in need albeit in a different way than the day-to-day operating of a funeral service company.

So, readers, you are probably thinking, didn’t she promise Monte she was going to retire? Well, I did, sort of. Taking some much-needed time off to reflect on my mission in life, my true purpose and passion, funeral service, and to think more about the legacy I wanted to leave the profession helped me find clarity. I also came to realize that I was at a time in my life, where I could spend more time “giving back” to the profession. I am honored now, to serve on the board of Trustees for the Funeral Service Foundation and to help with several other associations’ educational programs, such as NFDA’s Professional Women’s Conference and the Selected Independent Funeral Home’s Women in Funeral Service Forum.

Monte and I are now working on our life balance in how we spend our free time. As I write this blog, we are back in Colorado at our ranch. He is back drumming in his “man cave” and out in the community with his band. He enjoys his projects around the ranch, and we have both taken up golfing and are spending more time with our family, our grandchildren, and our two horses and two “doodle” dogs. Life is good

This last year, I built a small “She Shed” / office at the ranch, where I spend part of my day coaching clients and writing. We downsized into a Villa home in Missouri and have a nice condo in Florida where we enjoy time together in the colder months. I still help when needed at Baue’s and we spend time visiting family and friends. I find I do stay pretty busy and that I “chill out” more now, spending time on horseback, gardening, and cooking.  Professionally, I am writing a book about growing up as a woman in a male-dominated profession, I blog every couple of weeks, and I am enjoying interviewing leaders in our profession on my podcast, Your Funeral Coach Talks.

If you are wondering how to retire and transition, whether it is full retirement or partial, call me, and we can talk it through. I am available for a free 1-hour visit to help you get started. In his book, Retiring Wild Happy and Free, Ernie recommends starting to think about and plan for retirement 10 years in advance. For more business transition and retirement ideas, listen in to our next week’s podcast, where my good friend and Collaborative Network Partner John Schmitz, CPA who has over 30 years of experience in mergers and acquisitions talk about best practices and advice for owners considering slowing down.

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Many blessings on your day,