the joys of bureaucracy

My last day of work for the state was technically 12/31.  There were a few payments the agency would owe me.

  • salary for December – this was paid on Jan ~2nd.  No problems as it’s an automatic function
  • pay for standby duty – this was paid on 9th, as is typical.  It takes human intervention.
  • pay for comp time – just kidding, Texas state employees forfeit comp time at time of separation;  that would have been useful information beforehand.  Luckily I only lost 2 days pay on it
  • pay for accrued FLSA – this was paid on Feb ~9th
  • pay for unused vacation time – was quoted as being 40-70 days from separation.  The times might seem weird, but line up with that ~9th payday the state has for some things.

I had put a dated task on my calendar to watch for that vacation pay by day 70;  no joy.   So I called the agency’s local HR:  “yeah, that was direct deposited Continue reading “the joys of bureaucracy”

how I decided to retire

Note:  this post started as a comment reply but outgrew the limitations of the comment box.  The short version is I’m living off retirement funds until Social Security kicks in.

I’m fleshing out the thought process here in case anyone else is considering retirement.  Things to know:

  • I am frugal by nature and don’t require much to live and be happy.
  • I like boondocking and solitude.
  • I don’t have a wife or girlfriend to keep happy.  I haven’t dated in 2 years and am the better for it.
  • In order to hit my original retirement target I was socking away the majority of my state worker income into pre-tax accounts and paying extra on the van note.
  • This left me with what Normal People might think is a meager monthly budget for food, van insurance, fuel, cell plan, entertainment, etc.  Basically everything but the van note which I took out earlier.  Hereafter I will refer to this spending as $X/month.  I’m not trying to be coy here (it was about $1000/mo without being careful).  I want to encourage readers to plug in their monthly “nut” there as they read along.
  • When boondocking I found my spending plummeted to about 1/3rd X.  I was cooking for myself all the time, staying in one place, not spending anything on entertainment.  Hiking, reading, blogging, etc.  Boondocking is my favorite thing to do — it’s not a hardship by any means.  I just couldn’t do that much of it with my work schedule.
  • I get my medical care through the VA, and also have a 20% service-connected disability that yields a .25X/month payment. That goes into a money market savings account as my Emergency Fund.  In all the cases below the emergency fund is untapped.
  • I have no debt (van was paid off in December)

Original plan:  retire in 2024 on state pension –> RMD retirement funds + delayed SS

My original plan was to work another 4.5yrs and retire directly into a state pension at age 58.  The pension would pay more than X, so retirement would have been a small pay raise.  🙂

At 70 I’d be forced to take required minimum distributions from retirement funds (another X), and would also file for late Social Security (yet another X).

We were working 4×10 shifts which felt like semi-retirement anyhow.  I could coast to the finish line. Lots of boondocking opportunities.


Changed plan:  retire in 2021 on retirement funds –> SS –> pension –> SS

I enjoyed the work and my coworkers but we lost 4×10 in a scenario that seriously outraged me and resulted in an accellerated retirement plan.  The schedule was terrible and getting worse with no end in the foreseeable future.  Our hours and days of work were extending and we were short staffed.

I ran the numbers again and saw that I could retire in 1.5 years (to reach pension vesting).  It would look like this:

  1. retire at 55 in 2021
  2. live off retirement funds until early SS
  3. file for early SS at 62
  4. pension would start at 68;  suspend SS to increase benefit
  5. re-start SS at 70

All the way through I’d have at least 1X, then at 70 I’d have 2X.

Frustration plan:  retire now on retirement funds –> some work gigs –> early SS

I got increasingly frustrated with the work schedule and started thinking about pulling the lever on the ejection seat.  What happened if I bailed now before pension vesting?    In addition to my monthly pension contribution I’d  paid an extra ~$12k into that fund to get to that age 58 retirement.  Did I hate the work schedule enough to walk away from the extra I’d paid?  It was starting to feel that way.

I figured by taking active steps to economize I could get my spending down to one-half X (boondocking on retirement funds).  If needed, I could do some remote work like transcription to make it to early social security.  I invested in a good keyboard and did some transcription practice.

In this mode I’d have less than 1X until SS.

Executed plan: retire now on retirement funds –> withdrawn pension funds –> SS

I really didn’t want to lose the $12k.  Sunk cost, I know, but it stuck in my craw.  I started sniffing around to see if it was a necessary loss.

To my delight, I found that not only was the $12k retrievable (and rollable into my retirement accounts) but the rest of my pension contributions, too.  This was a game changer:  I could retire now and make it to Social Security on my current assets at the full 1X budget.  The more I save by boondocking the longer the money will last, and the later I can claim SS.

There are a few timelines that started at separation from work, but all cylinders will be firing by March.

D minus 10

Last weekend duty.

Due to (yet another) schedule change I will have one full workday after this, 12/27.

Here is Muffin hanging out in the driver’s seat this morning:

It was 37F this morning in the van (below freezing outside) so I threw a Mexican poncho over her.  She is totally happy to lay under blankets.

We were on my mummy bag this morning, with a serape similar to the poncho over us.  Nice and cozy, I had no idea how cold it was.  The nearly-still air is misleading.   I run the maxxfan on lowest  speed in the winter but you can’t feel the air moving unless you are right under it.

D minus 11 – work, dogs

Lots going on recently.

work and retirement

The biggest thing is I am retiring from work on Dec 31st.   It’s earlier than I had planned, but my work schedule has been increasingly terrible with no end in sight.   In a way I am grateful for the bureaucratic inertia and stupidity that encouraged me to look at all my options again.  It’s like Kafka only with a happy ending.

Because of the holidays, I’ve only got a few real working days left.  I work this weekend, a half day next week, and the last two days.  In all cases, the office will be abandoned as all the Normal Office People have taken off.  I am also on standby duty answering emergency calls while the office is closed for Christmas but I can do that from the camper.

immediate plans

In January I will make a run to the DFW area to visit family before heading out.  I’ll go back out west after that.

a doggo of my own

This is Muffin (nee Candy Corn), a 50-something pound pit/boxer mix I had walked many times at the shelter.  Because of the holiday/weekend schedule I could adopt her now, ahead of my retirement proper.  She’d been at the shelter for 10 weeks, and had been transferred there from the ELP city shelter before that.  I think her eagerness and strength were a bit much for the average family perusing the used dog lot.  She put her front paws on people when she had visitors and could easily push down a small child.

Once out of the pen she settled right down and rarely gets on people.  If you are sitting or lying down, though, expect to have her in your lap.  She is housetrained, responsive to small leash inputs, and nonreactive to other dogs.  We were walking in the park yesterday and a loose beagle ran up on her from behind — she was relaxed and they goofed around for a bit.  We walked by the dog park there and didn’t mind that other dogs ran up and barked wildly at the fence line.  Mutual sniffing ensued then she walked off.

This is in line with my observations at the shelter:  the most relaxed and attention-craving dogs were the pits.  They looked stereotypicaly scary but were dying to be touched by a person.

Muffin’s other good habits:  doesn’t tear stuff up, hasn’t gotten into garbage, sleeps right next to you, doesn’t bark except when people are around the camper, hops right in the van.  Not farty.  🙂

This morning we went to a farmer’s market where she was well-behaved and got some love from strangers.  Later we walked by the best local El Paso brewery, Deadbeach, and she walked right onto the patio.  Arm twisted, I had an excellent sour beer as we sat in the sunshine.  Bartender and a customer to see her and she did great.

Life is good.

“working from starbucks”

Every once in a while a reddit post illustrates how vandwellers can live.  Here’s one called Is this what they meant when they said “You’ll be working from Starbucks all the time”?

The popular image, of course, is someone using Starbucks as an informal workspace.  Our worker here is using the Starbucks parking lot as a workspace:  coffee on the table, likely repeating the wifi into the van.   The open back window allows wifi signals through that would otherwise be blocked by the reflectix-like material on the ot her rear door.

This is a simple, highly-functional workspace.  No instragrammy fluff required.

short weekend

I work a rotating shift.  This shift change is the worst because I work until 10pm on Friday then open again at 4am Monday.   Makes for a short weekend.  :-/

Pic is from by go-to, Organ Mountains / Desert Needles national monument outside Las Cruces NM.

Sudden FT

Good thing I started getting rid of stuff a year or two ago; I accepted a job with the same agency 700mi away.

Leaving here in two weeks and starting there in three. The van is ready and I am ready so I will go FT.

Probably won’t be able to update much because of the tight timeline.

EL: Sunday, and the interview

I write this from a dispersed camping spot in the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument.  At 6000ft it’s a few degrees cooler than El Paso at the same time period.


Breakfast and coffee at Joe Vinny & Bronson’s.  Laid back and caring service;  Eddie is a great guy.

At 10 the Wyler Aerial Tramway opened up and I was in the first couple of cars that went up.  Wasn’t planning on staying up there a long time, but saw info on the Ranger’s Peak trail.  Signed out at the gift shop up top, got a map, and promised to call when done so they know I didn’t crack my fool head open. Continue reading “EL: Sunday, and the interview”

El Paso so far

Saturday night

I stealthed for the night in the Mission Valley, which is the older part of ELP on the southside adjacent to Juarez, Chihuahua.  Lots of street parking which is great for stealthing.

Walked into a little bar across the street and everyone was having fun, smiling, and singing with the jukebox.  Effortless switching between Spanish-English.  No douches. Continue reading “El Paso so far”

Road trip: El Paso

The interview is scheduled in El Paso on Monday, so I am on the way there now.  It’s 700mi from my sticks/bricks in NE Texas.

If everything falls in line I could be fulltime by September.

Taking it easy on the drive, lots of breaks.  I want to arrive fresh and focused instead of stressed and tired from driving.  Wish me luck.