A man who stopped working at age 65 says he used a '3-legged stool' strategy to prepare for retirement

David FisherDavid Fisher with his 1932 Ford roadsterCourtesy of David Fisher

For 69-year-old David Fisher, who lives in upstate New York, a lot of planning went into preparing for retirement. 

"I looked at retirement as a three-legged stool," says Fisher, a former college public safety officer. For him, there were three areas of his life that he had to get in tip-top shape before retiring. 

The first leg of the stool: finances

The first leg of this stool was his finances, namely his spending and saving habits. "My income, my debt, my nest egg, keeping a very small Visa account, and keeping some activity on it" were key to having financial stability in retirement, he says.

"Between 55 and 60 years old, my plan was to have no debt, and to build a cash nest egg that was a separate from Social Security and my 403(b)." To do this, he paid off his home, bought a truck with cash to eliminate an auto loan, and continued to save.  

The second leg of the stool: healthcare

"The other leg of that stool is healthcare," says Fisher. Luckily, this leg was fairly easy to sort out since Fisher was eligible for Medicare right away. But, Fisher says, opting for a Medicare Advantage plan has been the most helpful. These plans can help cover things that Medicare alone won't cover, like dental work and glasses, as well as offering lower out-of-pocket costs.

Fisher says that his Medicare Advantage plan is also fairly affordable. "My former employer pays 85% of that monthly, and I pay about $40 a month." Plus, it's helped him save quite a bit. "At age 66, when I was retired, I needed a stint put in my aorta because I had an aneurysm there. The surgery was $110,000," says Fisher. "My part of that was $250."

He also says that a maximum out-of-pocket limit between $3,000 and $4,000 through his Advantage plan protects his savings from unnecessary healthcare costs. His coverage also includes in-home services for when he gets older, and even includes a free gym membership and fitness activities that he uses now. 

The third leg of the stool: lifestyle

"The third leg of the stool for me was lifestyle," says Fisher. His challenge was figuring out how to live on very little. But, he knew he'd have to find a balance between enjoying his life and maintaining his spending."You know, you still gotta live," says Fisher. "You still want to hang out with your kids and you want to take your grandkids out for an ice cream." 

So he started finding ways to spend more on the things he wanted to spend on, and less on things he had to, like bills, taxes, and debts. "I eliminated my big debts, and the four biggest are a mortgage, car payment, credit card debt, and loans." He keeps his taxes low with the help of a New York property tax program and the state's many tax advantages for retirees. 

He also had a money-saving advantage going into retirement based on where he lives. "I live south of Rochester in upstate New York," says Fisher. "A middle-class family making $50,000 or $60,000 can buy a really nice middle-class house in this part of New York." He adds that things like groceries are also relatively affordable here. 

Lastly, he owns an earth home, which is partially underground and maintains a consistent temperature to help cut down his utility bills during cold New York winters.

Earth homeFisher's earth home, which he heats only with wood, and has a 1,000 square foot garage above his living space.Courtesy David Fisher

"In my earth home, I only use wood for heat. It can get so warm in my home that if it's -10 degrees outside, I have to open a door to let some of the heat out," Fisher tells Business Insider. "My electric bill stays at $50 a month all year long."

He also does things like cook at home to cut his costs, and has saved a lot by not having to drive to work every day.

For Fisher, getting ready to live an affordable retired lifestyle he could maintain for many years was a challenge, but one he's glad he took on. 

"I'm not wealthy, but I am comfortable," he says. "And I think that's the big goal for many people, especially when you're retired."

Wondering how much money you'll have when you retire? Use this calculator to find out:

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