scorecardThe pandemic upended my lazy retirement plans, and now I'm taking 4 steps to save for my new dream: owning a brewery
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The pandemic upended my lazy retirement plans, and now I'm taking 4 steps to save for my new dream: owning a brewery

Stephanie Hallett   

  • I used to think I'd retire like my dad; he worked for the same employer for decades and achieved "Freedom 55."
  • With life and work so uncertain in COVID's wake, though, I shifted gears to focus on something new.

My dad retired at 55 with a wide-open horizon before him: no plans, no commitments, no worries. After decades in the child and youth services industry, he was ready to kick up his feet, flip on the radio, and settle into his golden years — with a healthy pension to support him and my mom.

As a union worker employed by a municipal agency in Toronto, he knew early on in his career that if he worked hard for long enough, he'd have a guaranteed income in retirement. I can remember hearing about his "Freedom 55" plan from a young age, watching him go out for strategic promotions that would boost his pension.

In 2010, when I started my career, I had moved to the US from Canada and the dust from the Great Recession was just beginning to settle. It is an understatement to say I was walloped by culture shock. I had no idea what a 401(k) was let alone how to use one when it was offered, and it frankly hadn't occurred to me that I'd have to save on my own for retirement. I was 23 and knew only one retired person, my dad, and I thought pretty much everyone's retirement looked the same. Suffice to say I missed out on many years of savings before finally getting it together.

When I did start tucking money into a 401(k), around 30, it was with the expectation that I'd follow in my father's footsteps — I'd stop work at a reasonable age (say 65 or so), then enjoy relaxing days with my family and friends, traveling, seeing movies and live shows, working on house projects, and generally taking it easy. But the COVID-19 pandemic flipped a switch in my brain.

I suddenly started rethinking my ideal 'retirement'

Maybe it was watching my friends get laid off left and right, or feeling, suddenly, the fragility of life, work, and the balance of the two, but at some point in 2020 I abruptly stopped picturing my cottage-oriented retirement and suddenly started to think about building my own business — something that was mine, something that would bring me joy. A pandemic cliché, I know, but it's a cliché for a good reason.

When I casually mentioned my small-business dreams to my husband one night, he said he'd been thinking the same thing. Maybe it was all the reality restaurant TV we'd been watching during lockdown, or lingering memories of our brewery wedding, but we started dreaming of a place we'd want to be, many years into our retirement: a brewery with a stage where we could host live shows — theatre, dance, poetry. There would be food trucks, there would be laughter, there would be art and friends and very good beer. Watching so many Americans shift from day jobs to entrepreneurship during the pandemic convinced us it was possible — we just needed the time… and the money.

Ah, the money. While we're nowhere near throwing open the brewery's doors today, we've started to think about how to finance our "retirement" dream (because let's be honest, "retirement" today does not mean Freedom 55 for most people — it means leaving your 9-to-5 at whatever age and doing work that can sustain your lifestyle but doesn't require punching a clock, so to speak). We've got a few strategies going to get our financial ducks in a row.

1. We can leverage our house

Before the brewery, I really only had one big-picture money goal: to buy a house. I didn't think it would happen for me until much later in life, but in 2020, my husband and I decided to move from expensive Los Angeles to a lower cost-of-living city and buy a home.

With our relatively small mortgage of less than $250,000, we can make extra payments toward our principal now and be in a position to leverage our home's equity in about a decade or less.

2. We're saving and investing

We're still saving into traditional retirement accounts (because life is long and we'll need that money eventually) but we're also setting aside cash every month into savings and brokerage accounts with a plan to put it toward our business.

Our "education savings" account is there to support us as we learn new skills, and the money in our brokerage account will be available to cushion us if and when we get the business off the ground.

3. We're building our credit scores to take out a small-business loan

I'm sure we'll need to borrow money for the brewery at some point, whether it's to buy the industrial supplies we need to start brewing or to rent a space to house the business. With good credit, we can get the best rates available. So we're doing everything we can now to bump up our scores, like paying off our credit cards in full every month and keeping our credit utilization rates low.

4. We're investing in home-brew supplies to actually learn the craft of beer-making

If you've been rolling your eyes while reading this essay wondering what skills I think I have, exactly, that would qualify me to open a brewery, I don't blame you — I frankly have none. This business is a dream at the moment, and it'll take work to get to the finish line.

For now, we're investing in home-brew supplies and turning our basement into a workshop. We have to start somewhere. Come by for a drink?