Peggy Kilburg’s son has three young children, and his wife recently gave birth to triplets. Kilburg can’t imagine not being able to help out: “That would drive me crazy!” The desire to be a more involved grandma is something that’s unmistakable for Kilburg. Luckily, she’ll be able to help because she’s retired—and earlier than she thought would be possible.

No End in Sight

Kilburg had a successful professional career working in Human Resources for a small Christian university in Oregon. She loved working for the school for more than two decades, but eventually things started to take a toll on her. “My husband retired, I started experiencing insomnia, and the job began to feel more stressful than it had been before. The lack of sleep contributed to my stress, and the stress contributed to my insomnia. It quickly became a a vicious cycle, and I was beginning to feel that I was no longer doing justice to my role.”

She initially worked with a financial planner provided by her university’s 403(b) provider. She did her homework, creating a detailed budget plan. When she and her husband met with the financial planner, she found his answers rather vague. Kilburg says he appeared not to have looked at the documents she’d prepared at his request. “When I asked him if he thought I could retire in a year or two, his answer was almost flippant,” she explains. He quickly told her he thought she could by taking her Social Security benefit early. Kilburg thought she wouldn’t be able to retire until sometime in 2017.

Fresh Eyes and a New Retirement Perspective

Feeling somewhat discouraged, Kilburg prepared a spreadsheet outlining various budget scenarios and potential retirement dates. At her son’s repeated urging, she finally agreed to ask his friend to take a look at the spreadsheets she’d created. The friend, Josh Buttrey, was a wealth management advisor at Northwestern Mutual.

“Josh was not only very cordial, he immediately started asking me all the right questions. He wanted to see all of my information, including budget projections, our retirement portfolio, our plans to cover long-term care if needed and so on. Within a couple of weeks, Josh got back to me with a phone call and a slide show explaining his conclusions. He was so thorough and very holistic, looking at all the different scenarios of when and if I should take Social Security and ideas for how I would pay for things like long-term care if I needed it. I mean, some of this stuff I didn’t know I should consider,” says Kilburg.

Based on Josh’s input, the pair crunched some budget numbers and put together a financial plan that considered Kilburg’s whole financial picture. Once that was finished, Kilburg says, “he told me that the only thing stopping me from retiring was me giving my notice. I cannot tell you how elated I was.” A few weeks later Kilburg handed in her letter of resignation.

Her New Retirement Plan

Kilburg is frugal and always made small contributions to her 403(b) account. She was fortunate that her university had contributed as well. But when she married her husband Gary—it was a second marriage for both—she admits they were way behind on saving for retirement and in debt. Kilburg says over the next 16 years they became ruthless, paying down debt and stashing away as much as they could for retirement. “When I left my job as HR director at age 61, we had just over $1 million,” Kilburg says.

Kilburg laughs, saying she knows her son and daughter-in-law will need help with the triplets, but retirement has had other perks, too. “Besides spending more time with Gary and the eleven grandkids we already have, I’ve gotten to travel and relax. I rarely relaxed before retirement.”

Retirement Means Time for Her Gs

Kilburg recalls TV news anchor Brit Hume retiring and saying he was going to make time for his three Gs: God, granddaughters and golf. “That inspired me to come up with my own G list: God, Gary (my husband), grandkids, grown kids, good books, gardening, going places, good deeds, goofing off and good health.” Kilburg’s already getting started. She’s taken a cruise to Alaska in the last year and walked nearly 800 miles as part of her fitness regimen.

When she thinks back on her story, Kilburg can’t believe that she came so close to working an extra year or more before retiring. “If my story helps just one person retire sooner than she expected, that makes sharing my journey worth it. You can’t get years back. Take advantage of people out there who can help you get where you want to be. It is so easy to lose perspective and begin thinking that work is the most important thing in your life. When you step away, you think, ‘Wow, look at all the stuff I was missing out on.’”

Now Kilburg is living life on her terms. She’s encouraging others to do the same.