Episode #2: From the Bronx to the Barn: Planning for a Sustainable Unretirement

November 24, 2015 · 23:14
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Do you have a dream job, something you’ve always wanted to do but weren’t able to take the risk?

Sylvia Burgos Toftness was commuting 65 miles each way from her home in Wisconsin, to her public relations job in Minneapolis.

During those long drives, she thought about what she and her husband Dave could do in their unretirement.

She wanted to be a farmer.

Raised in the Bronx, Sylvia didn’t know how to farm. She took classes and learned from her neighbors.  After a lot of planning, saving, and conversations—including making sure the finances worked– Dave and Sylvia took a leap to follow their dream.  They bought a herd of cattle and unretired into raising grass-fed beef. She also taught baking classes in her kitchen.

After hearing Sylvia’s story, Chris talks with Ross Levin, a certified financial planner and co-founder of Accredited investors about the financial considerations of following your dreams in your unretirement. We’ll learn:

  • How to determine what values should guide your retirement or unretirement decisions.
  • What financial steps you need to take before you pursue your dream
  • What to do if you can’t afford to pursue your dreams.
  • Why experiences matter more at the end of life than money.

Our listener question comes from Paul.  He asks “How can people who have focused on their careers their whole lives can discover meaningful alternatives in their unretirement years.”


Explore additional resources from this episode:

Want to see pictures of our visit to Sylvia’s Farm, The Bull Brook Keep?  Visit our Facebook page.

If you are considering farming, or simply curious, here are some good resources:

A place to start is Sylvia’s website, From the Bronx to the Barn: Bronx Latina trades subways for grass-fed cattle.

Cornell University’s Northeast Beginning Farmers Project is a rich resource for first time famers.

The University of California Cooperative Extension Small Farm Program and Beginning Farmer is an online resource for farmers, researchers and policymakers.

The United State Department of Agriculture runs a  program to help beginning farmers and ranchers get started.

You can find your local Cooperative Extension System office, a nationwide agricultural education network to learn about additional resources.

Michael Fields Agricultural Institute is geared toward sustainable farming.


Here are a number of articles and radio interviews on the topic.

Becoming A Farmer in Retirement by Chris Farrell

A Second Career On The Farm by Dilane Mitchell

Retiring To The Farm Anything But Quiet by Abbie Fentress Swanson is on the public radio program, Here & Now.

Retirees find a new field in farming from the Dallas Morning News.

Career Shift: Goodbye, Law; Hello, 3 New Pursuits Dan Berger quit his law practice at 55 and is now loving life as a maple syrup farmer, caterer and musician by Julie Shifman


Here are Chris Farell’s recommendations for the financial planning part of the equation.

The free online planning calculators are fine for the quick check-in, a fast answer to the “how am I doing” question. Firms like Vanguard, Fidelity, Morningstar, and T. Rowe Price offer good online tools for ballpark estimates. But that’s all these calculators are good for.

For a DIY detailed analysis, check out ESPlanner. The programs were developed by economist Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University. The defining approach of ESPlanner is putting spending at the core of financial planning. The two centerpiece programs for households—ESPlanner and ESPlanner Plus—are time consuming to fill out. The return is detailed recommendations, including taxes and Social Security.

Also, spend time with the menu of programs offered at Analyzenow.com, the brainchild of Henry “Bud” Hebeler. His focus is on the conservative side, a planning emphasis that focuses on putting a floor on downside risk.

The underlying philosophies behind these two websites is very different with Kotlikoff emphasizing spending and Hebeler savings.  Yet both are comprehensive and useful, offering a number of free and fee-based options.


Here are a handful of useful personal finance books, especially when the unretirement years loom.

The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security: Practical Strategies for Money, Work, and Living, by Mark Miller.

Retirement and retirement isn’t the same thing. Syndicated columnist Miller deals with getting finances in order before the retirement years, but then he looks into the many trade-offs and considerations of retirement itself, from part-time work to the nuances of Social Security.

Get a Life: You Don’t Need a Million to Retire Well by Ralph Warner.

Too much of the advice in the personal finance industry seems to feeds off the fear we all share of not having enough money. Warner, the founder of the self-help legal organization Nolo.com, offers a healthy antidote to fear mongering and at the same time, practical financial tips for constructing a meaningful life.

The New Frugality by Chris Farrell. (Yes, our host!)

Frugality doesn’t mean fashioned penny-pinching—far from it. I recommend merging money management with a sustainability sensibility for a lifestyle of less waste, lower environmental impact, lower financial stress, more career opportunities and in the long run, deeper satisfaction.

Spend Your Life Wisely: The Deeper Meaning of Money by Ross Levin.

A wise, knowledgeable book that is about so much more than money and personal finances. Memorable anecdotes. Wonderful stories. Pages wisdom. Ross Levin weave together money and values so that your financial decisions will support your deeply held values.


Ask Chris your unretirement question or share your story:

If you have an unretirement question or a story for Chris, get in touch.  We are always looking for inspiring stories and try to answer as many listener questions as possible.


Join the conversation:

We love the conversations that our listeners are having about unretirement on Facebook.

This week we want to know:

What’s your Unretirement dream job?


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