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A cancer scare didn’t doom this couple's retirement

It isn't every day that a couple can choose to step away from the workplace earlier than anticipated.

But that's exactly what Mark, 64, and Holly Batchelder, 58, of Omaha, Nebraska, did.

The pair, parents of five adult children, originally planned on leaving the workforce around age 65. A health crisis for Mark, a former insurance executive, plus the deaths of the couple's mothers and two of the couple's closest friends, made the Batchelders reevaluate their expectations.

"We would love to retire at certain ages," said Holly, a former business coach. "But life happens and you have to be able to adjust."

Financial cleanup

Over the course of 20 years of marriage, the Batchelders followed a budget to ensure they could handle their five kids and save for retirement.

But just because the Batchelders were being prudent didn't mean that they were perfect.

In 2013, they started working with Teresa Milner, wealth advisor, and Mark Petersen, vice president of affluent wealth planning, both of Carson Wealth Management Group.

"We really want to enjoy the remaining years that we have. There are no guarantees." -Holly Batchelder

The relationship was an eye opener, and it led the couple to cut their expenses by 20 percent.

"I remember we walked out of our meeting and went, 'Oh my gosh, we have to change what we're doing or we're going to be in trouble,'" said Holly. "We were spending too much."

As part of their financial plan, the Batchelders sought to purchase more life insurance for Mark.

It was around then that the couple made a frightening discovery: Mark was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Mark Batchelder in front of his RV.
Qin Chen | CNBC
Mark Batchelder in front of his RV.

Re-evaluating life goals

Mark's diagnosis, which took place in 2015, and other terrifying events forced the two to re-evaluate their priorities.

"During that time frame, we lost two good friends — people that we had planned on traveling with during our retirement days," he said.

The Batchelders went back to their advisors to modify their financial plan so that Mark could retire in January 2016. Key decisions they had to make included how much of his pension should they take and when should they start Social Security.

"We did downsize to the point where this house is like the cost of an apartment." -Holly Batchelder

The couple also needed to make some sharp cuts to their costs of living, including downsizing their 3,800-square-foot home, now that the nest was empty. The sale netted them a small profit and enabled them to move to a smaller home that's just the right size.

Mark and Holly Batchelder prepare a meal in their RV.
Qin Chen | CNBC
Mark and Holly Batchelder prepare a meal in their RV.

They also discontinued gym memberships and cleaning services to reduce their expenses. Holly even renegotiated the family's cable services.

The Batchelders revisited their plan after their mothers passed away and Mark's cancer returned after treatment.

The two drafted a new strategy with their financial advisors and tightened their belts further so that Holly could retire in January 2017. Previously, she expected to work part time this year.

"We just said, 'Wow, life is short,'" Holly said. "We really want to enjoy the remaining years that we have. There are no guarantees."

A mobile retirement

Though the Batchelders originally wanted to retire in Colorado and keep their home base in Omaha, their financial advisors determined that it wouldn't be feasible.

The good news is that the cost of maintaining the place in Nebraska is low. "We did downsize to the point where this house is like the cost of an apartment," said Holly.

Instead of buying a second house, the couple bought a recreational vehicle, which they call "The Fifth Wheel." This way, they're able to travel and see the country while having the comforts of home.

"We call it glamping now," said Mark. "It's got a fireplace in it and a full refrigerator, but it's going to meet our needs for the next 10 years, hopefully."

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