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45 Year Old Engineer Who Wants to be a Farmer when She Grows Up
Old 01-08-2011, 06:37 PM   #1
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45 Year Old Engineer Who Wants to be a Farmer when She Grows Up

I've been a hard charger most of my life. I decided I wanted to be an engineer when I was a sophomore in high school. I got my degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Note Dame and I paid for it by going through the Air Force ROTC program and working in the Physic Lab. I got married while I was in college and had my daughter in the middle of the last semester - missed one week of school, graduated on schedule and was commissioned into the Air Force May 1987.

While waiting 9 months for my active duty orders, I continued to work for the Physics Lab for a few months then I taught a couple classes at a community college and waited tables. I then spent 10 years active duty military. I got my Master's degree at my first station where I spent 6 years working at the Weapons Lab (now known as the Air Force Research Lab) and the Nuclear Safety Agency. I then worked 4 years as a program manager where I was traveling more than half the year (literally over 180 days/year). During that time my husband did a good job of holding down the fort and we home schooled our daughter for a couple of those years (really bad school system). Some how I managed to free lance some database application development during this time too.

Got tired and disillusioned with the military life - separated from active duty and moved back to our home town. I started working a new job as a database programmer before my terminal leave was through. As soon as my separation from active duty was complete, I resigned my regular commission and was sworn in with a reserve commission into the Air Force Reserves. I did my reserve work at a local unit at first and then attached back to the Air Force Research Lab where I kept up my engineering skills. After working in IT (mostly database related) for 6 years as a civilian, I found an engineering position at a large company in the area where I still work. I recently retried from the Air Force Reserves (Feb 2010).

My husband is self employed and I occasionally do some work for him. He works from home mostly over the internet. He has clients and networked associates all over the country. It is easy to pick up and move this business anywhere.

In the mean time, my daughter graduated from high school, went through some rough periods and is now out of the nest and married to a hard working Army man. My father passed away suddenly and then later my mother had health issues and I managing her health and financial affairs for a couple years. When she passed away I took care of closing her estate.

We are currently empty nesters living on 3 acres with 2 horses, 2 dogs, a cat and an iguana. I enjoy horse back riding when ever I get a chance and I do pretty good with the vegetable garden (although I never seem to have enough time during harvest season).

So... I hate living in northern Indiana (too cold, too much snow, not enough sun). There is nothing tying us to this location any more except my job and our house. We have some family here, but our daughter has moved out of the area, my parents have passed away, and my husband's father lives in Florida for more than half the year. We've decided that we want to live in Tennessee and recently purchased 94 acres of rolling green hills (got a good deal - now is an excellent time to buy). Of course now that we own the land - I'm anxious to move there.

If you would have asked me 3 years ago, I would have told you that I loved my job. I can't say that anymore. I've survived two layoffs, a couple reorganizations, a lot of increased bean counting from conflicting directions making it difficult to do the job right, pay reduction for part of a year, a furlough, reduction in 401K matching with no indication if/when it will come back. I wish they would have just laid me off instead of dinking around with me for the past few years. I have zero loyalty to this company. And now, after all these years of being an engineer - I don't even want to be one anymore.

We want to move to our land in TN. We plan to build a lake, a house, a few barns, and some fence. I want to raise some beef, goats, hogs, and eventually elk. We'd also plan to stock the lake with fish and do some pheasant and quail repopulation projects.

We own the land in TN outright. Our only debt is on the house we currently own in IN (we have non-retirement investments that could pay off the mortgage but choose not to). We're planning to put the house on the market in the spring - when it sells,I quite and we move. We realize the market is a bit slow right now, so we're willing to stick it out here for another 2 years before we become motivated sellers.

Then it's a question if we need to find jobs after we move or if we can make enough from our investments, husband's business (made negative income in 2010 but picking up), and farm income. If we didn't want to build so much on the land, I'm confident we could live off our current investments in TN. We'll have to see how much of the building we can cash flow before we move. We plan to do all the interior work in the house ourselves (paint, floors, cabinets, trim). We're also willing to live in a travel trailer for up to a year while we're building.

Our current investments are split ~37% Roth, 19% Tax Deferred, and 44% unsheltered. I'll have a military reserve retirement pension kick in when I turn 60. If we don't touch the money in our Roth accounts until 60, I'm confident that we'll be able to live off the income from military pension + Roth income (after it has a chance to grow for 15 more years). Any SSN would be a bonus. So it's a matter of making the rest of the funds last 15 years.

Looking forward the next phase of our lives.
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Old 01-08-2011, 06:52 PM   #2
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Welcome aboard.

I am a retired Engineer, also female. There are a lot of Engineers of all "stripes" here. They will ID themselves as they crawl out say hello.
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Old 01-08-2011, 07:03 PM   #3
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Welcome, I am a retired software engineer and worked for the USAF for 24 years at a satellite tracking facility.
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Old 01-08-2011, 07:04 PM   #4
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A fact of dubious relevance: horses live a long time in Hawaii. My wife's horse is over 33 years old.
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Old 01-08-2011, 07:48 PM   #5
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Welcome. Retired mechanical engineer here, holed up in the post apocalyptic Detroit hinterlands.
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Old 01-08-2011, 08:00 PM   #6
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Also 45, also female, also an engineer (IC design), and also ready to retire! (You got me on the iguana, though.)

I can completely relate you where you're at. So have you identified a specific trigger that will make the move happen?
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Old 01-08-2011, 08:11 PM   #7
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i'm an engineer, not a female and not retired. although I did just get licensed as a PE!

welcome!
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Old 01-08-2011, 08:15 PM   #8
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I'm not an engineer, not a female, not licensed, don't own iguana or a horse, not interested in farming - but I was in the USAF (in another life). Oh, and I am retired.

Welcome.
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Old 01-08-2011, 08:21 PM   #9
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Welcome. DW is an engineer. Good luck, we look forward to hearing your progress. Iguana farming, right?
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Old 01-08-2011, 08:30 PM   #10
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You made me tired just reading your history! Sell that house now and get yourself to Tennessee by springtime. That acreage should be enough to accommodate some bodacious gardens and horseback trails.

Welcome to the boards--keep posting as your journey continues.
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Old 01-08-2011, 08:58 PM   #11
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I am not an engineer, not retired (yet), and not a female. Sending a warm welcome to you anyway !
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Old 01-08-2011, 09:15 PM   #12
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Why all the engineering burnout? I love electrical engineering, but maybe it is a bit different because you can bring a product to market almost by yourself. (I take it that would be a bit harder with aerospace)...

I grew up in Georgia and vacationed to TN many times. Nice place, no gnats to deal with.
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Old 01-08-2011, 09:39 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by BizzyC View Post
Also 45, also female, also an engineer (IC design), and also ready to retire! (You got me on the iguana, though.)

I can completely relate you where you're at. So have you identified a specific trigger that will make the move happen?

When we sell the house in Indiana. We're putting it on the market in the Spring, put we're holding out for a good price. After we move, we'll figure out if we need to get need to get any new jobs.
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Old 01-08-2011, 11:38 PM   #14
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Why all the engineering burnout? I love electrical engineering, but maybe it is a bit different because you can bring a product to market almost by yourself. (I take it that would be a bit harder with aerospace)...

I grew up in Georgia and vacationed to TN many times. Nice place, no gnats to deal with.
Honestly I don't know how much is me and how much is my current job. I might find after being away from it for a few years that I miss it, but don't count on it.

By the way, I'm currently a thermal analyst for aircraft wheels and brakes.

I guess my burn out started a few years ago when we where bidding on a new contract. Our upper management yanked us around quite a bit. At first they said we couldn't bid. And then after frittering away a lot of time, the said we could bid. So we had a shortened time frame to get all the work done. All through the various proposal stages they had a spend/don't spend yo-yo thing going. I was also working on ongoing development program at the time and worked many, many 60-70 hour weeks with one 80 hour week thrown in. On several occasions I had to leave work because my brain "turned of" (had a hard time even filling out my time card). At least at that time I loved what I was doing and they paid us straight time for anything over 46 hours (currenlty there's no paid overtime). Anyhow - the hole engineering team worked really hard to get the proposal ready on time and all we need is a signature from the big wig... and he's on vacation and can't be bothered? Then we get another story that he's not sure he wants to sign it It did finally get signed a week or so late. We lost the contract (big surprise). I'm told there were other reasons, but it's still no way to treat you're employees.

We've been re-organized so control over the area I work in is no longer local - it's centralized in Phoenix making us the an ugly step child. Aircraft wheels and brakes is a very profitable part of the company - but it takes a large up front investment with a long time before it pays off (at least for commercial planes). This is in conflict with the new business model they seem to be using. They seem perfectly willing to take the profits from our existing production programs and feed it to other groups in Phoenix, but funding to keep up on wheel and brake innovation is lacking (if you're not moving ahead, you're falling behind). It seems like they are milking the profits out of our production programs and letting future development die off.

Also as part of the reorg, there's much more bean counting. Through my direct chain, there is a push to charge most of our time to direct charge programs (as opposed to administrative tasks) - thereby making our yield high. But my chain also pushes to get things done that are not direct charge (like process documentation, cross-site collaboration, tool development, training and they constantly try to push us to standardize our tools across all the different product lines) - they kind of want us to work 40 hours on direct charge and then do all the other stuff as unpaid overtime.

The managers of programs we work on have pressure on them to keep the hours we bill to them low. That causes issues like the program managers wanting us to do everything it takes to get something done by a certain time and then complain that we over ran our hours. They usually want us to bid programs assuming we don't have any problems, so when we run into problems we have to re-plan everything. When we're doing the scheduling the program manager always thinks we're sand bagging our hours - but if we don't schedule enough time they come down on us for over runs. It also leads to the program people trying to do things, like testing without us and then we get to come in and try to make sense of incomplete test data.

God forbid as an engineer I take some time to sit back and just think about something, maybe bounce some ideas off some other engineers. I have no idea what to charge those hours too - I guess if I knew I wanted to have a spontaneous creative moment in advance I could get permission and have that non billable activity blessed as a valid way to spend my time (but it still wouldn't help my yield).

To top it off - they decided that we should only have a small cubical of space and moved everyone around and packed us in. We no longer are allowed things like free standing book shelves (I smuggled an old stackable one in that I've placed 3 high on top of my desk and one self below my desk). We can't have engineers having books or anything.

Our group is getting pretty thin. I've been the only thermal analyst for several years now - but not for lack of trying to get someone else to help out. I started training one person who left the company and I did train another person but he's pulled in so many different directions right now he doesn't have time to back me up anymore. When ever any program needs a thermal analyst - I'm it. I don't want job security - I want help.
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Old 01-09-2011, 03:29 AM   #15
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Welcome - I'm a fellow female engineer and Air Force Reservist (still in). I separated after four years and went Reserve - I now have a consulting company in my chosen profession, biomedical - clinical engineering. Have juggled the civilian/Air Force career for 25 years now - didn't have a kid, too - am impressed with that part of your resume above. PM me if you'd like some ideas on how to do consulting in your engineering specialty - may just let you move to TN faster. Also, the Reserve retirement at 60 takes a big load off the retirement income burden - it also provides access to a healthcare plan from 60 on.

Nords, a frequent poster here, has put together a book on early retirement for the military and the section on Reserves and civilian jobs is a good one. He also has a website on the above. Don't know if you need it, but it can help add some data to your decision making process.

Best of luck with your plans - and come back here often - lots of great info here, especially of the live below your means types and all the different financial ways to attain early retirement. Or if you prefer, working for yourself and what you want to do, not someone else.
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Old 01-09-2011, 06:17 AM   #16
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Welcome Aeowyn! I'm a partner in a civil engineering firm - not licensed, not a female, don't own a farm (but would like to).

I understand what you're going through. The recession has really tightened the screws of management in engineering. You have to bid lower that usual to get a project, but then again bust your ass harder to keep hours/expenses down to maximize profit on the underbid contracts that you are awarded.

My advice is to do the best job that you can through the storms that management throws at you. Maximize the use of other personnel and technology. Above all, don't let situations out of your control bother you. Don't take work stress home with you. Its not worth it.

Moving to your farm would get you off this treadmill (and help save your sanity). Good Luck!
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Old 01-09-2011, 06:52 AM   #17
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Welcome aboard.

Farming means different things.. It could be anything from a part-time garden and a few animals (hobby) up to a for profit business that you are depending on to live.

If it is to be a for profit business.... but I would recommend that you look at farming as a business and try to create 5 year (short-term) and 20 year (long-term) business plans that includes financial analysis. Be sure to include the risks (with 3 categories. Worst case, likely, and best case scenarios). You will have crop failures (or low yield), sick animals, etc. along the way.

You should do your homework and create a plan before you outlay anymore capital.


If you have not experienced it.... you might consider finding a Farmer with a working farm and work for that person for a year or two to gain some experience. You probably won't earn much in terms of money, but the experience could be very valuable. Especially if you do it before you layout big money on facilities and equipment.
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Old 01-09-2011, 08:13 AM   #18
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Don't expect too much from farming. It is a great way to go broke. It is also supposed to be one of the most dangerous jobs in America.

My FIL was in the business and he survived by his wits. He was a very smart man.

You may also find that TN is a very different society than you know now. Somewhat closed and very fundamentalist. Be careful and take small steps.

All the best,

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Old 01-09-2011, 08:18 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aeowyn View Post
I've been a hard charger most of my life. [check]

So... I hate living in northern [NW] Indiana (too cold, too much snow, not enough sun). There is nothing tying us to this location any more except my job and our house.

If you would have asked me 3 [2] years ago, I would have told you that I loved [really enjoyed] my job [and considered myself fortunate]. I can't say that anymore. I've survived two layoffs [check], a couple reorganizations [check], a lot of increased bean counting [check, all of it ultimately falling into a black hole] from conflicting directions making it difficult to do the job right , pay [bonus] reduction for part of a year, a furlough, reduction in 401K matching with no indication if/when it will come back. I wish they would have just laid me off [closed my location] instead of dinking around with me for the past few years. I have zero loyalty to this company. And now, after all these years of being an engineer - I don't even want to be one anymore. [check]

Looking forward the next phase of our lives.
Wow, not to hijack but thanks for writing my story. I enjoyed my job for the first 33 years. Now it's no fun at all anymore, and unfortunately we're FI which really changes your outlook. I'm leaning toward retiring, a one year ± sabbatical, and then back to work in an entirely different career (where I am not "the boss" anymore). We're also leaning toward moving south, but only about 200 miles...

Keep us posted on your progress, I for one can learn from your experience.
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Old 01-09-2011, 09:51 AM   #20
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Welcome aboard.

Farming means different things.. It could be anything from a part-time garden and a few animals (hobby) up to a for profit business that you are depending on to live.

If it is to be a for profit business.... but I would recommend that you look at farming as a business and try to create 5 year (short-term) and 20 year (long-term) business plans that includes financial analysis. Be sure to include the risks (with 3 categories. Worst case, likely, and best case scenarios). You will have crop failures (or low yield), sick animals, etc. along the way.

You should do your homework and create a plan before you outlay anymore capital.


If you have not experienced it.... you might consider finding a Farmer with a working farm and work for that person for a year or two to gain some experience. You probably won't earn much in terms of money, but the experience could be very valuable. Especially if you do it before you layout big money on facilities and equipment.
Good thoughts here. We plan to keep it small. Probably just raising our own veggies/animals for a while. The first couple years we'll probably rent out most of the land for hay. We don't plan to use any debt in the farming - so risk will be minimized. Equipment can certainly be a big expense - we'll be looking for used equipment (maybe from someone getting out of the farming business). I'm planning to test how good a mechanic my husband is.

We've done some 4-H projects in the past (goats, pigs) and raised a couple beef with our neighbors. A friend of ours knows someone who raises Elk - plan to get in contact with them (but Elk are a long way off - fencing is very expensive).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed_The_Gypsy View Post
Don't expect too much from farming. It is a great way to go broke. It is also supposed to be one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Not expecting much - primarily getting organic/grass fed meet, milk, and veggies for our own consumption. Then maybe hooking up with a local butcher or farmer's market - possibly finding a niche in the on-line community. I'd be thrilled if we could get the farm to break even.

My FIL was in the business and he survived by his wits. He was a very smart man.

You may also find that TN is a very different society than you know now. Somewhat closed and very fundamentalist. Really? I've always found people in Tennessee to be very friendly and hospitable. Be careful and take small steps.

All the best,

Ed the Gypsy Engineer
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