The transition from career to retirement doesn’t have to go straight from the office to the retirement community. Here’s how one woman’s retirement path took a detour through a field of flowers.
Is retirement boring? Not according to Katherine Ballantyne.
Ballantyne had always loved growing flowers in her garden, but she never thought about working with flowers as a business until one day when she was asked to help with table arrangements for the wedding of a friend’s son.
As she was arranging the blooms, she had an epiphany.
“It was the first time I had experienced what people talk about when you just totally lose track of time; everything is gone out of your head. I was doing something that totally consumed me and put me in that moment. And I realized that was something I really loved to do,” she says.
At the time, Ballantyne worked as a systems analyst at a global insurance giant. The job was challenging and rewarding, but “it was never a great passion. It paid well, had nice benefits. I always liked my boss, but it was not very creative,” she says.
When she was nearly 60, her department was outsourced. Although she was offered another position in the company, she weighed retiring early and starting a second career growing and selling flowers.
When Ballantyne and her husband had their annual meeting with their financial advisor, he suggested she do both – stay with her company in the new role and start the flower farm, telling her it would be “a no-brainer” to keep her corporate job a few more years. By starting the flower farm while she was employed, Ballantyne could decide if she really enjoyed it. Her corporate boss also encouraged Ballantyne to launch the business, accommodating her as needed.
On her 60th birthday, in 2011, she founded Dahlia Temptations in Bloomsbury, New Jersey.
Although Katherine grows other flowers, she focused on dahlias because florists love to locally source these flowers for wedding arrangements, since the flowers don’t ship well.
She found her “match made in heaven” with a farmer in her town who wanted to sell flowers at his already-successful farm stand, he just didn’t have the time to grow and sell them. Ballantyne and her husband had the time, but not the land. So he let them grow the flowers on his farm for free, taking a commission on any flower sales.
It can be back-breaking work, and Ballantyne says her husband, a farmer with a background in plant science, was the real driving force in getting Dahlia Temptations off the ground.
“He would go down with me (to the farm) after work at night and we would pick flowers and I would do the arrangements for the farm stand and then drop them off in the morning,” she says.
But being a farmer isn’t the same as working a desk job or even growing flowers in a backyard. They had to erect an eight-foot fence to keep out hungry deer. There was Mother Nature to contend with – one year it was too wet to plant, and another year the dahlias were wiped out by a virus.
“Luckily this is not a business where I have to make a certain amount of money. So it made it a lot easier,” she says.
Ballantyne officially retired from her desk job when she turned 63 and worked with her financial advisor about balancing retirement income, savings and business expenses. Neither she nor her husband have had to touch their investments because he still works full-time and she has a pension and Social Security, she says.
Regarding her advisor, Ballantyne says he “worked really hard with me because it was hard to pin down how much I spent,” adding she often underestimated costs.
Her advisor helps the couple stay on top of the business and their lifestyle. “He makes sure that we’re comfortable, that we can have what we need as we go and checks in with us on a regular basis,” Ballantyne says.
She says didn’t have any real goals for Dahlia Temptations when she started out; the idea was to have fun. The business has grown through word-of-mouth and networking and right now that’s enough for her. Ballantyne tries out new flower varieties to supplement the business for when dahlias aren’t in bloom so she can sell flowers during the entire growing season.
One thing she did know is her plan for retirement didn’t involve being bored. “Anybody who knows me knows I wasn’t going to sit home and watch daytime TV,” she says. ”I don’t think anybody was too surprised when I went down this path.”
For others whose retirement wish involves a second career, she recommends they follow their passion, but also get up-to-speed on the practical side of running a small business. And try to start your retirement job while you’re still at your day job. “You can then see if it holds your interest,” she says.
Growing and selling flowers rewards her in a way her corporate job never did.
“Flowers bring people together. There’s some sort of connection that’s created. People give flowers to people they love, or to show thanks. I love that, as much as I love the growing and the arranging,” she says.
Life’s journey is filled with twists and turns; highways and byways. Sometimes it takes a detour through a field of dahlias.
Interested in setting goals for your retirement? Christine Russell, Senior Manager, Retirement and Annuities at TD Ameritrade, suggests following these four steps:
Click here to schedule a complimentary goal-planning session with a TD Ameritrade Financial Consultant.
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