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Coping with Forced Early Retirement: Story of my DIY Kitchen Renovation

Seldom discussed around the water cooler, or anywhere else for that matter, is coping with forced early retirement. Yet, the ax will fall for over half of all mature workers before they are prepared to retire. The loss of those final years of saving can often jeopardize financial security.

According to ProPublica, 56% of older employees will be prematurely tossed onto the scrap pile. Only one in ten will find a position paying similar wages. How to Deal w/ Being Pushed to Retire delves more deeply into this disturbing trend.

Since the pandemic, we have witnessed economic turmoil prompting massive lay offs. Hardest hit, an estimated 5 million Americans over the age of 55 were unemployed by the end of April.

In a perfect world, the economy will bounce back and everyone will be rehired. Unfortunately, due to ageism and cost cutting measures, it’s probable many older workers will not be recalled. There is no magic elixir to fix this.

Each of us needs to determine the best path forward based on their unique situation.

My Situation

I never saw it coming! The images are still burned into my mind of what transpired that fateful day seven years ago.

I was the victim of corporate downsizing. One of many, as hundreds of my fellow employees were let go in the following days. That was mere weeks before my 53rd birthday!

From top performer to unemployed, this was one of the lowest points in my life. I confess I felt at a complete loss as to what I wanted to do.

Although I completely revamped my resume, I had no motivation to start a job search. At that point, I was questioning if I was even ready to get another job. 

All I knew for sure was I needed some time off. Meanwhile, my long neglected 1980’s kitchen was desperate for modifications. 

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The old 80's kitchen that needs to be revamped!

Project DIY Kitchen Renovation

Straight out of the 1980’s, my kitchen screamed for a make over. Something contemplated many times over the years, but never quite getting around to doing.

Kitchens are expensive!

The average kitchen reno costs around $25,000. Some preliminary quotes were around $30,000 and they didn’t include all the stuff I wanted.

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Although I knew I needed to be careful spending money, what I did have going for me was lots of time. And, the desire to immerse myself into a worthy project. This was my way of coping with forced early retirement. On top of that, it would be very therapeutic as well.

Besides, what could go wrong?

The Plan

Being reasonably handy, I’ve done numerous DIY projects over the years. In my mind, I figured I could order some cabinets and assemble them myself. If things went too awry, I could always hire someone to help finish it up.

Now, I’m off to visit some cabinet shops. Absolutely gorgeous show rooms! The sales person appears to be in his mid 20s and probably fresh out of college. He’s proudly telling me all about their wonderful kitchen solutions. Their decades of satisfied customers and excellence in customer service.

He’s somewhat taken aback when I express my desire to purchase cabinets and install them myself. That is highly unusual and voids their warranty! Did I know how complicated this is and it really is a job best left to the professionals? He further states:

  • The average person isn't able to level the floor and walls to properly install.
  • They'll need to do a site visit to measure everything as the cabinets are custom made.
  • Their manufacturing plant requires 6 weeks lead time.
  • Their in-house financing provides easy monthly payment options.

Finally, he’s inputting my measurements into his computer program to provide, at least, a ball park quote. The myriad of options soon became ridiculous! For example, what type of counter top did I want installed? Again, all I wanted to do is purchase the cabinets!

And, all the others went pretty much the same!!

DIY Kitchen Project

At this point, I’m beginning to question whether I bit off more than I can chew.

That’s when I ordered books on cabinet making. Might have been the best thing ever as they proved invaluable information and step-by-step instructions. Even more valuable were all the tips and great ideas I’d never considered. These three books were:

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The only reason I’m sharing these books is they were useful to me. I’m not promoting these and they’re not affiliate links. There may be newer and better books available. 

The Build

The garage became my work space and soon sawdust was flying. The old adage “Measure twice and cut once” is really good advice. Fortunately, I had most of the tools, including:

  • Cut off saw
  • Table saw
  • Skil-Saw
  • Router and various bits
  • Drill
  • Sander
  • And so on...

For materials, I was able to get a fairly good deal on 20 sheets of birch plywood. Solid maple was used on raised and decorative edges and the drawer/door fronts. Counter tops were constructed using a realistic looking marble laminate. Stainless steel hardware was used to match the sink and appliances.

Almost all work was done in the garage. The final assembly was completed in the kitchen.

Design Features

Basic cabinets are fairly straightforward. For my kitchen, everything had to be custom built to avoid wasted space. The finishing touches to include some of the “fancier” details is what makes them look good.

The Island

It's the centerpiece and focal point of the kitchen. A rectangular island simply wouldn’t fit and still provide sufficient space to move around. The angled corners while decorative, also minimize bumping into. Hence, a whole lot more work creating a highly custom island.

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A large stainless steel “farm” style sink completes it leaving counter space on each side. In addition, wine glasses are stored in the front plus additional storage space in the 45-degree doors.

Decorative Trim

The raised panels cabinet shops make are beautiful and expensive. My DIY solution was to run the maple through the table saw creating a 45-degree bevel. Then glue it directly onto the plywood. Fairly simple and I believe, attractive looking.

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The rosettes and adding decorative router grooves were another idea from the books. Creating a striking, yet understated finishing touch. These rosette bits were ordered online.

Crown Molding

In the past, crown molding was my nemesis. The secret is learning how to precisely cut those compound angles using the cut off saw. After watching several You Tubes and practice, I was practically a pro!

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After assembling all the parts, I found that the entire unit was too heavy to lift into place. It probably weighed about 150 lbs! A friend helped lift it up; however, there was no way we could line it up, hold it in place, and properly secure it to the wall. The solution was using a 20-ton hydraulic jack (that’s got to be a creative approach 😊) to raise and support it.

Another interesting challenge were the four lazy Susan’s. Instead of purchasing those plastic ones, I decided to build my own. This required cutting perfectly circular bases out of the ¾ inch plywood and bending a strip of wood around them. It took a few tries to get those right.

Drawers vs. Doors

One of the things I hated about the old kitchen was getting on my hands and knees to find something in a lower cabinet. Hence, using drawers makes it easier to get those pots and pans or other things.

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The large pull outs (even though they appear cluttered) are one of the most useful ways to store things.

Stainless Steel Kick Boards

One of those DIY channels provided the thought of using stainless steel on the kick boards. In fact, Metal Supermarket not only carried it, for a nominal fee they would slice it for me in 3-1/2 inch widths. For me, it was the ultimate way to protect the bases and look good.

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I suppose I should have polished them up for the photo. These have been untouched over the past 7 years.

Coping with Forced Early Retirement and DIY Projects

Coping with forced early retirement will be different for each and every one of us. Feeling bruised and battered, I had the luxury of stepping out of the rat race to take the time I needed to re-energize, refocus and think. A DIY project was just the ticket for me!

I will be the first to admit that a kitchen reno is a very ambitious project. Having said that, it was also immensely satisfying and what a work out! 😊 If you have some basic wood working skills, it’s not quite as difficult as all those kitchen consultants would have us believe. 

From a cost perspective, all materials for the renovation, including the sink and range hood, came in at under $5,000. Way less than their quoted prices, that is for sure! FYI, this does not include purchasing any new appliances.

For the majority of retirees, getting “off-the-clock”, relaxing and reducing daily stress is the best part. Then, they might plan on doing some travelling, visit family or undertake a project they have been putting off. This is the opportunity to do what you want! After all, these are the best years of your life!

This was our first video which was both fun and a little nerve wracking.

We hope you enjoy it and that it provides you with a better view of my DIY kitchen project.

P.S. Obviously, you can see it has been a while since I’ve had a haircut LOL. Damn COVID-19!!

Your turn...

Have you or anyone you know been pushed to retire earlier than expected?

  • Avatar Jolette Kooger says:

    Love this article! Great job on your first time video too!!

  • Avatar Mr. Groovy says:

    Ooops! I meant to write “sweat equity.” Sorry, my proofreader is off today.

    • Glad you liked it. It really was a labor of love. “Sweet equity” – that must be an FI term LOL. It was the right project at the right time.
      And, hopefully, increased home equity value.
      So all the sweat was worth it!

  • Avatar Mr. Groovy says:

    Dang that is one sweet kitchen. And I’m jealous of the stainless steel farmer’s sink. Bravo, my friend. Thanks for showing the power of DIY and sweet equity.

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