Three years ago, sensing that his days as a well-compensated anchorman were numbered, Bjorkman went back to college to prepare for a second career. Growing up, he'd always loved animals and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, but at his age, it didn't seem realistic to take on eight years of study. Instead, he enrolled at a nearby community college and decided to become a veterinary technician.
"It's been a big change coming to this profession not knowing anything," Bjorkman said as he cared for a dog bitten by a coyote at a local animal clinic on the last day of his internship. "I'm at the bottom of the totem pole. Kinda like a rookie, whereas in the TV business I was up there after 36 years. It's a big power shift from being on top to being on the bottom. Very humbling."
Personal finance guru Suze Orman said Bjorkman's forethought and planning are what everyone should do in these precarious times. "When you are prepared, when you have all those things in order and you lose your job, you're not powerless," said Orman.
But taking on a new career will mean an enormous drop in salary. Next May, when his contract stops paying him a quarter of million dollars a year, his annual income will drop more than 80 percent to $30,000 a year or less, assuming he can actually find a job as a vet assistant.
But Bjorkman insisted he's ready to leave his ego and the limelight behind. His wife believes her husband is in denial. She's not sure either one of them is prepared for what lies ahead.
To survive on a dramatically reduced income, the Bjorkmans will have to downsize by paying off their credit cards and other debt while living a more simple life, like they did when they were first married 36 years ago.
"Get a cheap six-pack of beer and invite friends over to play cards instead of going out for the $400 steak dinner on Friday nights," said Bjorkman confidently.
"I think there's some naivete in thinking, oh we can go back to the way we were when we were 25 when we're 55. Once you've tasted something better it's hard to readjust," said Shapiro.
The Bjorkman's two children are grown up and their college education has been paid for. But like millions of other families, their savings have taken a serious hit. Susan knows that she will probably have to go back to work to help Ernie make ends meet. They are currently carrying two mortgages: one on their Denver condo, which they are trying to sell for $450,000, and another on their mountain home, worth more than $800,000, which Ernie said they most likely would have to sell too.
"It is going to be hard. I'm under no illusions of, you know, sacrificing and I don't like to sacrifice," Susan Bjorkman said as her husband chuckled. "I mean, when you can go out and buy a pair of $300 boots, you go buy them, and I can't now."
After they both laughed, Ernie said, "I'm kind of the opposite. I think we're going to enjoy life better. We're going to have to get used to being together a lot more."
Now that he is no longer an anchorman, Bjorkman plans to donate most of his many suits and ties to an organization called Dress for Success, which donates clothing to low-income or homeless people who need professional outfits for job interviews. "They're going to be some well-dressed people on the streets of Denver," said Bjorkman.