April 17, 2014

A Slice of (Your) Retirement Life

A few weeks ago the post, What's Going On?, generated several comments that expressed an interest in reading about other retirees' experiences in all the areas that concern us: is retirement everything you hoped, and if not, why not? What keeps you up at night and what excites you every morning? How do you productively fill your time and balance commitments with freedom? How about travel...doing more or less than you thought you would?.....basically we are asking to hear some of each other's unique story.

Those types of interviews filled my last book. I found those answers and reactions fascinating. So, the idea of doing more of it on this blog is a winner. Soliciting stories and information about lifestyles and how retirement is working opens up endless possibilities and interesting insights. Even those 52 folks who took part in the book project have certainly learned something new or changed their direction since I solicited those opinions a couple of years ago, so they are encouraged to chime in, too.

Here is what I propose: I have listed a few questions below. In the comment section answer one or two of the questions that are most important to you. Your total response may be longer than a typical comment but that is fine. We are all looking for fresh ideas and support. Length isn't nearly as important as simply sharing what this journey looks like from your perspective.

My Questions (pick one or two to answer in the comment section):

1) Has retirement turned out the way you thought it would? Why or why not?

2) What has been your biggest surprise about being retired?

3) Do you worry about your financial situation? 

4) What new things have you discovered about yourself?

5)  If you had it do over again, would you keep working, retire sooner, or are content with how things worked out?

I am an anxious as anyone to read your answers. This should be a fun and instructive exercise for all of us.

I won't leave comments after each entry like I normally do. But, I will have a followup post or two in a few weeks that tries to draw some general conclusions from the answers left to my questions.

April 14, 2014

To Move or Stay Put: I Can't Decide

Is it ignorance or apathy?  I don't know and I don't care.

Jimmy Buffett may have summarized my dilemma best with these lyrics from one of his songs. Betty and I have changed our mind on this one decision so often that our kids now just roll their eyes and ask, "What is your plan today?"

We have lived in our current home for twelve years. It was a major downsize choice after our daughters finished college and moved out to start their lives. It is a pleasant, older home with a big backyard, enough room for us and plenty of storage, room for the RV on the side yard, and in a quiet and stable neighborhood.

Unfortunately, it also has some items in the negative column: being an older home (30 years) it has maintenance and repair issues. The house has two stories which is not a problem now but might become one as we age. The windows are the original ones, meaning they are about as energy efficient as a hole in the wall.

The outside is a type of wood product siding popular three decades ago that requires repainting every 7-10 years (we are there now). While the backyard is pretty and relaxing and great for the dog and grandkids, it takes a fair amount of effort to keep it looking decent. We have replaced many of the plants with low water, low maintenance varieties, but there is still a lot of grass to be cut and watered and sprinkler heads to fix.

Over the past year or so, Betty and I have decided to move in seven years, then two or three, then back to seven, then maybe 13-15.....you see the pattern: indecision. We are motivated to move by the maintenance and cost of an old, energy-wasteful home. We have spent our entire married life (38 years in June), in the suburbs and are bored with that lifestyle. Actually all three of the houses we have called home over the past thirty years in Phoenix and Scottsdale have been inside a 5 mile circle. 

So, our thoughts have turned to a smaller condo/townhome type arrangement, in another part of the Phoenix metro area, in a community with a pool, fitness center, and outdoor maintenance is taken care of by someone else. We would like a place where we could turn things off, lock the door, and be gone in the RV for weeks or months at a time and not worry about our home.

So, there is the situation, - and we remain stuck. Moving is expensive, and involves lots of changes, even if only 20-30 minutes away. We are attracted to a more urban environment, like Tempe. It has an active cultural life, 60,000 students at ASU to bring energy to town, light rail, an excellent bus system, and a different feel than our current neighborhood. It is a bit closer to our kids and my dad, and is only 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix.

But, in our saner moments we say to ourselves, " We are comfortable here. Our friends, church, doctors, and familiar shopping choices are here. Tempe is only 30 minutes away. When we feel the urge we can drive there a lot easier than moving there."

So, here we sit. The house has recovered much of the value it lost during the 2007-8 real estate meltdown in Phoenix. But, what if we finally decide to move (or have to due to health) ten years from now and the market is back down again? We would have left a lot of money on the table. Part of me wants the stimulation that a move brings. The other part says save yourself the hassle.

As of today, neither part is casting a deciding vote.

April 10, 2014

Do You Lack The Necessary Skills To Retire?

How's that for an enticing headline? Nothing like a little guilt or uneasiness to grab someone's attention. Well, I am going to relieve your fear or anxiety right away: retirement skills are no different from the skills that got you this far in life. There is nothing so special about this phase of your life that you must relearn how to react and cope. There is nothing so special that you have to worry about "failing" retirement.

Retirement is simply a less-than-adequate word for a time in your life when you are freer to use your unique combination of life experiences, skills, talents, and personality to craft an existence that satisfies you.

This isn't meant to imply retirement is without difficulties. There are many of us who struggle with the transition from work. It is quite common to think you have made a serious mistake and disaster awaits. Adjusting your relationships to this new lifestyle takes work and compromise. You may have to learn to downsize your expectations to be in line with your financial realities.

But, the important point I want to make is that retirement doesn't require you to go back to school, to get an advanced degree or to study night and day so you can pass the test. You already passed the important "tests" that life may have thrown at you. You have overcome adversity, some heartache, some disappointments, and some failures.

Still not convinced? OK, here are the "special skills" required to have a satisfying retirement:

1) You have figured out how to keep yourself alive and functioning in a complicated and dangerous world. You may not be a financial wizard, but you have a place to live, you know how to pay your bills, you can put gas in your car, you file a tax return (you are ready, right?), and you don't respond to an e-mail from Nigeria telling you how to claim a $1 million prize.

2)  You have relationships with other human beings. You may or may not be married, may be in a long term relationship, may be solo by choice or circumstances. Regardless, you interact with others on a regular basis.

3) Given some free time, you don't panic about what to do with it. You pick something. How you choose to fill that chuck of time may not satisfy you for a long time. So, then you choose to do something else. The point is, you don't just sit in a corner and worry what to do or whether it is your life's passion. You just do something.

4) You know that eating a Big Mac with fries for every dinner is not healthy. You know that not getting up off the couch for days at a time will lead to trouble. You understand that your body is a complex mechanism that requires care and proper feeding to carry you to the finish line.

5) You realize you are going to die at some point. You aren't happy about it, but you can't do a thing about it, so you make peace with it and live what life you have left. If you lean toward spiritual beliefs you have some type of faith in what comes next. If a spiritual thought has never entered you mind you still think occasionally what happens when you die - and then you think about something else. You don't obsess about it.

And, there you go. That's it. If you have managed to grasp these five "skills" so far, then you are good to go. Retirement is just a part of life. It is a different part of life, just like adolescence is different from being young and newly married. Being 30 is different from being 60. Being male is different from being female (oh my, yes).

Retirement is just part of your journey. I would argue it is the best part, but that is just me.

April 7, 2014

We Now Have A Toad...A What?

No, we didn't get a new pet for our household. No, we didn't put a pond in the backyard, complete with lily pads and a frog.

If you have an RV you know what I am referring to. A toad, also called a towed, or a dinghy, is a vehicle that is pulled behind the motorhome. The freedom of carrying your home and all you need with you is great. It opens up a whole new world of experiences. But, a 25, 30, or 40 foot RV is not designed to easily navigate shopping centers, park on city streets, or find a place to put your "home" while you hike nearby trails and parks. 

Since most RV parks are not within easy walking distance of most of the above, you find yourself stuck at your campground. Or, you are faced with the hassle of unhooking everything and storing it safely away before you can drive the RV to wherever you'd like to explore for the day. Traveling with a dog makes biking to places not very practical, either. 

The answer is to tow a car behind you. Then, when you need to go shopping, want to explore the area, find a hiking trail, visit a museum, or go out for a meal, the RV stays firmly (and safely) hooked up at your campsite. You unhook the car from behind your motorhome and drive to your destination.

Of course, having a vehicle does come with extra costs. A tow bar, brackets installed on the vehicle being towed, and a braking system that helps stop that extra 3-4,000 pounds behind the RV are required. Gas mileage, already poor for an RV, isn't helped any by towing something behind you.

A bigger limitation is what type of car or SUV you want to bring with you. Not many modern automatic transmission  cars can be towed behind you with all four wheels on the road. Most lubrication systems will self destruct if towed that way.

There is another option: use a car dolly where the entire car is off the ground. But, that adds hundreds of extra pounds to the process and is more difficult to store both at home and at the campground. Modification kits can be added to most cars to pump extra lubrication as needed, but if it fails you have just killed your car. A manual transmission is also an easier solution if you have one.

In our case, neither of our cars can be towed behind our RV. So, we did two months of research, shopped online for another few weeks, and finally found what we were looking for: a vehicle that can be towed, was within our budget after trading in one of our current cars, and should make a great second car when we are at home.

Next up will be buying and installing the tow bar, brackets, and auxiliary braking system before we leave in July for our summer-long jaunt. I want to give myself several weeks ahead of time to practice getting familiar with the feel of a car tagging along behind me, and how it affects my ability to turn corners safely.

Of course, if we owned a travel trailer or 5th wheel camper instead of a motorhome there would be no problem. The truck that tows the trailer becomes your drive-around-town vehicle after getting to your campsite. But, we own a self-contained motorhome, so a toad was essential.

Not all toads are green