April 27, 2015

It's Time

In about a week I will be moving to a new house in a new part of the Phoenix area. After thirty years in one zip code, Betty and I are taking my 2015 word, move, quite literally. Everything (almost) is packed and ready for the movers.

We will be living in the RV for the week between leaving the old house and being able to move into in the new one. While not really a vacation, it will be nice to take a break from cleaning and packing.

As April comes to a close, I look back on the past four months of the New Year and must pause. It has been a very eventful time, including the death of my dad, this move, taking Tai Chi lessons, watching over my youngest daughter's new cocker spaniel.....if this pace keeps up I will need to pick the word, nap, for 2016.

In two months we pack up the RV again and head to Portland for the summer. I doubt the new house will even be fully unpacked by then, but we have been planning this trip for 10 months, well before the thought of a move crossed our mind. It will be fun to hit the road again and have new experiences as well as see old friends.

I am also approaching the 5 year mark for this blog. It is time for the word, move to apply to these pages. It is time for me to move on to something else. It is time for Satisfying Retirement to retire.

Two books, contributions to three others, national magazine articles, 660 posts, 50,000 views per month, and over 1.7 million page views since the beginning: I feel good about what has happened here. I feel especially good, and eternally grateful, to those readers who have helped me make this blog a pleasure to write and so much fun to read and respond to the incredible comments (over 14,000 at last count). 

There has been a real community built here, folks with all sorts of opinions, ideas and insights. The quality and level of discourse has always been a positive. Unlike too many other blogs, we have always been respectful and supportive of each other, even when we disagree. That is too rare in today's world; the fact that it was alive on these pages is very satisfying.

I have no idea what I will be doing next. With settling into a new house and a new neighborhood, and then being gone until early September, I won't even have time to give it much thought until after Labor Day. Then, we will see.

I will leave the blog right here for the foreseeable future. Feel free to come back and re-read old favorites or spend some time reading posts you might have missed over the past 5 years.

Please feel free to leave a comment or your thoughts on this post. With my Internet link being disconnected this weekend I may not be able to respond to each, but know that I will read what you write and treasure your involvement.

My warmest regards, deepest respect, and a heartfelt thanks to you. My Satisfying Retirement would have been much less joyful and rich without these last 5 years of having you be part of my family.

Goodbye, and Godspeed.

April 23, 2015

Is Retirement an Outmoded Concept?

Sometimes I wonder if the whole concept of retirement is destined for the dustbin.The idea of retiring from work is a rather new phenomenon. Some experts see it beginning around the turn of the 20th century, but it didn't become something that most thought about until fifty or sixty years ago, with the beginning of Social Security and strong employer pensions. Certainly my parent's generation welcomed retirement, and the majority of folks my age aspire to that part of life.

But, over the last few years I have watched at least five trends that seem to raise questions about retirement's appeal, or even viability. Consider these circumstances:

1. Savings rates can't possibly support full retirement. For those 45-54, the median amount saved for retirement is $100,000. For 35-44 year olds, the median saved is only $61,000. Even forgetting about retirement savings for a moment, 72 million Americans have no emergency savings at all. That is a whole bunch of folks who are one paycheck away from financial hardship or ruin, much less retirement.

2. The support of company pensions has all but disappeared. The defined benefit type plan is but a fond memory for most. Companies have been cutting the contributions and scope of pension plans for the last few decades. Poorly funded 401(k) accounts, or no pension at all, are more the norm. Future generations will likely never experience the option of a robust pension.

3. The likelihood of cutbacks in Social Security benefits and means testing for payments are virtual certainties in the years to come. There are too many folks retiring and too few workers to fund their Social Security payments to keep the system operating the way it does today. 

4. The amount of money needed to retire continues to rise. Thirty or forty years ago someone with one hundred thousand dollars in savings and investments, a decent pension, medical coverage, and Social Security could look forward to a comfortable retirement. Then, the "magic" figure became $500,000, quickly followed by one million dollars. Today, retirement gurus claim you need 2 million dollars to have a shot at a pleasant time away from work. Needless to say, 2 million is a number very, very few will accumulate; one million is impossible for most. 

5. Maybe just as important, the interest in continuing to work is growing. Due to financial concerns (see #1 above), wanting to continue doing something that is satisfying, fearful of free time with nothing to do, or anxious to start a new business and make a lifelong  dream real, the percentage of those who say they have no plans to stop working, or working well past the typical target of 65, is increasing. Some studies show it is nearly 33% of all workers. 

About a year ago I wrote a post that asked if retirement blogging was still viable. At that point several folks who focused on retirement had decided to close down their blogs, feeling that everything they had to say on the subject had been said. My question wasn't about the future of retirement, but rather the future of retirement as a subject for a several times a week blog.

One year later, I am now wondering about the reality of retirement in the decades to come. Has our world changed to the point where retirement isn't something the majority will ever experience, either by choice, or circumstances? Within the next few generations will retirement be as uncommon as it was 60 years ago?

What do you think?

April 19, 2015

George Harrison and Me

I have seen Paul McCartney live in concert three times and Ringo Starr once. I was at a press conference with John Lennon (and Yoko). George Harrison is the only Beatle who I never was able to see in person. As the "quiet" Beatle he seemed to attract the least attention and made the fewest public appearances after the group officially disbanded in 1970.

I am just finishing a fascinating biography of George that has given me a new insight into the man and his life: his struggles, his demons, his genius and his humanity. It is one of those books that I do not want to end. "Behind The Locked Door" by Graeme Thomson has been tremendous. It has given me a completely new understanding of the Beatles era, what that experience did to George, and how he attempted to cope with being one of the most famous people in the world after the Beatle era had passed and until his death in 2001.

How does his story fit into a satisfying retirement?  I have found two parallels with my life that seem to be worth detailing because you might find they resonate with you, too. I don't think any readers of this blog are in the same famous category as that of a former Beatle. The lifestyle of those four men was beyond belief. The pressures, the inhuman schedules they had to maintain, the insanity of living in a bubble with the whole world watching would have caused long lasting changes to virtually anyone. Even so, as human beings they shared much with all of us.

Right after the Beatles broke up, George had two major successes: the album, All Things Must Pass was a huge hit, and the Concert for Bangladesh was the first worldwide concert with charity as the focus. But, then he started to slip, in both creativity and in public acceptance. 

By the mid 70's his music seemed to be out of step with where music was heading. He began to sound like a curmudgeon, complaining about the state of popular music. By 1980, he was almost completely irrelevant as an artist. As technology and pop music styles evolved, his music remained locked in a time warp. Eventually he would start to make commercially viable music again, but for many years he railed against the changes and continued to record music that had little popular appeal. 

After John Lennon's murder, George Harrison became almost invisible to the outside world for fear of a similar attempt on his life. All the security that surrounded him did not help. He nearly died in 1999 from a horrific attack by a knife-wielding lunatic who stabbed him over 40 times at his home in England. Even though he recovered from those wounds, brain cancer killed him less than two years later.

My tie to this story and his life? For the last 6-8 years of my radio consulting business I did not evolve. I stayed with the same message, the same ideas, and the same approach that had proved so successful for me through the 1980's into the mid 90's. Even though my industry had changed dramatically, I stopped learning and listening. I didn't change my message or my methods. As a result, my business slowly slipped away until, in the same year that George Harrison died, I found myself faced with retirement, several years before I would have felt financially more secure. I had been passed by. I had stopped changing and found my approach irrelevant.

The second part of George Harrison's life that I found relatable was his search for a spiritual answer to life's complexity and difficulties. Famously, George ended up captivated by Indian philosophy and religion. His support of Hare Krsihna, Eastern religions and love of the culture and music of that part of the world were well known and a dominating influence on his life. 

At the same time, his lifestyle was often at complete odds with his professed belief in simplicity, moral boundaries, and the importance of staying centered on God. His use of drugs, casual sex, alcohol, and living in a 122 room mansion indicated a man torn between two worlds: the material world and the spiritual one.

While I lived the lifestyle of a rock and roll DJ in the 1960's for awhile, it was never even remotely like the excesses of a former Beatle. Even so, I was lost spiritually for many years, trying to make my way in a world that kept score with money and possessions. Not until nine years ago (I was a late bloomer!) did I finally figure out what was really important and really deserving of my dedication. My spiritual life became vital to my sense of well-being. My faith became real. The material world became much less important.

If you have any interest in the Beatles, George Harrison, or the story of a man who made it to the absolute pinnacle of success only to find it lacking, I suggest you read this book. But, even if you don't find the details of his life worth following, I think he has left two important lessons:

1. Life never stands still. If you don't evolve you will be left behind and risk becoming bitter, unfulfilled and marginalized. But, there is always a way forward if you open yourself up to new experiences and ideas.

2. Material possessions never can buy happiness. We are part of a much bigger story that has to do with trust and faith in something bigger than ourselves. Living strictly in a material world is a dangerous place to be.

courtesy TM Blog

April 15, 2015

Simple Living: What Does It Mean To Me (And You)?

Depending on the web site, blog, or books I check simple living can mean many different things, depending on who is doing the defining. It could mean getting rid of most of my belongings and keeping only the bare essentials, all while living in 300 square feet of housing. It can also mean having all the modern conveniences, but only buying what I need, not what I want. 

Am I living simply if I eliminate meat from my diet and only buy from a farmer's market so most of my food isn't shipped to me from 1500 miles away? Am I part of the movement if I set my thermostat at 85 during a Phoenix summer and buy all my clothes at a thrift store? Can I also be considered living simply if I keep the house temperature at 76 but have invested in super-efficient windows, insulation, maybe even a solar system so that I am using less energy than before? Or, maybe simple living may be nothing more than a mental condition of being more in tune with the natural world and avoiding our consumptive society.

To simplify all this (pun intended),  here is what living a simple life means to me. Then, I ask you to add your thoughts, opinions, and interpretations. I think I have determined that living simply is not so simple because there are no firm "rules."  Each of us takes what works best for us, adds a few ideas or new thoughts from someone else, and builds a satisfying retirement lifestyle that makes us happy. So, here goes.

I own my possessions and not the other way around

I have never been someone who likes to acquire things. I dislike shopping unless I have a specific need that a particular purchase will satisfy, like new sneakers or a few new plants for the pots on the porch. The idea of shopping for fun doesn't compute. I love movies but I don't purchase DVDs when the streaming libraries of Netflix and Amazon or the library lets me see them for little or no money. 

However, I will invest in a Smart TV that allows me to stream movies because that simplifies my life. I will buy a new car when it is easier to do so than continually patch and repair an old clunker. But, in each of these cases my purchase fills a specific need. I don't buy the latest gadget because it is available. I don't turn in my older car just to have a newer model. I attempt to make sure my choices dictated by a need, not a want. It doesn't happen always, but more than it used to.

That being said, we continue to own two cars. Could we get by with one? Yes. But my wife sees the second car as an important symbol of freedom. If she has a meeting, lunch with friends, or an errand to run  she "needs" to know she doesn't have to coordinate with my schedule or arrange to be picked up by friends or dropped off by her husband. For her, that second car is a part of her simpler life. Her definition of living simply is valid and important to her. The second car stays for now. 

I have no problem getting rid of clothes I don't wear often enough to keep, books I have read but am not likely to read again, and knick-knacks that no longer are interesting or important. I don't get a thrill from having an empty closet or a bookshelf devoid of books. Emptiness just for the sake of emptiness isn't the motivator. But, I see no reason to maintain something that no longer serves a purpose. 

Importantly, if I give away 5 shirts I haven't worn in a few years I don't have any urge to replace all five. Like most guys I know, I wear the same handful of shirts, T-shirts, shorts and jeans over and over. I would be perfectly content to have just those items in my closet. Is that simple living? In a post on her blog several years ago Laura Weldon said it well, "Studies have repeatedly found that the more a person focuses on the accumulation and ownership of stuff the less happy they are." 

It is best if my living space is orderly and uncluttered

I require neatness. My wife will tell you I am somewhat compulsive in this regard. I don't line up all my pencils on my desk, but I am physically uncomfortable around clutter. I will go so far as to write something on a to-do list just so I can cross it off (does that sound a bit odd?) Having less stuff lying around makes it easier to be neat. Frankly, over time I have gotten better about tolerating some messiness. I have come to appreciate things that are a better use of my energy and worry than everything always being in its place. Still, a messy environment and I are not close friends. Actually, one of the benefits of our upcoming move is the chance to get rid of all sorts of things that are no longer important to me.

My idea of entertainment has simplified

I eliminated cable TV several years ago. I dropped my newspaper subscription and at least half a dozen magazine subscriptions. This freed up an hour or more a day for other activities that are more productive and pleasing to me. I love to read fiction books and have given myself permission to spend a few hours each day doing just that. 

Rare are the nights we go to a symphony or concert. The cost in both money and time are higher than the value they impart to us. My wife and I love movies but almost never go to one in the evening. Movies at night cost 50% more than matinees. During the day parking is easier and theaters are less crowded. It is just simpler to go before 6 PM.

A day spent with the family at a picnic or in a park beats almost any other entertainment choice. Doesn't get much simpler than that.

My time is worth more to me than it used to be

That means I attempt to eliminate or simplify things that I view as a waste of time. As an example, you might know from an earlier post, cooking for me is not a sport, or a way to relax. It is a task to be completed as quickly as possible to provide fuel to my body. Leftovers are actually preferred because it means I can spend an extra 30 minutes on the sofa with my wife watching a movie or taking Bailey to the park.

To conclude, I like this quote from Frances Mayes, author of Every Day in Tuscany: "Since a large percentage of control over fate doesn't exist, how to go forward? Cultivate interior life as though it were a garden sanctuary. Give away what you can. Squander your love."

That seems pretty simple to me.

April 11, 2015

Medical Bills After Retirement: Be Prepared

It probably comes as no surprise that the number one concern of retirees is the unknown cost of on-going and future health issues. Even with Medicare, private insurance through a former employee, or some other way of paying for health costs, many of us are unprepared and in for a rude awakening over what lies ahead.

Recent studies tell us that up to $300,000 in costs are very possible for those over age 65. Don't we assume that with Medicare, a Medigap policy, an Advantage option, and drug coverage that can't possibly be right? 

Unfortunately, the most expensive parts of our health costs aren't covered by those items. Moving into an assisted living facility can easily cost $3-$4,000 a month (or more). A nursing home might be closer to $5,000 a month. Medicare pays nothing, or for only a limited period of time. If you elect to stay in your home you will still need expensive on-site nursing and custodial care that can cost about the same as being in a facility. Research shows 70% of us will need either short and long term care at some point.

True, you can buy a long term insurance policy, but they are quite expensive, and usually have a waiting period before payments start. They are dependent on the insurance company staying in the long term care business, not a sure thing as costs outstrip their ability to generate sufficient return on their investments. 

A report from last September in USA Today provides a sobering look at our concerns. More than half of us fear Alzheimer's or dementia more than any other health issue, even cancer, heart issues, stokes, or arthritis. Another study tells us that the majority of retirees fear medical debts may overwhelm their finances, with up to a quarter of us already in trouble due to medical bills.

So, why am I detailing these scary numbers and scenarios? Because being prepared and facing reality are our best weapons. To have a satisfying retirement denial is not going to work. Facing the financial possibilities of health costs down the road now will help you if, and when, it occurs. 

Obviously, we must do our part to stay as healthy as we can as long as possible. Medicare or Advantage plans offer plenty of free or deeply discounted ways to stay on top of our health and take steps to short-circuit problems. 

From a financial standpoint, a line item in our budget must include reasonable projections for future medical costs. Forgoing some present pleasures may be necessary to help with future expenses. The health care center won't offer much sympathy when you tell them you can't pay their bills because you took a month-long cruise down the Amazon.

The health care system in the United States is unlike any other developed country. We have a for-profit approach to health care. While that provides for the best medical care possible, it has the very real potential for financial hardships or even ruin if someone isn't prepared.

After a full year of Medicare, a Medigap policy, and drug coverage I am very happy with the large reduction in my medical costs compared to previous years. But, I am aware of what may lie ahead and am doing my best to protect Betty and me from a rocky future. 

I'd rather spend the money on something else, but health care savings have become part of our life. That is our responsibility.