September 30, 2010

Helping You Live a Simpler Life -10 More Blogs

The post Living a Simpler Life - 9 Places to Start generated as many comments as any posting on this blog.  Even three weeks later I'll see a steady stream of traffic to that article. A follow up post with more links and thoughts on voluntary simplicity probably has appeal.

Simple living and voluntary simplicity have become major trends on the Internet. The sour state of the economy certainly contributed to that growth. When things aren't going well looking for ways to save money and eliminate waste are hot topics. But, I think it is more than that. People are realizing that a culture built on consumption as its major engine of growth creates enormous problems. It is impossible to sustain a constantly increasing pattern of spending. The damage to the earth and depletion of natural resources are clear threats to our well-being. The cycle of boom and bust wrecks havoc on us all. 

The quickest way to take control of your own life is to take steps to get off that treadmill. Find ways to cut back on purchases, save money while enhancing the quality of your life, and do less damage to the earth, all while spending more time instead of money on the things you like. Comments left on the previous post contained several ideas that are worth repeating. Suggestions for simplifying your life, voluntarily cutting back, and living a more satisfying retirement included:

  • Sell a second car, or even sell all vehicles and rely on public transportation, bikes or walking.
  • Move from a big house to a smaller one, or forgo ownership entirely and rent an apartment.
  • Use the library instead of buying books that have to be stored in your home.
  • Eliminate cable TV. Use free services like Hulu, or use Netflix to stream movies to your TV
  • Drop the landline phone. Use a cell phone as your only phone.
  • De-clutter your living space with garage sales, ebay selling, or donations.
  • Grow your own fruit. 
  • Dry your clothes on a line in the backyard since a dryer uses massive amounts of energy.
  • Think twice before buying something. Use the 24 hour rule (if you still want it, then buy it).

In the previous post I  listed 9 sites that specialize in simpler living, voluntary simplicity, and being frugal (but not cheap). Here are 10 more. Click on the name and visit the site (but please come back!).


http://newhabit.org/ The writing on this blog appeals to me every time I visit Mark's site. He thinks deeply about an issue and expresses himself clearly.  He is particularly found of joy and children. There is a definite connection there. Click the simplicity tab at the top.
http://alwayswellwithin.com/ Inspiring positive change from the inside out is this site's slogan and it fits. The underlying thread is wellness in body, mind, spirit, and the environment. With recent posts like "21 Ways to Simply Be" and "Breathing May be Bad for You"  I think you'll find this an enjoyable place to spend some time. http://www.frugaltexasgal.com/  With the tag line "follow me as I attempt to live large on a small pension" I am hooked. Barb writes a very personal, journal-like blog that pulls no punches as she navigates her way through a challenging time in her life. I am always rooting for her to prevail.
http://rowdykittens.com/portfolio/ Don't even ask me what the name means. It doesn't matter because the blog is great. Simple, minimalist living drives the content. This link takes you to the archives page. There is enough content here to keep you very busy for quite a while. Tammy knows what she is talking about.
http://www.momadvice.com/index.aspx. This is all about frugal living, saving money, recipes, and working at home. Somehow she finds the time to write three blogs and run her household. You don't have to be a mom to find something here to enjoy.
http://welcometovoluntarysimplicity.wordpress.com/ I find this site fascinating. Written by a fellow who lives in rural England, it is truly about getting back to basics. If you need to make an ax handle, this is the place. How about making cider vinegar? Poultry problems?  Look no further. Amazingly, I have no interest in any of those topics but I love his writing style. After three or four articles I feel like I know him. He doesn't update very often so look through the older posts.
http://www.suddenlyfrugal.com/  What is the genesis of this blog? Leah says " Most mothers teach their children how to cook and clean. Mine taught me to compost and to reuse everything."  She is an author and TV personality as well as an excellent blogger on all things frugal. Look at the list of recent posts on the right sidebar.
http://www.healthyjoyfulliving.com/  Recent posts include 10 simple ways to simplify your day and  3 simple steps to reinvigorating your life.  The list of topics covered is impressive. The couple writing this blog has just finished a new book with the interesting title, "Courage & Croissants. The description sounds fascinating.
http://blog.postconsumers.com/ "Finding the satisfaction of enough" is this blog's slogan. Click on the blog tag across the top to go to an excellent source of  ideas for simplifying your life. I like the variety of topics covered here. There is always something fresh to thing about.
http://livesimplyenough.com/ Imagine a world where everyone has enough. That sets up this first rate simplicity blog. Every post I clicked on for this article grabbed me. The author is passionate about ending global poverty and controlling the mad pattern of consumption that dominates the western world.


Living a lifestyle that is simpler, more frugal, less damaging to the environment, and eliminates a lot of consumer-generated stress is a worthy goal. I hope you visit these sites and find a few that speak to you.

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September 28, 2010

So, You're Retired: What Do You Do All Day?


"What do you do?" is usually the first question asked in a social gathering. People seem fascinated by how others earn their living. When you're working the answer is easy. When you are retired, just saying "I'm retired" isn't good enough. Then comes the inevitable, "So what do you do all day during your satisfying retirement?"

Actually, that follow up question gets to the heart of the retirement dilemma for many. What do you do to fill your day? I'm hoping the answer isn't watching 6 hours of TV and taking naps. But, what exactly do we do to make the best use of our time, energy, and talents?

I am going to present a brief overview of my day. Then, I'm turning this post over to you. Whether it stays short and centered on me, or becomes long and interesting will depend on the number of comments generated. I think all of us are every bit as interested in what someone else does in retirement as we were when we were employed.

"So, what do you do all day?" I begin with breakfast and then a quick read of two newspapers. I used to spend a full hour reading the papers but realized mornings is my peak productive time. Now, I scan the papers and try to be at the computer no later than 7:00 AM.

From then until lunchtime I write, work on this blog, read other blogs, deal with e-mail, maintain my Twitter presence, and run any essential errands.

After lunch is a 30 minute nap. That short break helps me maintain my energy for the rest of the afternoon. After the nap, three or four days a week I go to the gym. Like a nap, this is important to me. It helps me maintain my weight, gives me more energy, and helps keep my knees, hips, and back from causing me problems. Maintaining my health is worth this time and money investment.

Then, back to the computer to answer e-mails and more writing.  I try to quit by 4:00 PM.  Guitar practice, a glass of wine, and it is time for an early dinner by 5:15 PM. My evenings usually include a movie,  fiction reading, a little more computer work, and off to bed by 10:00 PM.

Weekends are mainly reserved for family time and something special with my wife. I work as a mentor to recently released prisoners so some time each weekend is given over to that. I try to complete most of my chores during the week so Saturday & Sunday are kept as open as possible.

That's it. Any day can fill up with activities like yard work, paying bills, or going on a picnic lunch when the weather is nice, but the key parts are as I have listed them. Not very exciting, is it? 


Now, your turn. I and other readers want to know how you spend your day. Don't feel the need to be as complete as I have been. Maybe you want to highlight a few things you do that are most important to you. Maybe you do something I have not mentioned that is crucial to you. Whatever the case, please take a few minutes to leave some feedback on your daily routine. The question, "So, what do you do all day?" is universal. I can't wait to read your answer to find out how you are building a satisfying retirement.


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September 24, 2010

Financial Advice From a Non-Financial Planner

Up front I'm telling you I am not an investment guru. I'm not pushing the next hot thing. I'm just an average guy who has managed to stay afloat by adhering to a few basic rules of financial sanity. How many are you following?

  • Don't Chase Returns That are Well Above Average. If most CDs are paying 1.5%, you can assume that one paying 10% has some problems. If a broker or friend says you can make a 20%  return on your money, turn and walk away quickly. If it is too good to be true, it usually is. Greed kills.
  • Home Equity Loans are Dangerous. Why? Because too many people use the equity in their house like a piggy bank. The problem is if this piggy bank breaks you could lose your home. My rule is simple: if the equity loan money is for a permanent repair, replacement, or upgrade and I can handle regular payments, then it is OK. But, I never use equity money for something that depreciates or disappears. That means never for a car, big screen TV, or vacation.
  • Use On Line Bill Pay. There is no reason to write a check, put on a stamp, and hope the Post Office delivers it on time. Virtually every bank allows you to pay your bills, on-line, for free. It is more secure than the mail. Often you can upload the data right into your budgeting software.
  • Get a Free Credit Report. Go to annualcreditreport.com for a free report at least once a year. Don't be confused by sites that promise a free report, but require you to purchase some other service. The one linked above is absolutely free. Look over your report for mistakes or problems. Contact the credit bureau immediately to fix anything that is wrong. The rate you pay for your credit card, auto loan and mortgage are directly affected by these reports. Know what they say.
  • Use A Budget. If you do nothing else keep track of what you spend. There is no other way to make it.Otherwise you are leaving your financial well-being to chance. For a few software programs you might want to explore, click here. Point #3 deals with budgeting.
  • Live Beneath Your Means. Spend less than you bring in. How do you know? Use a budget. Your goal is to spend 20-30% less than your income or investments generate. Why? That is the only way to build up a sufficient emergency fund and give you enough wiggle room to adjust to unexpected expenses or inflation. I wrote a post about this subject with more details. If interested, click here.
  • Whatever You Don't Buy is Money You Still Control. If the urge to splurge hits take a cold shower, take a walk around the block, take some time to think before you buy. After 24 hours if you still want the item and you won't break any of the rules above, get it. Too many people wind up in too much trouble by making impulsive decisions regarding money. Distinguish between a want and a need. Get the need, wait on the want.

Financial issues rank near the top of every list of retirees concerns. Is that your situation? Is there some particular area that worries you the most? I'm no expert, but I can certainly point you toward a few places that may help you. Leave a comment or e-mail me and we'll compare worries!

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September 21, 2010

Retirement Simplified

There is nothing simple about retirement. Everyone has a different path and a unique set of circumstances to face. But, there are some basic decisions that must be made. While I don't suggest this list covers all the issues you may face, it is a good start.  If you can answer these questions you are well on your way to a successful retirement.

When do I want to stop working ? A goal without a timetable is simply a wish list. You don't need to pick the exact day at some point in the future. But, you do need to commit to something: late spring of 2012 is fine. Now you know where the finish line is. Develop plans that  work backward from that time. For example, 1 month before I retire I will firm up any financial issues with my employer. 4 months before my "Freedom Date" I will begin gathering information about additional health care options. You get the idea. With a goal line in mind, work in reverse toward today.

Is my financial house in order?  If nothing else the last few years have made many of the "rules" obsolete. Even the wisdom of owning your own home is up for review by many. What this means is a fresh look at all parts of your financial plan before you turn in that letter of resignation. Is the 6% annual rate of growth you were counting on realistic anymore?  Is there a chance Social Security payments will be means-tested in the future? Are muni bonds still safe investments when cities face bankruptcy? 

How is my health and my health coverage?  Both will have an important impact on your life. Do you have health challenges now that might limit you in some significant way?  Does your spouse have a disease that is chronic?  How about your insurance? Do you keep full coverage after you stop working? Can you afford Medicare Part D or supplemental coverage? If you need to buy a new policy will anyone sell you one at a rate you can afford?  Personally, I think the costs and direction of our health care system will have a bigger impact on retirees than anything else on the horizon.

Do I want to work after retirement? After you finish the financial review, the question may be do I have to work after retirement? But, let's assume that isn't the situation. For many of us work has been how we defined ourselves. Leaving all that behind may be very tough for you. Maybe this will be the perfect time to start your own business. Part time work is a viable option for many. Extra income, staying in touch with people, and feeling needed are reasons often cited why part time work is attractive.

Where do I want to live? This is a biggie. I strongly urge you to not make a move soon after you retire. There is too much upheaval in your life as it is. A move away from friends, family, and the familiarity of the area should not be undertaken lightly. You may be sick of winter and snow. Your grown children and grandchildren may live quite a distance from you. Throwing away your winter coat sounds heavenly. Being closer to the kids would be wonderful. You may be absolutely right. But, being far from everything that gives you roots  has its own costs. If possible, spend time as a long-term visitor in the new locale before giving up everything at your former home. Don't rush this decision. It will have a major impact on your happiness and health.

What will I do to stay busy and motivated? It is the rare person who can answer this question with much assuredness before retiring. You will have ideas and wishes. But, until actually living the life you won't really know what might unfold. My suggestion is to make plans. Get excited about doing the things you have not done during your working years. Then, remain flexible. Be prepared to make corrections in your direction. Be OK with deciding one thing you thought you'd love isn't the answer, but something new you just discovered may be.  


Just six steps to a simplified retirement?  Not really. It is more involved than that. But, these questions are at the heart of the process. If you feel comfortable with your answers I'd suggest you are well on your way toward a successful transition.


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September 19, 2010

7 Steps Toward Better Health

After money issues, health is the primary concern of those who have retired, or are thinking about it. And no wonder. Health care costs will continue to rise, often dramatically, for the next few years at least. Primary care doctors are refusing to accept new patients, especially those with Medicare. Nursing homes average over $5,000 a month. In-home, full-time nursing care can cost two or three times that much.


What can you do about it?  Your genes will play a large part in how healthy you are in retirement. The lifestyle you lead when you were younger will have consequences, good and bad. But, that doesn't mean you should assume it is too late to take some basic steps. Virtually every study I could find makes it clear that the affects of bad health habits can be slowed down, or even reversed. Make the years (and decades!) ahead of you and your loved ones productive, exciting, and healthy. Here are 7 basic steps anyone can take.


  • You have a Family Doctor, right? You go for regular checkups, correct?  Many of us are notorious for avoiding these visits under the belief if we don't know about a problem, it doesn't exist. Sounds silly when you say it out loud doesn't it?  A family doctor knows your history. She knows what works and doesn't work for you. You feel more comfortable discussing concerns with someone who isn't a stranger. Avoiding doctor visits now, even when you feel fine, will cost you later. There is simply no way to stay healthy without visiting your doctor on a regular basis.
  • You exercise on a regular basis. It may not be fun, but the benefits of staying active are proven. Exercise helps you maintain your weight. It helps keep your joints more limber. It eases many of the aches of arthritis. It helps reduce stress. It is important in combating chronic diseases. These benefits don't require a gym membership, or running 5 miles every morning. Activities as simple as gardening, walking to the end of the street, lifting water jugs, or doing isometrics can help you maintain fitness and independence.
  • You watch what you eat. That doesn't mean a strict or faddish diet. It doesn't mean cutting out all the food you love. It does mean understanding what you put into your body affects what you can get out of your body. Your energy level, ability to get enough sleep, and your ability to avoid many illnesses are at stake. Moderation, fruits and vegetables, portion control, .....you've heard all this before. But, at our age you can't afford to tell yourself you'll do it tomorrow. If you'd like an excellent, simple overview of what you need to do in this area, click here. Oh, and don't skip breakfast. You'll actually gain more weight if you don't refuel when you wake up.
  • You manage your stress. Uncontrolled, stress has a tremendously negative effect on you. A partial list of the bad stuff stress can do to you includes insomnia, diarrhea, heart problems, stroke, eating disorders, ulcers, and diabetes. Pay attention to the warning signs of too much stress. Sleep issues, forgetting appointments and meetings, constant feelings of fatigue, feeling overwhelmed with work and responsibilities, or apathy could be your body's way of crying for help against too much stress.There is such a thing as good stress. It motivates us, keeps us focused, and out of harm's way. The trick is to know the difference.
  • You understand the benefits of strong relationships. Having someone in your life who loves you, listens to you, and you trust to do what's best for you is extremely important to your overall health, both mental and physical. The supportive nature of the relationship provides a sense of security. It is easier for you to share things that are bothering you. You have someone to call on when you need help or simply a shoulder to lean on. 10 benefits of maintaining healthly relationships can be found here.
  • Get Enough Sleep. Here's a scary figure: people who get less than 6 hours of sleep a night have a 30% higher risk of dying early than those who get between 6 and 8 hours a night. Obesity has been linked to not enough sleep. So have various forms of cancer and heart problems. If you are not getting enough sleep just because you don't go to bed early enough, that problem is easily solved. However, if your lack of at least 6 hours of shuteye at night is out of your control, read this and see your family doctor (see point #1 above!)
  • Don't Smoke. Enough said.


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September 17, 2010

Living a Simpler Retirement Life - 12 Places to Start


Over the past few years one of the biggest trends in the world of blogging has been the number of sites that promote living a simpler life. If you do a computer search for phrases like voluntary simplicity, zen living,  minimalism or frugality the number of hits will be in the millions.

What is the attraction?  Maybe you are looking for a more satisfying retirement lifestyle. It could be a desire to spend more time on things you like. That may include travel, or becoming deeply involved in gardening or photography. Maybe you want to create your own home-based business. Perhaps volunteering has become a passion.

One thing I am sure of: you are not looking for ways to do more dusting, cleaning, repairing, and maintaining stuff you own. Living a simpler life with less clutter has strong appeal for many. Eliminate things that take you away from what you really enjoy. Get back to basics.

One important point should be made: simplicity in living doesn't have to mean frugality. Attempting to be as frugal as possible will usually necessitate a simpler lifestyle. But, a lifestyle with less stuff isn't necessarily frugal. It is more about surrounding yourself with what is important to you and ridding your life of what does not.

I admit living a simpler life appeals to me. My wife and I cut our living space nearly in half when our daughters left home 10 years ago. I have given away most of the books that I’m not likely to re-read. I have eliminated cable TV because I watch very little television. My backyard has been converted to low maintenance planting so I don’t spend hours watering and pruning. I am perfectly comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt most days. In fact, I just purged my clothes closets by probably 30% by donating them to a thrift store run by a prison ministry organization. Others could use the shirts, sports coats, sweaters, and dress slacks I no longer wear.

 If you'd like to explore this subject
a bit more I have put together a list of some of the blogs  I check often. Click on the blog title to go directly to each site.From each you should get some ideas on simplifying your retirement lifestyle.


Musings of a Midlife Mom:Spending Less With Living More. Sharon reveals her daily struggle to keep to a budget and still enjoy life while keeping her family happy.

Happy Simple Living Blog deals with life balance, kindness, and making the most of what we have.


Unclutterer: This blog deals with reducing clutter and staying organized as a way of being more productive at home and on the job. His ideas are practical and helpful. There is an extensive category list on the right side of the home page.

My Simpler Life: this blog’s goal is to help you create a saner, simpler life. On the right side of the home page is a list of almost two dozen topics. Each one has practical and thought-provoking ideas. That's where I suggest you start is this is whole concept is a little foreign to you.



Rowdy Kittens: Social Change Through Simple Living. One of the leaders in this field, the blog with the funny name has been a leader in controlling your possessions and staying focused on building a simpler life for several years.

Remodeling This Life  is a new site to me. The category list on the right sidebar contains some excellent material. Start with Simple Living and read all the posts, both new and old. Then, move onto another trail.


Zen Habits: One of the biggest and most successful blogs about living a simple life. The number of articles and the range of subjects could keep you busy for weeks. The author writes in a relaxed, personal style that fits the subject perfectly. The link will take you to his first-rate beginners guide.

Living a Simple Life is all about living a happy simple life by getting back to the basics. I really enjoy this couple’s commitment to walking away from the elements of progress that complicate our lives and add stress. These folks follow true simplicity.

Choosing Voluntary Simplicity. All about finding balance in your life and waking up happy each morning. Shirley uses a very personal, one-to-one style that works well. Her archives contain a wealth of fascinating articles. This blog is worth a long visit. I am inspired almost every time I'm here. She writes with true understanding and passion on this subject.

Frugal Dad As you might guess this blog is more focused on the financial side of things. But, he discusses things like drying your clothes on a line outside and downsizing to save money instead of growing your 401K. How About “ How to Save Money on a Tailgate Party” as an off-the-wall topic? I like this guy.

365 Less Things is a fascinating blog. The tag line is reducing our stuff one day at a time. Writer Colleen wants to "declutter every wardrobe, bench, shelf, under bed, pantry and garage space in my home by giving away, throwing away or selling one item everyday for the next twelve months."  What a great idea!  I hope when her year is up she finds a reason to do it all over again.

Finally, I ran across an excellent article for you to read. Living Simply: A Lasting and Fulfilling Way of Life is a well-written explanation of why living simply can be good for you.


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Originally posted in September 2010, this has been the single most-viewed post since Satisfying Retirement began in June 2010. As of February 2012 I have freshened a few of the suggested links to include new sites and added some additional thoughts. If this is your first time reading this post I  hope you find the subject and links helpful.

If you'd like to add a comment to those already shown, please do so. I will be notified and respond to you. And, as one of the most visited articles on the blog, there are new people seeing this every single day who would enjoy your thoughts. A satisfying retirement looks different for every one of us. Let's talk about it.


September 15, 2010

How Do You Measure Success?

Success in one form or another is important to all of us. The trick is figuring out what success means to you. That takes time and thought. The answers may not be what you expect them to be. Here are 6 measurements that define success to me. What about you?

To be comfortable with myself. This means accepting who I am and have become. It is finding a way to be content and at ease. While constantly striving to be better, it means accepting what is good and bad in me. It means being firm in my values and beliefs, though always open to adjusting after receiving new information.

To have at least one person love me enough to take me for who and what I am. In my case it is my wife. After 34 years I still find ways to irritate or upset her on a regular basis. But, I know she is fully committed to our life together. For better or worse wasn’t just a sentence in the wedding ceremony. She hasn’t stopped trying to help me grow and work on my weaknesses. But, her love is not conditional on my making specific changes.

To have family nearby. I have written several posts about the importance of families and those relationships. Click here for a sample.. Having my parents, both grown daughters, my in-laws and their extended family, and my grandkids all within 30 minutes is a tremendous blessing. Success comes when all of those people look for opportunities to get together. We enjoy each other, we care about each other, and we are there for each other.

To be financially secure enough to handle the bumps without crashing. I retired before I was financially ready, but I had no choice. My business was disappearing before my eyes. My family was suffering from my travel schedule. In the end, the decision was to make do with what we had and make it work. Because we had always lived below our means we had saved enough to give it a shot. We are homebodies and very content to be with family, friends, and ourselves. We don’t need a lot of extras. That has enabled us to survive with very little change in our way of life through various recessions, housing price collapses, and lost investments.

To understand that experiences are more lasting than things. When it came to some large expense, our kids were often part of the decision. They would understand that choosing one thing would affect something else. When given that choice, as a family we almost always valued experiences over things. Good memories cannot be repossessed or foreclosed. They are always available and always increase in value.

To leave something positive behind. Even if we don’t say so out loud, every one of us hopes we are not forgotten when we die, that there is something we leave behind that lasts. It could be discovering the cure for cancer or a new design for a more efficient solar cell. It could be that you gave life to a child, who gave live to a child, who gave life to a child. It could be a scholarship fund for deserving students. Or, it could be that you lived your life with honor, integrity, and dignity and were an inspiration to others.


Each individual defines success in his or her own way.  What is success to you? What items are on your list?  Have you really thought about it?



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September 12, 2010

Your Life has Strings Attached to It.

Practicing some chords for the umpteenth time, it hit me that a guitar has a lot to teach about living. Not the need to practice or the ability to face your musical limits without getting upset. But, in the way a guitar is built. Its purpose is to make something beautiful from different parts. Isn’t that what building a life is all about? Consider these parallels.

There are six strings. Each string creates a different sound. Playing each string in the correct order makes music. Ignoring their differences creates chaos. Each of us has the power as an individual to create something meaningful and lasting. We can combine the separate facets of our personality to create a life that is varied and meaningful.

When the separate strings are played together in a certain way a musical chord is created. If the strings are held down in a random order with no planning or awareness the sounds created are not very pleasant. Even though we are individuals if we allow our skills and talents to be combined with others that blend is much more productive. Learning to be part of a whole is a critical life skill to learn.

There are six tuning keys on most guitars. Each one tightens or loosens the individual strings to keep the instrument in tune. Adjusting the strings must be done every few days. In the same way you should check the “tune” of your life even if it is just a slight turn of that key. Everything you learn, every new experience, every success and every failure should cause an adjustment in how you live your life.

The body of an acoustical guitar is basically a hollow box with a hole in the middle. Until someone takes action nothing happens. When the strings are plucked, that hollow space is filled with sound that pours out of the hole. Only when action is taken does the potential of the guitar become reality. We can read, learn, and plan. But until you take action nothing positive comes out of your space.

There are 20 frets (those horizontal metal strips) on the neck of a typical guitar. If fingers are placed correctly, specific musical notes are created. The frets don’t cause the music. But, without their guidance the music produced is too random to be pleasing. For us, guidance is very helpful in completing a task. Whether it is a mentor, your own experience, or education, gratefully accepting guidance is a mark of true maturity.

A guitar as a metaphor for your life? Both are made to accomplish specific things. You only have to pay attention to how one works to apply the same techniques to the other. Obviously I had some fun with the metaphor of a guitar representing a life. But, the subject is serious. The importance of using your individual skills and the power of the group are some of the keys to success.

Have you ever thought of your life as being represented by a musical instrument, an animal, a car? Let your mind wander for a bit and see if anything springs to mind. Brainstorming is an important part of creativity.

If  you'd like to share what you came up with, I'd love to read it. I bet you have an even better idea than the guitar.

 If you have your own blog, please leave a link to your blog along with your comment. Promoting each other is part of what blogging is all about.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to practice.

September 10, 2010

Don't Be Average: 4 Tips for Being Uncommon

Average means ordinary or usual. Average is what many people aspire to be. Don’t rock the boat, don’t stand out, don’t make waves. I’m guessing you want more. You want each day to be special, to mean something. You’d like your life to follow a path that you create.

Here’s the answer: ignore common wisdom. Just forget it. Common is average. Your life can be more by being different. Here are 4 ways to break from the pack and create a satisfying retirement lifestyle that is under your control.

Short cuts usually get you lost. Too many people figure they know how to get something for nothing. Hard work is for suckers. The path to glory and greatness lies through other's efforts or money. Don’t bother perfecting your skills. Don’t waste time learning what you need to know. Look for the easy way. Look for the shortcut. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the forest with no way out.

There are no shortcuts on the road to a non-average life. You have to want it enough to work hard for it. You accept there is no way to bypass the effort involved. You see the sign for the shortcut, and choose the other path.

Experts often know less than you. Our society worships experts. If someone is an expert, whatever he or she says must be better than what you think or believe. You would be wise to stop worrying and just do what they say, buy what they recommend, and live how they have determined is best.

Bunk. An expert is often self-declared. He may have no track record or experience to have earned that label. She has no idea what works best for you in your unique set of circumstances. Consider that maybe you are the best expert there is in figuring what is right for you. Stop listening to every talking head. Start listening to yourself.

Newer isn’t always better. We upgrade, replace, or redo out of boredom with the old. Commercials have convinced us our life will be a whole lot better with the latest whatever. Newer is always better. Our clothes will be whiter, our teeth brighter, and our home life more pleasant.

Not true. Today’s appliances are made to fail, whereas the stuff from 20 years ago would last forever. Computers will work just fine years after Microsoft wants you to upgrade to a new OS that makes all your drivers obsolete. With decent care, your car can easily go 125,000 or more and be fully paid for. To resist the constant call to buy what is new and improved takes above average will power.

You can’t spend your way out of debt. This is not what our consumer society wants you to do. In 2006 the average household spent 133% of what it earned. I’d suggest there is a very direct correlation between that fact and the recession of the last few years. Our entire way of life is built on credit, for housing, cars, education, giant TVs, vacations…everything. Sometimes credit is helpful and necessary. Few of us can buy a home with cash in our pocket.

The problem arises when we attempt to fund our day-to-day lives with credit we can’t pay back. Your life is out of your control. Decisions you make are predicated on how you can balance this bill against that credit card, against that obligation. Your entire lifestyle can collapse overnight if you lose your job. The solution is so obvious it seems almost silly to say it. But, with the average American household having total credit card debt of $15,000, apparently not.

You were made to be more than average. You have the potential to excel and exceed expectations. It just takes above average will power, determination, and a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. Ban good enough from your vocabulary.

I'd love your comments and feedback on Don't Be Average.  Pick one of the points above and tell me if you agree or disagree. Please take a few minutes to add your thoughts.

If You have your own blog I encourage you to include a link with your comment.

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September 5, 2010

Explained: One Simple Financial Decision That Could Change Your Life

A few weeks ago a guest post of mine was published on Pick The Brain. It concerned my belief in one financial decision that could change your life. In that article I gave the general overview of  the concept of living beneath your means.

In this follow up post, I am adding some detailed steps you can take to help you achieve financial stability. These are things I have done to enable me to retire comfortably a full decade before my peers. They don’t involve any specialized financial knowledge or insider information. They all involve a strong will and a real desire to put yourself on a strong financial footing. As I noted in the Pick the Brain article you must ignore the siren call of instant gratification. Realize that credit costs you. Understand that risky investments are called that for a reason. Don’t be greedy. So, what exactly is involved?

  • Develop a budget and stick to it. There is absolutely no way to monitor and control your financial life without tracking income and outgo. Write down every cent you spend on everything for at least a month. Compare that total to your income. Use those two figures as a basis for deciding what you can afford to spend and still have a positive cash flow.
  • Pay yourself first. The very first entry in your budget is what you are setting aside for savings and investments. Having the right intention but only saving what is left after every other bill is paid will not work. You are the most important line item on that budget. Take out what you have decided to invest before anyone else gets a dime.
  • Exhibit credit card sanity. Know the interest rate you are paying. Look for cards that charge less. Pay much more than the minimum every month or you’ll be in debt forever. Even better: never charge more than you can pay off in full at the end of the billing cycle. Then you are using the card for convenience and not to fund a lifestyle you can’t afford.
  • Delay gratification. Living this way means turning your back on the consumer society that fills our every waking moment. TV is not a medium for entertaining you. It is a delivery system for making you feel unsatisfied. Magazines and newspapers contain more ads than editorial content. Every sense is under assault to buy more, spend more, and charge more right now. If you want it, you deserve it. Not true. Wait for it, save for it, budget for it. Control the urge.
  • Find someone to help you. Unless you are very comfortable in making all your own financial decisions you need a mentor. It isn’t necessarily a broker or professional adviser, though it could be. It might be a friend or co-worker who has learned the benefit of living beneath his or her means. It might be a relative, a parent, or even one of your grown children. It must be someone who hasn’t just talked about it, but lived it with his own money. Run away from “hot tips” or “insider” information. Run toward someone who is financially savvy and is willing to share.
Living beneath your means takes dedication and determination. But, the end result will be worth the short-term pain and sacrifices.

I would very much appreciate your feedback and comments. Can you see yourself adopting any of these ideas? Do you already live beneath your means? How is it going? How do you stick to it? All of your ideas and experiences help the rest of us. Consider this your chance to be a mentor!

September 3, 2010

Learning About Yourself on a Road Trip

A few months ago my wife and I took a road trip. We had talked about it for years but had never gone.. We even had a name: "The Drive Till You Drop Road Trip."  So, armed with a lot of hope, enough luggage to be gone for half a year, and 30 GB of camera memory, off we went. Nearly 5,000 miles, 3,200 photographs, and 25 days later we arrived home, still talking to each other, and still very much in love. Our journey took us to eight western states and on a trip that we wondered why we waited so long to take. What did we learn?  Here are a few highlights:

Planning a major trip together teaches compromise and patience. For something this involved, we began planning 6 months before leaving in late May. Thank goodness for the Internet and AAA's maps. With a set limit of days away and so many places we could see, there was a lot of compromise involved. After some give and take on both our parts, we developed a viable itinerary.

You learn to adjust even the best-made plans. Consistently rotten weather for a good portion of the trip forced us to re-route and re-plan on the fly. In late May we didn't expect to encounter snow, hail, sleet, days of heavy rain, fog, and temperatures in the 40's. We certainly didn't pack for it. A laptop and WIFI allowed for last minute reservation changes.

See America up close and personal. The country looks totally different from the window of a car than from the window of an airplane. Small towns are often interesting, welcoming and attractive. People are generally friendly and helpful. Tell them you are on a long road trip and everyone expresses envy. Little known attractions and historical sites are everywhere. With the freedom of a car,  we were free to pick and choose.

See your traveling partner up close and personal. There is no better opportunity to learn more about your traveling partner and yourself  than being in close proximity for 25 days. My wife and I  both came home feeling the time together was a tremendous bonding experience. Even after 34 years of marriage we discovered new things about each other than will help us weather the next 34 years. Click here for a post about learning more about your partner.

Time away from routine is important. In an earlier post, I wrote about the benefits of taking a vacation. The change in your schedule, the different foods, sights, and sounds can act as a tremendous dash of refreshment. Having someone else do the cooking and cleaning is hard to turn down.

Create memories. We finally decided to take the trip because we began to worry we'd run out of the ability or opportunity if we kept delaying. Now, we have the satisfaction of doing what we set out to do, and creating memories that nothing can take away from us. Of course, over 3,000 photos help us remember it all. But, it doesn't take much for one of us to recall something about the trip and the other to chime in with all sorts of details.

A Road Trip can be a tremendous experience. If you have the chance and the ability I heartily urge you to go for it. If you have been on a similar trip, I'd love to read about your experiences. Where did you go?  How long was the trip? Would you do it again. Please add a comment below.


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September 1, 2010

5 Ways You Can Boost Your Creativity & Find Your Passion

Every one of us has the ability to creatively solve a problem or learn a new craft.  We can come up with all sorts of ways to make something better or more productive. Like any other skill, creativity can be developed. Here are 5 ways to feed your creative spirit and supercharge your internal idea machine. You may discover a new passion that gives you the spark you have been seeking.

 
1. Stretch Your Horizons. Stimulate your mind by doing things out of your comfort zone. Go to a museum you usually avoid. Listen to a type of music that normally isn't’t on your Ipod. Visit web sites that present a point of view you don’t agree with. Pick up a magazine that covers a subject you are unfamiliar with. Stepping outside your usual behavior will energize your thought process.

2. Expand Social Interactions. Leave the computer or Blackberry for a while and go meet real people. The skills required to engage in small talk force you to think more deeply, listen more intently, and consider your response more thoroughly. People are highly unpredictable and often full of ideas you don’t have. Tap into that flow and see where it may take you.

3. Visit Web Sites Designed To Provoke. Places like TED or Open Culture offer hundreds of free video and audio lectures specifically designed to make you think. Virtually every topic you can name is covered. Even better, choose a subject you don’t understand very well. Invest a little time and maybe discover a new passion. If you missed it, click here to read an earlier post I wrote on this subject.

4. Keep A Journal. Not a boring “here’s what I did today” recap. How about three things you are thankful for today in your Gratitude Journal. Make note of new software or computing tricks you’d like to try in a Techno Journal. A Nature Journal forces you to notice things around you in a new way. A sketchbook of things you see and draw works well. Adding to a journal on a regular basis works your mind. You may discover something about yourself you didn’t know. More Journal ideas here.

5. Use Everything Libraries Have To Offer. Most libraries now have e-books and videos you download right to your home computer, no Kindle required. CDs provide different music choices. DVDs make art or foreign films come alive for free. Try wandering the stacks until you find a topic you know nothing about. Pick a few books, take them home, and see what develops. Creativity comes when exposed to new ideas. Discovering a new passion may be the end result.

When you learn something new, or tackle a difficult problem, you feel alive. What you are feeling is the power of creativity.

How do you stoke your creative fires?  What are you doing to stay excited and engaged? Are you looking for something to give you that "I can't wait to get out of bed this morning"  feeling? Please leave a comment and share.