December 31, 2010

Retirement Financial Links: Click and Learn

This post is a collection of links to specific articles on other blogs or web sites that I hope you will find helpful or useful.The focus is on finance and financial planning. I have found some sites I think are worth your clicking:















Finally, I saw an absolutely terrifying story from the Associated Press. It details the almost complete lack of retirement preparedness among far too many Baby Boomers. The statistics are enough to make you doubt your own sanity. Here is the link to the story. It should be a must read for everyone.


I am not specifically endorsing any particular advice these sites offer. But, I found the information interesting and in some cases, eye-opening. If you choose to visit some or all of these links I ask you provide some feedback here to let us know what you thought. Feel free to praise or criticize.


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December 28, 2010

New Year's Resolutions: No Way

If you are looking for another list of resolutions, I'm afraid this post will disappoint. Promising ourselves to lose weight, exercise more, or stop smoking never work. Statistics show most resolutions made January 1st are broken by January 31st.

So, let's not go there. Instead I want to talk about setting some goals. Goals are different from resolutions in one major way: goals have specific steps to achieve them. A resolution says, "I will lose 10 pounds."  A goal says, "I will lose ten pounds by March 1st and here are the steps I will take to achieve that goal. Think of a resolution as a goal without a plan. Think of that as an approach that will not work. It is about to be a new year. Let's try something different on our satisfying retirement journey together.

Because I can't possibly know what your goals might be, I'll use some of mine. The nice thing about a blog is these words will live on in some server somewhere forever. So, I can't deny having declared these goals. All I can do is attempt to fulfill them so I don't embarrass myself. So, for 2011, here goes:

Publish an e-book. My reading and study of successful blogs make it clear that just blogging is probably not going to be enough to push any blog to the next level. Other steps are required to get your name and brand in front of more people. One of the most effective steps is to put together a book. Unlike a traditional book, though, a book for a blogger must be available on-line for instant download. At least at first, it must be free. Its goal is not to make money, its goal is to increase awareness.

So, Goal #1 on this very public list is to have a Satisfying Retirement e-book available, for download, for free, by March 1st. Somebody keep track!


Start a web site to sell my wife's abstract photographs. Betty has so many talents it is hard to pick just one. But a goal requires a focus so I want to work toward developing a web site that sells her incredibly inventive abstract photographs. With a digital camera and Photo Shop she produces true works of art. If enough other people agree we could fund some exciting travel through the sale of her photos.

Goal #2 is to develop a web site to market her photos by May 1st.


Become one of the top 3 blogs in the non-financial retirement niche..by my one year anniversary. I'm not quite sure how I'll measure this. Maybe it will be subjective based on comparisons of subscriptions or mentions on Google. But, it is goal I'd like to set for myself. Why? Personal satisfaction primarily. If I'm involved in something I want to keep growing and developing. This seems like something I might be able to accomplish, mainly because at least 80% of retirement blogs are financially-centered.

Goal #3 is to be a top 3 non-financial retirement blog by my one year blogging anniversary, June 23rd.

Take another extensive driving Trip. I refuse to wake up some day and be upset that I waited too long to get back on the road. We enjoyed our last trip and want to schedule several more, but with one major change. Instead of being a "drive till we drop" trip they will become "drive and stop for awhile." The only downside of the driving excursion we took last Spring was attempting to cover too many miles in too few days. in 2011 the goal will be different.

Goal #4 is to take one driving trip of 3-4 weeks before the end of the year, but cover much less distance than the last one.


Simplify/downsize  one aspect of my life. I've mentioned this in posts before but I want to set a firm goal, with a date, to eliminate cable TV from our house. We watch so little that paying that bill every month is silly. But, I keep putting off pulling the plug because I'm afraid I may miss it.

Of course I can always sign up again (at probably a better, new customer rate) if it turns out to be a mistake. So, there is no real downside. I just have to do it.

Goal #5 is to eliminate cable TV by April 1st (when my current contract is up).


Five goals, a few that are ambitious, a few easier, a few more difficult. One thing about a blog is that it is public. There are nearly 5,000 people a month who can hold me accountable.

What about you?  Are you prepared to set some goals that will make you stretch yourself and sacrifice to achieve? Are you ready for the challenge? Are you ready to commit yourself to having the best year of your life?

Game on.


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December 27, 2010

Blogging during dry spells - Any different from Retirement?

My new passion, blogging, continues to be exciting and satisfying. After 6 months I haven't run out of things to write about. I have found a schedule of posting and writing that seems to work for me. But, there are days when I stare at the blank computer screen and wonder how I am going to fill the page. Inspiration disappears for a period of time. The creative well seem to be empty. There is a little flood of panic. Then, something worth committing to words eventually starts to flow and I relax.

Is retirement much different? Don't we experience times when we are simply going through the motions? There is a predictable, comfortable routine to the day. Nothing really new or interesting happens. There are no problems we can't handle without a little effort. Inspiration is taking a break. Life moves forward. I thought it might be interesting to draw comparisons between where I turn for blogging inspiration and how I find new energy for whatever might be next in retirement.


Pay attention & shake it up
One of my best sources for blogging topics is to stop long enough to look at the world around me. What in my life might give me inspiration? Old photos,  movies, a play or theater presentation, mementos around the house, the birds in the backyard, people at the mall, actually just about anything can inspire if my mood is right and I'm open to seeing things in a new way.

Building a satisfying retirement works the same way. Looking for a new angle or use of the everyday, meeting a new person or having a new experience, any of these can energize an otherwise mundane day. I might read something in a magazine that changes my perspective. Shaking up a routine or attempting to break an unproductive habit can be just the boost I need to get moving again.

Sometimes you just have to act

When a deadline is approaching and there is nothing ready to go, I must force myself to write. I go through files of ides starters, other blogs, even random Google searches on topics that I think might interest readers until eventually something clicks. Then, I will usually just start writing and an hour later something has taken shape. There is still time required to strengthen weak parts, cut out unnecessary words, spell check, and select a photo. But, if the bulk of the post is done I can relax.

That process is the same for anything in your life that is worthwhile. There will be times when you must force yourself to take action. It would be easier and more pleasant to avoid whatever it is. But, the problem isn't going away until you confront it. Whether this is a relationship issue, a health concern, a financial upset, or even where to go on vacation you may have to simply grit your teeth and do something. 

Look for something fresh from others 

On a regular basis I read around two dozen other blogs a day. I like what the writer is saying or I think the information is useful to me. I find inspiration and topic ideas galore from others who spend their days in front of a keyboard. Many write substantially more words than I do everyday, so there must be something I can learn.

Your daily life isn't different. Inspiration often comes from an outside source. Interacting with other people may be an effective way to find an answer to a problem. They may not directly address what your need is. But, by simply being with them you may find a new path toward something. Being with a group of people you enjoy can't help but make you feel better.


Maybe you simply need a retread

When all else fails and my blogging well is dry, I'll take an older post that I've already written and find a way to freshen it up. Maybe I can add some new or additional information. Maybe my original premise is no longer valid and I can discuss how my thinking has changed. Possibly providing links to other blogs will give the reader a fresh take on the subject.

Reusing or reworking something you have done before is really what retirement is all about. A lifetime of behavior and expectations are up for review. Just because you thought one way while working doesn't mean that line of thought is best for your life now. Was there an interest or hobby you used to love that fell by the wayside? Is it time to bring it back, maybe in a slightly different way? When you were 30 you loved to mountain bike. But, now at 60, maybe trail riding is safer and more suited to your body.  You still love to bike, but you change the approach.


Writing a blog and building a satisfying retirement are not that different. Both require some of the same skills. Maybe that is why so many blogs are being started by retired folks. One tends to reinforce the other!

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December 22, 2010

Time Savers: If Not Now, When?

This time of year is when most of us, retired or not, feel the most pressure to get the most done in the least amount of time. The holidays bring their own agenda: shopping, planning, cooking, parties, decorations, did I mention shopping? Through a really bad case of foresight, the year ends at the same time. That adds the thrill of closing out your budget and financial books for this year while guessing what next year will bring. It means last minute tax maneuvers. It means more parties, cooking, plans, full calendars, and, oh yeah, shopping. Frankly, it all conspires against having a satisfying retirement.

Do you always seem to be playing catch up? Do you end your day with a longer list of things to-do than you started? Are you stressed by how you spend your time? Looking for a way to be more productive with our time is a  continuing battle. Here are some steps you can take right now to help regain control of your clock, during the holiday season, or anytime.

Cut back on what you own. Our bigger living spaces and more possessions come with a double price: the cost to purchase them and then the time to maintain them. Adopt a simpler lifestyle and you will free up time previously spent on cleaning, fixing, and replacing. If you simplify enough, you may be able to work fewer hours because you are buying less stuff.

Eliminate major time wasters. Most lists would start with the television. The typical American watches 5 hours of TV every single day. Do you realize that equals 6 days in front of the tube every month. What could you do with an extra 6 days over the next 30? Turn off the television and find out.

Keep a detailed time log. For the next week, write down what you do and for how long. The idea is to get a real handle on where your time goes. Just like you need a budget to control the money you spend, you can’t save time if you aren’t really sure how you are spending it.

Re-think your routines and habits. Every morning I used to begin the day by reading two newspapers. Often that took an hour. It finally dawned on me that morning is when I’m most productive. It was a mistake to spend an hour or more on something I could do later in the day. Changing that one habit has made a huge difference in what I accomplish before lunch. How much of your schedule is habit instead of what is most productive? Pull out your time log and look for anything that might produce better results if you make a change.


Consolidate your errands. If you make several trips in the car to run errands you are wasting money and time. With a little planning you may find you can do it all in one trip instead of several. How about waiting until tomorrow? What about running errands three days a week instead of six?

Go on a diet - an Internet and social media diet. It is likely your time log will show that you’re spending large chunks of time checking your e-mail, Facebook friends, tweets, or just surfing away on the Internet without a real purpose. If that’s the case, go on an electronic diet. Ditch the mindless wandering from site to site. Realize a tweet can go unread for more than a few minutes. E-mail doesn't spoil, so check it later. Spend time at the sites that are important to you or help you solve a problem (like Satisfying Retirement!). Just like you lose weight by cutting calories, you gain time by cutting back the time you waste on the computer.

Do some chores at different times. Some of that time you are not spending in front of the TV or computer can be used for doing chores usually reserved for weekends. Just 30 minutes a few nights a week dedicated to chores will save more of your weekend for relaxing, having fun, or being with family and friends. Grab back your weekends.

Learn to say “No” to some of the requests for your time. It is good to help others who need you, just not to excess, Learn to say “Sorry” to stuff you really don’t want to do. Be a bit choosier about the volunteer work you accept. If someone is overusing your generous nature, become unavailable. Understand you are sacrificing your time to give someone else more time. Some sacrifice is good. A lot is probably not.


Time is the single most valuable resource we have. It is irreplaceable. It is priceless. We can’t increase it, but we can make the most of what we have. What you do with your time can be the difference between a satisfying retirement and productive life, or one that is constantly stressed and unfulfilled. What is your time plan?

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December 20, 2010

Retirement at Home: Making it Safe

If  you are are a regular reader, you know my parents have been struggling with some of the ravages of age-related health problems for the past few years. My mom finally lost the battle to all her challenges and passed away a little over a week ago. Now, our family must focus our energy on making sure my dad stays safe as he adjusts to being alone for the first time in 63 years. With no one living with him, falls or even a simple cold could prove devastating. I live only 30 minutes away and visit once or twice a week, but there is still concern.

One thing the events of the last year or two have made clear is the importance of having a safe home environment. Statistics show that one in 3 people over 65 will fall and most suffer some type of injury. Among this age group falls are the leading cause of injury death. So far my wife and I haven't experienced any of these issues of falls or tripping, or difficulty in getting in and out of the shower. But, those days will come. So, what can we do to make our present home safer and more age-friendly?


I have found some excellent resources that provide common-sense steps anyone can take. If the goal is to remain in your home and independent for as long as possible, here are things you could begin to implement. Some are rather expensive, but nothing compared to an extended stay in a hospital or care facility.


  • Walk-In Tubs: Walk-In Tubs are not cheap but one of the first major modifications to consider. They are safe, easy to use and allow anyone the independence of giving themselves a bath. Walk-in tubs have slip resistant floors and built-in hand grips. They are much safer then a standard bath tub or shower. While you are modifying the bathroom install a raised toilet seat with handles. Thousands are hurt each year by attempting to use a toilet that is too low for an aging body to use safely.
  • Throw rugs. Especially if placed over wood floors or tile, small rugs can easily cause one to trip or slip. Plastic mats placed by doors to prevent mud or snow from being tracked into the house are an accident waiting to happen. For wall-to-wall carpeting, the lower the nap the better.
  • Levered Handles: Levered handles are much easier to use than standard doorknobs. Instead of having to turn a knob, levered handles allow a door to open by merely pushing the handle down. Arthritis can make twisting a knob quite difficult. With a lever, one push down and the door opens.
  • Stair Railings: If there are stairs in your home, it is a good idea to have additional hand railings installed. Usually there is a railing on only one side of the staircase. Make sure all railings extend the full length of the stairs. Place non skid tape strips, or non skid reflective strips on stair risers to help prevent any sliding or falling on the stair case.
  • Widened Door Openings: Widened door openings are essential for anyone who uses a walker or wheelchair. Housing with narrow doorways or hallways can essentially trap someone in a wheelchair in just a few areas of the home.
  • Sinks and cabinets: Sinks are another modification that can make life much easier for seniors. With levered faucets and lowered counter surfaces they can be used without as much effort. Check that there is enough room between the floor and bottom of the sink to allow wheelchair access. The same approach applies to cabinets in the bathroom or kitchen. If possible, lower them so reaching isn't necessary.
  • Extensions cords. Make sure those wires from lamps, fans, or stereos are not crossing a path through a room or sticking out from behind the couch. Many older homes may not have GFI (ground fault interrupted) electrical outlets in bathrooms and kitchens.That oversight can kill. Replacement outlets are quite affordable.
  • Brighter Lighting. As we age our eyesight declines. Brighter light is required for all tasks, as well as reading and safely moving through a room. Install extra lamps (though watch out for excessive cords..see above) or wall lamps. Use brighter bulbs where possible. 
  • Remove unnecessary clutter. It is simply amazing the amount of stuff we accumulate if we live in a house for any number of years. You don't even have to have a pack rat-type personality to have a dangerous amount of clutter. In addition to being a tripping hazard, fire is another concern as we age. Our ability to quickly exit a burning home is diminished if things are cluttered. Also consider the placement of furniture. If someone is using a wheelchair or a walker the general guideline is at least 5 feet between any two pieces of furniture.

You may be thinking that none of this applies to you yet. That may be true, but you are only one accident away. How about a relative or friend? Do you know someone else who could benefit from some of these safety fixes?

There are probably another dozen suggestions that I could have added, but I want to encourage you to jump in now with your thoughts. What else could make a house safer? What modifications will allow us to stay in our homes as long as possible, as independent as we'd to like be, and still be safe? Your satisfying retirement may depend on it.


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December 17, 2010

Senior Lifestyles: Study Says We Are Full of Life

The results of a major study were released to Satisfying Retirement yesterday and make for fascinating reading. Home builder, Trilogy by Shea Homes, has just completed a rather impressive survey with over 2,000 seniors. The study was conducted through an on-line questionnaire with those 55+ to help determine how personality traits affect someone's housing needs. The homebuilder will use the data to help them sell housing in their high-end resort communities, but that doesn't make the findings any less interesting. Here are some of the highlights of this national survey:

Boomers are focused on connecting with others and staying near loved ones. For instance, social media is not just solely a phenomenon for younger people. Those taking the survey say they prefer collecting friends on social networks just as much as they do recipes – and even rank it slightly higher (37%) than collecting pictures of the grandkids (34%). In fact, over 85% of 55+ adults came to the survey from Trilogy’s Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. And boomers are especially committed to their loved ones. When deciding where to live next, they ranked being within driving distance of family and friends as the most important factor, followed closely by desires to create a balanced lifestyle and being more active.


The majority of boomers say retirement is not an end phase, but rather, a new and exciting chapter of life. 51% say it’s a time for re-invention and self-discovery, followed by different than it used to be (15%)), playtime (8%), over-rated (5%), an opportunity to give-back (5%), over-due (5%), obsolete (4%), and a chance to work from home (3%).

Boomers are out to make a difference. 24% say their church, synagogue or place of worship is their favorite cause, followed closely by environmental and animal causes with almost 24%.


When asked what they collect, they weren’t thinking of trinkets. 54% say it’s family memories, followed by recipes (39%), Facebook friends (37%) and pictures of their grandkids (34%).


Boomers look forward to a myriad of things: traveling (59%), having a balanced lifestyle (51%), being more active (46%), and having more “me” time (46%) in retirement - in that order. Pursuing new interests and hobbies (43%), living near people with similar interests (34%), having lots of activities to choose from (35%), and spending less time spent in rush hour (27%) ranked next.


Boomer know how to live a healthy lifestyle: maintain a mind-body balance, engage in healthy relationships and continually learn were ranked most important.  
 
 
This study is remarkably consistent with everything I have written and you have shared in this blog for the past six months. The results point to an active, involved, socially aware, and happy group of retirees. It tells me you would probably be interested in more articles about social media, like Twitter and Facebook, and more info on great travel experiences.
 
I am amazed at the importance of Facebook and Twitter - even more important than collecting pictures of grandkids. That will not sit well with my wife! Because those who participated mainly came from the Internet there is some research bias in both the findings and the type of people surveyed. But, they do represent a major faction and I am thrilled to receive this study.


I want to thank Trilogy by Shea Homes for the opportunity to get first crack at this data. If you'd like to see the actual survey it is available here. The homebuilder's site is available by clicking here.
 
 
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December 10, 2010

Can You Live Without These?





Life is made up of change. Nothing stays the same for very long. Both are true statements but that doesn't make them any easier to accept. As human we prefer stability. When things don't change it is easier to predict what will happen or how our life will unfold. Unfortunately, those desires are in conflict with the real world.

There are probably hundreds of different things I could write about in this regard, but  I would like to focus on everyday stuff. Several months ago I had a similar post that asked if certain things we are used to are disappearing. Because that article was written well before this blog had many readers, you probably didn't see it. So, it seemed a good one to modify, add to, and re-run. Here goes: everyday items that will someday disappear from our lives.


  • Yellow & White Pages. Several phone companies have taken steps to eliminate the printed books that arrive with a thump on your front porch once a year. Yellow page advertising continues to decline in actual dollars spent and in effectiveness. On-line searching has become the first choice to find something that was once available only in printed form. White pages for residential listings will probably live longer than business white pages for exactly the same reason. It is simply habit now for most of us to find a business phone number, along with a map of the location, and store hours on Google or Yahoo. Phone companies can save whole bunches of money if those massive books don't have to be printed and distributed once or twice a year.

  • Movie Rental Stores. The stand alone video rental store is not long for this world. Hollywood Video went bankrupt and was purchased by Movie Gallery which then filed for liquidation in October. Blockbuster Video stores are closing at a rapid pace in most cities as it also fights through bankruptcy  It has made several attempts to use kiosks to distribute DVDs, but Redbox has seemingly won that battle. Meanwhile Netflix recently announced a shift in emphasis from sending DVDs through the mail to streaming directly to TVs and computers as their preferred business model. Next up the 800 pound gorilla, Google TV, is beginning to make its mark, while services like Hulu chip away at cable use. Physically picking out a movie and bringing it back to a store are destined for the scrap heap at a speed more quickly than most would have predicted even 3 or 4 years ago.

  • The Post Office. Any "normal" business as out of step with the world around it as the postal service would have disappeared years ago. But, the promise of universal mail service keeps this dinosaur alive. Even common sense suggestions like eliminating Saturday delivery are met with howls of protest, all while demanding the service stop losing billions a year. But, changes must occur, and they will be substantial. Five day delivery is a given. Delivery directly to your home or neighborhood box may end. Private companies are already partially involved. E-mail, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office functioning. Most of your mail now is just bills, magazines, and junk mail. 

  • Paper Checks. This was mentioned as part of the previous post. Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away with checks by 2018. It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks. As Interest security gets better  electronic transfers are much more secure than paper checks.  America will not see the check disappear as quickly as those in England will, but it is coming. Check usage continues to shrink. It nows accounts for less than 50% of consumers' recurring bill payments, down from 72% in 2001 and 60% in 2003. Without an effective, cost-efficient postal service, the movement away from checks will accelerate.

  • Handwritten letters. Another causality of the change from written mail  to electronic communication is the handwritten letter. How many of us were raised to mail a Thank You note for a present within a few days of receiving the gift? How many wrote letters to home from summer camp or back and forth when one half of a couple was in the military? Handwritten letters have been important in our lives, but are virtually gone now. Children aren't being taught cursive writing in many schools, so they can't write a letter or couldn't even read one they receive.

  • The Newspaper. The younger generation simply doesn’t read the newspaper. They certainly don’t subscribe to a daily delivered print edition. That will go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. It is out-of-date when printed and much too expensive to distribute. As for reading the paper on line, get ready to pay for it. The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers have caused many newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance to determine a pay-for-reading business model that will work.

  • Cable TV.  As more people get their entertainment from streaming sources the need to spend $75 a month or more on cable is diminishing. Most network shows are available on the Internet within 24 hours of airing on TV. Movie choices are abundant, and at much cheaper prices than cable's On Demand-type offerings. Cable companies raise prices and still get into battles with suppliers, resulting in loss of certain channels for many of us for periods of time. Outlets like the Discovery Channel stream right to my Android phone. In our house, cable will either be eliminated, or cut back to basic service this Spring. I can't justify the cost for amount of time we spend not watching those 250 channels.

  • The Land Line Telephone. Have you ever watched the TV show "Brothers & Sisters?"  There is a huge family that spends close to half of each episode on their cell phones. Even 60-something Mom (Sally Field) doesn't see to own a land line phone. Those of us who still have one keep it because because we've always had it, not because it gets lots of use. Now that cell phones make it possible for 9-1-1 calls to be tracked, the last real reason to hold on to that desk phone is gone.



Adapting to change and using it to our benefit are important steps for us on our journey to a satisfying retirement. Which of the things on my list above will you miss the most? Which ones are you happy to see go? What didn't I list that you believe is not long for this world?

I'll tally up comments and pull this post out again in a year or so and see how we did in our prognostications.


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December 8, 2010

Is This Missing From Your Retirement?

You might be thinking. "nothing is missing. What are you talking about?" The short answer is a hobby. Then, you might respond, "why do I need a hobby at all? My life already full and getting busier. Who has time to take on a new commitment?"  I'm suggesting the answer is, you, if you haven't thought seriously about finding one. What exactly is a hobby? According to the dictionary it is an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation.

Two words in the definition give you a clue to its importance: pleasure or relaxation. In previous posts I have discussed the common misconception that a retired person has nothing but free time, few obligations, and even fewer responsibilities. If you have been among the non-working for more than a few days, you know none of that is true. A satisfying retirement can be just as hectic as your working days. So, the need for something that allows you to take a break from the routine is every bit as important.

Hobbies are as varied as the people who pursue them. My father-in-law collected swizzle sticks and matchbooks. I started stamp collecting as a pre-teen and eventually moved into ham radio. Others choose woodworking, quilting, gardening, mountain biking, golf, sky diving, fishing.....the list is endless. But, what makes a fulfilling hobby?

Some pick a hobby that is "practical," others do something just for the fun of it. A practical hobby would be sewing, woodworking or vegetable gardening. While it provides the pleasure or relaxation you need, it also produces something that can be used, sold, or enjoyed later. Just for the fun of it is pretty self-explanatory. Mountain biking, ballroom dancing, or most forms of collecting are taken up because the activity is enjoyed. Generally there isn't a practical use for whatever is done. Importantly, both categories have equal value. A hobby satisfies a need you have. Whether it is practical or just a lot of fun doesn't matter in the least.


A good hobby is one that often uses skills or talents that aren't fully utilized during non-hobby times. If you spend a lot of time in front of a computer, a satisfying hobby might involve something more physical, or with different skill sets. If you write technical reports all day, turning out a good mystery novel might be just the ticket. On the other hand, if your day is filled with some form of manual work, a hobby that uses more brain than brawn could be best for you.

A new diversion can boost your creativity. The energizing aspect of a good leisure activity can prompt you to tackle something new. You learn new ways to solve problems. You face new challenges that must be dealt with differently than during other times of your life.

In most hobbies there are opportunities to meet new people who have the same interest as you. Everything from formal clubs to informal gatherings over coffee are part of many hobby activities. Problem-solving and question-asking through e-mail or telephone exchanges introduces you to someone you may never have met any other way.

Most hobbies require a serious dose of "me-time." You are intently focused on the activity or process. You shut out distractions or the needs of others for just awhile. You feed only yourself. Particularly if you are involved with other people most of the time, this solitary experience can be very pleasurable.


Showing the versatility of hobbies, the exact opposite situation may also occur. You may spend time with a spouse, child, or significant other in a way that is totally different from normal interactions. If you are both hiking a mountain pass, the experience will trigger reactions and conversations very different from those involving who takes out the trash or what's for dinner. The chance to learn more about each other can make a shared hobby a real kick.

Finding a hobby that really fits your needs takes experimentation. Unless you are lucky, you might have to try out several until something clicks. You might change hobbies over time as your needs and interests evolve, and that's OK, too. My only advice: keep searching. I went for almost 8 years without anything that would qualify as a legitimate hobby. As soon as I found what I was searching for I knew it.


What about you? Do you have something that brings you pleasure or relaxation? Have you found something that really brightens your free time? Or, are you still searching? I'm interested in learning about your hobby or your hunt for one. Please share your experiences with us.


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December 6, 2010

Retirement Savings: Why Is It So Hard?

Yes, that is a bell from the Titanic. But, this isn't going to be a post where I pull out all sorts of scary statistics about our lack of savings and the looming disaster ahead as millions of Boomers join the already-retired. I'm not going to give you a detailed plan for having a financially comfortable, satisfying retirement. There are thousands of web sites, blogs, and books that can help you with financial planning if that is what you decide you need.

What I would like to do is offer some reasons why we simply can't seem to do what we know we must do: save enough for our post-working life. If we recognize what the obstacles are there is a chance (slim, but a chance) that this iceberg dead ahead can be avoided.

I ran across an article by Jennifer Derrick from a few months ago. On the web site, SavingsAdvice.com, she offered an interesting explanation of what may be part of the problem:

"It’s only been in the last two hundred years or so that technology and medical care have evolved to the point where we now have the luxury to think about the future. Unfortunately, now that we can think about the future, we aren’t fully prepared to deal with it. We have no trouble envisioning the future and thinking about it in abstract terms. However, when it comes to taking action, we are still hampered by our ancient selves. We want to take action and we know we should, but the ancient part of our brain is still saying, “Why bother? We might not be here tomorrow and, even if we are, the future is so far away as to be less important than what’s going on today."

Her point would explain why various levels of government can acknowledge a problem but can only agree to delay a solution until someone else has to worry about it. As far as saving for retirement I'm not sure I fully accept her argument that it is really a question of evolution, that we are not prepared to think about the future in action-oriented terms. But, she raises an interesting argument.

Whatever the cause, the fact is clear: the majority of us do not save enough for our financial health. I have a few ideas why I believe this is a problem in search of a solution. See if any of these make sense to you.


Expenses will be lower when we retire

This argument has been "common knowledge" for decades. It sounds reasonable. After all, your clothing, lunch expenses, and commuting costs will certainly be less if you aren't going to work everyday. It is likely you won't be paying for your kids' education or other expenses.

But, I think the premise is dangerously flawed. No matter how good your health insurance or what happens in 2014 your health care costs will go up as you age. A study just released says that a couple over 65, even with Medicare and Part D coverage, will need close to $200,000 to pay for their care. You will continue to buy cars and probably pay on your mortgage at least part way into your retirement. You are likely to travel more and spend more on entertainment. Food, cable and phone costs, heating and cooling...all the normal expenses of living will not decrease when you stop working, they will continue to increase just as they always have.


I can work as long as I want to make extra money

If your present position seems safe, talk to any of the millions of unemployed who thought they were secure. The economy is undergoing a drastic change and isn't likely to ever go back. More productivity with fewer employees is the new norm. You may not have any say in the matter.

A much more realistic appraisal is to assume you won't have full control over when you retire, so preparing while still working is the only prudent decision you can make. If you are thinking about part time employment even that is difficult if you are over 50. Too many people are chasing too few jobs and will settle for whatever they can get.


The future is out of my control so what can I do?

The events of the last few years certainly seems to support this argument. The rules we play by are quite different from the rules the big boys adhere to. All our planning and investments can be wiped out and we can do nothing to stop it. So, why not just live for today?

OK, but who takes care of you tomorrow? This approach assumes society, or a rich relative, or someone, will be there when that future does arrive. That strikes me as a huge gamble.


My parents will leave me a lot of money

Maybe, maybe not. Are they completely immune to bad investments or failing health with large bills? Can you really build your future around an undetermined amount of money you may inherit at some point in the future?

My parents are likely to leave me and my two brothers an amount that will help the three of us tremendously. But, I didn't retire ten years ago with that as a cornerstone of my plans. When it happen, if it happens, it will be very welcome. But, I will be fine without it.


I'm already retired. My worries are over

The need to save, invest, budget, adjust, and look for alternative sources of income doesn't stop when you retire or when that first Social Security check arrives. The need to monitor your financial well-being and do what is needed to stay healthy never stops. Financial planning is as necessary at 70 or 80 as it is at 30 or 40.

Add to the above excuses the fact that giving up something today so we have something tomorrow is unpleasant. It goes against our instinct for procrastination and instant gratification. But, just like the unsinkable ship whose bell was pulled up from the bottom of the ocean, nothing is unsinkable. Saving and investing for a satisfying retirement is as required as having enough lifeboats aboard the Titanic.

So, what's in your wallet?

Instant Update: December 6th Wall Street Journal features story entitled, "Retiring in 10 Years? Uh-Oh."  The author addresses the same issues as this post.  


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December 3, 2010

Retirement: Smile at The Small Stuff

Being happy is an important part of living a satisfying retirement. Life is too short to be spent grumpy and out-of-sorts. If you have figured out what brightens your days and makes you smile you have taken important steps toward an enriching retirement lifestyle.

The fascinating thing about this subject is the list of happiness-producers is always unique to you. If you try to copy someone else's path to joy you will be disappointed. These triggers must be figured out by you. It is also quite true that things that make you the happiest aren't usually big things. Sure, winning a lottery will probably put a smile on your face (until you see the tax bill). Getting a major promotion at work or the birth of a grandchild is usually considered a good thing.

But, what about the small stuff that can brighten any day? What are the little things that, when they happen, make you feel pleasure and contentment?  Are you missing moments of happiness because you are thinking too big? Shrink your focus. Discover some happiness triggers that you can make happen whenever you choose. From my life here a few examples to get you started:

Hot cocoa and a fire. Since I live in a place that is hot a good part of the year, when things turn cold my wife and I get excited by the simple pleasure of a log crackling away in the fireplace and a cup of hot cocoa while we snuggle on the sofa to watch a favorite movie or read quietly side-by-side. We are happy and content when the wind blows cold air from the North and the whipped cream in the cocoa sticks to our lips.

Sunshine on the patio. For almost 330 days a year, Phoenix enjoys sunny days. You might think the simple joy of sitting on the back patio in the sunshine would have worn thin by now. Not by a long shot. I can spend a fabulous few hours just watching the birds at the feeder, listening to the two fountains in the yard, and watching the shadows move across the floor. Cloudy days make me sad. I live where I do because sunshine makes me happy.

A
giggling child. My grandkids have the greatest laugh. It is physically impossible to listen to one or both start to giggle and not smile and laugh right along with them. Their obvious joy is instantly transferred to me.

A puppy. Is there a puppy alive that can't charm a smile out of even the grumpiest old man? Is there any way to not be happy around something that so blindly loves you and wants your love and attention? Yes, there is extra responsibility and those occasional messes to clean up. But, overall, aren't puppies happy-producers?

 
A mystery book you can't put down. Reading is one of the great pleasures in life. A well-written novel can take you anywhere whenever you want a getaway. I love mysteries for their ability to weave a complex set of clues through a few hundred pages, finally tying it all together at the end. I rarely figure it out early, but the challenge is there.


Fixing a problem with a computer. Though not an expert by any means, I do enjoy helping friends when something has gone wrong with their computer. After performing the necessary cleanup of software conflicts or deleting unneeded programs, I love seeing the smile of their faces when everything works the way it should. It takes very little of my time, but makes someone else's life just a bit easier and it makes me happy to help.


A thoughtful comment on this blog. Someone taking the time to leave a comment makes me happy. It shows I have written something that caused another person to take a few minutes to read and react. Seeing there is a new comment on one of these posts makes me smile.


I could have added bigger things to my list like a paid-off mortgage or tickets to Maui. Certainly a clean physical exam makes me happy. Those happy triggers are obvious. The point here is to focus on the small stuff, the everyday parts of your life. If you can put just a few of your own happy points in your day, your life will feel blessed, content and delighted. And, that is a satisfying retirement.

OK, your turn. What small stuff makes you happy? What have I not mentioned that I may be able to make part of my day? Please share.


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How do you measure success?
Go fly a kite

December 1, 2010

Simple Living - Easy Steps You Can Take Right Now

Whether you call it simple living, voluntary simplicity, or downsizing, the goal is pretty much the same: eliminate clutter and simplify one's life. As noted in previous posts, simple living doesn't mean going without, living in poverty, or denying things that make you happy. It does mean being intentional about what you own, buy, and keep. It means being aware of the impact your actions have on the environment. It means getting out of society's idea of success: more and bigger.

If this is a new idea to you, please check the Related Posts list at the end of this article. In each, there are other blogs and web sites to help you learn more about what this is all about. If you are an old hand at simple living, I hope you will post a comment that adds something to the list I am about to provide.

I have found a tremendous interest in this topic among readers of this blog. To have a satisfying retirement you must have a firm handle on your finances. You may be looking to move to a smaller home or condo and aren't sure how you decide what stuff to get rid of. Maybe you just tired of dusting, maintaining, and storing a lifetime of accumulated possessions. Whatever the motivation, this is a topic I will attempt to revisit a bit more frequently.

This time around I am offering a basic list of some ways you can reuse, recycle, reduce, and become a bit "greener" in your daily life. This list is by no means complete. There probably is no such list. But, it can be a starting place if you are new to downsizing. It may spur you to do more if you are already a proponent. It may prompt you to think of all sorts of ways you can simplify your life and your living arrangement. Personally, I have accomplished about 75% of the items listed and I am by no means a fanatic on the subject. If I can take these steps, anyone can.


Ways to Reduce
...use less copy paper. Use both sides if you can
...use "save to file" instead of printing something that doesn't require a hard copy
...use old printed sheets for note and scrap paper
...ignore what the bottle says, you don't need to shampoo, rinse & shampoo again
...Take steps to be taken off all junk mail lists
...Call catalog companies and ask to have them stop sending you printed catalogs
...low flow toilets and new washing machines save a tremendous amount of water
...replace plants requiring lots of water with low water ones.
...Computers & TVs use lots of power when off. Use power strip to kill all power

Ways to Reuse
...Use organizations like Freecycle to give you stuff to someone who needs it
...Make use of second hand or used furniture instead of new
...When you end up with plastic grocery bags, use again as trash can liners
...If  use plastic water bottles, can be refilled & reused 1-2 times, then recycled
...Use rechargeable batteries in cameras, iPods, etc instead of disposable ones
...Use refilled ink cartridges in printer and save big bucks & the environment


Share, Borrow & Download
...Swap books with friends. Use the library instead of buying
...Swap or share music and movies with friends.The library has these for free, too
...Share children's clothing with friends who have kids younger or older
...Read newspapers and magazines on-line instead of subscriptions

Green Stuff
...Use farmer's markets. Produce isn't shipped 1,000 miles first
...Try to get used to tap water. It is safe and saves you big bucks and the environment
...Use cloth grocery sacks always
...Use toaster oven for small meals, the big oven only when necessary
...Plan errands so make fewest trips possible in car
...No more incandescent bulbs
...Close curtains in summer to keep out heat, in winter to keep out cold
...be sure ceiling fans are rotating in proper direction for season (yes, it does matter)
...install a drip system if your garden requires it. Saves water over hand watering.
...Use programmable thermostat to only run heat and AC when you are home.
...Do you really need a special hot dog bun warmer, smoothie maker, pasta machine?
...Change furnace filters at least every 3 months, once a month in dusty places


To give you some more ideas, here are a few more Voluntary Simplicity/Simple Living sites to visit:


12/2 -Shirley at Voluntary Simplicity just posted an excellent list of 9 things you can do to help save the environment and money at the same time. Click here

I'd appreciate your letting the sites you visit know that you found their name at Satisfying Retirement. Bloggers love to know where new friends come from.


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Now, your turn. What are you doing to simplify, declutter  or downsize? What items on the lists above can you start to implement?  Is this an important subject to you...should I continue to write about it rather frequently?



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