June 29, 2011

Showing Love: How Do I Help My Aging Parents?

Originally posted last September, I thought this upcoming holiday weekend was a good time to think about family and loved ones by re-running this. I've left the article unchanged even though there is a significant difference since it was first published: My Mom died in December so now I am focused on caring for my Dad..

If you didn't read this the first time, I hope you find it helpful and meaningful. Caring for our parents is a difficult task, but one that demonstrates our love. If you do remember it, I promise a fresh post on Friday just in time for the long 4th of July weekend.


One of the toughest things many of us face is dealing with our parents as they age. Watching someone you love decline is not pleasant. My mom and dad are struggling so I am learning as I go. Since they live in town that makes my wife and me the primary caregivers, though my brothers do what they can by long distance.


Almost 4 years ago, my parents had the foresight to move into a retirement community. It offers independent and assisted living options as well as a nursing care center. They wanted to avoid the situation where one or both became unable to care for themselves or too sick to be accepted into such a facility. We had discussed other options: caring for them in their own home for as long as possible, or even moving in with us. But, in the end mom and dad insisted that the benefit of the three level system was best. As it turned out their timing was excellent. Within 18 months my mom’s health began to take a dramatic turn for the worse. Dad is a trouper but his failing memory and hearing loss often leaves him somewhat befuddled.


Anyone with aging parents knows about all the daily decisions that I faced .Can anything be done to make their home safer to help prevent falls, burns, or other accidents? Do the bathrooms have grip bars? Are the throw rugs slippery? What in-home services does the facility offer? Asking these questions directly to my parents usually didn’t generate helpful responses. For quite awhile their contention was that they could handle everything even when that was not so. Finally, I had to just go ahead and take the necessary steps.


Older folks often suffer from poor nutrition. Meals are skipped or poorly planned. If the person’s eyesight is failing or gone, even the heating of meals becomes a big challenge. Luckily, the facility where my folks live has a few dining options so two of the three daily meals are taken care of. Breakfast at home or a light lunch doesn’t create an insurmountable obstacle, at least for now.


Next on my list were financial issues. Again, some foresight proved very helpful. Various health and legal directives were up to date. What about paying bills and taking care of taxes?  I assume that this can be an area of conflict, particularly if the relationship between parent and grown child isn’t the best. The fear of being taken advantage of is very real for seniors. Careful explanations of the consequences of missing credit card payments, utility bills, or tax problems are required. My dad was more than willing to turn almost all of that over to me.  I now can interact directly with their investment counselor and make decisions. After being added to the checking account I can pay bills. My dad still wants to receive copies of the  bills and statements so going paperless hasn’t happened yet.


One the biggies I have yet to deal with is the taking away of the car keys. From discussions with friends and what I read in various blogs, I know this will not be fun. My mom has been unable to drive for a few years due to increasing loss of vision. So dad is the one who takes her (and himself) to all the doctor’s appointments, food shopping, and all the errands of daily living. I check his car every time I visit for new dents or scratches. So far so good. When he begins to forget enough to become a danger, or has an accident, I will have to step in. Their community has constant shuttle and on-property transportation but it will be a major withdrawal of independence when the car keys disappear. Click here for an excellent article on how to accomplish this with the least grief for all.


Each parent takes multiple pills every day, so the management of that can’t be left to chance. I have met with their family doctor and I do have the legal authority to intercede if needed. But, there is no one to guarantee that the right pills are taken, at the right time, and in the correct dosage. I am watching for signs of trouble and will have to find a solution when that step becomes crucial.


Memory loss comes with age. Already I sometimes have those frustrating “senior moments.” Both parents were having issues in this area that are becoming worse. In my mom’s case, she broke her leg and ankle about 17 months ago. That put her in a hospital for almost two weeks and then into the nursing center. She doesn’t remember breaking her leg. I assume some of that is the brain blocking out bad experiences. But, it is still amazing to me that whole episode is not real to her at all. Dad has almost no short-term memory either. Luckily, he is a list-maker. His daily to-do list is written down in great detail in a notebook he carries with him always. Within the last year I have taught him how to feel comfortable with using a cell phone. If he gets lost, or has an auto breakdown, I’m hopeful he will call me for help.


The broken leg really accelerated mom’s decline. She is confined to the health center, except for regular trips to the hospital for other issues. While she is allowed to “visit” their apartment, she will not be allowed to return there to live. That awareness, along with her almost total blindness  have left her with little to fill her day and mind, so the slippage continues. Dad spends most of each day sitting in her room, reading the paper, or discussing doctor appointments, but that is causing his world to close in too.


I’m afraid this is not a post that will end of a burst of optimism. Dealing with aging parents is mostly about facing reality. On several levels my folks are blessed. They have the financial resources to be in the facility they are. They have family in town who visits at least once a week, sometimes more. After 63 years of marriage they remain deeply in love and committed to being there through good and bad. Mom and dad were there for me. It is my time to be there for them.



 If you haven’t faced this issue yet, you probably will. If you have been through this, then you have experiences I ask you to share with all of us. There are all sorts of questions, problems, and possible solutions I have skimmed over or missed completely. I would very much appreciate your feedback and comments on this subject. It may not be pleasant, but it is real.


Related Posts:

June 26, 2011

Taking the Time

My schedule is not as busy as it was when I was running my radio consulting business. I no longer travel half of each month. I don't have to worry about making payroll, government forms, marketing, or keeping clients happy.

But, retirement is not a walk in the park. And, that is part of my problem. It should be. Literally.  I live about 1/2 mile from a very nice park complete with sports fields, picnic tables, and a large play area for kids. A full walking circuit from my house, around the park and back is exactly 2 miles. Without pushing it that is about 35 minutes. There is no earthly reason why my wife and I shouldn't walk around the park, or have a picnic dinner, or simply sit and watch the kids at play on a regular basis. Unfortunately, it is rare event in our lives.

I have written before about our backyard. Lots of planting, a fountain, a Ramada, a shaded porch, an eating area....sounds even better to me as I describe it. What a perfect place for starting the day with breakfast and a book, for lunch, or simply relaxing at the end of the day. Again, like the nearby park, this oasis is underused.

There is one part of my office that holds the equipment for my hobby, ham radio. There are eight different radios and various amplifier or power supplies, microphones, and enough wires and cables to open a Radio Shack. The roof  has several different antennas sticking up above the roof so I can hear and transmit to places all around the world. Amazingly, last week was the first time in almost a year that I actually used a few of the radios to make contact with fellow radio operators in Minnesota and Washington state. Thousands of dollars of equipment have been gathering dust for 11 months.

So, what's the problem?  I certainly have the time. While my schedule is pretty full with blogging, volunteer work, exercising at the gym, meetings at church, and the normal work required to maintain a house and family, it is rather flexible. I can fit in something that is interesting or enjoyable if I so choose.

The problem is I don't take the time. I think of something interesting or pleasant to do, but let excuses at the last minute derail the idea. I keep putting it off until the moment is gone.

Phoenix Art Museum outdoor cafe
A few weeks ago this flaw in my satisfying retirement lifestyle became evident, even to me. An interesting art movie was showing on a Sunday afternoon at the Phoenix Art Museum. The movie was free, so my budget was happy. Show time was several hours after church so we could go without a problem. At the last moment, Betty and I decided to leave early so we could enjoy lunch at the museum's restaurant. It was a lovely, breezy day...perfect for having a spur-of-the-moment meal on the outside patio before the movie began. Lunch, a walk around the neighborhood, the movie, and then a brief look at the latest exhibit at the museum made for an absolutely delightful 4 hours.

As we were driving home, the thought struck me that my retirement should be filled with many more moments like this. At a certain age you realize putting off something until later may mean you have missed an opportunity that may not come around again.

Taking the time to embrace happiness, to do something different, and to experience the world around you doesn't require being retired. All of us, at any stage of life, can fill our lives with those special moments that can brighten our daily life.

But, being retired and relatively free to do what I want when I want, removes all plausible excuses. Taking the time to live and not just exist should be our goal.


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June 24, 2011

Is Retirement Dead? I Don't Think So.

A few days ago a report had plenty of exposure on the Internet. With the provocative headline that retirement as we have known it is dead, this "expose" was bound to get read. According to a fellow named Michael Pento, senior economist at EuroPacific Capital, retirement is on life support.

He contends that investments haven't grown. Private and public pension plans are underfunded or simply being abandoned. Real estate has lost almost an entire decade of growth, making the American Dream of owning your own home a fond memory for many. All these developments mean the traditional "retire at 65 and relax" lifestyle is gone.

How about a bit of calm amid this inflammatory premise?

This isn't us
Satisfying Retirement blog has been one of the leading voices over the past year in helping redefine what retirement in America looks like. When was the last time you saw a post here that praised the 36 holes of golf, Lazy Boy recliner type of retirement lifestyle our parents enjoyed in places like Sun City?  Never! That hasn't been what retirement living has looked like for quite awhile. (Even Sun City doesn't look like that anymore!)

There  have been two massive economic upheavals in the last 12 years, separated by a recession and a silly season when people suddenly believed everything always goes up.....until it doesn't. No one in their right mind believes the old model for retirement works. No one thinks their company loves them and will treat them well until they die. No one believes that Social Security isn't going to undergo modifications. No one believes the health care mess will politely resolve itself, prices will start to drop, and everyone will get great care without any hassles.

Retirement today doesn't mean we have lost the ability to be rational, logical, or are blind to reality. Just the opposite: a satisfying retirement requires each of us to take personal responsibility for our future happiness. Whether that means strengthening family and spousal relationships, taking charge of our own health maintenance, living beneath our means and still being satisfied, or finding a new passion to fill our time with happiness, we are quite capable of a positive next phase of our life. If it means taking on part time work or another full time job, we can handle it. If it means starting our own buisness....what a kick!

Are there serious problems? Of course. Is it possible our lifestyle will be downsized from what it was? Probably. Are we facing some serious financial and health challenges? Absolutely. But, retirement isn't on life support.

Retirement is no longer seen as a time to sit and wait to die. With several decades of life left after we stop working at our primary job, almost 25% of our life is yet to be lived. One quarter of the time allocated to us on this glorious planet is waiting to be explored, impacted, changed for the better, and enjoyed to the fullest.

Is the old model of retirement dead? Maybe. But, I say good riddance. The satisfying retirement lifestyle we are living is so much more stimulating and engaging that it might just be the best phase of your life!


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June 21, 2011

Satisfying Retirement: One Year Anniversary

In late June 2010 I began writing the Satisfying Retirement blog. I had no real idea what to expect. Could I write enough to keep the blog fresh? Would I write things that people cared to read? Were there enough folks interested in the topic to make it worth my time? Should I try to make any money with it?


In this past year I have written 185 posts, or about 120,000 words. A 61 page e-book became available in February. To date over 1,500 copies have been downloaded. A new e-book will be available next week. Over 9,000 people a month visit the blog, very small by the big boys' standards, but more than I dreamed possible last June. So, one year gone and I must ask myself some important questions.


 Has it been worth it? Absolutely. The experience of creating something from scratch and has been fun and satisfying. I have met some tremendous people, both other bloggers and readers who have become like family. One fellow who will always be a fond memory asked me to help him make a major life decision. Over a 4 month period we exchanged e-mails and phone calls. Eventually he became comfortable with a course of action and implemented it. From additional feedback, I gather things worked out well. That felt good.


Have I accomplished what I wanted to? For the most part, yes. The niche of non-financial retirement lifestyle information blogging is rather narrow so I had no idea how large my potential readership may be. When I see other people racking up 100,000 or more page views per month, my just over 9,000 seems tiny. On the positive side, that number has increased virtually every month, so I assume the blog's awareness is growing. And, out of 6.5 million results, this blog is #1 on Google if you search for the words "Satisfying Retirement."


What has changed about my goal and approach in a year's time? I have tweaked the look of the blog a few times to make it more appealing to the eye, but there has been no major overhaul. One important shift did occur just about month ago. The Great Recession and the less-than-encouraging economic news for the next several years has made the idea of full retirement unattainable for many. The need to retire much later than the traditional 65 or 66 is becoming more mainstream. Likewise, the idea that retirement never means earning money again is under review.

So, this blog has begun to adapt to this new reality: retirement probably will include the need to generate extra income. I am not going to start carrying financial advice or specific investment suggestions. But, you will see more attention paid to the idea that retirement is a blend of leisure and work.

Should I continue or would my time be better spent doing something else? That answer is simple: I am continuing. I can't think of any other creative outlet that allows me to write what I want and get almost instant feedback. I am excited by the potential of growth for this blog. With 10,000 Boomers retiring every day for the next 19 years the audience is only going to get bigger, much bigger.

What is ahead? My latest free e-book, Countdown to Retirement, will be available in a few days. I plan on a major rewrite and freshening of Building a Satisfying Retirement. My goal is to make this 2nd edition available for sale by the end of the year through various downloadable sites, like Amazon.

After one year, I think the blog has attracted enough readership and attention to generate a little income. Don't be shocked if you begin seeing Google ads and links to Amazon in the near future. I'll keep them limited and hopefully not too obtrusive.

Most importantly, I hope to continue writing and posting information that you find usable, entertaining, and enjoyable. The only real reason for Satisfying Retirement to exist is to serve a need. You and readers like you will determine if I am continuing to fill that need.


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June 20, 2011

Healthy Living: Tips & Ideas

I was approached by Dr. Kathy Johnson who is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Home Care Assistance to submit a guest post. Her suggestions for helping to maintain a healthier lifestyle are basic, but serve as important reminders that sometimes the simplest steps can have some big benefits in creating a satisfying retirement.

From Kathy's Blog I have added a section on eye exercises anyone can practice. My mom lost her sight a few years before her death. I firmly believe her inability to see contributed to her rapid downhill slide and death. Losing my sight terrifies me. You can bet I will practice Dr. Johnson's eye exercises.

 Hydrate

For those who do not know, it’s important to drink 8 to 10 glasses of water a day. Drinking water hydrates the body tissues and helps flush out any toxins that can slow your whole system down. If the thought of drinking water is not appealing to you, there are many other ways you can stay hydrated. Juices, smoothies, tea and soup all are good options to ensure you receive the necessary amount of water.

Even if you despise it, get out there and walk.

Walking for just ten minutes a day lowers your risk of developing Alzheimer's by 40 percent, reports Gary Small, MD and Director of the UCLA Center on Aging. Exercise improves your muscle tone and can keep your joints and heart strong. You don't have to go to a gym; just walk around your neighborhood or local mall.

Boost Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid. Fatty acids help maintain the proper functioning of every cell in your body. Salmon and walnuts are both good sources of omega-3 and if you heart rate is high, it can help protect you against heart disease – not to mention it will help your skin look younger.

Mental Exercise

Research shows that keeping your brain active can help ward off dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Challenge yourself mentally as much as possible during the day. Take a different route to work, use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth. There are also crossword puzzles like Sudoku that will help increase your mental capacity.

 De-stress

Stress in your life affects your whole body. Particularly at risk are the nervous system, the immune system and the digestive system. It's essential to de-stress. Several recommended ways to do so are through yoga, visualization, tai chi or meditation. Listening to soothing music, for example, is extremely beneficial and a quick relief from stress. This is proven to slow your breathing while lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.


Eat Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is naturally full of healthy antioxidants, including flavanals, which are also found in green tea, red wine and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that eating small amounts of dark chocolate regularly reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. It improves blood flow to your brain. When it comes to flavor and health, the darker the chocolate the better.


Eye Exercises

Many people experience impaired vision with old age. As we get older, the muscles in our eyes become less flexible and start to degenerate resulting in a decreased sharpness of vision and ability to focus. Putting extra tension on our eyes day after day can eventually change their shape over a long period of time. Doing daily eye exercises can help eyes maintain their shape and can slow the rate of eye muscle deterioration. Eye exercises are easy and can be done anywhere.

Here are four simple exercises for naturally improving eyesight:


1. Tracing - Trace the outlines of the objects around you with your eyes. Practice following the contours of the objects with your eyes at various speeds. Doing this exercise for a few minutes each day can help strengthen eye muscles and increase their flexibility.


2. Blinking - Blinking exercises are extremely easy to do and help to lubricate, relax and strengthen the eyes. Close your eyes for a few moments, relax and then blink 15 times. Blink lightly, yet rapidly. If you feel like you are straining the muscles around your eyes or your eyelids, you should slow down.


3. Near Far Focusing - This exercise helps to restore the eyes’ ability to rapidly shift focus between objects at various distances. Start by focusing on something situated very close to you. Allow your eyes to linger on this object long enough for them to clearly focus before focusing on an object 30 feet away. Upon completion, try focusing on an object 500 feet away and even further. Repeat.


4. Zooming – Stretch your arm out in front of you with your hand in the “thumbs up” position. Focus on your thumb as your arm is extended out in front of you. Follow it with your eyes as you and bring your thumb closer to your face. Stop when your thumb is about 3 inches away from your face. Then, maintaining focus on your thumb, slowly begin extending your arm out in front of you again.



Kathy N. Johnson, PhD, CMC, is a Certified Geriatric Care Manager, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Home Care Assistance. She holds a Doctorate in Psychology from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Kathy also co-authored the book, Happy to 102: The Best Kept Secrets to a Long and Happy Life.

My thanks to Dr. Johnson for her guest post. You can visit her blog by clicking here





June 16, 2011

Cooking as Relaxation: Am I Missing Something?

I read a poll recently that said for many cooking and food preparation are very important leisure activities. Eating food I understand. I like to eat and my gym membership proves the point. But, I will admit I have never been grabbed by the apron strings and found any joy in preparing a fancy meal.

To me, a meal is primarily about providing fuel for my body. Yes, I'd like it to be healthy whenever possible, though I am not a fanatic about what I will or will not eat. But, my experience with following an involved recipe boils down to this: spend 60-75 minutes cutting, sautéing, and otherwise preparing and cooking a meal that is then consumed in something under 15 minutes.

OK, so the answer is eat more slowly. Take my time. Savor the tastes and experience the meal as an event. But, now my time invested in providing fuel to my body is around 2 hours. That certainly qualifies as a leisure activity, but I am still missing the appeal.

Being open-minded about this subject I did a little research. I typed "cooking blogs" into Google and came up with over 93 million results. There appear to be literally thousands of different cooking magazines I could read. There are several cable TV networks that talk about food and cooking 24 hours a day. For millions of folks cooking is a hobby. To them, preparing a meal is a form of creative expression, sort of like painting with vegetables.

Obviously I am missing something. An activity this popular must have something going for it. I read several times that cooking for pleasure relieves stress. Again, I say I'm missing something. Cooking creates stress for me. Maybe I don't have the right utensils or mixing bowls, or something. Then, there is all that cleanup! Other sites talk about cooking is a way to show love to others. So is going to a fine restaurant and letting someone else do all that work.

Then, I found an article by a fellow who went from cooking as a necessity to cooking is a hobby. Apparently he loves to learn what various spices will do the taste of a dish. He likes trying all sorts of different kitchen gadgets. He reads the labels on ingredients and has become more health conscious, an important benefit for him and his family.

Now we are getting somewhere. Cooking to better control what you put in your body makes sense. Buying new gadgets, even if for the kitchen,  sounds fun. But, I would probably draw the line at exotic spices in my shake and bake chicken recipe.

 I need your input. Do you cook for fun? Do you enjoy preparing an occasional fancy meal for family or friends? Does all this chopping and boiling relax you? What is your position on this important topic? Is cooking a chore or a thrill?  

I am on slow simmer while I await your comments.

Friday afternoon update: the response and comments have been strong enough I am going to take on the selection and preparation of a three course, fancy meal sometime in the near future. Look for a post about my experience, complete with pictures. It will be interesting!

June 13, 2011

Give A Part of Yourself - And Feel Great

I am a firm believer in the positive power of volunteering one's time. My involvement with a state wide prison ministry organization has been a tremendously gratifying experience. If you missed it, please read Pushing Back Against the Box for a glimpse into that world.


Volunteerism is one of the most important aspects of retirement for a lot of people. The chance to give back one's time and experience is a win-win: you feel good and the organization or person you help benefits, too. If you are so motivated, I urge you to donate something of yourself to others.


Like anything, being an effective volunteer requires certain qualities. Regardless of how you choose to become involved, here are 6 basic considerations:


You have the skills needed  or can learn them in short order. In anything there is a learning curve. Whether you are restocking the shelves at a food bank or helping to build a house for Habitat for Humanity, there will be certain abilities of yours that can be used. If a certain way of doing something is needed, you will be taught how to accomplish your task. 


You can use common sense to problem-solve.Sometimes you have to make a decision without specific guidance or policies. Common sense comes in handy if there is no one you can turn to for an answer. Trust yourself to make the right choice. 


You are dependable. Even though being a volunteer means you are not being paid, there are others counting on you to do what you have promised to do, when you promised to do it. Make your word your contract. Be sure others know they can count on you.


You are able to cooperate with others. Often volunteer work means you will be interacting with others. If this is the case you should be able to operate well in a group environment. Complaining about this and that or trying to enforce your will isn't going to make your experience a positive one. It will also limit your effectiveness. Remember kindergarten...play nice.


You are able to serve someone else freely and openly. This is a tough one for many of us. We normally don't like to put ourselves in a position of serving others. Yet, that is exactly what being a volunteer all about. Your are a servant for a greater good. You must be able to be humble.


You have compassion. This probably should be listed first. Unless you are volunteering because your company tells you to, deciding to give some of your time and self to help others requires a well-developed sense of compassion. You have an urge to help others ease their pain and suffering. You are aware you are better off than another and want to help ease that person's burden just a bit.



One other type of volunteerism that often gets overlooked but is just as valuable is the type that occurs in your own family. If your daughter has young children, what are the odds she would welcome your offer to play with the kids or watch them while she took a break or went shopping? Could your Mom or Dad use your help in going to the pharmacy or grocery store? Does your son's or grandson's scout troop need another leader or someone to teach a merit badge?

It really doesn't matter if you donate time through an organization like the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, a local elementary school, prison ministry, or just within your own family. Volunteerism enriches your life and the lives of others. It is part of being human, and it feels great.

Finally, let me share a few quotes from various people that really capture the essence of sharing yourself:

It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little - do what you can.  ~Sydney Smith

It's easy to make a buck. It's a lot tougher to make a difference. ~Tom Brokaw

The purpose of life is not to be happy - but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all.  ~Leo Rosten

Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him.  ~Albert Schweitzer

June 10, 2011

Retirement financial blogs

Regular readers know I don't spend a lot of time blogging about specific financial advice. There are hundreds of blogs written by folks much better schooled than I am in that area of building a Satisfying Retirement. I do offer some basic financial suggestions: live beneath your means, know what your credit cards are costing, don't buy depreciating assets with home equity money, and by all means have a budget. Beyond that I prefer to leave specific financial suggestions to others. Instead I try to write about a wide variety of subjects that may affect your life after work.


That being said, financial discipline and knowledge are very important to the quality of your retirement lifestyle. I have searched  the Internet looking for some solid financial blogs I can suggest if you are interested. Here are a handful:

The Retirement Blog.  The authors of this site appear to have excellent credentials. The posts are written in a clear, straightforward manner with a solid list of topics and questions covered. There are links to a site that sells financial advice and planning, but this blog is clear of any advertising or heavy-handed selling. This is a good place to start for a solid overview of many topics.

Fivecentnickel.com leans toward the practical, day-to-day financial advice that helps you cut expenses. "45 way to cut your grocery bill" or " Four types of life Insurance that are a complete waste of money" are typical. The list of topics covered is quite extensive. Within each topic are a dozen or more specific suggestions. The site has a lot of advertising  but it can be ignored as you read the material.  The posts are easy to understand but a few I sampled struck me as overly simplistic.

Planning to Retire  This is the section of the web site of US News & World Report dedicated to retirement. This is not the place to come for detailed specifics. The articles are on the basic side but offer a solid overview. I visit on a regular basis to see what trends and topics are resonating with people.

Best of the Money Carnival features the top 10 money articles each week gathered from all over the Internet. As you might imagine the topics covered are quite broad. I found a lot to like here.

MoneyChimp is actually quite a serious site with a funny name. It includes heavy duty articles on stock market randomness, how to read an annual report , and the components of the GDP. Just underneath the header click on Calculator for  a list of every conceivable financial calculator you may need.

Smart Money Part of the Wall Street Journal, this web site is the companion to the print magazine. Several notches above Money magazine in depth and seriousness of information, Smart Money is worth a regular visit. Articles range from the obvious to the important.

Stock Picks Bob's Advice. Not me, a different Bob. He picks a stock, often invests his own money, and tells you why he chose it and how it is doing. Although a self-professed amateur, his analysis is quite technical and detailed.

Trading Goddess. It doesn't take long to learn that the number of female investment advisors is quite limited.  This site obviously plays on that fact, but does so with a solid collection of analysis, calculators, and news updates. The author is fanatical about details.

In closing I will echo the comments made in the post of a few days ago. The sites I've listed above can be helpful to you, but shouldn't replace your own research, thoughts, and needs. When your money is involved, you have the final say.

Question: Do you find posts like this that contain links to other sites helpful? Usually I write about something from a more personal point of view, but occasionally offer a strictly informational post. I'd appreciate your feedback on this approach. Also, I'd appreciate your feedback on any of the sites listed above that you visited.


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June 7, 2011

The End of the Road

This was a family vacation that could have ended in disaster. All the makings were there. But, luck, maybe God's grace, and a strong family will allow us to look back on those three days with good memories and even a laugh or two.

It all began with a coupon. Last December one of the services that e-mails me various deals each morning had something I couldn't pass up. It was for two nights at a cabin in one of our favorite spots for almost 60% off the regular price. About 5 hours driving time from Phoenix, the tiny town of Greer sits high up in the White Mountains of Arizona. It is usually at least 25 degrees cooler than home. There are a handful of restaurants, a few antique stores, forests, trout ponds, and more visible stars at night than any place else on earth. The discount was good for a cabin large enough for everyone, including the grandkids. I ordered the coupon and reserved the first weekend in June. Plans were made and we were looking forward to our first family getaway of the summer.



wmicentral.com
  On the 10th of May, my birthday, and less than a month before the trip, the historic Greer Lodge and restaurant burned to the ground. Built in 1948, the lodge was one of the best known resorts in all of Arizona. Within an hour or two, all that was left was a chimney and smoldering ashes.

Our reservations were not in that building but in one of the cabins next to the lodge. Naturally I assumed that our plans had gone up in flames, too. How could the owners possibly stay open after such a disaster? I waited a day and then placed a call. Amazingly, the cabins were untouched and operating without a hitch. Our trip was still on. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

The first morning began with a mini caravan of cars, loaded with food and supplies. In Payson, we all stopped for a bathroom break and breakfast. That was when I noticed a copy of the morning paper on a nearby table. The bold headlines were announcing a major, out of control, wildfire in eastern Arizona, not too far from our destination. I scanned the article but assumed it was nothing to worry about. Summertime in Arizona means forest fires. It is commonplace. We all piled back in the car and drove on.

taken by Betty Lowry on June 4th
About 2 hours from Greer I began to notice that the horizon was filling with smoke from an obviously large fire. The closer we got, the larger it became. As we turned on the road that leads to the town we noticed forest service trucks everywhere. While the main road was open, the side roads into the forest were all blocked by signs and police cars.

We continued on, finally reaching the town and the cabins. Several dozen other families were in the process of checking in or moving into their cabins. The clerks assured us we were safe and the fire was quite a distance away. Of course, the fenced-in remains of the lodge were sitting there as a stark reminder of the power of fire.

After a tremendous dinner at a local restaurant, some fun times around one of the trout ponds, and a few hours of card games, we turned in for the night. We weren't really worried about the fire; the smoke seemed to be dissipating. Plans were set for the next day.

At 12:20 in the morning there was loud pounding on the cabin's front door. I was instantly awake and opening the door to a fireman. He calmly informed me the fire was now only 8 miles away, out of control, and heading straight for us. We didn't have to evacuate yet, but we should start packing and be ready to go if he returned.

After about 20 seconds of deliberation, we decided not to wait for the second notice. In less than 30 minutes we had everything and everybody back in the cars and on our way.  I left the key in the door, the door propped open, and the porch light on so the police would know we had evacuated. Driving all night, we arrived home just before 6 AM, about 22 hours after we had left. Eventually we learned that all guests were evacuated safely and the resort shut down that same morning. 

Greer is literally at the end of the road. There is one way in and one way out through a forest, a forest that was on fire. Being trapped in a town in the middle of an out-of-control forest fire was not an option.


Later that day, the family decided to finish the vacation. A tent was set up inside my daughter & son-in-law's home for the kids to sleep in. We pretended to fish from the second floor balcony. The dinner and breakfast menu was kept intact and we dined on paper plates. We even fixed s'mores over the stove instead of a campfire. The grandkids had a fabulous time in both locations. The vacation was a success.

What could have been a disaster, or at the very least, a huge disappointment became a happy, memorable three days. The strength of family and the resilience of young children made it happen.

I just hope to never repeat the experience.

Weekend Update: as of Saturday afternoon, the main section of Greer has been spared. Unfortunately, two dozen homes on the outskirts of town were destroyed, along with several outbuildings and storage sheds. The fire fighters have done a heroic job of keeping the fires from racing down the center of Greer.

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June 5, 2011

You Are The Expert, Sometimes

Whether retired or not, we all tend to gravitate to experts. If we want help managing our money we find a financial planner or adviser. For our health we consult not just doctors, but specialists. There are experts ready to tell you how you save your marriage or put the spark back in your love life. The magazines by the checkout counter of your favorite supermarket list easy steps to solve every sticky problem in your life. Our society worships experts. If someone is an expert, whatever he or she says must be right.

Yet, time and time again, we rely on experts and find the advice doesn’t work the way we have been told it would. Then we beat ourselves up and assume we must be incompetent because “it worked for all those other people.” Yet, the economic mess of the last few years should be proof enough that the experts can be as clueless and wrong as the rest of us.

My non-expert advice: don’t do this to yourself. Sometimes advice doesn’t work because it’s bad advice. Of the hundreds of personal development, financial planning, or retirement books I’ve read over the years more than a handful contained bad advice. The ideas and suggestions simply did not work for me in my situation. They produced zero results or even negative results. They were not just useless, but potentially harmful to my satisfying retirement.

This doesn’t mean the authors were lying. In most cases I could see a reason why the advice might have worked well for the author but wouldn’t work for me. We’re all different. What works for one person or even a group of people doesn’t always translate well to every individual. We can't out-source our life to others.

It really doesn’t matter how well schooled an expert is or what studies he has to back up his claims. Unless the author has spent time with you personally, be suspicious of any advice that comes from averaging different types of people together. Do studies on “average” people apply to someone who isn’t average? Are you average, or are you a unique human being? Do you completely fit the average mold in terms of your genetics, diet, upbringing, education, finances, family situation, residence, hobbies, etc? Probably not. No one person does. That's why it is an average. That means the step-by-step approach to solving your specific problem won't necessarily work like you hope it will work.

Unfortunately, there are lots of people who try to separate older folks from their money with investment schemes that are little more than scams. A claim of legitimacy, a fancy title, a slick brochure, a four color mailer, or a well-designed web site is all it takes to separate lots of people from their hard-earned money.

At this point, stop and consider: experts certainly know less about you than you do.  They want you to stop worrying and just do what they say, buy what they recommend, and live how they have determined is best. 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 in figuring what is right for you.

Study yourself as an individual, and use expert advice only as a general guide for new experiments of your own. Notice what works for you and what doesn’t. Trust your senses. If the experts say one thing, but your personal experience suggests the opposite, put more faith in your own experience. Stop listening to every talking head. Start listening to yourself. That will take you much farther down the road of a satisfying retirement lifestyle.

How specifically could this apply to you? Without coming across as an expert, here are a few obvious examples to make my point:

Health care.  If any doctor said I need surgery or a course of treatment that is expensive, possibly debilitating, and risky I am going to get a second opinion. I am going to do my own research on the Internet and at the library. I am going to attempt to talk with others who have had the same medical issue. I very well might do what that first doctor suggested. But, not just on his say-so.

Finances. My financial adviser suggests I purchase something, sell something, or consider a new direction. Nothing happens until I have enough time to think about it, research it, and consider other options. It is my money and future at risk, not his.

Blogging. There are thousands of bloggers ready to tell me and sell me something so I can be a "successful" blogger. They have a plan to add 10,000 new readers in a month, or 20,000 Twitter followers by tomorrow. All I have to do is buy their book or sign up for an on-line course, and I'll be the next big thing. Or, maybe it is better for me to continue the way I have been: slow, steady growth with plenty of missteps and mistakes. Only I can decide what I want this blog to be and how to get there.


What decisions have you made and steps you have taken that were counter to "the experts?" Do you have examples of some piece of advice you followed that turned out to be all wrong for you? What is keeping us from trusting more of our own sense of what is right and wrong for us?

Thanks to fellow blogger, Steve Palvina for the inspiration for this post from an article of his 6 years ago.


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June 2, 2011

Going Back to Work? Join the Crowd

The concept of working after retirement is not new. Over the years many folks have found their resources insufficient to maintain an acceptable satisfying retirement lifestyle. Others have planned well, but a catastrophic medical situation has devastated their retirement accounts. Some have found themselves paying for the care of aging parents. More than half of all retirees have debts when they stop working.  Whatever the reason, having a new source of income after retiring from a career or life-long job has been a part of life.

What is changing, is the attitude among recent retirees and those who are still years away from that category. The new feeling is that retirement should not mean the end of producing income through some form of work. To retire and then begin to rework is becoming commonplace. Consider that the average life expectancy was 63 years when Social Security was first created. Today, it is approaching 80. Living well into one's 90's is not unusual. The number of years a recent retiree must support him or herself has increased dramatically.

What is also slowly changing is the attitude among some employers. Studies continue to show that many younger workers often have problems working with those much older. However, employers are beginning to understand the benefits of hiring older workers. The years of experience, the dependability and generally positive attitudes of working seniors, and often, the lack of expensive benefits, makes hiring retirees who want to re-enter the workforce a smart decision.

My post of two weeks ago detailed the reasons why. If you missed it, click here for a link. Sydney Lagier had an article on the  US News & World Report web site with much the same list last week. Some are tongue-in-cheek reasons, some are serious. 

Assuming for now that you may be one of those who wants to work even though you are "retired," there are several options for you to consider. Your decision will be based on your skills and previous employment, whether or not benefits  are important, and how flexible you are.  If you have discovered a way that suits you, I encourage you to share your ideas and suggestions in the comment section at the bottom of this post.


The most common choice is some form of part time employment. We are all familiar with the stereotype of the senior acting as a greeter at Wal-Mart. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that choice. If you love people this may be a perfect fit. But, it is certainly not the only option. I've seen men and women in their 60's working at a gym as a personal trainer or leading exercise classes for older folks. If you are in good shape and have some background in this field, why not?

For the several months leading up to April 15th, most tax preparation companies hire extra help to manage the crush of people needing help. The same situation occurs during the Christmas holiday season at many retail stores. Because your availability is probably flexible, this could be a great way to add several hundred, if not thousands of dollars to your bank balance.

What about being a tour guide? I do that for 6 months a year. It is fun, puts me in contact with lots of people, is not strenuous, and pays well.  Are you an early riser? Newspapers are always looking for dependable folks with cars to deliver their product first thing every morning. How about working at a retail establishment or big box store like Home Depot or Costco.

As a part time employee you are probably not going to receive any benefits. But, you do have more control over how much free time you maintain and how many hours you want to work.

Starting your own business, either as a full time or part time venture, is a serious option for many. Maybe you spent your career chomping at the bit to do something different or better than your former employer. Can you become a consultant and help those in your former industry to succeed? What about that idea for a line of colorful and unique bird houses? You love woodworking...go for it! Quilt-making, dog walking, tax and accounting services, computer setup and classes...the list is endless. Have you considered buying a business that is already operating?

Don't forget franchising. Maybe you have always wanted to own and operate your own ice cream store, carpet cleaning business, pre-school, or fast food restaurant. While not cheap, using the expertise and proven systems of a franchise can get you up and running much more quickly than attempting the entire process on your own.

The concept of cycling in and out of the work force seems to be gaining favor. Work to earn enough extra money for an extended vacation and then stop working. After the vacation or time off, rejoin the work force for awhile,  then go off on another adventure. Obviously, part time employment is really your only viable option if this is your plan. Being a consultant, tax preparer, or any type of seasonal work would lend itself well to this approach.

Cycling works best in an economic situation where jobs are plentiful and your skills lend themselves to this type of drop-in/drop-out work. Like any part time work, benefits will probably be non-existent, but more control over your schedule is likely.

As I was wrapping up this post I stumbled across a brand new blog, 100 Retirement Business Ideas. Ann is building a list for retirees who want to consider some form of entrepreneurship as an alternative to retirement. From what she has detailed so far, I plan on being a regular visitor until she lists all 100 ideas!  There are possibilities listed here that never would have occurred to me.


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