July 30, 2011

So What Does it Mean to You?

A week or so ago I posted the highlights of a national study completed for the Sunamerica financial people. Whether the percentages mirror the population as I whole I'll leave to statisticians. But, because it was an update of a similar study done 10 years ago I found the changes in attitude important to consider. If you missed the original post, click here to read it.

What I am doing hereis looking at a handful of the findings to see what conclusions I can draw. You may disagree or have additional thoughts. I trust you will use the "comment" space at the end to add your views.

Today, 54% view retirement as a new chapter in life, rather than a winding down—a significant increase over the 38% that held a similar view a decade ago. This doesn't surprise me in the least. In the 13 months Satisfying Retirement has been around, I have not had one single indication from any source that retirement means a rocking chair, 18 holes of golf, and a life of complete leisure.

Exactly the opposite has been true. Now retirement is a word that describes a completely different phase of someone's life. It is a time of exploration, of discovery, or growth. It no longer means the end of work. Rather it means having the freedom to choose to work full time, part time, cycling in and out of employment, or even starting one's own business. In fact, I get the very real sense that retirement has the potential for being one of the fullest and most gratifying periods of life.   

Retirement is being postponed: Pre-retirees say they now intend to delay retirement by five years—from age 64 to age 69—triggered in part by increasing longevity, as well as the recession and financial need. Again, I would concur though I would add an additional reason: lots of folks enjoy what they do and see no reason to stop. If someone is good at what he or she does, do they suddenly stop being competent at a set age? Of course not. If retirement equals a time of increased choices and freedom, then one of those choices is to decide retirement begins when you say it begins.


•Retirement no longer means the end of work: Almost two-thirds say they would ideally like to remain productive and include work in retirement. As already noted, working during retirement is an increasingly common occurrence. Financial reasons may be an important motivator. But staying vital, relevant. and productive, or fostering a sense of contribution are legitimate reasons, too. Because what you do is fun may be your motivation. Maybe you've always wanted to open a book store, coffee shop, or fabric store. Do it now. The Sunamerica study found The top reason people want to work during retirement is “the stimulation and satisfaction” rather than the money.


•85% say they now appreciate the importance of quality relationships with their friends and family even more after the recession. Maybe it is a function of maturity. Maybe it is a growing sense of one's own mortality. Maybe it is understanding that you aren't taking anything tangible with you when you die. Whatever the reason, the understanding is that family, friends, and solid relationships support you during good times and bad. When your financial boat has sprung a bunch of leaks, it is relief to know there are people who have your back. There are folks who will love you and help you and even care for you regardless of the state of your 401(k).


•Three-quarters say the last several years have provided a much-needed financial wake-up call, and 81% report they have learned important lessons regarding saving, investing and preparing for retirement. I hope that is true. Too many times in the past we have seen a crisis, like a huge gas price increase, or an economic downturn, prompt similar pronouncements of a new awakening to financial reality. Then, when things start to get better sales of giant SUVs jump, folks "trade up" to bigger homes, and savings rates approach zero.

In this case the proof will be in our actions when things improve and stay that way. 78% say they can still have a fulfilling retirement by being more financially disciplined. That is an encouraging number, but will it hold?


I am well aware there are many retirees who have been severely hurt by the economic downturn. I know there are millions of folks who find themselves upside down in their mortgage situation through a combination of mistakes, both theirs and by banks or lenders. Like you I read about foreclosures, social welfare safety net cutbacks, and people desperate to hold it together. The optimistic numbers in this study are not meant to suggest everything is swell. That is clearly not the case. Some of our fellow citizens are really hurting and need our help and support.

I think the message from this study is that for the many retirees there is an attitude of hope, of adjustment, and of a sense of renewal that bodes well for all of us. Personally, I am very glad my retirement is not that of previous generations. I'm too young for the rocking chair on the porch just yet.


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July 27, 2011

Until It is Gone....and Then Returns

In mid-March I wrote about the unexpected loss of a friendship. A couple, who my wife and I counted among our very best friends, suddenly pulled away from all contact with us and everyone else they knew. That post, Until it is Gone, generated as many passionate comments as any on this blog to date. It showcased the importance of relationships to a satisfying retirement.


The gain or loss of friendships can affect us deeply. Many of the comments left on that post talked about how friendships seem to fade away over time, leaving a gaping hole. Many times we don't even know the real reason why someone disappears from our life. At least in our situation we knew why the couple pulled away. Since it had nothing to do with us we hoped that when the particular storm had passed from their life we might re-establish a relationship, albeit somewhat different than before.


About two months ago we began to receive a trickle of contact from them: an e-mail here or there, a request for information, a forwarded video clip from someone else. We followed up with responses that were pleasant, but put no pressure on them to take any additional steps. If time heals most wounds we wanted to give them all the space they needed. Then, a few weeks later we received a direct invitation to join them at an event that they thought would interest us. Betty and I attended, again being careful to not make more out of that contact than was implied.


From that point on, the friendship rapidly reformed. Meals together and church functions we shared both as couples and as men and women begin to appear on our calendar. The original problem that caused the separation will always leave deep scars. But, the couple realized that pulling away from people who love them at exactly the time when that support is needed the most was not allowing them to move on.


I am happy to report that the friendship has been restored in all its former glory. The four of us have undergone some major adjustments in our lives but understand we are better together than apart. What lessons can I draw from this experience?

Authentic Friendship is worth fighting for. I don't know if it is as a result of social media or the fact that many of us stay home and use the TV or streaming movies as our entertainment option. But leaving the house to meet others and build friendship bonds seems to be happening less and less. As we age, friendships naturally fade away: people move, get sick, die, change interests, get divorced...the list is endless. It is harder to meet new folks and harder still to develop a deep connection. If there is an important friendship in your life, do everything you can to feed it and strengthen it.

Patience is required. We are an instant gratification society. When we want something we want it now. Reality check: what we want sometimes doesn't happen. The situation i have just described would have been either permanently damaged or set back for a time if I had pushed the other couple. I had to wait until they were ready and took the first tentative steps. Even then, I found it best to discuss what had caused them to separate from everyone only when they brought it up. Over time the issues have been exposed and now both couples are moving forward. Even better, that couple is initiating contact with others who were shut out so their social circle is reestablishing itself.

Being judgmental would have destroyed everything. There is no way I can judge whether our friends should have handled the situation differently because I am not them. My initial reaction was they handled it wrong. But, I think that was my hurt talking. Within just a few days of the breakup I was better able to process what had happened.

Betty and I talked quite a bit about the situation and how we should proceed. We both concluded that we may have responded in exactly the same way if we had been the ones experiencing what they had gone through. My initial judgment was selfish and incorrect. If I had expressed my flawed interpretations the friendship might have suffered fatal damage.

It feels so good to have this couple back in our life, actually stronger than before. It reminds us that friendship and human relationships are so much more important than debt ceilings, or politics, or ......just about anything. Our Satisfying Retirement depends on it.


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July 24, 2011

This Can't be The Answer

Last week ABC TV News had a series on the changing face of retirement. One of the stories talked about a "growing trend" of retired couples living apart from each other for parts of the year. Entitled, "One Couple, Two Retirements," I think the story raises a few important points.

As you can tell from this post title, this "trend" doesn't strike me as a healthy way to resolve relationship issues and build a satisfying retirement.  I'll begin by raising a question about the characterization of this activity as a growing trend. That seems wildly overstated. For some people this may be an answer to deeper issues. But, to infer this is a likely decision for many retirees strikes me as hype. Consider for a moment the cost of  a split lifestyle. How many retired folks do you know who can basically double their living expenses for whatever period of time they are living apart?

Some of the couples quoted in the story made it quite obvious they did not want to be around their husband (or wife) all day, everyday. One lady noted all her friends were sick of having hubby around 24/7. That statement is both sad and revealing. Clearly, these couples had already lived separate existences while sharing one house before retirement. The implication is the other person is an irritant, has little to contribute, messes up "my" schedule and system, and is fine only in small doses.

Let me be quite clear: separate time and separate activities are crucial to any marriage or serious relationship. I have written about that need before. If you missed it, check under Related Posts below. But, there is  big difference between me doing prison ministry work and blogging while why wife attends various women's groups at church, and one of us living in San Diego for part of the year.

One of the report's conclusions is this idea of living separately for part of the time is something women push more than men, perhaps reflecting the power they've gained in the past 40 years. As a man I won't pretend to analyze that conclusion, though I hope some comments from my female readers will address this statement. But, I will suggest that there is a real point of friction if a man retires with the intention of changing how a household is run, or decides he is free to sit in the recliner and watch TV half the day. If he does not have interests and activities that allow his partner time to pursue different interests, there will be problems.

Where to live after retirement is also a possible trigger for this living together/apart type of situation. Moving to a "dream" location really needs to be a decision both parties agree upon. If the man wants to experience a winter in Alaska and his wife has lived in Southern California her whole life, I will guess there will be problems if he insists she accompany him on this adventure. If he simply wants to "rough it" for a few months maybe he should try it while she stays at the family home. But, what would disturb me a great deal if he decides to move to Alaska and spends only a few months of the year together back in L.A.

My wife  and I have taken a few separate vacations over the past 35 years. I went to Hawaii alone for two weeks on two different occasions. Betty sent several weeks traveling through Wisconsin on her own. We both enjoyed those experiences and don't regret them at all. But, I'm pretty sure that we would both agree that we couldn't wait to come home and tell our partner all about it.

My conclusion is that a marriage in which two people look for reasons to be apart is not much of a marriage. If volunteering for two months in Honduras is important to one person then I am all for that happening. But, if that turns into one person traveling the world on various mission trips while the other half goes scuba diving in Fiji for 5 months a year, I would wonder about that couple's commitment to each other.

My attitude my strike you as old fashioned. You may argue that a strong relationship should be able to weather extended separations while each person does what feeds his or her passion. I sincerely hope you will leave your thoughts below.

If, like me, you find the idea of living apart from your spouse or significant other for long blocks of time as troublesome, I'd welcome your thoughts, too.

In case you didn't see the original report I have a link here that takes you to both a video and a web story of this "trend."


Note on August 2nd: I found this interesting story about a couple facing a situation where the soon-to-retire wife wants to join the Peace Corps and the husband does not. Read it here

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July 22, 2011

Super-Charge Your Brain: Read a Book a Week

For the last few years I have followed the practice of reading one book a week (on average).  I may have four or five books on the nightstand, but I make it a goal to start and finish one every 7 days. This translates to close to 50 books a year. That’s a lot of books, especially when studies show the average person reads fewer than two books a year.

What do I read?  Books on health,  biographies, spirituality, self-discipline, relationships,  time management,  goal setting, blogging, writing, motivation, excellence, and creativity make up the bulk of my non-fiction choices. I read lots of fiction, especially espionage and murder mysteries, or those about technology crimes.

Where does all this  lead?  The real benefit comes not from what you read but rather from the habit of reading. When you read a new book every week, you condition your mind to keep taking in new knowledge. Your thinking remains fresh and sharp. Your brain is always churning on new ideas looking for new distinctions it can make. Every day you pour in more ideas, which your brain must find a way to integrate into your existing knowledge base. With the world's known knowledge now estimated to double every 30 days, there is a lot to learn.


Reading is much like physical exercise. Reading is a workout for the brain. Author Pat Williams says, "the right books are a crowbar for the imagination." Just as toning your body requires the  habit of regular exercise, toning your mind requires the ongoing habit of reading. And just as a lack of exercise will cause your muscles to atrophy, a lack of fresh mental exercise will cause your mind to atrophy. The good news is within a few months of  working at developing the habit of  reading, it will simply become part of your life.

Reading a book a week is an enormously worthwhile habit. And it’s enjoyable too. All that’s required is to set aside 30-60 minutes each day to sit down and read. You can also read (or listen) with physical exercise. I can read 20-30 minutes while on the treadmill at the gym. When I go for a 2 mile walk around a local park I can listen to part of an audio program I borrowed from the library. That is an additional 60 minutes of absorbing new ideas.

With such a  routine, I usually have an abundance of ideas for new blog posts and conversation with family and friends. I can maintain a strong flow of interesting ideas going out because there’s a strong flow going in. Every week I’m making new distinctions as my brain integrates new knowledge with existing knowledge.


All of the above applies not just to reading of course, but to the general practice of absorbing new information, including seminars, audio programs, meaningful conversations, classes, etc. Reading articles or blog entries on line is also helpful, assuming you’re learning new ideas that challenge you and which make you think. If you forget it as soon as you read it, it won’t be of much value.

If you are looking for a book to read that helps "sell" you on the reason to read more, try Pat Williams' Read For Your Life. He presents eleven different ways for transforming your life with books. He has 19 children, is an executive in the NBA, and reads a book a day.

Author and satirist P. J. O'Rourke said, "Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it."

Mark Twain said, " a person who won't read has no advantage over a person who can't read."

Read a book a week. You’ll love the results.


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July 20, 2011

Everything I Need to Know.....I Learned From Jimmy Buffett

The ultimate Boomer, Jimmy Buffett,  will be 65 on Christmas Day. Even though he is only had a few hit records, Jimmy continues to be one of the biggest concert draws, year after year. He portrays an image that is a combination of beach, booze, sun, women, and song well into his 6th decade. His lyrics are often witty, literate, and captivating. For millions of  Parrotheads, he speaks to their dreams, aspirations and lost youth.

Confession time: I am a Parrothead. I have been privileged to see Jimmy in concert several times, once flying to Denver just to see his show. There is no way I can see him in person or listen to his music and not smile. You can bet when my wife and I go to Hawaii in a few months, Jimmy's music will be along for the ride. He is very much part of my satisfying retirement.

With tongue firmly planted in my check, I contend that many of life's important lessons, especially for us retired and pre-retirees can be found in the lyrics of Jimmy's music. Not so sure? Here are some examples to convince you I am not just a cheeseburger in paradise:

"Few have ever seen, most of them dream.  I've got to stop wishin' and got to fishin'."
  • Too many folks dream their life away without doing what they really want to do. There comes a time to stop dreaming and a time to act.

"All of the faces and all of the places, wonder where they all disappeared.
Vision of good times that brought me so much pleasure. Makes me want to go back again."
  • I have known so many people and been to so many places, but they are no longer part of my life. Luckily, I'll always have my memories and I can visit again anytime.
"Oh, yesterday's on my shoulders so I can't look back for too long. There's just too much to see waiting in front of me. And I know I just can't go wrong."
  • Memories and the past are great, but sometimes they just hold me back. I am excited by what is ahead.

"I'm growing older but no up. My metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck. I'd rather die while I'm living, than live when I'm dead."
  • I don't care what the calendar says, I can still be a little kid sometimes. I don't want to always act like a gown-up and I refuse to stop grabbing all that life has to offer.

"I'm a cultural infidel,. believe in common sense. I'm a cultural infidel, love the present tense."
  • They may not be "appropriate" for someone of my age but blue jeans and funny T-shirts are just fine for me. I don't live in the past; I take what's best about today.

"I wish lunch could last forever. Make the whole day one big afternoon."
  • My schedule is mine. I understand the importance of being wholly invested in whatever I am doing at the moment. And, if that is a long meal with friends, so be it.
"Ain't it funny how we all turned out. I guess we are the people our parents warned us about."
  • My 20's were a blast and completely different from my life today. My values, lifestyle, choices, and mindset then would probably shock many of my friends now. But, I learned tolerance and the ability of maturity to work its magic.

Jimmy speaks to the parts of us that mean so much: treasuring our memories but not living in the past, staying active and full of dreams, and keeping the streak of non-conformist alive, if only in our mind.

  

July 18, 2011

Retirement FAQs

On Web sites FAQs are Frequently Asked Questions. They are the inquires that occur often enough to be predictable. The questions are followed by short, to-the-point answers that sometimes actually answers the questions. Here are my versions of FAQs for retirement advice.

How much money do I need to retire? Enough to live comfortably and handle most emergencies. You will probably end up needing more than you think. If you live in Scottsdale, La Jolla, or West Palm Beach, a lot more. Don't believe all the "rules" about how much you have to save or how little you can withdraw each year and not risk running out of money. Life is a constant adjustment to situations. No one can predict what the future will be like or how you will want to live. Stay flexible.

Won't I become bored? Maybe. But, don't you become bored now? Boredom is easily solved. Find something interesting to occupy your mind and time. Retirement is all about trying on a new you. If you become bored it is because you aren't looking hard enough for alternatives.

 
How do I fill all that time? You will be amazed at how quickly all that time fills up. Your real problem will be finding enough time to do all you want to do. Learning to manage the only resource you have that can never be replaced is a skill that will, in large part, determine how satisfying your retirement becomes. What to do after retirement? Your choices are limited only by you.

My spouse doesn't want me around the house all day..what do I do? Go somewhere else for a while. Take long walks, go to the library, volunteer a few times a week. Do things around the house that make him or her want you around. Part of the time do what your spouse wants to do. Part of the time do what you want to do. The rest of the time do things together.

Can I spend all day in sweats? Sure. But, a word of advice...don't. There is no need to dress up as if you are still going to work. However, lounging around all day in a bathrobe or an old sweatshirt will affect your energy and desire to make something of the day. Develop a morning routine that includes dressing well enough to leave the house, even if you don't plan to. It really does make a difference.

Can I unretire? Absolutely. That is one of the best parts of retirement, there are no firm rules. In fact you can retire, unretire, and retire again as many times as you want. Maybe you'll find that financially you could use the extra income. Maybe you like interacting with different people each day and miss the stimulation of an office or factory floor. A part time job may be perfect for you. What if you've always wanted to have your own business or turn a hobby into income? No problem. Retirement is as much about attitude and freedom as it is about your state of employment.

What will happen to my health and health insurance? If I had the answer to that I wouldn't be writing FAQs.


Did I miss an FAQ you want answered?  Comment away!

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July 15, 2011

What Type of Retiree are You?

An important research study has been making the Internet rounds over the past several days. I found the information enlightening and insightful. In a rare break for this blog, instead of writing something myself, I am providing you with a direct copy of the study's key findings as today's post.

I encourage you to read the following and think about the possible implications to you and your satisfying retirement. I ask you to leave a comment at the end with your reaction and thoughts.


Americans have emerged from the economic recession with a new set of expectations around the purpose, timing and funding of their retirement. Not only is retirement being postponed, but it no longer means an end to working—retirement is now a new chapter in life. The SunAmerica Retirement Re-Set Study is a nationwide survey of Americans age 55 and older that takes an in-depth look at this new retirement mindset. Developed in collaboration with Age Wave and conducted by Harris Interactive, the study found a significant shift in attitudes and actions since 2001 when SunAmerica conducted its initial landmark retirement study, Re-Visioning Retirement.

The SunAmerica Retirement Re-Set Study is the first major study of its kind to specifically assess the impact of the recession on America’s mindset, family dynamics, lifestyle expectations and financial planning for retirement. The study reveals that while the recession had a financial and emotional impact, Americans are emerging from the tumult of the last few years empowered, and with a more pragmatic and disciplined approach to retirement and retirement preparation. Here is a summary of the key findings.


1: Retirement Mindset Re-Set

  • One-third of Americans age 55 and older say their financial assets have not yet recovered to pre-recession levels. Almost half (46%) say their home is worth less now than it was before the recession.
  • Americans are recovering from the “recession mind-bender.” The percentage of people who felt secure dropped dramatically during the recession but is now on the rebound. Similarly, people became more worried and angry during the recession but are now increasingly optimistic.
  • A new outlook: Today, 54% view retirement as a new chapter in life, rather than a winding down—a significant increase over the 38% that held a similar view a decade ago.

2: Re-Setting Timing and Purpose:

  • Retirement is being postponed: Pre-retirees say they now intend to delay retirement by five years—from age 64 to age 69—triggered in part by increasing longevity, as well as the recession and financial need.
  • Retirement no longer means the end of work: Almost two-thirds say they would ideally like to remain productive and include work in retirement.
  • The top reason people want to work during retirement is “the stimulation and satisfaction” rather than the money.
  • Americans 55 and older say that baby boomers are more likely to have less in entitlements, less money for retirement and less respect from younger generations compared to prior generations of retirees. However, they also expect boomers to be more active and youthful, have more opportunities to learn and grow, and experience more interesting lives.

3: Re-Setting Values and Obligations:

  • 85% say they now appreciate the importance of quality relationships with their friends and family even more after the recession.
  • Asked how the recession affected their financial situation and investment strategy, 96% say it’s important to protect themselves and their families against financial uncertainties.
  • Nearly half of Americans 55 and older expect to provide intergenerational support for family members and, in a new twist on childcare, 70% of those believe their adult children will need financial assistance.
  • Financial peace of mind is now 6x more important than accumulating wealth: 82% name it their key financial goal.
  • Protecting assets is now 5x more important to investors than higher-risk returns.

4: Re-Setting Long Life Expectations:

  • “Remaining productive” is now seen as the top benefit of living a very long life, followed by “deepening relationships with family” and “witnessing new discoveries as the world evolves.”
  • Nearly half of today’s retirees retired earlier than they planned. The top reason people give for early retirement is unexpected health problems.
  • Asked what their financial challenges are for retirement preparation, people say their top concern is higher taxes.

5: Re-Setting Financial Solutions:

  • Three-quarters say the last several years have provided a much-needed financial wake-up call, and 81% report they have learned important lessons regarding saving, investing and preparing for retirement.
  • Americans believe they can still “get there from here,” and 78% say they can still have a fulfilling retirement by being more financially disciplined.
  • Post-recession, people are seeking financial solutions that won’t lose value and can help their money go the distance.

6: Re-Setting the Path to a Satisfying Retirement:

  • There are four distinct segments of Americans age 55 and older based on their retirement attitudes, expectations and behaviors: Ageless Explorers (20% of respondents), Cautiously Contents (18%), Live for Todays (27%) and Worried Strugglers (35%).
  • The first two groups are enjoying their retirement and have a high level of happiness and financial security.
  • The second two retiree groups are struggling due to misfortune and/or bad planning. Over the past decade, the percentage of those age 55 and older who are “Ageless Explorers” and “Cautiously Contents” fell from 46% to 38%. Meanwhile the percentage of people who fall in the two segments who are having a difficult time—the “Live for Todays” and “Worried Strugglers”—rose from 54% to 62%.
For more information regarding the SunAmerica Retirement Re-Set Study and its findings and to download a full report, please visit http://www.retirementreset.com/
SunAmerica Financial Group (SAFG) is the enterprise name for a group of companies offering insurance, retirement and investment services through a diverse family of financial services companies. Copyright ©
2011, SunAmerica Financial Group. All rights reserved.


 This is important information. What group are you in? Do you identify yourself in these results? Please leave a comment and let's talk about it.


Note: just after this post was added to the blog I received the following news release from ABC:

            Next week “World News” cracks the code for a happy retirement. During a special week-long series, ABC’s Claire Shipman goes in search of boomers rewriting the rules of retirement with an in-depth look at the “Retirement Revolution” taking place across the country. We show you the amazing new ways boomers are pursuing their dreams, surprising new strategies to help them afford their big new goals, and breakthroughs that promise to give boomers the energy and health to do it all. Reports will begin airing on “World News with Diane Sawyer” on Monday, July 18.

July 14, 2011

Jumping off The Financial Cliff.....Without a Net

Having a Satisfying Retirement without a budget is pretty much like jumping off a cliff without a parachute. You may survive but I wouldn't recommend it. I believe quite strongly that a budget is absolutely essential to a financially secure retirement lifestyle. Whether you are already fully retired, working part time, or still a few years away from leaving your job, it is never too early to build a retirement budget. You may hate the idea of keeping track of what you spend. You may think you know what you income and outgo are. But until you put in on paper (or in a software program) you are playing with fire.

So, what goes into a budget? How different is a retirement budget? Are there categories that were important when you worked full time that can be dropped when you are retired? How do you plan for retirement? To give you some idea what might belong in your post-work budget, I will use mine as a sample. Since your situation is likely to be different please just use this as a starting point.


Housing
Mortgage payments (I own my home but you may have monthly payments)
Real Estate Taxes
Home Owners Insurance
Utilities: electric, gas, water,  sewer/trash pickup
Home maintenance and repairs, pest control

Domestic
Food and household supplies
Internet and cable TV
Telephone: land line & cells
Decorations & furnishings
Yard service

Personal
Clothing purchase
Dry Cleaning/Laundry
Entertainment
Dining Out
Auto: payments, gas, repairs, insurance, registration
Health insurance: premiums, uncovered expenses, co-pays
Health supplies: over-the-counter vitamins & medicines
Dental care: checkups, fillings, crowns, dentures, etc
Eyeglasses & hearing aids
haircuts & beauty salon

Miscellaneous
Gifts
Computer purchase, repair, software
Subscriptions, postage stamps
Charity
Vacations
Tax prep and accountant costs
Life insurance

You may be surprised at all the categories I maintain. A budget after retirement isn't much different from one you used while working full time. It is quite easy to forget that a majority of expenses don't go away. The amount you decide to spend in each may change, but the actual number of categories is pretty much the same, retired or not. And, don't forget to plan for inflation in virtually every category.

Admission: when I designed my first budget I forget two critical items: I forget about vacations, and I had made no allowance for the huge increase in medical insurance and expenses. Two years into retirement I had a rude awakening from my journey to a satisfying retirement.

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July 11, 2011

Simple Living: What Does That Mean?

I don't know.

Depending on the web site, blog, or book I look at simple living can mean many different things, depending on who is doing the defining. It could mean getting rid of most of my belongings and keeping only the bare essentials, all while living in 200 square feet of housing. It can also mean having all the modern conveniences, but only buying what I need, not what I want.

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

See why I am confused?

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


I own my possessions and not the other way around

I have never been someone who likes to acquire things. I dislike shopping unless I have a specific need that a particular purchase will satisfy, like new sneakers or a few new plants for the pots on the porch. The idea of shopping for fun doesn't compute. I love movies but I don't purchase DVDs when the library or Netflix or Hulu lets me see them for free or for pennies each.


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


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

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

Importantly, if I give away 5 shirts I haven't worn in a few years I don't have any urge to replace all five. Like most guys I know, I wear the same handful of shirts, T-shirts, shorts and jeans over and over. I would be perfectly content to have just those items in my closet. Is that simple living?

In a post on her blog from December 2009 Laura Weldon said it well, "Studies have repeatedly found that the more a person focuses on the accumulation and ownership of stuff the less happy they are. They are more likely to suffer from depression, narcissism, low self-esteem, antisocial behavior and substance abuse. They’re also more likely to have health problems including headaches, backaches and digestive disorders."


It is best if my living space is orderly and uncluttered

I require neatness. My wife will tell you I am somewhat compulsive in this regard. I don't line up all my pencils on my desk, but I am physically uncomfortable around clutter. I will go so far as to write something on a to-do list just so I can cross it off (does that sound a bit odd?) Having less stuff lying around makes it easier to be neat. Frankly, over time I have gotten better about tolerating some messiness. I have come to appreciate things that are a better use of my energy and worry than everything always being in its place. Still, a messy environment and I are not close friends.

My idea of entertainment has simplified

I eliminated cable TV several months ago. I dropped both daily newspapers and at least half a dozen magazine subscriptions. This freed up several hours a day for other activities that are more productive and pleasing to me. I love to read and have given myself permission to spend a few hours each day doing just that.

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

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

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

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

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



That sounds like a simple life to me. How about you?

Related Posts

July 8, 2011

Into the Unknown: A Gutsy Lady tells her Story

Sonia Marsh is the lady behind the Gutsy Writer Blog. She and I have become blogging friends over the past year. When I found out she was prepared to turn part of her fascinating life story into a book, I asked her permission to pose a few questions. This post is longer than what you normally find at Satisfying Retirement but Sonia's story is worth bending the rules a bit.

View from the Marsh's house in Belize
A few years ago she and her husband packed up their family, left southern California, and moved to Belize, a small country in Central America. The reasons behind such a gutsy lifestyle change and what she gained from that adventure are the basis for these questions:


Q: Sonia, what motivated you & your husband to pack up the family and head for Belize?

We felt that living in Orange County, California, clearly compromised the future of our three sons, with its culture of sexually active, pill-popping, value-lacking teens who are not taught the consequences of their actions. At thirteen, our oldest son entered the dark tunnel of suicidal girlfriends, teenage sex and satanic tattoos. This threw our love-filled home into turmoil and forcing his younger brothers to receive nothing but leftover attention.

My husband and I were desperate enough to take an unconventional approach: we sold our lakefront California house—and everything else we owned—and moved our family to Belize. We wanted to instill a new set of values upon our children.

But, Bob,  it wasn’t just for our kids. My husband, Duke, and I wanted some adventure in our life before we retired. Duke couldn’t wait to swap LA’s gridlocked freeways for flip-flops, and I longed for my own slice of Caribbean paradise.


Q: Why did you pick Belize?

“Had it not been for a leaking toilet, we may never have healed our family,” reads the first sentence in my book, Freeways to Flip-Flops: Our Year of Living Like the Swiss Family Robinson. Our plumber, who fixed our toilet told me about Belize, a country that sounded like a place we could afford. English is the official language and you could buy ocean front property for as little as $15,000, I Googled Belize and he was right. Although $15,000 might not offer the ideal plot of land to build your dream house, it was possible to find cheap water front properties in many parts of Belize.


Q: What were the biggest adjustments you and your family had to make?

 
One thing we learned very quickly in Belize was: “If they don’t have what you want, want what they have.” If the store didn’t carry what you wanted, just accept it and go with the flow. This was an excellent lesson for my kids, especially coming from the U.S., where we have so many choices. This taught us to always question, “Is this a want or a need?” before buying something. We have brought that attitude back with us.


We had to adjust to the lack of water and food, and the abundance of bugs, especially after a rainstorm. We relied on rain water to wash. I never realized to what extent I valued water until we were in a drought. It taught my family how much we had taken for granted.

Finding food was a major problem. Stores would rarely carry what you needed, like fresh milk or cheese or brown bread, on a regular basis. Feeding two teenagers and a growing ten-year-old became a full-time job, especially when you learn we had to shop by boat. There were no cars up north on the island of Ambergris Caye where we lived.


Q: What do you wish you could have brought back to Southern California with you?

I would love to have the beautiful, warm Caribbean turquoise water in front of my house again. Apart from that, I wish we had the slower pace of life that locals enjoy in Belize. I learned one thing about people who live in poorer parts of the world that I wish we could incorporate into our life. As long as you have enough money in your pocket to pay for your food for today, you’re happy. Local Belizeans don’t seem to worry about tomorrow the way we do.

 Q: Tell me a bit about the book you have written about this experience.

The Marsh family
Freeways to Flip Flops: Our Year of Living Like the Swiss Family Robinson is the story of our family moving to a tropical island in Central America. Writing this book has made me realize that my childhood in Africa and Europe molded me into a woman who believes in being gutsy, and taking risks. I have a desire to inspire and motivate people to follow their passion and quit postponing their dreams. So, it’s not just about my book but about my message: Life is too short to play it safe. Be Gutsy and find your paradise.


Q: What has been the biggest surprise in writing your first book?

 
For me, an unexperienced author, it was the length of time it takes to write a book. I'll never forget the first class I took called, “How to write a book proposal.” The teacher, who later became a close friend, started the class by saying, “It can take six years to write your first book from start to finish.” I laughed and made a silly comment which I now regret. “How can it take six years to write a book, only a stupid writer would take that long?”

Now I realize how ignorant my comment sounded. At the time I thought it would be so easy to turn my 600 page journal into a book, I didn't realize how much I had to learn about the craft, the fact that great memoirs have to use the same concepts as great fiction, that my story needed to follow a specific structure, and that I had to have a message to leave with my readers.

 Q: When do you hope to have Freeways to Flip-Flops published?

 
As soon as possible. The big New York publishers are unwilling to take a risk with an unknown author unless that person has a huge on line following. By huge, I mean around 100,000 to 200,000 subscribers and thousands of hits/day on your blog. But, I'm making progress.

I started blogging three years ago, network like crazy, both on line and in person, volunteer at writers associations, and use all forms of social media. I’ve hired a professional to develop my new author website and blog, soniamarsh.com. I also speak about blogging and now want to expand my presentations to topics related to Gutsy Living. Three months before my book comes out I plan on hiring a publicist whom I’ve already spoken to and like.

One thing I recommend to all aspiring writers is to learn how to market your book. Unfortunately we now live in a world where author promotion is just as important, if not more, than simply writing a great story.

Thanks for the interview, Bob. There are many advantages to retiring in Belize. If anyone has specific questions regarding the expat life in Belize, or writing, or blogging, I’d be happy to help. You can contact me at sonia@soniamarsh.com.


Thank you, Sonia. I'll be anxiously awaiting the publication of your book. You have done something that many of us dream of but just aren't gutsy enough to try.

July 6, 2011

A Special Weekend: Creating Memories That Can't be Bought

The wind gust caught the bright, green and yellow kite with its ribboned tail and lifted it just above the pine trees lining the front yard. The two young kids screamed in delight. Suddenly a down draft caused the flying machine to plunge to the lawn, digging a hole right at daddy's feet. The yells from the children seemed to say that was even better than watching the kite sail through the stormy sky.


The 4th of July weekend was a fabulous time for our clan. Everyone dashed north to Flagstaff to escape the 118 degree heat of the desert floor. Just two hours away thunderstorms, clouds, and 7,000 feet in elevation meant long pants, sweatshirts, and an invigorating 3 days of family memories. The house we rented was a great match for our needs: big kitchen and dining room table plus a large fenced-in backyard. There was a metal-roofed back porch that was perfect for listening to the rain pound down on Saturday afternoon while sipping coffee or holding a steaming mug of Earl Grey tea.

My wife, youngest daughter and I found ourselves on Sunday night in a smallish upstairs room in the historic Weatherford Hotel in downtown Flagstaff. Seven folks, holding flutes, a banjo, a few guitars, a violin, and a cello  were sitting in a circle playing Irish music for their own enjoyment. A dozen spectators, sitting on chairs taken from the next door bar, were allowed to eavesdrop on their fun. The Irish Society of Flagstaff gathers in the same room every Sunday evening for a few hours to make music just for the fun of it. We stumbled across the event and took advantage of a unique experience to build a family memory that money couldn't buy.

Flagstaff is a tremendously attractive smallish city in northern Arizona. The home of Northern Arizona University, this town attracts more than its fair share of folks in tie-dyed shirts, flowing paisley-patterned skirts and peasant blouses. Everyone seems to have either a dog or mountain bike, or both. Young children are everywhere. People watching is an endless joy.

Downtown is packed with restaurants, bars, antique stores, and thousands of people enjoying free concerts, movies on the square and art festivals all summer long. An old-fashioned 4th of July parade, complete with kids on bikes, clowns, marching bands, and fire engines filled the streets Monday morning.  

Our weekend was filled with what makes being part of a happy family so special. Playing Granddad to three adorable children makes it all so memorable. Even watching Lady and the Tramp for at least the 100th time was fun: the kids see it as fresh and new each time. Too bad adults don't take such pleasure in such simple joys.

My wife dug out a recipe for making "kick the can ice cream." At my age I am usually not fond of the "kick the can" expression. But, in this case I am all for it. The homemade vanilla ice cream that came out of the cans we kicked around the backyard for half an hour and then popped in the freezer, was fabulous, as good as any I have ever tasted.

We played Hearts and Texas Hold'em. We had picnics in the park, and spent hours on swings, climbing trees, and generally behaving silly on the playgrounds that seem to be on every street corner. The kids were fascinated by a three-legged dog and how it maneuvered so well. This provided a great teaching moment on overcoming handicaps and making the most of what you have.

Once again I was impressed by how wonderful my eldest daughter and son-in-law are at the tough job of parenting. Their kids are inquisitive, respectful, smart well beyond their years, bubbling over with personality, and not ashamed to show love for everyone.

A satisfying retirement is so much more than managing one's finances, or worrying about health problems. This 4th of July weekend in Flagstaff with family was rich beyond measure.

July 1, 2011

4th of July

A very happy 4th of July weekend to everyone, everywhere. Even if you are reading this somewhere other than America, the ideas of freedom and sacrifice to achieve a goal are universal desires. So, celebrate in your own way.

I'm taking a digital sabbatical until late Monday. I'll respond to all e-mails and any comments left on earlier posts then. In the meantime, enjoy your family and friends and enjoy these songs that celebrate America.

Happy Birthday, USA


Born in the USA - Bruce Springsteen http://youtu.be/tIekamBDiAw

Back in the USA - Linda Ronstadt & Chuck Berry   http://youtu.be/s8i5PEhtWzY

American Pie - Don McLean  http://youtu.be/S6uEjifqTaI

America - Neil Diamond  http://youtu.be/FFwSzZQ4MVI

America - Simon & Garfunkel  http://youtu.be/vCbOEZ8c8dM

God Bless America - Kate Smith   http://youtu.be/TnQDW-NMaRs

God Bless the USA - Lee Greenwood   http://youtu.be/tNqUORIFV4I

America the Beautiful - Ray Charles http://youtu.be/N7Wt4XlXUrc