August 30, 2011

Baby Boomers and Business: A New Awareness

The following is a guest post submitted by Kate Forgach. This month's AARP magazine has a story on how Boomers' expectations are changing how some, smart, forward-thinking merchants are selling and displaying their products and services. Just as I was thinking about writing a summary about that article , Kate's post crossed my desk. Her added information  makes this very much on target for Satisfying Retirement.


Demographers have likened Baby Boomers to a "pig moving through a python," accounting for one-third of America's population. More than 78-million strong, the post-World War II generation has long been one of the most profitable consumer demographics, a trend that isn't likely to slow as retirement nears.
They're a generation that never gives in, whether to a shrinking job market, boomerang kids or physical infirmities. Despite being faced with plummeting home values and net worth, retailers still hear their roar, as Boomers demand special treatment.

It's a demand well worth attention. The generation born between 1946 and 1964 presents a $43 billion opportunity for retailers, according to an Information Resources, Inc. report. They also, however, present new challenges. Here's a look at 10 ways businesses are catering to aging Baby Boomers.

1. Reading the Fine Print

Product packaging hasn't just gotten harder to open; it's also harder to read, with instructions and ingredient lists that look like mere ant tracks. According to AARP, CVS is dealing with this problem by attaching magnifying lenses to shelving units. The pharmacy chain also has increased natural-light wattage by uncovering windows.

Target, in turn, heard concerns about prescription labeling and increased type fonts to help customers avoid mistakes.

2. Garden Center Redesigns

Baby Boomers are big on gardening, but aren't too crazy about gravel-covered paths and narrow greenhouse aisles. According to Garden Center Magazine, the industry is moving toward friendlier access, including hard walking surfaces, wider aisles, tables that make picking up plants easier and white signs printed with black ink for clearer reading.

3. Accessible Online Shopping

The American Life Project found 69 percent of older Boomers (ages 56 to 64) buy online, more than any other generation. Merchants are catering to this by increasing website fonts so consumers with poor vision can more easily navigate online stores. Updated text-to-speech technology helps those with more serious sight problems by reading Web pages aloud.

Online shopping became more popular with aging Boomers when Amazon started the free shipping revolution in 2002. The trend has proven a boon to shoppers who find it difficult to navigate between stores. Free shipping codes bring prices as low, if not lower, than those for brick-and-mortar retailers. Examples include Boomer favorites like Coldwater Creek and Lands' End, clothing giants who offer free shipping on some, or all, orders.

4. More Online Reviews

According to a 2010 study by the Pew Center, older Boomers tend to research purchases more thoroughly, with 40 percent saying they rate products online before buying.

User reviews are an electronic replacement for this word-of-mouth generation, so e-retailers are catering to their preferences by providing opportunities for customer testimonials and highlighting positive reviews on home pages.

Technology retailer Newegg.com particularly caters to this audience according to Vice President of Marketing Bernard Luthi in an interview with Internet Retailer. "Older consumers called customer support more often than other age groups in advance of a purchase. They'd say: 'I want to understand more about the organization. Let me know who you are and what your return policy is.' They're still not as comfortable as a person in his mid-20s about shopping on the Web, but they are a smarter shopper. They ask for a lot more information up front."

5. Hard Landings

To make sitting and rising more graceful, high-end hotels are switching from soft, deep seating to higher and firmer chairs and couches. These same institutions, along with some banks, are replacing heavy, difficult-to-open doors with automatic ones.

6. Re-shelving

Stretching for the last-remaining box of bran and dipping down for a bulk bag are hard on the back and knees. According to the AARP magazine, both Walgreens and CVS have lowered shelving and reorganized items for easier access.

7. Urbanization of Rural Areas

As children flee the nest, more parents are migrating into rural areas. A 2009 study by the Department of Agriculture, however, indicated these Boomers will still want urban amenities, "such as proximity to health care...and walkable, active communities." Because many will prefer and eventually have to stop driving, they'll likely seek more condensed shopping formats that are closer to home.

As a result, areas like Colorado's Northern Front Range created land plans requiring developers include shopping and gas services within walking distance of each development. Retirement communities were also subject to the same regulations.

Walkability has become such an important factor that Zillow, an online real estate database, now rates the walkability of properties to retail and transit infrastructure.

8. Home-alone Servings

Household size in the 50-plus age range is shrinking, according to American Realty Advisors, leading manufacturers to reduce their package portions. Single-size and two-person servings are more readily available in drugstores and supermarkets. This is a move away from the super-sizing of the 1990s and should benefit stores that cater to this audience, including Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, as opposed to Costco or Sam's Club.

9. Non-agist Marketing

Baby Boomers work full-time, travel, care for parents and are far more active than the preceding generation. According to Nielsen, they're turned off by advertising that markets to age and decrepitude, so marketers are creating ads with an appeal for all ages. Talbot's, for example, traditionally sells clothing for older women, but their present marketing has a more youthful look and message.

10. Brain Games

The generation that made physical fitness a must is now pumping-up brain tissue to stave off the mental ills of aging. An entire industry has grown around this desire for mental calisthenics, sweeping major merchants like Target and Walmart into its wake.

While there's no end of controversy as to whether puzzles and brain games help slow down memory loss, Boomers are willing to give it a try. Much of this industry is related to board games, thought to slow the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

"Brain-fitness products generated $265 million in 2009, up from $225 million in 2008 and $100 million in 2005," said SharpBrains, a San Francisco-based market research firm, in an AARP interview. "Consumers account for about one-third of brain fitness industry sales, or $95 million in 2009. By 2015, the brain fitness market is projected to reach $1 billion."


Kate Forgach is a Baby Boomer consumer specialist for Kinoli Inc. She has written about senior issues for 11 years as a Cooperative Extension specialist and for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines. She has been featured in USA Today, Detroit News, New Orleans Times-Picayune, New Yorker magazine, "ABC World News," NBC's "TODAY" show and many other media outlets. The author may be contacted at kate@kinoliinc.com

August 28, 2011

We Just Can't Decide

My wife and I are dog people. We both grew up with dogs in our families. During our married life we have had four of them. For the last 5 years, however, we have been dog-less.

Show us the picture of a cute puppy and we melt. Have a friendly dog near us and we will crouch down to scratch its ears and talk "doggie talk." Our youngest daughter was thisclose to getting an adorable puppy in June. But, circumstances changed and it didn't happen.

Every few months we revisit the same debate: should we get another dog? Some of things we consider when deciding to add a pet to our satisfying retirement lifestyle include:
  • as we lose our mobility in later years how does the pet get proper exercise and daily walks?
  • if eventually moving to a housing arrangement that doesn't take pets, then what?
  • the costs associated with owning a dog can be substantial. Can we afford it? Even a healthy dog will add close to $1,000 a year to our expenses.
Other obvious concerns are the limitations on longer term vacations. Kennels or pet sitter costs can add up quickly. Is it fair to a dog if we would like to be on a month long trip and it must away from its home and us? Even spur-of-the-moment long weekend get-aways are more complicated.

Of course, there is always the option of taking vacations with the dog. But that really changes the experience. Taking a dog restricts where you can stay, how you go out for meals, what attractions you can visit, and the times of year when such travel is possible. An RV would make it easier, but that isn't in the budget either.

On the plus side, the health benefits of owning a loving pet have been proven. Petting a dog or having one snuggled up against you on the sofa can lower stress. The companionship and unconditional love are welcome at any stage of life. The grandkids would love for us to have a dog. All that makes $1,000 a year sound like a bargain.

So far our back-and-forth on the subject has led us to either, "we'll discuss that again later," or " let's hold off while we still plan on making longer trips. A dog would be better when we are staying closer to home."

Both positions make sense. But, both mean waiting another 7-10 years. At that point we are likely to be moving to a condo or smaller place with no backyard and limited play areas. Is that fair to the animal? A dog would love the spacious backyard at our current home....should we take advantage of that while we can? 

Do you see our dilemma? This is not a simple decision of "we love dogs, dogs love us, life is short, just do it."  Or is it? Are we over-analyzing this decision?

I can't promise we'll follow what the majority says, but I would love you input. Pets change your life and are a major responsibility, but......

 
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August 26, 2011

Entertain Me

Regular Satisfying Retirement readers know my wife and I cut the cord on cable TV several months ago. We weren't watching enough to justify the cost. A month or so later we wavered in that decision, but decided to stick with the original plan. Now, we are so out of the habit of TV viewing that the few times we do watch a network show using an outside antenna, we are overwhelmed by the number of commercials and turn it off again.


In its place we use Netflix a lot, enough so that it's 60% price increase next month is still an excellent entertainment bargain for us. Recently we have discovered the whole genre of British detective shows and are becoming George Gently and Foyle's War fans. If they ever make any more Sherlock episodes we will be there.

But, what about other entertainment options? Frankly, there are more choices than there are available hours in the day. I'll highlight a few and ask you to add any gems you've discovered.




YouTube is a surprise addition to my list. Known originally as the place for odd videos of strange people doing silly, provocative, or stupid stuff, this outlet is now part of the Google family and is growing up. A decent and growing list of full length movies are now available for rent at $2 or $3. There are videos to help you cook a great meal, repair your drywall, change a tire, or take a journey through Tibet. Sports and comedy clips abound. Sure, the stupid pet tricks or girls behaving badly videos still exist. But, the focus has shifted. Many newer Blu-ray players can stream YouTube onto your big screen TV in excellent quality. If you haven't checked out You Tube in awhile you may be pleasantly surprised. With over 15 billion clips viewed per month you will not be alone.


Speaking of streaming movies, Amazon has expanded its library substantially, hoping to grab some people upset at Netflix's super-sized price increase. At the moment their movie selection is rather limited but growing rapidly. Prices range from $1.99 to $3.99 and can stream to your PC, phone, or TV. If you purchase their yearly Prime mailing package, your streaming choices are free. Apparently, they offer a few free movies on a regular basis. The day I was typing this The Kings Speech and Salt were both available to watch at no cost.

If your video interests lean toward educational or informative material, you cannot go wrong with TED. Short talks on subjects like technology, culture, the environment, business, science, retirement, and entertainment are all free. Ranging from 10-20 minutes, these presentations come from top experts and thinkers in each respective field. The material is freshened every week. You will not waste you time exploring TED. I find it fascinating and stimulating.

Don't forget the multi-media options at your library. Of course, you know DVDs and CDs are available to check out, just like any book. But, most library systems now offer some form of streaming download options. As an example, the Phoenix library system offers ebook downloads of both best sellers and classics, fiction and non-fiction. You don't have a Kindle or Nook? It doesn't matter. The software to download and read the books is free. Audio books can be downloaded directly to your computer. No longer do you need to shuffle through the 9 CDs that take you through the latest thriller. The Phoenix system even has over 2,300 DVDs for download. 

Finally, music is an important part of what is waiting to entertainment you on the Internet. Pandora is the 800 pound gorilla at the moment. An incredible service, their software allows you to create custom stations with just the music mix you want. While there is a version available for a monthly fee, the majority of us are entirely content with the free version. It contains a 15-30 second commercial every 10-15 minutes or so. If you stream Pandora through your Blu-ray player there are no commercials at all.

Now, explore beyond the obvious. There are literally hundreds of sites that offer free music and radio programming from virtually every country and music style imaginable. I like to listen to Irish music from Dublin. If I have a hankering for some New Zealand folk music I know where to click. How about a four-part series on the health problems in rural Africa? Got it. The morning drive radio show from London...available. The latest rock hits from Germany or Brazil...available 24 hours a day. Non-stop smooth jazz or new age sounds...I have close to 50 choices.

The Internet is a candy store with everything you can imagine crowding the shelves. Probably 90% of it is completely free and available anytime you want it. The biggest problem is deciding what to taste next.

OK, what have I missed as you build your satisfying retirement? What have you discovered the Internet has to offer when you want to be entertained or educated? Leave a comment, with a link to a favorite site, if you want to. Or, is there an entire corner of the Internet you like to spend time in? Share with us.


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Exciting news: Betty and I will be featured in a national magazine in October. A four person photo/makeup/stylist crew was at our home just a few days ago. The story will be about folks who despite all the bad economic times are still enjoying a satisfying retirement. More details soon.



August 25, 2011

The Photo Shoot

Wednesday was the day Money Magazine sent in a crew of four: 2 photographers, a makeup person and a wardrobe expert to complete the last step before our story of our satisfying retirement appears in the magazine.

Because the story will appear in the October issue we had to dress in clothing more appropriate for fall, instead of the 115 degree August day it actually was in Scottsdale. 3 hours, outside, pretending it was cool was tough. An hour preparation before the shoot, then another hour of shots inside out home, and the crew finally departed.

Our daughters and our three grandkids were part of the whole project. The kids did a fabulous job, running and jumping on command, playing with toys only when directed, and generally behaving like seasoned professionals. Both our daughters were heavily involved in theater in school, so to them all the activity was old hat.

The photographer took well over 500 shots during that time even though only 2 or 3 will probably make it into the story in the magazine. I finally found someone who takes more pictures than my wife!

It was probably a once in a lifetime experience that we are all so pleased we could do together as a family. My son-in-law was stuck at work so he couldn't be present, but his children did him proud.

The story, with more pictures and more information will also be on the magazine's web site. I'll alert to you its existence.

I though you might enjoy seeing a few photos we took of the process.









August 23, 2011

What Will Be Your Legacy?

What is a legacy? Most dictionaries define it as a gift of money or property for someone after you die. The second way to think of a legacy is something that has been achieved that continues to exist after someone's death. That is the form of legacy I'd like to explore as you build your satisfying retirement.


It would be a very rare person who doesn't want to be remembered after he or she is gone. As we age we understand how short life really is and that there are few opportunities for do-overs.

I have one life. What am I making of it? How would I like to be remembered?  Do I know what I would like to leave behind for others? These are questions that all humans ask themselves at some point. We have a very basic need to believe we have made a difference. A legacy is just that: something that can be pointed to that confirms you were here and you mattered. A satisfying retirement is great, but a strong legacy is something really worth striving for.

There are two basic types of legacies. The first involves tangible accomplishments. If you are an artist that's easy. Your paintings, sculptures or photographs will hang on a museum wall or grace people's homes for years into the future. If you are a singer, actor, or writer you will live on in your music, performances, or words.

Maybe your financial status is such that you can create an on-going scholarship at a favorite school or an endowment at the university you attended. You might be able to donate enough money to help fund on-going research into a serious disease. Maybe you established a volunteer organization that continues to help people for years into the future.

For someone who is handy with tools, maybe you built a vacation cabin in the woods, or a canoe that cuts gracefully through the water. Your family and relatives can enjoy what you made and think of you whenever they do.

The second type of legacy is the intangible kind. You have instilled a set of moral and ethical values in your children. You have treated loved ones in such a way that when people remember you those memories are full of joy and fondness.

You have demonstrated through your life the importance of giving back to others, of leaving your little corner of the world just a bit better for you having been here. You have modeled a life worth living and are remembered by your actions, big and small, your beliefs, and your steadfastness. Years after you are gone, someone will mention your name and there will be a smile, or a fond memory, or a confirmation of how you spent your life's time. Maybe there will be the ultimate compliment when someone declares he would like to be like you were.

While both types of legacies have tremendous value, I think most of us have a better shot at creating a life worth remembering when we focus on the intangible characteristics. The good news: it is not too late to start. The bad news: too many of us never start.

The goal of a legacy can't be selfish. If so, it probably won't be very long-lasting. Even the person who donates $5 million to establish a scholarship fund is doing it because she believes her money can benefit more people if she uses it in this way. Will her name be associated with something good? Sure. But, that is not the primary motivator.

If you are remembered for teaching your children how to be responsible, caring, loving parents to their kids your legacy is worthwhile. If you instill a sense of civic responsibility in a child who goes on to help others for the rest of her life, you have created a legacy that is worthwhile.

Maybe your legacy is the guy who always smiled, who was always there to help someone when he was down, who loved others unconditionally. Maybe you were  the first to volunteer whenever your church needed help. You couldn't take off 2 years to join the Peace Corps so you always helped restock the food bank at an inner-city school. You were confined to a wheelchair after an accident. But, instead of being bitter and withdrawn you remained positive and upbeat. You affirmed that there were others in much worse shape than you.

All of us will be remembered for something. How would you like to be remembered for what you do while on this earth? How would you want your memory to affect others? Most of the answers are within your control. A legacy is built on beliefs and attitudes that are translated into actions. Turn your satisfying retirement into a long-lasting legacy. Start today.


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Exciting news: Betty and I will be featured in a national magazine in October. The story will be about folks who despite all the bad economic times are still enjoying a satisfying retirement. More details shortly.

August 21, 2011

None for You This Year !

None what you are asking. What am I suggesting you don't get? Even though it is still several months away, the holiday season always bring with it a spirited debate within our family: should the adults receive gifts from each other? Should we be sure not only our daughters and grandchildren receive wrapped presents to tear into on Christmas, but also the grownups?

I will insert a disclaimer here: Christmas is the holiday we celebrate. Other folks and other cultures celebrate the end of the year in different ways. But, giving gifts is part of many traditions. So, if you don't celebrate Christmas, the following may still resonate with you.

I wonder if this is a common debate. Do other families have the same "discussion" every year about the need, or appropriateness of gifts for the grown ups? The arguments are always the same. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus.It is also a time for family, friends, food, and togetherness. Society has turned it into a frenzy of consumption that we don't want to support.

Or, this is a time when we get to surprise loved ones with gifts that we hope will bring a smile to their face. To give can be even more fun than to receive, but all of us have something that we'd like to find under the tree. It is part of our tradition and good for the kids to see their parents and grandparents getting gifts.

Of course, the amount of money spent on all the gifts seems to increase every year, regardless of what we do to stay within a budget. Sometimes there is a new grandchild. Sometimes a relative or good friend has added a child, husband, or wife to their family and we would like to make them happy. Our extended family seems to "extend" more each year, meaning more presents.

With the economy the way it is, all of these purchases can add up quickly. With all family members on a tight budget, the purchase of presents for everyone can become a real obstacle. Even making gifts has a definite cost: time. With three children under 5, free time is something one of my daughters is seriously lacking when she has tried to make all the presents for everyone.

Beside the cost, the debate seems to be about keeping the focus on the youngsters. They are the ones who are absolutely thrilled by the promise and reality of Christmas morning. They are relatively easy to buy for and easy to please.

At least in our family, adults are much more difficult to buy for. "Practical" usually wins out. That often means sweaters or needed clothing. It often means each grown up is asked what he or she needs/wants within the limits of the budget, so true surprises are rare. The gifts usually is what we'd buy for ourselves at some point in the year anyway.

So, every year we bring out the same arguments and have the same debate: presents for adults, or just the children?  I'm happy to report that this year we may have had a break through. There seems to be universal agreement that adults don't need to receive a few gifts Christmas morning. Instead, there are plans afoot for a grand experience: the parents, our youngest daughter, grandparents, and the three grandkids to spend 3 nights up north in the snow in a rented house. The real thrill for the kids will be a nighttime train trip on "The Polar Express" complete with hot chocolate and snowball fights.

John Robinson's ESL Five blog
Since Betty and I have seen the movie about 700 times we know how big a deal this will be for the grandkids. The cost will be as much as presents for all the adults involved, but the experience will be so much more memorable. Unwrapping a sweater and new belt, or going on the Polar Express and spending 3 nights with family in Flagstaff at Christmas time? That question isn't even worth asking: family and experiences over things every single time.

Tradition is a powerful force. I know. It has taken us many years for us to try something different. What about your family? Do adults still participate in all the unwrapping and gift-giving, or is everything under your tree just for the junior set? I'd love to know if we are with the majority on this, or breaking new, uncharted territory on a choo-choo train.

Don't tell the grand kids...it's a surprise!

Exciting news: Betty and I will be featured in a national magazine in October. The story will be about folks who despite all the bad economic times are still enjoying a satisfying retirement. More details shortly.

August 15, 2011

What Do I Do After Retirement: Start a Business?

The events of the last week or two in the financial world have probably caught your attention. Maybe you are thinking, here we go again. You have just begun to see some light after the mess in 2008-2009 when the hand of fate reaches back down to flip the switch off again with huge stock market swings. Visions of a satisfying retirement begin to evaporate.

Working after retirement was the subject of an earlier post. Click here if you missed it, Choosing to have another job after retirement is no longer uncommon. Some want to work for the satisfaction of accomplishing something. Others work to stay in touch with people. Some haven't developed hobbies or interests that occupy enough of their free time. Of course, as the world economies continue to struggle attempting to find another source of income is important to many of us.

This time I'd like to explore the idea of starting your own business. Maybe that has always been a dream of yours: the corner bookstore or coffee house, the fabric store, a carpet cleaning service, a day care center...whatever has been bubbling in the back of your mind for years. Or, maybe the state of your investments has prompted you to think about this subject for the first time in your life. You have no idea how to start or what to do.

This post is not the place for all the specific legal and financial aspects of starting a business. There are thousands of sites on the Internet to get help with building a business plan or finding investors. My goals are more modest: helping you think through your options. What kind of business makes sense for someone who is retired?

One of the obvious choices is to build on whatever you did before retiring from full time employment. Could you act as a consultant to others in your field of expertise or industry? We tend to think of consultants only for major industries. But, maybe that is too restrictive. Were you employed in a retail establishment? Did you learn the right and wrong ways to display merchandise, the importance of customer service, the ins and outs of pricing and promotion? There are all sorts of mom and pop or smaller retail stores that could benefit from what you know.

Were you a school teacher that learned how to motivate and stimulate your students? Did you master the art of getting a difficult child to suddenly come alive for learning?  There are charter schools that might be looking for just what you could teach them. Tutoring can be both satisfying and lucrative. I could continue, but you see the point. It is a rare employment history that doesn't offer some ability to parlay that experience into a business for others.

Hobbies are another important source for additional income. If you love woodworking could you produce cabinets, tables, chairs, bookshelves, or wall decorations that others would like? Can you make and sell high end quilts? Like me, you may dabble in something like ham radio. Do you know enough to repair electronic equipment? Could you be a private golf tutor for beginners? Look closely at a hobby or passion you already enjoy. Is there a way to turn it into a business?

Franchising is a choice made by many. If you have the money and know something about the business, having a turn-key situation where all product, marketing and legal issues are taken care for you may be your best bet. This is an area where you can make a lot, or lose it all. Research franchising options carefully before moving forward.

Start a blog or web site. Here I can give you a bit of personal advice. It is the rare blog that makes money. Unless the market niche is large and presently undeserved, you will be competing with thousands, maybe millions of others. However, a blog or web site can make nice extra income with the products and services that the blog supports. E-books, newsletters, audio courses, speaking engagements, and consulting arrangements are logical extensions of a blog. If there is a subject you are passionate about and have enough knowledge about to deal with on a daily basis, getting a start in blogging or a web site is inexpensive.

Many folks make anywhere from pocket change to a full income by selling something on eBay. Buy virtually anything from an estate sale or large yard sale, clean up and fix it up a bit, take a photo, write a strong description, and sell it for many times what it cost you. Sell unused things from your attic. I am always amazed at what other folks are willing to pay for. There are all sorts of books and on-line reference sources for making money with ebay.

What about starting a brick-and-mortar business? The reality is a lot of small retail establishments have gone out of business in the last few years, leaving empty storefronts and the possibility of an under-served market. Of course, that business did fail. You would need to determine why. If it was a lack of expertise in that industry, poor merchandising, or service practices, you may be able to succeed where they didn't.

My goal is not to list every option you may have. I worked for several years as a tour guide that gave me an extra $3,000 a year for very easy, seasonal work. I didn't even know there was such a job until I got it! The point is there are opportunities everywhere. If you are serious about starting a business or supplementing your income, now may be a great time.

 I do ask that you leave a comment about a particular business or idea I have not mentioned that you believe strongly in. Let's share possibilities.

What do I do after retirement?  Maybe go back to work. That can be an important part of your satisfying retirement.


Here are some links to web sites that may give you another perspective or idea to pursue.

August 13, 2011

What happened to Second Helpings?

Remember second helpings? When you were younger with a body that would allow you to eat almost anything without gaining an ounce, second helpings were probably quite common. The food was good, you still had room to squeeze in more, and the platter beckoned you to help yourself. You may have felt stuffed when you were finally done, but so what. Life was good.

As we age weight seems to pile on with virtually no effort. We have learned that our body will gain pounds and inches just by thinking about food. Second helpings are a fond memory. We eventually learn to push back from the table.

What about in other things? Have you developed the habit of pushing back from the table of life? Do you "know" that certain things just aren't good for you, or probably not worth the effort? Instead of pounds are you afraid of changing?

If so, you are entirely normal and human. Certainly for me, I went through a period in my life where I became so comfortable with a certain pattern of existence I avoided all change. I wasn't particularly happy with the rut I had parked my life in but I was comfortable, and comfort tends to win. That is sad. When I think back to what could have been during those years, I wish for a magic wand that could give me a partial "do-over."


What was it that kept me living a life that was far less than it could have been? 

  • Fear of change and the risks involved
  • Fear of the unknown. I was doing OK with the known
  • My family seemed to be prospering. Why shake them up?
  • I had to act age-appropriate, didn't I? I had responsibilities
  • I had expenses. The cash flow had to be maintained
  • I knew how to do one thing. What else could I do?

It took a major jolt to my nice, safe, tidy, little world for me to understand I had been pushing back from the table of life for years. What happened? My business died. It faded away to nothing a good 10 years before it was supposed to. I was kicked out of my rut and into retirement before I was ready.

Guess what? I landed feet first with a burst of insight and and clarity that money and security and safeness had been hiding: I disliked what I had been doing and how I was spending my one and only life on earth. I had been avoiding life by pretending to live.

From that moment on, I wanted second helpings. I wanted to repair the damage to my marriage. I wanted friends...lots of them. I wanted to know God and deepen my spiritual side. I wanted to push myself. I wanted second helpings.

The last ten years of retirement have been some of the most satisfying of my 62 years. It took a kick out the door of comfort, but I finally realized how much more I was capable of. The box I had drawn for myself was too small for the person inside. Most of the limits were self-imposed. I had become afraid of stretching myself.

Am I a wild and crazy guy? No. Am I likely to walk across Africa or live in a tent in Alaska during an Arctic winter just to prove I can do it? Not going to happen. Will I surprise myself occasionally by tackling something new and different? Yes, though still not often enough. I am very much a work in progress.

I am willing to bet there are parts of your life that could use a shakeup. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to think of a few ways you want to add a dash of change, a pinch of excitement, and a spoonful of risk to your satisfying retirement day. Come on, admit it, there are times when you really would love going back for second helpings. 



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August 10, 2011

A Real Life Miracle

Health problems are part of life. For whatever reason we were designed with a vulnerable body that over time breaks down, sags, and bags, and finds a million and one ways to disappoint us. Usually, these occurrences happen later in life. With a common sense eating and exercise plan the typical health problems don't start to become evident until our 60's or later. Much of having a satisfying retirement depends on your health in your later years.

Unfortunately, that isn't always the case. Sometimes our body turns on us much earlier. My wife has had a shopping list of ailments since her mid 20's. At 57, she has the health issues of someone much older, but continues to smile and live a full life. 

There is another situation I know quite well that is the focus of this post. It is the true life story of my son-in-law. At 33, his body has been treating him with the utmost disdain for the last several years. It had become so bad that he couldn't get down on the floor to play with his 3 young children. He could do nothing to help around the house. Getting up and going to work was agony. Let me have him tell you a bit about his battles:


"After three years of increasing pain in my right hip, low back, thigh, knee and leg, I resigned myself to living the rest of my life at a pain level of 8 out of 10. This of course affected my relationships with my wife and with my kids. I was also forced to be placed on Intermittent Family and Medical Leave to keep my job safe from pain episodes that prevented me from working. I was pretty much walking around with a cane everyday and in a haze because of pain medication or in intense levels of pain because the medication wore off.

I tried several treatments including physical therapy, water therapy, chiropractic, deep tissue massage, decompression traction, cortisone injections, electric therapy, and reflexology to name a few. I have had every image done to diagnose the problem from x-rays, MRIs, nuclear body scans and ultrasounds all resulting in inconclusive results. Nothing was found. I have taken pain medications from a daily regimen of over the counter pills to all sorts of prescription drugs. I hadn't had a full night's sleep in about 2 years even with pain and sleep medications. Life was deteriorating fast for me and my family."


At this point I will interrupt his story. My wife and I were becoming increasingly worried about his situation. We could see him withdrawing into a shell of pain. He was becoming old right before our eyes. The effect on our daughter and his kids was becoming almost too much to bear. If my son-in-law could no longer work, they were going to be in a world of hurt. OK, back to his story:


"My father told me about about some homeopathic patches that had really benefited his neighbor's wife. I had tried everything modern medicine had to offer and it had failed me. I had nothing to lose. I went to a  pain reduction information session and tried one of these homeopathic patches. Within 15 seconds my pain was reduced from an 8 to a 6. I tried a couple of other patches together and  by the time I left the office I was at a pain level of 4. I hadn't been this free of pain in several years. It was incredible!

I walked in with a cane and walked out without it. I have been on these patches for a few months and the pain remains completely manageable. The patches help with pain levels, reduce inflammation,  reduce my stress and allow me to sleep. I haven't taken any pain medication since using the patches. I have had full nights of sleep without sleep aids. I haven't missed a day of work, I play with my kids and my relationship with my wife has re-blossomed into the relationship it was early in our marriage. My pain now is consistently at a manageable 2 or 3. These patches have changed my life."


As you might imagine, when he first told me about these patches and how they instantly worked for him, my reaction was one of extreme skepticism. Obviously, I have prayed that someone would find out what was causing his decline. But, to think a patch applied to the body would have this incredible power didn't make sense. Don't ask me how they work. I've heard the explanation and it sounds like new age mumbo-jumbo to me. But, these darn things have given my daughter back her husband, my grandkids back their father, and me back my son-in-law.


I will now do something I have rarely done before on this blog: give you a way to learn more if you are interested. I have absolutely no connection with the company marketing these patches. I have no idea how they work, why they work, or whether they work long term.  But in the case of my son-in-law, he got his life back and that is priceless. If you have had a similar problem with a medical issue that no one can solve, or know someone who has and you'd like to learn more, click here. You can contact my son-in-law directly through a link at the top of that page. It should go without saying that I am receiving no compensation for this information and making no claims about its effectiveness for you.

What is the lesson from this story? To me, the important lesson is to never give up. If he had stopped after several years of trying everything normal western medicine had to offer, the effect on many lives would have been heartbreaking. He was desperate enough to try something so far out of the norm that the medical profession can only shake their heads and laugh at the idea. Do I think these patches would work for everyone in all situations? Since I still have no idea how they work I can't answer that. I have no personal experience so I can only observe and react to what I see. But, they worked for my son-in-law. It is a remarkable story and a real life miracle even if I don't understand how it happened. I'm sure he'd be glad to tell you more.

August 5, 2011

Retirement Traveling & Health: What is The Best Balance?

Traveling is one of the joys of the satisfying retirement phase of your life. With few or no commitments to an employer and probably an empty nest, you have much greater freedom to pack up and go. No longer must you travel when everyone else does. Midweek departures or hitting the road while families with kids are tied to home by the school calendar now possible.

Of course, your own preferences, interests, retirement lifestyle and finances have a bearing on what your travel itinerary might look like. My wife and I like a combination of big trips every few years mixed with a healthy dose of long weekends or several-day excursions. Next summer I am hoping to spend at least one month out of the Phoenix heat in Flagstaff. I'll still be only a few hours away from my dad, daughters & families, but quite a bit more comfortable.

We are healthy enough as I write this to not have many travel restrictions. Would I scuba dive like I used to? Probably not. That is pretty strenuous. Would I agree to walk across Ireland? Maybe, depending on the accommodations at the end of each day (no tents!). I prefer to avoid air travel simply because airlines have made that form of transport as legally close to punishment as possible. But, to get to Hawaii in a few months I will put up with 6 hours in a metal tube. Actually, my first choice would be train travel but Amtrak pulled out of Phoenix 15 years ago (how dumb was that?) so that isn't a viable option. That means we usually drive.

For Betty and me the only real restriction at the moment is budgetary. And that really gets me to the core issue of this post. At some point our health will begin to limit our travel options. That is as given. It could be something dramatic that changes our lifestyle completely. More likely it will be a gradual decline in physical strength and abilities. There may come a time when one of us is afraid to have the other in a foreign country where medical care is more of an issue. We may decide to spend as much time as possible with family and friends by staying close to home. My dad's health is declining and I may need to spend substantially more time with him.

But, for now, none of these scenarios is in play. So, should we ignore our carefully planned budget for travel and "go for it" while we can? Should we do all we want even if we have to tap into savings and investments that weren't supposed to be for traveling? Should we live with the worn out carpeting for another few years and put the money into trips? Will we look back at some point and kick ourselves for not having the experiences while we could? Or, will we second guess our decisions to put ourselves in a financial hole that may have serious consequences?

In our household, this is a debate without a firm answer. Overall, we are homebodies. We enjoy where we live and the people who fill our lives with happiness. We have a very active schedule of church, volunteer, and social events most of the year. We buy season tickets to Broadway shows that visit town. I enjoy finding things to do in the area that are different and low cost.

Still, the call of the road is always there. Our wish list includes an Alaskan cruise, a trip back to England and Ireland, a visit to Paris, and a trip on a canal boat in the south of France. New Zealand beckons. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland call to us.

Closer to home we want to spend several weeks exploring the eastern shore of Maryland, driving through the Great Smoky Mountains, taking a train trip across Canada, visiting Montreal and Quebec, re-visiting San Antonio and the River Walk, and driving through Wisconsin and Minnesota. Before it is too late I really want to try living in an RV for at least a month while driving the back roads of America. The reality is all of those goals are not likely to be met because the financial resources just aren't there. So, what do we do?

I guess the most important step is to prioritize this list. In that way, if a health issue arises we will have had the experiences most important to us. Then, we must decide how deeply to dig into our retirement fund to pay for this. At present, we would have to save for one of the expensive trips by taking nothing but small weekend vacations in Arizona or Southern California for 3 years. That means it would take almost 30 years to visit all the places we want to see...obviously not a very workable plan.

Me, contemplating my choices
So, where does that leave us? I don't know. I think this post will trigger some serious discussions in the Lowry household. What would be helpful would be your feedback. If you were in my situation would you take the trips and worry about the expenses later? Would you answer that some trips just aren't doable and we should live within our budget? Would you suggest we accept our homebody tendencies and be happy with our life the way it is?


I hope we have at least another 15-20 years to travel. Now, we just have to decide where.


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August 3, 2011

The "P" Word That Make All The Difference

Sometime last year a comment was left after a post that caught my eye. Jason talked about the need for the three "P" words in life. As far as I am concerned, the first "P" he identified is crucial to a satisfying retirement and a happy life, regardless of your age or employment status. I liked his idea enough to make it the focus of this article.

People. His first word is really the key to everything else. It is not possible to have a life without some interaction with people. The question is what type of interaction will you have? Do you tend to view people as an impediment to your goals and the life you want to lead? Do you look for the advantage or the upper hand in any dealings? Is an exchange with someone else only satisfactory if it is a win for you, and a loss for them? You have 8,000 followers on Twitter and 3,000 "friends" on Facebook so obviously you must be a likable guy.

Do you see people as basically a means to an end for you? You really don't have time, or even the inclination, to develop real friendships. Business relationships are all you need. The hard work of cultivating friendships is something you are just not good at, so why bother.

Or, do you view others as something to be enjoyed and cultivated? Do you view your place in life as someone who is here to help others, even if there is some harm to you. Do you believe that self-sacrifice is a good thing to pursue? Do you believe in the greater good as it relates to people? Do you work to make friendships and strengthen those bonds?

Being quite honest, for a good portion of my life I was like the first description. I was so focused on growing my consulting business that I was a "people user." A client was just a means to an end. He or she made my lifestyle possible. Except for a select few, his personal problems and needs were the farthest thing from my mind. I had virtually no friends during my "civilian" life either. I was acquainted with lots of people, but there wasn't a single one I would have trusted with a dark secret or to help me work through a problem (not counting my wife).

About six years that changed. My wife and I decided to turn our approach around. We had recently changed churches. That gave us the perfect fresh start we needed. We decided we would meet at least one new couple every week after the church service. We would learn their names, drop them an e-mail to say how much we enjoyed meeting them, and then search them out the next Sunday. This continued for 6 months. At the end of that half year, we had developed deep friendships with several couples, and meaningful relationships with dozens of others, both couples and single folks.

That leap off the deep end for us has changed our lives. I now see people as fascinating and worthwhile. I make it a point to be the first to shake a hand. I have become involved in volunteer activities with people who I would have completely ignored in the past. People in jobs or situations that would have been invisible to me are every much as deserving of my time and attention. My life (and that of Betty) has been enriched beyond measure by opening our minds and our eyes to that glorious feast known as humanity.

Does it take being retired to accept this view of people? Of course not. I was self-centered and fearful of rejection. It had nothing to do with whether I got a paycheck.  But, what I have learned is almost everyone has that same fears.  Most of us want a deeper connection and more meaningful relationships. But many of us are too worried about exposing vulnerabilities.

Can I ask you to try something? Promise yourself that between now and the end of the year, you will take these next five months to try my experiment. You will deliberately and consciously seek out new people. You will be the first to introduce yourself in a social setting. You will give every person you meet the benefit of the doubt: that they are worthy of your time and concern until proven otherwise.

If you seriously commit to trying this, I will promise you that your life will not be the same. You will gain self-confidence and energy. You will have added dozens, if not hundreds of people to your "I know him/her" roster. And, if you are really lucky, you will have found a few people who enrich your days and fill your life with joy.

Oh, the two other "P" words? Passion and Purpose. Both are important but can't come before People.


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August 1, 2011

What's Best: A Retirement Community or Aging in Place?

One of the most important decisions that must be made at some point is where to live for a satisfying retirement. Previous posts have addressed some of the factors you should consider when making that initial decision. Links to these are available under Related Posts and Links at the end of this post.

This time I would like to look at some of the types of housing choices that you could face. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. One may be better than another depending on your health, your financial resources, your closeness to family and their willingness to be involved in your care.

For many retirees, aging in place is the preferred choice. Simply, this means the best place to retire is where you live now for the foreseeable future. The reason are numerous. Maybe you have no mortgage and the home is yours free and clear. That is a major recurring expense that you do not have to worry about. It can also be the source of substantial equity you could tap in a reverse mortgage. You raised your family in that house. Your memories, and theirs, are tied to that home. It is is more than four walls, it is where people come to feel safe and loved.

Your friends and your church are close. The neighborhood is like an old shoe: you know where to shop, where the doctor's office is, which coffee shop is least crowded on a Monday morning, and where to get your car repaired. You can't even imagine the hassle of packing up everything you'll accumulated over the last umpteen years and starting all over again.

The disadvantages, unfortunately, are not trivial. It is a fact that at some point you are likely to need help with your care. The day you can no longer drive, that home becomes a prison unless you are lucky enough to be near mass transportation or have friends and family willing to become your wheels. The mortgage may be paid, but a house needs maintenance as long as it is standing. A new roof, paint job, furnace or windows won't wait. The crack in the sidewalk needs patching. The sprinkler system has a leak somewhere. As you become older, help in basic physical needs may be an unpleasant reality. Counting out pills, help with personal hygiene and meal preparation are needs that must be met. If your home is two-story it is likely there will come a day when getting up those stairs becomes impossible.

Another choice is a Continuing Care Community (CCC). In this environment you pay to move into a community that includes independent living, assisted living, and nursing home facilities.  The advantages are many. Once accepted you are guaranteed  a place to live and be cared for the rest of your life. The communities are usually safe and well-maintained. All maintenance, both inside and outside your living area are taken care of. Medical staff and emergency personnel are available 24 hours day. Transportation within the community and to local shopping or doctor offices is often provided.  

Disadvantages primarily involve the cost. For a well-run community expect to pay at least $200,000 entry fee and a monthly rent of at least $2,000. High end communities that feel more like resort living may be substantially pricier. Some extra services or specialized needs you have will cost extra. If you change your mind or want to move somewhere else, your initial investment is probably lost.

Somewhere between aging in place and a continuing care community is an age-restricted community. Because of various exceptions in the law, it is legal to require someone to be older than a certain age to purchase property in places like Sun City. Usually this type of "active adult community" includes lots of recreational and educational opportunities but is not equipped to provide assisted living or nursing care on site. Usually you will require a car for the majority of your transportation needs. Depending on your preferences, not having younger families or folks in their 30's and 40's living their may be great for you, or may leave you feeling cut off from normal society.

By no means am I an expert on all the factors that you should consider in making such an important decision on the best place to retire. My parents lived in both an age-restricted community and then, as they looked ahead to health challenges, moved into a continuing care community where my dad continues to live after my mom died last December. Both choices worked out well for them and my family. I will be eternally thankful that they planned ahead and moved into the CCC while still able. It is quite likely that my wife and I will move to the same location at some point in the future so we don't burden our kids with declining health issues.

It isn't an easy subject to think about, but it is part of life. Wait too long, and the decision may be made for you. Where do you stand? Have you made your decision yet? Are you still thinking through all your options?


Related Posts and Links: