November 30, 2011

Retirement and Simple Living

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

What is the attraction? It could be a desire to spend more time on things you like. Travel, becoming deeply involved in gardening or photography are more fun than constantly dusting, cleaning, repairing, and maintaining stuff you own. Living a simpler life has strong appeal for many. Eliminate things that take you away from what you really enjoy. Get back to basics. Play that creative music that is inside you.

I have found a tremendous interest in this topic among readers of the Satisfying Retirement blog. To have a happy retirement lifestyle you must have a firm handle on your finances. You may be looking to move to a smaller home or condo and aren't sure how you decide what stuff to get rid of. Maybe you are tired of all the work lots of possessions entail. Whatever the motivation, simple living strikes a real chord for many.

Most of the things listed here I have been doing for quite some time. There are a few recent additions as I have become more sensitive to the negative impact an overly consumptive lifestyle has on the planet and my own happiness.

I don't enjoy shopping so I don't buy much. I shop when I must for what I need. To some people, shopping is a form of entertainment or relaxation. To me it is a chore to be completed as quickly as possible. That saves me money and clutter. Maybe this is a guy thing, but I avoid malls. Clothing covers me and keeps me warm or cool. That's it. For me clothing is not a fashion statement or an indicator of my economic status. If it performs its function, is within my budget, and I need it, then I buy it.

A car is transportation. It takes me from point A to Point B with a minimum amount of fuss. It must be dependable, relatively safe, and have good air conditioning (this is Phoenix after all). Its year, make and model don’t really matter. Even the color is not terribly important (ask my wife about the baby blue Mustang I had in 1976).

I use it up, wear it out. Only then do I replace it. If something does what I need it to I don't feel the need for a replacement that does it 2 seconds faster, or is in a different color. I don't even require it to have all its parts as long as it still works.

We repaint, re-purpose, reuse. My wife is amazingly creative in looking at something and finding a whole new use for it. We find it much more satisfying to do that than simply throw something away that can be used in another way.

I buy very few books or new music. I read books constantly and listen to lots of music. I just don't feel the need to own them. That's what libraries are for. That's what the Internet offers. Part of that belief came during my radio days. I was given thousands of free CDs (I still have most of them). So, I got out of the practice of buying music and never regained the habit. Of the books I did own, I got rid of 80% of them. I realized I would never re-read them. All they did was take up space and get dusty. Someone else might enjoy them. So, I took many of them to a used bookstore for credit, and donated the rest to charity. Then my wife re-purposed the bookcases!

We use our own photos and painting to decorate. My wife and I like to take photographs and she is a painter and mixed media artist. Why buy someone else's work to decorate our home? We have the photos blown up and framed, or printed on canvas. Her paintings grace several walls in the home. It is much more satisfying to be surrounded by something you created.

Simplify lawn and yard work. Over the last few years I have cut back considerably on the number of potted plants I maintain. It was getting to be a chore, not a pleasure. We converted most of our bushes and shrubs to low water, low maintenance varieties. This saves time and money.

Cook enough at once for two meals. It is very unusual for us to make a dinner that doesn't produce enough leftovers for another time. And, if an ingredient is required for a meal we find another recipe that requires the same stuff so it doesn't go to waste. 


....this is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my e-book, Building a Satisfying Retirement: How to Make the Most of This New Stage of Your Life. There are eight chapters full of practical, actionable information, whether you are a few years away from retirement, or have already started this exciting new phase of life.

I ask that you consider buying a copy for yourself, or someone else, this holiday season. The book is available through Amazon by clicking here.

Don't worry if you don't own a Kindle. A free reader for your PC can be downloaded here. Apps for your iphone and Android phones are also available at no cost.

 Building A Satisfying Retirement is available for just $3.99.

Your definitive guide to a successful retirement lifestyle..download yours today for just $3.99. If you are an Amazon Prime member you can "borrow" the book for free!

November 28, 2011

How Much is Enough Money to Retire Comfortably?


The quick answer is, no one knows, including you.The amount you need to retire comfortably and live a satisfying retirement lifestyle is dependent on so many variable that a definitive answer is impossible. That doesn't stop all sorts of web sites, blog posts, financial advisors, and others from giving you their opinion. I caution you to use what you learn in this manner only as a piece of the total puzzle, not the ultimate solution. It shouldn't be surprising that I am not going to give you a hard and fast number either. But, I am willing (or foolish enough) to take a look at some of the factors that will help you arrive at the "magic" number for you.


What is First?


The first step to to assess your expected income. While many of us lived our working lives spending more than we made, that was dangerous then, and fatal now. Once you retire, if you spend more than you have resources to support you could be in big trouble. Why? Simply because you cannot predict the future: what will happen to your income stream, your health, even how long you will live.

Retirement income comes from several sources. For most folks your pension, 401(k), IRA, annuities (a contract between an individual and an insurance company promising lifelong income in exchange for an upfront payment), and other investments will be an important source of financial support. Take the time to figure out exactly what you have and what they are likely to produce for you on a consistent basis. If you are unsure, now is the time to get a firm grasp on your assets, and make any adjustments as needed.

Based on those sources, you can use a basic retirement withdrawal calculator to predict how long the money will last if you withdrawal a certain amount each month. As you do so, don't forget to factor in your best guess for inflation, whether you want to leave money to family, any tax consequences, and appreciation of hard assists, like art or classic autos.

Social Security is another pillar of your financial house. The government web site provides a calculator that allows you to predict what your monthly checks will be, depending on when you begin accepting checks. If you missed it, read a post from last month, Social Security: Help Me Decide.

Do you expect any inheritance from a parent or relative? While I strongly suggest you don't count on this money for part of your planning, knowing it may be there for you at some point in the future allows you to make "what if" plans.


It is Budget Time

Next, develop a retirement budget. You will have certain expenses that continue whether you are working or not.  If you own a home property taxes aren't about to cease. Cars will probably be needed well into your satisfying retirement; remember to plan for both repair and replacement. Food, utilities, vacations, health care costs, clothing...these things will continue.

What will take some real thought on your part is the shape you want your retirement to take. Do you have plans to travel extensively or buy a vacation home near that favorite lake or ocean? Do you want to see family members on a more regular basis which means more travel? Is an RV and the open road calling you?

Or, are you anticipating a simpler lifestyle, one that keeps you closer to home. Are you content to explore opportunities to become involved and volunteer in your own backyard? Are you thinking of downsizing your living space to save expenses and work?

What about adult children or parents? Will they be part of your life both in terms of time and expenses? Should you budget for extra money in case your parents end up needing substantial financial support?

Obviously, a large factor is deciding which of these retirement lifestyles (or a combination of them) you plan for is determined by your income. I've always wanted an RV, but the budget to buy and maintain one doesn't exist. I'd spend my summers in Flagstaff but responsibilities to my Dad make even that 2 hour distance not feasible at this time. I retired before my financial foundation was where I expected it to be. Through a conservative lifestyle and prudent budgeting things are just fine. But, I determined early on the champagne lifestyle wasn't going to happen on my beer and wine budget.


Things Change: Plan For It

Importantly, my desires for that lifestyle have changed. It no longer appeals to me. Being home, with family and friends is what makes a satisfying retirement for me now. Volunteer work with the prison ministry organization, lots of time spent involved with church, and the simple pleasures of reading, hiking, and enjoying all Arizona has to offer are what I aspire to know.

The bottom line for you: pick the lifestyle you think you want to retire to and budget for it. If the numbers work for you, great. If they don't figure out where you can prune while still maintaining what is most important. But, don't be surprised if your goals change as you move through this stage of life. It is the rare person who can predict at the beginning of retirement what his or her interests and desires will be 10 or 15 years down the road.

One more hint: I believe there are two retirement lifestyles: early and later. If you love to travel and explore you are much more likely to do that in the first decade or two of retirement. If you want to scuba dive the ship wrecks off the coast of Bermuda, don't wait too long (I've done that and it is a blast!). That means your budget will show dramatic shifts over time. What you set aside for travel in the early phase will taper off, to be replaced with higher expenses in health care or maybe dining out.

How much money is enough to retire comfortably? The simple answer is enough to allow you to live the way you would like to at each stage of your retirement lifestyle tempered by the reality of your financial foundation.

The real answer is not one really knows, including you, until you are in the midst of it. The best you can do is plan well, adjust as needed, and be happy with what you have. The most miserable risk in retirement is not running out of money, it is running out of the joy and satisfaction that retirement can mean for you.


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November 25, 2011

Working after Retirement...What Do You Do?

A growing number of retired folks are either working or considering that step. The reasons are as varied as we are, but generally involve either a financial  need or a desire to use skills and talents as part of their satisfying retirement. Working for a retail or service industry is often the most obvious choice. Others have decided this is the perfect time to start a business. If you missed my post on starting a business after retirement, click here.


What Do You Do?

We are all interested in what others do with their time in retirement. One of the most viewed posts I have written has been So, What Do You Do All Day? That is one of the first questions all of us ask someone we have just met: "What do you do?"  Saying, "I'm retired" will usually prompt the person to wonder how you fill your day. I'm asking that question now, specifically about working after retirement.

I'll go first. Since retiring 10 years ago to I was a part time tour guide for almost five years. This job involved taking groups of visiting business people, in town for a convention or sales seminar, horseback riding, kayaking down the Salt River, taking part in a cattle drive or biking through the dessert. It meant taking bus loads of folks to desert cookouts or fancy dinners at a 5 star resort. Often I'd be stationed at the airport greeting folks as they arrived in Phoenix and helping them get their luggage and then onto the bus to their hotel. The work was simple, paid well and had flexible hours. I was able to use my people and organizational skills and take part in activities I'd normally not be part of.


How do you generate extra retirement income?

Now, your turn.  We'd be quite interested in what you have done to re-join the work force, either full or part time. What different types of jobs have you tackled since retiring? Have you worked at a big box store, a small local retailer? Maybe it has been at a grocery store, or a delivery service. Some folks I know drive shuttle buses around town or at the airport.

Have you started your own business? That could be anything from selling some of your wood cabinets or handmade quilts, to becoming a consultant or launching a carpet cleaning company. Is it a full time or part time effort for you? How has it worked for you so far? 

If you want to work again but are unsure what to do, here is a great web site that lists 100 retirement business ideas. Some these might be perfect for you, or at least jump-start your own ideas.


Does being a volunteer count?

Importantly, the definition of working after retirement doesn't have to mean getting paid. Volunteer work can be every bit as time consuming as a paid position and an important part of a satisfying retirement lifestyle.

On the volunteer side of things I have been a tour guide at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's home in Scottsdale. For the last few years I have been heavily involved in prison ministry, working with a Christian organization that mentors men and women both inside prison and after release. I find volunteering to be immensely fulfilling.

What have you done as a volunteer that you could share? Your experiences could easily prompt someone to become involved in their local community. Volunteering is a tremendous way to use your skills to help others and feel good, too.


Your Turn: I really want your input!

OK, now please fill up the comment box below. Tell us about what type of work you have taken on since retiring. It can be full or part time, for someone else or your own efforts to bring in more money. Have you gone back to work and then re-retired?

Has any volunteer work you have tackled been especially meaningful to you? Can you suggest ways for the rest of us to get involved and make where we live a better place?

I am looking forward to some tremendous ideas.

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November 23, 2011

Feeling Blessed

First Greece causes the world to hold its collective breath. Then, Italy has economic markets in a tizzy until its Prime Minister is forced out the door.  Portugal and Spain continue to twist in the wind. Waking up to the seemingly endless financial mess the world is in can become depressing rather quickly. As someone wanting to retire at some point, or already trying to put together a satisfying retirement, you may wonder if anyone is not only weathering the storm, but enjoying life.

A friend who reads this blog remarked the other day that I am really living the satisfying retirement lifestyle I write about. I thanked him for the compliment, but wanted more details. Since it is my life, I don't have the ability to step back and look at it like an outsider does. He reminded me of a few of things we had talked about recently:
  1. My trip to Maui where my wife and I spent a fabulous 18 days totally relaxing and forgetting the real world's problems for awhile.
  2. Enjoying a free outdoor concert near our home that featured a 30 piece orchestra & band performing 30 Beatle songs in a tribute concert.
  3. Having lunch at an outside cafĂ© and spending a sunny afternoon at the Desert Botanical Gardens, looking at the incredible display of cactus, succulents, and wildflowers, and endless people watching.

When I got home I thought about his observation. I stopped checking the stock market and reading the world news to remember some of the things I had been able to do in the past few weeks:


  • Going to a movie with friends on a Friday afternoon while the rest of the world waited for 5 PM to start their weekend, followed by a dinner of happy hour appetizers while we caught up on each others' lives.
  • Enjoying a free admission day at the Phoenix Art Museum to see the new Western Art exhibit
  • Watching the Blue Man Group perform in Tempe: a 90 minute extravaganza of inventiveness and energy.
  • Having two sets of friends over for dinner two nights in a row, and really enjoying the time together to talk.
  • Hosting a Bible study at our house and making new friends
  • Taking the grandkids door-to-door on Halloween and loving that my granddaughter insisted on holding my hand all night.

My friend was absolutely right: my lifestyle was matching what I write about. Obviously the trip to Maui was expensive and ate up our vacation budget for a few years. The Blue Man group cost about $65 for tickets but worth every penny. Everything else though was free or low cost. For whatever reason I like finding things to do that are fun, free, and give my wife and me a new experience.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is four days of family, food, relaxation, and no gift-giving pressure. I refuse to participate in the insanity of Black Friday. In fact, unless it is to visit family I make it a point to not leave the house. My life is blessed. I know that and I thank God everyday for it. I also know it could be taken away from me, or someone I love, in an instant so I take no precious moments for granted. It is truly a satisfying retirement life.


I wish for you and your family a happy, joyous, and peaceful Thanksgiving weekend. Whatever your circumstances you have something to be thankful for. Dwell on that for awhile.

November 21, 2011

Retirement? We Are On Our Own

The "Super Committee" became the "Super Dud" when 12 politicians couldn't put their differences aside long enough to accomplish anything other than sound bites and finger pointing. In a turn of developments almost mind-numbing in its disregard for the will of the the people to tame the deficit, some in Congress now propose to soften the automatic cuts that are triggered by the committee's failure. In a case of "we really didn't mean to show any backbone," now that they are facing the reality of massive, across the board cuts in about a year, there is a movement to change the rules of the very game they invented and passed into law just a few months ago.

This is not a rant, nor a political post. There is more than enough blame to go around. The Republicans and Democrats are failing us in a way their election-centric brains can't even recognize. But, what is becoming more clear with each passing dose of stupidity from Washington is that we, as retirees or wanna be retirees, are really on our own. We can't count on our "leaders" to do the right thing. So, let's proceed from the very logical position that any hope of having a satisfying retirement is largely up to us.

Financially, we must take control of our own money. If your bank is treating you poorly or layering on the fees, move to another bank or credit union. If you are comfortable with an Internet bank, go for it. If you have a financial advisor or stock broker, are you confident he or she understands your desires, your risk tolerance, and your goals? Sit down with them and review your account. Question everything that doesn't make sense to you. If you are unhappy give that person new marching orders or switch to someone else.

We can't afford to be uninformed about the world of money. If you don't use a budget, start. If you have no idea how much interest your credit card company charges, find out. If you don't understand your pension or IRA, use the Internet to get educated. If you don't understand some aspect of the financial world that affects you, ask questions and get answers you can understand. If you still believe these folks are really looking out for your best interests and ignorance is bliss, then you are likely heading toward a rude awakening.

The government may be unable to figure out how to tame a deficit, but luckily we are quite a bit smarter. We can choose to not spend more than we make. It is easy to eliminate things from our life that cost more than they are worth to us. We  understand we can't afford every want when we want it. Instant gratification is a freeway to financial ruin. Simplifying our lifestyle, cooking more meals at home, using coupons and shopping grocery store specials can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year. We know a 50" LED TV won't really make us any happier than last year's 42" model. We know we can do just fine without the newest 4G smart phone.

What are your health care options? For many of us, the choices are poor: no coverage, expensive coverage with more holes than swiss cheese, or hoping to make it until Medicare or the health care law changes, in whatever their final form, take effect. Have you researched all your options? Are you waiting for Washington to solve the problems? It isn't likely to happen anytime soon.

Many drug store chains offer all sorts of free or discounted tests at various times of the year. Hospitals often sponsor health fairs that have free testing. Take full advantage of these offers. A no-cost blood or colon cancer test can save you hundreds of dollars, and more importantly, your life. Free glaucoma screening could undercover a problem before you lose your eyesight. Watch the paper and check on the Internet for these opportunities. We can, and must take more responsibility for our health and its care.

We control how much we spend on travel, leisure, and entertainment. Leading a satisfying retirement is really about making smart choices. If you have saved enough money for the 12 day Caribbean cruise and it is important to you, take it. If you don't have the money, then stay off the ship. Spend the time finding things going on around you that are free or very low cost. I am lucky to live in a major metropolitan area that, on any given night of the week, has dozens of free or nearly free music events, plays, art exhibits, lectures or films to choose from. Unlike the government, I don't spend money I don't have but I can be as entertained and stimulated as I choose to be. 

Obviously, there are critical parts of our retirement life that are out of our control. We have little say in what ultimately happens to the deficit debacle. The AARP notwithstanding, if there are going to be cuts in Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid coverage we will have no choice but to adapt. Taxes may go up and deductions down. We can adjust our way to living to a degree to make those changes less damaging, but ultimately we will pay the bill.

At least at this moment, I don't expect the government to make the smart and painful decisions required. I imagine we will have to get to the point where many European countries are before the politics stops and the triage starts.

Fortunately, I also believe that I, and you, can do a lot on our own to make our retirement as good as it can be. Attitude is free and makes a world of difference. We control more of our own destiny than we may think. Washington is telling us, as clearly as they can, that we are responsible for much of our fate. We are on our own and I am glad. I have faith in me.

The Core of Retirement Creativity

The core of creativity is a sense of curiosity. Without wondering  how things work, how something is made, or how to improve a task, creativity isn't needed. Curiosity is what pushes you to learn something new or try a different way of solving a problem on your journey to your satisfying retirement.

It can be as simple as wondering what would happen if you added rosemary and salsa to the recipe, or tried to grow a tomato in a pot on the porch. It could be as as complicated as building a kiln and learning how to fire pottery. It could be as mundane as finding a new way to organize your daily chores so you finish sooner.

The point is creativity covers virtually every aspect of our life. Only when we construct a comfort zone and place a wall around our ideas does creativity stop.Then you meet no new people, you experience no new sensations, and you try no new way to solve a problem. At that point what happens is your life begins to die just a little every day.

Author Jordan Ayan in his book, Aha! uses a strong image to describe the curiosity that is the driving force behind creativity. He says to think of a funnel. Through the hole at the bottom of the funnel flows what you know. The main body of the funnel holds what you know you don't know. Finally, above the top of the funnel lies what you don't know you don't know. That is the part you explore when you become curious. 

There are several characteristics a curious person possesses. The first is openness. This is the willingness to respect something new and accept a different way of doing something. It is being open to new people, thoughts, and things. Another important characteristic is the ability to accept ambiguity. If an answer to a problem or a fresh idea isn't immediately available, a curious person is OK with that. The lack of certainty is the opening for creativity to begin.

The acceptance of risk is important. This isn't the type of risk involved in betting everything on a spin of the roulette wheel, or jumping out of a third story window to see what happens. It means being OK with failure. It means risking that you might look less than perfect. It also means taking the risk that you will discover something new and exciting. Another quality of the curious is energy. Mr. Ayan talks about not just the physical energy to work at a task. There is the mental energy to think through a problem or confront something unknown. There is the energy of passion that drives you forward.

Optimism is a characteristic that I believe to be essential. This is the belief that whatever is being done will ultimately pay off. While failure may happen again and again as new ideas are explored, that is OK. Each wrong approach gets you closer to the right one. Even if the entire experience does not end in the result you want the process was still rewarding. That is optimism. The exciting thing about discovering your own creativity is once you start it is almost impossible to stop. Each new discovery opens up a new inspiration or approach. Each step forward makes it easier to take the step after that. Creativity begins to feed on itself.


....this is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my e-book, Building a Satisfying Retirement: How to Make the Most of This New Stage of Your Life. There are eight chapters full of practical, actionable information, whether you are a few years away from retirement, or have already started this exciting new phase of life.

I ask that you consider buying a copy for yourself, or someone else, this holiday season. The book is available through Amazon by clicking here.

Don't worry if you don't own a Kindle. A free reader for your PC can be downloaded here. Apps for your iphone and Android phones are also available at no cost.






November 19, 2011

Is Starting a Blog Right For You?

I originally posted this article a little over a year ago. At that point I had been writing Satisfying Retirement for just a few months. Readership was low and it was the rare post that generated many comments. This is one that did.  Since I have lots of new readers since then (bless you!), I thought I'd rerun it to see if fresh comments would add something new to the discussion.

Plus, blogging is one of the activities that retired folks often consider. In addition to social media, like Twitter or Facebook, blogging ranks very high in a new activity. Maybe my motivations will help you decide is this is a good fit for you.



Should you consider blogging? That is a good question. I saw some statistics recently that would scare off a saner person:
  • Up to 80% of Blogs are abandoned within the first month
  • 20% of bloggers update their blog every single day
  • There are over 130 million blogs on the Internet
  • There are over 187 million domain names registered
(since I first wrote this the numbers are even more staggering..now over 400 million blogs exist, though many are inactive or have been abandoned)


So what is the attraction of getting involved in something that has an 80% failure rate, requires lots of time, puts me in competition with a huge number of people, and produces no income? Couldn't I find something else to do with my time? At least as of today, my answer is "No." Maybe you will see a reason that prompts you to enter this fascinating world.


I have a desire to write and blogging satisfies that need. My favorite courses in high school and college were those involving creative writing. It took me nearly seven years but I finished and self-published an Arizona travel book for family and friends. For awhile last year I took part in a writing group that met twice a month. I didn't stick with the group, but it re-lit my passion to write. All I lacked was a direction and an outlet I would enjoy. I found it in blogging.



Blogging can occur on a flexible schedule. Blogging can take a lot of time. Like any new hobby or pursuit there is a learning period that gobbles up the hours. Writing doesn't flow from my keyboard. Sometimes it is a real struggle to fill a page with something I am willing to put in front of others. But, I can decide when I want to sit down and churn out an article. Some days I tackle writing first thing in the morning. Some times I'll be ready to write after after dinner. This post is being written at 9 PM because I had other stuff on my schedule today.

It encourages interacting with other people. There is a lot of people blogging. Many are willing to share ideas or help newcomers avoid proven pitfalls. I have found virtually everyone I have come in contact on the Internet is friendly and anxious to develop a relationship with other bloggers. They may be virtual friends, but friends they are.


There is a rush when something I have written generates comments from readers. The feedback from this type of writing is virtually instantaneous. I can post something on this blog and often within an hour someone has left a comment. Something I have written has meant enough to someone else to take the time to leave their thoughts. That feels good.

Of course, the flip side also occurs. I have written some posts I thought were pretty good only to have virtually no reaction and very few readers That is frustrating and disappointing. But, I quickly remind myself that no one owes me anything. I am blogging because it satisfies a need in me. The poor response prompts me to take a critical look at the article and the subject matter to see what I can improve the next time.

There is the thrill of learning something new. Six months ago I had no idea what a blog was or how one was created. I didn't understand the language or the process. I had heard of Twitter but I thought it was for teenagers. I had no idea how powerful it can be to promote something like a blog. Successful bloggers have learned certain tricks of the trade that were totally alien to me.


Learning how to participate in this world and at least hold my own has been exciting. I need the constant stimulation of a new challenge. Learning how to build this blog has been the challenge I was seeking. I am learning something new almost every day which makes each day exciting and a joy.


Blogging can help others. Before starting I spent several weeks trying to decide what my blog's niche should be. Eventually it became clear that the only topic that I could really share anything of value was something to do with retirement. After almost a decade of figuring out what works and what to avoid, I thought I might have enough to offer others. 


There are literally thousands of blogs about retirement, and at least 80% of them deal with money and financial planning. I decided to pick an area that seemed undeserved: how to build a retirement lifestyle that is productive and satisfying. Feedback and comments seem to validate that choice. There is a real hunger for information and tips to make this phase of life a positive one. There seems to be an interest in hearing about my experiences in this journey. If what I pass along helps, the time and effort will be well worth it.


I don't know how long I will keep writing Satisfying Retirement. At some point maybe the thrill will be gone and I will move on to something else. But, at the moment that is the farthest thing from my mind. I am having a blast and have no intension of going anywhere.


If you are thinking maybe blogging would fill a need in you, by all means go for it. There is virtually no cost, except in time and taking an ego hit now and then. The blogging world remains wide open to someone with an itch to write and a story to share.




Note: Since I wrote this  in early November, 2010 nothing has really changed. I continue to enjoy the process and effort required to produce this blog. I encourage you to try your hand at blogging about a subject that is your passion or your area of expertise. Here is an open-ended offer: I'll be pleased to help you pick a topic and work through the steps involved in becoming one of many - a blogger.


If you are a blogger (and most of my readers are), add your two cents worth. What do you enjoy, and what do you dislike about producing a blog? If you had it to do over again, would you? What keeps you going?  Do you encourage others to give it a try?

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November 17, 2011

It Only Takes A Few Minutes

The world is a scary and upsetting place. The amount of bad news overwhelms any stories that may cheer you up. One gets the feeling we are intent on destroying ourselves. Being in a non-stop political campaign doesn't help since the entire thrust is for one side to declare the other is working  to ruin our way of life and is evil personified.

Live long enough and you learn to take most of that with a very large grain of salt. Unless you are convinced there is a grand conspiracy at work, you begin to filter out the most extreme stuff. Frankly, if you intend to have a satisfying retirement (or a satisfying anything) you have to, or your ability to enjoy life will be at risk.

This year, I have taken a few simple steps to eliminate some of the negative clutter in my life. I have developed a filtering system to cut back on the stuff that drives me crazy. If you find yourself dwelling on the bad stuff too much, maybe some of this will work for you.

I have pruned back the list of blogs I read and follow. Too many of them spend too much time ranting about the unfairness of life, the dysfunctional political system, or the need to blame someone for their plight. Filling my in-box and my mind with that drivel every day obviously was going to affect my attitude. One blogger, in particular, has had a tough run of luck and circumstances the past several years. But, the lashing out at everyone and everything was getting to me. This person has more issues than a magazine. When I realized I feared seeing a new post in my blog reader,  it was time to stop reading. While what this person wrote about was often true, the vitriolic approach was not contributing to my day.

Other bloggers were a bit less angry, but nevertheless were not leaving me in a good frame of mind. I know things are screwed up and I am every bit as upset as anyone. But, pouring that anger into my head from all sorts of sources wasn't helping. So, I cut out the blogs that hurt rather than helped me.

Regular readers know I canceled cable TV last spring. I wasn't watching enough to justify the cost and the quality of a lot of the programming was dreadful, insulting, and sometimes disgusting. Reality TV shows are often designed to provoke the worst in both the performers and viewers. The news channels have staked out a part of the political turf and allowed no other viewpoint to grow. Prime time TV is either about sex, violence, or sex. By walking away  my life was instantly improved. Not only did I gain a few hours a night that was wasted, but my attitude improved. "Must-see TV" became a "Must-not for me."

I have found I am spending more time with people who enrich my life and less time with those who don't. These folks add warm, love, spiritual support, and encouragement when I am with them. They avoid spending time on negative or divisive issues. Even though several of my friends and I are on very different ends of the political spectrum, we care enough about our time together that we don't allow those differences to become a wedge between us. Plus, we agree about so much more than a political issue or a social concern it would be a shame to let the disagreements sour the entire relationship. We choose to be positive with each other.

Lastly, though actually this is most important, I have made a personal promise to myself to be a better companion to my wife. After 35 years we know each other well. But, I am not the most demonstrative person when it involves " romance" stuff. Even though I know my wife craves it, I am stingy with the things that she desires. Being not much brighter than a box of rocks, I have realized that such an attitude bring down two people - her and me. And, that is just stupid. The environment around the house is so much more pleasant if I simply make the effort to give her what she needs. I do draw the line at dancing, but everything else is open for modification. Since I have taken this new tack, the Lowry household is sooo much more enjoyable.

We can't control many things in our life. Coming down with a serious disease is usually nothing we can prevent. Often our employment is in someone else's hands. Having a roof torn off in a big storm is going to happen no matter how much you wish it didn't.

But, you can control some of the things that affect your happiness. To not deal with the things you can to improve your life is, well, just silly. It took me good chunks of this year to figure out the negative triggers in my life that I wanted gone. Then, it took a matter of minutes to come up with a solution. Do you want a more satisfying life? What are you waiting for? The clock is ticking.




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November 15, 2011

My 2012 budget...The First Draft

With Thanksgiving a week away and the end of the year just five weeks after that (Where oh where did 2011 go?) it is time to start looking at next year's budget to keep my satisfying retirement on track. There is enough information on what I've spent so far this year to project what categories will need to be adjusted.

In July I wrote about the categories that are in my personal budget in the post Jumping off the Financial Cliff Without a Net.  I'll use the same ones to see how things went this past year and what changes I should make.


Housing
  • Mortgage payments: I own my home so no payments No change
  • Real Estate Taxes:  should be somewhat lower next year due to decreased valuation of the home in 2010 (always lags by 2 years)  Reduce by 5%
  • Home Owners Insurance:  very stable over the last few years. No change.
  • Utilities: electric, gas, water, sewer/trash pickup  will go up.  Increase 10%
  • Home maintenance and repairs:  under budget this year, but house is one year older. Will hold with no change

Domestic

  • Food and household supplies: under budget this year due to smarter shopping and coupon use, Expect food prices to continue to rise. Increase 10%
  • Internet and cable TV: doubt cable company will raise rates again. Too much pressure from other choices. No change
  • Cell phones: expect wife to get a smart phone. Will increase costs by $35 a month. Increase 25%
  • Decorations & furnishings: under budget this year. Don't need much in way of new furnishing or planting. No change.
  • Yard service:  No change

Personal
  • Clothing purchases: slightly under budget for year. Don't need much beyond basics. No change
  • Dry Cleaning/Laundry:  budget for entire year is $90 and only spent a little more than half that. Reduce by 30%
  • Entertainment: under budget for this year but purchased theater tickets for 2012. No change
  • Dining Out:  will be right on budget. No change
  • Auto gas, repairs, insurance, registration: bad year for cars - 36% over budget. Gas will go up. Increase 20%
  • Health insurance premiums, uncovered expenses, co-pays:   15% over budget this year even though I planned for an 18% increase in premiums. Increase 30%
  • Health supplies over-the-counter vitamins & medicines: slightly under budget. No change
  • Eyeglasses: neither of us are scheduled for new glasses next year. No change
  • Haircuts & beauty salon:  a bit under budget because I went five weeks between haircuts instead of four. No change


Miscellaneous
  • Gifts: under budget since decided to not exchange presents between adults at Christmas. Still over budget slightly due to unexpected wedding and baby showers. Reduce by 25%
  • Computer purchase, repair, software: way over budget due to replacing crashed computer, new printer, and a few external hard drives. I will need a new computer next year. Increase 20%
  • Subscriptions, postage stamps: under budget due to canceled subscriptions. Reduce by 15%
  • Charity:  on budget. No change
  • Vacations:  big trip to Hawaii and several day trips. Next year no biggie. Reduce by 50%.
  • Life insurance: will continue to buy policy on my life until I'm 65. No change.

Not surprisingly, next year I will be faced with increases in the categories you might expect: utilities, food, gasoline and car maintenance, health insurance, computers, and cell phones. Meaningful decreases can be taken in vacations and gifts.

The bottom line looks like a total monthly budget that should be about 5% more than this year. Both my wife and I will get our new health insurance premium information in a few weeks and that could cause a major pruning of other categories if my guess at the size of the increases is off by a lot.

How about your situation? An accurate budget is the only way to help you achieve a satisfying retirement. There is no other way to stay on top of your expenses and be sure your financial plan is working well. It is time to take a look at how you have done in 2011 and begin to think about next year. I welcome your comments and suggestions.

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November 14, 2011

Here it Comes: Winter Time

Last week after a cold front roared through town, we had to turn on our heat for a few mornings to make the house comfortable enough to shower and wake up. That made the timeliness of the following guest post submitted by Andrea Woroch to satisfying retirement perfect.


Furnaces are kicking in across the U.S. as temperatures sink. Alas, keeping warm comes with a higher sticker price each year, no matter what type of heating system you use. According to CNN Money, the average bill for a home using heating oil is more than $320 per month while gas users fork over $160 monthly. Here are some thoughts on how you could lower your heating bill without freezing your way through the winter.


1. Energy Audit

The first step is to assess any problem areas. Ask if your utility company provides a free or low-cost energy audit, which will identify changes you should make. If you such audits aren't available, there are still ways to ascertain problems for yourself and small projects you can accomplish without professional help.

 
2. Seek Incentives

Some states offer improvement incentives, including providing and installing a free programmable thermostat; paying a portion of insulation upgrades; or providing rebates on the cost of materials. Look for such offers at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. If you can't find an applicable program, you can reduce the cost of supplies by finding coupons for major home improvement centers, hardware stores, big-box stores and more at such sites as CouponSherpa.


3. Change Furnace Filters

Many of us think of changing our furnace filters just once or twice a year, yet experts say we should replace them every month during the heating season. Better yet, switch to a permanent filter you can clean regularly.


4. Dodge the Draft

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can waste 5 to 30 percent of your energy use to heat the great outdoors through drafts. The simplest remedy is to place draft dodgers or snakes at leaking doors. You can use an old towel or make your own easily out of a leg of pantyhose stuffed with rice or sawdust and tied at both ends. To find air leaks, place a light candle in front of possible drafts, have someone blow through the crack from the other side, and watch to see if the flame wavers.


5. Weather Strip Thresholds

Draft snakes are fine for cracks at the bottom of doors, but we often lose heat at the sides and top of doors and windows. Check out this Dummies.com video explaining how to install weather strips.


6. Install a Programmable Thermostat

A programmable thermostat allows you to keep the house cooler when it's empty and automatically turn up the heat before you arrive at home or get up in the morning. The Nest Learning Thermostat represents the latest and greatest in programmable thermostat technology, but you don't need to shell out $249 to benefit from one of these gadgets. You can pick one up for as little as $20 and save an average of 10% a year on your heating and cooling bill. Check out this article for other high-tech ideas for keeping warm this winter.


7. Upgrade Your Attic Insulation

Roofs are energy vampires. They'll suck rising heat right out of your home, if not properly insulated. Types of insulation include the standard fiberglass (in both batt and blown forms), rigid foam board, spray foam and cellulose. Unless you're handy around the house, this is a project best left to professionals, but it's the best investment you can make to reduce future energy bills.



Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc., and has been featured among such top news outlets as Good Morning America, NBC's Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. She is available for in-studio, satellite or skype interviews and to write guest posts or articles.

For all  inquiries, please contact Andrea Woroch at  andrea@kinoliinc dot com.

November 12, 2011

Is This You? Do You "Fit" the Satisfying Retirement Profile?

One of the keys to longterm success in blogging is to know your readers. Not unlike any business or organization, success usually depends on filling a need for a particular niche. Sometimes it is a large one, like home improvement and repair. Home Depot or Lowe's spring to mind. It could be an airline that doesn't charge for luggage. Southwest has that covered. On a local scale, a particular restaurant my wife and I enjoy greets us warmly, seat us at a preferred table, and makes a dish off the menu that my wife likes. They are filling the niche of being  one of our favorite restaurants, beating out hundreds of others with 10 minutes of our home.

Various sources have provided me with a profile of a "typical reader" of  Satisfying Retirement. My question is how this profile fits you. What topics I write about and how I promote this blog are, in part, based on this information. Is it accurate and on-target, or is this profile too narrow?  Does this look anything like you, or is the audience for a blog about building a happy retirement lifestyle broader than this?

Let's take a look:

  • The typical reader is over the age of 50. Based on the subject matter, this makes sense. But, I have received enough comments from those in their 40's to make me question whether I should think of topics that might appeal to a somewhat younger person, too. Most psychological studies say that all of us tend to think of ourselves as being about 9 years younger than our chronological age. Should my mental picture of a reader shift to include those who are a bit younger?

  • There are no children at home. This is an interesting finding. Excluding the situation where an adult child moves back home temporarily due to a job loss, illness or divorce, someone at age 50 could easily still have children at home. Am I missing topics that would serve a need by assuming my readers are in an empty nest, or never had kids?

  • The reader is a college graduate or has been to graduate school. Again, that part of the profile may be limiting me. If I assume this to be true, I am much more likely to write in a certain way, and deal with subjects that are potentially more of interest to a college grad. But, in doing so, I very well might be overlooking the needs of a whole segment of the retirement market that I could serve more completely.

  • Most read this blog at home. This seems to fit since this is a blog focused on having a satisfying retirement. It implies the reader has a bit more time to spend reading a post that interests him or her. If my target was more likely to be reading while on the job, for example, my posts would probably be shorter since less time is available to spend reading what I write. But, with the average person being at home, a post that takes 4-5 minutes to read seems acceptable.


So, there we have it. Now, I really would appreciate your feedback. How close are you to the typical reader the research describes?  Am I limiting myself more than I should, or is the path I am on the correct one?

Rest assured, any adjustment I make based on your feedback and comments will be slight. My only question is if I have a bit more wiggle room in terms of topics and focus. If not, then I am very happy doing what I doing and how I do it. 



November 9, 2011

The Customer Strikes Back - I Hope

Probably like you, I have felt the shift away from true customer service over the last several years. I can't remember the last time I called a help line and actually talked to a person without pushing lots of buttons, or giving answers that confused the machine. I have found repeating a gibberish phrase sometimes speeds up the "please wait while we transfer your call" event.

When I have called a credit card service number, by the time I fight my way through to a human, he or she is located in Munbai or some foreign location. How do I know? The person's attempt at speaking English is almost unrecognizable. Besides being very heavily accented, talking at three times  normal conversational speed doesn't help. Asking to speak to a supervisor means being put on hold for several minutes, and then talking with someone who is a bit older, but still isn't speaking a language I recognize.

The list goes on. Home Depot tried to eliminate most of the helpers from their stores, only to see complaints increase and sales drop, so back came the orange aprons.  I've written about the weak customer service at my local Borders bookstore. They are out of business. I'm sure you can add dozens of your own examples.

So, it has been interesting to watch two high profile developments in the last few weeks. Netflix has been an example of a company that was doing everything right. It dominated the streaming movies on the Internet niche. Blockbuster has virtually given up the ghost. Cable companies view Netflix as their worst nightmare. Netflix has become synonymous with Internet movies.

Then, management had a major stupid attack. Prices were jacked up 60% for a lot of customers. The company stated that they expected the DVD disc through the mail portion of their business to be less than 10% of the total by the end of this year. The problem is, their streaming library is weak. "Recent" additions are movies that can be 10 or 20 years old. TV show choices are thin. "Classic" movies apparently mean anything more than 12 months old. In short, they were trying to force their customers into streaming and away from the more expensive disc-by-mail method without the resources to back it up. The response was predictable. Hundreds of thousands of customers have said goodbye. Netflix has seen huge drops in its stock price. Competitors smell blood in the water, most notably Amazon.

Then, to prove they had completely lost their mind, Netflix announced that henceforth, the disc through the mail service would be called Qwikster and require navigating a different web site with different billing and queue practices. The howl from customers became even louder. More cancellations followed. Amazon and Hulu announced major new additions to their libraries.

Apparently, someone at Netflix finally had a slap upside the head and realized he was on the road to destroying the company's image and good will in just a few months. He apparently finally heard the sound of customers' feet as they were streaming to the exits. Qwikster died before being born. Netflix didn't change its pricing policy but began a very public move to beef up the library available for streaming.

Let's shift our focus to everyone's new devil: banks. Bank of America decided now would be a good time to charge people to access their own money. The infamous $5 a month debit card charge was born. Meanwhile, under the radar of most people Wells Fargo, Chase, and smaller organizations like Suntrust Bank had been testing such a move for months,  But, when B of A made their announcement, the public rose up as one. Reports of people cutting up their debit cards in bank lobbies mounted. Credit Unions had their biggest growth spurt in years as fed up customers pulled their accounts from the big banks (the ones that got all that bailout money) and looked for alternatives. 

Last week B of A, Wells Fargo, Chase, and SunTrust announced they were just kidding. The plan to charge people to use a debit card was killed. But, almost within the same breath, most banks began to announce new higher minimums to avoid monthly fees and higher late fees. Reports are circulating that banks will soon install parking meters in their lots, and a charge to open the bank door. I think these last two are false, but only because someone hasn't figured out what to call these fees.

What I am welcoming is the inevitable result of companies treating their customers poorly. There has been an attitude for way too long that we, the customers, will take whatever is dished out to us. We will meekly accept every attempt to nickel and dime us to death, with nary a peep of protest. We have been told to be happy we have these large organizations looking out for our best interest. And, for the most part we have accepted it (think airline fees and health insurance premiums).

To see Netflix and the banking industry buckle, even a little, is tremendously encouraging. I pray it means the American consumer has been pushed as far as he or she is willing to be shoved, and push back has begun. Without getting into all the pros and cons of the Occupy Wall Street situation and how it is playing out, I find it interesting the the majority of the American public supports the basic message of OWS: the have-nots are being trampled by the haves. They are saying our society is becoming polarized and the middle class as we have known it, is disappearing.

I'm not taking this post political. What I am highlighting is the new aggressiveness of the customer to reject practices that are blatantly harmful and unwarranted. Where this will lead, if anywhere, will be interesting to track. Unfortunately, it is likely the entire message will become sound bites and positioning statements during the political races of 2012.

Our economy is built on consumption. I have suggested that mindset has been one of the causes of our current economic mess. I am an advocate of simpler living, and mindful consumption over mindless spending. I am a proponent of knowing the difference between needs and wants. I am a firm believer that the consumer of any product and service is best served by paying attention to what is going on. If something strikes you as unfair, predatory, or simply wrong, you must speak up and take your business elsewhere. You should reward the business that treats you well and punish the one that doesn't. That's how our system is supposed to work. I am seeing the first glimmer of light that says our eyes are opening.


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November 4, 2011

Aging Well: A Retirement Challenge

As I age (yes, even me) it is hard not to notice certain body parts aren't quite the same. Squatting down to pick up something from a bottom shelf is now accompanied by a few groans as my knees protest. Standing back up takes a focus on the goal of becoming vertical again without help. My energy level starts to run out before the day does, even with an afternoon nap. The barber politely doesn't mention the growing thin patch on the crown of my head as he uses brush and hair dryer to fluff things up a bit. The morning stiffness in my fingers goes away quickly enough, but it didn't even exist a few years ago.

Clearly I am aging. Of course, all of us do so from the moment of our birth. But, until the later part of the 5th decade of my life I was able to ignore most of its effects. I used to have a nice career as a management consultant. Then I retired, so aging is what I do now.  What I want to do, is age well.

A blog reader left a comment on the recent Social Security post, asking a question that made me think. He was wondering what folks used to do in their 60s that no longer interest them in their 70s and 80s. I don't think he wasn't talking about physical changes or health care issues that prevented certain activities from continuing. Rather, his was really a budgeting question:  what doesn't someone need money for as they move through retirement? That struck me as as an interesting question that fit  with my idea of writing about the goal of most of us: aging well.

That raises the question, aging well how? Does that mean maintaining our physical health as long as possible by paying serious attention to our diet and exercise regimen? Does that mean keeping our complaints to ourselves, which would make most conversations with other older folks much shorter. Does it mean keeping our mind and competitive juices flowing by going back to school, starting a new business, or learning a new language?

In an excellent article on  Yoga International's web site, Deborah Willoughby makes a very important point: "In our modern script, the third act—retirement—defines us in terms of what we’ve left behind instead of what lies ahead. Up through our late 50s and into our 60s, our energy has been mainly focused on tangible achievements: earning a degree, building a career, raising children, acquiring property, perhaps making a name for ourselves. Now, as these familiar identities and activities fall away, we find ourselves without a clear, purposeful direction."


To me, that is not aging well. That is what this blog, and hopefully my life, are determined to avoid. There is something called the law of use and disuse, which is the basis of the common understanding that if there is something you don't use, you lose it. That applies to your body, your mind, your spiritual development, your creativity...pretty much everything that makes you who and what you are. In reality, what is a satisfying retirement but a collection of a series of satisfying days, one after another.

Ms. Willoughby goes on to say, "Capacities have the potential to expand in the later decades of life. For example, studies show that as we move into life’s third stage [retirement], we use both hemispheres of the brain more efficiently."  The idea that the last few decades of our life is just a long, slow slide of decline is simply not supported anymore by scientific research. Just as damaging is the clichĂ© that 60 is the new 40 or 70 the new 50. No, 70 is the new 70. The brain continues to gather experiences and find new ways to process and use that information. Pretending we are looking backwards only cements in our mindset the idea that 70 is bad. It isn't bad, it is different from 50...on purpose.

So, I will answer the reader's question this way: what you did in your 60's may no longer satisfy and stimulate you in your 70's and 80's. To assume one can save money as one ages because his or her universe shrinks and less money is needed  is to accept the notion of steady, constant decline. What turns you on at 75 is probably not exactly what lit your fire at 60. Will be it cheaper? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe by 80 you aren't physically able to travel the world. But, maybe you have discovered a passion for pottery, or woodworking, or photography. Maybe your latent writer has spring forth. True, the $8,000 you spent to tour Europe for 3 weeks when you were 67 isn't needed anymore. But, woodworking, a pottery kiln, or a few fancy cameras can easily cost just as much. The point is, aging shouldn't be seen as a way to save money. Aging is not a budgeting strategy.

I want to age well and gracefully. My faith tells me I have an eternity ahead of me, but I'm in no rush to get there. There is too much living to do.


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November 2, 2011

The Dreaded Vacation Let Down..Even in Retirement

Betty and I returned from an 18 day glorious vacation on Maui a little over two weeks ago. Even now we are still sorting through the 2,400 photos. I have yet to wear all the T-shirts and Aloha shirts I bought, but the new flip flops are still getting daily use. We had perfect weather and a time of total relaxation. 


Several friends have asked what was my favorite part and the answer is always the same: sitting in a folding chair and watching the sunset every night from a differrent beach, until all the color faded from the sky and it was dark...the perfect end to a satisfying retirement vacation.

Virtually each evening, we were given a spectacular exhibition of  streaks of vibrant oranges, pinks, yellows, and various shades of blues. The show lasted almost 30 minutes after the sun was below the horizon.

We returned completely refreshed and relaxed. That feeling lasted...... about 36 hours. Then, the real world made itself known and pushed the euphoria of Maui to the sideline. There was nothing dramatic: no bursting of pipes or a major illness. None of our family had a problem that needed addressing. My dad weathered our being gone for an extended period just fine.

It was simply a case of commitments and meetings, chores, bills, computer glitches, and putting things away from the trip....real life....sucking the air out of the vacation glow quite quickly. It felt as if we hadn't gone anywhere. This vacation wasn't unusual in this regard. I remember the same thing happening after trips to England, Ireland, and Italy. So, the question is why? Are vacations destined to have little or no carryover benefit once someone arrives home? If so, is all the money worth it? 


When I was younger I seem to remember a great vacation had a much longer shelf-life. Whether as a youngster with my parents and brothers, or as a young married guy with my two daughters, I remember that afterglow lasting at least several days, sometimes even weeks. The work and home pressures were just as great, if not more so than they are now. But, the warm, post-vacation feeling lasted longer. Why? Was it because there were four people to remind each other of specific events or moments? Was it because there were more memorable moments when a young family is involved? Was it because I was younger?


Is a good vacation one that allows you to accomplish whatever the goal was for that time away regardless of the let down afterward? If I totally relaxed for those 18 days but fell right back into the daily routine almost immediately, was the vacation still a success? 


Looking at all the photos Betty took can bring back memories of where we were and what we were doing when the pictures were taken. 




But, as soon as the digital album closes, the real world is back. Maybe that is the way it should be. Stop the world, I want to get off, for a little while. But a really satisfying retirement requires me to be active and productive. A permanent life on the beach just isn't my style. A long visit every once in a while is just what the doctor ordered, even if the medicine wears off rather quickly.

Has this been your experience after a great vacation? Does the real world force its way to the foreground more quickly than you'd like? Does that mean all the money invested in time off was worth it? Enlighten me!


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