August 31, 2012

What We Teach

A few days ago Betty, my amazing wife, and I were talking about the power of a parent's or grandparent's words on others. After my mom died I discovered several notebooks filled with recaps of vacation trips she and my dad had taken from 1996 until 2001. They included day trips, long weekend jaunts, weeks-long driving trips, and a few vacations overseas...all part of their satisfying retirement. Mom was a detail person: virtually every meal and every experience was recorded. Some were good, some bad, some just average daily events. But nothing escaped being recorded in her journals. 

In reading them Betty and I were reminded of how much mom and dad loved to take road trips. They wouldn't let more than a month pass without a trip somewhere. I hadn't remembered their 6 week long driving excursion to the East coast and back home to Arizona through the deep south and Texas.

We also noted mom's health decline as each year passed: trouble walking because of numbness, then the transition to walkers, and eventually rarely getting out of the car. Trips to emergency rooms for heart problems or dizziness were recorded. At this time she was in her mid 70's, really too young for so many issues. But, as Betty and I talked about why she had slipped physically so fast we came to an important conclusion: she was at least partially a product of what her parents taught her.

My maternal grandparents did not believe in much physical exercise. Walking was to be avoided by ladies if other transportation was available. A cook and maid took care of household chores. Vacations never involved much exertion. While summers were often spend at their "farm" north of Pittsburgh, most of that time was spent sitting in easy chairs while talking or reading. 

Apparently, my grandparents also had one firm rule that I believe directly contributed to my mom's health problems: they rarely drank water. The beverage was banned from the dining room table at all meals. Coffee was believed to provide the liquids needed to function. An occasional glass of wine or scotch and soda was just an added liquid bonus.

Living in Arizona for the last twenty some years of her life, mom continued to do as she was taught: avoid water. To survive in the desert water isn't a refreshing choice, it is essential to prevent serious dehydration. With an average humidity of less than 10% the human body loses hydration rapidly. Without replacing that liquid all sorts of health issues can occur. Team up that that parent-taught aversion to water with a belief that ladies didn't exercise or exert themselves and mom's too-soon physical problems were a foregone conclusion. Genetics certainly played a part in what happened to her, but I firmly believe her quality of life failed her at least a decade before it had to because of some "lessons" she learned from her parents.

Unfortunately, my father is following in some of her footsteps. After living with mom for 63 years, he adopted the same reluctance to drinking water. He simply refuses, except to swallow pills. When I try to remind him that certain problems he is encountering are likely related to dehydration he puts on his stubborn face and tells me his three small glasses of skim milk a day are plenty. 

I remind him one of the reasons he had to give up his independent lifestyle and driving was due to several fainting instances, directly related to dehydration. He has digestive problems also tied to his fluid intake. Even so, he says water makes him full and he doesn't need it. He learned his lesson well from mom and isn't about to change now.


All of this is to make an important point: what we say and teach our children and grandkids can affect them for the rest of their lives. If they learn unhealthy eating and personal care habits, they will likely follow suit. If they see us doing what will help us live a happy, satisfying retirement the odds are good some of that will rub off.

We carry an important responsibility. Little eyes and ears (and not so little) are watching us. How we take care of ourselves, how we treat others less fortunate than us, and how we show love and affection are not actions performed in a vacuum. Teachers are not just in classrooms.



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August 28, 2012

9 Tips For Making Retirement More Satisfying

This is a guest post from Julia Valentine, retirement expert at Grandparents.com, a social website for today’s grandparents. She writes that a fulfilling retirement should extend beyond the requisite financial plan to encompass your emotional wants, needs, and desires. Here are her nine tips on how you can make the most of your satisfying retirement

1. Aging brings wisdom, not decline

It has been said that what you think about, you bring about. Telling yourself you are going to flourish in retirement can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. At the very least, you might take slightly better care of yourself and, in turn, find your way into the virtuous circle of feeling better emotionally and physically, doing more interesting things, and ultimately enjoying yourself more. 


2. Age is just a number

Chronological age is merely the number of candles on your birthday cake, while psychological age is your perception of how vital and vibrant you feel. Since the latter is a subjectively experienced age, you have a great deal of latitude in constructing beliefs that will either help you or limit your ability to flourish after 50. Construct wisely. 

3. Creativity helps design your lifestyle

Discovering and exploring your everyday creativity is going to make a difference between boredom and the pure joy of being alive. Everyday creativity is invoked when the object of your creative efforts is your own life. It taps into our deepest need to feel useful and valuable. A creative life approach fosters flexibility and resourcefulness, helping you choose new pursuits, evolve with the changing times, and design a satisfying lifestyle.

4. Fulfilling true needs is essential 

Knowing what you want and, more importantly, what you need is difficult but critical. You cannot be happy without it. Research shows meeting one’s personal needs is essential for psychological health and, consequently, for more profound happiness, serenity, and a high quality of inner life. 

5. Know your motivation

Knowing why you do something is important because it will motivate you to go through with the action. Motivation is how we access the energy necessary to do anything, whether that means saving money, acquiring new skills, or staying fit to enjoy life after 50. Understanding your own intentions and desired result of any decision or activity will result in clarity, less frustration, more of what you want, and less guilt about foregoing what doesn’t meet your needs.

6. Fail to plan, plan to fail

Research proves that a successful, happy retirement is impossible without planning based on self-examination. People who plan end up with twice the wealth of people who do not. Beyond financial planning, it is imperative to take time to figure out what lifestyle needs must be fulfilled to make you happy, and then find specific ways to ensure those needs can be met. Retirement lifestyle design then becomes the driver for making good choices and building the foundation of physical, emotional, and financial health that ensures joy and fulfillment after 50.

7. Evolution trumps fear 

Do not be dragged along by the changing times when you have the freedom to preside over the process. While evolution may not always mean improvement or progress, life’s progression is certainly an inevitability that should be embraced, not eschewed. Change should be revered, not feared, as with change comes new learning and growth experiences — new opportunities and ways to contribute, to be significant, and to create meaningful experiences for your self and for the people around you. 

8. Joy requires harmony

A joyful life can only be truly achieved if your inner and outer worlds are in harmony – the alignment of your life’s needs and direction (which you can set to Joy, Meaning, Abundance, Fulfillment, or anything else you desire) with your inner resources, like attitude, abilities, talents, skills, experience, and personality traits. People wholly integrated at this level are conscious of their needs, emotions, impulses, pleasures, and pains. They enjoy an amazing quality of life with frequent peak experiences, are more at peace, and are less split between an experiencing-self and an observing-self.

9. Quality of life requires more than money

It is easy to mistake comfort for quality of life. An astonishing quality of life encompasses both material comfort and joy. To live with joy, it is imperative to not only identify and understand your emotional needs, but to actively work to meet them. Do this and the second half of your life will be even better than the first.


Thanks, Julia for your excellent thoughts.

Note: There has been no compensation paid to Satisfying Retirement for this guest post.

August 27, 2012

The New Retirement Go-To Web Site

A few months ago PBS launched an ambitious effort to connect with Baby Boomers and those approaching retirement age. The web site, NextAvenue.org promised to be a place where folks could receive and share information on all aspects of building a satisfying retirement.

The editor of the Money & Security and the Work & Purpose channels is Richard Eisenberg. Coming from previous positions with Yahoo, Good Housekeeping and Money Magazine among others, Richard joined PBS in November 2011 to begin work on this project. In May Richard contacted me to write articles for his section of the site. I thought now would be a good time to contact Richard, and ask how things are going so far.


*Richard, welcome. What prompted PBS to develop NextAvenue.org? Five years in the making, Next Avenue is a new national public media website launched by PBS stations across America. It is focused on America’s growing 50+ population.  Next Avenue was developed in response to the unprecedented age boom occurring in America. The site has the potential to engage, inspire and inform the more than 100 million people who are transitioning into what many see as a new life stage in human development – a stage between young adulthood and “old old.”

Next Avenue was conceived and developed by Twin Cities Public Television (tpt), in St. Paul, Minnesota, under the leadership of its President and CEO Jim Pagliarini; former PBS executive Judy Diaz, who serves as Next Avenue’s president; and Donna Sapolin, who is the site’s vice president and editorial director.

*How is Next Avenue different from other sources of retirement information available on the Internet? Nextavenue.org is a rich and comprehensive resource that offers the best information about topics and issues important to the people in this new life stage. Next Avenue provides critical information and perspectives with articles and blogs written by staff journalists 
and expert contributors; curated content from government and non-profit agencies and commercial media sources; video from PBS stations and independent producers; and community discussions in which users connect and share stories.

*You have up and running since late May. What has been the marketplace’s response so far? The response has been enthusiastic and gratifying. We have received many compliments from readers on our Facebook site as well as positive stories about the site in the media.
_________

Thanks, Richard. Like you, I believe NextAvenue has the potential of being an important one-stop site for those of us seeking to build a satisfying retirement. If you haven't spent much time exploring the site, let me give you a short overview.

There are six categories: Health & Well-Being, Money & Security, Work & Purpose, Living & Learning, Caregiving, and Video. In each are sub categories that include articles written about that subject, giving the reader a chance to join a discussion with others, and a toolbox to help set goals or learn even more about that topic.

I have found an absolute wealth of material in each of the categories. In fact, I look for topics and concerns that prove to be well-read as ideas for my own posts on Satisfying Retirement. If you haven't spent much time exploring NextAveneue.org, I urge you to head over when you have some time, hunt through all the categories, and see what you can find.

As retirement evolves from the "Sun City" image to a more active, productive, and individual journey I welcome sites like NextAvenue.org. The more information we can share and explore the better off we are. 

For full disclosure I am being compensated by PBS for the material I write for their site.

August 24, 2012

3 Life-Altering Risky Choices

My satisfying retirement is settling into an end-of-summer slower routine. We have finished moving my dad into his assisted living apartment. My daughter, son-in-law and grandkids move into their new home over Labor Day weekend which will take some help from us, but no big deal. They have several friends to help. Betty and I are starting to get organized for our first ever RV trip in a little over a week. We will pick up the RV in Flagstaff and spend 9 days in the much cooler White Mountains, while Bailey the dog stays home with our other daughter.

Having a little extra time to think, I came up with an idea for this post that sounded like fun. I asked myself what are three big risks or life changes I could take in the near future. The answers had to be practical and possible; swimming across the English Channel was right out. I wanted to think of three things I could do that would really shake up my routine and life. Here is what I came up with:

1) Live in an RV for part of each year while traveling the country. Of course, if our time in Flagstaff isn't terribly enjoyable then this will drop from my list. But, in concept, what would my life be like if I was on the road for part of each year? What would it be like to travel back roads, stopping in small town or state parks for days or weeks at a time? Would we miss the familiarity of home, friends, family, and our daily schedule? Or would we find the uncertainty of what's around the next corner exciting and liberating?

Betty and I have talked about this very thing and think we'd like to try it for awhile. We listen to the stories that friends like Bill and Wendy Birnbaum tell us of their two month coast-to-coast trip in their RV. Tamara and Mike live in their RV for weeks at a time, now that both are retired, and love it. A couple I know lived full time in theirs for years.

2) Build a real business around the Satisfying Retirement brand. Blogging to me is mostly about fun and creativity. More than two years after starting all this I still enjoy the process, though I am giving some thought to taking a blogging sabbatical at some point down the road.

Satisfying Retirement is a phrase that this blog now "owns". A Google search will reference back to this blog almost exclusively.  The blog has been the reason behind my first book (with the second one well underway), magazine articles, the invitation to write for retirement books, being a paid contributor to a major PBS web site, and just recently, being contacted by a TV producer about a possible profile on national television sometime next year.

However I have not done much to turn that brand strength into income. Should I invest some of our savings in marketing, product development and speaking arrangements? Would it be wise to risk some of my retirement money to capitalize on the blog's status?  What would happen if I decided to turn satisfying retirement into a business? Am I ready to take on the full time commitment necessary to build a new business? If I did, my life would change in many ways.

3) Go back to school to get an advanced degree. I love to read and study. I thoroughly enjoy being around a college campus. I have toyed with the idea of going back to school to get a masters degree. What has stopped me are two major factors: cost and time.

The expenses would be substantial. With our close-to-the-vest style of retirement the money outlay would take a major bite out of our savings with no expectation of earning that money back. I would get a degree for the pure joy of study and the satisfaction of accomplishing the goal.

There is also the question of what would I want to study? The only subject that has popped into my head several times over the last few years is something involving religious studies or attending a seminary. Do I want to be a pastor? No. Then, why? I guess because my faith is important to me and the more I know the better I will be able to accept the unexplainable. It is a subject that requires a serious amount of deep thinking and writing. Could I learn Greek at my age? I have no idea. I guess that would be part of the risk.


So, there you have it. Three things I could conceivably do that would certainly alter a part of my satisfying retirement lifestyle. At the moment I am not rushing to any decision. But, it is good to consider possibilities and options, isn't it?

I must say I am having an absolutely fabulous time reading the answers the BRITW (best readers in the world) have submitted for the next book. It is giving me a tremendous insight into the state of retirement today...both the pluses and the drawbacks. Many responses talk about making changes in lifestyle and direction, taking some risks, and not settling.

What about you? What "risks" or changes in how you approach your daily life or retirement direction might be something you'd consider?  Give us your ideas. We are all open to shaking things up every now and then.

August 22, 2012

Rubber Bands In The Drawer

For the past two weeks my wife and I have been going through all steps to move my dad from his independent living cottage to an assisted living apartment. For various reasons the time was right to make this move as well as sell his car and end his driving days. You can imagine it has not been the easiest few weeks, but as of Tuesday he is safely in his new home. 

At his age of 88 change in routine is tough. In fact, one of Betty's greatest fears is he will go back to his old home by mistake and get befuddled when the key no longer works. In taking him from a doctor appointment to his pharmacy last week, he became very confused as to the location of the drug store he had driven to for years. Because we left from a place different from his house he couldn't tell me how to find it. I finally did but a simple turn left -turn right difference was too much for him.

While we going through his belongings to figure out what would fit when moving from 1200 into 500 sq. feet I receieved another lesson in downsizing and simple living. It is so easy to allow little things to build up over time. Out-of-sight-out of mind.

This photo is a great example. Dad saved rubber bands...apparently for years. He doesn't use them, but habit says pull them off the newspaper and put them in a drawer. I got home and found...a drawer with hundreds of rubber bands! Like father, like son I guess.

In a hall closet we found at least half a dozen different back braces. I assume that when my mom lost her sight and needed a support for her lower back, dad just went to the store and bought one rather than check to see if there was already one in the house.

Home I go to discover four different knee braces, half a dozen elastic bandages, and two back supports. The excuse that they were in the back of a cabinet I never stoop down to look at isn't good enough.

As we continued to work through his cottage we found at least 3 years worth of sheet music from his church choir and 15 paperback books from the library that hadn't been returned. Since he no longer sings in that organization or goes to that library branch one full drawer became clean.

Another drawer held at least 10 years worth of expense journals. He had maintained records of every utility bill, vacation expense, magazine subscription, and credit card charge. That kind of financial awareness is one of the most important lessons I learned from him. But, at some point, the written records can go. Monday was the day.

As we continued through the downsizing process he decided his days of ironing are over.  The two rather battered and well-traveled suitcases will never be used again, either. Out they went. Since he will be eating two meals a day at one of the facilitie's dining choices, the stacks of day-to-day plates, cups, and silverwear could be reduced. All of the fancy serving platters in the dining room hutch would never be needed. In fact, all the dining room furniture could be sold since the apartment had no large dining area.

After having him decide which pieces of furniture, wall hangings, paintings and knick-knacs he'd like to keep, we made arrangements for someone to sell everything else or donate the leftovers to a local charity. He will be surrounded by what is important to him; the furniture that was just taking up space in the cottage will find a new home.

As we went through all of this, I was reminded again how little most of us need to feel comfortable. It is much too easy to have stuff pile up around us, even after it's importance and usefulness to us is over. I am in the midst of reading Sonia Marsh's new book, Freeways to Flip-Flops. She relates the story of moving her family from a large home in Southern California to a hut in Belize. All of the "stuff" that filled their home and life in the U.S. was left behind. Instead she and her family filled their life with memories and experiences.

Moving my dad from a cottage to an apartment won't be quite as dramatic. But, the lesson is still there: being surrounded by unused stuff doesn't add to the the quality of one's life or happiness. After all, it is just stuff.


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August 20, 2012

Tuning Up

Music has been an important part of my life. I played piano and clarinet as a youngster. Then, my career in radio meant music 24/7 for almost 35 years. If you are ever in a trivia contest about hits from the 60s-80's call me. I can name that song in 3 notes.

But, somewhere along the way, well before my satisfying retirement started, I stopped making music. Playing records and hanging out with artists was fun, but wasn't particularly creative. Playing a 45 single on the radio isn't quite the same as playing the song. So, a few years ago I picked up a used acoustic guitar and started teaching myself the basics. I was able to play Christmas songs for the grandkids and a few Beatle tunes for my own enjoyment. But, I'd always get to a certain point and stall. I couldn't figure out things like finger picking or second position on my own.

I finally decided I should take some lessons to get me over the hump. Reader Chuck shared how much taking some lessons did for him; he now plays in an oldies group on weekends. That isn't my goal, but getting past my personal roadblock is.

I think this is correct for the D chord
So, a few weeks ago I started taking once-a-week lessons. My teacher, Kurt, is probably 25 years my junior, but patient and supportive. While teaching myself I developed some bad habits that I need to lose. My 63 year old fingers and tendons are rebelling against the stretching needed for certain chords. I have to look at chord charts more often than I think I should. When playing the melody I mistake the 4th string for the 3rd string much too often.

But, I persevere. My goals are modest: play well enough for personal enjoyment. If a family gathering would benefit from my version of Yesterday, then I should be able to comply but I am really playing for me. Unlike previous attempts, though, I am not comfortable getting to a certain point and stopping any growth. I will likely take lessons for two months and then stop for awhile to get a solid grip on what I have learned. At that point I hope I have the self discipline to take another month or two of instruction to push me to the next level.

It is true: when you pay someone for lessons the amount of practice time increases and the desire to not embarrass yourself is real. Having Kurt check me out every Wednesday afternoon and give me a new challenge for the next lesson is keeping me near the guitar. My finger callouses are coming back.

My parting words for you: take on a new or abandoned creative challenge as part of building your satisfying retirement. No matter how full you think your days are, or how overflowing your calendar seems to be, a creative outlet really needs to be part of your life. Guitar playing may not interest you. So, how about writing, journaling, sketching, or painting? Can you build a bookcase or end table? Can you take some wood and make colorful birdhouses? Do you sew quilts? Can you re-decorate a room to make you happy? Can you help your grandkids learn the basics of budgeting?

Creativity is a word that covers virtually anything you do during the day. The exciting part is finding a new or better way. The important part is keeping your mind active and yourself challenged.

Now, if I can just finger the F chord properly......

August 17, 2012

When I Was A Child I'd Love to....

I had a very pleasant and supportive childhood. At one point before she died I told my mom that I had no bad memories of growing up. I know that made her feel very good about her performance as a parent. I know for an absolute fact that my satisfying retirement is due, in large part, to that upbringing.

I realize that not everyone can make such a statement. In fact, the longer I live and the more people I meet, I realize I was quite blessed. Particularly in my volunteer work with prisoners I hear horror stories of childhood abuse and neglect that pretty much guarantees a flawed adult. Even without serious parental failures, I understand a happy childhood isn't always the case. Even so, I hope what I am writing about today brings back some pleasant memories of things you loved to do when you were so much younger than today.

When I was a young child I'd love to:


Mom & me saluing the flag
at the farm
Go on car trips and vacations with the family. Most summers found us piling into the back of our station wagon for the 7 hour drive from our home near Philadelphia to my grandparent's "farm" north of Pittsburgh. A 32 acre wonderland for kids, there was no running water or electricity in the large, two story house. The bathroom was down the path to the outhouse. Coffee was boiled over a grill in a large speckled pot. Days were spent exploring the woods and fields. Near the end of our two week stay my brothers and I, along with my uncle, would try to walk the 5 miles to the nearest town, Mars, for ice cream cones. The other adults would meet us with the car for the trip back to the farm. To me, those memories defined summer until I started my own family.

Go on picnics and hikes. Weekends in the summer always meant a drive to a local lake or park for some hiking and a blanket-on-the-ground-ants-in-your-food picnic. Eating outside was a time when mom, dad, and the three boys would be together to laugh, complain, share, and run around.

Ride my bike. Every kid in my neighborhood had a bike that became his or her freedom machine. Mine was decorated every 4th of July for the town parade. I put baseball cards in the spokes to create a motor sound. I had fringe on the handle bars, baskets on the back, and a bell that announced my arrival. Getting your first 26" bike was a recognition of your maturity. 


Is there anything better
than Winnie the Pooh?
Read anything I could get my hands on. I came from a family of librarians. My earliest memories are of having Winnie the Pooh read to me. Before TV took over, we would spend our evenings reading books and playing games. My room usually had as many books as toys. That set me up for a lifetime of reading. Even today I have at least three or four books on the nightstand, and another few downstairs next to the "daddy chair." I turn to books for comfort and stimulation.

Build a business. I was an entrepreneur from a very early age. My first money-losing scheme was to publish a neighborhood newspaper. I would write up a few stories that mom would then type, using carbon paper to make copies for me to distribute to neighbors. The only subscriber was my grandmother. She paid 10 cents for a mailed copy.

A few years later I got the idea that I could make money buying postage stamps from other countries, repackaging them, and selling them to stamp collectors. I had a desk filled with small plastic envelopes, a catalog of foreign stamps for sale, and a marker pen for writing the price on each bag. I don't think I actually sold anything, but for a time I was in the exciting world of commerce.   

Like most boys of that era, I had a paper route after school (remember afternoon newspapers?). Unfortunately, my route covered a neighborhood that was down a steep hill and over a mile from my house. That wasn't really a problem except in winter time. Cambridge, Ohio gets a lot of snow. Many a day I would be pushing my bike around my route or back up the hill because the snow was too deep to ride. It was dark and very cold. Today, parents wouldn't let a 12 year old attempt such a job alone. The world has become a much more dangerous place.

I finally decided to become the "boss" by hiring others to deliver my papers for me when the weather was bad. There were serious flaws with that plan. By the time I paid the boy to deliver my papers I lost money that day. My "employee" was less concerned with doing a good job so I usually got a few complaints about customers being skipped or papers thrown on the roof after my fill-in was finished.

Play the clarinet. After a few years of struggling with the piano I switched to the clarinet at 10 years old and later joined the school band. I guess I played well enough; I was selected for two years in a row to play second chair clarinet in the All New England Band. But, I never thought of myself as a musician. The clarinet was more a hobby and a way to be with people I enjoyed.

After high school my music "career" ended until recently when I started playing the guitar. I have found the basics of reading music and playing survived a 45 year layoff. I missed making music for my own enjoyment.
__________________________

Childhood in the 1950's and early 1960's in suburban America was a great time to be a kid. All the problems of the world were kept at bay. Howdy Doody and his friends made everything OK. Of course, a childhood like that was in many respects artifical. We never experienced, or were even aware of, racial inequities and discrimination or poverty. Most everyone I saw was white and prosperous. A few years later my eyes would be opened to what the real world was like.

But, for awhile, childhood kept all that at bay. I am certainly more aware and troubled by what the real world is like. But, the positive memories and habits formed way back then live on in me today. And, for that I am grateful.

August 15, 2012

Protect Your Partner's Finances

As a natural follow up to my post of the last few days ago, the important subject of preparing yourself or your partner to handle the household's financial responsibilities has been top of mind for me recently. Dad turned over the management of his estate to me a few years ago. I also take care of his taxes and interactions with various investment companies. At least for the time being he likes to pay the monthly bill for his living arrangements and his credit card bill.

Even those bill paying duties will likely switch over to me soon. I have found him renewing magazine subscriptions years into the future. Most companies have figured out if they send a request for a renewal that looks like a bill, even 8-12 months in advance, folks like my dad will pay them. Reader's Digest and  Fortune magazine are among the worst. They have him on the hook for three more years. I think I have convinced Dad to throw away all notices like that, but that may be problematic if he throws away an actual bill.

My father-in-law, in the last few years of his life, became hooked by overseas lotteries. At one point we found he had spent thousands of dollars on Australian and Irish lottery tickets. Of course, the dreaded Publishers Clearing House mailings had him subscribing to things as inappropriate as baby and parenting magazines, under the belief that subscribing would increase his odds of winning.

All of this reminded me that the subject of proper financial oversight is a need that never ends. When a spouse or partner dies the other person has it dumped in his or her lap. When both parents are gone the children have estate and tax issues to handle. Of course, there are people  and organizations who will handle all the details for you. But, that comes with certain risks and costs at a time when someone is quite vulnerable to being taken advantage of.

I wrote about this a few years ago and recently reviewed that post. With my dad's situation fresh in my mind, along with some comments left on recent blog posts I though it would make sense to recycle some of that original post:


Is your relationship one-sided? Don't get defensive, most are. I don't mean that one of you is always taking and the other always giving. I mean in a way that proves how much you love the other person. You prepare him or her for handling a crucial part of modern life if you are unable to do so: the couple's finances.

It is common in a marriage or a serious relationship between two people that one of them handles all, or certainly a significant part of the financial side of things. Bill paying, taking care of tax returns, handling interactions with investment people, and managing bank accounts are the primary responsibility of one partner. Usually, there is agreement that one person is better suited to handle those duties. He or she probably enjoys it and has developed a system to ensure that what needs to be done is taken care of.

If a health problem or an untimely death leaves the survivor suddenly facing a desperate form of on-the-job-training  there is the potential of a financial crisis. Of course, another option is to find a relative or outside person or business to take over this role. This can be quite expensive. Even worse, the person overseeing the matter may be untrained or even unscrupulous. Very quickly a lifetime of careful planning and investments can disappear.

It is much better for the "financial person" in the relationship to teach the "non-financial person" what must be done before disaster strikes. Taking the time to prepare another is an act of love. Frankly, I believe it is also an obligation, a part of what must be done in a committed relationship.

What are the basics that both partners must know? Here is a list from my own experience. As the financial person in our marriage I am committed to be sure Betty knows enough to avoid any financial pitfalls while she is looking at all her options if I am unable to be there.


Banks:
  • Where do we have accounts?
  • How does she get up-to-date statements?
  • Where is the safety deposit box key?
  • What are the PIN codes for the various ATM cards?
  • Are there minimum deposit levels to maintain to avoid fees?

Credit Cards:
  • What cards to we have?
  • What are their limits and when are payments due?
  • Where does she go on-line to check charges?
  • What should she do if she sees a fraudulent charge?
  • Where are card numbers stored in case a card is lost or stolen?

Bill Paying:
  • She must know which bank accounts are used to pay which bills
  • What to do when receiving an e-bills
  • How to set up automatic bill pay
  • How to change payment dates and amounts when needed
  • Where on-line passwords are stored and how to change them occasionally
  • Where extra checks are stored
  • How to see which checks and payments have cleared.

Insurance:
  • Life insurance is held by whom? How much?
  • Car and home owners policies? Who is the agent?
  • Health Insurance information and policies, customer service numbers, limitations or restrictions, keeping premiums current?

Investments:
  • Name, address, and phone number of adviser
  • How to look at statements on-line for investments and IRA accounts
  • How to get cash from investments transfered to other accounts to pay bills and provide living expenses.

Taxes: (Welcome to the Jungle!)

This is an area where I do advise her to have a professional handle the state and federal returns. I enjoy doing them (odd, I know) and can make Turbo Tax do what I want. But, there is no reason she needs to be able to take over this area. However, there are things that should be understood: a basic handle on what expenses are deductible, what paperwork to maintain for the tax preparer, and the deadlines for things like quarterly taxes and returns.


This is our list of things we both feel each of us should understand if the need arises. I'd be interested in two things: have you done something like this for your spouse or the person who may have to take over? And, what have I overlooked? Since I still have most of my faculties there is time for me to take care of anything I may have missed.

Recently I was approached by the authors of the book, Cash Under the Mattress that helps someone keep all vital information in one spot. Everything from insurance, to bank accounts, pet information, property titles, relatives, investments, medical.....in short everything anyone might need after a death.

I received a PDF copy to review and found it to be an excellent tool. I am receiving no compensation and you can certainly gather all the info on your own. But, frankly, I found that keeping everything in one place very wise.  If you are interested it is available through Amazon. Personally, I am going to use it.

August 12, 2012

Were Our Parents On to Something?

As we navigate our satisfying retirement journey we are living through the effects of The Great Recession. To us, it has been pretty bad. Our parents and grandparents lived through the Great Depression. That was a serious kick in the financial head. Even with our relatively high unemployment and anemic growth, I don't see many people selling apples on the street corners or broke businessmen leaping from tall buildings. Frayed as it may be, we do have a safety net to help the most destitute among us.

I was thinking about stories my dad has told me about being a young teen during the 1930's and how tight everything really was: a chicken for dinner as a special treat a few times a year, having to hunt rabbits and deer for many meals, fruit as a special treat....it is hard for us to imagine. If we could maybe there would be a little less complaining about how "bad" things are now.

In any case, I was hunting around the Internet for approaches to life that folks used to help them through the depression and phrases or idioms to describe their experiences. That brought to mind some of those expressions  that might help us today. See if any of these resonate with you:

Waste Not, Want Not. The terms minimalist or voluntary simplicity didn't exit. Many people were living that lifestyle, though not necessarily by choice. But, they did learn to make the most of everything they had. Things were used up, re-purposed, or done without.

Today the average American family throws away $1,600 of food every year - food that sits unused in a refrigerator or on a shelf until it is no longer edible. I know how easy this is: Betty and I throw away $10-$15 worth of produce each week. We have plans to use everything, then something changes and we end up tossing stuff before shopping again. It galls me and we are better than we used to be. But still.....

Pull Yourself Up by Your own Bootstraps and Keep your Nose to the Grindstone. These phrases speaks to personal responsibility. Obviously, there are situations when outside help is needed. Hopefully we are still a society that takes care of those that need aid. But, during the GD, those who could did what they had to do to provide for their families and themselves. They found a way. They worked several jobs. My dad raised vegetables to sell and peddled magazine subscriptions door-to-door to raise money for college. People sold their own furniture or crafts they had created. In many respects we have lost some of this attitude. Too often we hear, "They did it," or "I don't want to work that hard."


A penny saved is a penny earned. This idiom would have to be updated a bit. Countries, including Canada, have plans to eliminate the penny because it costs more to produce one than it is worth. In the U.S. it costs 2.4 cents to produce a 1 cent coin.

But, the point is clear: what you don't spend you have saved. Contrary to the advertisements that claim "the more you spend the more you save," not spending is the best savings plan there is. Our parents and grandparents understood the difference between a want and a need. Too often, today we think those words mean the same thing.

Don't borrow or lend. This is another phrase that would have to be adjusted. It is quite difficult to be part of our society without borrowing money for housing or cars, educations, or even health care emergencies. But, like the "penny saved" idea, borrowing to go on vacation or for the 90" TV is just plain silly. And, we all have heard horror stories of those who lent money to a friend and never saw either again.

Keep your nose out of other's business. Obviously, this was well before the media and people became obsessed with the lives of the "rich and famous." Do we really need to know who will get custody of Tom Cruise's daughter? Is it right to gossip about others' misfortunes? Is your life any better by knowing who the Batchlorette chose?

Don't Cry Over Split Milk. The past is past. Complaining or looking for someone to blame doesn't solve a problem or provide a solution. Correct what you can, repair the damage to the best of your abilities, change your attitude and move on. We spend much too much time and energy rehashing what went wrong or who messed up. It is better to analyze what went wrong and try to prevent it from happening again. Then, move on. Your satisfying retirement requires it.

I am quite sure no one wants to re-live the Great Depression type lifestyle. But, like all of history, there are lessons to be learned. Some can come from simple phrases or idioms, like those above. Can you remember any from your parents or grandparents that I missed?


August 10, 2012

Prison Ministry: On The Road Again

My passion for prison ministry volunteer work has been documented several times on Satisfying Retirement  as well as in a few books. Most recently, in his new book, Are You Just Existing And Calling It a Life, Dave Bernard relayed how my interest in this type of volunteering began.

courtsey Libery Movement
I am surprised and gratified that readers and others respond so strongly to this involvement. Working inside prisons and with recently released fellows who are on parole and struggling to craft a new life is satisfying in a way that I could not have imagined before breaking out of the box that kept me from trying something new.

Last week I stared the process again as a mentor to a man who was released from prison after serving nearly 3 years. Because it is several hours away, I drove to the town near the prison the night before his release so I could get a good night's sleep. I was to be at the prison gates by 7:30AM the next morning. Because of prison paperwork, the fellow wasn't able to walk out of the gate until after 9:00AM so I sat and waited.

For the guy I was picking up, his day began hours earlier. He said he woke up at 4:00AM, nervous and anxious to get on with his life. He was given a set of clothing that was several sizes too big, but at least no longer an orange jumpsuit; he was happy. All his possessions fit in one box. After almost three years he left with less than $65 to start a new life.


By the time he came out of the gate, both he and I were ready to get on the road. My first question: are you hungry? My experience is there is too much excitement and nervousness to want to eat immediately. He fit the profile. We drove a little over an hour before he was ready for breakfast. Because prisoners make very few decisions, consulting a menu is often a daunting task. They can be overwhelmed with all the options. My mentee, however, knew exactly what he wanted: steak and eggs. When the food arrived he gave small moans of pleasure over the taste of meat, fresh eggs, and good coffee. It was fun to watch him enjoy something so much that most of us take for granted.

Another three hours of driving put us back in Phoenix where his first stop was the parole office to check in and begin fill out more paperwork. Then, we stopped by the main office of Alongside Ministries so he could meet the staff and be welcomed home. Next was a trip to the thrift store run by the ministry to get him several sets of clothing to supplement all he owned: one set of poor-fitting clothes he left the prison in.

Finally, I took him to his new home for the next six months, a complex of apartments also run by the ministry. He will attend daily classes on re-entering society, staying strong in his faith, financial basics, and being a Christan man. Church services and time to bond with the other men who live at the complex will also fill his calendar.

After a day or so of experiencing the feeing of freedom will come one of his biggest challenges: finding a job. Even during a strong economy, ex-cons have a tough time becoming employed. Unfortunately, most of society takes the view that once a felon, always a felon. There is rarely much in the way of forgiveness or giving someone a fresh start. Is it surprising so many released people (men and women) end up back behind bars? With few people hiring them, and even fewer willing to rent an apartment to them, we make it almost impossible for someone to stay on the right path. Luckily for my mentee, Alongside Ministries is a safe haven from that type of negative stereotyping. They also maintain a list of employers willing to take a chance on someone. But, believe me, that is rare indeed.

My role as his mentor is to help him stay focused on his goals, give him love and support, and help him develop good decision-making skills. I am not his daddy and not his parole officer. As long as it isn't something illegal or that breaks the policies of Alongside, if he decides to make what I consider a less-than-ideal choice I cannot (and would not) prevent him from doing so.
Like the rest of us, he will learn from experience about consequences and short-term versus long-term choices.


We will talk on the phone several times a week and spend an hour or so together at least once a week. Those sessions are designed to allow him to work through problems and choices with me, share frustrations and joys, read the Bible together, and let him know there are people who do want him to succeed.

Like most men I meet through this program, this fellow had a rough childhood, made terrible choices involving drugs, lost his family, and sealed his short term fate. Now, he is already making steps to re-establish strong relationships with his kids, ready to move on from a toxic marriage, and become an example of what God's love can do in a human life.

When I get tired and burned out from the travel and commitments of time and energy I remind myself what I am able to witness: a human life that was relegated to the trashcan, being turned around and put on a productive path.

There is nothing I could do with my time that has a better payoff.


prison in our rear view mirror




 

August 7, 2012

Successful Blogging & A Satisfying Retirement

A while back I read a guest post on someone's blog by Michael Chibuzor, a professional writer who specializes in content and marketing issues. His article listed several requirements for a successful blog. As I thought about each one, it seemed obvious that most of them also apply to building a satisfying retirement. I have taken some of his points and re-worked them to fit our needs:

(1). Support Your Passion. Fellow blogger Dave Bernard has just finished an excellent book on building a life around your passions. I have written about the subject quite a bit, too. Both Dave and I agree that a life without something that excites you and allows you to live fully is an unfulfilled life. Your passions are needed to motivate and stimulate you. You can't produce a lasting blog or have a happy retirement without passion.

(2). Content Is Still King (What You Stand For Matters). Retirement should have no effect on what makes you who you are. Your ethics and morals, how you view the world, your commitment to others, and your compassion are your content. Just like a blogger succeeds or fails based on the quality of his or her writing, your retired life will become something you can be proud of based on the values you adhere to. Your "yes" must mean "yes" and your promise must be dependable.

(3). Stay Relevant. The "good old days" are gone. Refusing to adapt to how the world is evolving will give you nothing but ulcers. This includes much more than accepting on-line bill paying or that many people don't write letters anymore. It means more than learning to text so you can communicate with a grandchild. It means being open enough to question assumptions or "facts" that may no longer work. It means being at least willing to try new technology or not dismissing those who do.

(4). Build A Strong Network of Friends and Contacts. This is what bloggers do all the time. My recent trip to see blogging friends in Oregon is an example. But, even if you never write a word on the Internet or anywhere else for that matter, a strong network of friends is a crucial part of a satisfying retirement. If you have been lax in this area before retirement, now is the time to make it a priority.

(5). Build An Email List (Stay in Touch With Others). After building that network of contacts (friends and acquaintances) take the next step: stay in regular contact. Call on the phone, write a real letter, even send e-mails with attachments of something you believe the other person will enjoy. Pay that person a visit. Solid relationships benefit from "pressing the flesh."

(6). Guest Posting is Mandatory (Share What You Know With Others). A blogger will guest post to expose his writing to a wider audience and to position him or herself as knowledgeable in a certain subject. That post is sharing something with others. In retirement, I am a firm believer in volunteering, mentoring, or somehow giving back to others who can benefit from your knowledge or time. Whatever you have to give, share it.



(7). Explore Your Business (Keep Growing and Improving At What You Do). Whatever you do will cease to satisfy if you are not looking for ways to learn more or improve what you are doing. Playing a guitar, building bookcases, planting vegetables, writing a weekly column for the local paper, running a day care center, being a grandparent.....it really doesn't matter. Like a shark, we must keep moving forward.

(8). Take Action Everyday (Don't Coast Through Life..Be Proactive). Following the point above, study and contemplation are important activities. Rushing about without a plan or goals will usually waste energy and time. But, just is bad is to study and think about something, but never actually do anything about it. It is OK to go back to school...just don't live there.

There are other aspects of blogging that I could have tried to tie to a satisfying retirement like SEO (search engine optimization), freshening content, re-writing older posts, and allowing comments. But, I've made the point. Connections from one part of our life to another are common. We just have to look for them.


A favor: if you enjoyed this post I'd appreciate your checking the Google+ symbol just below. It helps spread the word.

August 5, 2012

Retirement and Spirituality: What's the Link?

Spirituality is one of those words and concepts that is interpreted differently by many of us. In fact, even defining the word can be daunting. Someone did a search on Google not too long ago and found over 11 million entries for the term spiritual meaning. To some it says organized religion. To others spirituality is a belief that everything in the word is somehow tied together. Still others see a spiritual person as one engaged on a very private quest for answers of purpose and energy. Some think of meditation or contemplation as the path to increased spirituality. There is a whole community, based in Sedona, Arizona, that looks to energy vortexes and crystals as the way to heighten one's awareness.


For our purposes let's use this definition I found on a blog post from a few years ago: "it is a term which encompasses everything that we cannot see directly with our eyes, directly perceive by the other senses and know by our mere reason. That is spirituality in its basic meaning.


I did some research to find out what others were saying about the link between spirituality and a satisfying retirement. Is there a connection? Though I couldn't find specific statistics, there does seem to be a belief that as we age we do tend to become more spiritual. That may mean more religious in the commonly accepted sense, or a feeling of connectivity to nature and the universe in a more individual sense. 


The reasons are varied, but mostly revolve around the awareness of one's own mortality. We see our body decline, understand there is a loss of mental sharpness as we age, watch friends and relatives die, or lose frequent contact with our grown children who may live far away. These factors naturally lead us to consider what our life has meant. We also may be looking for something to help us cope with the unimaginable: the end of our time on earth.: "Me, gone? No!"


There is a body of study I found that says religious retirees are happier, not only because of their beliefs, but for the social aspects of being with like-minded people. Research conducted over the years has found those who are Mormons or Amish  have much lower mortality rates than others. Could some of that be lifestyle-driven? Sure, but the shared experiences and tight-knit communities are likely factors, too.

Last fall I wrote a post, The Hidden Piece of The Puzzle which provided a glimpse into the growth of my spirituality during my retirement. I made the statement that my life had caught on fire when I explored that side of myself and became more serious about its development. I found my comfort from organized religion but am very much aware that my way may not be your way.


Like finding one's passion or intense interest, developing and deepening relationships with others, or learning to live and thrive in situations that you didn't plan for or anticipate, it seems logical to me that we begin to take the time to ask the bigger questions of life. The routine of a commute, a day spent at a desk or retail establishment, on a factory floor, or in front of a computer gives way to more free time to listen to your mind and emotions. I think it is entirely reasonable to begin to wonder about how everything fits together.


So, what should be your take away on this be? I don't know what is going on with you, though I'd love for you to leave some thoughts. I can only speak for me. As I age, whatever it is that is inside me that you may call a soul or a part of an urge for a universal connection, has been getting stronger and a more important of my satisfying retirement


I may be deceiving myself, attempting to make sense in a world where nothing makes sense. I may be looking to give meaning to a life that, ultimately, has no meaning beyond the here and now. But, I guess I would argue that if I my beliefs and faith are right I have an eternity of joy ahead of me. If I'm wrong, I will be dead and won't know the difference.


I'm going with the faith approach. It makes my life so much richer today.

August 2, 2012

The Talk

We know all about "The Talk." As kids growing up or as parents to our children, there were certain times when the passing on of basic information occurs. Do you remember these?


  • Stranger-Danger
  • Look both ways before crossing the street
  • The sex talk
  • The protect yourself during sex talk
  • The it's time for you to move out and get a job talk

A few days ago I had to have "The Talk" with my dad. No, it wasn't any of the ones listed above. It was the dreaded "it is time to move to an assisted living apartment and stop driving your car" talk. If you are involved in your parent's life, at some point you are likely to have to do this. It is not pleasant.


Since my mom died in December 2010 Dad has remained in the same independent living cottage they shared. It is spacious, with a full kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, two baths, a laundry and store room, and a back patio. There is a carport and some nice planting up to the front door.


The reality is he spends virtually all his time in the master bedroom or the second bedroom which became a den. He doesn't cook any meals so the kitchen is unused. He doesn't entertain or invite anyone into the home except Betty and me, so the living room remains empty. His days are spent sitting in an easy chair in the den reading, napping, and watching the evening news. He drives his car to the building where lunch is served - all of four blocks away, even though a tram can pick him up and take him whenever he wants to go.

He drives less than 50 miles a week, on average. As noted, the car isn't needed to get around the complex or to local shopping and doctor offices. There are shuttle buses that provide all transportation. But, like most of us, the car represents freedom and control. Even if he rarely goes anywhere, as long as he has car keys, the possibility exists.

After lunch during our last weekly visit we went back to his home and laid out the reality of the situation. After a few fainting instances, including one in front of staff at lunch, he was rapidly becoming a danger to himself and others. The rules of the community require someone in that situation to leave independent living.

What makes it tough is that physically he doesn't look 88. He doesn't use a walker or cane. He has a stoop but is still solid-looking. While his short term memory isn't very good and hearing even worse, he is still capable of caring for himself.

But, with random fainting episodes (likely due to dehydration and low blood pressure) he shouldn't be living alone and certainly shouldn't be driving. While the complex requires that he check in every morning, if he fainted during the day, struck his head, or broke something, it could be many hours before he was discovered.

In the assisted living section there are nurses that will check on him several times a day, be sure he is taking his pills, and encourage water consumption. He is also required to eat two meals a day at one of their dining rooms. This helps insure he is getting adequate nutrition. The one bedroom apartment will provide him the space he is already using, though I'm sure he will feel much more confined.

The car is actually the bigger issue. Someone with a documented history of fainting who continues to drive is open to lawsuits, even criminal charges, if he causes an accident that injures or kills someone else. With virtually all his transportation needs covered by the community there are only a handful of times he will be unable to go where he wants to. In those cases, Betty and I have volunteered to drive him.

Logically, every reason in the world exists for taking these steps now. Even so, having to shrink his world, take away many of his freedoms, and remove him from the home he shared with his wife for several years is not easy. Frankly, I suspect this move and the loss of the car will speed up his aging and possibly lead to depression. I have to trust that the nursing staff (all very special people) handle this every day and will do what is required to keep him as healthy and happy as possible.

Most of us have to have "the talk" with a parent or two sometime during our life. A hard as it is, I must remember my children  will have to do the same thing with me one of these days. I hope I remember how tough it is on everyone involved.


Note: from NextAvenue.org: Taking Away a Parent's Car Keys