October 31, 2012

Retirement & A Mortgage: What To Do?


Last week I wrote about high school reunions, even though I have never been to one. Now I'm writing about retirement and a mortgage, even though I don't have one. Either I love showing off my ignorance or I am fearless. Maybe it is a combination of both. After all, a satisfying retirement is sometimes a walk on the wild side.

Even so the subject is important. Retirement brings its own unique set of concerns and decisions. Near the top of many lists is a decision about housing. Is it best to pay off the mortgage before retirement, or is that extra money better off being invested? If I pay off the house won't I lose a major tax deduction? But, what if I have a major health expense and can't pay the mortgage..could I end up retired and homeless?

Good questions with no clear cut answers. But, they are worth asking and taking a look at some of the ramifications. As an obvious disclaimer, I am not a tax expert or a financial guru, so what I offer is opinion and some basic thoughts from my own research. Please think through your own situation carefully, consult a trusted adviser, and proceed with caution.


If you do a Google search about retirement and mortgages the majority of the sites and articles that rise to the top suggest paying off your home loan before retirement. They do admit that many people can't do that, but it should be a goal.



 The reasons most often cited to pay off your mortgage:


1. Peace of mind. Even without a monthly payment you still have real estate taxes, HOA fees, maintenance, repairs and upgrades. But, if you delay fixing a leaking toilet for two months you won't risk losing your home. That big monthly Must Pay bill is gone.

2. Home equity is available. I strongly suggest this source of cash be used only for major repairs and upgrades to your property or something like a large medical expense. Home equity is not a piggy bank so you can take a 12 day cruise to Hawaii or buy a new truck. Too many people got stuck when they spent their home equity only to find the worth of the house dropped below the size of the loan. But, with home equity lines of credit at extremely low interest rates at the moment,  smart use can save you thousands in interest over more conventional loans.

3. You have more freedom to relocate or resize. Get in trouble with your mortgage and someone else might tell you when to move. Have no mortgage and you can decide when to downsize or move closer to the kids....or stay put.

4. You have a large source of retirement money available. If you move to a smaller home or condo or even rent an apartment, any profits after the house sale and purchase are yours. Though expensive and sometimes risky, reverse mortgages can provide a steady income from the equity you have in your residence too.

On the other side of the argument, these points are made:


1. Don't pull  money from other investments to pay off a cheap mortgage. Even losing the tax deduction of a mortgage may not be enough to make up for better performing investments. If you take a chunk of your retirement funds to pay off a mortgage the money left will not produce as much income or growth.


2. Tying up too much of your net worth in an illiquid asset. You own a $300,000 home free and clear. But, depending on the market conditions it might you 6-9 months or more to be able to sell the house and see any net profits. If you need quick cash a house is not the place to find it (except through a home equity loan which comes with its own risks).


3. If you have a low mortgage rate can you earn more in investments/ Then, use your cash to grow your nest egg. Depending on your investment strategy and resources, it is not too hard to get a rather safe return of 5% on your money. With a mortgage of under 4% are you willing to throw away that 1% of growth year and year?



Another consideration lies in what your plans are when you decide to move. For example, Betty and I plan on moving from our current home in four or five years. Housing prices have been rising in Phoenix for 15 months in a row so the future is looking brighter. 

We know that at some point we want to move into a continuing care community (CCC). The "buy-in" will be somewhere around $250,000. If we own a home or condo and need to move rather quickly into the CCC because of health issues, our buy-in money will be unavailable until we sell. That maybe too late.

So, we are giving serious thought to renting an apartment/town home when we move from our present home. The bulk of our profits from our current home will be invested for safe growth. While the yearly rent is lost in terms of equity or tax benefits, we will have liquidity when we are ready to move to the continuing care community. 


Again, I will remind you I am not a financial planner or expert. I have bumbled along pretty well for the past several decades, but there is always more to learn and consider. If you are a financial planner, investment guide, or CPA I welcome your input (as long as you aren't trying to sell something!). I hope readers like Sydney Lagier see this post and respond. I consider her a qualified expert and would welcome her thoughts.

All that said, you have thoughts, concerns, questions, and insight that will help of of us, expert or no. Please add your comments to this important subject. Since a home is generally the biggest expense for most of us in our lifetime, knowing what to do with that resource is vital.

October 28, 2012

We Are Thinking of A Big Shake Up. Are We Nuts?

A Satisfying Retirement is about change and adjustment. I like a certain routine and predictability but I have proven to myself that resisting change is silly - it is going to happen anyway. The best approach is to anticipate what may happen and think through my options. If a change occurs without any lead time I have learned to accept it while I decide how (and if) I need to do anything.

Recently, Betty and I have been talking a lot about our life and it's future course. After 11 years of retirement we have had our share of change. There have been some down times, but things mostly have been quite good. Our finances are stable, our families are close by, our health is good, and we have survived together 36 years and counting.

The trigger for the discussion was the RV trip in September. It seems strange that something that common for so many has become such a focus of our conversations recently. But, what has happened is a reassessment of how we want to live our life over the next decade or so. Obviously, a major health problem for us or anyone in our family could happen at any moment. I think I have our financial future properly in hand but so did the people in Greece or Spain...or in 1928 in America. We accept that what we may want to do may not happen. And we are OK with that.

What we are not OK with is the prospect of delaying a dream until it is too late, or even worse looking back in 10 years and saying, "We wish we had...." Life has no repeat button. We can't grab a remote and push rewind. When a day or week or month passes it passes...forever. So, what are we talking about? What do we want to change?

We want to take a risk. I don't mean to go to Vegas and put everything on 22 Black. I don't mean giving up everything we know in Scottsdale and moving to Oregon or Hawaii or back to Betty's home in West Virginia, though there is nothing wrong with any of those choices. But, for virtually all of our married life we have played it conservatively and pretty safely.

What we do want to do is get a motor home and be on the road for 3 or 4 months a year. We want to visit as many National Parks as we can while we are still healthy enough to enjoy them. We want to wake up by the ocean in Maryland and California and Maine and Key West. We want to sit by a lake in Oregon and Minnesota and North Carolina. We want to walk the River Walk in San Antonio again. I want Betty to see New Orleans.

We are retired and have no real commitments that can't be broken or delayed for awhile. So, what's the problem? Well, simply put, the problem is money, or rather a fear about money. A recreational vehicle is a major expense. Not only is there the purchase price, but the insurance, maintenance, repairs, licensing, storage, and gas add up quickly. Staying at a campground is much cheaper than a decent motel, but averages $40-$50 or more a night.

In order to buy the RV and cover all the projected expenses we would have to dip  (more like plunge) into our retirement account. Just to get started would require the amount of money we would live off for at least two years, when coupled with Social Security. Then, to be traveling as much as we'd like to be I'll need to find another $10,000 or more a year.

What we are wrestling with is that hole in our retirement savings. I won't use home equity to pay for it. That would be counter to everything I've done to build us a safety net. Using a home loan for a depreciating asset is a non-starter. We own our home free and clear and I will not risk that. I don't put anything on a credit card I can't pay off at the end of the month.

At some point I will be inheriting a nice sum from my father's estate, so I am confident I will be covered. When we sell this house to downsize to a condo or apartment we will have no mortgage to pay off. All the profits from the sale will be available for another home and to make up a retirement shortfall.

Logically, all of this should ease my mind. I will be able to cover the shortfall before it matters. Betty and I will experience a very different lifestyle for several months each year. We will travel, meet all sorts of people and see all sorts of sights. We will come home with stories to tell, thousands of photos to share (!) and experiences together we can get no other way.

Even so, I am struggling to take that next step. I have spent my life living beneath my means. I have tried to keep my life rather simple, without a lot of the "toys" that those around me have. Now, can I really toss all of that aside for this experience? Am I having a very, very late midlife crisis?

You will be one of the first to know when I finally commit....one way or the other. 





October 26, 2012

Blog Suggestions: A Review

Last week I asked for your suggestions for some blogs I may want to check in the post Blogs I Should Read - What Do You Suggest?. I was beginning to feel a little stale in my daily choices. With 65 million active blogs in English to choose from, I knew there were lots of good ones. Who better to ask than you to give me some ideas. Importantly, they did not have to relate directly to a satisfying retirement. Well written content on any subject was encouraged.

There were over 60 blogs suggested. Some weren't posted due to their "adult" content or because that blog is already on my blogroll . Surprisingly, all the folks who try to get links to their sites through obviously bogus comments didn't attempt to slip a recommendation or two onto this post.

Of the suggestions that did see the light of day, I have found 14 that I will begin to read on a regular basis. If I find the content brings me back and keeps me engaged, then those blogs will be added to the blogroll. Here are the ones that will become part of my routine:


Rural Revolution - I don't agree with a lot of her political views or her passion for guns but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate her writing and what she covers. She is outside my normal reading circle, which is the point.

The Simple Dollar - I used to read this blog regularly but for some reason I drifted away. Maybe I am missing something.

The Gift Of An Ordinary Day - interesting, though with only 2 or 3 posts a month she may post too infrequently to hold my interest.

Huffington Post GPS for the Soul and Post 50 blogs - a good collection of interesting articles from all sorts of different sources.

Mr. Money Mustache - This was recommended by three different people. I have been cautioned the author swears which won't put me off if the content is strong.

Counting Ducks - subtitled 'reflections on a passing life', this blog contains personal, well-written looks at all sorts of aspects of the author's life. Though he doesn't give his age I am guessing we are contemporaries.

Better RVing - sponsored by an RV company but still packed with all sorts of information I am finding helpful. Everything from repairs, tips on RV living, trips, and recipes.

RV Net forums - another commercially sponsored site with dozens of forums on all subjects RV. Based on the dates of the postings this site is quite active.

RV sue and crew - subtitled 'living on less and enjoying life more', Sue and her dogs live full time in a 17 foot trailer and travel the country. Her stories about her experiences are fascinating and her photos beautiful.

The Non-Consumer Advocate - Katy's goal is to "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. Gotta love her approach. She seems to post every day.


The Frugal Girl - The author, Kristen, says she cheerly lives on less. There appear to be lots of meal and recipe ideas. Right now she has a series on spending less for Christmas.

One Hundred Dollars a Month - Mavis is a wife and mom of two teenagers who manages to spend very little money to feed her family. The site has tons of tips, recipes, coupons, and ideas.

Midway Simplicity - Now here is a smart approach: tips, hints, and support for living a simpler lifestyle that isn't too harsh or extreme. Good idea. I expect to find this is one of my favorites. The author appears to post fresh material every 3rd or 4th day.

Vishnu's Virtues - looks interesting. The topics are spirituality, faith and beliefs. The goal is to help navigate life's problems and pitfalls. Vishnu writes with a touch of humor and just a dash of sarcasm.
 
 Solo Travelers - Just recommended by reader Kelly. A well-designed site that focuses on the solo traveler. Sampled a few of the posts; well written with nice pictures.
 
I learned something else with this experiment: financial blogs and those that preach a minimalist or simplified lifestyle are popular with readers of satisfying retirement. Food and menu preparation blogs also popped up often.

I have no intension of changing the direction or focus of my blog. But, your reading choices does give me some ideas on future posts that reflect some of these interests as they fit satisfying retirement's niche.

Just because I have complied the above list doesn't mean my exploration of good sites is over. Please feel free to add more. I'm pretty sure everyone likes to discover hidden gems and share with friends.

October 24, 2012

What a Great Idea

A small article in the September AARP Bulletin sent me to a web site to find out more. To quote from the article, "Wouldn't it be great to get your busted stuff-everything from toasters to clothing-fixed for free?"

The story is all about Repair Cafés. Fix-it volunteers either repair something or teach the person how to do the work themselves using the tools and materials provided. Instead of tossing that toaster on the junk heap, it is fixed. The broken desk lamp just need a new switch....a simple repair.

What a great idea!  Instead of filling our landfills with household items that still have a lot of life left in them, someone at the Repair Café makes it work again for free. Since the types of things repaired at these Cafés are not the type fixed by professionals, these volunteers are not taking jobs away from others. They are simply using their knowledge and talents to prevent waste and save folks some money.

Where do you find a Repair Café? At the moment I'm afraid you have to live in Holland or Germany. Why this idea hasn't caught on in other countries I haven't a clue. For retirees, something like this would be a a perfect match up of skills, volunteering, and saving money.

In America our consumer products are designed to become obsolete. Our economy requires that we buy new products on a regular basis. Even relatively expensive things like Blu-ray DVD players or computers are often  cheaper to simply toss and replace. Recently my daughter faced the choice of a $350 repair on an eleven year old laptop or $600 for a new one. Her decision was obvious.

But, if we could take that coffee maker than won't start brewing, the chair that has a split leg in need of repair, or the dress that has a broken zipper to a place where a volunteer will help fix it up, wouldn't we?  Click on the link above for more information about this tremendously simple yet elegant idea from the Dutch.

In the last post about readers suggestions of blogs for me to read, several were about simple living, a more frugal lifestyle, and making do with what we have. The Repair Café idea would seem to be a perfect match.

This is a short post with a simple idea that might spark your thinking. Could motivated retirees and others start a similar service in the States? Of course! All it would take is some organization and publicity and a desire to help others.

What do you think? Is there a seed of a great idea here? Could you, or someone you know, open a free fix-it shop for folks who just want to repair something rather than throw it away?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Note: That Other Jean left a comment below about a fellow named Michael Swaine and his Free Mending Library. Here is his story: The Fix it Man. This is great stuff.

October 22, 2012

High School Reunions: What's the Appeal?

I will admit right away that I have never been to a reunion at Lynnfield High School in suburban Boston. Since I graduated 45 years ago I imagine I've missed several. I should add I have never been invited, but I prefer to think that is because I have never given the folks in charge my various addresses.

My junior and senior high school years in Lynnfield were good ones. I was active in the band, school newspaper, and student council. I was on the track team for one year until I realized that throwing up after every 100 meter sprint was not a lot of fun. But, overall, I had an enjoyable time. I certainly wasn't in the most popular clique of kids at school, but I had lots of friends.

So, do I feel I have missed anything by not going back for a reunion? No. I have not been in touch with anyone from those years in over four decades. I'd be lucky to identify one or two people, much less have any meaningful discussions beyond the "My job was..." and "My family is..."

I know many folks my age have traveled back to their own reunions over the years. When asked, they tell me it was worth the trip. Old friendships were renewed and memories strengthened. Sharing pictures and a bit of bragging were fun. Still, I have never been motivated to go. Besides, isn't that what Facebook is for: having exchanges with old friends without the hassle and expense of travel?

In doing a bit of research for this post, I discovered I am not alone in this question about the relevance of reunions and their place in the age of Skype and Facebook. An article on Boston.com from a month ago gave a plausible reason why attending reunions makes some sense. The author, Farah Stockman, said "Maybe.... we go back to our reunions to see how far we have come."  Of course that implies a comparisons of society-defined versions of success and failure: the lawyer or doctor will probably feel he or she has come farther than the unpublished poet or small store owner. But, for someone who was not very popular during those school years, coming back does allow for validation and a boost in self-confidence.

While figures are not terribly reliable, many businesses who organize reunions and all that goes with them have reported a noticeable drop in attendance over the past few years. They speculate social media has been a major player in that decline. Basically, the feeling is why travel to meet someone who you have already established regular contact through Internet options? 

Not willing to give up without a fight, one company that sells reunion services has provided a list of 31 reasons why you should attend your reunion. Aimed at folks much younger that us, there may be some valid reasons to you. Another site actually has hints on what to do and not do if you go: How-to-attend-your-high-school-reunion.


Since I have never been to a reunion I'm going to turn this post over to you. I have a few basic questions that I'd love for you to answer:

1. Have you ever been to a high school reunion?
2. Why did you go?
3. How did it turn out?


If you have not gone to a reunion, then:

1. Why not?
2. Do you regret not attending?


Consider this post part of my continuing education. Maybe I will realize I have missed something important in my life. Or, maybe not.


October 19, 2012

Labels: What Am I ?

This is a tough post for me to write because I'm not sure how you will react. A set of beliefs that I thought were unchangeable are showing some cracks. I write a lot about change being the only constant. I understand that we adjust as we age. A satisfying retirement is not a static state. But, to think I would admit to this would have been unthinkable even a few years ago: my liberal views are shifting.

Beliefs and My Parents


This really isn't about politics or political parties. I find most of what occurs in that arena to be disheartening and upsetting. No matter how much we think someone is being honest with us, power corrupts absolutely. Seemingly no one is immune. So, this is not a Democrat or Republican or Tea Party or whatever message. I guess this is an example of how what we believe is foundational to us can change.

Through my early life, until I went to college, I followed whatever political beliefs my parents expressed. That is pretty normal behavior. If they thought the Republicans had the right path to prosperity, so did I. If they became disenchanted with a presidential candidate in a certain election and shifted allegiance, I was right there with my vocal and moral support. Of course, I couldn't vote so it really didn't matter much.


A Very Low Draft Number


Off to college and a more radical me emerged. I received a very low draft number in the first national lottery so I made sure I kept good grades in college. I marched on Washington and was half-heartedly involved in a campus sit-in. My primary motivation was really that the girl I was dating at the time was quite passionate about these causes, so I was too. Frankly, though, I was more interested in my job playing records on the radio.

I completed my college studies and then had a friend of a friend get me into the Army Reserves. Six years of monthly drills and a two week summer "camp" every year was a small price to pay for not going to Viet Nam. Politically I stopped following my parent's path and found the message of the Democrats a better fit to my mindset. My votes went to the party of the donkey.

As I moved from my late 20's through my 50's I gravitated toward an Independent label. I would vote for whomever I thought was least likely to disappoint me. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton got my vote, but so did George W. Bush in 2000. Without rehashing all the stuff that happened, I shifted to John Kerry in 2004. Even though Kerry was about as inspiring as a cold bowl of soup Mr. Bush had lost my trust. He wasn't doing what he had promised to do in 2000. Barack Obama promised a change from the 8 years of Bush and he earned my vote. I think there are about five Democrats in Arizona so it was a lonely time.

Within a year, his rhetoric faded and his delivery of  hope and change started to sputter. While the Republican-dominated House said "No" to everything, Mr. Obama's lack of experience and leadership became painfully obvious to me. My belief in his ability to deliver took a serious hit. Then the fiasco of the Republican primary process last year cemented my belief that neither party has my interests at heart.

My Beliefs Start to Shift


So, I began to examine what I thought might be best for our country, regardless of what that mean for my political affiliation. I slowly realized I was coming around to some of the positions held by those who think of themselves as conservatives. Now, I must quickly add that the more extreme views of these folks leave me cold. The ideas that people who are poor just aren't trying hard enough, or that those without health insurance are on their own doesn't mesh with my belief system. The idea that tax cuts for the well off are good and similar cuts for the middle class and poor are bad makes me crazy. The fact that the word "conservative" has come to mean an extreme world view is unfortunate and not helpful.

But, what is shifting is my sense that the government can protect me from those bent on playing the system or that a government-run program will always be fairer than one run by a private company. For example, I no longer think the new health care law is a panacea. In fact, while it has some very important features and some elements that I welcome and strongly support, it also has serious flaws. That doesn't excuse the gouging that health insurance companies are engaged in. It doesn't explain why the U.S. has some of the most expensive and least effective health care in the developed world. But, government isn't on track to solve some of the underlying problems with this one bill in its present form.

Fewer regulations and less government interference in our daily lives are now more attractive concepts to me. I don't mean a "survival of the fittest" mindset. Protection of the disadvantaged and those down on their luck is part of who we are as a country. I paid into Social Security and Medicare for 35 years and I am anxious for my payback to begin. I expect regulations to keep the greediest among us from having a free hand at milking the system. I expect government to help protect the air I breathe and the food I buy. But, the government simply piling on more regulations alone can't fix everything and their solutions can make a problem worse.

It is too bad we have come to the point where we attempt to pigeon-hole folks with simplistic labels. While I no longer fully fit the "liberal" label, I am not willing to be called a "conservative" either. Both tags have way too much baggage (get it?..baggage..tags...never mind).


So Now What?



So I guess I am an American hoping  that we will right our tilting ship, we will work together to solve the problems that are bigger than any one of us, and that we will build bridges instead of chasms. The last decade or two doesn't exactly fill me with confidence, but what other choice do I have?

The general election is only a few weeks away. The signs by the side of the road will go away and the insulting TV commercials will cease. Unfortunately, no matter who wins I doubt the unproductive name-calling and finger-pointing will stop. I doubt the concept of cooperation will suddenly have an overnight re-birth.

I am left to use my blogger and author-friend Galen Pearl's idea: I hope we can somehow find our happy place as a country and as people. Frankly, my satisfying retirement (and probably yours) probably depends on it.

Vote on election day and then do your best to be civil the day after. Win, lose, or draw (think hanging chads) we are in this together.

OK, your turn. Just know that any political name-calling or blaming a person or party for the ruination of our nation will never see the light of day. We should be gown up enough to express an opinion without that. 

October 17, 2012

Tai Chi.....Me?



After readers have commented many times about the benefits of Tai Chi and suggested I give it a try, I did. Our library has a DVD, Tai Chi for Beginners, that I borrowed for several weeks to see if this was a form of exercise that interested me. Over the period I had the DVD, Betty and I did many of the initial breathing and positioning movements, along with a few of the postures.

By no means am I a Tai Chi expert. I can barely do many of the movements and poses without following the video. But, I can see a value for those of us who are getting less limber and having occasional balance issues. Even if the only positive is slowing down and breathing deeply, learning a bit about this ancient form of self defense that has evolved into a form of exercise may be worth your exploring.


Qi Gong and Tai Chi Postures


I started with Qi Gong, a series of breath and energy movements to still the mind and loosen up. Try as I might I couldn't relate to some of mystical meaning supposedly occurring during the exercises. Seeing the radiant light glowing from the energy downpour, sending energy to the vital energy centers or deepening the root connection through the feet is a bit much for me.

But, the slow stretching of the arms over the head or the pushing of the hands downward or reaching for the skies forced me to concentrate on what I was doing  and empty my mind of most other thoughts (not all, but many!). It is all done so slowly that it is tough to get these moves wrong.

Next are Tai Chi Postures, like Lifting Hands, which actually takes six different steps, Ward Off Left and Right, or Guard the Temple and Push with Duck's Beak. They are not easy because there is a lot to remember. To someone new the movements look simple. Not true. Often hands, hips, toes, heels, and legs are involved in different orders and in different ways. The overall look is as if someone is twisting or lifting various body parts in very slow motion.

It is a little difficult to understand how such deliberate movement can have many health benefits. But, organizations as prestigious as the Mayo Clinic and the Harvard Health Foundation agree that Tai Chi's benefits are real. In addition to stress reduction, this meditation in motion form of exercise is also given credit for helping flexibility and balance. It puts very little stress on muscles and joints, is low impact, requires no equipment, can be done inside or out, alone or as part of a group.

Tai Chi Resources


A web site, 12 Health benefits Of Tai Chi for Seniors, may be the best place to easily review the health benefits for us older folks. Because it is non competitive and can be done alone until you are more comfortable with the various moves and poses, there are few barriers to you giving Tai Chi a try.


I found this sample of a Tai Chi course on YouTube. While this isn't the beginners course I used, the approach is similar. Starting at the 6:20 mark, Dr.Lam begins a lesson on the first slow movements for someone brand new to Tai Chi.





Frankly, whether I keep going with Tai Chi is an open question. I'd love to hear from anyone who practices Tai Chi. Has it been good for you, or really hasn't proven to provide many health benefits? Please share your experiences and thoughts while I go form a Duck's Beak with my hands.

October 15, 2012

Blogs I Should Read - What Do You Suggest?

How many blogs are there?  A conservative estimate places the worldwide total at well over 200 million. Though it is almost impossible to quantify how many are active,  probably half would be an acceptable number. Of that 100 million roughly 65% are in English. 

I have 17 blogs on my satisfying retirement blogroll and probably sample bits and pieces of another dozen or so each week. That leaves me just under 65 million I don't read.

I am in a bit of a blog reading rut. A well written post in almost any subject can give me fresh ideas or a new perspective. Occasionally I will follow a Google search and stumble across something good. But, that seems rather inefficient.

I'm turning to you. I'd appreciate your telling me about some of the blogs you enjoy. It doesn't matter what the subject. I can gain something from almost anything. The only two requirements are it is in English and the blogger updates material at least once every few weeks.

List the name of the blogs and I will find them. Please don't type in URL links. Just like the spam comments I wrote about last week, I'd rather not post anything that leads someone directly to a site before I have a chance to check it out.

What I propose to do is take your suggestions and check out every one of them as I have time. Then, I will write a follow up post, listing the blogs that I found most interesting and helpful to me. From that list I will probably update & freshen my blogroll and which blogs are in my Google Reader. I will prune and add to my e-mailed blog list.

So, in addition to helping me, I hope this experience helps you discover hidden gems you might like.

Remember I am looking for well written, well done blogs. Don't assume I wouldn't be interested in any particular subject. I may not be, but if the blog is a good one I can still find inspiration or ideas. In fact, the wider the subject matters I explore the more I'll like it.

Thank you! I'm ready to read some gems.

October 12, 2012

We Need Some Help With Our Puppy




"I know it's wrong, but this is my favorite thing!"
Bailey, our cocker puppy is 10 months old. After months of discussion, searching for a good match in the Phoenix area, and finally finding a breeder we trusted, she joined our lives in March. The impact our satisfying retirement has been greater than I think either Betty or I could have envisioned. Smart and cute as a button, Bailey has proven to be a tremendous addition to our household. She mastered the doggie door within a few days and sit commands cause her no problem.

But, she hasn't come without some issues we continue to struggle with, issues that maybe you can help us with. She is a nervous dog. Part of that is her breed and part is probably due to her being shipped to us on a plane flight from Missouri when she was just 8 weeks old. Because of delays at one of the airports, she spent 6 hours in a cage, being buffeted by sounds and sights that probably terrified her.

To this day, she barks at things, both real and imagined. Shadows, the wind in the trees, even one of us entering a room abruptly can set her off. Other dogs or people walking by the house, and delivery people coming to the door are her two biggest triggers. We have tried all the training techniques we can think off: treats for silence, clicker training, and  leash control but that tiny body will still quiver with energy and spout a stream of barks.

We have taken her to local pet stores, malls, and neighborhood dog parks in an attempt to desensitize her and help her socialization. We play with her in the house and backyard to help burn up some of her nervous energy. But, the barking continues. Frankly, if we can't get it under control our plans to get an RV and take her on vacations with us are in jeopardy because leaving her in a kennel for up to a month is not an option.

So, you who have dealt with this issue, we need your suggestions. "She will grow out of it" may be true but we don't want to simply let her get tired of barking at some point in the future.


Daddy..I want to go that way!
Another problem is pulling on the leash and heeling when walking. Betty has found several excellent on-line resources that she has studied. We have tried it all. Still, Bailey will pull on the leash 90% of the time when something attracts her attention. One of us immediately stops until she stops and allows the leash to go slack...for a few seconds until her little doggie brain smells something that she just knows is her new favorite thing. Again, what has worked for you? Is there something we may not have tried, or is the answer just keep at it?

So, pretend you are that high-priced dog trainer invited into our home to help Bailey (and us) conquer these behaviors. Shock collars, crates, and any physical approaches are non-starters. Anything else....let her rip!


While we are on the subject of dogs, a reader has asked if I'd address the topic of the cost of having a pet. Again, she would like your input, too. I can provide the information on what Bailey is costing us. But, as a puppy, she doesn't have some of the expenses that older pets incur. I also have no feedback on the costs associated with cats, so if you can shed some light on that she would be appreciative.

For M (and anyone else wondering) here are the costs for Bailey the puppy as of today:

  • $800 to buy her and have her flown to Phoenix
  • $430 for one year preventive care at Petsmart. This includes unlimited doctor visits, all the first round of shots, and spaying.
  • $25 for some other pills
  • $275 for a second doggie door and other initial supplies
  • $14 a month for food (wet & dry)
  • $34 so far for doggie day camp (for desensitizing work)
  • $94 for two haircuts, nail trims, and baths
  • $420 for various toys, spray cleaners, collars, outside stuff, gates, etc
  • $35 for a 'Thunder shirt' for calming training
The total to date has been just over $2,200.

Next year we will not have the $431 preventive care expense, though we will have to pay for any vet visits and meds. Also, the large up front costs to buy the dog and get all of her initial supplies will not reoccur. So, for 2013 I am budgeting $100 a month.

What is that over there? Can we go see?

October 10, 2012

Retirement & Boredom: It Shouldn't Happen


What follows is a guest post from Mariana Ashley, an expert in online educational opportunities. Becoming bored during what should be a satisfying retirement is something that doesn't need to happen. Mariana presents some viable options.

Curing Retirement Boredom Through Continuing Education


While retirement can be a beautiful experience for some, it can be an absolute miserable experience for others—especially those who aren't really sure what to do with their new free time and miss both their line of work and co-workers. But just because you're retired doesn't mean that you have to spend your days bored. There are plenty of fulfilling activities that can keep both your mind and your body active, not to mention you don't have to tap into your savings to enjoy them. That said, to discover some new ways that you can fill the void by becoming a lifelong learner continue reading below.

Return to School. By far one of the easiest ways to keep yourself entertained (as well as keep your brain fresh to fight the chances of developing dementia) is to become a student again. You can become a formal student and enroll in classes at your local community college and be taught by an instructor.
You can become a self-learner and check out one of the many free online courses available through MIT, Utah State, or Notre Dame just to name a few. A  Google search can lead you to others. This is the perfect time to finally master a foreign language, learn how to build a computer from scratch, or get more in-tune with economics so you can better manage your retirement finances.

Join/Create a Book Club. Another great way to keep yourself busy, as well as contribute to your mission of becoming a lifelong learner, is to join or create a book club. Selecting a new and interesting book each month and then discussing it over coffee or snacks with former co-workers, neighbors, or even family members (such as older grandchildren) is a great way to stay social and keep the mind sharp too. If you're having trouble finding a book club to join or struggling with finding members, you might want to check with your local library or bookstore—often times they host book clubs within their facilities once a month.

Work on Fitness. Since you're getting older, it may be wise to use your new free time to start learning more about your body and the various ways you can keep it strong to help reduce complications that are often associated with age. Do your own research and start reading health and nutrition magazines, join a fitness health club, hire a professional trainer, or start making an effort to get more exercise in your daily life whether that's via light jogging, biking, swimming, or even gardening.

Apply Your Skills. Lastly, if you have a set of useful skills and don't want to lose them or merely want to be able to share those skills with the world then you can also consider offering those skills pro-bono or through volunteerism. For example, if you were a former teacher you can tutor a struggling student. If you were in the building or construction industry, you can volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. If you worked in the food service industry you may be able to help prep food for the homeless. The list can theoretically go on and on.

[Bob says]  I'd add one additional option under her heading of returning to school: Life Long Learning courses. Locally, Arizona State University is affiliated with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Nationwide, more than 115 university-affiliated Osher Institutes, from Maine to Hawaii, work to provide a diverse repertoire of intellectually stimulating non-credit short courses, lectures, and workshops for mature adults seeking to expand and share their knowledge while meeting new friends and forming new social networks


Mariana Ashley is freelance education writer who specializes in online schools in Alabama. However, she loves to cover all education-related topics including news and trends as well as how education can help improve the lives of the older generation. She welcomes your feedback.


Note: after Mariana submitted this post I received a press release about the NoHo Senior Arts Colony, now leasing in North Hollywood. It is a senior living community that concentrates on the arts, with art classes for residents, and even has an on-site theater where the Road Theatre Company will be performing. To my knowledge this has never been done at a apartment community before, especially with this type of focus. This is just an example of another way to fight boredom and keep your brain active. I think it is a great idea. More info is available here.



October 8, 2012

They Must be Kidding


Anyone who has been blogging for a while is well acquainted with spammers or people trying to leave comments that really is designed to serve one purpose: to promote a web site or get a link on the Internet. That is why some blogs use those irritating and sometimes hard-to-decipher words before someone is allowed to post a comment: To keep machines and automated comments from making their way onto the blog. Those things drive me crazy and sometimes mean I don't comment when I want to because it is such a hassle to figure out the words.

I understand the problem, however. As Satisfying Retirement has grown in readership the number of these automated comments has reached close to two dozen a day. Instead of the word/number system I prefer to simply delay posting whatever is typed until I can manually review the comment. In that way you don't have to do any extra work and the spammers don't get onto the blog.

But, that doesn't stop them from trying. As soon as I see Anonymous as the commenter I assume another spammer. Even so I check each one because I never want to deny someone the chance to add his or her thoughts without having to use a name. As you can imagine the amount of time required to check every comment before it sees the light of day is not unsubstantial but has become the "cost of doing business." 

Today I thought it might be fun to take some of the dumbest attempts at spamming and show you what most bloggers deal with every day. Frankly, I can't tell if many of these are generated by a machine that simply strings nonsense together, or someone with a less-than-effective understanding of English thinks what he or she is writing makes sense. Whatever the case, chuckle along with me as you read a sampling of what has hit my mailbox in the last week or so. Obviously, I have deleted any links or something that would accomplish the spammer's purpose.



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October 5, 2012

Easing into Retirement: Steps to Try


As I go through the responses to the questions for my new book I am impressed with the amount of thought and planning folks are putting into building their satisfying retirement. Of course, there are those who due to circumstances or personality are on the "what will be will be" side of the scale. But, the majority are trying to anticipate both financial and personal issues that lie ahead.

A few of the pre-retirees, those still a few years away from full retirement, are deciding to ease into retirement. Either they have moved from full time to part time employment, taken a job that allows for more flexible hours, or become involved in telecommuting so they can become accustomed to being home several days a week.

A story on Money Magazine's website from earlier this year detailed some of the same approaches. As these people age they look for ways to reduce their working hours while learning how to be retired. Unable or unwilling to stop all work, these folks have creatively found ways to downshift their schedule.

As regular readers of Satisfying Retirement blog know, a transition to full time retirement can be tricky. I have written about discovering what you want to do with your free time before you find yourself on the couch in front of the TV. There have been lively discussions about setting up a budget before your regular checks stop so you have a feel for what life will be like when you must make do with what you have invested and saved. Moving or staying put is one of the most important decisions that I revisit from time to time. Figuring out how to live with your spouse or partner all day, everyday, is often tougher than it seems. So, if you can do it, the concept of easing into retirement makes tremendous sense.

But, what if your job or situation doesn't allow for dipping your toes fully in the water before taking the plunge (sorry for the metaphor but it was so obvious!)? Is there still a way to make a smoother transition?

Yes, I think it is possible. Try these ideas:


1. The next time you have a long weekend off from work, spend the time at home instead of rushing off the mountains or ocean. Don't start a big project. Try to make time slow down by throwing away your normal schedule and to-do list. Experience what 3 full days without an agenda feels like. Set aside time to talk with your partner about what you two want when retirement comes. Don't assume you both want the same thing. Use this time away from work to try out a schedule you control. Does the lack of a list or feeling productive every minute leave you feeling a bit uneasy? That is a good sign you aren't quite ready to cut the cord.

2. Devise a budget based on what you think your retirement income and outgo might be. Live off that budget as closely as possible for 2 months. How did you feel...deprived and stressed or somewhat liberated? What if you had to live that way full time?

3. Make a list of those passions and hobbies you haven't engaged in due to lack of time. Pick the top two and force yourself to make the time to dabble in them to see if the interest is still strong. If not, you should find something that keeps you energetic and engaged before tapering down from work.

4. Have a health checkup or honestly assess yourself. Retirement is not nearly as much fun if you are not feeling your best. Take the steps now to get yourself stronger and feeling better. Retirement puts some pressure on you. Be sure you can handle it.

5. If you can afford it, go somewhere for a vacation that allows you to really disconnect from the planning and pressures of your daily life. Betty and I found our 9 days in an RV allowed us to fully relax and simply enjoy each other's company. Those nine days reminded me of the incredible blessing that retirement can be...if I let it.




While none of these ideas replicates the actual feeling of being retired, each gives you a piece of the puzzle that together will be your satisfying retirement.

Have you, a spouse, partner, or close friend tried to ease into retirement? Can you share any of those experiences? Is there something on this list that may work for you?

October 3, 2012

Retirement RV Travel: A Wife's Persepctive

Last month Betty and I took our first-ever RV trip. If you missed the posts that covered that adventure here they are: RV Virgins No MoreRetirement RV Adventure Part Two, and RV Travel: What It Taught me About Myself.

A comment or two left on those posts wondered what my wife's reaction was to this trip. I asked Betty to share some of her (uncensored) thoughts! Was it a positive part of her satisfying retirement?

What was the overall experience like? Is it something you'd do again?



Frankly I was a little apprehensive about trying this adventure with my husband who is a bit more serendipitous than I am. I have always trusted Bob and usually am always ready to try new things. (within limits!) As it turned out it was quite enjoyable. We were able to get up where it was a little cooler and leave our worries behind for a week and a half.

This was a test not only to see if we could manage the hookups but also to see if Bob and I could live with each other in small quarters for an extended period of time. I’m happy to announce we did very well and passed both tests! Yes, I’d love to rent again maybe with a slightly larger camper. The big test next time is to try this with a puppy who barks at everything. There will be obedience classes and lots of socializing with the pup before venturing out. I’ve suggested to Bob that we go somewhere close to test the waters.


What were the biggest surprises of RVing...both good and bad?


Everywhere we looked we ran into friendly people who were willing to lend a hand, come and visit and knew when to give you space. It was so refreshing to meet people literally face to face. In this world of texting and Smart Phones it was great to sit outside and have someone come up to your “front porch” and chat a while.

About 2 in 3 campers had a dog. There were all different types of dogs from the tiniest to huge breeds. Out of all of the dogs that we saw all but two were extremely well behaved. I loved watching the dogs go by.

The showers/bathrooms at the two RV Parks/Campgrounds were beautifully maintained.

It can get to be a little boring if you stay in the same place for an extended period of time. Unlike Bob, I can get antsy in a short period of time. Except for photography, and reading, my hobbies can be quite messy and take up a huge amount of space. Painting, carpentry, scrapbooking, and building things are hard to do in an RV. But with a little imagination everything can be geared down to a miniature level. I even saw a man with his saw horse and table saw set up outside his RV. One word of caution… Don’t scrapbook outside on the picnic table on a windy day!


What were your favorite parts?


The people!

I love getting outside during most of the day and I don’t do it very often when I’m home. It was wonderful being able to get to the cool weather.

I loved seeing all of the different breeds of dogs. It seemed as if every other RV had one or two dogs enjoying the RV life as much as their humans!

Having the ability to pack up and leave with your “house” anytime you want.

What were your least favorite parts?


Alas, it is kind of a working vacation for all. Since Bob will be doing all of the driving, (especially if we tow a car) and hook up, it falls to me to pack, unpack, prepare meals, and clean up.

The bed in a 25’ camper is small, (a double?) and they supplied us with only a flat sheet, making it next to impossible to make the bed. The sheet and comforter kept coming out, plus I had to crawl over Bob to get to my side of the bed.

What I worried about most was what and how much stuff I should I bring with a rental. I am sure it would be loads of fun supplying your own things when you have your own camper. Because we were in a class”C” camper and we needed transportation to get supplies, go sightseeing and go into town I had to drive our car from Flagstaff to Show Low and then back to Flagstaff. Next time we’ll try and tow our smaller car behind the camper.

The air conditioning was loud. (Question – Are most RV air conditioning loud or was it just a rental thing?) You couldn’t watch a video with the air conditioning running.


What advice would you give to someone thinking of taking their first RV trip?


The most important thing to bring is painters tape. We used it to hold several drawers and the stove grate in place because they rattled.. Painters tape does not leave residue like duct tape.

I would pack everything in labeled (Kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, tools, clothes) appropriate sized plastic totes. Labeling everything makes it so much easier to find it in the storage area underneath the RV.

I literally went room to room before leaving and put things in that I thought I’d need. . I won’t bore people in this blog, but I have made an extensive list of things I’ll need for our next rental that I can e-mail to anyone who is interested.



Betty hugging a tree (don't ask)
So, there you have it: RVing from my wife's perspective. I must say I am very happy she enjoyed the experience as much as I did. I would add one essential ingredient to her list: good WiFi availability at your campsite. With the need to maintain the blog, respond to e-mails, pay bills, and watch movies on Netflix, solid Internet service was a must-have.

Oh, and yes, she does have a long list of things she decided to take/not take next time. If you are interested e-mail me and I'll pass her list along to you. Maybe that will help you make your next RV trip part of your satisfying retirement journey.

Note: I was just interviewed about our first RV experience on the Florida Outdoors RV blog: http://goo.gl/ySzPK.  Please read and leave a comment!