March 25, 2017

Two Approaches to Retirement

Retirement is a unique journey for each one of us. While there are basics that apply to everyone, it is the ability to shape this stage of life to meet our deepest desires and needs that make it so satisfying.

If I had to simplify the process I suppose I could put retirement into two broad categories: the "reasonable, got it covered, done my homework" type of approach, and the "Let it roll, what will be will be, I will adjust as needed, it is all good" crowd.

Neither of these are right...or wrong. That is what is so fascinating about writing a blog focused on retirement. Anytime I think I have it all figured out, someone leaves a comment, I read a new press release, or my own life kicks me in the shin and says, "Not so fast."

Certainly, I fit much more comfortably into the first category. My career was decided at age 12. I fell in love with the life of a radio announcer and never wavered. Saving for retirement started at 24. I have experienced only two major employment setbacks, getting fired and later having my own business slowly die.

But, the planning and "got it covered" mindset allowed me to thrive through both situations. Even finding myself retired at least 10 years before I thought might happen has been a blessing. June will mark 16 years on the other side of the employment equation; I can't imagine in my worst nightmare going back.

My parents taught me the importance of delayed gratification. My dad was unemployed for several stretches of my youth. He lost a substantial amount of money in a failed business attempt. Yet, never, ever, did he allow his struggles to upset the family. He was a steady rock. During tough times mom's school teacher salary kept us in casseroles, with a roof over our head, and a feeling of safety. I learned early on the value of planning and adjusting.

Over the last few years Betty and I have let a little of the "let it roll" attitude into our retirement. She has always been a bit more of a free spirit and has encouraged us to take the long RV trips, or rent a beach house for a family gathering. She decides we should stretch the budget in one area, but insists it contracts somewhere else. No deficit spending in the Lowry household if we can help it (last year was an anomaly!).

Our oldest daughter fits the first category well. Like her parents she is conservative financially, though willing to take a risk if she is comfortable with the pro-con balance. She keeps a tight grip on the family budget and expenses. She and her husband will probably look forward to a retirement that is comfortable and happy.

Our youngest is more in the "money is meant to be spent on experiences" camp. She has skated near the edge financially several times, but always manages to pull herself back to stability. She takes steps to cut expenses and increase her income so she can spend an extra week in Scotland or Spain or go to Disneyland with her nieces and nephew. Saving is not really in her nature. Retirement is probably going to look quite a bit different for her. But, importantly, her decision is absolutely right for her. She loves her life.

So, how about you? Which fits you best? Or, have you found a way to straddle both approaches, a little bit planning and conformity seasoned with a dash or two of "what will be will be?"

March 21, 2017

Aging in Place: Can You Do It?

A growing trend among retirees is the desire to remain in one's home as long as possible. In fact, a recent study quoted by AARP shows 87% of those 65+ want to age in place for as long as it is safe. Even among those 10 years younger, 71% would opt to stay put. Familiarity and community ties are the biggest draws.

Even so, the market for retirement communities remains strong, such as Jimmy Buffett's new retirement community approach. Sun City communities and other planned offerings have adjusted to a more active lifestyle and the positives of providing care that includes nursing home facilities. 

The ability to choose between staying home or moving to a retirement community or coop housing setup is a new development. In part, it has occurred because there are more options available to receive medical care in one's home. With nursing facility costs out of reach for many retirees, it is good news that other choices exist.

For purposes of this post, let's assume you would like to stay where you are for as long as you can. What do you need to consider for this to be a logical, safe, and enjoyable decision? Here are several factors to mill over:

1. Is your housing safe for aging in place?

A single story home is almost a necessity. Certainly, your bedroom and bathroom should be on the first floor. As our knees and hips start to act up, a two or three story dwelling becomes dangerous. In addition to our joints, our balance erodes over time, making stairs a constant hazard. Adding stair lifts is expensive and not always feasible. 

Doors must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers. The cabinets you use every day should be low enough to reach from a sitting position. Door knobs can be replaced with level handles. Throw rugs should be eliminated since they are a serious tripping hazard. The list of changes to your home can be long, but it is important. Take a fresh look at your home and decide what would have to be modified. Have an expert check your roof, heating and cooling system, electrical, and plumbing too.

2. Does your community help seniors age in place?

When you can no longer drive, is there a bus or senior transportation system that can take you to stores and medical appointments? Would you be comfortable using a taxi or Uber-type service? Are there any tax breaks for seniors, like a freeze on property taxes? Is there an active senior center that you can use? Are health care facilities, as well as an adequate choice of doctors, within a reasonable distance? 

3. Do you have options when you must move out?

Are there good nursing home facilities in your area? Is there usually a long waiting list? When it is time to make that move, you will probably not be up to a long move or a long delay. Facilities that are nearby give you the opportunity to visit them on a regular basis. As you get nearer to making that move you will know which ones have maintained their standards, quality of care, and affordability. 

4. Do you like where you live?

Not only does your home have to be safe as you age, it should make you happy and be in an area you enjoy. There is no point in staying in your present home if the neighborhood is less than ideal, the closest shopping is several miles away, and the yard or living space take constant maintenance and upkeep. If you feel more like a prisoner in your home rather than comfortable and relaxed, consider finding another place to age in place. There are enough struggles without adding unhappiness with your current home.

For many, being close to family and friends are keys to deciding to age in place. In addition to the joy they can add to one's life, having relatives and good friends to help with life's little challenges is a blessing. Even something as simple as a drive to the doctor's office or the car repair shop is easier when someone you know is along for the ride. It makes aging in place less stressful.

Deciding to age at home for as long as possible is a choice many of us are making. If this includes you, please be sure to review the steps above. Make your decision not just emotional, but is one that will keep you safe, secure, and protected.

There are plenty of on-line resources to help you decide if this is right for you. Age in Place is one I found that seems like a  good place to start.

March 17, 2017

I Wish I'd Known This When I Retired

Today, retirement comes with certain expectations. Popular literature, feedback from friends, books, Internet articles....all sorts of sources paint a picture of this stage of life. Getting an accurate overview of what is likely to happen is not that difficult.

When I stopped full time work in 2001 things were different. There was very little retirement information that dealt with anything other than financial preparation. Sure, Sun City-type retirement communities painted a picture of never-ending leisure, happy folks playing cards, enjoying the pool, and tasting wine with friends every bit as good-looking as you. 

When our parents retired, the life of golf, playing bridge, and days spent in the wood-shop was an appealing model. For many, things didn't work out that way, but that was the dream to aspire to. Because there wasn't a lot to go on, I began my journey with the same idea of what retirement should look like. 

Within the first year away from my job, I began to grasp that my expectations were different from my parents. I was approaching the next 25 years with a different set of desires. I didn't really know what those desires would be, but the idea of being put on the shelf, of being relegated to days of leisure didn't sound fulfilling. Then again, neither did non-stop travel, or moving to Costa Rica and living as an expat. 

Honestly, 16 years later I am still adjusting. There have been times when I had a new challenge and some new goals. Other periods felt more like a pause or a lull between whatever was next. Some break was good, too much, not. My personality allows me to fall into a rut and feel quite stagnant if there isn't a goal in front of me.

What I wish I'd known, or understood, when I retired, was the simple truth about retirement: at its core it is very much like every other part of one's life. When full time work ceases, how you spend your time is much more under your control. But, the person you are doesn't change. The foundation you have built is what remains your bedrock.

How your relationships fare after retirement depend on the effort you put into them before leaving the work force. Your financial mindset doesn't change. If you have been a saver, you remain a saver; if you take the attitude that money is to be spent, that belief will follow you. If you are a homebody, happiest puttering in the backyard, reading a book by the fireplace, or having friends over for dinner, it is unlikely retirement will change that into someone who wants to be on the road for weeks on end.

Retirement is a stage of life, it isn't a complete reboot of who and what you are. If you believe your post-work life is going to be quite different, you may become frustrated and unhappy. A satisfying retirement can be filled with new opportunities and options. But, I contend, that the core of who you are, what you believe, and what makes you the happiest, isn't all that different.

If I had understood that truth I would have saved myself some disappointment. Early on, I would have spent less time trying to turn my life into an image of retirement that I had been programmed to expect. I would have been more content and less on edge about creating the perfect post-work life. I would have understood that I would be building on a foundation already constructed, not starting over.

March 13, 2017

7 Things That Are Almost Gone: Does It Matter?

Life is made up of continuous change. Nothing stays the same for very longBoth are true statements but that doesn't make them any easier to accept. As human we generally prefer stability. When things don't change it is easier to predict what will happen or how our life will unfold. Unfortunately, those desires are in conflict with the real world.

Today, I am looking at a few things that used to be part of our everyday life but are getting harder to find. Change has relegated them unnecessary for many of us. How about you?

*Yellow Pages. Virtually all phone companies have taken steps to eliminate the printed books that once arrived with a thump on your front porch once a year. What reminded me they still exist was the recent arrival at my house of a small version with maybe a hundred pages of display ads and listings. It went right into recycling. The Internet makes these books out of date almost as soon as they are printed. White pages for residential and business listings aren't even available anymore unless you request one. 

*Movie Rental Stores. The stand alone video rental store is not long for this world. There are no national chains left, unless you count the Redbox kiosks. Larger cities have a handful of independent video outlets that survive by featuring hard-to-find foreign and art films, some still on VHS. But, names like Hollywood Video, Movie Gallery, and Blockbuster are gone.

Netflix is willing to send you a DVD through the mail, though the company has made it clear the future of that option is bleak. Amazon Prime, Google Play, You Tube, and Netflix will be happy to stream a movie directly to your home, making the Redbox kiosk experience seem almost quaint. 

*The Post Office. Any "normal" business as out of step with the world around it as the postal service would have disappeared years ago. But, the promise of universal mail service keeps this dinosaur alive. Even common sense suggestions like eliminating Saturday delivery are met with howls of protest, all while demanding the service stop losing billions a year.

What does the future hold? Eventually, five day delivery will happen. Mail directly to your home instead of a neighborhood box is probably doomed at some point. Amazon, Fedex, UPS, and private services have taken much of the postal services package delivery business away. E-mail and texting make snail mail much too slow. Most of your mail now is just magazines and junk mail. That isn't enough to pay the bills, even with postal stamp and shipping prices increasing on a regular basis.

*Paper Checks. Britain is planning on doing away with the paper check by 2018. It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process them. As Internet security and pay-by-phone systems improve, folks will agree that electronic transfers are more secure than paper checks.

America will not see the check disappear as quickly as those in England, but it is coming. Check usage continues to shrink. It now accounts for less than 50% of consumers' recurring bill payments, down from 72% in 2001. Social Security stopped mailing checks in 2013. A recent survey shows 52% of those in their 20s and 30s have never written a check. 

*Handwritten letters. Another causality of the change from written mail to electronic communication is the handwritten letter. How many of us were raised to mail a Thank You note for a present within a few days of receiving the gift? How many wrote letters home from summer camp or back and forth when one half of a couple was in the military? Handwritten letters have been important in our lives, but are virtually gone now. Children aren't being taught cursive writing in many schools, so they can't write a letter or couldn't read one they receive.

*The Newspaper. The younger generation simply doesn’t read the newspaper. They certainly don’t subscribe to a daily delivered print edition. That will go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. It is out-of-date when printed and much too expensive to distribute. As for reading the paper on line, get ready to pay for it as a matter of course. The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers have caused many newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance to determine a pay-for-reading business model that will work.

Interestingly, the demise of some newspapers seems to have been delayed by the recent political upheavals. Attacks against the truthfulness of the media has resulted in some significant subscription increases for a few of the better known ones, like the NY Times and Washington Post. But, that is likely a short term phenomenon. 

*The LandLine Telephone. Part of the reason the telephone white pages have almost ceased to exist is the drop in wired telephones. Considering how many folks have cell phones, it is somewhat surprising that 62% of American homes still have a landline phone. About a dozen years ago that number was 97%.

In some cases the hard-wired phone line is required because the household is still dependent on dial-up Internet. Up to 9 million of us don't have high-speed connections. Often home security systems require a dedicated phone line. If the electrical system fails during a storm, so do cell phones, but the landline phone operates. And, there are plenty of places in the country where cell signals are unreliable or non-existent. 

Adapting to change and using it to our benefit are important steps for us on our journey to a satisfying retirement. Which of the things on my list will you miss the most? Which ones are already gone from your life? What didn't I list that you believe is not long for this world?