August 17, 2022

Money: The Struggle Between Wanting and Needing



Recently, I read a quotation from philosopher Eric Hoffer that grabbed me with its simplicity. Consider his thought: "Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some."

In other words, the more we have the more we want, and with greater determination. The mindset that "there is never too much" is more likely to infect someone who is already starting with an overflowing basket. 

I find that both depressing, and very true. In most instances, human nature is pretty predictable. In our developed economies the acquisition of stuff, the accumulation of power or influence, and the desire to ascend the social totem pole drive too many of us too much of the time. 

What compels this imbalance in our personality? Is it nature or nurture? Did the way we were raised in regard to money and possessions shape us? Or, does our daily barrage of social media, advertising, and peer pressure warp our values over time? Do we even notice the pressures all around us to conform and do our part to support the economy?

I don't pretend to know the answers. But, one of my weekly writing prompts produced some questions that might help us get a firmer handle on what is going on. I will give you my personal reaction to a few of them, and then ask you to add your experiences and thoughts.

What do you remember your family saying about money during family conversations? I grew up in a comfortable, middle-class suburban household. Therefore, money was rarely talked about. I know my dad struggled with steady employment for much of his working years. But, my mom's teaching kept things steady and any financial problems were never discussed in front of the three boys.  We were not a family that spent much on non-basics, though a yearly family vacation was normal. 

I heard occasional stories of life during the Great Depression. I know my dad had to sell vegetables door-to-door to help support his family; an orange was a typical Christmas present.  I picked up the idea of avoiding the power of instant gratification through examples but not formal instruction. Financial basics through osmosis were more like it.

What is your first memory of making money for yourself? How did it feel? I guess I was born with an entrepreneurial streak. I remember having a paper route early on. Living in Ohio at the time, winters were cold, long, and snowy. My route started at least a mile from my home at the bottom of a long hill from our home. Instead of bags over my shoulders, sometimes dragging a wagon filled with papers was required

Either I was industrious or a bit of a wimp: when the snow was particularly deep I hired a few neighborhood boys to complete my route that day. I paid them probably more than I made but I couldn't face pulling that little red wagon through snow drifts. This "contracting out" my work didn't end well. The boys I hired were not particularly concerned about where the papers landed. Complaints to my boss about having to retrieve a paper from a roof or under a bush forced me to conclude I would have to handle things myself. One winter was enough; I left that employment option behind.

After a move to a less-snowy clime, my next money-making brainstorm was to sell postage stamps to collectors. A 4n amateur philatelist (stamp collector) myself, I bought small, plastic envelopes, ordered stamps from other countries through the mail, packaged them, and attempted to sell my product doot-to-door. 

Not that different from the paper route experience, I lost money. The stamps and envelopes cost more than the few I managed to sell to neighborhood folks. I am sure most bought something from me out of pity, or neighborly concern.

Even so, these two experiences were actually positive for me. Over the years other ideas sprang forth from my youthful brain, some successful, some not. But, the thrill of possibility, of maybe hitting a winning streak keeps me on the hunt.


Do you believe money is a gift, a curse, or something in between? For me, money is a tool. At times it has been a scary reality. When I was fired after moving to a new city, the need to support my wife, two very young daughters and myself brought our financial situation into very sharp focus. 

After solving that dilemma, I have never seen money as anything more than the necessity to provide for the life I wanted for my family. I give my upbringing credit for not thinking of money as some measure of success or status. It was a tool to live, nothing more, nothing less.

I must quickly add that I have been very lucky. My career was successful and was one that paid well above average wages. If I had been in the position to struggle, cut every corner, and not be able to pay for my kid's college or fund our retirement, I really don't know how my attitude might have been different.


How about your experiences with money? Were you given a firm foundation at home, or maybe learned what not to do? How about your first jobs? Pleasant and exciting, or pure drudgery?

"The love of money is the root of all evil." Money, itself, is benign. It is how we think about it and use it that makes it more than a simple method of exchange.



August 13, 2022

My First Experience With Physical Therapy



I guess I shouldn't be surprised; I have just completed my first few visits to a physical therapist. I know people younger than me who had a problem that required P.T. sessions after a car accident or a knee replacement. Frankly, though, I never thought of me needing their services. Indestructible Bob!

After a painful and irritating bout of sciatic nerve pain, my doctor prescribed a medicine to help me manage the discomfort. It did, to a point. But, I suggested a physical approach rather than a more potent pill. My continuing goal is to stay away from prescription drugs whenever I can. Dealing with the symptom instead of the cause is not the way I prefer to go.

Doc agreed and set up a physical therapy appointment at a facility not far from my home. I will admit I was pretty apprehensive. I pictured a session with a tough woman named Helga, who berated my shrinking muscle mass, flabby underarms, and disappearing butt. She would have me sweating and grunting in short order.

None of that happened. The person I was assigned to was a he, young enough to be my son but easy to talk with. He asked all the right questions, typed furiously on his laptop, and began an exam, not unlike a chiropractor with strong hands.

It didn't take him long to determine my hamstrings were too tight, my core and flexibility needed some work, and my symptoms certainly fit the definition of sciatica. Then he answered the most critical question: Medicare would pay for as many sessions as I needed to relieve the pain and regain strength in my leg.

He prescribed four simple exercises to start. I  am to perform each, twice a day, every day. We settled on a twice-a-week appointment time, and I was out the door 55 minutes later, none the worse for wear. I am keeping my part of the bargain by following through on the daily stuff; the nerve pain down my left leg seems to have already improved.

My long-term goals are for these sessions to improve my mobility, decrease the likelihood of falls by improving my balance, keep any surgery out of my immediate future and stay away from pills. Not bad for some exercise and the guidance of a professional.

August 9, 2022

What I Don't Do

 


Posts that detail what retired folks do with their time each day are among the most popular on this blog. Some continue to generate hundreds of views. Even for those who have been retired for quite some time, finding out what others do is interesting and sometimes inspirational, or maybe we are just a bit nosey.

This time around, I want to take a different approach: here is a short list of six things I do not do as part of my daily routine.

1) Check my financial investments and the stock market daily. I can't think of a quicker way to drive myself crazy than watching the constant gyrations of the financial markets. There are folks who do that for a living. I use one of them to watch my money and let her try to make sense of a rather confusing system to protect me and my family's long-term future. To my untrained eye, everything seems to run on emotion, rumor, or events in a place so distant I am lucky to find it on a map. What looks like good news to me sends the Dow Jones into a tailspin. 

For the last several months it seems as if everyone is wondering if we are in a recession or not. Frankly, I don't really care if conditions meet the technical definition. Inflation is bad and supply chain issues still affect the grocery store shelves and the markets continue to send out mixed signals.

Once a month I add the various totals from my accounts to a spreadsheet. Even then, if there has been a drop I don't panic and place a call to the advisor. Over the past three or fourth months of downward dips, I have asked my advisor if everything is where I want it to be. After a discussion, I settle back down.  Even during the nasty times of 2008-2010, I didn't sell much or worry. I trusted the long-term strength of the economy and her skills. It has paid off.

2) Regret something I did years ago. What would be the point? I can't change it, I can't relive it and do something differently. To regret it in a way that it remains bouncing around in my mind on a regular basis doesn't happen. I try to fix whatever happened as I move forward and learn from that bad choice to avoid making it again.

3) (Sort of) Forget that the clock is ticking. I turned 73 a few months ago. I am not a spring chicken. According to the life expectancy for the year I was born, 69 years on earth was what I should expect. Now that I passed that, that same chart gives me another 12 years. Based on my family history and my overall health I plan on beating that. After all, 85 seems right around the corner!

Even so, nearly 85% of my life is in the rearview mirror. It is my absolute intention to make that last 15% full of happiness, productivity, and doing things beneficial to others. We hear that life goes by so quickly. Yes, it does. I hear that clock ticking but I am not allowing it to terrify me or hold me back. 

4) Take my important relationships for granted. My wife, Betty, and I just celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary. That is just as hard to grasp as having the majority of my life behind me. She has been part of my life, a part of me for so long, that my years before her almost don't seem real. We complete each other in ways that are too numerous to list. We help each other grow and change in positive ways, ways that would be impossible without each other.

My grown daughters have developed into tremendous adults. Each is comfortable in her own skin. Each has built a life that is satisfying for them. Having them close by is a blessing that shows itself every day. Adding grandkids to the mix is almost too much good news. 

5) Believe I can have a chili dog and onion rings for lunch and not pay a price. See point #3 above! What I eat, how I use my body, and the attention I pay to what it is telling me is mostly within my control. Shame on me if I trade my future for instant gratification today. My cardiac episode of almost seven years ago was a powerful reminder.

6) Allow my mind to stagnate. To stop learning new things, to stop listening to new music, to stop having conversations with people I disagree with, to stop engaging in the world, is to stop living. Frankly, it is easier at our age to let our thinking sort of calcify, to harden around what we know, to stick with what makes us happy and comfortable. It is hard work to push back against a mind that wants to just rest. It is also the way to slowly fade away. 

I can't imagine a time without my attempts at painting, playing the guitar, working on this blog, enjoying the time spent reading, and working as a volunteer at the library. They add joy and sparkle to my day. My mind may fail me at some point, but until then I am not simply waiting for it to happen. 


There are six things I try not to do as part of my satisfying retirement if I can help it. Just so you know, I fail to live up to one or more of these points more often than I'd like to admit, even in a blog.