January 21, 2019

Retirement: Am I Passing The Test?

I have this image that my retirement experience is quite different from the one my parents lived. Of course that includes the value judgment that mine has probably been better. To prove the point I built a list of some of the major events in their retirement journey so I could compare it to mine.

Surprise, surprise. In several important criteria Mom & Dad's time after work beat mine, hands down. I would never have thought that true until I wrote this. It has been quite an eye-opener. Using my original list, here is a comparison that lead to this conclusion that my beliefs were more myth than reality.

Financial Expectations: My parents assumed that the pensions and investments they had accumulated would be there for them when needed. They planned on Medicare and a strong supplemental policy, earned by Mom's 35 years as a teacher in Massachusetts, would take care of their medical expenses. They assumed Social Security would remain solvent and send them each a check every month.

Every assumption they made, every promise society made to them, was fulfilled. Substantial medical bills were taken care of. Their investments continued to grow most years. Their pensions remained fully funded; the organizations did not look for ways to cut benefits or go back on their word.

In my case, I self-funded my retirement savings. They suffered a hit a few times but always have come back. My wife and I never had a group medical policy; we had been in the individual market, which is expensive and has major restrictions on care. My Medicare coverage, and Betty's that begins next month, will help tremendously, but we expect it to be less generous for us in the coming years.
  • In this comparison my parents are the clear winners.

Enjoy Freedom and Free Time.  For the first 10 years after retiring, Mom & Dad enjoyed travel. They made several trips to Europe, took cruises, visited friends back East, and went for month-long driving trips. For several years their passports got quite a workout. 

Dad took up painting. He was an electrical engineer by training and had never exhibited any artistic leanings. Frankly, we were amazed at his interest and ability in this creative endeavor.  Mom taught for 35 years. When she retired her teaching didn't stop. For another decade she volunteered as a classroom assistant at a school near their home. That kept her active, involved, and excited to work with the youngsters.

My wife and I have traveled since retirement though not as much as my parents. Our financial situation wasn't nearly as solid as my parents, primarily because I retired at 52, they at 65. Those extra 13 years gave their nest egg quite a boost over mine. Also, I had flown so much in my job, I wanted to stay home. We have been to Europe three times, on a few cruise, spent time in Florida with friends, and covered most of the Western US on various trips. We owned an RV for almost five years and had a blast on several extensive trips.  

Creatively, it took me awhile to find my stride. For the first few years after work I was into not much more than serious puttering. Then, I became active in volunteer work.  I wrote a travel book. I became heavily involved in ham radio. Obviously, blogging has been a major part of my creative life for the past eight years. My wife has developed her photographic editing skills to the point where we may start selling her work on line. She has become Super Grandmother to 3 incredible children.

  • In this comparison I am going to declare a tie.

Health and Preventive Care. This is one critical area in which Mom & Dad  did not do well. My Mom never exercised beyond what she did in a normal day. There was no gym, or walking or stretching program to keep her limber. Growing up our menus were heavy on meat, pasta, and cheese. She almost never drank plain water, but got her liquids primarily from coffee and milk. Her rapid physical decline in the last few years of her life was accelerated by the poor shape she was in.

Dad was been a little bit better. He took daily walks. A quintuple heart bypass operation gave him a second chance to be more aware of diet and exercise. He lived until 91 and was able to do more physically than most men his age.

My wife and I have watched  what happened to my parents and vowed to approach our older age differently. We both lost weight and do our best to stick to an exercise regime. Meat appears on our menu only once a week.

My wife has cut her medications in half and moved from diabetic back to pre-diabetic status. We drink lots of water and virtually no soft drinks. Maybe because of our poor health insurance, we have been doing all we can to prevent costly problems.
  • In this comparison we are much better off in retirement than my parents.

Marriage Mom & Dad were married for 63 years. For the last twenty of those years they haven't been apart for even one day. They are deeply devoted to each other and very much in love. It is hard to imagine one without immediately thinking of the other. I'm not sure in their own minds if there is was an  "I" or "me" anymore, it is just "us" and "we."  It is inspiring to experience this type of bond.

I must quickly write that Betty and I have been married for 42 years. I feel we are a stronger couple now than at any time earlier in the marriage. Being together full time for the past seventeen years has strengthened our love and understanding of each other. Are there still arguments and rough patches? Sure...we are two individuals who have different opinions about almost everything. But, neither of us can imagine a life without the other.
  • In this comparison my parents beat us on longevity and have given us the perfect model to work from.

Foresight. Because this post is getting long, I'll quickly summarize one last area. My parents moved into a continuing care community while they were still in decent health. Their primary reason for doing so was so I wouldn't have to worry about the quality of their care and their living arrangements when they could no longer take care of themselves.

We are not quite there yet so that is something we haven't given much thought to yet, but their self-sacrifice and concern for us will be repeated by us when the time comes so our kids don't need to worry either. 
  • In this comparison my parents gain the edge for their foresight and planning.

As I noted in the opening, I assumed my retirement has been more complete and more satisfying than my parents. After all, I had a 13 year head start on them. But, that belief has been pure self-deception. By almost all measures, Mom & Dad Lowry had the type of satisfying retirement that I write about.

It is good to be humbled every now and then. 

January 17, 2019

Travel Inspirations For a Cold Winter's Day

As winter tightens its hold, many of us have our thoughts turn to warm weather travel. As you look at your calendar and think about where you would like to explore when you hit the road, I thought I'd give you some visual inspiration. Here is a random collection of pictures that might stimulate your travel ideas.

Silver Falls State Park, OR.

On way to Kanab, UT from Arizona

Zion National Park

Near Kihei, Maui 

Upper Mesa Falls, Idaho


Fool's Hollow State Park, AZ

Outside Fredericksburg, TX

Oregon Coast

Near Grand Tetons

Red Rocks, Colorado

Grand  Tetons National Park

Captain Cook, Big Island of Hawaii

Near Mt. Hood, OR

Oregon Coast

Park in Spokane, WA

Grand Canyon

near Sisters, Oregon

Cannon Beach, OR

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, AZ
Maui  (Do you see a dragon head?)

January 14, 2019

Retirement: Not For Me!

Retirement isn't a foregone conclusion. There are lots of people who decide not to retire, now or ever. The reasons usually fall into one of four categories:

1. I love what I do and see no reason to stop.

2. I haven't saved enough so it isn't an option.

3. I have nothing else to fill my time; I'd be bored silly.

4. I want to start my own business.

I understand the rational of these arguments. If this is the situation, I actually agree with someone saying retirement is not for them. There is one foundational fact about retirement: it is a unique journey for each of us. One size does not fit all. If that means it doesn't fit you at all, or at least not now, then that is your reality.

If you started a company, nurtured it through hard times, and watched it blossom, it is probably much like a child to you. You are proud of its success and maturity. You have a whole range of emotions about your "baby." The thought of selling it to someone else or closing it just doesn't compute. 

For a whole range of reasons, you may not have enough money set aside to retire. You may have fallen victim to the siren call of our culture and allowed spending and debt to outpace income. You might have suffered a major financial reversal for any number of reasons. Your answer is to keep working while you dig yourself out of that hole.

Because your work is your life you have no outside interests. Maybe you dabbled with sports when you were younger, or took up tennis because you spouse asked you to. To you, a hobby is just something that means spending money on an activity that doesn't deeply satisfy you. You have a high energy level that is best satisfied by meeting goals, staying busy, and using your skills at something you think of as productive.

You have a dream of starting a business. Maybe you know you can provide a better service or product than your old employer. Maybe you have always wanted to open a franchise. Maybe you are an inventor who believes you have developed a better widget. Retirement makes no sense now. You have big dreams to explore.

Odd, I know, for a retirement blog to tell you retirement isn't always the best choice. Over the last 8+ years of writing Satisfying Retirement, I have learned enough from comments and countless emails that confirm a choice to stop working isn't a foregone conclusion. 

Retirement - Not for me!  

January 10, 2019

Retirement Advice: Do You Have Urgent Needs?

Have you noticed how many websites or blogs use some sort of sensational headline to grab your attention? Sort of like the one above? With hundreds of millions of them on the Internet, sometimes word play is required to break through the clutter.

I will offer a calmer, somewhat counter-intuitive answer to the question posed by the headline: What are retirement's urgent needs? My answer is: none. That's right, there are no retirement urgent needs. 

That is the whole point of building a satisfying retirement. When you get to the point where retirement is a viable option there should be no urgent needs. Now, that obviously doesn't mean you won't encounter problems and needed adjustments to your goals or lifestyle. But, to claim there are five or seven or whatever number of things you must do or your retirement will crash and burn, is simply untrue.

Let me explain my rational. In order to consider retirement I am going to assume the following:

  • You have looked closely at your investments and sources of income, savings, and a projected budget. You have reduced any debts to the lowest amount you can. You have at least 6 months of emergency cash available if you should need it. You believe you can make it all work. 
  • You have done the best you can to plan for health care costs. That includes health insurance, thinking about long-term care plans, and some of the emergency fund money for a major medical expense. You are holding up your end of the equation with plenty of exercise and a healthy diet.
  • You have talked through the effect of your retirement on your key relationships. If married, you and your spouse have discussed the effect of you being home 24/7. If single, you have talked with your friends or other family members to advise them of your plans and enlist their (non- financial) help if needed.
  • You know what you are retiring to. That means you have some interest or passions (or several) that will keep you active and engaged. While it is almost guaranteed that those interests and passions will change over time, you are not entering retirement with no idea how you will fill your day with productive and interesting activities.

If you can check off these four areas, then your retirement has no urgent needs. Retirement is simply the transition to the next stage of your life. It isn't the end of anything. It is not a destination. It is just a step forward into something different, just a fascinating part of your journey.

If you have urgent needs, then you aren't ready for a satisfying retirement. If you have any choice in the matter, then don't retire when these needs are still in play.

Life is a collection of needs, wants, problems, solutions, adventures, disappointments, and successes. That doesn't stop when you retire, but there is no reason to add urgency to the list.