August 30, 2010

9 Links to Financial Health

I avoid specific financial recommendations on this blog because I am not qualified to make them. That doesn't mean I won't share what has worked for me. My recent guest post on Pick The Brain is a good example. I am not promoting a product, just an approach. You can decide if it works for you.

On of the biggest benefits of the Internet is the ability to access all sorts of information on every subject. Of course, that is one of its biggest dangers. Anyone can claim to be an expert and post anything. Then, it is up to you to decide if the information is valid and useful to you.

I have put together a list of 9 links to financial-oriented posts I have read and believe are worth your time. Do I agree with every point on every post? NO. But, I'm not the gatekeeper who wants to pick what might be best for you. I invite you to click on any of the underlined links that sound interesting. Leave me a comment at the bottom of this article, or e-mail me if you prefer, about which articles you enjoyed or found helpful. Also, please let me know about any that you feel strongly I should have avoided.

*How Much Money Will You Need to Retire?  Sydney doesn't give an exact amount. But her piece for US is an excellent summary of what you may face.

*Delayed Retirement and Money Problems  The author walks you through a few scenarios to help you decide if delaying retirement is your best financial decision.

*Retirement-Can I afford to Retire? Dave tackles some of the same issues in his more personal writing style. He provides several additional links if you want more.

*60% of Boomers Don't Have Enough Money to Retire This is a repost from the Huffington Post. It isn't meant to scare, but to inform. How do you stack up?

*How Personal Finances Change as You See Success The author takes the very sensible approach of using money to benefit you, instead of allowing it to control your life.

*9 Must-Do’s To Keep More Of What You Make Phil's article from Pick The Brain is like a page from my playbook. His suggestions are on-target.

*Are Retirees More Financially Agile? Sydney's conclusion is, "Yes." And, that is good news.

*Getting Real Value from Budgets All about the importance of budgets. Can you hear me singing along in agreement?

 *Why money is only part of a satisfying retirement Finally, to wrap up this list of links, an article that brings us back to the most important financial fact of all: money is a tool and only one tool required to have a satisfying retirement.

August 27, 2010

Helping Your Retirement ...Here's How

A few weeks ago I wrote a guest post for Retired Syd's excellent blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job. It dealt with the benefits of volunteering. In a new posting Sydney takes that article one step further and looks at the financial implications of volunteering during your free time.

She has graciously included a link to my original guest post. If you haven't read it before, I ask that you click on the link at her site and look at the 5 Important Reasons to Volunteer. Then, continue on to Syd's article for US News & World Report, How to Help Your Retirement by Helping Charity. She provides detailed suggestions on how you can benefit charities while helping yourself from a tax standpoint. Great stuff.

One of the nicest surprises about blogging is meeting all sorts of new people who become friends. Sydney is one of those very nice surprises. Pay her a visit and enjoy.

August 25, 2010

More of My Highest Highs Since Retiring

My Highest Highs post of a few weeks ago generated a nice batch of comments. I thought it would be useful to take a look at a few more of the most positive events of my experiences at being without work. As with the previous post, I ask you to share your comments and feedback. Do any of these highs mirror any of your experiences so far? If you are still working, which one sounds most exciting or encouraging to you?

  • Deepened Relationship with My Spouse. After 34+ years of marriage you would think I would have figured out exactly what I need to do to keep my wife happy. Beside the answer every husband knows which is to always agree with her, there is a process in building a strong, lifelong relationship that continues to this day. Since I came off the road and have spent most of the past 3,500 days with her, I have developed a much deeper appreciation for her strengths and abilities. I have learned that what I say (or don't say) has an immediate effect on her self-confidence and contentment. I have discovered sides of my personality that would never have been uncovered without her efforts. My post on learning more about the person beside you has some additional thoughts.

  • Teaching Myself Guitar. No one will ever mistake me for Eric Clapton or George Harrison. But, after 6 months I can play many of my favorite songs. I can entertain the grandkids with passable versions of nursery rhyme songs. I'll be ready to play carols at the holidays. After 40 years without it I realized I missed making music. Deciding to buy a guitar, a few beginner books, and making time in the schedule for regular practice have been important steps for me. I noticed a need and have taken the steps to satisfy it. I doubt I would have done this when I was working. There just wasn't time to feed this part of me.

  • Working as a Mentor to a Just-Released Convict. Something way out of my comfort zone was deciding to go into state prisons to mentor to men who are nearing the end of their sentences. Then, upon their freedom, I begin a 6 month mentor relationship that involves almost daily phone calls, twice a week visits, occasional taxi services and some money when things get really tight for them. Most importantly, I am trying to act as a mature male role model for guys who have had serious issues in their past. There have been times when I was afraid I'd say or do the wrong thing. There were times I wondered what I was doing in this foreign culture. But, at the end of the day, I knew my taking a chance on them was resulting in them taking a chance on themselves. This has been a totally new experience that I am glad I risked taking.

  • Taking Long Weekends on the Spur off the Moment. This never happened before retirement. The schedule of chores, work-related commitments, and family activities did not allow for this type of spontaneity. Now, if my wife and I decide on a Thursday night, or even Friday afternoon we need a change, we can make quick reservations on the Internet, pack in an hour, and be gone until sometime Monday.That freedom to shake up the routine is a fabulous feeling. I wrote about the Importance of Vacations  a little while ago because I have proven to myself these breaks are important. But, until retirement I couldn't just do it. There was a long process involved. Now, we are gone when we want. Freedom!

  • I can Try New Things and Drop them If They Don't Satisfy. Like learning to play the guitar, I like to try new stuff. I need a high level of mental stimulation. I'll try on-line college courses. I'll look at videos on TED about subjects I've never even heard of. I'll go to the library and pick up a few books on a subject I can barely pronounce. And, then, if I'm not getting the mental rise I want, I drop whatever it is, and try something else. This freedom to dabble in new experiences and abandon them at will is all part of the freedom of retirement.  I have a fair number of commitments in my life. Finishing everything I start is not one of them. I used to feel bad about starting something and then letting it go. I'd worry about the time or money I had invested in a project. I'd worry about my lack of follow-through. No more. Retirement has given me the OK to do what I find I like and stop doing what I don't like as much. I've learned to say,  "No."  I've learned to accept the fact that some of my choices will be flawed. And, I'm fine with that.

So, do any of these Highs sound familiar? Does anything on this list spur you to do something about it? Have you had very different experiences than I have?  Please share your comments and feedback. We are all here to learn from each other.

August 23, 2010

The Importance of Vacations

If you are retired, I'm sure you have had friends or acquaintances remark that it must be nice to be "on vacation" all the time. If only it were so. Not working for a paycheck doesn't mean you are not working. Working to maintain your residence, working to protect your investments, working at keeping up with the grand kids, working to stay in decent physical are working. And you need an occasional vacation. There are several good reasons you would be wise to make sure that time away continues to be part of your life.

  • No matter how busy you are with new projects or activities a change in your daily routine is important. It is too easy to fall into a rut. Doing the same things, the same way day after day can wear you down. It can create a feeling of boredom. Shake up the predictability. Get away for a while.

  • A change of scenery can be quite welcome. We've lived in the Phoenix area for 26 years. It is beautiful with several world class resorts. People spend thousands of dollars to visit here. Yet, my wife and I love to get out of town for long weekends. The mountains around Flagstaff are only two hours away but we feel like we're arriving in a different country. The wine area in southeast Arizona feels like a trip to Napa Valley. We've been to these places dozens of times over the two and a half decades we've lived in Arizona. But, just that brief change of scenery is refreshing and gives us renewed appreciation when we arrive home.

  • It is a time to clear your mind and recharge your mental and physical batteries. Because of the change in routine and the change in scenery, it is common for someone to feel a new burst of energy and creativity. Fresh solutions to problems at home can arise. A new activity you'd like to tackle suddenly seems very doable. Some of the major decisions I reached about retiring came during a family vacation in the Spring of 2001. For two weeks on a beach in Florida I had the chance to think deeply about my situation and the consequences involved if I shuttered my business. The normal distractions were not present. I could focus completely on the issue at hand.

  • Catch up on leisure activities. Personally, when I go on a break, no matter how short, I take a stack of reading material that I know I probably won't finish. Importantly, it is reading for enjoyment. Fiction by authors I like, a biography of an historical figure I find fascinating, even magazines about gardening and home improvement always land in my suitcase. The family will take DVDs and board games to fill our evenings. Vacations are just right for catching up on fun stuff.

  • If your vacation is spent in a hotel or motel setting, you will be pampered. Someone else will make the bed, bring fresh towels, even cook and serve your meals. It feels good to turn over some of the basic daily functions to others for awhile. Just writing about it makes me antsy to go find a Hyatt somewhere. A bit of pampering is good for you.

  • I love to plan the trip almost as much as taking it. Doing Internet searches for places to visit and stuff to do, plotting the route on Google map, even working up a budget are enjoyable to me. My wife will often joke that we could save a lot of money if I planned a trip and then we just stayed home. I already had done the fun part.

Just because you may not be working at a full time job, don't shortchange yourself in terms of a vacation. The benefits are too valuable to lose.

August 20, 2010

Are You Ready to Pull a Bret Favre?

The man who can't stay retired, Bret Favre, is really not that unusual. He is not the first person to have trouble deciding to retire, or stay that way. There are many reasons why the decision to stop working is difficult to make and sometimes tough to maintain.

How would you answer these questions?
  • Do you really miss your co-workers?
  • Do you miss the challenges of your job?
  • Do you find yourself thinking a lot about what you left?
  • Do you need more income or better health coverage?

Relax, there is absolutely nothing wrong with unretiring. You aren't failing at retirement. There is no such thing. If it is in your best interests to re-enter the working work, then do so.

But, before you follow the quarterback who is famous for not deciding, here are some considerations for you. First, look at your motives. How you answer the questions above gives you a start at figuring out what you are feeling. Are your needs more fully satisfied by work, or are you simply dissatisfied with your retirement lifestyle? If you go back to work just because you don't like the way your non-working life is going, odds are pretty good you will be disappointed by your decision. It would be much more productive to correct what you don't like as a retired person than to avoid those problems by going back to work. Hopefully, you can find some help on this blog to make your retirement more satisfying.

Is it possible to go back to what you remember? A lot of folks can't. If you were let go it is likely you'll have a tough time recapturing your old glory. Maybe the company  has changed so much that what you liked is no longer relevant. Maybe the company was sold and downsized dramatically and has no place for you. Are the people you liked working still there, or have many of them left, too?

If the need for more income is a motivating factor, have you considered part time work at your old company, or another in the same industry?  Retired Syd, who writes one of my favorite blogs, recently struggled with this dilemma of "un-retiring" and took on a part time assignment. It seems she is satisfied with her decision.

How about consulting? I made a very nice living as a consultant. basically telling people stuff they already knew but wanting someone from out of town to confirm it.

Remember that your decision is not irreversible. Mr. Favre is living proof. If you decide that re-entering the world of the employed is best for you, go for it. Just remember, you can always re-retire whenever it becomes the best thing for you to do.

August 15, 2010

My Highest Highs and Lowest Lows Since Retiring - Part 2

Last week I listed some of the highlights of my retirement journey so far. That article generated the most comments of any single post I have written. As I hoped, sharing a more personal side of my experiences seemed to trigger a strong response. I did promise to look at the other side of the ledger. Certainly the past decade since I retired has had its share of low points. Here are a few for your review. As with the previous post, I hope you'll add a comment to share your reactions or your experiences. We all benefit from that exchange.

Lowest Lows

Periods of Self Doubt. This is what I have referred to in earlier posts as the Second Stage. This is when the initial thrill of not working every day has worn off. The joy of no alarm clock, having a second cup of coffee with the newspaper, 36 holes of golf three times a week, or whatever has filled your days is suddenly replaced with a sense of fear and dread. You have no idea why you quit or didn't look for another job. You know for sure your money will run out before you do. You didn't realize the adjustment required when you are home all day, everyday, with no one to fill your day but you.

I experienced all of that. Because my office had been in my home for almost twenty years  I didn't miss the water cooler chatter or feel lonely. But I wasn't flying several times a week anymore, either. Clients weren't calling. There were no more checks in the mailbox. All my projections for our finances were obviously a fantasy. I had blown it. I had no hobbies and you can only read so many books without going nuts.

This stage of retirement lasted close to two years for me. I wasn't immobilized, I wasn't out of control with worry. But, things certainly looked bleaker than they had when I took the plunge.

Struggles to find a new passion. For almost 30 years, my work had been my life. I had started as an on-air DJ playing rock and roll for teenagers who were not much younger than I.  A  radio research and consulting company I began had developed nicely, though it keep me on the road for close to 200 days a year. When I was home the time was spent answering mail and working on client needs. In a nutshell, I had little life outside my job.

It took longer than I had anticipated to develop interests that would cause me to be excited about each day. I tried several hobbies and activities that were fun and forced me to learn something new. But, each new endeavor eventually failed to satisfy. The activity was filling time but not filling me. Eventually I found a combination of activities and commitments that did spark lasting passion. But, there was a lot of trial and error involved, both with my activities and working on my relationships.

Watching the decline of my parents. I have two brothers who live in other parts of the country. Since I live in the same city as my parents I became the caregiver. Watching the inevitable decline in both physical and mental abilities has been tough. Being retired, I can make the time for frequent visits, managing their investments, paying some bills, and doing all the things involved in this type of situation. But, that level of involvement and the freedom that comes with not working means I will be involved in all emergencies or problems they face. It isn't easy, but it comes with being an adult child of aging parents. Thank goodness my wife takes on a large part of the load caring for her in-laws. But, it is not a fun part of this stage of my life.   

Watching financial status take a hit. This is not unique to virtually anyone over the last few years. My home value has shrunk nearly 50%. For a period of time my nest egg became more like a grape. It has since recovered to a medium size egg, but my plans had me in a better position than I find myself at the moment. Being retired, I am pretty much dependent on what I invested to carry me forward. I can't count on a long lost aunt leaving me a pile of gold. I must trust that things will recover over time. But, when you are not working there is a lack of control over what you can do about it. Yes, I could try to go back to work. But, the market for a 61 year old guy is rather poor. We are going to be fine. Things are slowly returning to normal for us. But, this has been a low low that I didn't anticipate (who did?).

I must end on a positive. I am an optimist. I am not worried about my future. I am excited by all the possibilities I can choose from. I know there will be more low periods. But, I have figured out what works for me and I know I will come out OK.

What about you? I deeply appreciate your comments, your experiences, and your feedback about the struggles you have faced, or fear are still to come.  I am also  open to every idea you care to share.

August 9, 2010

My Highest Highs & Lowest Lows Since Retiring

I enjoy reading articles and posts by others that I think will be useful, helpful, or entertaining to me. But, if I don't know much about that person I'm a little hesitant to accept what he or she has to say without wondering about credibility. If that is true for me, it is probably true for you. 

So, I thought it is time to get a bit more personal in some of my upcoming posts. If I share enough, you may decide what I say can apply to you. Frankly, I'm also hoping to generate more comments and on-line discussion with this approach. I'm willing to open up to you. I hope that you will be encouraged to share more with me. 

I'll start by revealing some of my highest highs and lowest lows in the nearly 10 years since I had a full time job. A Satisfying Retirement Lifestyle is the title of the blog, not a Pollyanna description of my life. All of it remains a work in progress. This post will detail some of what I believe to be my highest highs since retiring. Do you see any of yourself in these events?

Highest Highs
  • When my wife and I decided we had enough money to quit working when I was 52 and she was 47.  Like most of our generation we expected to work into our 60s. I owned my own business that made good money and provided several benefits. My spouse was a fabulous preschool teacher who loved the kids and helping them grow. But for reasons I'll detail in an upcoming post on financial thoughts, we were able to pull the plug. We did it for both business and personal motivations. And the feeling once we had committed to that decision was incredible.
  • When our two daughters decided to move back to Phoenix. We had come close a few times to selling our home and moving to San Diego to be near them, our son-in-law, and the grand kids. But, now there was no need. Both girls decided being with family was much more important than cool weather in the summer and the Pacific Ocean. We were overjoyed. Now we had the time to spend with family and suddenly, the opportunity.
  • I finished a travel book I had been working on for 7 years.  A combination of my enjoyment of photography and love of writing prompted me to start a book in 2002 about out-of-the-way places in Arizona. Nearly seven years later I finished it, had it bound, and printed enough copies for family and friends. I almost quit working on it several times. But, my wife and family encouraged me to "just do it."  Now that I can see it sitting on my bookshelf I am proud of the end product and pleased I saw the effort through to the end.
  • I found the spiritual side of my life. Many books on retirement will tell you that as you get older spiritual questions and searches for answers becomes more common. For me, that was both true and a life-altering process. This isn't a religious blog so I'll keep the heavy stuff to myself. But, in 2003 I suddenly understood all the things that hadn't clicked for me before. My understanding of how I fit into the bigger picture became clear to me.
Next post I'll share some of my lowest lows. And, yes, there are some very low lows. In the meantime, I'd encourage your comments.

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August 7, 2010

Your Computer Can Make Your Life Easier

You have a computer and you may be a heavy user. Several hours a day are spent in front of the machine. You pay all your bills on-line, you depend on e-mail to stay in touch, and you like to discover new web sites. Or, maybe you use a computer just to simplify some parts of your life, like managing your to-do list and calendar or keeping a budget. You might be a computer user because you feel you have to. Sending some e-mail, typing some lists, and looking at photos of the family are the only tasks you ask the machine to do.

If you are in the heavy user category what follows is likely to be old news. But, for all others, this is a list of the things your computer should already have installed so you don't need to spend any money. It is very likely that learning how to use these tools would make make your computer experience more productive and more fun.

Use The Word Processor

This is so basic it is almost like saying you need a monitor. But, I have talked with folks who are so intimidated by all the things a word processor can do that they don't use it at all. My advice: use it for what you need and ignore everything else.

If you just need to write an occasional letter, put together a report for your church committee, or want to keep a list of all your DVDs, learn to accomplish those tasks. Forget about justifying text, creating columns, using templates and macros, or pasting something from your clipboard. While even the most basic word processing program can do all this, learn how only if and when you need them. Microsoft Works or Word probably came with the computer. Open Office is free and actually offers much more than just word processing.

Organize Your Photos

It is unusual for even a budget machine to not have some program designed to keep all your digital photos organized in some way. Why? Because virtually everyone uses a digital camera and needs to do something with all those pictures. The easiest-to-use software can't do any fancy editing or modifying of the photos. But, it can do what you want it to do: help you keep track of what you have taken so you can find the pictures of your trip to the Grand Canyon from three years ago. Or, look at your grandson's 3rd birthday party again.

Most newer cameras make uploading the photos almost automatic and come with software that will everything you need it to.  Kodak Easy Share software works with any brand of camera and is simple and free.

Keep a Budget

Maybe not the most popular subject, but this is something computer software is very good at handling. Especially as you move through your satisfying retirement, knowing where you money is going becomes quite important. A basic program helps you make a budget, enter your expenses, and track your status. These programs can be installed on the computer's hard drive or, like Mint, be web-based. You do everything on-line as it guides you step-by-step. Security systems are very good so there is no need for concern abut sharing some of your basic information. But, if you like to maintain complete privacy, use something like Quicken or ACE Money Lite.

Keep your Calendar or To-do list

I can define frustration as keeping a written calendar downstairs, a small planner in the car, and another list on post-it notes next to the bed. If this sounds like you take the plunge and let your computer keep everything in one place and neatly organized. Free programs abound. Desktop iCalendar Lite is excellent and simple to use as both a calendar and a daily to-do list. Google Calendar does it all on-line and allows you to share your information with family members so you are all on the same page (pun intended).

The computer wasn't originally invented to help you with these tasks, but that has become the end result. Take advantage of the technology that you are likely to already own, or can add for free. Use what makes your retirement life easier and ignore the rest.

I could list other ways for that box on your desk to smooth some of the bumps out of your life, but I'd prefer your comments about the uses you have discovered. What are you doing now on your computer that you once did another way? Is there software or an on-line program that you use and absolutely love?

August 5, 2010

Check out Guest Post!

Thanks to RetiredSyd at Retirement: A Full Time Job, for her using a guest post of mine. The topic is volunteerism. Please take a look, leave a comment or two, and enjoy Syd's excellent blog.