December 31, 2010

Retirement Financial Links: Click and Learn

This post is a collection of links to specific articles on other blogs or web sites that I hope you will find helpful or useful.The focus is on finance and financial planning. I have found some sites I think are worth your clicking:

Finally, I saw an absolutely terrifying story from the Associated Press. It details the almost complete lack of retirement preparedness among far too many Baby Boomers. The statistics are enough to make you doubt your own sanity. Here is the link to the story. It should be a must read for everyone.

I am not specifically endorsing any particular advice these sites offer. But, I found the information interesting and in some cases, eye-opening. If you choose to visit some or all of these links I ask you provide some feedback here to let us know what you thought. Feel free to praise or criticize.

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December 28, 2010

New Year's Resolutions: No Way

If you are looking for another list of resolutions, I'm afraid this post will disappoint. Promising ourselves to lose weight, exercise more, or stop smoking never work. Statistics show most resolutions made January 1st are broken by January 31st.

So, let's not go there. Instead I want to talk about setting some goals. Goals are different from resolutions in one major way: goals have specific steps to achieve them. A resolution says, "I will lose 10 pounds."  A goal says, "I will lose ten pounds by March 1st and here are the steps I will take to achieve that goal. Think of a resolution as a goal without a plan. Think of that as an approach that will not work. It is about to be a new year. Let's try something different on our satisfying retirement journey together.

Because I can't possibly know what your goals might be, I'll use some of mine. The nice thing about a blog is these words will live on in some server somewhere forever. So, I can't deny having declared these goals. All I can do is attempt to fulfill them so I don't embarrass myself. So, for 2011, here goes:

Publish an e-book. My reading and study of successful blogs make it clear that just blogging is probably not going to be enough to push any blog to the next level. Other steps are required to get your name and brand in front of more people. One of the most effective steps is to put together a book. Unlike a traditional book, though, a book for a blogger must be available on-line for instant download. At least at first, it must be free. Its goal is not to make money, its goal is to increase awareness.

So, Goal #1 on this very public list is to have a Satisfying Retirement e-book available, for download, for free, by March 1st. Somebody keep track!

Start a web site to sell my wife's abstract photographs. Betty has so many talents it is hard to pick just one. But a goal requires a focus so I want to work toward developing a web site that sells her incredibly inventive abstract photographs. With a digital camera and Photo Shop she produces true works of art. If enough other people agree we could fund some exciting travel through the sale of her photos.

Goal #2 is to develop a web site to market her photos by May 1st.

Become one of the top 3 blogs in the non-financial retirement my one year anniversary. I'm not quite sure how I'll measure this. Maybe it will be subjective based on comparisons of subscriptions or mentions on Google. But, it is goal I'd like to set for myself. Why? Personal satisfaction primarily. If I'm involved in something I want to keep growing and developing. This seems like something I might be able to accomplish, mainly because at least 80% of retirement blogs are financially-centered.

Goal #3 is to be a top 3 non-financial retirement blog by my one year blogging anniversary, June 23rd.

Take another extensive driving Trip. I refuse to wake up some day and be upset that I waited too long to get back on the road. We enjoyed our last trip and want to schedule several more, but with one major change. Instead of being a "drive till we drop" trip they will become "drive and stop for awhile." The only downside of the driving excursion we took last Spring was attempting to cover too many miles in too few days. in 2011 the goal will be different.

Goal #4 is to take one driving trip of 3-4 weeks before the end of the year, but cover much less distance than the last one.

Simplify/downsize  one aspect of my life. I've mentioned this in posts before but I want to set a firm goal, with a date, to eliminate cable TV from our house. We watch so little that paying that bill every month is silly. But, I keep putting off pulling the plug because I'm afraid I may miss it.

Of course I can always sign up again (at probably a better, new customer rate) if it turns out to be a mistake. So, there is no real downside. I just have to do it.

Goal #5 is to eliminate cable TV by April 1st (when my current contract is up).

Five goals, a few that are ambitious, a few easier, a few more difficult. One thing about a blog is that it is public. There are nearly 5,000 people a month who can hold me accountable.

What about you?  Are you prepared to set some goals that will make you stretch yourself and sacrifice to achieve? Are you ready for the challenge? Are you ready to commit yourself to having the best year of your life?

Game on.

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December 17, 2010

Senior Lifestyles: Study Says We Are Full of Life

The results of a major study were released to Satisfying Retirement yesterday and make for fascinating reading. Home builder, Trilogy by Shea Homes, has just completed a rather impressive survey with over 2,000 seniors. The study was conducted through an on-line questionnaire with those 55+ to help determine how personality traits affect someone's housing needs. The homebuilder will use the data to help them sell housing in their high-end resort communities, but that doesn't make the findings any less interesting. Here are some of the highlights of this national survey:

Boomers are focused on connecting with others and staying near loved ones. For instance, social media is not just solely a phenomenon for younger people. Those taking the survey say they prefer collecting friends on social networks just as much as they do recipes – and even rank it slightly higher (37%) than collecting pictures of the grandkids (34%). In fact, over 85% of 55+ adults came to the survey from Trilogy’s Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. And boomers are especially committed to their loved ones. When deciding where to live next, they ranked being within driving distance of family and friends as the most important factor, followed closely by desires to create a balanced lifestyle and being more active.

The majority of boomers say retirement is not an end phase, but rather, a new and exciting chapter of life. 51% say it’s a time for re-invention and self-discovery, followed by different than it used to be (15%)), playtime (8%), over-rated (5%), an opportunity to give-back (5%), over-due (5%), obsolete (4%), and a chance to work from home (3%).

Boomers are out to make a difference. 24% say their church, synagogue or place of worship is their favorite cause, followed closely by environmental and animal causes with almost 24%.

When asked what they collect, they weren’t thinking of trinkets. 54% say it’s family memories, followed by recipes (39%), Facebook friends (37%) and pictures of their grandkids (34%).

Boomers look forward to a myriad of things: traveling (59%), having a balanced lifestyle (51%), being more active (46%), and having more “me” time (46%) in retirement - in that order. Pursuing new interests and hobbies (43%), living near people with similar interests (34%), having lots of activities to choose from (35%), and spending less time spent in rush hour (27%) ranked next.

Boomer know how to live a healthy lifestyle: maintain a mind-body balance, engage in healthy relationships and continually learn were ranked most important.  
This study is remarkably consistent with everything I have written and you have shared in this blog for the past six months. The results point to an active, involved, socially aware, and happy group of retirees. It tells me you would probably be interested in more articles about social media, like Twitter and Facebook, and more info on great travel experiences.
I am amazed at the importance of Facebook and Twitter - even more important than collecting pictures of grandkids. That will not sit well with my wife! Because those who participated mainly came from the Internet there is some research bias in both the findings and the type of people surveyed. But, they do represent a major faction and I am thrilled to receive this study.

I want to thank Trilogy by Shea Homes for the opportunity to get first crack at this data. If you'd like to see the actual survey it is available here. The homebuilder's site is available by clicking here.
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December 10, 2010

Can You Live Without These?

Life is made up of change. Nothing stays the same for very long. Both are true statements but that doesn't make them any easier to accept. As human we 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.

There are probably hundreds of different things I could write about in this regard, but  I would like to focus on everyday stuff. Several months ago I had a similar post that asked if certain things we are used to are disappearing. Because that article was written well before this blog had many readers, you probably didn't see it. So, it seemed a good one to modify, add to, and re-run. Here goes: everyday items that will someday disappear from our lives.

  • Yellow & White Pages. Several phone companies have taken steps to eliminate the printed books that arrive with a thump on your front porch once a year. Yellow page advertising continues to decline in actual dollars spent and in effectiveness. On-line searching has become the first choice to find something that was once available only in printed form. White pages for residential listings will probably live longer than business white pages for exactly the same reason. It is simply habit now for most of us to find a business phone number, along with a map of the location, and store hours on Google or Yahoo. Phone companies can save whole bunches of money if those massive books don't have to be printed and distributed once or twice a year.

  • Movie Rental Stores. The stand alone video rental store is not long for this world. Hollywood Video went bankrupt and was purchased by Movie Gallery which then filed for liquidation in October. Blockbuster Video stores are closing at a rapid pace in most cities as it also fights through bankruptcy  It has made several attempts to use kiosks to distribute DVDs, but Redbox has seemingly won that battle. Meanwhile Netflix recently announced a shift in emphasis from sending DVDs through the mail to streaming directly to TVs and computers as their preferred business model. Next up the 800 pound gorilla, Google TV, is beginning to make its mark, while services like Hulu chip away at cable use. Physically picking out a movie and bringing it back to a store are destined for the scrap heap at a speed more quickly than most would have predicted even 3 or 4 years ago.

  • 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. But, changes must occur, and they will be substantial. Five day delivery is a given. Delivery directly to your home or neighborhood box may end. Private companies are already partially involved. E-mail, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office functioning. Most of your mail now is just bills, magazines, and junk mail. 

  • Paper Checks. This was mentioned as part of the previous post. Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away with checks by 2018. It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks. As Interest security gets better  electronic transfers are much more secure than paper checks.  America will not see the check disappear as quickly as those in England will, but it is coming. Check usage continues to shrink. It nows accounts for less than 50% of consumers' recurring bill payments, down from 72% in 2001 and 60% in 2003. Without an effective, cost-efficient postal service, the movement away from checks will accelerate.

  • 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 to 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 even 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. 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.

  • Cable TV.  As more people get their entertainment from streaming sources the need to spend $75 a month or more on cable is diminishing. Most network shows are available on the Internet within 24 hours of airing on TV. Movie choices are abundant, and at much cheaper prices than cable's On Demand-type offerings. Cable companies raise prices and still get into battles with suppliers, resulting in loss of certain channels for many of us for periods of time. Outlets like the Discovery Channel stream right to my Android phone. In our house, cable will either be eliminated, or cut back to basic service this Spring. I can't justify the cost for amount of time we spend not watching those 250 channels.

  • The Land Line Telephone. Have you ever watched the TV show "Brothers & Sisters?"  There is a huge family that spends close to half of each episode on their cell phones. Even 60-something Mom (Sally Field) doesn't see to own a land line phone. Those of us who still have one keep it because because we've always had it, not because it gets lots of use. Now that cell phones make it possible for 9-1-1 calls to be tracked, the last real reason to hold on to that desk phone is gone.

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 above will you miss the most? Which ones are you happy to see go? What didn't I list that you believe is not long for this world?

I'll tally up comments and pull this post out again in a year or so and see how we did in our prognostications.

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December 1, 2010

Simple Living - Easy Steps You Can Take Right Now

Whether you call it simple living, voluntary simplicity, or downsizing, the goal is pretty much the same: eliminate clutter and simplify one's life. As noted in previous posts, simple living doesn't mean going without, living in poverty, or denying things that make you happy. It does mean being intentional about what you own, buy, and keep. It means being aware of the impact your actions have on the environment. It means getting out of society's idea of success: more and bigger.

If you are an old hand at simple living, I hope you will post a comment that adds something to the list I am about to provide.

I have found a tremendous interest in this topic among readers of this blog. To have a satisfying retirement you must have a firm handle on your finances. You may be looking to move to a smaller home or condo and aren't sure how you decide what stuff to get rid of. Maybe you just tired of dusting, maintaining, and storing a lifetime of accumulated possessions. Whatever the motivation, this is a topic I will attempt to revisit a bit more frequently.

This time around I am offering a basic list of some ways you can reuse, recycle, reduce, and become a bit "greener" in your daily life. This list is by no means complete. There probably is no such list. But, it can be a starting place if you are new to downsizing. It may spur you to do more if you are already a proponent. It may prompt you to think of all sorts of ways you can simplify your life and your living arrangement. Personally, I have accomplished about 75% of the items listed and I am by no means a fanatic on the subject. If I can take these steps, anyone can.

Ways to Reduce
...use less copy paper. Use both sides if you can
...use "save to file" instead of printing something that doesn't require a hard copy
...use old printed sheets for note and scrap paper
...ignore what the bottle says, you don't need to shampoo, rinse & shampoo again
...Take steps to be taken off all junk mail lists
...Call catalog companies and ask to have them stop sending you printed catalogs
...low flow toilets and new washing machines save a tremendous amount of water
...replace plants requiring lots of water with low water ones.
...Computers & TVs use lots of power when off. Use power strip to kill all power

Ways to Reuse
...Use organizations like Freecycle to give you stuff to someone who needs it
...Make use of second hand or used furniture instead of new
...When you end up with plastic grocery bags, use again as trash can liners
...If  use plastic water bottles, can be refilled & reused 1-2 times, then recycled
...Use rechargeable batteries in cameras, iPods, etc instead of disposable ones
...Use refilled ink cartridges in printer and save big bucks & the environment.

Share, Borrow & Download
...Swap books with friends. Use the library instead of buying
...Swap or share music and movies with friends.The library has these for free, too
...Share children's clothing with friends who have kids younger or older
...Read newspapers and magazines on-line instead of subscriptions

Green Stuff
...Use farmer's markets. Produce isn't shipped 1,000 miles first
...Try to get used to tap water. It is safe and saves you big bucks and the environment
...Use cloth grocery sacks always
...Use toaster oven for small meals, the big oven only when necessary
...Plan errands so make fewest trips possible in car
...No more incandescent bulbs
...Close curtains in summer to keep out heat, in winter to keep out cold sure ceiling fans are rotating in proper direction for season (yes, it does matter)
...install a drip system if your garden requires it. Saves water over hand watering.
...Use programmable thermostat to only run heat and AC when you are home.
...Do you really need a special hot dog bun warmer, smoothie maker, pasta machine?
...Change furnace filters at least every 3 months, once a month in dusty places
  • 12/2 -Shirley at Voluntary Simplicity just posted an excellent list of 9 things you can do to help save the environment and money at the same time. Click here

Now, your turn. What are you doing to simplify, declutter  or downsize? What items on the lists above can you start to implement?  Is this an important subject to you?