March 30, 2012

Retirement Sometimes Needs A Lot of Nothing

Betty and I needed a bit of a break from puppy duty and a change in our normal satisfying retirement routine. So we booked a quick 2 night/3 day trip to one of our favorite little corners of Arizona: the small town of Patagonia. Located in a region of wineries and vineyards in the southeastern part of the state, Patagonia is the place we go to step off the world for awhile.  

"Downtown" in all its glory
With only 800 residents this town is so small it is special. There are three restaurants in town, but two of them are only open certain days of the week. There is one coffee shop, a two-pump gas station, and two bars. A handful of B&B's and one motel, a half dozen art galleries, a small performing arts center and a medical clinic pretty much make up the town. So, one doesn't come here to be entertained or choose from a large array of dining options.

We come because it is quiet. The air is clear, the days sunny, and the nights crisp. The B&B we prefer has an absolutely amazing backyard. It takes a real dose of will power to get out of one of the chairs in one of the dozen sitting areas or the two-person hammock. The planting rivals any place we have ever stayed. The owner cooks a breakfast that would equal anything you would find in any major city.

This is the center of bird-watching for Arizona. While that isn't our thing, thousands of folks do head for one of the preserves nearby to catch glimpses of their favorites. If I ever decided to become a "birder" it would be because of the fabulously inventive names of some of the local species: white-breasted nuthatch, ash throated flycatcher, yellow-rumped thrasher, and a bridled titmouse. I can only imagine the thrill in finding a pied-billed grebe perched on a branch in front of me.

Hiking, and ghost town exploring are more our style. Betty and I have visited a few of the old mining towns that are scattered throughout the area. A former railroad track bed has been turned into part of a simple but pleasant three mile hike that starts just 2 blocks from our room.

Patagonia Lake is 10 minutes south of town. Dozens of Ramadas and picnic tables invited us for a few hours of sunning, watching ducks, reading, and simply soaking in the silence. On a Monday afternoon there were no more than half a dozen people in the entire park.

For a town of so few people I was extremely impressed with the town library. Located just across the street from our lodging, it is modern and very well equipped. Nearly a dozen computer stations, several rooms packed with books, and even a children's play and reading room gave the library the look of something belonging in a much bigger town. I talked for awhile with one of the librarians who told me the town residents are reading fanatics. Since there was a used book sale underway Betty and I bought an armful of interesting looking titles to help support this vital community resource.

Sometimes a break is the best way to recharge your internal batteries. And, sometime the best way to do that is to do nothing. Since that is what we needed, Patagonia fit the bill perfectly.

We will go back.

March 28, 2012

Being a Snowbird: Is It The Right Choice For You?

Tucson, AZ

Comments left on a post a while ago asked me to look into the pitfalls and joys of living in two different locations, the so-called snowbird or rainbird lifestyle. Would your satisfying retirement benefit from such an arrangement? I decided to ask an expert. Barbara Torris is a blogging buddy and produces Retire in Style blog. She, her husband, Earl, and cat named RV (great name!) spend half of each year in Tucson and the other 6 months in Portland. Here are her answers to the questions I posed:

1) What prompted you to decide to spend the year in two different locations? Like so many new retirees we needed to try our wings. We traveled in motor homes in the United States. As we grew older we came to realize that we had satisfied that need but really didn’t know what the next step would be. Friends invited us to visit the park we are in now. We were in our motor home and we spent one season tucked in among the park models on the street where we live today. It was like “love at first sight”. All I can say is that the time was right for us. We were only spending 3 month on the road at that time. Now we spend 6 month in Oregon and 6 months in Arizona.

2) How has it worked out? What problems didn't you anticipate? What benefits? We have a wonderful life. Sometimes it is not easy though. The things you don’t anticipate can make it a challenge. Illness and problems with the family back home are the things that call snowbirds like us home. We are very flexible and we keep ourselves in a position that allows us to come and go on a moment's notice. I suppose I didn’t anticipate that my family would need me. We have built a plan for flying home into our financial picture in recent years.

The benefits far out weight the problems. Our life is much richer for having traveled and lived in a place like Arizona. We have learned from the culture here in Arizona. The fact that we live in a place that draws people from Canada and even Europe is wonderful. We rub shoulders with authors and mechanics and doctors and educators and business owners. I learn from these people each and every day.

3) What about your belongings…do you miss having your stuff with you if it is at the other home? This question made me smile. I hate to admit it but I have two of almost every kitchen tool. We have family pictures and Arizona d├ęcor fills our southwest home. In Oregon we enjoy an entirely different lifestyle. There we surround ourselves with art from travels. We don’t worry much about clothing although I do reach for something once in a while and remember that it is in the other place. I think my husband misses his tools. He has cool stuff in both places but does not carry them back and forth. We scratch our head occasionally and try to remember where something is. A little head scratching never hurts us!

4) Do you rent or own both homes? We own both places. The home in Oregon is a 1500 sq. ft. one level in a 55+ community very near my daughter’s home. In Arizona we own a park model in a RV resort. We paid less for it than we did for our car. Location was the reason we chose this particular space in the park. We pay about $4000 (about $340 per month) a year to rent the land.

5) What about doctors and health care…any problems being in two different cities? Our insurance covers us no matter where we travel. Our primary care physician is in Oregon and that clinic maintains our health records. The records are available on line so if a doctor in another location needs to see them, it is possible.

We have a university hospital in Tucson and in case of a severe emergency we would go there. We do have a family practitioner that we use when we have a cold or infection of some kind. I have used immediate care a time or two and that worked just fine. When we were traveling in our RV, knowing that immediate care was available gave us a lot of comfort.

6) How difficult is it to make friends if you are only in one location for part of the year? We have made a lot of friends everywhere we have been. Here in Arizona our friends come and go just like we do. In fact, I think that my Arizona friends are much closer to me than any I have in Oregon. This community of people is much like a co-housing community in that we take very good care of each other and share what we have. For example, we own the neighborhood ladder! I like that sense of cooperation a lot.

7) Overall, how has this decision affected your finances? Do costs double? No, costs do not double. We turn off water, gas, cable service and electricity when we leave Oregon and do the reverse when we come here. Our costs are a less here in Arizona and we use the excess to golf and travel a little. Just the fact that we do not need to heat or cool the park model a great deal saves us a lot.

 I do not have winter and summer clothes. I have clothes that work all winter and are still comfortable in Oregon through the summer. We are great car pool people so that is a huge savings. Here, our entertainment is built in. We dance, enjoy the outdoors and take advantage of the companionship of our friends. We are financially sound and would not do this if we could not afford it. The motto is: Spend Less Than You Make!

8 What are the factors that someone should consider before doing what you have done? You always need to remember: finances, family and your comfort zone. Take it slow. I think when it is right you will be ready. Until that day comes, wait until you find something you like and can afford.

Conclusion: I need for you to know that I did not dream of this life. It has been a wonderful surprise. I had no idea we would ever be able to afford to live in the sunshine for 6 month out of the year. I think my husband feels the same. We did not vacation for extended periods of time when we worked. My dream always was to move to the city. Fortunately, that is where our children live. I knew we would travel as much as we could afford.

The lesson here is that life unfolds and you need to be ready. Remember, retirement is not a destination…it is a new beginning. I think we should embrace all the things that are different about this part of our life.

Barbara is a retired teacher of Kindergartners. She is a freelance writer that has lived in Oregon for all of her life. She has travels to Spain, China, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. Her blog, Retire in Style Blog, is her favorite hobby.

I want to thank Barbara for her invaluable insight into this type of lifestyle. I must admit I hope my satisfying retirement follows her example sometime, spending the summers in Oregon or Flagstaff, and the winters in Phoenix.Her experience has helped give me a much clearer picture of how that might work.

March 23, 2012

What Was Once Bad is Now Good...For Now

Trying to keep up with health warning and suggestions is a frustrating pursuit. Not only is there more information on the Internet than anyone can possibly sort through, but it seems like the "rules" keep changing. i joke to Betty that if we wait long enough, I'll be able to start smoking again...for my health.

I thought it would be fun to prove the point by looking at recent studies that seem to contradict earlier reports. Of course, the more we learn the more we know. But, doesn't it seem as though we can never find something that is true and stays that way? here are just some of the recent reversals in what we thought was true:

Eggs are bad for us: Yes, and no. A couple of fried eggs for breakfast every morning remains a major health risk. All that extra cholesterol is not good for your heart. But, for most folks, an egg a day is not a problem. Because they are so low in saturated fat and have no trans fat, the minimal spike in cholesterol isn't a problem.

Calories eaten close to bedtime are worse than calories during the day. We have all heard the theory that food consumed too close to bedtime is bad. Your body doesn't have time to process the food before you fall asleep so all those extra calories become fat. Doctors say that simply isn't true. A calorie is a calorie regardless of when you ingest it. Maybe eating closer to bed time will make it harder for you to fall asleep, but 100 calories at 8PM is the same as 100 calories at 8AM.

Eating smaller meals throughout the day is better than the standard three meal approach. That may be true for some reasons, like maintaining  level blood sugar, but is not true in terms of weight loss. Yes, your metabolism cranks up a bit each time you eat. But, the amount for a small, mini-meal isn't enough to be significant. Forcing yourself to prepare 6 meals a day tends to end up with more snack and processed foods being eaten because they are quicker to prepare.

Coffee is bad for you. Past research has indicated that the effects of the caffeine can raise your blood pressure. There are some studies that say pregnant women should limit caffeine intake due to possible effects on fetus development. But, recent studies have painted a picture that is much more favorable. Coffee drinking may drastically reduce chances of developing type II diabetes. There are findings that point toward a major impact on preventing colorectal cancer, liver cancer and even Parkinson's disease in men.

Chocolate cases acne and is empty calories. New research is showing chocolate to be a tremendous positive for several parts of our body. Studies have shown clear heart benefits from better blood flow and improved bad cholesterol numbers. Dark chocolate has shown the ability to reduce high blood pressure. It seems to improve skin quality, increase blood flow to the brain, and allow your muscles to recover faster after a workout.

Wine is a no-no..too many empty calories and too much alcohol. In moderation this seems to no longer be true. Consumed in appropriate quantities wine has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. It has proven to raise your good cholesterol levels. Wine may even slow the progression of disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. The key is to not over-indulge or the health benefits are lost and damage can occur. So, how much is right? For men, the current guideline is not more than two 5 oz servings a day or red or white wine. For women, cut that amount in half.

I found all sorts of other supposedly "bad" food that can be beneficial: vegetarian pizza, beef jerky (!), full-fat ice cream, butter, peanut butter, even pork rinds (loaded with protein and less fat than potato chips). The key is always moderation and balance.

My goal isn't to get you to abandon your low-fat, vegetable and fruit-based diet or pork rinds and chocolate. Rather, it is to remind us that "rules" are constantly changing. Health is a moving target that requires us to keep up-to-date and not assume the way we have always lived is our best choice.

That being said, it is time for my afternoon glass of red wine.

March 20, 2012

Prison Ministry: Taking The Next Step

A little over a year ago I wrote about my involvement in prison ministry. The point was to stress the importance of taking on new challenges as an part of building a satisfying retirement. That article is the one included in the 65 Things to Do When You Retire book that I posted about a few days ago. It is too easy to get into a routine and never really explore all we may be capable of doing.

That particular post has been one of the most viewed on this blog. I'm not sure whether readers were reacting to the specific story I told, or found the idea of pushing against our self-imposed boundaries meaningful. But, whatever the case, that article, along with a follow up one a few months later, has shown an interest in the topic.

I'd like to bring you up-to-date on where my involvement with prison ministry has gone since the last posts, especially after a decision I made a few weeks ago. Until now I have been involved in writing several inmates on a regular basis, as well as acting as a one-on-one mentor to other men after their release.

This mentoring is a rather intensive, personal relationship with one guy at a time that lasts for at least six months. We have telephone contact several times a week and personal time together at least once every seven days. I help the man adjust to life outside prison in any way I can, including learning to budget and spend his money, staying employed, developing his walk with God, and handling anger or self-esteem issues. I am available 24/7 for guidance and help when he feels he may be on the path back to jail. It is a rewarding and humbling experience to help someone in that way. 

The Next Step

Last month I was asked by one of the fellows at Along Side Ministries to consider a major step up in my participation. Would I consider traveling to one or more of the prisons in the state, on a regular basis, to act as a mentor to a fellow who was still incarcerated? That would mean I would have to go through a screening and background check by the state. I'd have to be fingerprinted, undergo a urine test, have a badge made with my photograph, and agree to rather strict rules inside a prison facility.

After thinking and praying about it, plus asking Betty for her opinion, I agreed. At least initially, that meant a once-a-month round trip of over 400 miles of driving to a prison in northwest Arizona. I would be assigned one inmate as a mentee and spend an hour with him during these visits. I might also be called on to interview other fellows who were interested in learning more about Along Side Ministries. There was a possibility of adding additional monthly trips to facilities closer to Phoenix, but still involving 5 or more hours for each commitment.

A Long Commute

After getting approval and my badge from the state department of corrections I made my first trip last week. As I expected it took my volunteer work to a much deeper level. The prison I visit is large: over 3,000 inmates are housed. The main exercise yard is huge, probably 3 football fields, filled with hundreds of men in orange jumpsuits exercising, jogging, walking and talking, or simply sitting and staring at the activity. A few times a day every inmate must return to his cell to be counted, so the times I have for visiting are rather restricted.

After going through various checkpoints, removing everything in my pockets, my belt and shoes (sounds like plane travel!), I and the two other fellows from the ministry I was traveling with made it to the first series of interviews and visits. One of the reasons for making the trip was to decide if one inmate was right for our program upon his release this summer. After at least 40 minutes of questions and conversations, we determined he was the type of man who would benefit from the type of environment Along Side Ministries provides.

The decision to accept him sealed my schedule for the next 12 months because I agreed to be his mentor. That meant weekly letters between us starting now and once-a-month trips to spend some time with him in person inside the prison, It meant a minimum of 6 months after his release being the man who would walk with him and support him in his transition back to a society that makes being an ex-prisoner very difficult.

But Wait, There's More

On the drive back to Phoenix I was also asked to pay a visit to a fellow who is in the Along Side program but in a facility even farther away: a 5 hour drive each way. He has had no relatives or family visits for several years and has not had a mentor. I said yes only when I was assured that wasn't going to be a once a month jaunt.

What started out as an occasional letter to a fellow I'd probably never meet, and certainly never visit inside prison, has taken on a life of its own. I found just letter-writing wasn't enough, so i agreed to mentor fellows once they were released. Now, I am spending full days traveling all over the state to visit with men inside the jails while continuing the letter writing and mentoring duties.

I would never have envisioned me being part of this type of ministry. As the first post mentioned, my concept of inmates was the same as most of society: damaged goods who got what they deserved. But, my eyes and heart have been opened. To a man, they admit their guilt and failings. But, each is a human being who is attempting to turn his life around and stop repeating the mistakes of the past. If I can do anything to help each guy in that process I must do so. It isn't an option, my faith demands it of me.

I would love to talk with anyone who wants to know more about prison ministry. If that is where your heart lies, I can't think of anything more rewarding and meaningful you could do.

But, there are countless other ways for us to use our skills, talents, and personalities to help others who are less fortunate. A satisfying retirement not just about us and our families. It is about caring enough to make someone else's life just a little bit better. What are you waiting for?

March 16, 2012

65 Things To Do When You Retire

Last summer I was approached by the publisher of a new book scheduled to be released in March 2012. He asked if I'd be willing to contribute an article for inclusion in "65 Things To Do When You Retire."  All authors who agreed to be part of this project were asked to donate their writing for free with the understanding that all royalties from the sale of the book would go to nonprofit organizations dedicated to preventing and curing cancer.

Obviously, I was honored by his request for my presence in such a worthwhile product. But, I became really intrigued when I learned the caliber of folks who would I would share space with. Former President Jimmy Carter agreed, as did Gloria Steinem, Ernie Zelinski, Liz Pryor from Good Morning America, novelist Stephanie Cowell, and Jane Fonda. Fellow retirement bloggers and friends Sydney Lagier, Dave Bernard and Bill Birnbaum are also included, along with 55 others.

The articles are grouped into seven different sections that cover just about everything you might encounter during your satisfying retirement:

  • Redefining Retirement
  • Your Retirement Game Plan
  • Do Good By Giving Back
  • How Working in Retirement Can Work For You
  • A new Freedom To be Yourself
  • Family Matters
  • Go For It
My article immediately follows President Carter's and is the story of my foray into prison ministry. With some modifications that story was originally published in this blog in February, 2011: Pushing Back Against The Box

I have read the articles included in this 400 page book and can heartily endorse it as an important addition to your home library. The articles are practical, bold, adventurous, and inspiring. This paperback book is available from or Barnes & Noble. Remember that royalties will go to help provide a cure for the curse of cancer.

I am very happy to be part of this important project and hope you will consider buying a copy (under $15) to benefit cancer prevention and finding a cure. Thank you Publisher Mark Chimsky, Sellers Publishing, and my fellow travelers on the journey to a fulfilling and satisfying retirement.

March 14, 2012

Staying Active in a Retirement Community

This is a guest post on staying active while in a senior retirement community . That is an essential part of remaining emotionally and physically healthy during your satisfying retirement. These activities are important at any age, but especially for seniors. It is a vital part of maintaining our health and happiness. Regular fitness activity seems to decease the risk of conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia and colon cancer. It also prevents the frequency of bone loss, as well as increases your balance, important in order to prevent future injuries. Here are the author's suggestions:

Doctor Knows Best

Get approval from your physician before beginning any type of physical activity or workout program. Your doctor may suggest that there are certain workouts you should avoid due to your current health needs. He or she might recommend workout techniques for the best health benefits. Of course, some of the decision-making is up to you. Take your health conditions into consideration when choosing various types of activities, whether they are fitness-related or recreational. Also, start any new physical activity slowly and gradually build up your endurance.

Grouping Up

You can participate in community or group activities offered by your  community. Swimming classes, various sports geared to our age, recreational activities, or hikes around your community specifically designed for us are common choices, usually offered on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. A side benefit is more involvement in new or expanded social circles.

On Site Fitness Opportunities

There is also a time and place for solo exercise. Most communities have some sort of fitness center. Frankly, some as as elaborate as any that folks pay $50-$75 a month to attend. Often times, the fitness center will have experienced staff or trainers to help get the most from the equipment.

Fitness classes at the center are also great ways to increase your activity and well-being. Classes often include cardio, stretching, yoga, and strength training. If you are wheelchair-bound there are still plenty of ways to stay active including chair aerobics and weight training.

Stay Current with Activities

Have you checked out the recreational center recently? Look for a list of the various activities offered. Bring friends to the recreation center and get involved in both fitness-related and non-fitness activities to stay active. It may be a great place to meet new people, too.

Enjoy Activities with Friends

Do you have friends who tend to stay home? Ask them to join you in your desire to stay an active member in your community. Join fitness classes together, as well as other activities like arts and crafts, educational activities, sports, and card games. It will be more fun for you and help your friends improve their quality of life.

If your community does not offer the types of games or activities you prefer, contact the community staff and ask them for certain types of board games or playing cards, fitness equipment, or structured fitness classes. Sometimes they are simply waiting for enough folks to show interest to make the investment in time and equipment.

This guest post was supplied by writers at the web site LivingSenior. It connects you to a network of retirement living options, for you to research and explore. Note: I received no compensation for making use of their information.

What Others Are Saying

March 12, 2012

Our Newest Family Member: Meet Bailey

Last August I wrote that we just couldn't decide if a puppy was a smart decision for us. We have always been dog people, but our home had been dog-less for several years. At various times we thought about getting another, but always felt the time wasn't quite right. We were worried it would not fit well with our satisfying retirement routine.

While vacationing on Maui in October Betty and I did come to the decision to get another dog. Little did we know it would take nearly 5 months to do so. Because of my wife's allergies to most breeds and  because we had them before, we decided on a cocker spaniel. Easier said than done. There are virtually no buff colored, female cocker spaniel puppies available in Arizona. We searched every on-line source we could find. We contacted the local cocker rescue organization. We looked in the newspaper classified ads. We asked friends. Nada. Cocker spaniels are scarcer than Democrats in Arizona.

We would have nothing to do with national puppy mills. The health and behavioral problems that often accompany puppies from mass breeders made than a non-starter for us. Plus, I was very hesitant to send hundreds of dollars to someone out-of-state for a puppy who we could only know by its picture on a web site. In fact, until the middle of last month I very strongly voiced my opinion against buying a dog over the Internet.

But, the search had finally reached the point where if we didn't consider out-of-state breeders we might never find a cocker puppy. So, Betty began an exhaustive on-line search. She did her homework to check on recommendations, records of problems...anything that raised a red flag. She e-mailed and called dozens of kennels all over the country. Finally, about three weeks ago she located a likely candidate. The puppy was 6 weeks old and would be ready to be shipped to us at the 8 week mark. Dozens of phone calls, pages of questions asked and answered and lots of prayers later, we decided to take the plunge and have our new pet shipped to us from a breeder in Missouri.

Tired from a long plane flight
She arrived last Tuesday morning a few hours late after missing a connection in Dallas. Her new mom and dad had some anxious moments but, except for being quite thirsty, the puppy arrived healthy and happy.

Bailey is her name, and is everything we were promised and more. She is a total cutie and a complete people dog who wants to be at your feet. She started to learn about the doggie door within a few hours. She whines when she needs to go out, giving us all the warning we need until she is trained to handle her duties completely on her own. Her appetite is excellent and she is drinking plenty of water.

Will Bailey ever be big enough to fetch a paper?
In another 2 weeks we will introduce her to our grandkids. They will be well briefed on proper puppy interaction techniques but it should be a very special day for everyone.

How much will our satisfying retirement lifestyle change with this addition? I'll let you know.

Standing guard

March 10, 2012

Predictions of Our Retirement Future: Agree or Disagree?

Making predictions can be dangerous. After all, with the Internet anything you say can and will be used against you well into the future. But, being fearless I will proceed anyway with a few glimpses into what I think may happen in our satisfying retirement future.

1) Many of us will go back to work. For some, re-entering the work force will be by necessity. Pensions, investments, real estate price collapses, unexpected health costs, helping a family member....the reasons can be as numerous as there are retirees. But, collecting a paycheck after someone "officially" retires will become too normal to even note.

Some of us will go back to working because we miss the camaraderie or stimulation of an office, retail establishment, or factory floor. While the extra money is nice, for these folks it won't be the primary motivator.

Still more will decide this is the perfect time to start a new business, or turn a hobby into a money-making venture. Opportunities will be as numerous as someone's creativity and drive allow.

Related Post:

2) Health costs will get much worse before getting better. I've written about this enough that I won't belabor the point. Just suffice it to say, I predict the health care picture in the United States is going to get increasingly grim for an increasingly large percentage of our population. Only after several years of applying patches and stop-gap measure to a system-wide problem, will serious solutions begin to be implemented. I am not at all optimistic that anything short of a near collapse of the system will have to occur first. We are very good at kicking the damaged and leaking can down the road time and time again.

Related Post

3) Extended families will come back into fashion. As part of the problem created by the health care mess, I predict that multi-generational homes will become more typical. Less than one hundred years ago it was quite common for a young family, their parents, and even a great-grandmother to reside in the same home. In many cultures around the world having more than the nuclear family in one home is normal. Personally, I think everyone benefits when families are connected in this way, learning, sharing, and supporting each other. Valuable lessons of responsibility and consequences are taught to the young and old alike.

Related Post:

4) Simple & frugal living will be the mainstream. Over-consumption will be considered abnormal. Sure, there will always be the "keeping up with the Joneses" mindset. I'm afraid that is human nature. But, a throw-away culture that actually accepts the concept of planned obsolescence in manufactured products cannot continue indefinitely. If for no other reason than the crushing financial burden of $100+ a barrel oil, how we have lived can't continue. I grew up with the American Dream. My goals were to accumulate lots of money, own a few homes, vacation in exotic locations, and give my kids everything. I pursued and lived that dream for several decades until a cold dose of reality shattered that game plan.

The end result was an awareness that such a lifestyle was ultimately a failure. None of those material possessions or choices resulted in happiness. Only when I was forced to re-look at how I was using my limited resources did I grasp that I am much happier with fewer "things" and more people in my life. 

Related Post:

5) The biggest threat to our safety and security will not be from a foreign country, but from our reliance on technology. Virtually our entire financial system, national security, and provision for basic necessities are controlled by computers. Hacking, spamming, phishing, and deliberate attempts to defraud and destroy people and institutions are the full time "jobs" of tens of thousands of people around the world. They are dedicated to making your life unpleasant, or downright miserable. Computer systems are so prevalent and so easily disrupted, that our society is at much more at risk of a technological attack then a military one.

Related Post:

6) A satisfying retirement will look virtually nothing like your parent's, and certainly not like your grandparents. The definition of the word is already undergoing a complete overhaul. In fact, the entire concept may cease to exist. Maybe life will simply be seen as a series of stages that we move through, some more work-intensive, and some more growth and reflection-based. But, there won't be a magic line in the sand that once you step over it, everything changes.

Are you ready to put on your thinking cap, gaze into that crystal ball, or break open a fortune cookie? You may disagree with one or more of the above predictions and want to help me see the light. Or, maybe there is another trend or reality looming in our future that needs to be discussed. The nice thing about predictions is everyone can have them and be just as likely to be correct. So, fire away.

March 8, 2012

When Will I Stop Blogging?

Within the past few weeks two bloggers who were on my blog roll have pulled the plug. Both folks have not only stopped posting fresh content about retirement but have physically pulled their content from the Internet. While no records are available, I'm quite sure they weren't the only ones who decided to exit the world of blogging. In fact, it probably numbers in the thousands just in the amount of time it is taking me to type this post.

At the same time, over 60,000 new blogs are created every single day. Of course, not all of them contain content immediately. Most that start with high hopes don't last 30 days. Still more are maintained for a time and then stop adding fresh content. But, at least 145 million blogs are out there covering every interest and niche.

There are some areas that have more bloggers than can ever be supported or read. Starting a new blog about blogging, or SEO optimization, financial planning and investments, or being a mommy is probably a waste of time. These niches are covered a mile wide and a mile deep. Sure, you may attract some readers, maybe even thousands, but breaking into the top ranks of Google or making any real money are fantasies.

Retirement Blogging

How about retirement? According to several sources the top 10 most influential blogs about retirement are financially oriented. If you type in Satisfying Retirement I am happy that this blog has 8 of the top 10 listings. It is also on the first page for the search team, Retirement Lifestyle. All that is good, but hasn't translated to much in the way of advertising support because without a financial focus this blog is on a side channel of the retirement river.

As other bloggers have noted, keeping a blog up-to-date with fresh content, responding to comments, and using social media to keep the "brand" in front of people takes a chunk out of each day. When a fresh post has to be researched, written, re-written, and proofed 3 or 4  hours can easily vanish.

One of the retirement bloggers I mentioned stopped writing because she and her husband had decided they wanted to do more together, instead of spending hours apart, each in front of his and her computer. The blog had become something that was keeping the two of them apart, so it had to stop.

Coming up with fresh ideas is a constant chore. After all, there is only so much anyone can write about any one topic. Even the biggies repeat content on a regular basis, albeit with a different title. But, the 10 ways to optimize a blog can only be written about so many times before there is nothing new left to say.

What about this blog?

So, with all that said, what about this blog? I will have been at it for two years in June. I have written well over a quarter of a million words. The number of visitors has just passed 200,000. That sounds like a lot until one realizes some of the biggest blogs achieve more than that in a month.

Advertising support has been very slow to develop. At the moment it is enough to pay for the photos I download, the yearly cost of the domain name, and an occasional treat like the Kindle Fire. But, with a narrow niche like non-financial retirement, I am fighting for a small part of the advertising pie.

So, What Will I Do?

There are days I want to stop writing so much and only post something fresh every week or so. There are times when I am stumped about what to write. There are periods when I am frustrated there isn't a bit more advertising support.

Then there are days when the e-mail in-box is full of new comments to something posted a day earlier. There are e-mails that thank me for discussing a subject important to the e-mail writer. There are those times when someone thanks me for having a positive attitude in a world that seems to thrive on negativity.

So, I am not ready to close my door and say, enough is enough. I am not ready to quit what I have come to find is an important part of my day and my routine. Sure, at times this is a chore and not much fun. But, until that becomes the dominant feeling I'm going to keep writing. I don't know when I will say to myself that I have accomplished what I set out to do in June, 2010. But, I'm pretty sure I will know when that happens. And, when it does you will be one of the first to know.

So, assuming you'd like to help me keep plugging away, here is how you can help me: 

  • tell me what you want to read about the most. 
  • What post subjects do you enjoy the most? 
  • What would you like me to stop writing so much about? 
  • What do you keep waiting for me to address but I haven't yet, and you are getting tired of waiting? 
You can help me keep my writing pool full with ideas and specific feedback.

Oh, and if you own a business or service that would benefit from helping to sponsor the leading non-financial retirement blog, I'd love to hear from you.

Is that too direct?

March 6, 2012

Can You Retire By Staying Away From Stocks and "Normal" Investments?

While the headline doesn't tell the whole story, it does indicate there may be a different approach to investing for your satisfying retirement. If you are a newer reader I'll summarize briefly: after my radio consulting business declined to the point where I had to either invest big bucks into re-marketing my company or retire, I chose to stop working in 2001, at age 52.  I had been on the road most the previous 20 years, putting a real strain on our marriage and my health. My wife and I decided it was in our best interest to pull the plug.

There are folks who manage to leave work much earlier, but tell most people you stopped full time work at 52 and they will assume you won the lottery.  I didn't win anything, and neither do you. In fact, far from being financially set when I retired I played with the financial numbers constantly to make sure I hadn't made some horrible mistake. I didn't have nearly enough to live the lifestyle I thought I wanted, but there was enough to make it. Even so, I took a large leap of faith.

The point of this post is to detail the investment/retirement financial approach I took. It may not make sense for you. But, then again maybe it will. Now, one strong caution: if you didn't make a decent start toward retirement in your younger years, then, this probably won't work in your situation. If that's true, maybe you can suggest an adult child or even grandchild read this and decide if it makes sense for him or her.

I am, and always have been, a conservative investor. Even when the whole world believed dot.coms would only go up, or real estate was as safe as money in the bank (a whole other story!) and the stock market didn't know how to decline, I didn't play along. Yes, I dabbled. For a year I messed around with day trading. But, that was "funny money," money I didn't depend on or view as critical to my overall goals. If I lost it I'd kick myself and call myself names, but my financial future would not fall off the tracks.

Over that year of playing at stock trading I made about $1,000. That was a terrible return on my invested time and energy, and cured me of that approach as a useful one for me. There are people who do well in this regard. But, without lots of study and hard work, it is a dangerous game to play.

What I did learn were important lessons from my parents: live beneath your means, whatever they are, and save aggressively. So, starting in my late 20's I began to set aside 5%-10% of my wages. I put the money in a savings account. When the money grew enough I bought some CDs. Over time I found a financial adviser who steered me into safe mutual funds. Every once in awhile he'd convince me to try something a bit fancier. Once the investment turned out to be a fraud and I lost my principal and had to pay the IRS back taxes and interest. Another time or two some "sure thing" stocks weren't.

After changing advisor's (!) I determined my own investment philosophy. This is a crucial point in your journey toward a financially stable retirement lifestyle. Until you know what works best for you having an adviser or brokers is not going to work. Know you own mind and insist that others accept that approach and agree to do nothing that would break your tolerance. In my case I tried one more adviser until I hit the best match. In fact, I have had the same fellow by my side for almost 20 years. He admits my game plan is a bit unorthodox by typical standards, but completely agrees that it is perfect for me

Later, as my career and business began to grow I increased the savings rate to 20% after taxes, eventually reaching nearly 25% for the last several years of my employment. All that time our family lived without falling into the trap of over-consumption that seemed to grip our neighbors and some friends. Our cars were never fancy but not junkers either. Our daughters weren't the first to get an Apple 2 computer, but did eventually own one. Neither girl was a slave to the latest fashions so they didn't pester mom and dad for constant trips to the mall. In short, we side-stepped the biggest deterrent to a happy retirement lifestyle: spending money on temporary pleasure that you should be saving.

Was it a frugal and meager existence? No. We owned time shares and a vacation cabin. We vacationed in Hawaii and took the obligatory trips to Disney World and Disneyland. The point is saving at an aggressive level doesn't have to mean a life lived in the shadows.

OK, so how exactly did I invest to build up a retirement account that will hopefully last longer than I will? Can it work for you?

1) I didn't buy individual stocks (except during that silly day trader period). The stock market reacts to emotion and fear. Rationality isn't much of a factor. No, thanks.

2) I didn't try to "time" my investments. It can't be done, even by the "pros." By the time you decide to jump in or out, you are too late.

3) I purchased mutual funds that were low in fees and high in longevity. For the most part they were not aggressively managed. That tends to lead to way too much stock churning for long term success and higher fees.

4) I invested in high quality bonds..corporate, municipal.

5) I used lots zero-coupon bonds back when they made sense.

6) I occasionally  bought "junk" bonds. Some worked out well, on some I lost money. Frankly, these decisions always made me nervous but I did take the risk every now and then.

7) I maintained two accounts for retirement. One was made up of tax-free investments added to on a yearly basis. The SEP account was comprised of taxable assets (before Roth existed) deposited and invested before that year's tax return was due.

This last point was a key to my ability to do what I have done. The tax-free investments were allowed to compound, untouched, for about 20 years. When I retired the money in this account was what I would live off until my 64th birthday. Because it was tax-free I would not be faced with big tax bills as it was withdrawn. Sure, the interest and dividends were taxable every year, but the principal was not. That account will be drained to zero on my 64th birthday.

The SEP account has been building since my early 30's. That money will be what I use to live starting in another 14 months. I will start taking Social Security payments at 64 and begin regular withdrawls from the SEP. I have added virtually nothing to either account for the past 11 years. The magic of compounding has done its job.

Follow the best route for you
I will be the first to admit that my income in my later years was above average. But for the first few years I barely scraped by. After getting married the income rose, but the expenses rose faster. Saving was tough. Overall our family had an average, or below average income for at least 60% of my career. But, what really got us to the point we are today was avoiding the conventional wisdom preached by many. I found a mix and match approach that fit my personality, my risk tolerance, and my goals.

Do you see anything here that may benefit you? Are there some steps you can take even now that will allow you to break free of conventional wisdom and improve your financial outlook?

March 4, 2012

Spring Clean-up: The Battle of the Backyard Begins

It is only early March so winter still has a few weeks to go on the calendar, and in reality, several months in colder parts of the country. But, here in the desert southwest we are entering prime cleanup and replanting time. From now until late March is the time to get the yard ready for a springtime of satisfying retirement outdoor activities. By early June we enter summer heat hibernation mode when we want things to look pretty, even if we never leave the air conditioning to actually experience it. Silly, I know, but it is what we do.

So, the backyard is showing the ravages of what passes for winter in Scottsdale. The lantanas have all turned brown. They must be cut back to within 3 or 4 inches of the soil so the new growth and flowers can be seen as they start to emerge in the next few weeks. At last count we had 25 lantanas waiting for the clippers. Amazingly, by mid-late March these plants will be green with purple, yellow, and white blooms.

The pyracanthas do well in the winter, producing little berries that turn from orange to red. Those bushes need some shaping and trimming as well. They have sharp stickers which always get me, no matter how thick the gloves or how careful I am. But, up against a white wall they are killers.

In the far corner is a large pepper tree in desperate need of shaping. It is looking a bit ragged and growing over the wall and into the neighbor's yard. With the top at least 30 feet high I may have to hire a professional to properly trim  and shape it.

Two other small trees growing just outside the dining room picture window had looked less than healthy for the past few years. I keep saying they should go, but year after year they stay.  Finally, this week I have yanked them out by their rather hardy root systems and sent them to tree heaven.

The pots on the porch, Ramada, and various locations around the yard have winter blooms in them: petunias and pansies. Those plants will not survive the spring and summer temperatures so soon they must be replaced. Vincas and Zinnias do best in the heat and can be planted as early as the end of March.

The lawn is a major disaster area. During the winter we do not over-seed with winter rye (the stuff you see on golf courses). It takes too much water and must be cut and trimmed every 7 days to look its best. So, starting in November the Bermuda grass and all the assorted weeds turn brown until March when they begin to show signs of life.

For several years I have used various combinations of weed and feed products to eliminate the assorted weeds and clovers that are slowly crowding out the grasses. I have even tried pulling them all by hand. But, every spring there seem to be just as many as the year before. I swear I can hear them laughing at my attempts to control them. So, I have decided they win. I water and fertilize the grass, and hire someone to cut and trim it. The fact that the weeds benefit is something i have learned to accept.

As mentioned in earlier posts, I have cut way back on the number of pots I try to maintain through a summer of 100+ degrees. But, the view out the dining room and kitchen windows really benefits from colorful pots and plants all summer. Part of my satisfying retirement is having pretty views outside. For that to happen, the clock is ticking...and I need to get into the garden now.