April 29, 2012

Red Rocks and Hiking Boots

3 Fellows from Australia snapped this

Betty and I just returned from a all-too-brief two night/3 day stay in Sedona. Less than two hours north of our home, Sedona is a great place for us to visit on a whim and enjoy a satisfying retirement break. The temperatures tend to be only slightly cooler than Scottsdale, so this was probably the last time we felt we could visit before the 100+ degree  days started. Many of the tourists are gone, and by avoiding a weekend we managed to not feel overwhelmed by the crowds.

Since Sedona is best known for the incredible rock formations, this post will be mostly photographs. After all, if a picture is worth 1,000 words, I can stop typing about now...............

Bell Rock

Tlaquepaque Shopping Center
Typical Sedona Sunset
Broken Arrow Hiking Trail

View from Brown Arrow Hiking Trail
Red Rock Crossing
Red Rock Crossing
Picnic area at Red Rock Crossing
South of Sedona looking north
Sunset on Oak Creek

Betty took over 800 photos so I was hard-pressed to pick only 13. But, you get the idea. Sedona is a unique spot that is worth your effort to see it at least once during your satisfying retirement.

Note: If you like to hike, here is a web site you might find stimulating. The author has put together a list of the Top 50 Long Distance Hiking Trails in The USA.  This link is provided for informational purposes only.

April 25, 2012

I Need Your Help: It's Time For a New Satisfying Retirement Book

It has been about a year since Building a Satisfying Retirement became available as a Kindle book on Amazon. I have played with various pricing schemes and finally settled on $.99. The book's purpose is to promote the blog and my retirement experiences, not to make money, so that low price is working well. With a circulation approaching 1,000 (plus the 400 free copies of the first edition given away) it has achieved its goal. I also want to publicly thank Barbara Torris at Retire in Style blog who has run a display ad for the book for several months without any requests from me. Her generosity is greatly appreciated.

So here is my dilemma and how you can help. It is time to start a second book and I'm stumped for a central focus or topic. It probably should have something to do with retirement (!) but avoid the financial focus that so many books in the field dwell on. This next book could take a few directions: basically a biography of what I have experienced in almost 11 years of retirement, a guide for those who are looking forward to retirement but are still a few years away, or something for those of us already enjoying our new life but wanting more information. If so, how can I make that different from the first book?

Or, maybe there is a whole new approach I haven't even given much thought to. Maybe I should skip a book entirely and put together a series of videos or audio "lessons" along with work books on different retirement topics. Maybe it could be a photography book of the great stuff Betty has produced, both on our trips, and from her artistic efforts.

I don't know. But, I trust your judgment and input. So, I would appreciate your thinking for a little while about would might be the best approach. What would reach the most people and help solve the most problems or be the most enjoyable?

Leave your ideas, thoughts, suggestions, and creative flights of fancy below. Don't feel restricted by what I have mentioned as possibilities, though if one of those approaches seems like a winner, tell me.

Again, the goal is not to make money to retire (already did that!) but to have fun creating something new, serve a need, produce something that the market will like, and will benefit Satisfying Retirement blog. 

Help me with my next project!

April 22, 2012

Unusual Retirement Options: Any Sound Like Fun?

One of the really nice things about a satisfying retirement is the freedom that comes from deciding how you live or even where you spend your time. Some of us are happiest staying where we are now, with an occasional trip to add new experiences to our lives. A few weeks ago I interviewed Barbara Torris on the snowbird lifestyle. She and her husband spend half the year in Tucson and the other 6 months in Portland, Oregon. Shortly after that post appeared Bill and Wendy Birnbaum came through town and showed us their 17 foot RV...home for the next two months of travel away from their normal habitat in central Oregon.

These approaches are tremendously attractive. They combine stability with adventure. But, what about those retirees who have decided to really break the mold? Not too long ago the Wall Street Journal had a story about folks who have picked, shall we say, more unusual retirement options. A few other news stories that filtered across my desk make it obvious that a "traditional" choice may not be so obvious. Consider these:

Live on a Ship

For roughly the same monthly cost as a typical full service retirement community, a small but growing number of people are living for several months a year on cruise ships. A recent research study concluded that the services on a typical cruise are comparable to those in a retirement community: dining choices, escorts to dances and dining, help with doling out medicines, and daily housekeeping. Cruise ships have a doctor and nurses on board and on call 24/7, as well as a decently outfitted medical facility without worrying about health insurance or copays. Entertainment, fitness centers, libraries, and satellite TV complete the package.

Between cruises, those who have adopted this lifestyle stay with friends or in a short term apartment rental or hotel. Of course living space is at a premium, but as a trade off you spend your time visiting fascinating location anywhere in the world.

Spend part of the year as a Park Ranger

This retirement lifestyle could be considered a type of snowbird living. Folks spent the summer months living in an RV while serving in volunteer capacities at national or state parks. Usually the rental fee for the camping space is free, or deeply discounted in exchange for the help. The volunteers may serve as managers of a camping/RV site, teaching interpretative classes, or working in a gift shop. The story I saw told of a couple that spent last summer at Yellowstone, the previous summer at Yosemite, and plan to be at Mt. Ranier this year. During the winter months they pull the RV to a warmer climate or spend time visiting friends.

Share Housing with others

If you have an interest in living communally, this may work for you. Residents of these communities have private living spaces, but share kitchen and other facilities. There are now a handful of such senior developments in the U.S. with more in other countries. I have read predictions that most metropolitan areas will have at least one cohouse development within the next decade. Especially for those who have lost a partner or have no nearby relatives, the sense of family and of sharing one's life with others are major draws.

Just as I was completing post I received a press release from a lady who has written a book about this trend, especially for older, single women. If you'd like to learn more, I have posted all the information on a link at the top of the left sidebar.

Live in another country

Moving to a place like Costa Rico, Mexico, Belize, or anywhere else in the world is becoming a reasonable choice for many. Estimates are that over half a million Americans are spending their retirement years outside their home country. The primary reason is cost. Health care is usually 50-80% less expensive with comparable care. Many doctors in Central or South America, for example, are trained in American schools. Larger cities have modern hospitals and clinics. Housing is usually much less expensive, too. Social Security checks can usually be sent to you, though the rules vary by country.

Another reason folks choose to pull up stakes and start over again is the desire for adventure and a fresh start. Retiring to another country is a major decision that requires serious thought and preparation. It is not something to be done on a whim. Learning a new language and customs while fitting into a new culture can be daunting to some, but amazingly stimulating for others.

I've just scratched the surface on this topic. Additional options include some form of extended volunteer work, like the Peace Corp, or building a small apartment on the property of grown children to create a multi-generational situation without sacrificing privacy.

The cruise ship living and RVing in a National Park ideas strike me as something Betty and I might want to explore.What I'd like to know is what do you think? Are any of these ideas (or others I haven't mentioned) logical alternatives to aging in place or a typical retirement community? 

It is kind of exciting that we do have options.

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April 18, 2012

Rekindling Your Creative Spark During Retirement

Angelita Williams has provided the following guest post on a subject that is a requirement for a satisfying retirement: keeping your mind active and your creative juices flowing.

After years of tedious and difficult work in the same career  or job field, our capacity for creativity can diminish. This is not to say that doing the same type of work throughout your whole life ruins your creative edge, it's just likely that your creativity becomes narrowed and specialized to your specific area of work and thinking.

Creativity is one of the most powerful tools we as human being possess. The power to think and create beyond our own immediate knowledge and existence is a very useful and invigorating thing. One of the luxuries that retirement can offer is the time and inspiration needed to rekindle your creative state of mind. While it can be a challenge to step into the world and mindset of creativity again, it can also be one of the most rewarding activities you have. There are many ways to nurture and develop your creativity after retirement. Here are three tips to help stoke the creative fire that glows in your newly retired (!) brain.

See and Do New Things

It is only through experiencing new things that we can engage in new avenues of creative thinking. Take on new experiences, visit new places, try things you've never done before—these things can help to spark some new line of thought that only that new sensation can inspire.

Creativity comes from inspiration. Find things that you never thought of doing and do them. Painting, snorkeling, travel, reading a new genre, writing, watching foreign films, or listening to different types of music are activities and experiences that can inspire some new way of seeing your surroundings.

If coming up with new things to do is a challenge, going back to things and places from your past can be a good place to start. Revisit things that used to inspire and motivate you that you lost the time or place for in the working world. By revisiting these old interests and passions, you can rediscover what about those things inspired your creative energy. (Bob says, guitar playing!)

Expand Your Education

Another great way to create new experiences is by expanding your mind and education. While taking on more educational pursuits as a retiree may seem odd, there are many avenues for extended education that are reasonable for retirees to seek. Things like online learning and open courseware offer a wonderful and easy way to access knowledge without spending significant chunks of your retirement change. Take classes on a subject you know nothing about. Study a new language. Learn a new skill.

Education and learning are two of the best ways to expand your mind and broaden your ability to think creatively. Retirement provides for the perfect opportunity to become a lifelong learner. Take the opportunity you have to explore subjects and topics you thought you never had any interest in. You are bound to run into things that you really don't like or aren't interested in, but even these things can be some of the best ways to unlock creativity.

Observe Creativity in Others

Another great way to tap into your long lost creative pathways is by observing other individuals and their creativity. Submerging yourself in their world of creativity is bound to arouse some creative juices of your own. Spend time  with creative people—writers, artists, musicians—and take in their work and their spirit. While this may sound a bit hard to accomplish, it really is a great way to awaken your creativity.

What many people fail to realize (or at least fail to reveal) is that much of our creativity comes from seeing the creativity of others and mimicking it. Finding inspiration from the creative masters is just another method for tapping into your own more original ideas. Retirement provides for an opportunity to revisit those artists and individuals who inspired your creativity in the past. Revisit the classics and attempt to find new guides and mentors. Very few things in the world today are actually original. Take advantage of the creative minds around you in order to really tap into your own creative potential.

This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online courses. She welcomes your comments at her email: angelita.williams7@gmail.com.

I will add I completely agree with Angelita on the importance of creativity in helping you build a satisfying retirement that is happy and complete. Creativity can mean writing a blog or a book, but it can also mean cooking a great meal out of leftovers, growing a few pretty plants in pots in your dining room window, or making a scrapbook of dinosaur pictures for your grandson. Creativity is at the core of what human beings are. Don't sell yourself short. You are creative.

April 16, 2012

A Story That Will Move You

Prison ministry is a major passion of mine. I invest substantial time each month in working with inmates. I have written a few times about my experiences in the hope that I can inspire you to give of your time and talents in some cause during your satisfying retirement.  In case you'd like to review those posts, i have them linked at the bottom of this post.

One of the men who I work with at Along Side Ministries is in charge of the men's ministry programs at the prisons throughout the state that are affiliated with this tremendous organization. Recently he had an experience that is so far out of anyone's comfort zone that I asked to share his report with you. I don't think it is possible to read his story of this experience without binging tears to your eyes and a conviction in your heart to help wherever and whenever you can. Be prepared to be moved:

"Many of you know that I recently spent a weekend in Louisiana State Penitentiary otherwise known as Angola Prison.  And many have asked me for a report.  I think it would be best to describe Angola in order to understand the environment and experience a little better.

So, for starters let me give you a bit of Angola history. In the 1960’s Angola was commonly referred to as the bloodiest prison in the US.  Rapes, murders and gang activity were out of control common occurrences.  Inmates worked in the cotton fields where armed Officers watched over them on horseback.  When a man died other inmates were appointed to dig a hole and his body was thrown into it; no casket or funeral.  There was no care for the dying and no concern for the brutality from other inmates or corrections officers.  Like most states in the country at that time executions were carried out by electric chair; which is basically frying someone to death.  It was a prison that men feared getting sentenced to.  

Finally the federal government stepped in and demanded reform under federal oversight.  In spite of their best efforts Louisiana struggled throughout the 70’s and 80’s to turn the prison around.  In 1995 real change began with the appointment of Burl Cain as warden.  Up to that point no warden had lasted more than 5 years.  Cain has been warden for 17 years now.  He immediately began restoring dignity to inmates.  He lives by a code of zero tolerance on abuse whether by inmates or staff.  He wanders the yards often and talks openly with inmates.  If he hears about impropriety on a yard he launches an investigation.  If a staff member is found to have abused his authority with an inmate he is fired on the spot regardless of rank or length of service. 

He built church buildings on every yard and ordered that the steeple of each church have a cross on the top and be the tallest structure on every yard.  If an inmate gets discouraged or is losing hope; no matter where he is on the yard he can always look to the church, see the cross as an anchor or hope. Today, no prison in the US houses more life-term inmates than Angola Prison.  It sits on 18,000 acres and is surrounded on 3 sides by the Mississippi River. It is like a city in itself.  It has its own zip code, post office, bank, 9-hole golf course and a housing community that houses over 400 security and support staff families.  The prison houses roughly 5,100 inmates.  86% are violent offenders, 74% are serving life sentences and 85% will die in there.  It is equipped with only 1,400 cells.  Most inmates live on open yards and are housed in dorms similar to Arizona’s minimum security yards.  Angola has a security force of 1,450 personnel, half of whom are women.

When an inmate first arrives at Angola he works “the farm” in agriculture.  Angola Prison processes about 4 million pounds of vegetables a year.  They maintain about 1,500 head of cattle and 700 horses.  Inmate cowboys oversee the livestock.  They have a rodeo every year that is open to the public. People attend from all over the country. Inmate workers are trained in breeding and cross breeding and breed their own dogs for security, tracking and tactical needs.   

Inmates can go through a 4 year accredited Bible college and get their bachelor’s degree in theology.  Some are ordained and become pastors of the many churches on each yard.  There are 9 different protestant evangelical denominations that contribute to 450 services a month.  Each church has ordained assistant pastors and deacons.  These pastors have complete pastoral responsibilities for their congregations.  It is their full time paid job on the prison yard.  The prison churches send out inmate missionaries by two’s to other prison complexes in the state.  Their full time prison job is to build the church and evangelize on the other prison complexes.  The home church they come out of in Angola sends them each $50 a month for support to live on.

Now, there is relatively little violence.  They boast that they are probably the safest prison in the US. There is no gang activity, no racism, and no fights.  Inmates are encouraged to join one of the many sanctioned social organizations or even form their own.  Angola is the first prison in the United States to have an inmate-staffed hospice program for terminally ill inmates; the first to have an on-site, fully accredited four-year college program; and, the first to have its own accredited fire and emergency services department.  Angola is also the only penitentiary in the United States to be issued an FCC license to operate a radio station.  Inmates publish a monthly magazine called The Angolite. 

I was with a team from Awana International that consisted of 113 men from 28 different states and Canada.  We were each assigned to a cell on the old death row.  That is where we slept Friday and Saturday nights.  We ate all our meals with inmates in the chow hall and had plenty of time for talk and fellowship.  The seminar consisted of 7 different teaching segments; 5 of which were taught by inmate pastors on the yard.  We toured the entire prison including the new death row and death chamber. 

Louisiana does not do executions very often these days.  Texas and Arizona have had far more executions in the last year. When they do, it is by lethal injection.  The days and weeks leading up to an execution is very humane.  The chaplain spends quite a bit of time with the inmate and even the warden visits with him.  It is common for an inmate with a pending execution to spend the day before with his family in an open day room with no restraints.  They eat together, spend the day together and make their peace.  They are given as much dignity as possible.  Even the warden stops by, visits with the family and often prays with them.

We heard plenty of Warden Cain’s philosophy on running a prison.  He often walks the yards and talks with inmates without giving advance notice to staff.  He tells them, “I’ll be as good as you let me be and as mean as you make me be.”  His approach to personal development and empowering of inmates to be all they can be is something I have never seen before.  And it works. It was a profound experience to spend time with men who have been locked up for 40 and 50 years.  All the men that we were with will die in prison if the current Louisiana life sentence legislation does not change.  I saw rehabilitation first hand and the power of the gospel to transform a horrible place into a place of hope. 

One breakfast I sat with an inmate who had been in Angola for 17 years.  He has a life sentence and will never get out.  At one point he was sent with a team to another prison complex that houses men who will be getting out.  Their purpose was to study reentry.  They began by interviewing hundreds of inmates who had been in prison before, were release and have returned.  They began to identify common themes and from that developed reentry classes.  Then they all, having life sentences themselves, became the teachers; teaching reentry to inmates who would get out. 

Here is just a few of the things he shared with me:  The number 1 reason men go back to prison is rejection.  They don’t fit in when they get out. They are rejected by employers, by family when things are not working out and by churches when they struggle. They developed a program to help them prepare for this.  Included in the teaching are skits and practical exercises that help them see the difficulties ahead and prepare for it. They try to deal with every possible negative situation.  Much of this is a matter of changing ones mindset.  Helping them realize that they are a burden on family or someone when they get out. They are dependent on others and that is cost them money and time.  Their presence alone in the home creates a certain amount of stress. 

The programs teach them to be an asset in practical ways such as; doing the dishes, washing clothes, cleaning the house and washing windows, taking care of the yard, etc.  Other practical things they do before getting out is to write letters to loved ones whom they have hurt, making amends.  They do one on one counseling with each man before his release."

The gentleman, Kevin,  who went through this experience, has the biggest heart for prisoners and what they must endure to rebuild their lives as anyone I have ever met. I feel privileged to be able to work with him and learn from him.

For you, if you are looking to give back it certainly doesn't have to be working with prisoners. It could be an animal shelter, or the Red Cross. It could be with a homeless shelter or battered women organization. It could be volunteering at the library, or simply picking up trash in your neighborhood. Believe me, your life will benefit in ways I can't even begin to describe.

Kevin is living proof.

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April 13, 2012

Plan to be Spontaneous

Silly, right? Being spontaneous is, by definition, done without forethought. Spontaneity means just doing something without a lot of planning. So how to be spontaneous is an oxymoron, like Jumbo Shrimp, an accurate estimate, or unbiased opinion.

Actually I want to focus on the mindset and benefits that encourage you to become more spontaneous during your satisfying retirement. I'll also share a recent example from my life. I contend that being over scheduled or closed off to new experiences is not good for you, and is easily changed.

But, first, why should you care? What is there about spontaneity that is helpful to you? What will you gain? Fair questions. I contend that you will:

Have new experiences that could enrich and deepen your life. You might even discover a new passion or interest you didn't know you had.

Add spice to a relationship that has become too predictable. Meet new people and develop new friendships.

Bring some adventure to a static lifestyle. Trying something new doesn't always work out. That's OK. You learn as much about yourself from bad experiences as good ones.

Help conquer unnecessary fears. A lot of us don't try something new or different because fear of failure or embarrassment. Spontaneity doesn't give you time to work yourself into a tizzy. You just do something. There is no opportunity to tell yourself all the reasons why you shouldn't.

Let's stop here so I can emphasize one important point. Being spontaneous doesn't mean you have to try bungee jumping, take a cruise to the South Pacific, or decide to buy a motorcycle this morning and set out on a road trip this afternoon. Spontaneity may mean doing nothing...nothing at all.

Your calendar has a list of commitments or things for you to accomplish today. You look at all of it and decide, nope, today I'm playing hooky. I'm turning off the computer and going to a movie, or maybe reading a book by a lake near my house, or how about cooking a fancy dinner for my wife tonight. You abandon what was predictable and chose to follow a different path...just for the next few hours.

A month or so ago Betty and I had the chance to be spontaneous. I noticed a listing in the paper about a free folk festival happening that coming weekend in the nearby town of Glendale. It was being held a large park that housed an historical ranch, citrus grove and several buildings. After reading about it on the Internet we decided to invest a few hours on Saturday.

What a tremendous experience! I have never seen anything like it. A half dozen different stages and settings (front porches, the maintenance shed, in the wine cellar) featured musical groups performing all day long. We had a choice every 30 minutes to listen to bluegrass, country, folk duos, banjo pickers or Irish ensembles. Dancing troupes in colorful southwest costumes performed on a stage in the middle of a palm tree field.

Dozens of impromptu jam sessions occurred all day as guitar players would gather under a tree and simply start playing together. Two fellows sang sea shanty songs for almost an hour, telling stories behind each song and inviting the audience to sing along. A half dozen auto harp players found each other and discussed the ins and outs of this unique instrument.  A blacksmith demonstrated his almost-lost art in a 100 year old blacksmith shop.

The Dirtbilly JugNots...Who wouldn't love that name!

Playing with a few new friends under the trees

The festival actually ran all day Sunday, too. But, other commitments that couldn't be abandoned meant we missed it. But, that simple act of changing our plans and trying something new gave us a unique experience that we will be sure to include in our planning for next March. Being spontaneous paid off in a big way.

How about you? When have you chucked the calendar or plans and done something "just because?" Are you glad you did? Should you be that way more often? Can you plan to be spontaneous?

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April 11, 2012

Great Ideas to Save Money Today

This is a guest post from Kendal Perez. She gives actionable steps you can save money by using coupons and dollar store purchases. Part of a satisfying retirement is saving money for fun stuff. Kendal's ideas will help:

Even novice couponers know the best source for grocery-store discounts (the Sunday circular) and have the smarts to time their shopping trips around a sale. However, unless you're an extreme saver with surplus storage space for toothpaste and toilet paper, you may not be aware of many discounts crossing your path every day. Before you let another dime go down the drain, check this list of the most overlooked discounts and be sure to include them in your savings plan.

1. Receipt Coupons

I opt for self-checkout whenever possible to ensure swift service. That means grabbing the receipt on the way out and stuffing it in my bag, never to be seen again. Mistake! Not only is it good to review your receipt to ensure you weren't overcharged, but they're also a great source for discounts on groceries and local services.

2. Catalina Coupons

Similar to receipt coupons, Catalina coupons are usually printed from a small machine at the register. These coupons are triggered by your previous purchases, yielding useful discounts on products you typically buy. You can even use them at other grocery stores when they're offered by the manufacturer. For more information on Catalina coupons, consult this article from Savvygirl Living.

3. Customer Service Surveys

Readers of my blog already know I'm a fan of The Limited, but even I forget to take advantage of an easy resource for savings. Every time I'm handed a receipt, the cashier circles a phone number I can call to offer feedback on my shopping experience. In exchange for a few minutes of time they provide $10 off my next purchase of $50 or more. Lots of retailers have similar offers, so pay attention and make the call.

4. Mobile Coupons

Despite my best intentions, I'll often leave carefully clipped coupons on my kitchen counter and miss out on the discount I intended to score. Thankfully, my husband's smartphone gives me online access to deals via the Coupon Sherpa mobile app. This app allows me to search for retail and supermarket savings on-the-go, and I can also download grocery discounts directly to my loyalty card.

5. Peelies

It's always a bonus when something you intended to purchase comes with a peelie -- or a coupon adhered to the product for immediate use. However, these sticky gems do you no good if you fail to point them out to the cashier. To ensure savings, remove the coupon from the product before checkout and hand it to the cashier.

6. Status Discounts

Most seniors I know are pretty good about asking for discounts, but I often overlooked my savings potential as a student. Additionally, teachers and military personnel can score great deals from retailers, restaurants and even travel agencies. It never hurts to ask whether discounts are available for your particular status; just be ready to present the necessary proof.

7. Preferred Customer Offers

I get $10 in DSW Rewards every now and again, and my husband will score $10 in savings on his next Dick's Sporting Goods purchase. How do we land such great discounts? We accrue points via "preferred customer" programs that yield savings after a certain spending amount is reached. Since we frequent these retailers it makes sense (and cents!) to sign up for their free programs.

8. Sports Tickets

Like Catalina coupons, your ticket to last weekend's big game might have some local coupons on the back. Some people save sporting-event tickets for sentimentality, but everyone should glance at the back of their stubs before tossing them. More often than not you'll find discounts for local restaurants or retailers.

9. Magazines

If you're like me, the first thing you do before thumbing through the latest issue of your favorite magazine is remove the annoying subscription offers. As you tear them away, don't overlook potential coupons. I've found discounts and even free samples for makeup and other items in conjunction with the magazine's advertisements.

10. Recycling Programs

You're likely in the habit of recycling what you can, but did you know some retailers offer discounts for your efforts? I didn't either until recently, when a box of Kashi cereal prompted me to sign up for RecycleBank.com. By entering a code printed inside my cereal box, I earn points toward discounts on products I already buy.

Another way to save big bucks is to use dollars stores for part of your weekly listss. Dollar stores aren't just for the incredibly frugal. A recent Colliers International study shows dollar stores now outnumber national drugstore chains, according to Independent Retailer.

Despite obvious deals, some shoppers are still reticent to patronize these retailers because they lack confidence in product quality. Though I don't buy everything at my local Dollar Tree, there are several items I simply will not buy anywhere else. If you struggle to make the leap into dollar-store savings, consider these eight must-haves to get your feet wet:

A) Greeting Cards

This is my number-one dollar-store purchase. Never again will I pay upwards of $5 for a greeting card when I can find perfectly clever, poignant and practical cards for $1 or less at my local Dollar Tree. You can also find bulk thank-you cards and other decorative notes to maintain correspondence without breaking the bank.

B) Candy

I have a raging sweet tooth but can't bring myself to pay over $2 for something my waistline doesn't need. Thankfully -- or perhaps not, depending on how you look at it -- dollar stores have many name-brand goodies to curb my craving. It's also my go-to place for stocking up on provisions before the movies.

C) Party Supplies

Whether you're organizing a company party or kids' birthday bash, dollar stores have scores of party supplies to make your event a hit. Banners, balloons, confetti, gift bags and wrapping paper are just a sampling of the available inventory, and you can always find holiday-themed decor on the cheap. Even if you don't have a dollar store nearby, you can order online and find coupons for Dollar General at sites like CouponSherpa.com for additional savings.

D) Single Servings

Dollar stores are a great place to pick up single quantities of popular items. For example, a friend of mine recently purchased two wineglasses as the traditional set of six or eight was way more than she needed. She was able to get what she needed without compromising price or storage space. Score!

E) Hair Accessories

While some fashionistas may have reservations about getting their hair candy at a discount store, I can't stress enough how practical it is to load up on the basics for less. Most hair bands and bobby pins are created equal, so there's no reason to pay more for them than you have to. In fact, dollar stores sometimes carry the popular Goody brand of hair bling, so keep your eyes peeled.

F) School Supplies

Every school year seems to bring with it a more demanding list of required supplies. Thankfully, most educational essentials are as basic as you can get, allowing for incredible savings. Spiral-bound notebooks, three-ring binders, bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils -- you can find it all at the dollar store.

G) Kids' Toys

Children tire of toys faster than the speed of paychecks, so parents everywhere could use a practical outlet for keeping their kids entertained. Dollar stores dedicate an entire aisle to superhero swag and princess must-haves at unbeatable prices, so check them out before paying department-store prices.

H) Long Distance Travel Distractions

Though airport shops offer plenty of tempting snacks and magazines, the price of these items will quickly eat up your budget. Why pay over $3 for trail mix when you can pick some up at a dollar store for a third of the cost? In addition to thrifty snacks, you can find coloring books, Sudoku puzzles and other distractions to keep yourself inexpensively occupied during a long flight or car trip.

Kendal Perez is a frugal fashionista and bargain shopper who helps fellow shopaholics find hassle-free ways to save money. She has the resources to be an extreme couponer but prefers a less complicated approach to staying in-budget. Kendal has been quoted in such media outlets as CNN Money, FOX, ABC, NPR and Home and Family Finance Radio. For savings tips and more information, visit HassleFreeSavings.com.

For more information please contact Kendal Perez by email: kendal@hasslefreesavings.com.

April 9, 2012

Bailey, The New Puppy: One Month and Counting

From a post almost a year ago a reader asked this question:

"When our dog goes to dog heaven, do we enjoy our less complicated life, or do we continue with the complications a pet brings, and continue to reap the rewards of having a true friend to share our lives? There is no right answer, but I'd like to hear what people say." 

As you know we answered that question by adding Bailey to our family a month ago. 30 days is long enough to assess the initial impact on our satisfying retirement lifestyle. What has she added to our life and where has she complicated things? 

The overall impact has been remarkably positive. She is a quick learner in many ways and an absolute people-person dog. She is happiest snuggled up alongside one of us. She will pick up a piece of dog food and carry to our side before eating it. She then repeats the process dozens of times until her food bowl is empty. 

If one of us is on the sofa and one in a chair she is torn, so she does what anyone would do: she divides her time between the two locations so she gets to be next to each of us. Bailey will sleep in the oddest positions if it means she can be touching our feet.

One day a week  or so ago Betty had to be gone all day, helping our eldest daughter with her daycare business. I would be alone with the puppy for 12 hours. That meant constant "bathroom" duty, watching where she was at all times while still trying to get my chores and work done. Truthfully, I was nervous. I hoped my patience didn't wear thin or my frustration level jump off the chart.

Bailey teaching me how to relax
Exactly the opposite happened. Being with Bailey for that long meant I had to slow down, stop working all day, and just go with the flow. Because the weather was beautiful and she loves to be outside, I spent a good part of the day on the porch, reading a book, writing on the laptop, and watching her. She learned that birds can fly and she can't. She discovered that helicopters make scary sounds. She noticed other dogs in the neighborhood when they barked. She delighted in rolling around in the grass and chomping on sticks. And, every few minutes she would come back to my side to be sure I was still nearby.

By the end of the day I realized I had one of the most relaxing and satisfying days in a long time. The puppy forced me to experience something other than my normal routine, and in the process fully enjoy my day. 

All is not perfect, after all she is a 12 week old puppy. She has particular corners of the dining room that will do just fine for potty breaks. She occasionally waits too long to identify the need to find the doggie door (our rug cleaner is getting lots of use). When one of us returns after being gone for awhile she tends to lose bladder control from the joy of seeing us again. She has yet to sleep through every night so an occasional wake up whine around 4:30 AM is still normal. She loves to nip at us, both to explore her world and to signal her excitement and affection. She is learning basic commands but having a leach attached is still a frustrating experience for her. 

We have figured out how to leave the house to run errands without sending her into a tizzy. Both Betty and I can be upstairs while Bailey is behind a gate, crying softly for a few minutes before lying down to await our return. She is developing the feeling of trust that tells her we will be back, she is not being abandoned. 

But, without a moment's hesitation I can honestly say that adding this young life to our life has been a tremendously positive experience. In just one month we find we miss her if we are gone for a few hours. Her unconditional love and "snuggability" are enriching us and our home life. She is teaching me patience and to live more in the moment. She is reminding me that a little urine on the rug is not a big deal. She is forcing me to experience a satisfying retirement on a new level.

Would you do me a favor? Click the Google+1 symbol below if you liked this post. It helps.

April 4, 2012

Blogging and Friendship: An Unexpected Bonus

One of the unexpected benefits of blogging is making new friends. Anyone who has been at this for awhile has some folks who are regular commenters: those who show support and interest by leaving thoughts and questions after a post. They are essential. Without some feeling that what you are writing about has an audience it is more difficult to remain motivated. Satisfying Retirement is quite lucky in this regard. There are a lots people who I know will leave comments at least once or twice a week.

But, what is happening as I approach my second anniversary of blogging is the development of something a bit deeper: friendships. These are folks who I begin to know on a more personal level. We communicate by e-mail or even telephone in addition to blog comments. We ask for personal favors. We know enough about each other to actually talk about trying to find an opportunity to meet in person. That happened for Betty and me this past weekend.

Bill & Wendy Birnbaum & Their RV
 Bill Birnbaum and his wife, Wendy, were passing through Phoenix as part of a two month coast to coast trip in their RV. After a few calls we set up a breakfast together so we could meet each other in person. What a wonderful time. It was so nice to share stories and learn more about each other. Bill writes a blog that has been on my favorites list since the very beginning: Adventure Retirement.

He and Wendy have had what I (and Sonia Marsh) would call a gutsy retirement. After retiring from their careers in southern California, they sold their home, put their belongings in storage, and bought one way tickets to Peru. For most of the next two years they volunteered their time teaching and helping those in need in that South American country. Upon returning to the states Bill and Wendy decided to live in the small central Oregon town of Sisters.

They have taken a seven month long driving trip around the country. They hike and camp in the beautiful areas near their home. Bill volunteers to teach English to some of the Hispanic folks who live and work in the area. They are gracious, friendly, and easy to talk with. In short, Bill and Wendy were a pleasure to meet. Before we parted, they gave us a tour of their RV that will be their home for the next few months. Then, they invited us to visit them at their home in Oregon this summer.

Just a few days before that two blogging friends also extended an invitation to come to the Portland area this summer. They offered to give Betty and me personalized tours of all the best spots in this beautiful city. Suddenly, Oregon appears to be one of our vacation destination spots this year. Then, Tamara left a note on another post that reminded me we have blogging friends in Southern California that would like to meet us if we vacation there as planned.

There is something about the intimacy of writing about one's life and problems that allows a connection to be opened between people. If nurtured,  over time there is the opportunity to establish meaningful friendships with people from all over the place.

Since most of those who have reached out are women, it is good Betty is a trusting soul. When I told her Barbara and Galen were interested in showing us around Portland she didn't blink. When I mention people like Sydney, a few other Barbaras, Sharon, Grace, Sandra, Tamara, Joan, and Sonia she is fine. Of course, there are a few guys, like Dave, RJ, Ralph, and  Bill. But, blogging about the non-financial side of retirement does tend to attract more females than males. I have a very understanding wife.

I knew blogging would allow me to develop my writing skills and learn about something new. I figured it would be fun and keep me engaged. What I didn't count on was forming friendships that can expand beyond the Internet.

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April 2, 2012

Retirement Vacation Ideas Galore: Get Packing !

A part of a satisfying retirement for many of us is an active travel schedule. Depending upon our budget and personal desires, that could mean cruises, trips to Europe, and a few weeks in Hawaii. It might mean a long weekend in Durango, The Olympic National Forest, The Shenandoah Valley, or a B&B in Bar Harbor, Maine. It might mean checking into a hotel in a small town like Patagonia, three hours away from the dog, responsibilities, and routine.

A few comments left on an earlier post asked me to investigate some travel options for us to ponder. I've located a few lists of places to visit and explore, some more expense than others, and the majority are within the continental U.S. so potentially doable by the bulk of the readers of this blog.

I know there are a lot of readers of this blog live in other countries: England, India, Canada, and Australia lead the list. For you folks, I'd ask a favor: leave a comment below with some of the most interesting and out-of-the way spots to visit in your country. Other readers who live there might find a great weekend getaway idea, or a longer excursion.

So, are you ready to hit the road (or the skies, the seas, or the rails)?

This first site is from a fellow who collects vacation ideas. Some people collect stamps, quilts,  antique radios, old movie posters, or even tea spoons. peter Shannon collects ideas for trips. His lists are extensive and fascinating. The first section includes 10 trips, some of which are overseas. He describes what makes each such a memorable experience.

Just below that is a seemingly endless list of vacation ideas grouped by location or type. Romantic vacations, those for the adventurous among us, unique places, seasonal trips, trips grouped by states or regions...the choices are all there. This link is one you should bookmark for all those times when the urge to explore hits: 1001 Vacation Ideas.

Another idea is to put together your own trip based around a theme. My wife and I like to drive portions of old Route 66. The famous "Mother Road" is still quite accessible in several places along its route from Chicago to Los Angeles. Old style motels, caf├ęs, and general stores that once bustled with travelers remain open for those who like to visit an important part of our past. Books that allow you to trace the route and provide specific, mile-by-mile recaps of what used to be there are loads of fun.

Betty and I have plans to visit all the National Parks, by region. Besides being a tremendous road trip, it will feed her photographic need for years. You can specialize on national monuments, state parks, or anything that can be labeled. How about all the places with picnic facilities that overlook a lake or stream within 150 miles of your home? Do you like to read? How about a trip that visits the best independent bookstores in your home state or region of the country? Any hobby or passion can form the basis of a trip that you will remember forever.

The web sites above are fabulous resources. But, the best idea generator lies between your ears. Take anything you like and build a vacation around that idea, hobby, or passion. And, of course, planning that trip is at least half the fun!

Get packing.

April 1, 2012

Tax Saving tips: Only a Few Weeks to Go

This is a guest post from Ross Blair, Medicare expert and CEO of PlanPrescriber.com. He passes on his suggestions for often overlooked tax tips for retirees and caregivers :

 Whether you are visiting the doctor more, starting a new businesses, caring for an elderly relative, or making home improvements to accommodate new medical devices, today’s retirees are in a better position than ever to benefit from medical and health insurance-related tax deductions. Below are some of my favorites. Talk with your accountant to see which deductions apply to you.

Deducting health insurance and medical expenses – Let’s start with the basics. If you itemize on your federal tax return you may be able to deduct medical expenses from your taxable income. Qualifying medical expenses may include monthly premiums you pay for health insurance, copayments, deductibles, dental expenses, and costs for some services not covered by your insurance plan. You can even deduct mileage accrued while driving to and from medical appointments.

If you or your spouse are already receiving Social Security or are on Medicare, premiums taken from your Social Security checks to pay for Medicare Part B qualify as deductible too, as do premiums you paid for Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug) coverage or a Medicare Supplemental plan. Here’s the catch: you can only deduct the portion of your medical expenses that exceeds 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. That may seem like quite a hurdle but if you were seriously ill or hospitalized last year, you may qualify.

Deducting health insurance premiums as a business expense - If you had self-employment income in 2011, you may be able to deduct health insurance premiums you paid for yourself and your dependents as an ‘above the line’ business expense (that is, without itemizing). Be aware, however, that you may not deduct premiums paid for any month in which you were eligible to participate in an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, and that the amount you deduct cannot be greater than your net self-employment income for the year. Also keep in mind that you can’t include what you paid toward your monthly premiums as an ‘above the line’ expense and also itemize it. Talk to a tax professional to learn more about the different types of self-employment status and the tax implications of each.

 Deducting expenses for the care for an aging parent – Lots of today’s retirees are taking care of elderly parents. If that’s you, you may deserve some relief. If your parent earned less than $3,700 in 2011 (excluding Social Security) and you provided more than half of his or her financial support, you may be able to claim your parent as a dependent. This earns you an additional dependent exemption, even if your parent doesn’t live with you. And if you’ve paid for the medical or nursing care of a dependent parent, you may also be able to itemize your costs as qualified medical expenses.

Deducting medical home improvements – If you or a dependent are suffering from a chronic medical condition that have required changes to your home, you may have an easier time meeting the 7.5% adjust gross income threshold to deduct itemized medical expenses. In addition to your out-of-pocket costs for medical, dental or vision care, you may also be able to include capital expenses for the installation of home medical equipment or improvement of your property for wheel-chair access.

Getting the most from your Health Savings Account (HSA) - If you have an HSA, be sure to deduct your contributions up to federally prescribed limits. Contributions to your HSA designated for 2011 and made before April 17, 2012 can be counted toward your 2011 federal taxes. HSA contributions for the 2011 tax year are capped at $3,050 for individuals and $6,150 for families. If you’re over age 55, you may qualify to make an additional $1,000 contribution for the year.

Thanks to Ross Blair President and CEO of Plan Prescriber, Inc. (http://www.planprescriber.com/ ), a leading provider of comparison tools and educational materials for Medicare-related insurance products, for his toughts. Disclaimer: I have received no compensation for this article or any links it contains.