November 28, 2012

Grandkids and Limits: Yours and Theirs

For many of us having grandkids is one of the sweetest parts of our satisfying retirement. To see your children have children is an amazing experience. To be able to participate in their lives is a joy that never ends. Frankly, to be able to say goodbye at the end of the day and leave the messy parts of child-rearing to others is also very nice!

I know many who are regular readers of this blog live far away from their grandchildren and don't see them as often as they'd like. But, that makes the time you do get to spend with them even more important.

Amidst all the happiness there are some dangers in having grandkids. Usually they are being raised by your children, not you. Regardless of how well you feel your children turned out, I can guarantee that they, along with their spouse, will have at least a few different ideas on how they prefer to raise their kids. And, that is where problems can arise.

The Biggest No-No

Few things can sour a good relationship with your grown child, his or her spouse, and grandkids quicker than inserting yourself into how the children are being raised. Saying something meant to correct a behavior you think is wrong rarely is a smart decision. Talking privately with your child with a suggestion that he or she is making a mistake in child-rearing will not go much better. "That's not how we raised you" are six words that never produce a positive outcome.

Of course, if there is some form of child abuse in evidence you must take steps to bring it to a halt. But, usually, the problem is simply one of differences: your child has chosen to raise his or her child without copying your parenting playbook. Accept it. Realize your child is an adult and deserves to be treated as one. Would you tell a friend what to do unless asked?

Baby-sitting burnout?

Another flash point can be the overplaying of the "grandparent" card by your child. That is when you find yourself babysitting or caring for your precious bundles of joy to the point where you begin to see them as burdens. Your lifestyle and freedoms are being held hostage to a constant request to "watch the kids for a little while."

Since grandparents rarely charge for babysitting this is a financial help to your child. It is also a nice testament to your overall parenting skills and comfort in your presence. But, if you find that you are the only babysitter in your kid's address book and it is becoming an unwelcome occurrence, you can consider becoming a little less available whenever your services are requested.

The reverse situation can also produce tension if you aren't sensitive to it: being around the grandkids too often. If you are lucky enough to live close by, be careful of how frequently you use the "I was in the neighborhood so I just thought I'd drop by" excuse. Being a too frequent presence in the grandkids' lives may bother your child, particularly if you are in the habit of bringing little gifts. 

No Grandkids?

For those who do not have grandkids I imagine you wonder what this post has to do with you. You still might have someone call you Grandad or Gran at some point in the future so hang in there. If you are not likely to ever have this experience I think these cautions apply just as well to how you interact with your grown children.

It is simply a matter of communication and the acceptance of the reality that different approaches aren't wrong, just different. You raised your child to think on his or her own and make decisions. That what is happening. Rejoice that your teachings stuck.

How about you? What grandparent/grandchild problems have you faced? How do you handle the over or under exposure to your grandkids? Help us all with your experience and suggestion.

November 26, 2012

Balancing the Demands of Caregiving with Retirement Realities

What follows is a guest post from a woman with hands-on experience in the difficult task of managing full time care giving while caring for her own family as she and her husband plan for their own retirements.

This subject is one many of us must face and Sarah's experience could be quite helpful to you.

By Sarah Jennings

My husband and I have been caring for my parents in some capacity for almost ten years. When I look back on the past decade, my instincts are to mark the time in relation to those around me. For instance, in that time, our two sons have gone from adolescents to young adults, my father died and my mother moved in with us.

Rarely do I think about the passage of time from my own perspective; I have been so focused on the maturation that my sons were undergoing, and that of my parents, that I sometimes lose sight of an inevitable and timeless truth.

I am aging, too.

This reality has crept in from time to time over the years, but it is quickly dismissed as there are too many other things to focus on. Does mother need to have her prescriptions picked up? How are the boys doing in college? What's for dinner tonight?

But recently it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the unavoidable. As I approach 60, and my husband becomes eligible for social security benefits, I realize that I probably haven't been giving our own future enough consideration over the years.

My situation is all too common for caregivers who tend to their elderly parents, particularly those that are also in the midst of rearing their own children into adulthood. Over the years, I have devoured literature related to aging, scoured the Internet for tips and advice on managing a household that includes an older parent, and shared my knowledge and expertise on coping with the stress and difficulties of care giving.

Yet, I've seldom devoted much thought and energy toward planning for my own future.

Upon reflection, I do feel very fortunate that this issue comes up for me in a positive light – my husband has been offered an early retirement package – as opposed to a devastating medical diagnosis or something of that nature.

But I do admit to feeling somewhat blindsided by the thoughts of having to deal with change in my husband and I's life. For so long, my concerns have been on helping my close loved ones adapt to the changes in their lives, that it makes me feel that I've become ill-prepared to deal with them in my own life.

In truth, we're in a better position than many others dealing with similar issues. For instance:

· I'm fortunate to have a husband that is a bit more prudent with forethought than I am so our retirement investments appear to be relatively secure.

· We're also fortunate to not have to take a financial hit with the care giving, as my parents were financially secure enough that they have been able to contribute to the costs of the care we provide.

· I have a loving relationship with my mother and have (for the most part) been able to control the feelings of resentment that overcome many caregivers who choose to put their own lives on hold to care for aging loved ones. It took some time to learn how to effectively communicate with my mother, but once I did it made a world of difference. And as I said before, my husband and I (as well as our two boys), have been fortunate to be healthy and happy as we progress toward the latter stages of our lives.

But just because our situation is more stable than some, it doesn't mean it isn't fraught with challenges and difficulties. I have to force myself to think of our future and ensure that my care giving remains committed and loving, without turning into full blown martyrdom. The truth is that my husband and I have always had ideas about what we would want to do with our lives once we were ready to retire. Initially, those plans didn't include my 84 year old mother, but plans change of course.

But I'm learning that I have to plan for all eventualities, even if those plans have to be scrapped by circumstances nobody could have reasonably foreseen. For instance, I've recently had a discussion with my mother about the possibility that at some point in the future (let's say five years from now) if she is still – God willing – with us, that we may have to look into a senior living community. Maybe that will happen, maybe it won't but we want to be able to be as flexible in our retirement as possible.

As of now, I still have a lot of work to do mentally to get my mind around the idea that I am also getting older and will soon be dealing with the same issues my parents went through just 20 or so years ago. In the meantime, I'll continue to practice effective communication with my mother, my husband and our children, so we can all be prepared to tackle whatever the future throws at us together.

Sarah Jennings took her mother into the family home in 2005, and hasn’t regretted it a day since. After years of seeking out the best care giving advice in print, she recently began sharing her own experiences online. Her writing appears courtesy of Brookdale Living, experts in skilled nursing care."

For an additional perspective on this important issue see "The Silent Cry of the Caregiver" in the October/November issue of AARP The Magazine (pages 86-91).

Note: I received no compensation for running this post from either Ms. Jennings or the organization she writes for.

November 23, 2012

Is Retirement Time the Same as Working Time?

A while back a reader named Nik wanted to know if my 11 years of retirement have gone by quickly. Nik wondered if there is a difference in how time seems to unfold when someone is retired versus during his or her working years.

Besides the normal feeling that time does pass more quickly as we age (2013 is in 5 weeks?), that is an interesting question. I hadn't really thought about it until Nik asked about it. Obviously time is the one thing in our life that is irreplaceable and priceless. How we spend it is so much more more important than the state of our investment accounts or our various goals and passions. 

The Ultimate Bankruptcy

Running out of time is the ultimate bankruptcy. Almost anything else can be handled, adjusted for, or dealt with. But, in the end, your time has been used up and the game is over. How you spend it between this moment and that point is critical to your overall happiness. So, to address the question on the table, "does the passage of time differ between your working and retired life?"

My answer is, "Yes." Importantly, note I said "my answer." Your feelings may differ and if so I sincerely hope you leave a comment. Time is so personal to each of us that there is no one, correct answer. But, for me after eleven years of retirement I believe I see time and it's passage much differently.

While I was working for a paycheck time was just something that passed. I would spend most of the day working, traveling, or killing time in a hotel room until going to sleep and starting all over again the next morning. Weekends at home were consumed by catching up on all the office work that piled up while I was on the road and doing those maintenance things required when you own a house. Weeks, even months passed with no real conscious feel for the passage of time.

My calendar revolved around the ratings periods that my client radio stations went through four times a year. The end-of-the-year push to get new contracts signed so I could keep doing what I did for a living also was a crucial period each year. Except for a few weeks of vacation time, I really don't think time registered with me except as something I never had enough of. As you might imagine my health and my relationship with Betty and the girls suffered from this lifestyle.

Whole years passed that I only remember parts of...if I look back at my travel schedule and recreate what I was doing and with whom in each of those cities. I didn't have a spiritual anchor or any hobbies to hold onto. Yes, the money was great and we didn't want for much. But, all that time just went.

Retirement Changes Everything

Starting in June, 2001 things began to change. I stopped traveling. My weeks and months were no longer defined by the needs of business clients, airline schedules, or hotel bookings. Time became a measurement of something that was real to me. The weeks, months, and seasons moved at the same speed but I was part of them, not just passing through them.

As I have written in previous posts, it took me a few years to find out what worked best for me in terms of a mixture of activities, leisure, and productivity. Like many newly retired folks, for several months I simply relished in the total freedom to do lots of nothing. After spending 150 days a year in hotel rooms I needed this period of nothingness. After awhile, though, that wasn't enough.

Then, I discovered the fun of ham radio. After studying to obtain the federal license required to transmit, I began to talk with fellow amateurs all over the world. I joined a local club, made new friends and even agreed to serve as the club's president for three years.

Later my volunteering side kicked in and I became a Stephen Minister, sort of a lay minister for those suffering from all sorts of life problems and issues. Then, my work with prison inmates and those recently released began. I discovered blogging in June 2010 and my life hasn't been the same since.

My sense of time in retirement is completely different from how I saw it while working. Now, I treasure it, look for ways to save it, and discover new things about my self as I spend it. My relationship to time isn't nearly as passive as it was when I worked. 

The Realness of Time

Time has become much more real to me. As I move through my sixth decade (or is it 7th decade?)  I find it hard to think of myself as a 63 year old guy. So, I don't.

My age means only a few things that really matter: I get Social Security and Medicare soon, I qualify for senior discounts, and I have enough aches and pains to participate in any conversion with my peers!

It also means I have the freedom to shape my life in a way that suits me. I have the control over most of my time each day to do what pleases me, make others feel better, and contribute to helping our world. While working, the time I had did not allow me the luxury of indulging in those three benefits.

So, yes, Nik, retirement time is different than working time. Does it pass too quickly? Absolutely. Do I hope I stay healthy and active for many more years? Sure. But, at least now I have a sense of its incredible value and blessing. It is a resource that is given to us, one minute at a time. In my satisfying retirement I get to choose how to spend it.

November 18, 2012

One Car or Two or None: What Have You Decided?

I receive a small, but steady stream of e-mails asking for my opinion on how many automobiles a satisfying retirement requires. Usually that request is followed by a description of what that person or couple is doing in this regard. I'm not sure if they would like me to validate their choice or give them an argument to make a change. 

Of course, for millions of folks this is a silly question. The great recession of the past few years means the answer has been decided by other forces. Through repossession, the inability to afford insurance, because of a lifestyle change, or conscious decision to make do in other ways, being car-less is a way of life for millions. There are approximately 260 million cars registered in the U.S. But, I could find no reliable figure of how many folks are making do without one, either by choice or due to circumstances. AAA cites studies that show the typical American spends close to one-fifth of his or her income on maintaining cars.

Obviously, what others are doing shouldn't affect your decision. A happy retirement lifestyle is built on making choices that are right for you. Last week's post, A Satisfying Retirement is Simple....Sort of, detailed what I have done to cut back and make my lifestyle conform to what makes me happiest. That post did note that Betty and I  have two cars because of where we live and our schedules. At this stage of our retirement two cars simplify our life. So, I am not the person to tell you to cut back to one car or none at all. Only you can make that decision.

However, being the helpful cuss I am I did a little research on what others are saying on this subject. There is general agreement that most communities in America make it very difficult to be completely car-less. One article claims there are only a handful of urban areas with enough population density to fully support sharing autos or having mass transit in and around the downtown area. Many cities have buses or light rail available, but those systems are highly subsidized and usually underutilized.

In those situations several sites had a reasonable suggestion: develop neighborhoods with many regular shopping needs close enough for walking. In other situations a car would be needed for convenient travel but used much less than is typical today. Unfortunately, this would require re-engineering present neighborhoods or building new ones from scratch since single family homes on larger lots in areas zoned for only residential building makes walking a problem.

Here are links to two excellent overviews of being car-less, why to do it, and how it can be done:

*Living without a car

*Commuting and getting around without your own car

For now let's assume that you don't want to be car-less but are struggling with whether you can have a happy retirement lifestyle with one car versus two. I can describe our situation and see if that helps you decide.

Still being relatively young retirees (63 for me and 58 for Betty) we have separate volunteer and church commitments that cause conflicts. A good example is my monthly trip to the prison in northwest Arizona. On those days a car is gone from the house from 6 in the morning until 7 at night. Betty and I think leaving her alone for 13 hours without a car is both dangerous and too inconvenient for her.

On other days of a typical week she has a church meeting that consumes all morning. True, I can schedule my needs around that or could drive her to and from church though that would take an hour out of my morning.

When one car is being repaired we don't have to commit to one of us sitting at the the service center for several hours. Yes, most offer a way to take us home but I have found them time consuming and inconvenient. Having a second car solves that problem.

Betty and I both agree that having a car available when we need or want it is important to our sense of freedom and control. Being retired means we spend 24/7 together. Having the ability for "me" time and not having to coordinate everything with the partner means there are times when we don't have to be joined at the hip.

It also helps that both cars are long since paid for. Gas, maintenance, registration and insurance still means a few thousand dollars per year per car. But, at least for now, our budget can handle those expenses. Having the freedom of separate cars makes those costs a worthwhile investment for us.

The RV impacts our decision

When will this change? Betty and I have discussed this and I think we are on the same page. When the older of the two cars becomes too expensive to keep, we will probably buy another car for a very particular purpose: to be towed behind the RV. With us planning on being on the road at least 3 months of every year, being without a car while traveling is too restrictive.

As I have learned a little too late (!), our older car cannot be towed unless it is on a dolly. Based on my Internet research towing with a dolly presents several specific and expensive challenges that I won't detail here but make it a poor choice for us. So, all this says we will be a two car family for the foreseeable future.

There is one possible change to this scenario. We will be buying two bikes and taking them with us on RV trips. If we find they are sufficient for most of our local transportation needs that might make a towable car unnecessary. We are also open to using local buses, taxis, or even renting a car for a day if necessary on those times when a bike just isn't practical. 

Our bottom line is we are a two car family and plan on being one for the next several years. It is an investment in our happiness.

What's your take on this subject? What have you done? Would you like to cut back or even eliminate an automobile from your life? As I noted, this subject does interest folks so the more input and ideas the better.

November 16, 2012

Senior Discounts: An Easy Way to Save

Being my age (63) has some advantages. I'm no longer asked if I am over 40 at the grocery store when I buy a bottle of wine. Which reminds me, I thought the drinking age was 21. What's with the 40 requirement? The last time I was carded at a bar was 40 years ago. Clerks or ticket takers automatically assume I am old enough for the senior discount. 

I do get all the Groupon, Living Social, Deal Chicken, and Entertainment-type emails. Frankly, 95% go into the trash but occasionally there is something I can use. I am not a big coupon person, but do like to save a little at the grocery store by using the price match policy. 

Recently a friend gave me a rather extensive list list of senior discounts and specials that she had received from someone else. I haven't verified that all these offers still apply or aren't limited in some way or another. But, it never hurts to ask. See how many of these might be of use to you.

Applebee's: 15% off with Golden Apple Card (60+)
Arby's: 10% off ( 55 +)
Ben & Jerry's: 10% off (60+)
Bennigan's: discount varies by location (60+)
Bob's Big Boy: discount varies by location (60+)
Boston Market: 10% off (65+)
Burger King: 10% off (60+)
Chick-Fil-A: 10% off or free small drink or coffee ( 55+)
Chili's: 10% off ( 55+)
CiCi's Pizza: 10% off (60+)
Denny's: 10% off, 20% off for AARP members ( 55 +)
Dunkin' Donuts: 10% off or free coffee at some locations ( 55+)
Einstein's Bagels: 10% off baker's dozen of bagels (60+)
Fuddrucker's: 10% off any senior platter ( 55+)
Gatti's Pizza: 10% off (60+)
Golden Corral: 10% off (60+)
Hardee's: $0.33 beverages everyday (65+)
IHOP: 10% off ( 55+)
Jack in the Box: up to 20% off ( 55+)
KFC: free small drink with any meal ( 55+)
Krispy Kreme: 10% off ( 50+) Cousin Cathy, How's that?
Long John Silver's: various discounts at locations ( 55+)
McDonald's: discounts on coffee everyday ( 55+)
Mrs. Fields: 10% off at participating locations (60+)
Shoney's: 10% off Sonic: 10% off or free beverage (60+)
Steak 'n Shake: 10% off every Monday & Tuesday ( 50+)
Subway: 10% off (60+)
Sweet Tomatoes: 10% off (62+)
Taco Bell: 5% off; free beverages for seniors (65+)
TCBY: 10% off ( 55+)
Tea Room Cafe: 10% off ( 50+)
Village Inn: 10% off (60+)
Waffle House: 10% off every Monday (60+)
Wendy's: 10% off ( 55 +)
White Castle: 10% off (62+)

Banana Republic: 10% off ( 50 +)
Bealls: 20% off first Tuesday of each month ( 50 +)
Belk's: 15% off first Tuesday of every month ( 55 +)
Big Lots: 10% off
Bon-Ton Department Stores: 15% off on senior discount days ( 55 +)
C.J. Banks: 10% off every Wednesday (60+)
Clarks: 10% off (62+)
Dress Barn: 10% off ( 55+)
Goodwill: 10% off one day a week (date varies by location)
Hallmark: 10% off one day a week (date varies by location)
Kmart: 20% off ( 50+)
Kohl's: 15% off (60+)
Modell's Sporting Goods: 10% off
Rite Aid: 10% off on Tuesdays & 10% off prescriptions
Ross Stores: 10% off every Tuesday ( 55+)
The Salvation Army Thrift Stores: up to 50% off ( 55+)
Stein Mart: 20% off red dot/clearance items first Monday of every month ( 55 +)

GROCERY (usually require a free loyalty card):
Albertson's: 10% off first Wednesday of each month ( 55 +)
American Discount Stores: 10% off every Monday ( 50 +)
Basha's Supermarket: 10% off first Wednesday of month (55+)
Compare Foods Supermarket: 10% off every Wednesday (60+)
DeCicco Family Markets: 5% off every Wednesday (60+)
Food Lion: 6% off every Monday (60+)
Fry's Supermarket: free Fry's VIP Club Membership & 10% off every first WEdnesday of month ( 55 +)
Great Valu Food Store: 5% off every Tuesday (60+)
Gristedes Supermarket: 10% off every Tuesday (60+)
Harris Teeter: 5% off every Tuesday (60+)
Hy-Vee: 5% off one day a week (date varies by location)
Kroger: 10% off (date varies by location)
Morton Williams Supermarket: 5% off every Tuesday (60+)
The Plant Shed: 10% off every Tuesday ( 50 +)
Publix: 5% off every Wednesday ( 55 +)
Rogers Marketplace: 5% off every Thursday (60+)
Uncle Guiseppe's Marketplace: 5% off (62+)

Alaska Airlines: 10% off (65+)
American Airlines: various discounts for 65 and up (call before booking for discount)
Continental Airlines: no initiation fee for Continental Presidents Club & special fares for select destinations
Southwest Airlines: various discounts for ages 65 and up (call before booking for discount)
United Airlines: various discounts for ages 65 and up (call before booking for discount)
U.S. Airways: various discounts for ages 65 and up (call before booking for discount)

Amtrak: 15% off (62+)

Greyhound: 5% off (62+)
Trailways Transportation System: various discounts for ages 50+

Car Rental:
Alamo Car Rental: up to 25% off for AARP members
Avis: up to 25% off for AARP members Best Western: 10% off ( 55 +)
Budget Rental Cars: 10% off; up to 20% off for AARP members ( 50+)
Dollar Rent-A-Car: 10% off ( 50+)
Enterprise Rent-A-Car: 5% off for AARP members
Hertz: up to 25% off for AARP members Holiday Inn: 10%-30% off depending on location (62+)
National Rent-A-Car: up to 30% off for AARP members

Over Night Accommodations:
Cambria Suites: 20%-30% off (60+)
Clarion Motels: 20%-30% off (60+)
Comfort Inn: 20%-30% off (60+)
Comfort Suites: 20%-30% off (60+)
Econo Lodge: 20%-30% off (60+)
Hampton Inns & Suites: 10% off when booked 72 hours in advance
Hyatt Hotels: 25%-50% off (62+)
InterContinental Hotels Group: various discounts at all hotels (65+)
Mainstay Suites: 10% off with Mature Traveler's Discount (50+); 20%-30% off (60+)
Marriott Hotels: 15% off (62+)
Motel 6: 10% off (60+)
Myrtle Beach Resort: 10% off ( 55 +)
Quality Inn: 20%-30% off (60+)
Rodeway Inn: 20%-30% off (60+)
Sleep Inn: 20%-30% off (60+)

AMC Theaters: up to 30% off ( 55 +)
Bally Total Fitness: up to $100 off memberships (62+)
Busch Gardens Tampa, FL: $3 off one-day tickets ( 50 +)
Carmike Cinemas: 35% off (65+)
Cinemark/Century Theaters: up to 35% off
U.S. National Parks: $10 lifetime pass; 50% off additional services including camping (62+)
Regal Cinemas: 30% off Ripley's Believe it or Not: @ off one-day ticket ( 55 +)
SeaWorld Orlando, FL: $3 off one-day tickets ( 50 +)

AT&T: Special Senior Nation 200 Plan $29.99/month (65+)
Jitterbug: $10/month cell phone service ( 50 +)
Verizon Wireless: Verizon Nationwide 65 Plus Plan $29.99/month (65+).


Fantastic Sams: 10% some location (62+)
Great Clips: $3 off hair cuts (60+)
Super Cuts: $2 off haircuts (60+)

I am sure this list only scratches the surface of what is available. Can you add anything that you know of? How about web sites that list great deals or have printable coupons?

That's enough for now. I'm off to watch people on the TV show Extreme Couponing buy $1,000 worth of toilet paper for $1.73.

November 14, 2012

The Week That Was

You may remember a 1960's TV show called That Was The Week That Was. A satirical look at the previous week's news hosted by David Frost, the program started on the BBC in England in 1962. An American version lasted for two seasons on NBC. This was the forerunner of shows like Saturday Night Live. It poked fun, gentle and otherwise, at people, policies, and general stupidity. It was kind of like a more sophisticated version of Mad Magazine or Laugh In.

My weekly life wouldn't really qualify for an hour of network TV. There is quite an interest, however, in how retired folks spend their time. A few previous posts have generated lots of comments. So, I thought I'd track a week of my satisfying retirement to give you some idea of where my time goes.

I've left out most of the mundane activities of living since they bore even me. With fresh blog posts three times a week (Monday, Wednesday & Friday) I do spend 2-3 hours per day on writing, editing, proofing, and keeping up with blog issues.

See if my Week That Was resembles yours in any way:

Monday:  this is usually my favorite day of the week since everything starts fresh. I start this, and most days, with the laptop answering blog comments, thinning out my e-mail in box, deleting spam, checking news headlines and the weather.

Now that it is cooler, a walk with Bailey, our cocker spaniel, often takes place sometime after breakfast. Then, back to the computer for more blogging and other office work.

This is the day I often have lunch with my father. That means wearing something nicer than my normal jeans and old T-shirt. He insists on eating right at 11:00 AM when the dining room opens, so by 10:30 Betty and I are on the road for the 30 minute drive to his apartment.

Upon our return it is my daily nap time, followed by chores around the house, more office work, and a trip to the gym. By mid afternoon I can usually find some time to read a book for pleasure. I also do my personal Bible reading everyday just before dinner time.

This is the night Bailey has dog training class so we eat an early dinner before the 7 O'Clock class begins.

Relaxing with a movie or old TV show on Netflix happens most evenings, followed by nightly guitar practice and then reading before bedtime.

Lights out no later than 10:15 PM.

Tuesday: Betty has Bible study at church so I have all morning to play with the dog, work on the blog and computer and run errands. I will readily admit my Tai Chi is rather infrequent, but this day, as well as Friday, seem to work best.

A trip to the library to return or pick up books, yard work, and my weekly list of house chores will take some of the afternoon.

I have a men's Bible study in the evening so Betty gets her quiet, private time to work on photo editing or other projects.

Wednesday: Both of us begin with an early Bible discussion group at a friend's house. Today is the day we finalize the menu and food shopping list.

This is the day for my guitar lesson.

I have a once a week ham radio net in the evening. A group of fellow hams meet on the radio to answer trivia questions about 1960's music and TV shows. Since I earned my living playing that music, the other fellows ask that I go last since I rarely miss a song title or group name.

Thursday: Once a month I have a trip to a state prison with some other volunteers from the prison ministry organization I work with. On those days I leave the house at 6:00 AM and return around 7:00 PM.

Two other Thursdays per month Betty and I attend a small group meeting in the evening.

This is also the day we do our weekly food shopping, usually together unless I am on the prison trip.

Time for computer work, reading, guitar practice, and house chores is often non-existent today.

Friday: This day is often free of other commitments, so I tend to work on the blog, tackle weekend house chores, run errands as needed, read, and write.

Evenings are spent with a movie and popcorn.

Saturday & Sunday: A list of house and yard chores, shopping, and laundry are typical. Saturday afternoon might be spent at a movie or a local festival or event. Saturday is normally when we see the grandkids and family.

Sunday is my day to stay away from the computer as much as possible. We spend almost 4 hours at church in the morning and then have personal projects, watching football, or planning our next RV trip. If there is any maintenance or cleaning of the RV that should be done, today is the day.

Evenings are family time with Netflix and reviewing our schedule for the upcoming week.

Of course, add in all the normal things folks do like haircuts, doctor and dentist appointments, taking out the trash, making the bed, emptying the dishwasher, going to the bank, playing with Bailey, and days seem to just disappear.

Even with 168 hours a week, there never seems to be enough time to:
  • go to the gym on a consistent basis
  • simply relax in our backyard
  • keep the house as organized and decluttered as we prefer.

Oh well, I'm sure I'm not alone with this problem.

So, there is my week. What about you? Fully, or partly retired, what do you do with your time? How do you squeeze it all in?

November 11, 2012

Top Retirement Financial Concerns

Earlier this year on-line stock broker, Scottrade, released the results of their annual Retirement Survey. While the results were not particularly groundbreaking, it is good to be reminded of the mountain many of us have to climb to reach our satisfying retirement goals:

Americans are more conscious today of where every dollar is spent. And they are responding by cutting simple costs to save for retirement. A  survey from investing company Scottrade, Inc. found that Americans are taking action by comparison shopping, using coupons and generally cutting back on unessential expenses like clothing and entertainment.
“Americans are simply looking for ways to save more and spend less,” said Kim Wells, Scottrade’s executive director of product development and chief marketing officer. “They are feeling a financial pinch in more areas of their daily routine – from filling their gas tanks to heating their homes.

In order to reduce their financial concerns this year:

■69 percent are spending less, compared to 63 percent in 2011;

■67 percent are using coupons, compared to 59 percent in 2011; and

■65 percent compare prices to find the best deal, compared to 58 percent in 2011.

The survey data indicates Americans’ uncertainty stems from debt. Weighed down by non-mortgage debt, this year more Americans – 40 percent compared to 33 percent in 2011 – reported it caused them to save less for retirement. And the trend is expected to continue with 34 percent stating that non-mortgage debt will cause them to save less for retirement in 2012.

This explains the ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ theme Scottrade’s research uncovered. Only 5 percent of Americans recommend saving 2 percent or less annually for retirement, yet 55 percent of Americans reported saving 2 percent or less in 2011. And the trend of under-saving should continue as 33 percent plan to save 2 percent or less in 2012.

Despite these concerns, the majority of Americans, 72 percent, said they are confident in their own abilities to plan for retirement. Overall 61 percent of respondents expect to be able to completely retire – and not work again – between the ages of 45 and 74. Fifteen percent of the survey’s respondents have already retired, with the majority doing so between the ages of 45 and 74.

Americans are very concerned with two issues affecting their goals for retirement: the solvency and ability of Social Security to provide enough money and incurring medical expenses they can’t afford.

While Americans’ waning confidence with the future of Social Security is nothing new, it is compounded this year with an emerging concern of covering living expenses during retirement. This general worry had dipped from 2010 to 2011, but in this year’s sixth annual study significantly more Americans responded that they are either ”extremely concerned” or ”very concerned” with three factors:

• Having to work during retirement to pay living expenses (40 percent are concerned, up from 34 percent in 2011);

• That their investments won’t generate enough money to cover living expenses (41 percent are concerned, up from 32 percent in 2011); and

• They will outlive their retirement savings (38 percent are concerned, up from 31 percent in 2011).

Americans’ general concern with having enough money for retirement hit a six-year high. More than half, at 57 percent, reported they are either "extremely concerned" or "very concerned" with this issue, up from 47 percent in 2011 and 56 percent in 2007.

As a result, the majority of Americans, at 56 percent, think generating income during retirement is more important today than it was a year ago. The reason, according to 67 percent of those respondents, is simply an expectation that the cost of living during retirement will be more expensive. This is leading 38 percent of all survey respondents to structure their portfolio to include income-generating investments.

While the majority of survey respondents over the age of 55 strongly agreed that given the opportunity to do it over, they would have started saving for retirement at a younger age, roughly a quarter said they would have become more educated about planning for retirement. Learning from their regret, more Americans, at 35 percent, expect to seek out information to learn more about retirement planning in 2012, compared to 28 percent in 2011.

While I can't say I am surprised by these findings, I continue to be amazed at some of the "head in the sand" denial folks take toward the necessity of saving enough to have a satisfying retirement. Even though the respondents admit that saving less than 2% of income is not a good thing, more than half continue to do so. At the same time 72% are confident in their retirement planning and over 61% expect to retire permanently, some as early as 45 years old.

Then, in the next breath, the respondents express serious concern about the long term health of Social Security and medical expenses that are unaffordable. Yet, those rather important cautions aren't enough to increase savings, delay retirement plans, or dramatically alter current lifestyle patterns.

As I have noted in many earlier posts it all comes down to personal responsibility. Ultimately you will determine the quality of your retirement journey. Obviously, the state of the economy and any major health issues can have a substantial effect. But, to save too little when you can and then wonder why retirement isn't what you hoped for is not going to work.

Here is a sampling of some earlier posts on this subject:

November 8, 2012

We've Done It

Less than two weeks ago I asked a simple question: We Are Thinking of A Big Shakeup: Are We Nuts? The responses were almost universally, "No."  Your support, suggestions, and real concern for our decision were heartwarming. So, I wanted you to know:

We've Done It.

After thinking through all the options that worked for us, reviewing our finances yet again, and visiting several RV lots in town, Betty and I purchased a used, 30 foot, Four Winds Class C motor home. Because it was a former rental unit with high mileage we also purchased two extended five year warranties that cover the engine and power train as well as all the components (A/C, refrigerator, water pump, hot water heater, roof, etc). The company sells thousands of these units each year and does a thorough job of repainting and refurbishing them. But, we both felt much better with a high level of protection against major issues.

I have joined both Good Sam Club and Passport America. We picked up a Camping World catalog. Betty went shopping for all the basic stuff we need in the RV to make it comfortable and feel like home. I bought various necessities like leveling blocks, a water pressure regulator,  hose elbow, and a sewer hose support.

Good friends gave us a painting of an old van with Betty's favorite Bible verse written across the top along with the words, Road Trip. Besides being hung in a place of honor inside the RV, it also gave us a name for our new baby: R.T., which stands for Road Trip. So, we now are proud owners of R.T. the R.V.

The next step was to book a quick trip to a nearby campground to begin to get comfortable with everything and check out all the components. Just 30 minutes from home, Cave Creek Regional Park is a great place to start our new life. In addition to full hookups, there are miles of hiking trails and even a new Nature Interpretive Center.

As I write this we are making plans to sit under the awning of R.T. with Bailey at our feet while enjoying a late afternoon glass of wine and preparing for a sunset over the distant White Tank Mountains.  

Last August I wrote about  living in an RV while traveling around the country as one of three life-altering ideas I was considering. I can now check that off my list.

Thank you for all your feedback, comments, and ideas on the "Are We Nuts? post. You really did help us take this major step. Betty and I are so excited about what new experiences we will share together.

Just as excited are our daughter, son-in-law, and three grandkids. They will use the RV for a few family vacations.

One important note: this purchase will not result in major changes to the Satisfying Retirement blog. It will not become an RV blog. Yes, we will post about our travels as they occur as an important part of our retirement journey. But, rest assured: if you have zero interest in RVing you will find this blog stays focused on what brought you here in the first place. That doesn't mean I may not start another blog for the RV crowd, but nothing will affect this site.

                        We have taken a leap into the unknown and it feels GREAT!

November 7, 2012

It is Over...Finally

Has this been the longest campaign cycle in history? It certainly seems like it. Politics, in one form or another has dominated the news and conversations for at least the last three years. Nearly a dozen different men and one woman have vied for the most powerful, frustrating, and impossible job in the world.  At times a sane person would wonder why anyone would want the position.

And now it is finally over. Today half the country is happy, relieved, and vindicated. The other half is bitter, disappointed, and predicting doom for the American way of life. By most estimates over six billion dollars was spent to produce those results, which really changed nothing: The Republicans still control the House, the Democrats the Senate, and Mr. Obama is in the White House.

It is important to remind ourselves that, unlike many other countries around the globe, the upset and disappointed are not rioting in the streets or burning government buildings. There is no concern of insurrection or plots to overthrow the winner. Heated rhetoric is about the worst we can expect as things return to normal (whatever that means anymore).

Over the past few hundred years our citizens have elected world class leaders, tremendous intellects, and stirring visionaries. At times we have also chosen poorly and turned our future over to men not up to the task....and yet we are still here. The office of the president is bigger than one man and one election.

The time to debate the wisdom of our collective choice will begin soon enough. I'm sure, somebody, somewhere, is already laying plans to start his or her campaign organization for 2016. Our permanent election cycle takes only the briefest of pauses.

But, at least for a little while, I ask that we all rally around the victor and fight the urge to either gloat or bemoan the outcome.

I congratulate Barack Obama. I pray for his safety and success, discernment and wisdom. I thank God I live in America where a post like this can be written and published without fear.

I also pray that the members of Congress and their leaders step away from the dark corners of extreme partisanship and work together to solve our serious problems. Refusing to compromise is no way to govern and not the foundation upon which this country was built.

It is over...finally.

God Bless the United States of America.

November 5, 2012

The Gift of Music

I started taking guitar lessons three months ago. After not playing music since high school I found I missed the simple joy of picking up an instrument and making pleasing sounds. My arthritic fingers make chord formations and getting that pesky fourth finger to do what I want it to do more difficult than I expected. My progress is slow. But, I do enjoy playing again as part of my satisfying retirement.

Two weeks ago my grandson turned six. In thinking about a present, my wife suggested an electric keyboard. He has shown interest in my guitar but he is too small to be able to handle one. A mini keyboard, though, might be a great introduction to the world of music. So, we bought one and presented it to him last weekend.

According to his mom and dad Josh (and his sister) took to it instantly. We bought a young beginners piano book so he could start to play some tunes. And, being electronic, the keyboard has all sorts of different songs, tones, and drum beats for him to experiment with.

Of course, at age six, he is interested in everything....for a few weeks or so. I was kind of surprised that he wanted to take chess lessons, and did, for almost a month. But dad reports his interest has waned because he isn't winning often enough. Playing chess at his age is not typical just because of the lengthy periods of concentration required. He has a foundation now and may decide to start up again when he is a bit older.

Betty and I are prepared for the keyboard to be the "toy of the moment" and then be put away for now. That is OK. At some point, we are confident he or one of his two sisters will show an interest in music. Then, the keyboard can be pulled from the closet and used again.

I am a firm believer in the importance of music in a child's life. It teaches several lessons that are crucial, even if continuing to make music isn't in the cards. Practice teaches patience and diligence. It teaches one to stick with something long enough to make an informed choice whether to continue or not. It teaches to not give up simply because something is tough. And, it has the potential to provide years and years of enjoyment and self satisfaction.

Like many of my generation, mom and dad started me on piano lessons when I was 8 or 9. After two years we collectively agreed that it wasn't really my instrument. But, I had learned the basics of reading music. For whatever reason I switched to the clarinet and found an instrument I was happier with. Years in school orchestras and bands allowed me to develop enough proficiency to be selected as second chair clarinet in the All New England Band two years in a row.

As high school ended so did my instrument playing. The clarinet was sold and I left for college and other experiences. After almost 40 years I realized that making music was something I wanted to do again, hence the guitar lessons. I have no interest in joining a band or releasing a CD (!), so I am playing strictly for me.

Then, when we gave Josh the keyboard I had a mini-brainstorm. We could have a small family band and make music together! If Josh or his older of the two sisters shows any continuing interest we will play a Christmas carol or two as our family is together around the tree this year. Christmas carols are perfect for kids to learn. Most have no tricky sharps or flats to master and are melodies even young children are familiar with. What fun, and what a nice family tradition!

We'll see if that develops. Someone can't be forced into making music but should be given the tools to do so if interested. Music is one of those parts of life that can enrich and fulfill us like few other things can. If you can make music then the pleasure is even sweeter.

How about you? Any music background or continuing efforts to make sweet music? Maybe we could form a Satisfying Retirement virtual, on-line group and play the health care blues.