September 30, 2013

Just Published - My Latest Book Contribution

You are right, I am not 70. In fact, I am six years away from that milestone. Even so, the publishers of "Things To Do When You Turn 70" asked me to contribute an essay. This is the same company that included me as be part of the "65 Things To Do When You Turn 65" series, one of which the Wall Street Journal picked as one of the top retirement books of 2012.

This book has just been published. In fact I received my copy just a few days ago. The description on provides as excellent summary of this latest in the series of books made up of essays from a wide range of folks:

The contributors include a wide diversity of people 70+ who have taken on exciting challenges and have found fun, intriguing, and surprising ways to make their lives rewarding. 70 Things to Do When You Turn 70 features such luminaries as world-renowned poet Nikki Giovanni, American Book Award-winning author Gary Zukav, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Elaine Madsen, and the acclaimed writer Daniel Klein.  All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to cancer research and prevention.

Like the first two books in this series I am honored and happy to be included. If you are in the market for an excellent overview of what your 70's may look like I ask that you consider a purchase. Again, all the writers contributed their writing for free, and all profits go to cancer research.

There is a nice nod to my essay in the introduction. You will find the full article starting on page 69. Thank you, Sellers Publishing, and thanks to you, my blog readers, for all your support over the years.

September 27, 2013

Those Powerful Childhood Memories

As the summer winds down, at least in most parts of the country, I was thinking about one of my stronger childhood memories that defined this time of year for me. My grandparents owned a 36 acre plot of land about a hour north of Pittsburgh in a rural part of the state.

We called it "The Farm" even though nothing was planted or harvested, except memories. From the time I was four until an early teen, I spent two weeks every summer here with my parents, brothers, uncle, and grandparents. Some fifty-five years later, that time is still nothing but golden memories for me.

For a child of today, the conditions would seem unbearable. There was no electricity or running water. Cooking was done on a huge wood burning stove or over a fire pit. The bathroom was a rickety outhouse down a path. Water was pumped from a well. A weekly bath involved heating buckets of water on the stove and dumping them into a large tin bathtub in the living room, not too far from the fireplace, which was also the only source of heat for the two story house. The second floor bedrooms could get rather nippy over night but no matter, we just piled on extra blankets.

Kerosene lamps were used after to dark keep the downstairs pleasant. The adults read, played cards, or talked. My brothers and I would play with simple toys or listen to the stories my uncle would tell. Upstairs, a flashlight was the light source if a trip to the privy was required. I remember falling asleep listening to squirrels (or something small) run around in the attic above my head.

I would awake each morning to the smell of my grandfather boiling coffee and frying bacon over the outside fire pit. Coffee grounds and cold water would be dumped together in a pot and placed over the fire. Eventually, a strong smelling brew would be passed around to the adults to jump start their mornings. The younger set settled for orange juice and cereal from the ice box.

Days were spend sitting under the large trees listening to adults talk. Obviously, there was no television and only a battery operated radio so days where filled with conversation. I do remember my grandfather had an outbuilding that was packed to the rafters with old tools and all the things needed to maintain the property. Being the oldest, occasionally I was allowed inside the shed to watch him built or repair something with tools that probably came from his father.

My uncle was our primary source of entertainment. Not only did he tell great stories but helped us "improve" the land. Each summer we would plan for some paths through the woods and fields all over the property and then proceed to lightly trim a path. We gave them names, like Lowry Lane or Munn Boulevard. Of course, each summer these paths had to be rebuilt but that didn't seem to bother us. The hard work kept us busy and produced tired little boys each evening.

Near the end of each year's stay we would have our big adventure: walking to the small town of Mars for ice cream cones. Since it was five miles from the farm, for the first several years we only made it part of the way. After an hour of trudging down the dirt roads with mom and dad alongside us, granddad would pull up in his car, pick us up, and take us to the general store for ice cream. Each year he'd tell us how far we had managed to walk in the allotted time. Finally, when I was probably eleven or twelve, we managed to walk all the way to town before being picked up. We were so proud.

Today, as close I as I can get to the experience of the farm is RV travel. The campgrounds satisfy my need to be surrounded by nature. The freedom of rolling down a back road reminds me, for just a moment, of the walk for ice cream down a dirt road near Mars, Pennsylvania.

Mom and I saluting the flag on the 4th of July at The Farm

What childhood memories come to mind for you? 

September 20, 2013

Living Like a Local

Confession time: When I am on vacation I get excited when I can "live like a local." What does that mean? It is the ability to slip into an attitude where I am acting less like a tourist and more like someone who lives there. Obviously, I am a visitor, gone in a few days or weeks. But, I really look for ways to fit in. Do I still get lost make typical tourist blunders? Sure. But usually there is a moment when I feel at home.

My youngest daughter laughs when I use the living like a local phrase. I'm not sure if she considers dad a little odd, or just easily amused. But, no matter. I want to experience a place for all it is, not just someplace that isn't home. Let me give you a few examples from our recent vacation in the Portland, Oregon area:

1. Betty and I (and Alison when she joined us in the final week) made extensive use of the light rail and trolley system. To be able to drive a few minutes to a nearby station in Hillsboro, buy our all day passes, step on the train and be in downtown Portland 35 minutes later was so much better than driving. It allowed me to actually look at the sights around me instead of being stuck behind the wheel of the rental car.

Then, we'd find the closest trolley stop and ride to where we wanted to be. Off we'd jump, do our exploring and eating, get back on the trolley and figure out where to get off to meet the light rail train that would return us to our car.

By the end of the second day I was comfortable using my phone to determine the arrival time of the next trolley or train. Besides being fun, I really enjoyed the process of using local transportation options to explore the area.

2. We had to pick up Alison at the Portland airport when she flew up from Phoenix to join us. By then I knew about Portland's bad traffic tie-ups and areas that were always a mess. So, by looking at a map I figured a local's way to and from the airport. Rather than join everyone else on the Interstate system, I used surface streets that avoided all the traffic and hassle. A Victory! I was living like a local, not just a confused tourist in a rental car.

3. A blogging friend (bless you, Tamara)  had recommend that I buy Groupon coupons for some of our meals before coming to Portland. I did purchase two dinners for restaurants in the downtown area this way, both of which turned out to be great choices. By the time we decided to use them, I wanted to find each one without depending on the GPS system. I had learned enough about Portland's grid system that I was pretty confident we'd make it. Except for a few one way streets not going the way I wanted to, I navigated to both restaurants without any serious issues. Success! The city was becoming comfortable to me.

There are several more examples from this trip but my goal of a shorter post means I'll skip the details. However, the point should be clear: the more comfortable I became in the place I was spending time, the more I enjoyed being there. I made the effort to learn enough about where I was to be able to relax.

When I'm in Hawaii by the third day I am shuffling along in my flip-flops, smiling at everyone, ignoring my watch and looking for local plates. When I am on an RV trip I say hi to everyone, talk about their dogs, and offer to share a casserole. When we visited Italy it meant getting used to late-opening restaurants and enjoying it. When in Portland I try local beers, drink too much coffee, get lost in Powell books, and take public transportation.

My advice: slip into the lifestyle and pace of wherever you find yourself. It is so much more enjoyable if you live like a local, even if you aren't.

September 18, 2013

Do You Make These 7 Retirement Mistakes?

A satisfying retirement doesn't just happen. When I stopped working in 2001 I assumed a lot of things that turned out not to be true. My early years were a work in progress with a lot of on-the-job training. Over time, the pieces began to fall into place. The last six years have been the most creative and joyful period of my life. But, some incorrect assumptions made the transition rougher than it had to be.

Here are  seven "assumptions" that can derail or delay your happy retirement lifestyle:

1) Assume everything will work out the way you want.  Your left a job, you didn't leave planet earth. No one gets through any stage of life without a few curve balls here and there. Some of us actually take a fastball to the head. Being flexible is a necessity.

2) Assume your planning is solid and will need little or no adjustments. Much like the assumption above, for me retirement has proven to be a time of constant adjustments. My goals, interests, and financial situation are not static. Neither is my 5 or 10 year plan. And, that is OK.

3) Assume your wife or husband has the same goals as you for retirement. Assuming anything in a long term relationship is risky, but thinking that you and your spouse or partner want exactly the same things from retirement without discussing it first is not likely to be your best decision. Save a lot of grief by talking through what you both want before you are home full time.

4) Assume your employer will not change any of your retirement benefits. Read the paper and the Internet. It is safer to assume your employer will look for ways to reduce his commitment to your pension and health care. He isn't evil, he just can't afford to fulfill promises made years ago. The world has changed too much.

5) Assume you (and any one else you are responsible for) will never have a serious health problem. Just because you have been healthy so far is absolutely no guarantee of the future. Flip a coin and have heads turn up four times in a row. Assuming that tails is "due" is wrong. Past behavior or conditions do not always predict the future, especially with an aging human body.

6) Assume that when you retire a budget is no longer needed. A budget got you to retirement. A budget will get you through retirement. In fact, when your income is more likely to be fixed, you have less margin for error than when a regular paycheck was part of your world.

7) Assume you can spend heavily in the early years and then cut back as you age. In a world that was completely predictable, this might work. But, what happens when you are faced with a large health care bill several years down the road? What happens when your income drops because your investments are not producing at the same level? What happens if you are wrong and expenses don't drop enough to make up for your lavish years? Front-loading your retirement with a more lavish lifestyle comes with substantial risk.

Of course, there are more than just the seven deadly sins of retirement assumptions I have listed. In your experience so far, what mistake has been most costly to you? What would you do over again if you could?

September 16, 2013

Playing Small Ball

If you are a baseball fan, you are probably familiar with the term, small ball. Usually, it means a team is concentrating on doing the little things right: stealing bases more often, bunting, forcing the opposing pitcher to throw more, attempting to walk when at bat, or using the hit and run play instead of depending on base hits and big plays to win a game.

For this post, I am using the term, small ball, to make the point that a satisfying retirement is very often putting together a series of small steps and simple decisions to create the life you want. Major life adjustments, inheriting a sizable estate from a long, lost uncle, or cutting food costs by eating mac and cheese for every dinner are rarely needed. Instead, by focusing on the little things, by playing small ball, we can be big winners.

What qualifies? Here are just a few things that come to mind. I am sure you can share some of your own examples:

1) We check the newspaper circulars (they come in the mail...don't even need a newspaper!) and on-line sites (like Cents' able Shopping) to pare our grocery bills. I am not talking about becoming an over-the-top coupon clipper, just looking for the best deals. The grocery store where we shop will match competitor's prices, so paying $1.89 for milk instead of $2.69 is just common sense. Betty and I spend no more than 30 minutes a week on this task and cut our grocery bill by $25 or so each trip.

2) We cut out the bloated cable TV package and dropped back to the basic channels while our youngest daughter is living with us. When she moves out next month, even the basic will go. We can pick up network HDTV signals for free using a simple antenna for the two or three shows a week that interest us. Specialty networks, like Discovery or PBS offerings can usually be streamed from their web sites. Netflix fills in all the gaps.

3) Betty has been using s smartphone for the past four months. She has determined that she never uses the data package and rarely texts. Yet, because she has a smartphone, Verizon insists she pay $40 a month for the "ability" to use data. She is going back to a basic flip phone, without a data package requirement, and save us $120 a year.

4) One of our cars is 10 years old. Maintaining full comprehensive and collision damage coverage is silly. We'd see nothing after a claim on a vehicle worth less than the $1,500 deductible. Dropping them saves us a few hundred dollars a year.

5) Arizona State University, several medium size colleges in the metro area, and an extensive system of community colleges offer a constant stream of free concerts, movies, lectures, and exhibitions. The Phoenix public library offers all sorts of artist talks and book discussions. We take advantage of as many of these events as we have time and interest.

6) I read a lot (again, I say, a lot). I used to help support Amazon. Now, my library card gets a full workout. Not only do I save close to $500 a year on books, but I don't need to buy more bookshelves.

7) Groupon...need I say more?

8) We bought an RV. Obviously, that isn't small ball. Actually, it is a 30 foot long, 12,000 pound behemoth. But, by eliminating those things in our budget that really don't make us happier or make our lives better, we freed up some of the money to fulfill a dream to hit the road and travel the back roads of America.

By playing small ball in part of our life, we can live large in another. And, that has been a tremendously positive trade off.

How about you? What examples of "playing small" can you share?

September 11, 2013

Retirement: How Did We Get Here?

With a blog entitled, Satisfying Retirement, it is rather obvious what my focus is. I have chosen to write about a subject I have been experiencing for over a dozen years. While not everyone is happy with the word retirement, we all understand what it means. At the same time there is serious debate  about its future, whether the whole concept of someone leaving the workforce at a set age remains valid in today's world.

For this post, I thought it would be interesting to look at how the whole idea of "retiring" started. If we could flash back about 80 years we wouldn't find anything like retirement. With a mostly rural society, folks worked on the farm until they couldn't anymore and then sat in a rocker while the younger family members took up the slack.

Those in factories or retail worked until their health gave out and they went home to a rather uncertain future. With no company pensions or government safety net, and little ability to save much during the working years, the "oldsters" were depending on being cared for by the rest of the family until death.

Things changed rather radically in 1935. The Social Security Act was signed into law in August of that year. Taxes were collected for the first time a little less than two years later and the first one-time, lump-sum payments were made in January, 1937. The maximum lump sum payments was $315, but the average was under $100. While not calling it that, these initial lump sum payments were meant for burial and funeral costs, not retirement. Regular ongoing monthly benefits started in January 1940. Note that such a massive social program took several years to be fully rolled out, not unlike the new health care laws.

While the new law didn't help older workers, suddenly younger workers had a guaranteed income  at a defined point in their future. That income was never designed to be someone's total income after work,  just a supplement. Unfortunately, as we all know, today too many of our fellow citizens are forced to live completely off Social Security. That leads to a rather sparse existence, but it is substantially better than the way things used to be.

Spousal benefits were not part of the original law. Retirement benefits were only paid to the primary worker. In 1939 the law was amended to add survivor, spousal, and children's benefits. In 1956 disability benefits became part of the program.

So, the concept of retirement that we all understand began in 1935. The urban legend that 65 was set as the full retirement age because most people died before then so the government was off the hook isn't true. My research shows 65 was picked because some European countries used that age so America just followed along.

Of course, as our life span has increased, the "full" retirement age for Social Security has crept up a few years, though not nearly enough to keep up with increased longevity. That is part of the reason for the constant talk of Social Security's fiscal future. And, it is important to remind ourselves that the original intent of Social Security wasn' t a retirement plan, just a supplement.

Importantly, as originally designed the government's role was simply that of the fund's administrator, rather than its payer. How things have changed over the past few generations! Congress has rather dramatically changed both the intent and funding of the program over the years, resulting in both a change in understanding of the role of Social Security and its funding.

But, back to the original point: retirement in any form and however paid for happened because our society changed. The rural model was replaced with an urban model. Families caring for family members until death was replaced with the idea that we were responsible for our own future well-being. Then, government decided that we may not be capable of taking care of ourselves on our own and turned Social Security into a retirement program instead of just a supplemental program.

As poet Robert Frost wrote in his "The Road Not Taken, "and that has made all the difference."

Lesson over...class dismissed.

September 5, 2013

The Not So Secret Ingredient for a Satisfying Retirement

Probably millions of words have been written about how to have a happy, productive retirement lifestyle, almost 80,000 of which have been mine! Financial planning, working on your marriage or primary relationship, developing a hobby or passion that lights your fire every day, allowing your spiritual side to have heard it all before. There really is little new under the retirement sun, unless it is whether retirement is even a valid concept in the 21st century. But, that's the subject for another time.

My experiences during my recent vacation highlighted one other indispensable requirement: friends. Yes, friends. These are the people who aren't related to you who will put up with your quirks and oddities just because they choose to. They will take you to lunch, share dinner with you at your home, or have a hot dog while sitting next to you at a ballgame.

They will laugh with you, cry with you, hug you when you need it, and give you a verbal slap when called for. They will allow you to be you while gently nudging you to grow and develop. They will listen as you try to explain away your mistakes without judging or condemning you. Friends are what makes living rich and full of joy.

Too often we leave friends behind when we retire. Sure, we mean to stay in touch, but drifting apart after the bond of work has been severed is what usually happens. Old friends may move away or fall out of our lives due to divorce , sickness, or death. Sometimes we just grow apart.  Making new friends as we age becomes more difficult.

That's why what has happened over the past year to Betty and me is so special. During our two trips to Portland we have met some people who have become a very important part of our lives. We love them, care about them deeply, and long to be with them whenever possible. Amazingly, they feel the same way.

This trip we met a new couple who we instantly developed a bond with. That relationship is likely to strengthen and deepen over time, too. We were able to talk with each other like long lost college chums, feeling comfortable and at home in each other's company.

Of course we have very important relationships with friends in Phoenix. They enrich our lives every time we are with them. But, it is impossible to have too many true friends, wherever they may live. Betty and I feel as if we have hit the jackpot.

To our new friends in Portland (and those we met there), know that you make our lives fuller, more exciting, more vibrant, and more loving just by being you.

Friends must be one of God's way of showing us we matter. Otherwise, why would He put them in our lives?

courtesy -

September 4, 2013

Join Me Thursday For My First Webinar

Note: I understand there was a problem with the first 10-11 minutes of this interview. People on the phone heard music instead of the conversation. I am sorry you missed the first few questions and answers because of a technical glitch. For those who joined later and heard the interview, thanks for your time and interest.

I will be re-doing the part of the interview that was lost. A recording of the entire 50 minute conversation will be available soon.

I have been invited to be the focus of an interview on the new web site, Retire to, this Thursday, September 5th. Ed Zinkiewicz, co-founder of the site and author of a new series of Retire To books, extended the invitation last month and I quickly agreed.

You are invited to listen live on your computer and even pose questions for Ed or me to answer during this 40 minute session. There will be a series of slides that appear on your screen that will help you follow along. If you are unable to listen to the interview as it happens, I will post a link to the recorded version when it is available so you can listen at your convenience. There is also the option of listening to the interview on your phone, or connecting through Skype.

Ed has prepared a web page that provides all the details you need to listen on Thursday. Part of his bio for me includes:
Bob Lowry writes the leading blog for building and living a satisfying retirement. He has written two books about retirement, has been interviewed in Money Magazine, Advertising Age and on CNN.Com. He writes regularly for the PBS web site, Next Avenue, and is a contributing author to the best-selling 65 Things To Do When You Retire series of retirement books, the first of which the Wall Street Journal has called one of the most significant retirement books of 2012.
As his own retirement journey began to unfold he discovered a serious lack of information for retirees: books, web sites, and even blogs were filled with advice on how to manage one’s money before and after retirement. But, there were few places to learn about retirement’s effect on a marriage and important relationships, how to fill one’s time effectively, whether to move after leaving work, or how to simplify one’s life. No one was explaining the stages of retirement everyone must go through, or how to uncover a passion that would make each day a joy.

I am excited by this venture. It is the first time I have been asked to be part of a webinar, a web-based presentation over the Internet. Ed has done a wonderful job of allowing for the widest possible listenership and participation.

I invite you to listen on your computer, your phone, or by Skype. I urge you to submit a question during the interview for us to tackle. And, I ask that you pass on the word about this event to anyone you know who may be retired or thinking about beginning their own satisfying retirement.

For all the details on how to listen, watch the slides, or submit a question click
here: Worth a Listen: Bob Lowry. The interview will be conducted this Thursday at 3PM CDT. That means 1PM on the West Coast and 4PM on the East Coast.

Please plan on joining me Thursday afternoon. This should be fun. And, a big thank you to Ed Zinkiewicz for his invitation.