December 30, 2013

New Year, New Plans

2014 is shaping up to be a year of milestones and some tribulations.

*I turn 65 in May and become eligible for Medicare. How can that be? Medicare is what my parents qualified for because they were old. 

*My cute, pixie of a wife turns 60 in February. That's even harder to believe than my 65th. When I met her she was only 19. When we married her she was only 22. 

*I have daughters older than the amount of time I spent in my radio career.

*I have a father turning 90 in February...90! 90!

*Betty and I will embark on a 21/2 month RV trip this summer, our longest by far.

*And, on the upsetting side of the ledger, my youngest brother has been diagnosed with colon cancer. Even though his type is curable he faces a long and not very pleasant battle. My little brother has cancer? That is a huge wake up call.

Time absolutely does not stand still or slow down. I am flipping pages on the calendar faster than my arthritic fingers can manage. I have so much I want to do, so many people I want to meet, so many trips I am aching to take.

Satisfying Retirement will pass 1 million views sometime today, Monday December 30th. I had set a goal of passing that milestone before the end of 2013 and I will make it with a day to spare! Since I began writing this blog in June 2010 I have written somewhere in excess of 400,000 words for the posts and the two books that it has spawned. I have fielded well over 10,000 comments (plus another 2,000 spam comments that never saw the light of day) I have learned more from my readers than I could possibly have imagined, made life-long friends, and been honored to be part of your life.

There has been one rather surprising non-development: virtually no advertising support. Even being active with Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, two well selling books, regular contributions to other blogs, and all the blogging hints and "tricks" I could absorb, this blog has been a labor of love but not a viable commercial enterprise. 

So, what do I see when I look ahead to next year? Do I keep doing all the social media stuff and hope advertisers see a benefit in being connected to such a loyal and literate readership? Do I accept that this blog is not destined to be a source of extra income but serves a readership need? 

I see a time for some changes and adjustments. After lots of thought this is what I plan on implementing:

1) I will continue Satisfying Retirement. With 10,000 Boomers retiring every day for the next decade there are plenty of opportunities to reach people who would benefit from the mistakes I have made and the journey we are all on together. I can't promise how long I will keep this blog active, but as long as I feel the urge to write I will be here. I will no longer expect the blog to generate much income, just personal satisfaction.

2) I believe it is time to broaden my focus. While retirement will remain in the blog title and be the subject of many of my posts, there is so much more to a satisfying life than remaining centered on only one topic. 

I want to write more about relationships, all the great books and music we can experience, movies I find worthwhile, financial concerns from a wider perspective, travel and RV thoughts, spirituality in all its various shapes and expressions, lifetime learning, and observations of our life and times.

3) I need to free myself from the rigors of three fresh posts every week. Maintaining a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday posting calendar puts me under more pressure to write and produce than I am comfortable with at this point in my life.

So, starting with the New Year I am going to try a twice-a-week fresh posting schedule: Monday and Thursday. I think this will allow me to write better posts, with more substance and certainly more thought. I can be a bit more inventive in the topics I choose and feel I am bringing something a bit fresher to you.

4) I will likely end my active involvement with the various social media sites as a form of blog promotion. I will stay in touch with friends and follow those I enjoy, but stop spending the extra time to attempt to boost blog posts and activities. It isn't paying off.


You may have noticed I changed the blog title a few weeks ago by adding ...Leads To a Satisfying Life after the main title of Satisfying Retirement. The addition of those five words indicates there is more to this blog than just retirement issues. 

Together, let's see what happens. I am retired but that isn't adequate to fully describe my life and my thoughts. I am interested to see where an expanded direction will take me, and for how long.

I hope you join me on the journey.



December 28, 2013

Oldest Surfer on the Beach

A few years ago I wrote the post, Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Jimmy Buffett. He is one of the few singers I will pay to hear. I have over a dozen of his albums in my CD changer, have been to several Margaritaville restaurants, and have various Buffett T-shirts in my closet.

At 65 he continues to perform to sellout audiences year after year even though he hasn't had a legitimate hit record for several decades. Here is a fact that might shock you: he is the third wealthiest male singer in the world, worth an estimated $400 million dollars, behind only Paul McCartney and Bono.

He has tapped into a fantasy world for those who want to abandon responsibility and predictability, but to do so in a safe and "appropriate way" for a few hours every now and then. With concert ticket prices close to those of Las Vegas shows, his appeal is to those who can afford to dream of tropical islands and margaritas all while paying a large mortgage and driving to the show in a new car. His image of a casual, happy beach bum has nothing to do with the reality of an extremely successful marketer of all things Jimmy.

No matter. His songs are upbeat, happy, and usually quite positive. He is a PG artist in an R-rated world. 
Recently I reread that post from 2011 and found several of the observations continue to resonate with me. To read the entire article click above, but if you are in a hurry here are a few of the lyrics and my thoughts:


"I wish lunch could last forever. Make the whole day one big afternoon."
My schedule is mine. I understand the importance of being wholly invested in whatever I am doing at the moment. And, if that is a long meal with friends, so be it.


"Oh, yesterday's on my shoulders so I can't look back for too long. There's just too much to see waiting in front of me. And I know I just can't go wrong."
Memories and the past are great, but sometimes they just hold me back. I am excited by what is ahead.

"Few have ever seen, most of them dream.  I've got to stop wishin' and got to fishin'."
Too many folks dream their life away without doing what they really want to do. There comes a time to stop dreaming and a time to act.



The reason I dug back in the archives to find this particular post was a note from a good friend who sent me the lyrics to the latest Buffett song. She thought it would be a good fit for this blog, and right she was.

Entitled, The Oldest Surfer On The Beach, this song continues to promote one of Jimmy's main messages: living in the present is the only way to go. Here is a sample of some of the lyrics:


There's nothing that I wanna do
No place I'm trying to reach
Only time is now more precious to
The oldest surfer on the beach
The oldest surfer on the beach



I stopped searching for perfection
Many waves ago
What really matters is the here and now.



I may quibble a bit with the lines that there is "nothing I wanna do, No place I'm trying to reach." Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows I am not content to drift.

But, he has nailed my mindset with the lines," only time is now more precious" and I stopped searching for perfection many waves ago. What really matters is the here and now." 





 if you are in a Buffett kind of mood, take a trip to Margaritaville, too



December 26, 2013

The Time In Our Lives

This is one of the more powerful visuals I have seen in quite awhile. In a way you can't ignore, it shows us the effects of decisions we make about the time given to us. Then, it asks some important, possibility life changing questions.

Watch the video, read my recap, and see what your answers may be.





In case that went by too quickly, the average American will live 28,835 days, or 79 years. How do we spend that time?

  • Just to get to the edge of adulthood, age 15 in this example, we spend 5,475 days.
  • 8, 477 days are spent asleep
  • 1,635 days are spent eating and preparing food
  • 3,202 days are spent at work
  • 1,099 days are spent commuting to that work, or other errands
  • 2,676 days are spent watching television in some form
  • 1,576 days are spent doing chores and household duties
  • 564 days are spent caring for family and friends
  • 671 days are spent bathing, grooming, and other bathroom duties
  • 720 days are spent on community and religious activities

That leaves, on average, 2,740 days, or 7.5 years of our life to do everything else that makes life worth living.

So, the obvious questions:

*Depending on your age, how many "beans" do you think you may have left?

*What do you plan on doing with them?

*What if only half of those 2,740 beans are left in your pile. Now what?

*What if only half of that half is left? What would you do differently?

*How are you going to spend your remaining beans?


Makes you think, doesn't it.


December 24, 2013

A Time For Us All To Pause

 
Whatever your religious or secular tradition at this time of year, the best wishes to you and your loved ones come from me and my family.

Beyond the hype, the money spent, the rushing about, and the inevitable letdown after the day or period passes, I hope you can feel a deep sense of love and connectedness to the greater community of human beings.

 
Whatever your present situation you are part of a larger family with many similar concerns. At this time of year I pray you find some sense of peace and contentment.



Blessings from Satisfying Retirement: Bob, Betty, and Bailey


December 22, 2013

Financial Chores: How Do You Share The Duties

After a few recent posts about financial planning, regular reader, Carole, asked if I'd take a look at how folks divide up financial duties and responsibilities. A female financial advisor dealt with some of the underlying issues in the post, A Woman Looks At a Woman's Relationship With Her Money. But, there are some real practical steps that anyone in a long term relationship should consider. Even if you are not married, someone  will eventually have to deal with the financial side of your life. Having things properly set up ahead of time is the responsible thing to do.

For purposes of this post I will assume you are married, in a committed relationship, or are sharing financial management with someone. There are a few ways that couples can handle finances:

A) One partner does it all. Either through natural talent in this area, long term experience, or simple enjoyment, one person handles all the bill paying and making the financial investment decisions. This can occur with either the approval of the other partner, or acquiescence to maintain harmony and eliminate arguments.

B) The partners split the responsibilities for financial well being and maintenance.

C) The partners maintain separate accounts so each person pays his or her own bills. Joint decisions are made for major investment and tax-related issues.

D) A financial advisor or manager takes care of it all. For those with a sizable estate and nest egg, having a professional handle financial matters is an option.


I have no experience in either choice C or D so my ideas would not be helpful. If you do fit either of the last two options, please, chime in with a comment. Your experiences and reasons for your choice would be very helpful to us all.

For purposes of this post I am going to assume that most of us are either in group A or B and are looking for ideas on how others handle their financial life. I will give you a peak into how Betty and I handle our financial decision-making and duties. Then, most importantly, I will ask you to share your story. Since there is no right answer, all input, all suggestions, and all ideas help everyone one of us refine or rework our personal strategy.

In our household I have been the primary financial manager for all 37 years of our marriage. Even though I was rather poor in mathematics in school, for some reason I do enjoy the process of budgeting, keeping on top of our financial health, and dealing with our financial advisor. He has been part of our life for close to 20 years and is a trusted source of advice. Sure, he has made some bad recommendations that went sour. But, overall, his suggestions and awareness of our risk tolerance enabled us to retire almost 13 year ago and have a nest egg that is actually bigger than when we started our satisfying retirement in 2001.


Betty and I discuss major financial decisions that involve our home, major repairs and upgrades, the yearly budget, and how our vacation money will be spent. But, when the advisor calls to suggest where we can put money that is just languishing in the cash account, I make the decision. Betty is fine with not knowing the specifics.

We are aware that she needs to have a handle on some of the basics of our finances: where the money is, passwords and on-line bill paying details, key contacts, tax information, and the like.

She and I will admit that this "training" has been a series of starts and stops. Betty maintains a book that takes her through the key information she would need to know and how to perform some important tasks. But, that book goes out of date often, what with changed passwords, different things in our investment accounts, changing tax conditions...even different computers and browsers that have things stored in different places.

Like everything else, using her "blue book" on a regular basis should occur to keep her familiar and comfortable with the very steps. But, she will be the first to admit she dislikes this process. She becomes easily distracted and anxious if something is slightly different than it appears in her guide book. Dealing with the financial side of our life together is one area she knows she should take more seriously, but doesn't. Part of that is do to problems with her short term memory, and part because she simply doesn't enjoy it.

That approach worries us both since it is likely I will die or become disabled before her. Without having a solid handle on the bare minimum of things like getting into online accounts, when important bills and real estate taxes are due, how to handle credit card bills and communication, she would have a very rough time. For 2014, we both must commit to doing a much more consistent job of keeping her in the financial loop.

So, my most important advice is to not do what we have done! Both individuals must have enough awareness to hold things together after a life change until others can be brought in to help. Not liking the world of finance and investments is fine. Not knowing enough to stay afloat for even the short term is not. Someone once said,  finance is the art of passing money from hand to hand until it finally disappears. Our responsibility to the people we love is a bit more complicated.

Now, your turn to help us all.

How do you and your spouse or significant other divide up your financial responsibilities and duties? Is this an area of discord and arguments? What works best for you? Where is your game plan not quite up to par? What changes in how you approach things would make sense?

  

December 20, 2013

Best Before Date List vs.The Bucket List

Not too long ago a friend told me about an article from blogger Dave Dineen that she thought would catch my attention. In that post from June 2012, Dave wrote about the difference between a bucket list and the concept of a "best before date list." 

We are all familiar with the idea of a bucket list: those things we'd like to accomplish before we "kick the bucket" and die.The 2007 movie made a lot of folks think about their life and their list




Dave has a different take on that concept, one that makes all the sense in the world to me. Instead of a bucket list, he suggests we consider our "best before" date. Think of the date on the jug of milk or carton of eggs. Dave says,

" I’m amazed at how few people seem to recognize — and plan for — the fact that good health doesn’t last forever. Except in rare cases, your life expectancy (how long you’ll live) and your health expectancy (how long your general good health will last) are not the same thing.
Instead, either slowly or suddenly, your health will fade. That sore knee might never fully heal. Your muscles won’t do what they used to. Some parts of your body will wear out. Or you’ll tire more easily.
You may not recognize it, but your body has a best-before date. Maybe your mind does, too. You just don’t know when that date is."

The awareness of the difference between our life expectancy and our health expectancy is  a powerful concept. For almost all of us, he is exactly right. Our bodies will give out well before our time on earth. The years between those two events will not be available for the physical things we have always told ourselves we want to do.

Of course, there are plenty of activities that may be possible between those two  dates. Using our minds, deepening relationships, or helping others are things we can do after our bodies say "No" to the 10k marathon.

But, Dave is simply pointing out the obvious: why wait until we are at death's door for our bucket list to happen? Start now, while we are still before our "best before" date.

Well said, Dave.

The full article is available here: http://brighterlife.ca/2012/06/14/no-bucket-list-for-me/

December 16, 2013

Good Debt: Is There Such A Thing?


Debt is powerful. In our culture it is a fact of life and part of anyone's satisfying retirement. A recent study in the Wall Street Journal shows that 32% of all households with someone 65-74 years old are carrying credit card debt, while 41% have a housing debt. In fact, the median value of that mortgage debt is $70,000 based on the latest figures available. 

We are familiar with bad debt: that is debt that drains our resources and puts a stable financial situation at risk. Examples? Credit card debt that rolls over month-to-month. Some of the most expensive debt one can accumulate, using these cards as open lines of credit have landed many people in serious hot water. The latest figures show an average household credit card debt of over $15,000.

Taking out a mortgage that is too big for you to comfortably handle, or using your home's equity to pay for things like vacations, new cars, or a room full of furniture can put the place you live at risk. We have just experienced a serious retrenchment of housing prices and stories of way too many folks upside down in their mortgage situation or foreclosed on when a job was lost and the monthly payment could not be made.

Bad debt is easy to understand.


So, is there ever such a thing as good debt? Yes, I think there is. Consider these situations:


1) Buying a house. Based on what I just wrote above, how can this be?  If equity buildup isn't treated like a piggy bank, we usually plan on staying in a home for several years. If it provides a safe and pleasant environment then mortgage is good debt if the monthly payments won't stretch the budget too far. This may be less of a dream today than it once was, but owning one's own home remains the goal of many.

2) Financing post high school education. Student loan debt averages over $31,000. But, it has become clear that a solid education is a requirement for an increased chance of success in today's world. Importantly, that can mean college or a technical school in a brick and mortar environment or on-line.

What has to be carefully considered is whether the dream of an Ivy League school is viable and even necessary. For most young people (and their parents), a state university, community college, or well-respected technical school will accomplish the goal of becoming a valuable employee for someone. As long as the level of student debt isn't too far out of line with the expected return on the educational investment, debt for some form of advanced education is good debt.


For retirees who find they either must, or want to go back to school to complete an unfinished degree, learn a new skill, or train for a new job, student debt can be good.


3)  Covering unexpected medical costs. Even a few days in a hospital for an emergency or simple operation can cost tens of thousands of dollars. What insurance doesn't cover, you must. Borrowing money to pay to help yourself or someone you love in such a situation is a type of debt most of us would take on in a heartbeat (pun intended). Human life is more important than debt. This is good debt only because it considers a human life to be priceless.


In these instances borrowed money is used to pay for something that is likely to appreciate in value over time or increase your income. Bad debt often is used to purchase something that does depreciate or have no value once it is over, like a one time trip to Bora Bora or 70 inch TV. Vacations and a new TV are not bad, in fact a trip to the South Pacific sounds pretty good. But, it is not a good idea to borrow money to pay for it.

Bad debt or good debt? A debt is really neutral. It is how you use it, what risks you take to acquire and maintain it, and what your ultimate plans for that debt are.


December 11, 2013

Retirement Blogs: Check These Out

We all know the #1 blog for real-life retirement information and advice is Satisfying Retirement. (!)

But, just in case this isn't the only blog you need to read, there are other excellent bloggers providing insight, humor, and valuable information. Several are listed on my blog roll down the right side of the page. Be sure to check those out on a regular basis.

Of course, a Google search found well over 1,500,000 blogs that deal with seniors, retirement, aging, simplicity and the like. While I have been a little too busy to check out all 1.5 million of them, here are a few that you might find worth your time. This list includes a mix of financial, relationship, travel-oriented, and fitness blogs and web sites:

Sharp Seniors

The GypsyNester

Fitness for Fifty

Good Financial Cents

Retire Early Lifestyle

Early Retirement the Middle Way

Try New Things

Rethinking the Dream

Retirement Revised

The Bold Life

RetireWow

Retire to

My Itchy Travel Feet

The Retirement Café

Olderhood


If you have a favorite that isn't listed, please let us know.


December 6, 2013

The Snowball Effect

Regular Phoenix area reader and commenter on Satisfying Retirement, Madeline, recently brought me up to date on the dash to the retirement finish line for her husband and her. After a period of ping-ponging back and forth, plans were finally set in motion to close their business.

Once that key decision had been made, she noticed that the flood gates seemed to suddenly open. As she noted, " ONE BIG CHANGE lead to SO MANY OTHERS. Some of our friends think we are a bit crazed, but we actually are just finally actualizing dreams and plans we made a long time ago but could not pursue till we gave up WORK."

With the freedom that retirement brings, the couple has decided they no longer want to live in the suburbs. After years of enjoying a weekend cabin in a small community a few hours north of Phoenix, they have decided to live there full time, so purchasing a home is added to their list. 

Then, they began to discuss buying a small RV and traveling around the country. While that idea was hatching, they started to explore the idea of volunteering at campgrounds for a month or so at a time.

You get the idea. As Madeline told me, "once you take a leap of faith, it gets easier to change some more!" Like a snowball rolling down a hill, that initial decision picks up speed and size as it plunges downward. It picks up fresh ideas (snow) and grows in size while changing its shape and destination.



credit: http://tanyaeby.com


I think that is an excellent metaphor for what a retirement journey can be: one that starts with an important step and then explodes with opportunities and options, picking up speed and energy as it goes.

The cynics among us may say, yeah, but a snowball crashes when it reaches the bottom and breaks into a million pieces. I'd respond with, true, but what a ride. I'd rather end my life going full throttle toward the unknown than sitting at the top of the hill, too afraid to roll off the edge.

I'd rather think of the avalanche I've created on the way down that hill of retirement. 






December 4, 2013

Healthcare.gov: Betty's Experience



In October I wrote about my attempt to buy health insurance with the post, Retirement Advice: My First Hand Experience with Healthcare.gov.I don't need to recap all the disasters of the government web site. I am not sure I will ever understand how something so important to the president was allowed to be so bad. I will leave that to all the books that will eventually be written about the ACA (Obamacare) launch.

For me, little did I know I would be one of the handful of people who managed to work through that seriously flawed system to actually purchase a policy that was both superior and cheaper than the one I have been stuck with the last dozen years. I did have to come back several times to complete the application, pick a policy, and enroll. But, it did work.

At that time, Betty had yet to try her hand at finding a replacement for her truly miserable private policy. A few days after I was successful, we went on-line to start her application process. I had convinced her it might take a little time, but the process was working.

Immediately, things started to go wrong. Time after time, her application would get stuck on a page and not advance. Or, after clicking the Next button, the screen would go blank, and stay that way. Information that we entered was not saved, so each time we were bumped from the system everything we had entered was lost and we started all over again.

Finally, after a solid week we managed to finish the on-line application. Within a few days the screen told us her application was being processed. That sounded good. A week later, still processing, two weeks, three weeks....still processing.

At that point we called the 800 number several times. No one could tell us why nothing was happening but to keep checking back. The phone operators quickly acknowledged the system's flaws but were powerless to help us.

At last, the application showed it was complete and to check a box to see Betty's eligibility results. Nothing happened. We tried over a several day period and each time we landed on a dead page. Again, back on the phone we went. Now we were told someone from the Advance Resolution Center would call us. They had the power to help.

Apparently, they didn't have the power to call. Two calls requesting help from these all-powerful people and five weeks later and we still stuck with a completed application that we couldn't access to actually buy a policy. In fact, now we were kicked from "View your eligibility" back to a new application and told to start all over again. Except the system had a wrong Social Security number for Betty and wouldn't allow us to change it.

By this time Betty's current insurer had told her she'd have to pay $80 more a month starting in January to keep the half-baked coverage she had now. We were facing a real deadline just a month away.

On December 2nd, with everything still stuck we called again. This time the operator couldn't find her application at all. Apparently it was complete all right...completely lost. This time we insisted on being switched immediately to the Resolution Center. The nice lady there couldn't find Betty's policy either. It had simply disappeared.

There is a happy ending.The very patient operator told us she could complete a new application for us, get it approved in 30 seconds, and allow Betty to purchase a policy immediately. And, that is exactly what she did. After another 30 minutes of answering the same questions, she pushed the right buttons and had Betty signed up for a policy that saved us $70 a month with a tremendous increase in medical coverage.

Persistence paid off. I will never be able to understand why my attempt went through with only minor hitches at a point in October when almost nothing worked, and Betty's attempt fell so far through the cracks that it disappeared.

Betty and I are some of the people the new law was designed to help. But, there is no excuse for such an amateurish launch of such an important program that is frustrating so many people and wasting so many millions of dollars.

If you are attempting to navigate this web site and having real problems, I have three words for you: Advanced Resolution Center.

Update: As of this morning, December 6,  Betty's information has been properly received by her new health insurance company, payment has been made for the first month, and she is now officially signed up. The long and winding road has been traveled successfully.



December 2, 2013

Blogging Loses An Important Voice

For the last three years, 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (And Staying There) has anchored the top of  my blogroll.  Portland resident, Galen Pearl, produces this extremely well-written blog. It has become an important part of my routine.

Regular readers know that my wife and I have visited Portland twice in the last two years, primarily to spend time with new blogging friends. While we have fallen in love with the area, they were the reason behind both trips. 

A few days ago Galen e-mailed me that she was shutting down her blog. I knew this day would come. She had taken a long break this past summer. During our time in Portland Galen and I talked about blogging and her feelings about the place of 10 steps in her life. She was ready to move on to something else. Even so, to read the final post from her was sad. I will miss her writing and insights into the human condition. While she is still on Facebook, that is not the same venue for her style of introspection.

What a casual reader may not know is the amazing life she has led...it really is the stuff of a tremendous biography or TV movie. Betty and I find her charming, loving, intelligent, and caring - all the things you look for in a friend. We have no doubt she would move heaven and earth to help us, and vice versa.

Her decision, which I support fully, made me think about the nature of blogging. It really is kind of an odd creature: neither story or poem, not really newsy, sometimes very personal and sometimes simply informative. In short, a blog is shaped by the person producing it. There is no box that contains all blogs. Each is unique in some way.

Maybe that is what keeps folks blogging and others reading the results. Every time a blogger hits the "publish" button he or she is opening up a side of themselves to the world. The feedback may be supportive, or it may be cruel and rude. One never knows but every blogger takes that risk.

After a time, as Galen notes, the words simply fail to come. Everything inside the blogger that needs to be said, has been. The blogger feels dry and overexposed, with the daily deadline a chore rather than a joy. And, once the joy of blogging is gone, the blog needs to stop.

The blogging fraternity of writers will miss Galen's skill and dedication to her craft. But, we all understand and will reach the same point at some point.

Be well, my friend, and continue to contribute to the world in your unique way.