June 28, 2013

My First Few Years of Retirement: The Finances

A comment on Is Retirement a Bed of Roses? was an important reminder to me that few of my readers have been part of the Satisfying Retirement family since the beginning three years ago. What I primarily write about is where my journey is now. But, that may give the mistaken impression that I had it all figured out from day one, that retirement has simply fallen perfectly into place and there have been very few problems along the way.

That is not true. Like everyone else, I had to learn as I went. In 2001 there were very few books or Internet resources that seemed relevant to me. The slow decline of my radio consulting business pretty much forced me to decide retirement was the best option for my family. I stumbled along for several years until I found a path that worked for me.

This post will be the first in a series of four that deal with the key areas that confront anyone who retires. Over the next few weeks I will look back at the initial effect of my retirement on relationships, time use and management, and finding a passion. I will begin with the topic that most concerns those thinking of retirement or those who have recently left the work world: Finances.

I started saving for retirement when I was 27, the year I got married. I wasn't making much money as a DJ in Morgantown, WV but I knew it was important to start early. Over the years, as my career and income grew, I was able to set aside anywhere from 20-30% of my income each year, split between a retirement and a savings account.

When we stopped working in June, 2001 I was 52 and Betty was 47. Though I had played with the financial projections over and over, I remained seriously concerned that we were making a terrible mistake. Even with a decent IRA and a savings account that was designed to carry us until I was ready to start withdrawing from the retirement account, I just couldn't accept that we'd be OK. Every month I'd re-run all the projections and take another look at our budget. I was nervous and worried. I certainly hadn't projected the continuing escalation of health care costs which were eating up over 25% of our monthly budget.

Panic means back to work


Within one year of closing my business I got so nervous about money that Betty went to work at a local department store. She disliked the job intensely but bravely put up with bad bosses and mindless work. I sat at home feeling guilty about the arrangement. After nearly a year of that silliness we decided that the stress on us both wasn't worth the money and she retired for good.

Two years after that experience, I took a part time job as a tour guide that lasted almost five years. My job was to accompany business people who were in Phoenix and Scottsdale for conventions or seminars to dinners, golf outings, or trail rides. Actually, the  job was quite simple: tell people where the bathrooms were and make sure all the folks got back on the bus to the hotel. It was not very satisfying but earned us an extra $3,500 a year. It also allowed me to interact with other people, something I was missing.

In the fourth year of retirement I finally accepted the fact that our planning, budgeting, and sacrifices were enough to allow us to enjoy our retirement without constantly worrying about money. Sure, a disaster of some type could mess things up, but we shouldn't live constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The 'Great Recession' knocks at our door


Of course, that "shoe" did drop in 2008. Our IRA lost 30% of its value in about 8 months. Our house value sank 50% in one year. My investments looked perilous and interest rates plunged toward zero. The so-called "Great Recession" hit us hard.

Frankly, I had every reason to panic. I was too old to get any type of job and Betty had enough physical limitations that she wasn't very employable either. My net worth had taken a hit of several hundreds of thousands of dollars. I could see no reasonable path to replace that money.

But, this is where the story gets interesting: I discovered I was less worried at that point than I had been when I first retired. Over those first six or seven years Betty and I had traveled twice to Europe and extensively throughout the U.S. We were living what we thought was a typical retired lifestyle.

With the financial meltdown we trimmed our expenses to match what appeared to be our new income level. Surprise! We discovered we were quite content with a much simpler, pared down lifestyle. We were happiest being home bodies, spending time with family, and enjoying activities closer to home. We didn't need to eat so many meals at restaurants, buy new clothes as often, get a new car every three or four years, or spend $200 a month on cable TV...for hundreds of channels we never watched! Grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner every once in awhile tasted just fine to us. Compared to my last few years of work, we were quite happy living on about 50% less.

I began reading every book on simplicity and simple living I could get my hands on from the library (no more big packages from Amazon every month). I delighted in finding free or inexpensive things to do in the area. I started using discount coupons as a way to do special things.

So where are we now?


Over the last four years the retirement account has recovered fully, the house value is now down only 25% from its peak in 2007, and we felt confident enough in the future to buy an RV last fall. Our income has stabilized and I have begun to receive Social Security checks as a nice addition to our monthly planning.

Even so, the lifestyle we adopted five years ago remains. We are content and happy to live more simply. Finding milk on sale for $1.79 a gallon instead of $2.79 is reason for a fist bump. Waiting for a book I want at the library is well worth the money saved that I used to spend to buy a copy.

So, what you read on Satisfying Retirement today is where I am after several missteps, financial panics, and a reevaluation of what makes us happy. Retirement for me has been a journey that hasn't always been smooth, but certainly instructive. It has been about adjusting, recalculating, and believing in how we had prepared.

What's your story?


June 26, 2013

Handling The Loss of a Spouse

An unpleasant reality for many of us who are married will be the likelihood of facing the death of a spouse. Women tend to outlive men so we usually think in terms of widowhood. Interestingly, recent longevity studies show a chance in this accepted pattern: men are closing the longevity gap.
 
A study released earlier this year on trends in the United States reports that over the ten year period ending in 2009 life expectancy for males grew by 4.6 years while the predicted lifespans for women rose by less than 3 years. Women still live, on average five years longer than men, but that gap is narrowing. The point is becoming a widow or widower is a life experience that may confront just as many men as women in the years ahead.
 
I was asked by a reader to address the topic of becoming a widow. It is a subject fraught with intense emotions and life altering consequences, but one I don't feel adequate to address on my own. Luckily, the following guest post arrived in my inbox a few weeks ago. Because it deals with this subject from the perspective of a person who can speak about it from first-hand experience, I have posted it here for you to read and consider.
 
If you are single you might find some value in the author's words, too. You undoubtedly have friends who are married. These suggestions may give you a little guidance in helping a friend through this process. 
 
4 Practical Ways To  Prepare for the Loss of a Spouse
 
Denial Won’t Do, Warns Author-Widow
 
The sound of silence was the most haunting for Thelma Zirkelbach on her first night home after her husband’s death. “I’d lost my husband, but I hadn’t lost his voice, I told myself,” says Zirkelbach, who had spent so many nights the previous year at hospitals with her husband Ralph, who died not long after being diagnosed with leukemia.

 “I picked up the phone and there was no dial tone. If the phone was dead, Ralph’s voice would be gone forever.” Through her panicked daze, after having sunk to the floor with her spirits, she realized the phone jack was unplugged. She plugged it in and heard his voice one more time through the answering machine. It would be the first thing she fixed around the house without Ralph’s help in decades.

“There were many moments like that in the year after his death. One of the things I had to learn was to find help from many people, whereas for most of my adult life I had the help of many in one man,” says Zirkelbach, author of “Stumbling Through the Dark,”  a memoir about an interfaith couple facing one of life’s greatest spiritual challenges.

Loving couples wince at the thought of losing their spouse and may even deny the idea despite a terminal medical diagnosis, but accepting the possibility helps in preparing for the years that follow, says Zirkelbach. She offers the following tips for doing that:

 Consider the best way for all loved ones to say good-bye: Ralph’s family comes from an evangelical Christian background, whereas Thelma is Jewish. Memorial services are designed for the surviving family and friends, and Zirkelbach held a service at her synagogue, which was filled with friends and colleagues. “Make sure you do all you can to best say goodbye in your own way, which may include your religion or some other ritual,” she says.

 Take stock of the necessary services you’ll need to replace: In many ways, Ralph was an old-fashioned Midwesterner who was a handyman around the house, moved heavy boxes, dispensed with unwanted critters like cockroaches, and acted as a one-man security system. He also provided smaller services in which a companion can help, such as fastening necklaces. Since Ralph’s death nearly eight years ago, Thelma has hired her current handyman, air conditioning technician, accountant, financial advisor and attorney. 

 No matter how independent you are, accept the fact that you may need emotional support: Soon after her husband’s death, Zirkelbach joined a support group for widows and widowers and found solace in the company of others who had loved and lost. At one point, the group leader connected with members by saying they were blessed to have loved someone enough to mourn them. “His statement turned grief on its head,” she says.

 Nurture your spiritual life: “I have become ‘more Jewish’ during my widowhood,” she says. “When I was a child, Judaism was part of the background of my life, like the Muzak you hear in elevators but don’t really listen to.” Now, however, religion has moved to the forefront of her life, and she adds she is thankful for the strength her faith has given her. “Yes, in spite of loss, I have still found joy in living,” she says.


 
Author Thelma Zirkelbach has been in private practice in speech pathology, specializing in young children with speech, language and learning disabilities, for many years. She began her writing career as a romance novelist, publishing with Harlequin, Silhouette and Kensington. Her husband’s death from leukemia in 2005 propelled her to creative non-fiction. Her web site is Widowsphere: A Circle of Hope.
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Satisfying Retirement is receiving no compensation for this guest post.


June 24, 2013

The Checks have Started!



For me, the answer to "when should I start?" was last month. I turned 64 on May 10th, halfway between the earliest birthday at which I could claim benefits and my "full retirement" birthday. To see that first deposit appear in my checking account last week felt very good. Knowing that it will appear every month for the rest of my life was particularly comforting for my satisfying retirement.

The decision to start collecting Social Security when I did was not arrived at without a fair amount of thought and discussion. There are many who will argue I left two years worth of government money on the table by waiting this long. An even larger contingent will say I passed up extra money every month by not waiting until my 66th birthday. Still others will note, quite correctly, that if I waited until I was 70 my monthly check would be substantially higher.

Deciding when to start taking a Social Security check should be based on a combination of factors. In my case, I have been living off a savings and investment account since I retired in 2001. Most of the items in that account were tax free investments so that stream of income has been largely avoiding the tax man  for the past 12 years. I had planned for that account to last until May, 2013. In a case of good luck and an on-going adjusting as we went, the account reached a zero balance last month, right on schedule.

Since I started at 29, my IRA has been quietly bubbling along for the past 35 years. Not being a Roth account (not available until the amount in the account made a conversation too expensive), I will start paying deferred taxes on withdrawals. In order to keep the draw-down rate at under 4% (the target is 3%), a monthly Social Security check is required. By holding my income at a certain level I can avoid paying taxes on 85% of Social Security payments, though I will still pay taxes on 50% of those checks.

Waiting until I am 66 would have resulted in a larger check. But, my calculations are that the extra withdrawals from my IRA to make up that difference for two years would require 15 years of larger SS checks before I reach a break even point. To me that was too big a gamble. I do expect to be alive on my 81th birthday. But, how many years after that would I have to make that two year wait pay off? The final decision was to pull the trigger now.

The next big marker is Medicare, starting next May. I have been self-insured for 32 of the last 37 years. As anyone in a similar situation knows, the market for an individual policy has been an expensive and ultimately frustrating place to be. Over the years my rates and deductibles have increased steadily, while what is covered has gone the other way.

I have no doubt whatsoever that my insurance carrier would look for every way possible to deny coverage if I suddenly developed a major illness. The nearly $150,000 in premiums I have paid wouldn't matter at all. They would simply say "No" and wait for me to fight them or give up and pay everything out of pocket. That is how the system works and I am well aware of it. 

Regardless of its many flaws, the changes in our health care system will actually come too late to do me much good (or harm) since I am so close to Medicare. For Betty, several years my junior, we are hoping she will have more options than she has now. Her individual coverage stinks but with various pre-existing conditions she is stuck until the law makes that a non factor.

But, I don't want to think of medical insurance  and the mess it is in. I want to celebrate the fruits of my 35 years of paying into a system that now begins to pay me back at a time when it will come in handy. Will those monthly checks shrink over time as the deficit becomes too troublesome for even politicians to ignore forever? I don't know. So, again, I'll face whatever the system has in store for me when that time comes.

In the meantime, that number appearing in the checking account looks very nice!

June 21, 2013

So, What Should I Do Tonight?



So What Do You Do All Day? remains the most popular blog post over the last few years. I think people are fascinated by how retired folks fill their days, maybe hoping to find new ideas. Certainly I found myself spending extra time in the section of my new book, Living a Satisfying Retirement, that details what the respondents do to stay busy. The variety of activities and interests is really something.

To be honest, though, there is a part of my day that I struggle to fill productively: evenings. After I first retired I would watch baseball games most nights, not because I really cared how the Diamondbacks did, but the game filled 3 hours. After having all but basic cable pulled from our house I found myself reading for a few hours each night, killing time with silly make-do jobs, and going to bed rather early.

Now, I am doing a little better in using the time from dinner until bed in a positive way. I don't have to be "productive" in the sense that I must necessarily complete a task or accomplish something. There is nothing wrong with purely relaxing with my wife, listening to music CDs, or watching something on Netflix or from Redbox. But, I do catch myself watching too many movies or writing a blog post just to fill the time.

There are a few activities on my "what to do when I don't want to watch a movie"  list. As a fan of the the Great Courses from the Teaching Company I always have at least one set of audio CD's to listen to. At the moment I am finishing up Turning Points in Modern History with Beethoven's Greatest Symphonies waiting on my shelf.

There are a few radio shows that I have found on the Internet that I listen to on a regular basis. One that I particularly enjoy is Celtic Heartbeat from BCC Radio Wales. Featuring folk music and Celtic artists, the music is entertaining and different from my normal fare. The once a week program is available on line for a week after the original show airs.  Another outlet I like to check for its eclectic approach is the community radio station in Bisbee, Arizona. Staffed by  local residents, some are rather professional-sounding while others are definitely not. That, along their interesting music choices, is what makes listening fun.

I have begun work on a re-write of a travel book I finished a few years ago. Using some out-of-the-way or lesser known locations around Arizona, the book needs freshening and some new pictures. Our RV seems like the perfect vehicle to take us all over the state as I work to get the book publish-ready sometime next year.

Some evenings I will spend an hour going through a blogging improvement course. This is my third time through all 31 lessons, but I generally learn something new each time. Then, I may pick up the guitar and play some songs for my own enjoyment or just to annoy the dog (!).

So, that is generally it. The point of this post is actually somewhat selfish. I am really hoping you will have some feedback on how you spend your evenings that I can latch onto. Because we tend to eat dinner early, I have between four and five hours each evening open for something. That is a substantial chunk of time.

Help me, and others, make the most if it. Tell us what you do after dinner and before bed?


June 19, 2013

Retiring Overseas

I have written quite a few posts about various housing options we have to choose from for our satisfying retirement. A few weeks ago Another Retirement Option  mentioned a new spiritually based community taking shape on the Big island of Hawaii. In Retirement Cohousing  this relatively new choice was explored. How about spending your retirement living on a cruise ship or in an RV? See Unusual Retirement Options for more details. Of course, the debate between aging in place or moving to a planned retirement community is one we are all familiar with. I've written about those options many times, including What's Best: Aging In Place or A Retirement Community.

One option I have not really explored is the idea of becoming an expat...moving to another country full time. A few readers do live in Mexico and have commented before on the cost benefits and friendships they enjoy. Blogger Sonia Marsh spent in year in Belize and has expressed interest in retiring at least part time to Panama at some point. But, the subject of retirement overseas, or at least outside our borders, is worthy of a deeper look.

Because I have no experience or personal insight in this area, I thought it best to take a two-pronged approach. First, here is a list several web sites that seem to do an excellent job of looking at the pros and cons of retiring overseas. Not all are U.S. based but it seems their advice is universal enough to be worth the inclusion. Each has a slightly different approach, but are worth looking at if this subject interests you.

The last site listed ( expatexchange) is a tremendous place to go if you have a particular country, or even continent in mind. There are dozens of links to other sites that provide the specifics you may be looking for.

http://www.shelteroffshore.com/index.php/living/more/pros-cons-retiring-abroad-10461

http://www.escapefromamerica.com/2011/02/should-i-retire-overseas/

http://www.makingsenseofcents.com/2012/10/retiring-abroad.html

http://www.escapeartist.com/Overseas_Retirement/

http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2013/05/18/retirement-roundup-all-roads-lead-abroad/

http://www.expatexchange.com/retire.cfm  (tremendous # of links)


Secondly, I ask anyone who is living abroad, has thought about living abroad, or was an expat and has returned to the their home country, to share your expertise with all of us. Obviously, moving to another country is not a step to be taken lightly. Nor, should it be dismissed as completely unworkable. If the idea is at all interesting to you, do yourself a favor and spend some time at these web sites and come back to read the comments from readers.


Who knows, Satisfying Retirement may come from the South Pacific some day!


June 16, 2013

Is Retirement a Bed of Roses?

A recent post by blogging friend, RJ Walters, caused me to pause (and that is a good thing). He was pointing out that the retirement blogs he reads, including Satisfying Retirement, seem to often paint an overly optimistic picture of life after work. He wonders if the descriptions are realistic. Don't retired people get bored, or lonely, or depressed, or unhappy? Is every day just another day on the good ship lollipop?

Nowadays by nature I am an optimist. I'll freely admit I didn't used to be that way. I could find the dark cloud in every silver lining. And, to reassure those who wonder if I am floating high above all of life's problems, the answer is certainly,"No." I do get bored on occasion. Sometimes I feel somewhat adrift in my life. Too many times, I struggle to be the type of husband I want to be to my bride of 37 years. I can be a real jerk. I have periods of self-doubt. My faith life was pretty much non-existent for way too many years and I still find myself turning to human solutions when I should be directing my thoughts elsewhere.

Certainly, there was a rough period of two or three years right after closing down my business in 2001. I have written several times about the second stage of retirement: that time when all the worries and second guessing seemed to occupy all my thoughts. I didn't know how to fill my time, except with television, endless hours of reading, and lots of naps. I was marking time.

Then, I found an interest in ham radio. I got my Federal license, joined a club, made new friends, and eventually became president of the organization for three years. I rediscovered the importance of faith in God in my life. I took a six month training program to become a lay spiritual counselor. I stopped most of my worrying about whether I had planned well enough financially. I began to see more silver linings and fewer dark clouds.

My interest in writing has been a part of my life ever since a creative writing class in high school (thank you, John Durkin). But, I had never found an appropriate outlet. The great American novel wasn't waiting to spring forth from my mind. Except for radio programming and rock music from the 1960's and 1970's, I wasn't enough of an expert in any particular field to write a textbook. So, I filled many journals and waited.

Three year ago (June 25th) I started blogging. I found my outlet and a subject I had enough experiences in to share my thoughts with others. At that time virtually all the retirement blogs available dealt just with the financial side of life after work. Except for a few notable exceptions, the blogging world lacked many voices that seemed to deal with the full range of interests and concerns of building a happy retirement. Even the phrase, satisfying retirement, turned up virtually nothing on a Google search. Try it today and see what you find!

There may be times when I appear to have all the answers. There are more times than not when my readers and those who leave comments seem to be living a stress-free, uncomplicated, "Leave it To Beaver" existence with nary a cloud on the horizon. I think a closer reading of what the comments say and what is written between the lines should show that isn't really the case.

But, no matter. The world has way too much negativity and people tearing things down instead of building them up for me to want to be part of that crowd. The world is a dangerous and scary place that really doesn't care if you succeed or fail. I see my "job" for now as describing a type of life that is available after retirement....not "the" type of life, but one example: mine.

How do I know? Because I have been walking this road for a dozen years. Will everyone find the contentment and satisfaction I have found so far? Of course not. Is my retirement without bumps and stumbles? Don't be silly. Heavens, my IRA lost 30% of its value between 2008-2010. Talk about scary. But, I'd be less than honest and certainly no help to readers if I didn't emphasize the good stuff I have uncovered.

No one needs to be reminded of how tough life can be. Read the paper, watch TV news, or simply observe the world around us for a nonstop stream of the problems we face. Do we really need another voice claiming doom and ruin are bearing down on us?

If so, you won't find it here. I have admitted my past failures and will continue to do so when appropriate. I will continue to describe how my satisfying retirement is unfolding, in both positive and negative ways. I will strive to not duck the tough issues. But, I won't dwell on them. That's not who Bob Lowry is in June of 2013.

  

June 14, 2013

Arizona's White Mountains Makes The Perfect Getaway

Betty and I, along with our trusty canine companion, Bailey, just returned from a very enjoyable eight day RV trip to the rim country of Arizona. With temperatures topping 108 degrees in Phoenix, we decided this was the perfect time to head to 6,000 feet and cooler temperatures. About 150 miles from our home, the White Mountains are a summer heat escape for many Valley of the Sun residents. During the winter, deep snow and a beautiful ski resort entice those who prefer their sports on the chilly side.

We wanted high temperatures under 100 and mornings cool enough for a light sweater; we found both. Our first stop was Woods Canyon Lake about 30 miles east of Payson. We have fond memories of bringing our young daughters here for canoe rides and picnics. 

Betty's dad took his granddaughters fishing on the lake for their first experience with worms some 25 years ago.



 
This time we made a brief stop for a picnic lunch, pictures for Betty, and to allow Bailey to gather new smells. Because it was mid week we thought the parking lot would be rather empty but that wasn't the case. Several other RVs were in evidence, as well as at least a dozen fisherman with their electric trolling boats. 

Then, it was on to Heber and our RV home for the next four nights. Heber RV Resort is clean, quiet, and very well maintained. We had a problem with our 30 amp electrical plug that the on site maintenance man fixed in just a few minutes. Most of the sites are filled with those who spend the summer here, but we got one of the dozen short stay sites. With a 30 foot pine tree, a picnic table, and being just across from both the office and the shower facilities, the location was perfect. Bailey loved all the new smells while we liked the peace and quiet.




Then, we went back to Fools Hollow State Park near Show Low. After a short visit last fall we knew we'd want to come back to spend several days. The RV sites are spacious and well shaded. Many have full hookups; for those that don't a dump station is at the front entrance. 
I have posted several pictures before of this park, but here are a few new ones to enjoy.












Though rather short, this trip was important in one very important regard; Betty had the time to really look at the inside of the RV and figure out all sorts of ways to improve our living space. She came up with a long list of improvements that will dramatically increase our storage and simplify our life while traveling. She even figured out how to build a small "office" into some wasted space near the cab. It will provide work space for our computer and storage for supplies, but can be folded up and stored away in just a few minutes.
 
Now we shift our focus to our August trip to Portland. This one will be made by plane. Less than 3 hours in the air versus a 5 day drive each way - an easy choice! 

June 12, 2013

Retirement and cold feet


Most of us experience cold feet, or a lack of confidence, when faced with a major change in our life that disrupts what we know and are accustomed to. That is a natural reaction. I would guess it is somehow connected to the 'flight or fight' reaction.

Retirement would certainly qualify as an event that could cause cold feet. There aren't many experiences quite the equal of stopping something you have done for dozens of years, has probably defined you in some way, and has paid the bills. To not have your job description as the answer to, "what do you do," can be scary. I may preach about the tremendous joy of a satisfying retirement, but I can attest to my own case of almost frozen feet when it came time to close down my business in 2001.

Recently, I was reminded of this common occurrence by a regular reader. An e-mail detailed the struggles her husband was having in letting go. The family business was up for sale, and the decision to move on had been discussed for over year. This couple had downsized their housing and belongings. They had started making plans for their time together. But, when it came time to actually walk away...those cold feet poked through his socks.

After my assuring her that hubby's reaction was very normal and would eventually work itself out in a way that was best for both of them, I agreed the general topic of last minute retirement cold feet was worth a post. Like always, I am depending on some insightful comments and suggestions from you.

I will assume that this couple's financial house is in order. To retire without a good plan and a solid financial footing isn't wise. That would cause anyone to have second thoughts. Retiring when someone is tired of going to work every day, or had a fight with the boss, or any other reason...without months, if not years, of thinking through all the aspects of a life without full time work, is a mistake and will probably not work out well.

If, on the other hand, money has been saved and invested, expenses have been pared, and projections of future needs have been made, then retirement becomes doable. The decision as to when to retire then can be approached without unnecessary financial fears. True, life is going to through some problems your way. Your retirement plans are not going to unfold exactly the way you may hope they will. Financial concerns will be with you, at some level, under you die. But, guess what, being employed doesn't change that. We have no guarantees, working or not.

I will assume the couple has a firm foundation to their marriage relationships, one that won't be harmed by having both spouses together more of the time. Even for a loving, long term relationship, retirement takes compromise and adjustments. The cliché of being "joined at the hip," implying a couple that is with each other 24/7, is usually not a good idea. There is a need for private "me" time for each partner.

I will assume the couple isn't planning on leaving family and friends behind to move to a "dream" location near the ocean or halfway up a mountain. Living on a canal boat in France sounds nice, but how realistic is it to most of us? Moving soon after retirement doesn't always turns out well. No longer working is a major stress-producer. Add a move to that and you are off the charts in terms of pressures on you.

So, that brings me back to the central question: how does one deal with cold feet after making a decision, whether it is our own hesitation or that of a loved one?  I can make a few suggestions, but then want to turn the forum over to you.

Retirement is a step, but not one that is irreversible. Plenty of folks stop working and then decide at some point that they miss some part of the working work. It may be the extra money, but it also could be time with coworkers. A sense of being part of something bigger than one's self motivates some to return to work.

The point is, if you find you simply can't settle into retirement at this point in your life, then get another job, either full or part time. Of course, once you leave your field of endeavor it may be a bit of a struggle to pick up where you left off. But, retirement today isn't necessarily a permanent state. You always have options.

Secondly, start focusing on what you will gain from retirement and less on what you may be leaving behind. Think about the hobbies, activities, travel, extra time with family, reading that stack of books on your nightstand, or sleeping until you want to wake up....all the good stuff waiting for you. A satisfying retirement is all about gaining the freedom to do what you want, when you want.  

OK, cold feet experts, help this couple and everyone else who can identify with this situation. How did you break through that final mental barrier that kept you from taking the plunge? What was it that finally allowed you to look forward rather than backward?
 

June 10, 2013

A Place For Mom (and Dad)


After a post on spiritually based retirement communities a few weeks ago I ran across yet another option for deciding where to spend a satisfying retirement: a referral site that features reviews by actual users. It gives a full option of housing choices to search for by location.
Obviously, this is a business and I can't vouch for anything they do in that regard. Nor am I being compensated for this mention. But, I like to bring to light services and options that may be helpful to you.
By the way, what happened to dad? Why isn't it A Place For Mom And Dad?


A PLACE FOR MOM® LAUNCHES SENIORADVISOR.COM
New Service Provides Listings for Over 100,000 Senior Living Communities; Reviews for 17,000 Currently Available and Growing
SEATTLE, Wash., March 25, 2013 – A Place for Mom®, the nation’s largest senior living referral service, has announced the launch of SeniorAdvisor.com, a first-of-its-kind consumer reviews web site designed for seniors and their families. The site allows visitors to submit and review consumer feedback for over 100,000 senior living communities and care services throughout the country. Currently, there are more than 17,000 posted reviews. The launch comes as A Place for Mom continues to look for new ways to empower consumers with information necessary for finding the right senior living communities for their aging loved ones.
“Choosing a senior living community is an extremely important and emotional decision, and people want to feel confident they have made informed choices. In support of this, we are consistently asked if we have consumer reviews and ratings of senior living communities,” said Sean Kell, CEO, A Place for Mom. “Based on this demand, we’ve created SeniorAdvisor.com, designed to become the nation’s largest and most comprehensive source for senior living and eldercare reviews, ratings and unbiased information.”
To encourage valid feedback for other consumers and providers, reviews on SeniorAdvisor.com will be obtained and verified from a variety of sources: the 200,000 families A Place for Mom helps annually find senior care options and the company’s nationwide network of partners that includes more than 18,000 providers of senior living care and services. Additionally, when any senior living community or service listed on the site claims ownership of their profile, they can invite consumers to review their business.
SeniorAdvisor.com offers helpful tools and quick access to reviews and ratings for communities nationwide, bringing functionality and convenience to a process that tends to be complex and overwhelming. Features include:
  • Comprehensive listings including a complete directory of senior housing options in all
    50 states. For example, a visitor to the site can research memory care options in Seattle, for example. along with six additional types, including assisted living, retirement communities, residential care homes, senior apartments, adult day care and skilled nursing.
  • A five-star rating scale system covering five categories:care, cleanliness, activities, value and friendliness. Consumers can view individual scores for each category as well as an overall score.
  • Ability to post personal comments explaining a rating or general insights about a community or service.
  • Search tools that allow users to seek listings within designated geographic locations and for specific desired amenities.
  • Customized, personal accounts to bookmark favorite communities, write reviews, store comments and ratings, and share information on communities with friends and family.
  • Ability to request a tour of a community, organize scheduled tours and send text message reminders for favorite communities.
“Today’s savvy consumers are proactively seeking the opinions and experiences of others. Many shoppers read reviews of movies, restaurants, hotels and other products before they buy, so it’s not surprising that they expect this kind of information to be available for senior living services,” said Eric Seifert, President, SeniorAdvisor.com. “In line with other service industry reviews, we’re seeing about 82 percent of our ratings on SeniorAdvisor.com land at three stars or better. It will be exciting to watch how this progresses as the number of visitors to the site increases.”

About A Place for MomA Place for Mom, Inc. (APFM) is the nation's largest senior living referral resources and personalized assistance in finding senior living services. Using its nationwide network of more than 18,000 providers, APFM helps families find options based on a loved one’s stated needs, preferences and budget. This may include independent senior housing, home care, residential care homes,assisted living communities and specialized Alzheimer’s memory care. The service is offered at no charge to families as providers pay a fee to APFM. For more information, visitwww.aplaceformom.com, call 1-877-311-6099. For more information on SeniorAdvisor.com, visit the web site or call 1-866-333-2721.

Because the service is new, the few communities I checked had only a handful of reviews. But, this does appear to be a service that will be helpful when enough folks write their opinions. Satisfying Retirement has no connection with nor does it endorse any aspect of this service. This post is provided for purely informational purpose.

June 7, 2013

On The Road Again (Briefly)!

It is hard to believe but we have been home almost 6 weeks since our April trip to Texas and New Mexico. The RV has been cleaned and checked and sitting patiently on the side yard for the next time we hit the road. Well, that time is here. Thursday morning Betty and I headed to the White Mountains of Arizona for an eight day break from the extreme heat.

A four night stay near Heber, followed by four nights at the beautiful Fools Hollow State Park in Show Low is a quick jaunt compared to the April adventure. But, to have an RV and not take every chance to use it seems silly.

The temperatures at home are now well above 100 and will be for 4 months. Last weekend we sizzled at 108 degrees and this weekend may be even hotter. The thought of 84 degree days and 56 degree nights just 3-4 hours away is tugging us northward.

For this trip we had originally planned on leaving Bailey at home. A break from 6:00 AM potty needs and barking at other dogs or birds would be welcome. Betty and I could sleep later and not be crowded by a dog that insists on sleeping so her head touches one of us and her legs the other. But, the closer we got to leaving the more we felt we'd miss her cute cocker spaniel face too much. So, at the last moment, we brought her along. 

What will we do? Betty wants to work on a church project that takes months to plan. I will probably write a post or two and work on my next book: a travel book for Arizona. 

Japanese Gardens in Portland
Then, our attention will turn to our month in Portland in August. Since we will be driving up in our car, we'll have to plan our route, pick some towns to spend the night, and see a few sights along the way.

We have given ourselves five days to get there so we don't have to push it. I think we'll make the drive north a combination of Interstates and more scenic choices.  
 


Posting your comments may be a bit slower than usual, but know that Betty, Bailey, and I are enjoying our satisfying retirement to its fullest.
 

June 5, 2013

What Time Do You Start Your Day?

One of the questions I get asked on a fairly regular basis is what a typical day of my satisfying retirement looks like. The answer I usually give is there are no typical days. Except for beginning each morning with breakfast and answering blog comments and e-mails, there is no set routine. I have made a determined effort over the last few years to not have my calendar look like it did when I was working.

True, I have a to-do list of things I must or want to accomplish each day:things like reminding me to empty the trash and roll out the cans, refill a prescription, finish a post, water the pots...the basic stuff of a day. But, my calendar doesn't say when when I must do these things. That happens when it happens. 

I have tried a more structured approach: guitar playing from 10-10:30, take out trash at 1:00 and so forth. But, I'd never follow the times listed. Eventually, I realized there was no reason for the tasks to be completed at a certain time of the day so I just dropped that silliness completely.

There is one area, though, that I can't quite get a comfortable feel for: when to get up in the morning. I guess it is part of my personality but I have always believed that the "early bird gets the worm." Over the years, both before and after retirement, I have tried getting up at various times. My body quickly tells me it isn't happy with some of my choices. For a while the alarm went off at 5:00 am. By mid morning I was ready for a nap, which kind of defeated the purpose. I've experimented with 5:30 with similar results. 

I had always heard that older folks (I qualify by now) need less sleep. I have a friend who wake up at 2:00 in the morning and spend a few hours on the computer or reading. Another fellow can't sleep past 4:30. I, on the other hand, am finding I am sleeping later. Being awakened by the alarm just after 6 O'clock seems like the middle of the night. Recently, Betty and I have been getting up sometime between 7 and 7:30 if there is no morning appointment. 

Am I turning into a sludge? Am I missing a few valuable hours each day because I am lazy? Should I follow the old bromide that I can sleep when I'm dead?

Steve Pavlina is a superb blogger, writer, and self development teacher. Among his thousands of interesting articles are several on becoming an early riser. Clearly he is of the "get up before the sun" contingent. He makes it clear he links success in life with being an early riser. 

Two posts of his that I have re-read several times are How to Become an Early Riser Part 1 and How to Become an Early Riser Part 2. He provides specific steps that anyone can take to gain control over the time one's day begins. I read these, feel guilty, and try again to get up early. Each time I cannot pull it off. As he suggests, I go to bed when I am tired but can't master the getting up early part. 

So, my question to you is simple: when do you wake up on a normal morning? Are you the the type that hits the ground running  even before the birds are awake, or do you enjoy a slow start that puts a premium on lingering in bed as long as you dare? Have you found a way to adjust your schedule that works for you? 

Even if every single comment is from someone who has checked the Internet, jogged 5 miles, and read three chapters of War and Peace before the sun comes up, I am not likely to try the early bird route again. But, as the responses in my new book, Living a Satisfying Retirement, make clear all of us have a unique way to make the most of our days. I love to read how others use their time and make the most of their retirement journey.

So, tell us!

June 3, 2013

No Excuses

At some point, all of us have some struggles in our lives. Some are major and require serious adjustments. Others are more in the category of  irritants or minor bumps in our journey toward a satisfying retirement. At the time we may be upset, but in retrospect we realize we have it pretty good compared to others.

This post is about a young man who is years from retirement. In fact he is in his early 20's. He is the son of a couple in our small group at church. His mom and dad keep us up to date on his life and how he is faring. Oh, I should mention he is autistic, though, you will see shortly that is not who he is nor does it limit him. Rather, I get the very real sense that he would think of autism as just one of  the "bumps" in the road that he has learned to navigate.

Matt is a cook, and a very good one. I know because he often prepares desserts for our small group meetings. He lives with mom and dad and creates his magic in their kitchen. Last year he was given an opportunity by a local organization, SeedSpot.org, that provides funds for early stage social entrepreneurs, to develop his own business.

Stuttering King Bakery is the result. Matt, with help from mom and dad, now supplies baked goods to several Phoenix area offices and coffee shops. For example, one place Matt delivers his seriously good pastries is the Beneficial Beans Cafe in the Scottsdale Civic Center Library. That cafe is run by the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center. His goal is to open a bakery in downtown Phoenix or Scottsdale to expand his operation, while hiring other autistic folks to help him with the work load.

Stuttering King Bakery? The name choice reveals a lot about this amazing young man. Matt says the name is in honor of England's King George VI, a man who overcame a serious disability to lead his country. The recent movie, The King's Speech, told his story. Matt faced his own major challenges in finding ways to accomplish his dream through an educational system that has problems properly serving autistic students.

Matt took private lessons for three years from a local pastry chef before serving at St. Mary's Food Bank kitchen to hone his skills. In his office space at Seedspot he and mom work on budgets, marketing, and all the issues involved in establishing a viable business.

Recently, The Downtown Devil, a newspaper for those attending the downtown campus of Arizona State University, wrote a glowing report on Matt and his determination to succeed. In that profile the co-founder of Seedspot, Courtney Klein Johnson, said "How can you not fall in love with his story, the dream and his dream for other autistic people? [Matt's] unique home-baked and delivered business model, attention to detail and dream to employ other autistic people make him a perfect member of the Seed Spot mantra."

The Phoenix Business Journal had a report on Matt's story, too. Seedspot sponsored a demonstration day at Phoenix Symphony Hall. Four young businesses pitched their concepts and products. Matt's baked goods stole the show and earned him a picture on the front page of the report.

So, besides knowing him personally, what is the connection between a 23 year old autistic man and this blog? It is the universal message that, regardless of age and circumstances, we always have a choice: to give in to our troubles and problems, or fight them and find out how to make them work for us.

I recently re-read Stephen Covey's mega-bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Several of his points fit Matt's story perfectly. Mr. Covey reminds us of Eleanor Roosevelt's words, "No one can hurt you without your consent." 

He also makes these point:

* Blaming everyone and everything for our problems chains us to those problems.

*The power to make and keep commitments to ourselves is the essence of developing the habit of effectiveness.

*It is not what happens to us, but our responses to what happens to us that hurts [or helps] us.

*Our behavior is a function of our decisions.

*If my life is not of my own design, but the result of my deferring to circumstances and other people, then I can change it.

Matt is autistic. He is also a creative, generous, giving young man with the gift of baking masterpieces and the will to succeed.

I doubt he spends much time thinking about the autistic part anymore. He is too busy building a dream. Do any of us need any more motivation than that?