April 27, 2015

It's Time

In about a week I will be moving to a new house in a new part of the Phoenix area. After thirty years in one zip code, Betty and I are taking my 2015 word, move, quite literally. Everything (almost) is packed and ready for the movers.

We will be living in the RV for the week between leaving the old house and being able to move into in the new one. While not really a vacation, it will be nice to take a break from cleaning and packing.

As April comes to a close, I look back on the past four months of the New Year and must pause. It has been a very eventful time, including the death of my dad, this move, taking Tai Chi lessons, watching over my youngest daughter's new cocker spaniel.....if this pace keeps up I will need to pick the word, nap, for 2016.

In two months we pack up the RV again and head to Portland for the summer. I doubt the new house will even be fully unpacked by then, but we have been planning this trip for 10 months, well before the thought of a move crossed our mind. It will be fun to hit the road again and have new experiences as well as see old friends.

I am also approaching the 5 year mark for this blog. It is time for the word, move to apply to these pages. It is time for me to move on to something else. It is time for Satisfying Retirement to retire.

Two books, contributions to three others, national magazine articles, 660 posts, 50,000 views per month, and over 1.7 million page views since the beginning: I feel good about what has happened here. I feel especially good, and eternally grateful, to those readers who have helped me make this blog a pleasure to write and so much fun to read and respond to the incredible comments (over 14,000 at last count). 

There has been a real community built here, folks with all sorts of opinions, ideas and insights. The quality and level of discourse has always been a positive. Unlike too many other blogs, we have always been respectful and supportive of each other, even when we disagree. That is too rare in today's world; the fact that it was alive on these pages is very satisfying.

I have no idea what I will be doing next. With settling into a new house and a new neighborhood, and then being gone until early September, I won't even have time to give it much thought until after Labor Day. Then, we will see.


I will leave the blog right here for the foreseeable future. Feel free to come back and re-read old favorites or spend some time reading posts you might have missed over the past 5 years.

Please feel free to leave a comment or your thoughts on this post. With my Internet link being disconnected this weekend I may not be able to respond to each, but know that I will read what you write and treasure your involvement.

My warmest regards, deepest respect, and a heartfelt thanks to you. My Satisfying Retirement would have been much less joyful and rich without these last 5 years of having you be part of my family.

Goodbye, and Godspeed.







April 23, 2015

Is Retirement an Outmoded Concept?

Sometimes I wonder if the whole concept of retirement is destined for the dustbin.The idea of retiring from work is a rather new phenomenon. Some experts see it beginning around the turn of the 20th century, but it didn't become something that most thought about until fifty or sixty years ago, with the beginning of Social Security and strong employer pensions. Certainly my parent's generation welcomed retirement, and the majority of folks my age aspire to that part of life.

But, over the last few years I have watched at least five trends that seem to raise questions about retirement's appeal, or even viability. Consider these circumstances:

1. Savings rates can't possibly support full retirement. For those 45-54, the median amount saved for retirement is $100,000. For 35-44 year olds, the median saved is only $61,000. Even forgetting about retirement savings for a moment, 72 million Americans have no emergency savings at all. That is a whole bunch of folks who are one paycheck away from financial hardship or ruin, much less retirement.

2. The support of company pensions has all but disappeared. The defined benefit type plan is but a fond memory for most. Companies have been cutting the contributions and scope of pension plans for the last few decades. Poorly funded 401(k) accounts, or no pension at all, are more the norm. Future generations will likely never experience the option of a robust pension.

3. The likelihood of cutbacks in Social Security benefits and means testing for payments are virtual certainties in the years to come. There are too many folks retiring and too few workers to fund their Social Security payments to keep the system operating the way it does today. 

4. The amount of money needed to retire continues to rise. Thirty or forty years ago someone with one hundred thousand dollars in savings and investments, a decent pension, medical coverage, and Social Security could look forward to a comfortable retirement. Then, the "magic" figure became $500,000, quickly followed by one million dollars. Today, retirement gurus claim you need 2 million dollars to have a shot at a pleasant time away from work. Needless to say, 2 million is a number very, very few will accumulate; one million is impossible for most. 

5. Maybe just as important, the interest in continuing to work is growing. Due to financial concerns (see #1 above), wanting to continue doing something that is satisfying, fearful of free time with nothing to do, or anxious to start a new business and make a lifelong  dream real, the percentage of those who say they have no plans to stop working, or working well past the typical target of 65, is increasing. Some studies show it is nearly 33% of all workers. 


About a year ago I wrote a post that asked if retirement blogging was still viable. At that point several folks who focused on retirement had decided to close down their blogs, feeling that everything they had to say on the subject had been said. My question wasn't about the future of retirement, but rather the future of retirement as a subject for a several times a week blog.

One year later, I am now wondering about the reality of retirement in the decades to come. Has our world changed to the point where retirement isn't something the majority will ever experience, either by choice, or circumstances? Within the next few generations will retirement be as uncommon as it was 60 years ago?

What do you think?


April 19, 2015

George Harrison and Me

I have seen Paul McCartney live in concert three times and Ringo Starr once. I was at a press conference with John Lennon (and Yoko). George Harrison is the only Beatle who I never was able to see in person. As the "quiet" Beatle he seemed to attract the least attention and made the fewest public appearances after the group officially disbanded in 1970.

I am just finishing a fascinating biography of George that has given me a new insight into the man and his life: his struggles, his demons, his genius and his humanity. It is one of those books that I do not want to end. "Behind The Locked Door" by Graeme Thomson has been tremendous. It has given me a completely new understanding of the Beatles era, what that experience did to George, and how he attempted to cope with being one of the most famous people in the world after the Beatle era had passed and until his death in 2001.

How does his story fit into a satisfying retirement?  I have found two parallels with my life that seem to be worth detailing because you might find they resonate with you, too. I don't think any readers of this blog are in the same famous category as that of a former Beatle. The lifestyle of those four men was beyond belief. The pressures, the inhuman schedules they had to maintain, the insanity of living in a bubble with the whole world watching would have caused long lasting changes to virtually anyone. Even so, as human beings they shared much with all of us.

Right after the Beatles broke up, George had two major successes: the album, All Things Must Pass was a huge hit, and the Concert for Bangladesh was the first worldwide concert with charity as the focus. But, then he started to slip, in both creativity and in public acceptance. 

By the mid 70's his music seemed to be out of step with where music was heading. He began to sound like a curmudgeon, complaining about the state of popular music. By 1980, he was almost completely irrelevant as an artist. As technology and pop music styles evolved, his music remained locked in a time warp. Eventually he would start to make commercially viable music again, but for many years he railed against the changes and continued to record music that had little popular appeal. 

After John Lennon's murder, George Harrison became almost invisible to the outside world for fear of a similar attempt on his life. All the security that surrounded him did not help. He nearly died in 1999 from a horrific attack by a knife-wielding lunatic who stabbed him over 40 times at his home in England. Even though he recovered from those wounds, brain cancer killed him less than two years later.

My tie to this story and his life? For the last 6-8 years of my radio consulting business I did not evolve. I stayed with the same message, the same ideas, and the same approach that had proved so successful for me through the 1980's into the mid 90's. Even though my industry had changed dramatically, I stopped learning and listening. I didn't change my message or my methods. As a result, my business slowly slipped away until, in the same year that George Harrison died, I found myself faced with retirement, several years before I would have felt financially more secure. I had been passed by. I had stopped changing and found my approach irrelevant.

The second part of George Harrison's life that I found relatable was his search for a spiritual answer to life's complexity and difficulties. Famously, George ended up captivated by Indian philosophy and religion. His support of Hare Krsihna, Eastern religions and love of the culture and music of that part of the world were well known and a dominating influence on his life. 

At the same time, his lifestyle was often at complete odds with his professed belief in simplicity, moral boundaries, and the importance of staying centered on God. His use of drugs, casual sex, alcohol, and living in a 122 room mansion indicated a man torn between two worlds: the material world and the spiritual one.

While I lived the lifestyle of a rock and roll DJ in the 1960's for awhile, it was never even remotely like the excesses of a former Beatle. Even so, I was lost spiritually for many years, trying to make my way in a world that kept score with money and possessions. Not until nine years ago (I was a late bloomer!) did I finally figure out what was really important and really deserving of my dedication. My spiritual life became vital to my sense of well-being. My faith became real. The material world became much less important.

If you have any interest in the Beatles, George Harrison, or the story of a man who made it to the absolute pinnacle of success only to find it lacking, I suggest you read this book. But, even if you don't find the details of his life worth following, I think he has left two important lessons:

1. Life never stands still. If you don't evolve you will be left behind and risk becoming bitter, unfulfilled and marginalized. But, there is always a way forward if you open yourself up to new experiences and ideas.

2. Material possessions never can buy happiness. We are part of a much bigger story that has to do with trust and faith in something bigger than ourselves. Living strictly in a material world is a dangerous place to be.



courtesy TM Blog


April 11, 2015

Medical Bills After Retirement: Be Prepared



It probably comes as no surprise that the number one concern of retirees is the unknown cost of on-going and future health issues. Even with Medicare, private insurance through a former employee, or some other way of paying for health costs, many of us are unprepared and in for a rude awakening over what lies ahead.

Recent studies tell us that up to $300,000 in costs are very possible for those over age 65. Don't we assume that with Medicare, a Medigap policy, an Advantage option, and drug coverage that can't possibly be right? 

Unfortunately, the most expensive parts of our health costs aren't covered by those items. Moving into an assisted living facility can easily cost $3-$4,000 a month (or more). A nursing home might be closer to $5,000 a month. Medicare pays nothing, or for only a limited period of time. If you elect to stay in your home you will still need expensive on-site nursing and custodial care that can cost about the same as being in a facility. Research shows 70% of us will need either short and long term care at some point.

True, you can buy a long term insurance policy, but they are quite expensive, and usually have a waiting period before payments start. They are dependent on the insurance company staying in the long term care business, not a sure thing as costs outstrip their ability to generate sufficient return on their investments. 

A report from last September in USA Today provides a sobering look at our concerns. More than half of us fear Alzheimer's or dementia more than any other health issue, even cancer, heart issues, stokes, or arthritis. Another study tells us that the majority of retirees fear medical debts may overwhelm their finances, with up to a quarter of us already in trouble due to medical bills.

So, why am I detailing these scary numbers and scenarios? Because being prepared and facing reality are our best weapons. To have a satisfying retirement denial is not going to work. Facing the financial possibilities of health costs down the road now will help you if, and when, it occurs. 

Obviously, we must do our part to stay as healthy as we can as long as possible. Medicare or Advantage plans offer plenty of free or deeply discounted ways to stay on top of our health and take steps to short-circuit problems. 

From a financial standpoint, a line item in our budget must include reasonable projections for future medical costs. Forgoing some present pleasures may be necessary to help with future expenses. The health care center won't offer much sympathy when you tell them you can't pay their bills because you took a month-long cruise down the Amazon.

The health care system in the United States is unlike any other developed country. We have a for-profit approach to health care. While that provides for the best medical care possible, it has the very real potential for financial hardships or even ruin if someone isn't prepared.

After a full year of Medicare, a Medigap policy, and drug coverage I am very happy with the large reduction in my medical costs compared to previous years. But, I am aware of what may lie ahead and am doing my best to protect Betty and me from a rocky future. 

I'd rather spend the money on something else, but health care savings have become part of our life. That is our responsibility.


April 7, 2015

Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork

Many of us are dependent on the Internet, smartphones, Kindles....all manner of electronic devices that keep us informed, help us pay our bills, even entertain us. Electronic medical record keeping is starting to replace written patient files and reports.

But, if you think that maybe the expression "paperwork" is not long for this world, think again. As the last several weeks have reminded me, death and home buying require mounds of paper. The wonderful world of computer-based information retrieval and processing remains somewhere in our future.

Since my father passed away in early March I have had to:
  1. Fill out stacks of papers at the mortuary
  2. Apply for more than a dozen copies of the official death certificate
  3. Sign forms when his death certificates were finally ready to be picked up
  4. Fill out a form and provide a copy of the death certificate to Social Security
  5. Sign more forms and provide a copy of the death certificate to close out his checking account.
  6. Fill out a form and provide a death certificate to the Veteran's Administration.
  7. Sign dozens and dozens of papers and provide a stack of death certificates to begin to deal with his trust and investments. 
  8. Alert the Post office about a change of address
Since we decided to sell our present house and buy another we have had to:
  1. Sign and initial a 13 pages selling contract
  2. Full out a 12 page detailed report on all known problems with the property
  3. Prepare a counter-offer form.
  4. Sign a counter to the counter offer
  5. Sign multiple forms for the Title company
  6. Agree to have a lock box put on the property
  7. Initial and sign a multi-page offer to buy contract
  8. Fill out and sign another dozen forms from the Title company for the purchase
  9. Sign paperwork to order a home inspection on the new home
  10. Sign agreements for service termination and service start up.
  11. Complete at least 8 on-line change of address forms (on line!)

My dad's situation will require at least another 60 days to wrap up and then file an estate and personal tax return next year. The house sale and purchase will require several more hours of paperwork signing on closing days, plus anything the various utilities and divers license people throw at me. 

America still runs on paper and ink. No matter how powerful the Internet may be, our trees remain in danger: we use a lot of paper.

April 3, 2015

What Is Loss Aversion and Why Should We Care?

oxfamamerica.org
Human beings are not always logical or predictable. We have a complex mix of thoughts and behaviors that means sometimes we make choices that baffle others.

There is one trait we all share: Loss Aversion. This is the tendency for people to strongly prefer avoiding losses, even over gains. In fact, this force is thought to be twice as powerful as acquiring gains. In simple terms, we hate losing what we've got, even more so than gaining something. If there is a risk of a loss or a gain, we are much more likely to do what we can to prevent a loss. Wikipedia notes, one who loses $100 will lose more satisfaction than another person will gain satisfaction from a $100 windfall. Loses and gains aren't equal.

This means we tend to avoid risk if there is the potential of loss, even if there is an equal or greater potential for gain. "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" is a cliche that applies. What we have we don't want to lose. This is why someone suffers a large loss on a particular investment in the stock market yet still has a very tough time selling the loser and moving forward. Even as the the losses mount we tell ourselves it might turn around. If we bail out now, the loss is permanent and our mistake is there for all to see.

For a satisfying retirement that can be problematic. By avoiding risk and allowing our loss aversion tendency to dominate we are likely to miss opportunities for new experiences and growth. We are so afraid of a change in the status quo we will remain fixed in place even if our rational mind tells us there is something better available.


My one word that I am attempting to focus on for 2015 is move. After a fall and early winter when I felt stale and lacking any forward momentum, the last month or two have shown me a way forward. As I write this our home has been sold and we have found a single story home closer to our daughters and grand kids. We also want to move to shake up our patterns and lifestyle a bit. After 30 years in one small section of the Phoenix metro we are ready for a change to a different part of town.


Loss Aversion has raised its head a few times during this process. I like our home, its location, and its warmth and comfort. I like our church and being near friends. I like our backyard a lot (so does our dog, Bailey). We are close to a large park that has it all. At times I hear that insistent voice saying to me, "Stay put. Don't move to something unknown."


That is the voice of loss aversion telling me to not risk a loss even if I may gain much more in the future. It is a siren call hard to ignore. But, ignore it I must. Betty and I have chosen to take this step. With my dad's recent passing we are reminded that our time on earth is not guaranteed past this one moment. By avoiding a risk of loss we are bypassing a world of possibilities and gains.

Loss Aversion is a power motivator. I am trying to make sure it is not a dominate feature of my future.