October 30, 2016

Aging Is Not A Budgeting Strategy

As I age (yes, even me) it is hard not to notice certain body parts aren't quite the same. Squatting down to pick up something from a bottom shelf is now accompanied by a few groans as my knees protest. Standing back up takes a focus on the goal of becoming vertical again without help. My energy level starts to run out before the day does, even with an afternoon nap. The barber politely doesn't mention the growing thin patch on the crown of my head as he uses brush and hair dryer to fluff things up a bit. The morning stiffness in my fingers goes away quickly enough, but it didn't even exist a few years ago.

Clearly I am aging. Of course, all of us do so from the moment of our birth. But, until the later part of the 5th decade of my life I was able to ignore most of its effects. I used to have a nice career as a management consultant. Then I retired, so aging is what I do now.  What I want to do, is age well.

A blog reader sent me an e-mail with a question that made me think. He was wondering what folks used to do in their 60s that no longer interest them in their 70s and 80s. He wasn't talking about physical changes or health care issues that prevented certain activities from continuing. Rather, his was really a budgeting question:  what doesn't someone need money for as they move through retirement? That struck me as as an interesting question that fit  with my idea of writing about the goal of most of us: aging well.

That raises the question, aging well how? Does that mean maintaining our physical health as long as possible by paying serious attention to our diet and exercise regimen? Does that mean keeping our complaints to ourselves, which would make most conversations with other older folks much shorter. Does it mean keeping our mind and competitive juices flowing by going back to school, starting a new business, or learning a new language?

In an excellent article on Yoga International's web site a few years ago, Deborah Willoughby made a very important point: "In our modern script, the third act—retirement—defines us in terms of what we’ve left behind instead of what lies ahead. Up through our late 50s and into our 60s, our energy has been mainly focused on tangible achievements: earning a degree, building a career, raising children, acquiring property, perhaps making a name for ourselves. Now, as these familiar identities and activities fall away, we find ourselves without a clear, purposeful direction."

To me, that is not aging well. That is what this blog, and hopefully my life, are determined to avoid. There is something called the law of use and disuse, which is the basis of the common understanding that if there is something you don't use, you lose it. That applies to your body, your mind, your spiritual development, your creativity...pretty much everything that makes you who and what you are. In reality, what is a satisfying retirement but a collection of a series of satisfying days, one after another.

Ms. Willoughby went on to say, "Capacities have the potential to expand in the later decades of life. For example, studies show that as we move into life’s third stage [retirement], we use both hemispheres of the brain more efficiently."  The idea that the last few decades of our life is just a long, slow slide of decline is simply not supported anymore by scientific research.

Just as damaging is the cliché that 60 is the new 40 or 70 the new 50. No, 70 is the new 70. The brain continues to gather experiences and find new ways to process and use that information. Pretending we are looking backwards only cements in our mindset the idea that 70 is bad. It isn't bad, it is just different from 50...on purpose.

So, I will answer the reader's question this way: what you did in your 60's may no longer satisfy and stimulate you in your 70's and 80's. To assume one can save money as one ages because his or her universe shrinks and less money is needed  is to accept the notion of steady, constant decline.

What turns you on at 75 is probably not exactly what lit your fire at 60. Will be it cheaper? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe by 80 you aren't physically able to travel the world. But, maybe you have discovered a passion for pottery, or woodworking, or photography. Maybe your latent writer has spring forth.

True, the $8,000 you spent to tour Europe for 3 weeks when you were 67 isn't needed anymore. But, woodworking, a pottery kiln, or a few fancy cameras can easily cost just as much. The point is, aging shouldn't be seen as a way to save money. Aging is not a budgeting strategy.

I want to age well and gracefully. My faith tells me I have an eternity ahead of me, but I'm in no rush to get there. There is too much living to do.

October 27, 2016

How Social Security and Medicare Work

One of my brothers is fast approaching decision time about Social Security and Medicare. While visiting him during our just-concluded RV trip, he asked if I would give him an overview of what his choices are. Not only was I glad to do so, but his questions seemed like an excellent topic for this blog. The questions are paraphrases of his concerns:

Question 1: " I want to wait until I am 70 to start receiving monthly Social Security checks. Do I have to notify anyone when I reach my full retirement age?" 

Answer: You are allowed to sign up for Social Security three months before  you want to start your benefits. Your first check (actually a direct deposit to your bank account) will not arrive until the fourth month, but that is how the system works. This timing applies whether you want to start at the earliest age of 62, full retirement age (66 for most of us), or any time after that. The size of your monthly check depends not only on earning credits built up during your working years, but when you start receiving those checks. Do know that after 70 years old, the amount you receive will not increase, so there is no reason to wait past that point.

Question 2: "How do I start Medicare coverage at 65 without also taking Social Security?"

Answer: Go to ssa.gov. As you move through the application process you will be given the opportunity to sign up just for Medicare. Be aware that if you don't sign up for Medicare when you are eligible (in the period of 3 moths before and 3 months after your 65th birthday), there will be a delay in your coverage and the likelihood of higher premiums for the rest of your life. So, sign up during the 6 month enrollment period. You will pay a monthly premium until you start Social Security. At that time, the Medicare premium will be deducted directly from your monthly payment.

Question 3: "What is best, traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage, or just buying my own health insurance?"

Answer: Unless you are still employed and covered by your employer's policy, you are not allowed to buy private health insurance after you turn 65. Any policy you do own will terminate on your 65th birthday. So, then you are faced with the choice between traditional Medicare or the insurance sold by private companies, in conjunction with the government, known as Medicare Advantage. The choice is really one of personal preference. 

Traditional Medicare covers what most people require, but pays only 80% of most charges. As of today, virtually all doctors and hospitals accept Medicare patients. Medical Advantage insurance  is usually cheaper than traditional Medicare because the government pays the insurance company some money to take care of you. Some Advantage policies have a very low monthly premium and often have additional coverages that regular Medicare does not, like dental or vision. Those coverages may be free or have an additional monthly fee.

Because The Advantage policy is sold by a private company, there are restrictions on what doctors and hospitals you may use. The premiums are likely to rise every year and the company may decide to stop offering the policy you own in succeeding years, though the Advantage marketplace has been stable over the last several years, with more companies entering the field. Traditional Medicare monthly premiums are relatively stable, but can increase particularly for more wealthy retirees.

Question 4: " Do I need to buy anything else? How do I get drug coverage? "

Answer: If you choose the traditional version, it is wise to consider adding a supplemental policy. It covers the 20% that Medicare does not, as well as any additional charges for most hospital and doctor visits. There are several levels of supplemental coverage (also known as Medigap), designated by letters of the alphabet. The higher the letter, the more coverage, and monthly cost. These policies are sold by private companies. 

Drug coverage is known as Part D in Medcare. Traditional Medicare covers very few prescription expenses. Most folks decide to buy a separate policy from a private company to cover drug expenses. The monthly premiums are usually low. However, there is a often a $360 yearly deductible before full coverage kicks in. In the meantime you do benefit from a lower price for any prescriptions, but you will pay more until the deductible is satisfied.

Those are the basics of Social Security and Medicare. The web site, ssa.gov, is quite easy to navigate and should answer any additional questions. Welcome to the wonderful world for affordable and quite complete medical coverage, as well as those very nice monthly deposits to your checking account!

Disclaimer: I am not an expert and make no claims as to the infallibility of this post in all areas of Social Security and Medicare. Please consult the government web page and/or those trained to understand the legal ins and outs of the system. 

October 24, 2016

Our RV Trip Is Ending: More Photos To Share

We will pull into our driveway just about the time this post sees the light of day. After a journey of almost 5,000 miles and 49 days, we have had another memory-filled, relationship-building trip. We added 13 new states to the map on the side of the RV, bringing our total to 32 visited in four years. 

The decision about where we go from here with the motorhome will take some time and thought. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy some pictures from the second half of the road trip.

The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg - 20,000 sets

Bailey after her bath

Can you find the dog?

Ceiling of Chattanooga Choo Choo Station

Chattanooga Aquariums

Chattanooga Art Museum

We still prefer printed maps, but notice the GPS

Legend's Bar in Nashville..huge collection of unusual guitars

6 necks on this beauty!

You meet some interesting folks at a bar

Inside the massive gardens and water features at Opryland Hotel

A 16 mile driving tour between the Union and Confederate lines

The stunning remains of the USS Cairo

Our favorite RV spot ever: Tyler State Park in Texas

This is our site....unbelievable

A guy I used to work with 40 years ago  in radio. What a treat to see again

T-shirts say "Life is Good"   How true!

The old and the new in Nashville

My nephew and his family, with Betty and me

The whole Lowry crew in Tennessee..acting normal!

A fitting close..sunset on another fabulous trip