July 29, 2016

Amazon Best Selling Lists: What Do They Tell Us?

Amazon
I thought it might be fun, or maybe instructive, to look at what is selling well on Amazon. The web site updates the lists every hour of every day, so what you would see today will be different from what I uncovered on a Wednesday morning in mid July. I am not sure what to conclude from what I found.

Here are some selected categories and the results of the top 20 sellers in each:


1) In the app store for Android. all but one of the best sellers are games. This was before the Pokemon Go craze but time-killing games totally dominate. Does this say something about smartphone use, how we spend free moments, or our need for distraction? 

2) In the books and comics category all but one are comics or kids' books. The lone exception is the NIV Bible. It has been awhile since I have visited a bookstore, but I wonder if the comic and graphic novel section reflects this interest.

3) In computers and accessories, all the top sellers are Kindles and Amazon's Echo. No laptops, desk computers, WiFi routers, or monitors are to be found in the top 20.

4) In the cameras and photo category four of the top 20 sellers are drones equipped with cameras. That is scary. 

5) In toys and games the top three are card games about kittens..exploding, imploding, and one that is so explicit it comes with a warning. Obviously, this is the latest fad that I have missed.  The sixth best selling game is called "Cards against Humanity, a game for horrible people."  Exploding kittens and a game for horrible human beings....does that say anything about where we are as a culture today?

6) And, the best seller in the home improvement category is a blue nightlight that lights up inside of your toilet when you raise the lid. Really?


I don't know how much I should conclude from this exercise. Apparently, a lot of folks have enough spare cash, or room on a credit card, to make whimsical or downright silly purchases. With more than half of Americans saying they would be unable to scrape together $1,000 for an emergency, high selling card games about deadly kittens and lighted toilet bowls indicates priority setting may be a bit off.

Maybe these purchases indicate an attempt to escape the steady drumbeat of bad news and political foolishness. For a nominal amount of money, retreating into a mindless game, reading a comic book, or flying a drone over someone's backyard could be a coping mechanism.

I will let others more qualified than me draw weighty conclusions from this sampling of our buying habits. But, I do look forward to your comments!


  

July 26, 2016

Retirement is A Great Time To Declutter

declutter, simple living


Reader Diane suggested I take a fresh look at decluttering and simplifying one's environment and lifestyle. Retirement is an excellent time to look for ways to reduce the "stuff' that crowds our home, our mind, our finances, our relationships,  and our schedule.

This is a subject I have addressed often over the years, but newer readers may have missed some of the posts that have appeared in Satisfying Retirement.
What you will find below are a series of links to some of the past posts that generated good readership and some great comments. Click on the ones that catch your eye or address a specific issue that interests you.

Then, I hope you will add your ideas and suggestions. The fascinating aspect of simplification is how varied are the ways we find to achieve our goals. Even the concept of "simplification" means different things to different folks. 

Simple living: easy steps you can take

Simple Living: One Room At a Time

Simple Downsizing: Grabbing a Ready-Made Opportunity

Simple Living My Way

Retirement Life Starts With a Blank canvas

Live Simply in Retirement - Links galore

America's Quest For Simplicity

Simple Living Can Become Silly


This sampling of past posts should be enough to get your creativity flowing. Now, it is your turn. How do you approach simplicity? To you is it cutting back on what you own, or buying what makes you happy but only the best quality you can afford so something lasts a long time? Do you dream of living in a tiny house? Is decluttering a passion of yours, or something that does not bring you joy?


July 22, 2016

Why Retirement May be Bad For You

Well, there is an interesting title for a post on a blog all about living a satisfying retirement. But, in all honestly, for lots of people, the answer is that retirement may not be a wise choice, at least not now. It may not be satisfying. 

I have taken the position many times that retirement is a unique journey for each of us. No matter how many books or blogs you read (!), friends you consult, or Google searches you conduct, the answer to your retirement success lies within you. The one-of-a-kind mix of your personality, your life to this point, your influences, your attitudes, even your spiritual beliefs, combine to influence this stage of your life.

One of the realities of that mix of factors is you may be much happier if you continue working until they carry you out on a stretcher. Your life might be fuller if you leave one job and start a new company. Your days may require the challenge of proving yourself in a competitive work environment.

Conventional wisdom says we are all ready for a break from responsibility and the enforced schedule of regular employment. Retirement is the stage of life when we get to indulge ourselves doing what we want, when we want. Travel, volunteering, writing, reading, playing with the grandkids, whatever makes us happy shapes our day.  

But, what if you are happiest when working and being productive in a situation where you are paid for your contribution? What if not having deadlines or timetables and goals just doesn't bring you satisfaction? What if retirement for you means leaving one job and starting another?

Then, go for it. The distinctiveness of this phase of our lives really means any path that satisfies you is the correct one to choose. What the majority of folks believe does not make that belief right for you. To follow the usual course means to deny your uniqueness, and that is likely to not end well.

Regardless of the way you live it, one reality of retirement is that things will change. Not leaving the work force, not taking the path most others choose may be the most authentic, most important choice for you, right now. Will it still be the best path in a year, five years, a decade into the future? Who knows? Your responsibility is to be open to making another decision when what you are doing now no longer seems to it; it is no longer entirely satisfying.


Robert Frost might have best summarized the retirement choice each of us must make: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." 



In its traditional sense, retirement may be bad for you. If so, don't do it. Design your own satisfying retirement journey. Go where there is no path. Instead, leave a new trail, one cut by you.


Note: I ran across this tongue-in-cheek blog post on the road less traveled and thought you might enjoy it: 10 Reasons to take the road not taken


July 20, 2016

Get Your House Ready For Retirement

Not surprisingly, studies show that nearly 90% of seniors want to "age in place," meaning they want to remain in their own home for as long as possible. Projections of $25 billion being spent to remodel homes to allow this to happen show this to be big business. 

Assuming you are, or will be, part of this 9 out of every ten of us who will resist the move to a retirement community, what can you do to make your current home safer and more convenient? What retirement planning steps do you need to budget for to be able to stay home for as long as possible? 

Unless you have already made modifications to your home, or bought one with aging in place in mind, most houses need changes to make the space safe and accessible. Here are some of the important things to take care of:


  1. If possible, a one story home  should be at the top of your list. As we age, knees, hips, and our balance can make climbing stairs difficult and dangerous. Stair lifts are an option, but impractical for many homes. If possible, there should be no stairs at all, even into a garage or living room. Front door steps should be replaced with a ramp. If you must have stairs, be sure there are rails on both sides, that the treads are solid, and there is adequate lighting.
  2. Kitchen appliances and cabinets that are easy to reach, without bending over or standing on a step stool.
  3. Either a low maintenance dwelling, or arrangements for others to do most of the work of maintaining your house, inside and out.
  4. Raised toilet seats and showers or tubs that don't require stepping up or down. Grab bars and a bath bench if appropriate.
  5. Bathroom countertops that are the right height when sitting on a stool. Mirrors lowered and lighting increased. Automatic pill dispensers.
  6. Elimination of throw rugs or other tripping hazards, like wires or cables, clutter and knick-knacks. Cut back on the amount of furniture in each room that must be navigated around to move easily, either when walking, in a wheelchair or with a walker or cane.
  7. More lighting throughout home. As our sight dims extra lighting will be necessary for safe movement and tasks.
  8. Doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, flooring that is easy to navigate (often that means eliminating carpeting), and flush thresholds to help eliminate tripping. Changeover to door levers instead of door knobs.
  9. Emergency lighting (least several working flashlights nearby) if the power fails and medical/security monitoring in case of falls or threats of criminal activity. Cell phones or wireless phones close by.
  10. Closeness of family or friends to be able to check on your welfare on a regular basis.
  11. Adequate medical facilities that are close enough for both regular and emergency treatment. Arrangements made with home health organizations to provide nursing or physical care.  Emergency phone numbers posted in several locations of the home.
  12. Low vision equipment and tools if needed. Things like talking clocks, extra-loud ringers or door bells, and reading magnifiers may be necessary.

aging in place
credit: home4alifetime.com
Staying in your home as you age will take some effort and money. Your goal is to remain surrounded by familiar things and settings as long as you can do so safely. 

This list is not exhaustive, but should give you a good start in deciding if you can make your house into your age-in-place home.



July 17, 2016

What Can You Do When It is 118 Degrees?



Not much.

That was the question we Phoenicians asked ourselves last month when the thermometer hit 118, smashing the record for that date. Then, to prove it could, the heat, which had been above 110 for several days beforehand, remained above 110 for the next two weeks. In thirty one years of living in the Arizona desert, I don't remember a stretch that long of such deadly heat.

As an example of splendid timing, we had picked part of that time to be on a family vacation in San Diego. Daytime highs were nearly 40 degrees cooler than home. Nights required a light jacket.

We rented a condo large enough for eight of us, plus two dogs. Located just 4 blocks from the beach, our home away from home was perfect. Lazy days at the beach or riding bikes, nights around the outdoor fire pit, playing billiards in the game room, endless board games or Xbox, movies, reading, and meals together made us almost forget how hot it was at home.

The fabulous Balboa Park beckoned us with its museums and beautiful grounds. Sea World kept the grandkids enthralled for a full day. We squeezed in a trip to Seaport Village and Old Town San Diego.

Enjoy some pictures of our time together and be sure you make time for making your own memories this summer.


retirement vacations
Pacific Beach, CA

It may be July but the ocean is chilly!

I'll let brother and sister get cold!
Three fish out of water?

Rare quiet time for mom
Youngest daughter with her doggie!
Mom and Dad and the kids
Betty with Bailey



Quiet time at the end of the day
Say goodbye to another day

Time for a fire and relaxing at the condo
Making s'mores




A perfect tree for climbing

Playing at a park on the Bay

It is hard to not have a great time at Balboa Park






70 Things To Do When You Turn 70
I found one of my books in Seaport Village!

Love to see them reading

It is time to call it a night




July 14, 2016

Retirement Planning With Extra Cash

retirement finances

This is a post that asks you to dream a little and share your thoughts with us. There are no bad choices, so don't hesitate to add your comment. 

Pretend that you have just inherited $3,000 with only one stipulation: you must spend the money on yourself. Giving the money to charity, putting it into a college fund for your grandchild, or paying down a credit card bill are all great uses for this extra cash. Fixing a balky air conditioner might be a necessity. But, for today and for for this post, don't think that way. Focus on you, what makes you happy, what you would add to your home, your life. 

Maybe you have been looking at a fancy new digital camera or long lens. There is a room in your home that would look so much better with fresh carpets or a wood floor. A couple of new power saws for your woodworking hobby would be perfect. How about a custom bookcase in the living room for all those books you have stacked in various corners around the house? That kitchen oven never holds the right temperature and has a broken stovetop burner. 

Dream and share. $3,000 isn't enough to take a cruise around the world, buy that 1965 Mustang you've had your eye on for years, or redo your master bath. But, it is enough to fulfill a wish, put a smile on your face, and make a corner of your world a happier place.

It is just a dream...I will not be awarding someone $3,000! But, I thought it would be fun to share what we would do with money that we must spend on our happiness, no matter how unrealistic the dream.

Ready, set....share!


July 11, 2016

What I Don't Do All Day in Retirement

Posts that detail what folks do with their time each day are among the most popular on this blog. Even for those of us who have been retired for quite some time, finding out what others do is interesting and often inspirational.

This time around, I want to take a different approach: here is a short list of six things I do not do as part of my satisfying retirement journey. 

1) Check my financial investments and the stock market daily. I can't think of a quicker way to drive myself crazy than watching the constant gyrations of the financial markets. There are folks who do that for a living. I use one of them to watch my money and let her try to make sense of a rather confusing system to protect me and my family's long term future. To my untrained eye, everything seems to run on emotion, rumor, or events in a place so distant I am lucky to find it on a map. What looks like good news to me sends the Dow Jones into a tailspin.

Once a month I add the various totals from my accounts to a spreadsheet. Even then, if there has been a slight dip I don't panic and place a call to the advisor. Over three or fourth months of downward dips, then things would begin to get my attention and prompt a few questions. But, even during the nasty times of 2008-2010 I didn't sell much or worry. I trusted the long term strength of the economy and her skills. It has paid off.

2) Regret something I did years ago. What would be the point? I can't change it, I can't relive it and do something differently. To regret it in a way that it remains bouncing around in my mind on a regular basis doesn't happen. I try to fix whatever happened as I move forward  and learn from that bad choice to avoid making it again.

3) Forget that the clock is ticking. I turned 67 two months ago. I am not a spring chicken. According to the life expectancy for the year I was born, 69 years on earth was what I should expect. Now that I have passed 65, that same chart gives me another 17 years. Based on family history and my overall health I plan on beating that. 

Even so, nearly 80% of my life is in the rear view mirror. It is my absolute intention to make that last 20% full of happiness, productivity, and doing things beneficial to others. We hear that life goes by so quickly. Yes, it does. I hear that clock ticking but I am not allowing it to terrify me or hold me back. 

4) Take my important relationships for granted. My wife, Betty, and I just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. That is just as hard to grasp as having 80% of my life behind me. She has been part of my life, a part of me for so long, my years before her almost don't seem real. We complete each other in ways that are too numerous to list. We help each other grow and change in positive ways, ways that would be impossible without each other.

My grown daughters have developed into tremendous adults. Each is comfortable in her own skin. Each has built a life that is satisfying for them. Having them close by is a blessing that shows itself every day. Adding grandkids to the mix is almost too much good news. 

5) Believe I can have a chili dog and onion rings for lunch and not pay a price. See point #3 above! What I eat, how I use my body, and the attention I pay to what it is telling me are mostly within my control. Shame on me if I trade my future for instant gratification today. My cardiac episode of last year was a powerful reminder.

6) Allow my mind to petrify. To stop learning new things, to stop listening to new music, to stop having conversations with people I disagree with, to stop engaging in the world, is to stop living. Frankly, it is easier at our age to let our thinking sort of calcify, to harden around what we know, to stick with what makes us happy and comfortable. It is hard work to push back against a mind that wants to just rest. It is also the way to slowly fade away. 


There are six things I try not to do as part of my satisfying retirement, if I can help it. Just so you know, I fail to live up to one or more of these points more often than I'd like to admit, even in a blog.



July 8, 2016

Sources of Your Retirement Income

credit: dontinvestandforget.com

This question is posed to me often enough to prompt an attempt at an answer. Probably the number one fear of the majority of retirees is whether enough money has been saved and invested, along with expected income from Social Security and a pension to last until that person's death. Where does my money come from when the checks stop?

Obviously, I don't know your specifics since the answer depends on your resources and how long you live. But, I do feel confident in outlining a few basic responses to the question of income and retirement. And, I urge you to add a comment at the end of the post if another idea comes to mind.

So, what are the sources of income when the regular paycheck stops? You might be surprised by the wide range of possibilities.


Social Security

The basic foundation that most of us use for our retirement. Out of a population of 46 million over the age of 65, nearly 40 million receive a monthly check from the government.  25% of that total 40 million recipients are disabled or dependent folks, many under the age of 65.

The amount of the payment is based on too many variables for this post, but the more you made during your working days, the amount of time you were employed, and when you start taking payments, determines your monthly check. Delayed acceptance and spousal benefits are other factors. 

Usually the amount of your payment increases each year with a cost of living adjustment based on inflation. For 2016 there was no increase even though most of us saw health costs, for example, jump. The average Social Security check is $1,300 a month. Medicare premiums are deduced from that base amount.


Pensions

Roughly 22% of Americans still receive a monthly payment for life from their employer under a defined benefit plan. That is down from 42% less than 30 years ago and is likely to continue to shrink in the years ahead. Companies are finding the benefits are becoming too great to maintain, particularly in the area of health care. If you worked for the government you are probably in better shape. Close to 90% of full time workers continue to receive defined benefits pensions.

To millions of us, a promise to pay doesn't always mean the reality of payment. Under severe financial stress, companies have found ways around a pension promise, leaving too many folks in dire straits. Planning your future around a private sector pension is becoming a bit of a roll of the dice.


IRA/401(k)

If you work for a company that offers a 401(k) retirement plan and contributes a percentage of your salary, this could be an important linchpin in your income stream for retirement. Likewise, a well-funded IRA is often a key to a satisfying retirement. Since having both an IRA and a 401(k) is allowed, if you afford to do so but money in both starting as early as you can. For those over 50, there is a special provision allowing extra money to be put in an IRA each year. 


Remember, the money grows tax-free but you are only delaying the tax bill that comes due when you withdraw funds. Be sure to take that into account. Of course, a Roth IRA allows you to invest money that has already been taxed, meaning it grows and will be withdrawn without any other deductions.

Investments

This covers things like mutual funds, bonds, and stocks that you have placed money in over the years. While there are some tax consequences, like capital gains tax, your investments provide income as you need it.


Annuities

This investment choice contains many too many variables and cautions to detail here. If you'd like a simple overview, click this link or search Google for more information. Annuities are designed to provide a fixed, monthly income for life from a lump sum of money you turn over to a private company.


Part time work

For many retirees, some retirement income comes from a part time job. Depending on the state of the economy and your particular skills, this is one way to supplement other income sources. 


Hobbies/skills

Not that different from part time work, turning a hobby or skill into retirement income is a natural for many folks. Love woodworking? Make cabinets or coffee tables. Know how to build a website? Help small businesses establish their presence on the Internet. Love to paint or take stunning photos? Sell them online or in books. Have specific knowledge about a particular industry? Become a consultant. 


Inheritance

For the lucky few, parents or relatives will leave you money, investments, or property that can be turned into a steady source of income. Unless you are quite sure this will happen, I'd strongly suggest you don't build your retirement plan around this possibility.

Hopefully, this list should encourage you. With the eight income possibilities listed here, plus whatever readers add, the way to pay for a satisfying retirement is likely within your grasp.



July 5, 2016

Retirement Lifestyle: Saving Time and Energy



retirement advice

Do you always seem to be playing catch up? Do you end your day with a longer list of things to-do than you started? Are you stressed by how you spend your time? Looking for a way to be more productive with our time is a continuous battle. Here are some steps you can take right now to help regain control of your clock and allow yourself more time and energy to enjoy summertime. 

Cut back on what you own. Our bigger living spaces and more possessions come with a double price: the cost to purchase them and then the time to maintain them. Adopt a simpler lifestyle and you will free up time previously spent on cleaning, fixing, and replacing. If you simplify enough, you may be able to work fewer hours because you are buying less stuff.

Eliminate major time wasters. Most lists would start with the television. The typical American watches 5 hours of TV every single day. Do you realize that equals 6 days in front of the tube every month. What could you do with an extra 6 days over the next 30? Turn off the television and find out.

Keep a detailed time log. For the next week, write down what you do and for how long. The idea is to get a real handle on where your time goes. Just like you need a budget to control the money you spend, you can’t save time if you aren’t really sure how you are spending it.

Re-think your routines and habits. Every morning I used to begin the day by reading two newspapers. Often that took an hour. It finally dawned on me that morning is when I’m most productive. It was a mistake to spend an hour or more on something I could do later in the day. Changing that one habit has made a huge difference in what I accomplish before lunch. How much of your schedule is habit instead of what is most productive? Pull out your time log and look for anything that might produce better results if you make a change. I am down to one newspaper and read it in the afternoon.

Consolidate your errands. If you make several trips in the car to run errands you are wasting money and time. With a little planning you may find you can do it all in one trip instead of several. How about waiting until tomorrow? What about running errands three days a week instead of six?

Go on a diet an Internet and social media diet. It is likely your time log will show that you’re spending large chunks of time checking your e-mail, Facebook friends, tweets, or just surfing away on the Internet without a real purpose. If that’s the case, go on an electronic diet. Ditch the mindless wandering from site to site. Realize a tweet can go unread for more than a few minutes. E-mail doesn't spoil, so check it later. Spend time at the sites that are important to you or help you solve a problem. Just like you lose weight by cutting calories, you gain time by cutting back the time you waste on the computer.

Do some chores at different times. Some of that time you are not spending in front of the TV or computer can be used for doing chores usually reserved for weekends. Just 30 minutes a few nights a week dedicated to chores will save more of your weekend for relaxing, having fun, or being with family and friends. Grab back your weekends.

Learn to say “No” to some of the requests for your time. It is good to help others who need you, just not to excess, Learn to say “Sorry” to stuff you really don’t want to do. Be a bit choosier about the volunteer work you accept. If someone is overusing your generous nature, become unavailable. Understand you are sacrificing your time to give someone else more time. Some sacrifice is good. Too much is probably not.


Time is the single most valuable resource we have. It is irreplaceable. It is priceless. We can’t increase it, but we can make the most of what we have. What you do with your time can be the difference between a satisfying retirement and productive life, or one that is constantly stressed and unfulfilled. What is your time plan?

July 4, 2016

4th of July

A very happy 4th of July  to everyone, everywhere. Even if you are reading this somewhere other than America, the ideas of freedom and sacrifice to achieve a goal are universal desires. 

We are spending a week with the whole family in San Diego, escaping the Phoenix heat and enjoying 7 days together.  If we are lucky we will even see some fireworks on the beach!


Happy Birthday, USA



July 1, 2016

Brexit and Retirement

Credit: dailymail.co.uk
The vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union came as a shock to everyone, maybe no more so than for the citizens of the U.K. The so-called Brexit vote caused financial markets around the world to plummet, the pound to take a beating, and the economic outlook for the rest of this year and beyond to look shaky. 

The referendum was a clear example of the power of political persuasion. Surveys after the event indicate that a lot of folks who were in favor of the U.K. remaining in the Union didn't bother to vote, assuming their side would be the winner. Meanwhile, some of those wishing for the Brexit voted for that outcome without understanding the ramifications, or even believing their vote mattered. In part, they responded to emotional appeals to halt immigration and protest the regulations coming from Brussels, both of which are important problems. But, leaving the EU will have a direct and long-lasting impact on the economy that will have a serious effect on individuals.

What does the turmoil in Great Britain and the rest of unified Europe matter to those of us who live in America and are retired, or moving in that direction? Our political narrative seems to be leaning toward a turning inward of our economy and commitments. Trade pacts, tariffs, protectionism......concepts most of us are not well versed on but have a direct effect on our daily life have taken on a new urgency since the U.K. vote. 

Satisfying Retirement Journey is not a financial blog. I am not going to give my opinions on the relative merits and pitfalls of such talk. But, I am comfortable in offering some thoughts on how all of this may impact your retirement.

Certainly in the short term, the Brexit vote will be a drag on the world's economic health. As of this writing, the Dow Jones Average has recovered most of the nearly 1,000 point drop it suffered in the first few days. If you were brave enough to look at your investments during that period, antacid pills were probably required. Now, with more than a week of the upheaval behind us, things have stabilized. No doubt more economic shocks are ahead of us. But, the initial shock has passed.

Looking ahead, it could take two years for the U.K. to cut its ties with the European Union. During that time there will be ongoing negotiations to determine the part Great Britain will play in the world economy. The world markets hate uncertainty and that will be our future for quite some time. I expect that means difficulty in planning and projections of financial impact and that translates into an unstable period.

For our retirement planning, I suggest this should mean four things:

1. Make no immediate changes to retirement investments or holdings. The worst time to make financial decisions is when stress and uncertainty are present. Just ask someone who dumped everything in 2008.


2. Review any foreign holdings you have. Those in European countries should be watched carefully as things unfold over the next several months and years. Projections of the Brexit effect on financial growth are purely guesses at this point. All foreign investments need extra scrutiny in periods like this. Yes, money is made in down markets if you know what you are doing. Abandoning investments outside the U.S. is not the answer. Being vigilant is.


3. If you have been looking for an excuse to downsize and simplify, use Brexit as a motivator. Sometimes it just takes an outside event to push us in a direction we want to travel. Use economic uncertainty as a reason to reduce your expenses and cut back on consumption. Even if there is little direct impact on your financial health from the world situation, cutting back to bring needs and wants in better balance is always a good thing.


4. Pay attention to the upcoming election, get beyond the sound bites, and vote in November. As I noted earlier, there are reports of "buyer's remorse" from some who voted for leaving the European Union. Those folks say they did not know the impact their "leave" vote would have on their daily lives, or they thought of their vote as just a protest that would not affect the final results. Many in the "Remain" camp made similar miscalculations when they assumed the outcome of the referendum would be to stay, so they didn't bother to vote.

Could we allow assumptions and miscalculations to have unintended consequences this fall? Absolutely. Is there a "do-over" option come November 9th?  Not until November of 2020.