September 24, 2017

Hurricanes and Retirement : What Do They Share?

The devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is very fresh in our minds. The rebuilding of lives and property will continue well into the future; some people and places will never be the same. I feel for these losses and the massive toll on the countries hit and the people fighting to come back. At the same time, floods in Italy, Malaysia, India, just to name a few other locations, have wreaked absolute havoc.

Preparation before disaster strikes is essential in a world where nature seems to be running wild. A "what will be will be" attitude may work when it is time to choose a restaurant for dinner, but not when confronting Mother Nature in all her power.

Since my mind is a little odd, it occurred to me that preparing for an event like a hurricane or typhoon is somewhat akin to we should do before retirement strikes. Of course, a storm usually passes in a few hours though rebuilding may take weeks or months, even years, to repair.  There may be injuries, even deaths. 

Certainly, I don't mean to minimize the seriousness of a major storm. I have lived through a few hurricanes and they are terrifying. But, if you will allow me to extend the metaphor, when retirement hits us we have another 20 or 30 years to adjust to. So, being fully prepared makes tremendous sense.

*Loss of power. In a major storm, we are likely to lose electricity for awhile. Cell phone service, Internet access, all are at risk. During retirement we are threatened with a different type of power loss: loss of energy, drive, and goals that we strive for. No power for a few hours or even days can be quite uncomfortable. No energy or drive during retirement can has longer lasting effects.

*Loss of belongings and stability. Pictures from the hurricanes' aftermaths show the heartbreaking devastation of houses, businesses, property, even the landscapes. Harvey left tens of thousands of cars underwater. Irma flattened some Caribbean islands beyond recognition and forever altered parts of Florida. Puerto Rico may be without dependable utilities well into next year.

Retirement is not that dramatic, but there is a type of loss, a loss of belonging to a group of coworkers or an organization. The stability of a regular paycheck is replaced with the hope your financial walls are strong enough to withstand the wind. 

*Forced change in routine. Think of the pictures of the thousands of people housed in shelters. Think of all the lives that will be on hold for weeks or months. Everyday routines will be upended for the foreseeable future.

Retirement suddenly puts you in charge of 24 hours a day. Almost like a storm survivor, a newly retired person is really starting over in how his day is managed. You must develop new routines and a daily schedule.

*Storm warnings ignored. I guess it is part of human nature, but I always wonder what possesses someone to ride out a hurricane believing it won't be that bad. If you can evacuate but choose not to that is risking your life as well as those who must rescue you.

In retirement, a storm warning can come in various forms: a report from your doctor of health problems, a statement from your financial institution that your withdrawal rate is dangerously high, an argument with a spouse or partner that is more severe than normal. Like a serious hurricane warning, you are putting a lot at risk if you ignore the warnings you receive during retirement.

Hurricanes can change someone's life completely, and rarely in a good way. You have very little control. Retirement will change your life. Whether it is a positive or negative experience is much more in your control. Make the most of it.

September 21, 2017

14 Day Challenge: Examine Your Preconceptions

Today, I am assigning you a task. It will not be particularly easy because it requires you to look at some of your preconceptions and decide if each is still valid. To keep things moving I am asking you to complete this challenge in the next two weeks, give or take. In 14 days, give or take, I will ask you to report on your progress. And, yes, I will participate fully. To begin, let's think about what types of preconceptions might qualify for examination. 

How we think about aging

This is a biggie. I would guess all of us have certain images in our mind of what getting older means. Physical decline, financial struggles, moving out of our home, or the loss of a partner can certainly part of that preconception.

Hopefully, the last 7 years of this blog have added notions like freedom to change and grow or learning to say, "No," and controlling our commitments. Realizing that plans change, life unfolds in ways we never expected, or that the decades we may spent in retirement are ours to shape. Maybe we firmly believe our physical and mental decline can be slowed and altered to a degree. Does your conception of what it means to age well need adjusting?

What are your preconceptions about death? As we get closer to the finish line than the beginning of our journey do we need to adjust how we think about this final step? 

How we think about people not like us

The last election and its aftermath have brought this set of preconceptions into sharper focus. For Americans, Charlottesville may come to mind first. But, it is certainly not the only case of serious problems when people of different beliefs, politics, races, and religions come into contact, and conflict. London, Barcelona, Paris, Mumbai, Madrid, Quebec City....these place and many others have suffered as well.

As humans we tend to want to cluster with people like us.  Problems arise when we treat "the others" as inferior, wrong, or dangerous simply because they are not us. Of course, since there are over 7 billion people in the world, only a very small percentage of the total are just like us.  

Obviously, there are those who are dangerous, harmful, hateful, and out to do you and me harm. But, there are unnecessary problems when we begin to assume that everyone who is a member of a group that is not like us falls into that same dangerous category. This is not an easy set of  preconceptions to think about. It is even tougher to change them.  Do you have any goals in this area?

How we define success

During my business career, success was easy to define: more business, more money, bigger house, more industry accolades. After retirement, every single thing that I thought of as being successful was not. Isn't that amazing: retirement forced a total reversal of a notion I had held since my teens.

Now that you are retired, what is success to you? How you define it will impact much of what you do and own. I will guess that success means something very different now than it did earlier in your life.

How we interact with other family members

Some of us have convoluted, messy relationships with family members. It may be that brother or sister who you stopped talking to twenty years ago, for reasons you can't quite remember. It may be a grown child who seems to turned his back on everything you tried to teach him. Or, It may be a strong, interconnected family makeup: you spend time together, really enjoying each others' company. You may not communicate often with your siblings but you know each will be available for the other in times of family crisis. Now that you think about it, reaching out to them is past due.

Now is the time to question all those relationships. Are preconceived notions of a sister or aunt keeping you from adding them back into to your life? Did some family member hurt you years ago, and that slight has kept you apart far too long? Maybe you continue to interact with someone in your family who is toxic for you: you dread your visits together. That person makes you feel bad about yourself, yet you feel a sense of obligation to keep up those familial ties.

If certain relationships are strong and nurturing are you doing the work needed to keep them that way? Do you assume things will always go well so extra efforts aren't needed?

How we want to be remembered

While I was working, I liked the ego satisfaction of seeing my name and picture in one of my industry trade publications. I loved being quoted or interviewed. I felt good when someone approached me about retaining my services. I figured I would be remembered as an influential person in my career field. Well, no big surprise, within a year or so I was forgotten. The industry had moved on and others had become the hot new topics. Old clients remembered my name and occasionally made contact, but even that stopped within 2 years of retirement. Thirty five years of work had vanished.

Now, that "success" is the farthest thing from my mind. I don't want to be remembered for my radio shows or the music formats I developed. I have no interest in being remembered for any of those things. That chapter of my life is over and the book has been closed. What I had perceived as the essential Bob Lowry turned out to be temporary and fleeting. 

So, what are my measure of success? Is the word, success, even a good fit for what I want to accomplish?

What about you? Give yourself some time to think about these preconceptions. Feel free to comment on where you are at the moment. Make a public declaration of your preconceptions as of today in one or more of these areas. 

Then, look for a follow up post in a few weeks so we can discuss our changes, if any!

This could be an interesting experiment.

September 19, 2017

Are We Building a Community Together?

Over the past year or so something has begun to happen on Satisfying Retirement: people are leaving comments not only for me, but for others. A comment on a post triggers a reaction from another reader who wants to share his or her thoughts with the original commenter. Suddenly, a conversation begins. A shared community begins to develop.

I couldn't be more pleased. This development is something not all blogs encounter. It only happens when readers sense a shared set of experiences with others. It only happens when there is a trust that comments will be treated with respect. And, it only happens when readers have been visiting the blog on a regular basis over many months, or even years.

This short post is really just a way of saying thank you. Thank you for caring enough to interact with not only me, but others. Thank you for being constructive, supportive, and educational. Thank you for helping to encourage a sense of community, of conversations that add something to all of our lives.

A blog has the potential for being a modern day equivalent of a conversation over a back fence, or on a shared bench in the town square, neighborhood park, or over a cup of coffee. It has the opportunity to become a collection of not only readers, but also friends who genuinely care about each other. 

The majority of readers will never comment; the national average is about 95%. But, even for all those folks, when someone else expands on an exchange and a conversation built around a particular post, everyone benefits. Everyone feels more comfortable spending time here.

So, I want you to know I notice the back-and-forth in the comment sections. I encourage that growth in our journey together. I deeply appreciate the trust you exhibit in your fellow readers by doing so.

A community of us, building a satisfying retirement journey together, is fabulous to watch develop.

If you have friends who you think might like what is happening on these pages, I do ask one favor: invite them to try this blog for a few weeks. See what is happening here, add their own thoughts if they feel comfortable in doing so. Expanding our community would add to our shared experiences.

Again, Thank you.


September 16, 2017

Should You Continue To Invest After Retirement?

I am not sure I have ever written about this subject before. Satisfying Retirement is not a financial blog, but our monetary resources are an important part of how well we live, so it is not a subject I ignore. If you search the archives there are plenty of blog posts about preparing yourself for retirement, managing your money, budgeting, and all the basic steps that help keep us financially afloat.

But, what about after retirement...are we done investing new money? Do we take what we have and figure that is what has to last for the rest of our lives? I can only speak for me, but, yes, that has been my assumption. After all, I don't work anymore. I have no "extra" income do I? What would I use to invest?

Actually,  the more I thought about it, the more obvious became the fact that I do have money to invest. Maybe my days of making fresh financial decisions are not over. Here are some of my thoughts:

1) In an earlier post I mentioned that my wife will begin receiving spousal benefits from Social Security early in 2019. Our first thought was to just toss that extra income in our travel and vacation fund, and that still might happen. But, we could put it into one of our investment accounts and let it grow. If we don't need it down the road, the kids' inheritance would be a bit larger.

2) While not everyone's case, I have yet to start taking money from my IRA. In less than two years that will change. I will have to start withdrawing money.   The Required Minimum Distribution is the government's way to insure it begins to get some taxes from the money that has been safely tucked away and growing the last 30+ years.

Like the spousal benefits, I have been living without IRA money for the past few years, I don't see that changing anytime soon. So, that forced withdrawal can be invested. I will have to check on the tax ramifications; it would be counterproductive for that money to be taxed twice. But, it is possible.

3) The inheritance I received from my parents generates money. Because we live a modest lifestyle most of the time that inheritance generates more money than we spend each year. Our financial advisor automatically reinvests whatever there is. If I don't see the extra, I am not tempted to spend it.

4) At the end of some years there is leftover cash. Expenses were lower than we had budgeted for. This post that has forced me to consider alternatives. We have just rolled that money over into the next year allowing for more money in certain budget categories for the new year. But, we could take the unspent funds and plug it back into investment accounts.

I guess all this begs the question: why would I want to keep investing? For me, there are two answers: I am naturally conservative and I don't know what the future holds. Honestly, I don't know which, if any, of these ideas I will follow. But, just knowing that investing after retirement is not such a far-fetched idea has been helpful.

September 13, 2017

If I Had Heeded This Advice...

Which why to go?

....from my grandfather when I was 12 years old, my life would have been totally different. It is likely I would have not developed an intense interest in radio that led to a 40 year career. Without that decision I would have not been in a particular town to meet a particular woman who would become my wife. 

The backstory is simple: at the age of twelve I had been selected to become a counselor in training at a YMCA camp an hour or so from my home. I was too young to have much authority, so my job was to help the 16 year old counselors manage the young boys in our dormitory, make sure they got enough sleep, made it to breakfast, and spent their two weeks having fun.

Apparently, I was a rather "young" twelve. I didn't know how to motivate the younger kids. I allowed cliques to develop that targeted certain boys for bullying. Within four or five days I was homesick and wanted to leave. My parents suggested I give the experience another few days to see if things evened out. They did not. So, at the end of the first week, mom and dad drove to the camp, picked me up, and took me home. They were obviously disappointed but didn't make me feel bad about my "failure" to stick it out.

When my grandfather was informed, he wrote me a long letter (back in the days when letters were the way to communicate!).  After several supportive comments he began a section that he felt his grandson needed to hear: that I had given up too soon, I needed to give things time to develop, and I had to keep commitments. He let me know he loved me and hoped I had learned some valuable lessons from the experience. He suggested I return the next summer and stick it out.

So, how did this change my life? Since  I was home for the summer instead of away at camp, I discovered a passion that would be the center of my life for the rest of my working years. I visited a local radio station and fell in love. Within 3 years I would be a 15 year old disc jockey with my own show after school and on weekends.

That would lead to other radio stations and other cities. In one I  fell head over heels in love with a woman who would become my wife and the mother of my children. Eventually, I would decide to come off the air and become a consultant and market researcher, helping almost 200 other radio stations maximize their potentials. That allowed me to save and invest enough to retire at 52 and begin my satisfying retirement.

My grandfather wasn't wrong. His advice was correct and something I needed to be told. He let me know I had some growing up to do. But, as things worked out, if I had gone back to the camp the following year, it is likely the circumstances that put me inside a radio station and became my career would not have been the same. 

The point of this story? Sometimes an event that shapes our lives is triggered by a disappointing outcome or failure of some kind. We can let that define us and limit what we are willing to try. Or, we can chalk it up to a learning experience and move in another direction or attack the problem with a new perspective.

Advice should come with a warning label. It could be exactly what you need to hear, or might be "hazardous to your health." That is a decision you will have to make. I am quite comfortable that I ended up on the right path.

September 10, 2017

Working After Retirement: Not All That Unusual Anymore

The concept of working after retirement is not new. Over the years many folks have found their resources insufficient to maintain an acceptable satisfying retirement lifestyle. Others have planned well, but a catastrophic medical situation has devastated their retirement accounts. Some have found themselves paying for the care of aging parents. More than half of all retirees have debts when they stop working.  Whatever the reason, having a new source of income after retiring from a career or life-long job has become a part of life for many. 

Retirement does not mean the end of producing income through some form of work. But, what is happening is a noticeable shift in the percentage of those over 65 working at least part time. The most recent figures show that almost 20% work full or part-time. That is the highest level since the recession of 2008-2009.

Consider that the average life expectancy was 63 years when Social Security was first created. Today, it is approaching 80. Living well into one's 90's or even 100+ is not all that unusual. The number of years a recent retiree must support him or herself has increased over the last several decades. So, to retire and then begin to rework is becoming more common and necessary for many.

What is also slowly changing is the attitude among many employers. While some younger workers may have problems working with older folks, employers are beginning to understand the benefits of hiring older workers. The years of experience, the dependability and generally positive attitudes of working seniors, and often, the lack of expensive benefits makes hiring retirees who want to re-enter the workforce a smart decision. 

Assuming for now that you may be one of those who wants to work even though you are "retired," there are several options for you to consider. Your decision will be based on your skills and previous employment, whether or not benefits  are important, and how flexible you are.  If you have discovered a way that suits you, I encourage you to share your ideas and suggestions in the comment section.

The most common choice is some form of part time employment. We are all familiar with the stereotype of the senior acting as a greeter at Wal-Mart. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that choice. If you love people this may be a perfect fit. But, it is certainly not the only option. I've seen men and women in their 60's working at a gym as a personal trainer or leading exercise classes for older folks. If you are in good shape and have some background in this field, why not?

For the several months leading up to April 15th, most tax preparation companies hire extra help to manage the crush of people needing help. The same situation occurs during the Christmas holiday season at many retail stores. Because your availability is probably flexible, this could be a great way to add several hundred, if not thousands of dollars to your bank balance. Amazon hires tens of thousands of seasonal workers to help fulfill online orders at their centers located all over the country.

What about being a tour guide? I did that for several years. It was fun, put me in contact with lots of people, wasn't strenuous, and paid well.  Are you an early riser? Newspapers are still looking for dependable folks with cars to deliver their product first thing every morning. How about working at a retail establishment or big box store like Home Depot or Costco?  

Betty and I have used the Uber ride service a few times over the last several months. At least half our drivers have been over 55. One of our friends is a traveling nurse. She works for 2 to 4 months in a location, hooks up her RV, and she and her husband are off to another clinic or hospital wanting part time help.

As a part time employee you are probably not going to receive any benefits. But, you do have more control over how much free time you maintain and how many hours you want to work.

Starting your own business, either as a full time or part time venture, is a serious option for many. Maybe you spent your career chomping at the bit to do something different or better than your former employer. Can you become a consultant and help those in your former industry to succeed? What about that idea for a line of colorful and unique bird houses? You love woodworking...go for it! Quilt-making, dog walking, tax and accounting services, computer setup and classes...the list is endless. Have you considered buying a business that is already operating?

Don't forget franchising. Maybe you have always wanted to own and operate your own ice cream store, carpet cleaning business, pre-school, or fast food restaurant. While not cheap, using the expertise and proven systems of a franchise can get you up and running much more quickly than attempting the entire process on your own.

The concept of cycling in and out of the work force seems to be gaining favor. Work to earn enough extra money for a dream vacation and then stop working. After the vacation or time off, rejoin the work force for awhile,  then go off on another adventure. An unexpected batch of medical bills lends itself to this approach, too. Obviously, part time employment is really your only viable option if this is your plan. Being a consultant, tax preparer, or any type of seasonal work would lend itself well to this approach.

Cycling works best in an economic situation where jobs are plentiful and your skills lend themselves to this type of drop-in/drop-out work. Like any part time work, benefits will probably be non-existent, but more control over your schedule is likely.

If you think working again might be right for you but aren't sure what to do, the web site Fifty Best After Retirement Business ideas has some excellent suggestions. 

One caution: remember that before your full retirement age (probably 66) there is a limit to how much you can earn before Social Security benefits are reduced. After that age, you are free to earn as much as you can with no reduction.

You can also contribute to a traditional IRA until age 70 1/2  or a Roth IRA at any age. If you don't need all the extra money earned while working, this is a good way to pad your retirement accounts.

Personally, I am pleased to see working after retirement is a very viable possibility for many. The desire to remain productive, be part of a group of people working together, and providing extra financial support help make this stage of life more satisfying. It can open up opportunities for travel and personal growth or support for other family members. Not all of us want to return to a lifestyle we happily left, but having that option is good.


September 8, 2017

I Need Your Feedback

I have started writing a new book about retirement. This would be my third. Sales of the first two continue but the latest one is over four years old so now is the time. At this point I have finished a rough draft of two of the nine chapters I envision.

But, the last few days have given me pause, and I'd like your feedback. There are a lot of books about retirement. I receive information about a new one on this subject at least once a week. Some are good, some not so much. But, the bottom line is there are thousands of books about retirement covering every aspect of this important subject. 

I am asking myself now, before I put several months into this project, whether the world needs another book about having a satisfying retirement. Is there any part of retirement finances, relationships, passion-building, travel, time management, and volunteering that need covering again in a book format?

Blog posts about retirement are different. 700 words can be read in a few minutes. The ability to comment or read what others have to say makes each post a potential learning experience. There is a feeling of community on these pages.

So, here comes the request for your feedback: should I write a new book about retirement? Is there something you think I could bring to the subject that is missing from many of the others in this category? Would another Satisfying Retirement book help people? If the answer is, Yes, then I will continue. There is a central focus for the book I have in mind. I have gained enough experience over the last several years to still have plenty to say.

But, if you believe my efforts may be best spent elsewhere, I would deeply appreciate your saying so. Is there a another subject you think might be productive for me to explore?  Should I save my writing for these blog posts and spend my creative time finding new things to explore on these pages? Maybe it is time I explore videos on YouTube or podcasts.

At this point I am open to all ideas. Obviously, I am comfortable writing about retirement and can produce a quality product. But, maybe I am stuck in one area. Maybe the time is now to write about something else.

Please rest assured, I am not talking about changing this blog. This is my home and where my on-line family and friends are.  I just would like some feedback before I write 250 pages on a subject that maybe has been adequately covered! To write and produce a book that may not attract many readers is probably not the best use of my time. 

I am quite anxious to read your thoughts. Thanks for anything you care to share.

September 5, 2017

5 Questions To Ask Before You Move

Even though only a small percentage of folks decide to move shortly after retirement, it remains a topic of real interest to many blog readers. Part of the image we carry into retirement is a move to a beach side cottage or mountain chalet. We leave behind cold weather or the desert heat and live out our years of freedom in a place that keeps appearing in our dreams.

One of my most emphatic cautions to someone who has recently retired is to not move right away. There are so many adjustments retirement requires that to add the stress of a relocation is dangerous to one's health and happiness. Certainly, after careful consideration and time, moving to a place that would make someone happy is encouraged. 

Even then, there are five key questions that need to be asked. If living with someone, his or her responses are just as important. To move when only half of a couple agrees can lead to an unhappy environment. 

1) How much will you miss the familiarity of where you live now? 

If you live someplace long enough I'm sure you'd had this feeling: the car could drive itself by now. Where you do your grocery shopping, where the movie theater and home improvement stores are, which are the best nearby parks, how close are  the doctors' offices you visit, your church, your favorite restaurants, even how the streets are named and laid out....all these patterns of daily life give us comfort. Patterns and familiarity are two character traits all humans share.

When you move, all that changes. Some people find that newness exciting; it stimulates them. Others become frustrated and critical: the stores were better at home, I can't remember where the streets go, our only choice to eat out is at chain restaurants, and so on.

Don't discount the role of familiarity in your satisfaction. Consider how important it is to your happiness before giving it up.

2) Will moving make seeing family easier or harder? 

Not surprisingly, one of the key reasons retirees eventually move is because of family. Often, the motivation is to be closer to grown children, grandkids, or other relatives. Occasionally, it is the opposite: to establish some breathing space and escape from too much closeness. Either motivations needs discussion. Ask yourself if you are moving to something, or away from something.

Moving closer to family means more time with each other. Shared birthdays, holidays, and special occasions are easier to schedule. Maybe you'd like to help with babysitting or transportation needs. Very possibility, you sense that the grandkids don't really know you very well or see you often enough to form a real bond.

The flipside are folks who have experienced all of that closeness, and now want to cut back on the sense of obligation and regular contact. Even loving families need time apart, If you feel your closeness is being taken advantage of, then moving far enough away to make a return visit a special occasion may be exactly what is best. 

3) Will you enjoy the new climate full time? 

The idea of living by the ocean, dressed in a T-shirt, bathing suit, and flipflops every day of your life sounds perfect to many. Being a stone's through from a ski resort with all those beautifully groomed trails makes your heart race. Making your home in a location with all four seasons sounds heavenly after years in someplace that is lucky to have two (think Phoenix, Miami, or Southern California!). That two weeks you spent on Kauai convinced you heaven on earth does exist.

Moving for a change in the climate is a reason often given. The reality is, however, that the change you want may be too much of a good thing. If you haven't shoveled snow for several decades, lived with air conditioning for 9 months of the year, or endured months of cloudy, rainy skies, you may find your dream becomes a nightmare when it is your forever home. 

I strongly recommend you rent an apartment, condo, or home, for at least a full year before committing to a permanent relocation. 

4) Are there good medical and support systems?

Finding a new doctor or dentist is never a pleasant task. With the state of our healthcare system, moving to another part of the country becomes even more of a chore, if you are not yet qualified for Medicare. Does my insurance company operate in that locale? Are there enough doctors and specialists who are accepting new patients? 

While the dream of relocating to a rural area, living on a few acres, and being away from the suburban hassle may sound idyllic, consider the availability of medical care. Being far away from a clinic or hospital can be a very real problem. Being miles from the closest doctor may be a deal breaker.

5) Is the cost of living within your budget?

As much as you and your significant other may love the idea of  urban living in San Francisco, New York City, San Diego, or Honolulu, the cost of housing in those markets means many retirees could not even consider such a move. Do you just want a small fixer upper in the Bay Area? Do you have close to a million dollars? Honolulu is a relative bargain: $600,000 should get you a tiny place within a mile or two of the water. Of course, with those sky high housing costs come higher prices for everyday necessities. Apartment and condo prices are just as shocking.

The opposite situation drives some to move to other parts of the country. Housing prices in parts of the Midwest, Great Plains and South can be a bargain. You may be able to afford the home or land of your dreams for much less than what housing costs you now. 

Don't forget utility costs. Heating, cooling, water...all the costs to keep your new home comfortable should be carefully reviewed. And, property taxes can be quite a shock. Tens of thousands of dollars a year in real estate taxes can punch a major hole in your budget if you used to paying much less.

A move is considered to be one of the most stressful things we can do. That is doubly true after retirement. The costs and upheaval of relocating should not be ignored. That said, if you are comfortable with the answers to the questions above, crave a fresh start and are exciting by the possibilities of change, then go for it. Being unhappy where you are is no prescription for a satisfying retirement, either.

September 2, 2017

What Are Passion Piles? Do You Have Some?

First question, what's a passion pile? For purposes of this post, it is what I need to enjoy a hobby or interest. For example, to enjoy playing a guitar I need an instrument, music books, and a place with good light and space. A passion pile contains what I need to make the most of the time I have set aside to do something I like. Since one of the most-asked questions is "what do you do all day after retirement," I thought you might find some answers based on what I do.

In one of my file drawers are materials and inspirations I need for this blog. After 7 years I can write one of these articles pretty quickly. What takes the time is deciding on a topic. As you might imagine, after nearly 1,000 posts virtually all the topics that relate to a satisfying retirement have been covered, and covered again. To keep readers coming back I have to find new ways of presenting the same information. Or, I have to find a fresh approach to a common problem: a good example is the idea of "passion piles." 

Links to web sites, things on Twitter or Facebook, questions or suggestions from readers, newspaper or magazine clippings, even random thoughts I have while doing something else are stored away until I am facing a writing deadline without an idea of how to fill 600 words. 

I am considering writing a new book about retirement. That means another filing drawer of rough drafts and partially finished chapters printed out for my review and corrections. Actually, I will be asking for your feedback on this project in a few days.

The previously mentioned guitar is probably better described as a passion corner. The guitar hangs on a hook on the wall behind the printer. A collapsible music stand and various books of songs are kept on a nearby shelf. A few times a week I close the office door and plunk my way through 30 minutes of practice. Since my office is next to the living room, I have noticed Betty puts on earphones when I start to play, but I am assuming that is just a coincidence.

Reading is a serious passion of mine. On average, I probably finish a book a week. That means I have several stacks in various places in the house, at various stages of completion. When the urge hits, I am never more than a few steps away from something I can pick up and immerse myself in a mystery or whatever non-fiction topic has captured me at the time. Having recently seen the powerful movie, Dunkirk, I have located a book to help me know more about this momentous event.

Ham radio has been a hobby for over 10 years. My office has half a dozen different amateur radios just to the right of the computer. A few different types of antennas are strung around the attic, allowing me to talk to other hams across town and on the other side of the globe. Some reference books for the hobby are kept close-by.

I written before about refinishing and restoring vintage radios as a new interest. That requires several large and growing larger passion piles. 

Beside the radios themselves, there are all the spare parts, wood stains, furniture strippers, soldering irons, cleaning rags, screwdrivers, and other things needed to bring these 1940's era radios back to life.

Betty has been teaching me the best way to sand, strip off old finishes, and use shellac or stain on the wooden cases. This is something I have never done before; it is a new challenge.

I have taken the attitude that if I can't fix a radio or  if I turn a working one into a non-working hunk of tubes and parts, that is OK. Learning to do something new requires some failures along the way. 

Update: Just in the last few days I have done exactly that: tried to update the insides of a 1945 radio. Instead a large puff of smoke meant it would be pretty to look at but will no longer work!

A pile that is quite small at the moment but will grow in a few weeks is the material I need to teach a Junior Achievement class at the local elementary school. The organization provides a clear-sided briefcase packed with everything needed to fill a 45 minute lesson once a week. Even so, I must take the teacher's guide and figure out the best way to reach the kids who are setting in front of me, near the end of their school day, very ready to head home.

Finally, one passion pile includes all the stuff we need for upcoming trips and vacation ideas we think would be fun. A folder for our European river cruise next May, an upcoming family trip to Flagstaff to take part in a fun run for Parkinson's Disease, thoughts on day trips inspired by the post on Retirement Travels of a few weeks ago, and a cruise to the South Pacific when our budget recovers.

Often all we need is a nudge or a reminder of something that is satisfying to fill our time in a meaningful way. Passion piles, or simply things that engage your interests and enthusiasms if you prefer, helps answer the question of what a retired person can do with all that free time. 

What type of "passion piles" you you have? 

August 30, 2017

Maintaining Your Balance In a Retirement Relationship

 A reader posed an interesting, and important question to me a few weeks ago. She is wondering about retired couples whose desires aren't always in alignment. What can be done if one half of a couple wants to go in one direction, while the other person doesn't.

She cited travel as a good example of this type of conflict. One person really has his or her heart set on seeing the world, or at least someplace farther away than the local shopping mall. The other is a homebody and resists travel requests. Why? Health issues, financial worries, fear of uncertainty,....there are all sorts of reasons why travel is a turnoff for someone. 

This type of disagreement is important to resolve. Travel may be one obvious point of contention, but  probably not the only one. In a post a few weeks ago, I wrote that loosening the purse strings is difficult for many of us. Downsizing or moving to someplace with a different climate, eliminating or adding possessions,  redoing the budget, cutting back to one car (or maybe none in an urban setting), even interactions with other family members, are other possibilities for differences of opinion.

Virtually any aspect of a human relationship can become magnified during retirement. Being together full time and maintaining a healthy, supportive relationship takes some compromise. It requires each person to be able to listen to another's concerns without becoming judgemental.

So, what to do? How does a couple maintain a balance between different wants and points of view? It certainly isn't healthy for one person to always dictate what is done. Maybe I can present a few possibilities for you to consider.

Each of us must accept the legitimacy of the other person's point of view. While we may disagree, it doesn't help to dismiss something as silly or wrong. By definition, an opinion does not have to be based on facts. But, that doesn't mean it isn't very real to someone.

I can't stress enough the importance of compromise from both members of the relationship. If you don't accept the other person's view of things, you will have to develop the ability to find a way to blend their approach and yours. It isn't likely to be a 50-50 split; sometimes you will get more of your way and sometimes you won't. If you can't accept this, the long term health of the relationship is in doubt.  

Understand that we don't lose our individuality when we form a bond with another. Even as part of a couple, there are times we need to do what is important to each of us. That doesn't diminish the power of two, it accepts the fact that there are two separate human being involved. That means each of you need "me" time to be happy when together. 

I know couples who require individual time apart, either for a few hours, or even longer. Several years ago when my travel schedule was hectic and home life was a bit tense, Betty suggested I take a two week vacation, alone, to my favorite place in the world, Maui.  After I got over the amazement of the generosity of the offer and her ability to know what we both needed at that time, I spent a glorious 14 days, alone, decompressing, shedding most of my tensions and concerns. I returned grateful, in much better condition to carry on with life, and with a scuba diving certificate!

A comment already added to this post reminded me that Betty also took a 2 week "sabbatical." After I returned from Maui, she headed off to Wisconsin for a 14 day drive around the state, doing what she loves best: staying in B&Bs and taking lots of movies and photos.

If I leave you with just one thought it is that a couple committed to each other will resolve these differences. Accept that both of you are equals, each view has validity, and there is a way to blend all ideas into a workable plan. Also, feel free to think outside the box. A two week trip, alone, to Maui or Wisconsin, certainly broke most "rules," but was exactly what was needed at that time.

August 27, 2017

Social Security: How Worried Are You About Its Future?

According to official figures, 53% of married couples and 74% of unmarried Americans count on Social Security for at least half of their retirement income. Almost half of those unmarried persons rely on Social Security for virtually all of their income. In real numbers that means probably living on less than $1,300 a month. 

Enough has been written about the problems facing Social Security and the dwindling funds meant to support it. Demographic factors, government's use of the money intended for Social Security for other purposes, and the politics of it all could spell a shaky future ahead for something that virtually all older Americans receive. Various dates have been published, but most predict there will not be enough money to pay full benefits beginning in the next 12-17 years.

Small Cost-of living adjustments were made this year, but disappeared for most because of an increase in Medicare Part B costs that matched the increase (strange how that happens). Full Retirement age also started moving upwards this year. For those born in 1955, 66 years and 2 months becomes the new age to reap 100% of expected monthly payments.

The effect will be small but produce an unexpected consequence: choosing to receive checks at 62 will actually mean taking benefits that are reduced even further than one might expect because of those pesky 2 months. And, that reduction will continue for the rest of one's life. The full retirement age will continue to increase by 2 months for those born in subsequent years until it reaches 67 for those born after 1959.

I don't want this post to become political finger-pointing. There are enough reasons and blame for Social Security's problems to go around. Since the problems became obvious to anyone paying attention, both parties, Congress and presidents have kicked the can down the road. In about a decade there is going to be no more road.

The questions I'd like you to consider are: how worried are you that your benefits are going to be cut? How will that affect you? Do you think your children or grandchildren will face a future without Social Security? 

What may be the solutions: Full retirement becomes 70, reduced payments are made to those who have substantial portfolios, the payroll tax increases, it becomes illegal to tap the Trust Fund for other uses?

For blog readers in other countries, what does your government do with the idea of retirement checks? Is your system in good shape, or are you just as concerned as many Americans?

This could become a fascinating sharing experience for us all. I doubt we will solve the problems, but we may learn something along the way that helps us plan our future.

August 24, 2017

What Time Do You Start Your Retirement Day?

I will admit, the posts that get the most readership and comments are never the ones I expect. This one is a good example. First posted over 4 years ago, it continues to be read to this day. The original post had many more comments than I thought it would generate. I guess the topic is universal and we are all curious about what other folks do.

In any case, here is the original post from early in 2013:

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 2He 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. 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!

August 21, 2017

Loosening the Purse Strings

When I first retired I was worried about my finances. Would the money we had invested and saved be enough? Since I quit work a good ten years earlier than I planned, how would we pay for everything that was to come? Would we end up in a spare room in one of our kids' homes? 

Regular blog readers know the answer: Everything worked out just fine. My financial fears lasted a few years and then slowly faded away. As we became used to our new lifestyle we understood how flexible we could become to match income to expenses. We shifted our thinking from having to doing. We saw overall expenses drop to 50% of what they had once been even as our happiness increased.

Seventeen years into our satisfying retirement journey we are wrestling with another financial question: how do we accept that is OK to spend a bit more on experiences and things that would make us happier at home? How do we give ourselves permission to spend more? How do you loosen the purse strings?

Both Betty and I are financially conservative. We aren't big risk takers (except for retiring so early!) in how we manage our money. Beginning with our first steps into the financial world we have taken baby steps in the stock market. Its tendency to overreact to emotions, innuendos, or the fear of the day, rub us the wrong way. I tend to prefer the tortoise over the hare in the child's story. I have missed many growth opportunities by following this path. But, I have lost less sleep (and money) than others who were whipped wildly up and down by the market's gyrations. 

That all brings us to today. Our IRA and investment accounts have grown since leaving the world world in 2001. Granted, a healthy part of that is from my share of my parents' estate. That gave us all sorts of breathing room. The net result is what we have been withdrawing each year is less than the accounts generate. 

One of our personal goals is to leave a decent inheritance to our daughters. Each share won't be large enough to fund their retirements, but should be an important safety net for each. I know people have different views on leaving money for their kids. The last time I wrote about this there were some none-too-subtle suggestions that adult children shouldn't get anything; we worked for the money so It was ours to spend. I accept that point of view, I just disagree. 

Another goal is to enjoy the fruits of our sacrifices earlier in life. Delayed gratification was a linchpin to our financial planning. But, importantly, that shouldn't mean, delayed forever. Never doing some of the things we dreamed about would be wrong. That would make the earlier sacrifices futile. 

Interestingly, early in our retirement when our financial situation was less secure, we went to Europe twice and spent several glorious weeks in Hawaii on two different occasions. Last summer we took a long-delayed Alaskan Cruise and loved every moment of it. The memories were tremendous and the experiences very positive. Did i worry about how much we spent? Yes.

Two months ago we decided take the big plunge and book a river cruise from Amsterdam to Basal in Switzerland. The cost will be substantial. We splurged for upgraded airline economy seating, a full balcony room on the ship, added extra days before and after the trip, as well as pricey travel and medical insurance. When I was presented with the final bill, I swallowed very hard, and said, OK.

I told myself not to think of it as a large percentage of our yearly budget, but as an investment in our lives together, something we'd look back upon as a highlight forever. With this trip, I believe I have accepted that the money we worked so hard to accumulate is there to use. We won't be foolish with our blessings, but, neither will we say no to experiences that will enrich our lives and make us happy.

As I type these words, I continue to wonder how tightly I am holding onto those purse strings.

August 18, 2017

Exercise: What Do You Do To Stay Healthy?

Regular reader, Madeline, asked if I would take a look at an area that many of us struggle with: exercise. A recent study found that a higher percentage of those 65+ are more concerned about health issues than financial stability. That makes sense since a major health crisis can do major damage to one's financial situation, even with Medicare and supplemental insurance in place.

It is a given that moving our bodies is helpful. Suggestions for people our age center on both cardio or aerobic and well as weight bearing activities. Thirty minutes a day for at least five days a week of walking and a few days of muscle strengthening exercises seems to be the consensus. If you jog or run, the total time can be reduced by half.

I can only speak for me, but that exercise frequency is not always met. Since Betty rejoined our gym we are doing better; 4 days a week is pretty typical. We start on the treadmill and then move to free weights or machines. During the cooler months of the year I will ride my bike a few miles a few times a week. Because of bad knees and hips, Betty has tried biking but finds it is painful.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a good summary of the needs of older adults. One section deal with the amount and intensity of exercise we need. Another area details how to make physical activity a party of your life. Of course, there are thousands of other web sites that may give you important tips and ideas that help you. I have listed a handful at the end of this post.

For us, the primary concern is making exercise a part of our life without injury. I have the unfortunate habit of deciding to add more to my exercise life, only to pull or strain something that forces me to back off again. Learning our personal limitations becomes an important part of the process. 

So, I am turning things over to you for ideas, support, and suggestions. What have you found works best to stay as healthy as you can? How do you find the time to do what you should? Do you have to force yourself to meet your exercise needs, or do you look forward to physically pushing your body? 

Here are a few web sites that you might find helpful:

Senior workout needs

Physical activity for older adults

Activity Guidelines for Older Adults

Choosing the right activities

Easy home exercises

And, if you are limited to only chair-type exercises, here is a sample of what you can do to stay fit (if there is an ad at first, you can skip after 4 seconds!)