May 29, 2017

The 5 Skills Grandparents Need: Part Two

A week or so ago, 5 Skills Every Grandparent Needs listed two of the most important qualities you need if you are blessed with grandkids.  I made the point that how we raised our own kids is not always the best model for dealing with our child's child. A different skill set is often needed. 

Here is part two of that post, with the three additional attributes I suggest you have at your disposal. As always, I know this list isn't complete. If you are raising a grandchild, the five skills noted in this and the earlier post need to be expanded one hundred fold. You are a parent who also must bring some of the unconditional love of a grandparent to the child's life.  Or, you may live hundreds or thousands of miles away, making each visit that much more precious. 

I know from my own experiences that these five traits are vital. As always. you are encouraged to add something you have found to be very important in the life of a child.

1) Create Memories.   In a world of video games, smartphones, texting, and TV streaming, grandparents have to take the lead in breaking through the electronic chatter to create powerful, lasting memories. I believe a child hungers for authentic experiences that involve sight, smell, and touch, things sometimes lacking in their day-to-day life. 

Something as simple as time spent in a park, pushing him on a swing, helping her down a slide, shooting baskets while spelling H-O-R-S-E, sharing a simple lunch, describing cloud formations as animals and people, all build a child's imagination. Looking at old photographs together provides a sense of how a family is connected to its past. Vividly demonstrating your willingness to invest time and attention demonstrates love and caring. 

2) Listen and provide emotional support. Raising children is a constant process of events: showing love, corrections, teaching, discipline, denying, allowing, and applying limits. Being a parent means not always pleasing your child in the moment. The choices you make are essential to his or her well being, though that doesn't make them easy.

A grandparent can play a different role. As the Part One blog post noted, a grandparent  cannot undermine a parent's authority. If you disagree with something, it is never appropriate to bring it up with the child present. But, that leaves you free to be the attentive listener that we all crave. You are able to focus all of your attention on the questions or concerns your grandchild expresses. You provide a non-judgemental environment that allows him or her to get an adult's attention and reaction. 

3) Expose the grandchild to something that brings you joy. You have found things that make you happy. You have a hobby, an interest, a passion...a thing that excites and pleases you. It could be photography, cooking, woodworking, knitting, card games, doesn't really matter what it is.

What you can do is show your grandchild something that he or she has likely not experienced yet: the sense of real joy that comes from doing something you like. The goal is not to convince him that your passion should be his. She might not particularly like what you show her. What is important is your display of involvement with something. You have the ability to demonstrate what commitment looks like. You are showing the power of finding satisfaction in an activity that you engage in simply for the fun of doing so. 

Being the granddad to three inquisitive, precious young lives has been continuing source of satisfaction. I will be eternally grateful that I live so close and can be so much a part of their lives. 

May 26, 2017

Retirement and Insurance: Do We Need It?

When I retire do I need insurance is a question that I am asked with some regularity.  Well, that should be simple. You have retired. Your need for anything other than Medicare, auto, home or other health insurance is over, right?

Not so fast. 

There are at least five different insurance products that may be important to your retirement financial planning. Let's take a look at each one:

Medicare Supplemental Insurance

Medicare is a tremendous health insurance program for those 65 and older.  It is a blessing after years of dealing with the complicated mess that is the American health insurance system. Even so, you must be aware that Medicare does not cover some important expenses. The Original version usually covers only 80% of your expenses. While that seems quite generous, an expensive hospital stay or operation could means you are responsible for thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars in costs. Medicare does not pay for most drugs. It doesn't cover long term care. 

To help with these issues you need to add supplemental insurance to the monthly package of Part A and Part B. A supplemental policy can cover the 20% that Medicare does not. It can provide extra services that are not part of Medicare. Another type of coverage, Part D, helps with prescription drug expenses. 

Medicare Explained is a post from a few years ago that will give a quick overview. 

Life Insurance

This category of insurance seems simple to answer. If you are retired, any children are raised and gone, and you have investments, a pension, IRA, Social Security, or other form of income, what possible need would you have for insurance if you die unexpectedly? 

For many of us, the answer is none. However, there are situations when owning a life insurance policy after retirement is prudent. Caring for a disabled child, protecting your family while you are still working, as part of an estate, or funding a charitable legacy after your death are a few of the reasons why maintaining life insurance after retirement may be wise. 

CNBC has an overview of these possibilities at this web address: When it makes sense for retirees to have life insurance 

Long term Care Insurance

This is the type of insurance that generates the most email questions to this blog. It is also the hardest to give a satisfactory answer to. An insurance product that provides a fixed, monthly sum to help cover the rapidly rising cost of long term care seems as if it should be part of of our financial planning. Standard Medicare and supplemental insurance policies provide only limited help. With expenses as high as $10,000 a month, it would be easy to have a healthy nest egg wiped out rather quickly. 

Unfortunately, the companies that provide this type of coverage have discovered the problem: costs are so high and surging so quickly that these policies quickly become serious cash drains. Several companies that once sold LTC policies no longer offer them. Customers who have paid premiums for years suddenly are left with no coverage and all that premium money gone. Or, if the insurance company doesn't pull the plug, it may raise the premiums to the point of unaffordability. A customer who stops paying is without coverage and loses all the money spent up to that point. 

The final decision is a very personal one, based on your financial resources and other options or concerns. For a good review of the pros and cons of LTC insurance read this article: LTC insurance: is it worth it?

Pre-need (funeral) Insurance

To protect family members from the costs associated with your passing, a specialized type of insurance is available that pays for funeral and burial expenses, the cost of a plot, and a service. Social Security does provide a small amount of money upon your death, but not even enough to cover a simple cremation.

Often sold by an individual funeral home, these policies come with their own supporters and detractors. Like any insurance product, the delivery of what you have paid for depends on the viability of the company that sold it to you. With the average funeral costing between $7,000 and $10,000 (and easily double that for a top of the line casket plus the cost of the actual burial plot), is this type of insurance worth the cost? 

For a clear-eyed overview of this type of insurance click here: Do I need Pre-Need Insurance?

Travel Insurance

This is a type of insurance most of us probably don't consider. Maybe trip cancellation coverage makes sense when booking an expensive cruise or European jaunt. After all, we can't predict an illness or change in circumstances that make taking that trip a real hardship. Not surprisingly, though, even these straightforward policies have a fair number of exclusions and small print.

But, once you leave for the trip of a lifetime, you are focused on the memories and fun ahead, not the problems. But, what if you become ill overseas, find yourself needing a medical evacuation, face 2 weeks without your is not a risk-free adventure.

Someone will be happy to sell you an insurance policy that covers most of those travel-based disasters. But, should you?  Read Do I need senior travel insurance?  to help you decide before that cruise down the Danube River if such a policy is worth it to you.

Insurance is not the most pleasant subject to consider at any age. After all, it's purpose is to help you make your life right again after a major catastrophe. After retirement, it can take on greater importance. Without income to help you rebuild your financial house, having the proper insurance can become the difference between the continuation of a satisfying retirement and financial devastation. 

May 22, 2017

5 Skills Every Grandparent Needs: Part One

There are an estimated 70 million Americans who claim the title of "grandparent." For those of us lucky enough to have our lives blessed with grandkids, skills that are needed may seem rather obvious. After all, we raised at least one child to have a grandchild (basic biology). So, what skills might we have missed in the Grandparents Handbook?

It is not so much that certain skills are missing, but how they are used. The way we raised our own kids is not always the best model for dealing with our child's child. I have picked five that have the ability to make this experience a joy instead of a trial. Of course, there are probably another dozen (or more) skills that could be added to the list, but I had to draw the line somewhere!

This is part one of the "skills" post. To keep things from getting too long-winded, here are the first two skills. I believe these to be the most important. In a week I'll round out the project with the final three skills.  

1) You aren't the parent. This is first because it is the most important. Too many times I get emails from grandparents complaining about something they don't like about how a grandchild is being raised. It could be as insignificant as pickiness in food choices, or a preference for a light left on while he or she falls asleep. Maybe the "flaw" is judged to be more important, like the inability to share toys, or a tendency to prefer video games over reading.

Certainly, there should be rules within a grandparent's home. This is one way a child learns to compromise and that the world is more a more complex place. Behavior that damages property or risks injury must be prevented. 

But, it is very important that grandparents don't weaken the parents' authority. If you question some aspect of how the child is being raised, the issue should be discussed with the parent, but not in front of the child. Be prepared for your suggestion to be rejected. If that occurs, you have done your job: mentioned something you think is important or worth nothing.

At that point, your responsibility is complete. Accept what the parent decides and drop it. Forcing the issue any further runs the risk of alienating you from your adult child and the grandkids. 

2. Boundaries work both ways. Being available to help your grown children with their kids is one of the best parts of your new role. It might be babysitting while mom and dad have a night out or attend a meeting of some sort. There may be a time now and then where you can pitch in with some the constant shuttling of kids from one commitment to another.

Boundaries are important to keep one side of the equation from feeling taken advantage of. If there is  single parent situation you may have more requests for help. Even so, unless you are comfortable with taking on a bigger part of the load, it may be too easy for the parent to take advantage of your generosity. Too many requests for help or too many days spent babysitting may be too many. You have a life to lead that doesn't always involve a grandchild. Saying no becomes vital to your health and happiness.

Likewise, your daughter or son may not be overjoyed that you drop over, unannounced, time and time again, to offer help or advice. Even worse, if you have a key to their house and simply let yourself in, you are crossing a boundary that can cause real tensions and discord.

Agree or disagree with these first two points? I'd love your thoughts. 

May 19, 2017

A Late Night Knock

"The knocking on the heavy, gray, wooden door was insistent even though it was well after hours, long after anyone should expect an answer at this address. Except for one rather forlorn street light a block away and a dim bulb by the outside entrance, this corner of the city was growing dark and deserted. Deserted, with the exception of whoever was knocking.

In a small room, with blaring music and soundproof glass, the resolute pounding would never be heard. The outside world didn’t exit. Here was equipment, small, scratched, vinyl records in organized stacks, a dangling microphone, walls covered with faded photos and posters of musicians, some important, some not. Every few minutes a switch was thrown and a voice spoke a few words heard by hundreds or maybe thousands of invisible ears. Only the non-stop blinking buttons on the battered, black, desk phone and the glow of various lights and switches assured the voice that what he was saying was not going unnoticed.

Eventually, the person in that isolated room was required to leave the private space and wander down a short hall to look at a few meters and dials. The people who owned all the equipment and the government bureaucrats who held the power of continued operation required such a trip. The transmitting equipment was temperamental and needed to be checked every hour. A few scans of the various measurements, a hastily scribbled signature on an official looking form, and it was time to stride quickly back to the private space before silence replaced the blare of the latest pop hit.

But,  just at that moment, during those few seconds of the journey back down the corridor when the front entrance was only a few yards away and within hearing, the knocking began anew. The person stopped, judged how much longer the song on the turntable had to play, and headed toward the sound. Not thinking about any potential danger, the fact that he was totally alone in the building, or who might be asking for attention, he unlocked and swung open the door.

Before him stood a twelve year or thirteen year old girl, all alone, wearing shorts, a blouse, and an expectant expression. She glanced quickly at the person who answered the door, and asked ‘Is Bobby Sherman here? Can I see him?” Wanting to laugh, but realizing the young girl was serious, the person gave her the response she probably expected. “I’m sorry but he’s busy on the air. Can I give him a message for you?” Muttering her first name and a song request for a piece of music that was played every 60 minutes anyway, she was assured “Bobby” would be told of her desire. She smiled, walked away satisfied, and the front door again locked out reality.

It was at that moment I began to truly understand the power of radio, the power of the voice behind the microphone and the ability of the medium to communicate and motivate. For you see, the person who answered the door was  Bob Sherman, my on-air name at a top 40 station in Syracuse New York in 1969.

The Bobby Sherman the young listener wanted to meet was not me. He was the man who had released several hit records and was the star of his own television show, “Here Comes The Bride.” The fact that the same person was not likely to be the night DJ at a radio station in upstate New York never entered the youngster’s mind. Through the incredible power of radio to stimulate her imagination, it was completely logical and possible that her fantasy was inside that building.

As I closed the door and went back to the studio just in time to start the latest two minute hit single by the Grassroots, or Tommy Roe, it really hit me: I have the power to create a world for my listeners completely separate from reality. Any thought of ever changing career paths or finding a more stable industry was gone." 

Regular readers know I was a radio DJ for part of my career.  Staring at age 15 on weekends, I "played the hits" until my late 20's in several different towns. While no longer a job choice that inspires much reaction, being a disc jockey on rock and roll radio stations in the 1960's and 70's was a fairly big deal. 

Your picture was on the weekly list of top 40 hits. You were asked to introduce Aerosmith or Rod Stewart or Jethro Tull in front of thousands at a concert. Supermarkets wanted you to cut the ribbon that marked the opening of a new store. People wanted your picture or autograph. Everyone wanted to know if you knew Casey Kasem of American Top 40 fame.

At some point you change and realize playing records isn't a long term career choice. Being hounded by 15 year old girls is no longer fun. Aging DJ's are not in high demand. But, for a time..........

The Late Night Knock is a glimpse into a world that no longer exists, but was tremendously exciting and fulfilling for a young man just finding his stride in life. Some 45 years later my satisfying retirement is in large part based on that night and what it taught me about the power of imagination and words. The men and women who I met and worked alongside (Hi, Ron Wray!) will be part of me forever.

Tell me a story about something in your life that was a spark to something different or better (or worse!). What happened that opened a door to your future? We all have a story.

May 16, 2017

Is That All There Is?

The end of a day: Is that it?

If the title reminds you of a song by Peggy Lee, you are definitely a boomer retiree. In a rather bleak view of life, the lyrics suggest that if this is as good as it is going to get then let's dance and party before the final disappointment of death. During a time of upheavals in the late 1960s, this was a top 15 hit for Ms. Lee. 

Why such a bleak title and introduction to this post? Take comfort, dear reader, the song's mood is not reflective of mine. I am not in the throes of despair. I do receive emails on a rather regular basis, however, that express at least some of this feeling about retirement.  There are three primary concerns: What did I do? I loved my job, I will run out of money, or my spouse is driving me crazy.

I certainly understand these concerns. I flirted with similar ones after leaving the workforce 16 years ago. I didn't think I was ready financially, emotionally, or socially...pretty much a clean sweep of feeling unprepared. Eventually, everything sorted itself out. For the almost seven years of writing this blog, I hope I have conveyed the message that retirement has the potential of making this stage of life productive and satisfying. 

Even so, I would guess we have asked ourselves, "is this all there is," every now and then. It is part of the human condition to wonder what we are accomplishing and what comes next. What sets us apart of other species is this need to question, to speculate, to hope.

At its core, retirement is the only time in our lives when a lot of the answers to those eternal questions are under our control. No, we can't change the facts of mortality. We have only limited control over health issues that may have been baked into our genes from day one. But, that leaves tremendous wiggle room, doesn't it?

I am constantly inspired by stories of folks with severe limitations achieving remarkable things. I think of those who compete in marathons in their wheelchairs, or on artificial legs. I think of people who are unable to move any part of their body below the neck, who have mastered painting, using a computer, or writing a book by grasping a brush or stick in their mouths to accomplish these tasks. 

Photo by A.G. Bell
A perfect example is the the story of Helen Keller. Deaf and blind, she mastered communication, learned to speak, and became an author, activist, and lecturer. Anne Sullivan, her teacher and constant companion, showed an awe-inspiring level of patience and determination to young Helen. When I am tempted to complain because I have some morning stiffness in my fingers or a sore back, Helen Keller pops to mind; I am embarrassed by my petty complaints.

While we still on this side of the dirt, the reality is there is never a time when it is appropriate to ask, "is that all there is?" Because the answer is an emphatic, "No!" If you settle for what doesn't make you happy or fulfilled, then it is on you. 

Maybe you can't change your physical condition or location. It is not all that uncommon for retired folks to live on a tight  sometimes barely adequate budget. I certainly get enough emails from unhappy spouses (of both sexes) who feel trapped in an unsatisfying relationship. I am not minimizing the real pain and frustration that can accompany those situations. 

But, I do suggest that you have the ability to rise above each of those scenarios. Strictly physical problems do not have to affect your ability to think, create, write, or enjoy the sound of the birds in your backyard. A pet could care less that you can't walk or run. He will love you anyway.

A tight budget forces you to be creative. Can't afford a computer or Internet connection? Your local library has both. Going out to eat is so infrequent you forget how to order off a menu? Become a great cook at home. Set the table, light the candles, pour the wine, and make an ordinary dinner something special.

If you have tried everything to make things work well with your spouse, and divorce isn't an option for many reasons, reassert your individuality. Do what makes you happy. Carve out times of the day when you please yourself. 

May 12, 2017

A Force That Powers the World

Most of us are junkies for this. We thrive on at least one fix a day to stay happy. We have had this need since we were toddlers. We are junkies for it. We like being told good things about who we are. We need the strokes. 

We need to be told someone else cares, or noticed us. This force is the power of affirmation. Receiving it from others feels good. It validates much of what we do. The word, affirmation, means to state that something is true. In this context it means to praise someone for something. It tells you someone else noticed something positive they want to bring to your attention. 

Affirmation fulfills our basic need to feel relevant, useful, and needed. So, if this is a deep seated need we all have then why is it too rare in most of our lives, most of the time? Good question. I've given this topic some extra thought since my small group from our church had a lively discussion on the subject. All of us admitted we are quick to receive compliments, but much slower to hand them out.

A while ago I was prompted by something I read that made a real impact. Frankly, I can't remember what I read or even what it said specifically. All I remember is something struck a chord. The gist of the piece was that during a normal day we all deal with dozens of people who come quickly in and out of our lives. 

The article was not referring to coworkers or family members. It was taking about the "invisible people" we interact with every day. In this case "invisible" isn't a value judgment. Rather, it is how we typically see (or don't see) these folks.

The clerk who rings you up at the hardware store or fast food restaurant, the delivery person who drops off a FedEx package, each is nameless and faceless to us. The waitress at dinner tells us her name but we forget it before she's even taken our order. The fellow who hands you a prescription at Walgreens doesn't really register (pardon the pun).

See where I'm heading? Every single day we have the opportunity to affirm something about these people and their existence yet we don't, even though each one of them is just as much an affirmation junkie as you or I.

I started a very social experiment over the course of just a few weeks. I forced myself to step outside my comfort zone. I tried to remember to make a simple affirming comment whenever I interacted with one of these folks. The result was immediate. Suddenly an unhappy person smiled. A clerk laughed while handing over my purchase. A delivery person thanked me for my business.

The invisible person in front me became instantly real. He had been affirmed. And, he or she usually affirmed me in return. We interacted like two human beings who were willing to give a tiny piece of themselves to someone else.

Personally, I am very sorry I didn't learn this lesson while I was working. I know I treated these invisible people like interruptions or not worthy of my giving them what they craved. I hope it wasn't because I was purposely hurtful, I was just selfish and oblivious. I'm still that way more often than I'd wish, especially with faceless people on the phone.

Retirement allows us the little bit of extra time we need to practice affirmation with others. You probably have dozens of chances each day. Even remembering to affirm just one person will be worth the effort. My one week experiment has become a regular habit (when I remember, which isn't everytime, I admit).

I should add, that personal affirmation is a powerful tool for making us feel and function better, too. We all struggle with times of self-doubt. If you'd like to review some tools that can strengthen how you feel about yourself, click here. While I don't agree with all of the ideas, reading the list was empowering. And, the truth is the more secure we feel about ourselves the more likely we are to notice the good in others.

May 9, 2017

5 Things We Can Stop Worrying About

Have you ever seen the movie, The Curious Case  of Benjamin Button? The lead character, played by Brad Pitt, gets physically younger while the rest of the world ages. Eventually, it does not turn out well for him. He dies as an infant but with old age dementia. 

In real life, there are actually some advantages to getting physically older, which is good since we don't have much choice. Here are five that came to mind:

1). We don't care nearly as much about how we look in a bathing suit (or birthday suit). When we were younger, the effort expended to drop some weight before summer began was a common occurrence. Time spent jogging or at the gym become a fixed part of our schedule. Looking younger than our years was important. Face creams and lotions are a multi-billion dollar business. 

While the health aspects of staying in shape remain important until we shuffle off our mortal coils, the reason changes. We are more concerned with our interior health than our exterior appearance.

2. We have stopped trying to keep up with the Joneses. By now, we have learned that the consumer merry-go-round is a circle, meaning there is no end, no finish line. No matter how much we buy, collect, obtain, or control, someone else will have more, and most of it does not make us happy, just tired. 

As we age, our priorities change. We surround ourselves with what makes us happy, not what makes us maintain a certain look.

3. We no longer worry as much about how the kids will turn out. By now, that part of our job is done. Unless you have taken on the admirable job of raising grandchildren, your own kids have learned what they need from you. Now, it is up to them to figure it out. Should you provide help and counsel if one of them gets in trouble? Sure. But, the heavy lifting of raising another human being is over.

As a parent I know my daughters will be in my mind everyday until I die. But, my worries are different then they were when they were much younger. 

4. We no longer worry about how our careers will turn out That ship has sailed. Whatever choices we made to support ourselves and a family are past history. Office intrigue and in-fighting, a constant battle for more and more business, hours wasted in a daily commute, the effects of technological change on your chosen profession, even the power and prestige that came with your success - are over. As we move through the journey of retirement, we have new things to focus on. 

5. We no longer care as much about the small stuff in life. We have come to accept that life is short, our mortality is assured, and the world will spin on without us just fine, thank you very much. That means we spend less time sweating the small stuff (read this little book if you haven't!).  

Growing older is not often easy, but some of the struggles that occupied us in the past, are gone. And, frankly, the alternative to growing older is not one I'd choose. Bring it on!

May 5, 2017

A Financial Safety Net for Retirement

Having a Satisfying Retirement without a budget is pretty much like jumping off a cliff without a parachute. You may survive but I wouldn't recommend it. I believe quite strongly that a budget is absolutely essential to a financially secure retirement lifestyle.

Whether you are already fully retired, working part time, or still a few years away from leaving your job, it is never too early to build a retirement budget. You may hate the idea of keeping track of what you spend. You may think you know what you income and outgo are. But until you put in on paper (or in a software program) you are playing with fire.

So, what goes into a budget? How different is a retirement budget? Are there categories that were important when you worked full time that can be dropped when you are retired? How do you plan for retirement?

To give you some idea what might belong in your post-work budget, I will use mine as a sample. Since your situation is likely to be different please just use this as a starting point.

Mortgage payments (I own my home but you may have monthly payments)
Real Estate Taxes and HOA fees
Home Owners Insurance
Utilities: electric, gas, water,  sewer/trash pickup
Home maintenance and repairs, pest control

Food and household supplies
Internet, cable or satellite TV
Decorations & furnishings
Yard service
house cleaning service

Clothing purchases
Dry Cleaning/Laundry
Dining Out
Auto: payments, gas, repairs, insurance, registration
Health insurance: premiums, uncovered expenses, co-pays
Health supplies: over-the-counter vitamins & medicines
Dental care: checkups, fillings, crowns, dentures, etc
Eyeglasses & hearing aids
haircuts & beauty salon

Computer purchase, repair, software
Subscriptions, postage stamps
Charity donations
Tax prep and accountant costs
Life insurance 

You may be surprised at all the categories I maintain. A budget after retirement isn't much different from one you used while working full time. It is quite easy to forget that a majority of expenses don't go away. The amount you decide to spend in each may change, but the actual number of categories is pretty much the same, retired or not. And, don't forget to plan for inflation in virtually every category.

Which categories did I overlook? Which ones would you delete or add?

May 1, 2017

Letting Go: How Do You Know When It's Time?

Is sunset the end of something or the beginning of something else?

A few weeks ago comments left on the post, Saying Goodbye to The RV Lifestyle, prompted me to write this one. The questions centered on knowing when it is time to let go of something in one's life, when an attachment to something should be severed. When do we know it is time to let go of whatever it is that may be holding us back? I thought those were very important queries to think about and worthy of some discussion.

We are creatures of habit. Most of us are happy when our world is settled, and predictable. This doesn't mean we aren't active and involved, rather we have some anchors in our existence that are comforting. I would suggest that even those who travel a lot each year still need the security of a home base, a familiar place where they can refresh and recoup. 

But, when is it time to let go of a part of our life that has been dependable up to now? How do we know when it is time to cut the cord and move part of our life in a different direction? See if you agree with some of my conclusions.

*Relationship problems: Though letting go of a bad marriage or problem-plagued engagement would qualify, today I am thinking more along the lines of friendships and acquaintances. All of us have had situations where we dread meeting with someone we know, or we always seem to leave their presence feeling worse than when we arrived. Certain folks have a dark cloud over their head that follows them wherever the go. If you are near them, that dark cloud covers you too. Negativity, projectile complaining, gossiping to harm others....being with these people drains you.

It may be tough, but you know it is time to let go of this relationship when you dread the time spent together. Cut the cord, for your own sake.

* Living situation: There has been a lot written on Satisfying Retirement about downsizing, aging in place or moving to a retirement community. Honestly, I think one of the tougher "Letting Go" questions involves this topic. Most of us have an attachment to our home. It could be based on longevity, a sense of community, a place for all your stuff, a mark of your independence, or the house where your kids were raised. Whatever the reason, knowing when it is time to move because of health or family issues is not easy. 

My personal marker will be when I feel staying where I am risks my life, or forces a responsibility on my kids that I do not want them to endure. Would they take care of Betty or me? In a heartbeat. But, we have made the firm decision that we don't want that to happen. Letting go of our current lifestyle will be tough, but we are committed to that choice. 

* Vacation and travel decisions: Making the decision to sell our RV was really triggered by two factors: the expenses of keeping the motorhome, and the desire to explore more of the world while we can. We have decided to abandon one way of traveling, and take up another. We have loved the freedom the motorhome has given us. But, once we discussed a change, we decided within just a few days to make the change. 

Betty and I are lucky. We have been able to go to Europe twice, taken cruises, and fallen in love with Hawaii after at least a dozen trips to the islands. So, we have experiences with something other than auto or RV trips. That's what we want to experience again. In this case, letting go was easy. 

* Driving: I have left the hardest example of letting go until now. In the car-based culture of most of the western world, the ability to take yourself from one place to another, when you choose, is considered a basic right, not a privilege. The independence signified by that vehicle in the carport or street is almost impossible to quantify. Even if it is rarely driven, the point is it can be driven, by you.

Yet, we all know there will come a time when the car keys must be taken away. The unacceptable risk, not only to yourself, but to other drivers and pedestrians, demands action. I am sure there are all sorts of studies that show we believe we are much better drivers, at any age, than we really are. Reality has a different measurement scale. Letting go of the car keys, even voluntarily, is very hard. 

Don't make it tougher than it must be. Don't force a family member to be the one to take away the keys. That is your job. (Click here for a web site that has an excellent overview of this problem). 

April 27, 2017

A Different Way To Think About Politics?

Would you like to start a fight, or at least a heated discussion? Would you like to anger half the people in a crowd while mollifying the other 50%? Then talk about politics. Along with religion, there is no way to trigger emotion and passion faster than this subject. 

Applying the usual definition, politics are "the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power." Today, in our society, politics is about the conflict,  staking out turf and defending it to the verbal death, or something even more literally. It is usually loaded with sarcasm, fixed belief systems, and distortion of the opposition's position.

Can I suggest a different way to think about politics? Can I offer an alternative that allows us to engage instead of enrage? Can I propose a way forward that may have more positive results?

Yes? Then, please think of the subject of politics at its most fundamental level: human beings trying to live together in peace and prosperity. Remove all the fancy language and organizational double-speak, and politics is about accomplishing shared goals. It is about success as a species. 

The origin of the word is from the Greek, polis, which means community. What is community?  That is a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social and economic standards.

So, at its core, politics is nothing more than a shared experience. Using that definition, this hot button word becomes all-inclusive instead of mutually exclusive. It means those of us who live within the boundary of this nation share basic, common goals.

What gets us into trouble is when we begin to stack layers of emotion and personal bias on that simple explanation. We look to emphasize our differences, not our similarities. We see ourselves as aggrieved, not connected. We do not accept that we could possibly share similar goals with those on the other side of the aisle.

My belief system assures me we are flawed creatures who sin and play to our worst instincts on a frequent basis. But, that belief system also tells me that I should strive for a better way. I should rebel against my baser instincts, of which our current view of politics is an excellent example.

So,what is to be done? I can think of three steps I can take, and maybe you can be right there with me. Also, please add something that I may have overlooked.

1). As much as it may go against my nature, accept that the majority of the political opposition really wants the same thing I do, they are just going about it differently. As much as it may feel as though they are dead wrong, harmful, or seriously misguided, accept that their motivation is not to do the devil's work. This will allow me to see them as fellow human beings, not creatures bent on destruction.

2). Do not become so fixed in my beliefs that I can't adjust and modify as needed. Do a quick review of American history over the past 241 years for a reminder of how things change on a regular basis. What I think is absolutely correct today may prove to be completely wrong if I live long enough.

3). Interact with people who aren't just like me. You never learn much staring at a mirror. As uncomfortable as it may be, I shouldn't isolate myself from others who hold different political views. Be an advocate for what I believe and explain why respectfully and with passion. Listen to any response. If it is filled with anger and spite, don't respond in kind. Thank the person for listening and walk away. My goal is to plant a seed, not wait for a tree to grow.

I am not naive. I know there will always be people in politics who have little or no moral center. They are greedy and self-serving. They may even be criminal in action and intent. Every effort to play to their better nature will fail because they don't possess one. We need to keep the spotlight on those people, call them out, vote them out, impede the damage they can do.

But, for the vast majority who truly believe what they are doing is for everyone's good, we will accomplish nothing by constantly attacking and denigrating those who see things differently. 

Personally, this post is needed reading for me. I spend too much time obsessing over things that I disagree with, give a fist pump when something political I don't like fails or goes wrong, and hope for the failure of policies I believe to be dangerous or counterproductive. Yet, I rarely put myself in the position of trying to understand the other point of view. I am too much of the mirror-gazer I mentioned above.

Seriously, I have no idea what your reaction will be to this post. Am I kidding myself? Are things so seriously off at this point in our nation that I should be marching in the streets? Or, can more be done by understanding a point of view I don't believe is right, and reacting as if that other person has as much value as I, even if I may not get that same respect in return? Can I help things by participating and interacting rather than just rooting for failure?


April 23, 2017

Delayed Retirement Maintenance Has a Cost

For the majority of us the last effects of the 2008-09 recession are in our rear view mirror.  Unemployment rates are low and inflation seems to be under control. Interest rates on investments remain miserable, but decent returns are available with a little bit of risk.

Housing prices have rebounded in most part of the country. That allowed Betty and me to move just about two years ago to be closer to our grandkids. We have been in the new house just long enough that my thoughts to turn to what maintenance should be considered, now and in the future. Owning a house means owning the problems that come with that property. 

Delayed maintenance never got this bad
Unfortunately, over the years I have become the master of delayed maintenance. If something isn't dangerous, leaking, or unusable, I find it much too easy to wait.  We know that something will require fixing but decide it can wait a while longer.

That toilet is more difficult to flush, but it still works. The front door is showing wear and the wood is starting to crack. But, hey, there's no budget right now for a new $2,000 door. The roof should last another few years, I hope. I know the car battery is pretty old but it still works. Let's wait until fall before replacing it.

My experience with delayed maintenance is that the eventual cost is always higher than when the problem is first recognized. I have always wondered why I wait until it is time to move or until something stops working completely before I repaint, repair, or replace. The hassle is always worse than if I had simply taken care of it when I should have.

When building a satisfying retirement, delayed maintenance can describe similar behavior. One example might be our investment plan isn't really working well for us anymore. We know we should spend time reviewing our approach. But, that is a lot of work and it might force us to admit we are not in the type of financial shape we thought we were. Things will work out, they always do. We'll just wait awhile and see how it goes.

Another type of delayed maintenance might involve a business venture of yours. I have personal experience with this type of delayed maintenance. For at least 4 years before my consulting business declined to the point I decided to shut it down and retire, there were plenty of signals that things weren't going as well as they once did. The industry had changed dramatically a few years before that, resulting in a drop in demand for what I offered. The number of clients had grown regularly every year for the previous decade. Then, the growth stopped. I decided that was fine with me. I was overextended and tired.

Suddenly, the number of clients I served began to drop, one this month, two a few months later, a couple more at the end of the year. I was concerned, but still convinced things would stabilize at a comfortable level. That was not the case. The loss of business continued and accelerated.

Suddenly I was at the point where my cash flow was dangerously close to my expenses. I knew what I needed to do: increase the marketing and promotion of my business, become much more focused on the clients and their particular needs, and find a way to re-brand myself for the changes the industry was undergoing.

Unfortunately, I had delayed that business maintenance too long. When things were good I didn't spend time looking for cracks in the foundation. I didn't figure out I needed a major overhaul. When I realized things had slipped to a near-fatal level, it was too late.

Your most significant relationship can certainly suffer from delayed maintenance. Several years ago I wrote a post on Relationship Maintenance suggested steps you can take for a relational tuneup. Just like a car that misses regular oil changes, new brakes, or a new set of spark plugs, your marriage or key relationship can't be ignored for too long before trouble will surface.

Health is certainly a key area of delayed maintenance for many of us. We know a diet of fatty foods, a lack of fruits and vegetables, and a sedentary lifestyle will probably end badly for us. We know sun screen is important. We know about checkups and tests that should be conducted.  But, the future is still way out there. We can change later. We can adjust our living habits when we turn 65....or 70...or 75...or.....

Not doing what we know we should will hurt us. Our quality of life will suffer. Our ability to do what we like will be curtailed. Taken to its logical conclusion, our delayed maintenance in taking care of ourselves could end our life early.

What is the answer? Preventive maintenance. This is a proactive, deal-with- a-problem-before-it-gets-out-of-hand type maintenance. Act before something becomes critical or dangerous. Maybe there are no visible signs of a problem today, but we all know the consequences of a certain action is likely to cause problems.

Preventive maintenance is the best way to build your satisfying retirement. It may be a tough habit to develop. I think most of us are hard-wired for avoidance. But, waiting until things break or decay or become much too difficult and expensive to repair is the wrong choice.

What in your life requires some preventive maintenance? What delayed maintenance have you put off because the task is too difficult or the answers too unsettling? Share with us, if you dare!

Note: Yesterday morning I woke up to a flooded front yard. An underground sprinkler line had ruptured. There had been a small wet area near the front walk that I conveniently ignored for over a month. Delayed maintenance in action!

April 19, 2017

Moving To Be Near Family After Retirement: A Good Idea?

I am among retirement writers who suggest that moving right after retirement is a step that should be taken with caution. Leaving friends and familiarity is never easy. The adjustment after leaving work generates enough stress. Adding a move and all that implies just puts more pressure on you. Moving after retirement is an important decision; it takes time and planning. 

Over the six plus years of this blog I have shared several stories of newly retired folks who have left both a job and a long time home in short order, and regretted that move more often than not. Usually, the difficulty in establishing new friendships and missing ties at home lead the list. In short, home sickness can strike at any age. Others found the weather not as ideal as it seemed after watching the Weather Channel. Housing prices may be so different that affording a place to call home is too difficult.

That being said, for some of us a move soon after retirement is the right step to take. If your job kept you in a climate or community that left you unhappy, then the freedom to leave all that behind is welcome. If you have no family nearby and living near the ocean or a high mountain meadow has always been a dream, now you can make it a reality.

The most common reason we move after retirement is family-related. Sometimes it is the need to be able to care for an aging parent or relative who lives far away. There are no other siblings who can help, so the responsibility is yours. Other times, it may be the desire to be closer to a grown son or daughter and the grandchildren.

I can certainly relate to that desire. Betty and I moved from the area we called home for 30 years to be close to the grandkids. Granted it was only 40 minutes away, but we did leave an area, friends, and a church relationship we liked and had spent three decades building. In our case it has turned out beautifully. We love our new area and interact with family all the time.

The flipside of our experience was shared with me by a reader a few years ago. He and his wife left their long time home community to be close to a son and his family. Within a few months they realized they had made a big mistake. Their new community was so different from "home" that they struggled to adapt to the weather and different culture. Their son and his family had their own very full life and were rarely available for mom and dad. That couple ended up moving back to their old area and way of life. An occasional plane flight to keep the family connected turned out to be the better option.

What about you? After retirement have you moved to be closer to family? Have you decided to relocate to provide care for aging parents or to be closer to grown children and grandkids? Or, have you made the decision to stay where you are, depending on travel to stay in touch? 

This choice is one of the most important ones you may face during your retirement. While the urge to move is often quite strong, the reasons to do so must be solid and well planned.

I invite you to share your experiences and decisions. We can all learn from what you have decided.

April 15, 2017

5 lessons I've Learned About Relationships

After 40 years of marriage I have learned a few things along the way that have proven helpful. Actually, there are a lot more than five lessons, but I know your time is limited, so I will stick with a few of the biggies. You are welcome to try them out. If you don't, you can't say I didn't warn you!

1. You can't change another person, only how you react and relate to that person. One of the myths of marriage that engaged and newlywed folks fall for every time is that you can change the person you are planning on spending the rest of your life with. He or she may have some habits that annoy you, or character traits that aren't all that warm and fuzzy. Given enough time and energy, you can remake that person into the model spouse you want. 

Reality check: that is not going to happen. Assuming you are a functioning adult, there are traits and habits that you have brought with you into a new relationship. Sure, you can learn to put the toilet seat down, or not chew with your mouth open. You can take some hints about your choice of pairing plaid pants with striped shirts. Purple highlights in your hair may have been cool in college, but can be distracting at the PTA meeting.

A solid relationship is built on one person relating and accepting another. If you look upon the other half of your team as a project, I wouldn't plan on making it to 40 years together. Acceptance and compromise are the keys.

2. Each person requires private time. Retirement often exposes an inconvenient truth: 24/7 of you is too much of you. No matter how much you are in love, how compatible the two of you are, or how much you find each other's quirks endearing, an individual must have some private time and space. 

Think of a relationship sort of like raising a kid. When the relationship first starts (the child is born) he or she wants and needs to be with you all the time. Normally around 8 or 9 years old, that child begins to become his own person. He needs you in his life, but he also needs to develop his own friends, interests, and abilities. Smothering a youngster doesn't work well. Neither does a relationship. "Us" time and "Me" time are both required for a relationship to last.

3. A static relationship is one that is dying. You have heard the line in countless movies or TV shows: "You've changed. You aren't the person I married!" Well, let's hope not. Life is designed to change us, hopefully for the better, but change is going to happen. A relationship must change with it. 

Echoing point #1, accepting and relating to someone else as they mature and develop is part of the bargain, and part of the excitement. You and your significant other will change how you feel, how you think about things, even how you want to live. Some of this will occur together, some as individuals. Moving forward is inevitable, so it is best to jump on board.

4. The little things always matter. Whether your relationship is 4 months or 40 years old, certain things never grow old. Appreciation for a well-cooked meal, a thorough cleaning of the garage, or even a kind word to an in-law remain important. So does common courtesy, a flower arrangement for no particular reason, dinner out after a hard day, a foot get the point. Something that shows you are thinking of the other person enough to take that extra, unprompted step always matter.

5. Please and Thank You are still the magic words. We are never too old or too comfortable in a relationship to not use the "magic words" we learned in kindergarten or from mom and dad. I am not sure how this was measured, but a study shows a 50% increase in effort among co-workers who are graced with these words during the course of a project. A relationship benefits as well. Beyond simply being polite, using these words shows an awareness of their importance as a human being, worthy of appreciation.

April 12, 2017

Saying Goodbye to the RV Lifestyle

*19,000 miles driven

 *32 states visited

 *107 different RV parks

The last four and half years have been busy ones. After buying a used 30 foot RV in September, 2012 from the rental company, Cruise America, Betty, Bailey, and I have done everything we hoped to in our motorhome. We have seen the country in a way that only comes from driving miles and miles of Interstate and back roads. 

We have battled high winds that wanted to shove us in a ditch. We have suffered through the failure of an air conditioner in late summer, in Texas. We have had a side mirror fall off in Alabama that had to be ducted taped to the window so we could drive home. We have learned how to tow a car behind a 6 ton RV and not have an accident. 

We have learned to pack for two months away from home. We have learned to live together in 200 square feet and stay happily married.  We have learned how to feed ourselves with a minimal amount of mess to clean up afterwards. We have collected memories and experiences that will last the rest of our lives.

But, like all things in life, we have decided it is time for a change, it is time for us to sell the RV and shift to other vacation and travel options. The vehicle is eleven years old. That means major systems will begin to fail and need to be replaced. The air conditioner was just the first fatality. The furnace blower fan sounds like a bearing may be going. Six tires are nearing the end of their usable life. 

Living in a hot climate means we can leave very little in the RV while it is parked at a storage yard. Packing before a trip takes a lot of preparation and then re-loading the rig every time. Arriving home, we are faced with taking everything out until the next trip. Frankly, that part is getting old. Driving an ungainly 6 ton motor vehicle through traffic and bad weather has become a bit stressful.  

Buying an RV and exploring the country was one of those "bucket list" things we dreamed about, and are so happy we took the plunge. It has been a tremendously satisfying experience. It has been an important part of our retirement.

So, what's next? Betty and I want to go back to England, Ireland, and Scotland. We are anxious to take a river cruise from Amsterdam into France and parts of Germany. A cruise to the South Pacific calls to me. A few more trips to Hawaii are a must. Flying to Portland and maybe eastern Canada are possible. We have even discussed taking the train from Vancouver to Toronto or points east.

Retirement is about adjustments and changes. The RV time has been fabulous. What comes next will be just as good. We can't wait.

Goodbye, dear and faithful friend.