March 29, 2017

What One Thing Would You Change In Your Life?

I know, you have several things you'd like to change. One thing isn't nearly enough. Altering your life can be a constant process. Even so, by picking one thing you will be forced to prioritize what is really important to you at this moment. 

This is a tough question. I had to give it a lot of thought. Physical conditioning, missed experiences, strengthening my important relationships, working harder to build up this blog, still worrying too much about money, choosing easy over hard....I have plenty to pick from. 

Of course, the choice really has to be within the realm of reality. No matter how much I might enjoy it, I will never be a professional baseball player or pro golfer. I cannot break the world record for high jumps. I am not going to the Olympics (except as a spectator). That 50 foot cabin cruiser is never going to sail with me at the helm. 

Since I think we are all interested in each other's answers, I am going to keep my part of this post very short. This is a bit of an experiment: can I open up the comment section to an important question without providing a lot of background and options?

I don't want to give my answer here. Keeping things completely open to your thoughts is the goal. Yes, I will respond to each comment but I will keep my answer private for a few days. 

Never fear: I will post my answer to this question on the Satisfying Retirement Facebook Page and on my Twitter account (@SatisfyingRetir) in a few days.

So, consider all the possibilities and decide what one thing you would like to change in your life. 


March 25, 2017

Two Approaches to Retirement

Retirement is a unique journey for each one of us. While there are basics that apply to everyone, it is the ability to shape this stage of life to meet our deepest desires and needs that make it so satisfying.

If I had to simplify the process I suppose I could put retirement into two broad categories: the "reasonable, got it covered, done my homework" type of approach, and the "Let it roll, what will be will be, I will adjust as needed, it is all good" crowd.

Neither of these are right...or wrong. That is what is so fascinating about writing a blog focused on retirement. Anytime I think I have it all figured out, someone leaves a comment, I read a new press release, or my own life kicks me in the shin and says, "Not so fast."

Certainly, I fit much more comfortably into the first category. My career was decided at age 12. I fell in love with the life of a radio announcer and never wavered. Saving for retirement started at 24. I have experienced only two major employment setbacks, getting fired and later having my own business slowly die.

But, the planning and "got it covered" mindset allowed me to thrive through both situations. Even finding myself retired at least 10 years before I thought might happen has been a blessing. June will mark 16 years on the other side of the employment equation; I can't imagine in my worst nightmare going back.

My parents taught me the importance of delayed gratification. My dad was unemployed for several stretches of my youth. He lost a substantial amount of money in a failed business attempt. Yet, never, ever, did he allow his struggles to upset the family. He was a steady rock. During tough times mom's school teacher salary kept us in casseroles, with a roof over our head, and a feeling of safety. I learned early on the value of planning and adjusting.

Over the last few years Betty and I have let a little of the "let it roll" attitude into our retirement. She has always been a bit more of a free spirit and has encouraged us to take the long RV trips, or rent a beach house for a family gathering. She decides we should stretch the budget in one area, but insists it contracts somewhere else. No deficit spending in the Lowry household if we can help it (last year was an anomaly!).

Our oldest daughter fits the first category well. Like her parents she is conservative financially, though willing to take a risk if she is comfortable with the pro-con balance. She keeps a tight grip on the family budget and expenses. She and her husband will probably look forward to a retirement that is comfortable and happy.

Our youngest is more in the "money is meant to be spent on experiences" camp. She has skated near the edge financially several times, but always manages to pull herself back to stability. She takes steps to cut expenses and increase her income so she can spend an extra week in Scotland or Spain or go to Disneyland with her nieces and nephew. Saving is not really in her nature. Retirement is probably going to look quite a bit different for her. But, importantly, her decision is absolutely right for her. She loves her life.

So, how about you? Which fits you best? Or, have you found a way to straddle both approaches, a little bit planning and conformity seasoned with a dash or two of "what will be will be?"

March 13, 2017

7 Things That Are Almost Gone: Does It Matter?

Life is made up of continuous change. Nothing stays the same for very longBoth are true statements but that doesn't make them any easier to accept. As human we generally prefer stability. When things don't change it is easier to predict what will happen or how our life will unfold. Unfortunately, those desires are in conflict with the real world.

Today, I am looking at a few things that used to be part of our everyday life but are getting harder to find. Change has relegated them unnecessary for many of us. How about you?

*Yellow Pages. Virtually all phone companies have taken steps to eliminate the printed books that once arrived with a thump on your front porch once a year. What reminded me they still exist was the recent arrival at my house of a small version with maybe a hundred pages of display ads and listings. It went right into recycling. The Internet makes these books out of date almost as soon as they are printed. White pages for residential and business listings aren't even available anymore unless you request one. 

*Movie Rental Stores. The stand alone video rental store is not long for this world. There are no national chains left, unless you count the Redbox kiosks. Larger cities have a handful of independent video outlets that survive by featuring hard-to-find foreign and art films, some still on VHS. But, names like Hollywood Video, Movie Gallery, and Blockbuster are gone.

Netflix is willing to send you a DVD through the mail, though the company has made it clear the future of that option is bleak. Amazon Prime, Google Play, You Tube, and Netflix will be happy to stream a movie directly to your home, making the Redbox kiosk experience seem almost quaint. 

*The Post Office. Any "normal" business as out of step with the world around it as the postal service would have disappeared years ago. But, the promise of universal mail service keeps this dinosaur alive. Even common sense suggestions like eliminating Saturday delivery are met with howls of protest, all while demanding the service stop losing billions a year.

What does the future hold? Eventually, five day delivery will happen. Mail directly to your home instead of a neighborhood box is probably doomed at some point. Amazon, Fedex, UPS, and private services have taken much of the postal services package delivery business away. E-mail and texting make snail mail much too slow. Most of your mail now is just magazines and junk mail. That isn't enough to pay the bills, even with postal stamp and shipping prices increasing on a regular basis.

*Paper Checks. Britain is planning on doing away with the paper check by 2018. It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process them. As Internet security and pay-by-phone systems improve, folks will agree that electronic transfers are more secure than paper checks.

America will not see the check disappear as quickly as those in England, but it is coming. Check usage continues to shrink. It now accounts for less than 50% of consumers' recurring bill payments, down from 72% in 2001. Social Security stopped mailing checks in 2013. A recent survey shows 52% of those in their 20s and 30s have never written a check. 

*Handwritten letters. Another causality of the change from written mail to electronic communication is the handwritten letter. How many of us were raised to mail a Thank You note for a present within a few days of receiving the gift? How many wrote letters home from summer camp or back and forth when one half of a couple was in the military? Handwritten letters have been important in our lives, but are virtually gone now. Children aren't being taught cursive writing in many schools, so they can't write a letter or couldn't read one they receive.

*The Newspaper. The younger generation simply doesn’t read the newspaper. They certainly don’t subscribe to a daily delivered print edition. That will go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. It is out-of-date when printed and much too expensive to distribute. As for reading the paper on line, get ready to pay for it as a matter of course. The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers have caused many newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance to determine a pay-for-reading business model that will work.

Interestingly, the demise of some newspapers seems to have been delayed by the recent political upheavals. Attacks against the truthfulness of the media has resulted in some significant subscription increases for a few of the better known ones, like the NY Times and Washington Post. But, that is likely a short term phenomenon. 

*The LandLine Telephone. Part of the reason the telephone white pages have almost ceased to exist is the drop in wired telephones. Considering how many folks have cell phones, it is somewhat surprising that 62% of American homes still have a landline phone. About a dozen years ago that number was 97%.

In some cases the hard-wired phone line is required because the household is still dependent on dial-up Internet. Up to 9 million of us don't have high-speed connections. Often home security systems require a dedicated phone line. If the electrical system fails during a storm, so do cell phones, but the landline phone operates. And, there are plenty of places in the country where cell signals are unreliable or non-existent. 

Adapting to change and using it to our benefit are important steps for us on our journey to a satisfying retirement. Which of the things on my list will you miss the most? Which ones are already gone from your life? What didn't I list that you believe is not long for this world?

March 10, 2017

Retirement: Is It A Smooth Ride?

Retirement is about movement. Movement from employed to unemployed. Movement from restrictions imposed by others to restrictions imposed by you. Retirement is about change. Change in how your day is structured. Change in your relationships. Freedom.

If you are getting close to retirement, or have recently taken the big step, it is natural to wonder "What have I gotten myself into? What happens now?"  Some of my earliest posts on Satisfying Retirement dealt with the Three Phases of retirement and some answers to those questions. I have reworked the original material a bit and present again for your review. 

When I stopped working in June 2001 little did I know that just a few months later the events of September 11 would make what I had done for a living very difficult. While air travel had become increasingly unpleasant over the previous decade, 9/11 would make that unpleasantness close to unbearable. Those of us who flew for a living were suddenly faced with tremendous time and logistics hurdles that made conducting business a major hassle. So, when I decided to stop propping up a failing business the additional burdens created after the terrorist attacks had yet to happen. It is quite possible that the first stage of my retirement life might have been quite different if my stop date had been later.

What Happened First?

My First Stage of retirement began with an incredible sense of freedom. The fear of making a wrong choice, or wondering how I would fill my days lay in the future. Waking up knowing I didn't have to pack a bag and go to the airport was exhilarating. Waking up knowing I didn't have to leave my family for several days or a week at a time was a blessing. All I perceived was endless enjoyment stretching out as far as I could see.

Coffee on the back patio with the morning paper, tending my garden, going to a movie in the middle of the day, spending more time reading and listening to music...I had the world on a string. My lifestyle had altered for the better, immediately.

Did I miss the contact with clients or others I worked with? Not really. My client roster had been diminishing for the previous 4-5 years at a rather steady clip. And, as anyone who is in contact with customers knows, a few of my clients were not my favorite people. I dealt with them because they supported my family and me. But, not having to deal with those abrasive or arrogant personalities was like a breath of fresh air.

One thing my first stage of retirement didn't experience was the loss of office interaction. For most of my consulting career I worked alone. There were a few clients and industry friends who I talked with several times a week. And, I will admit that not having the phone ring or the e-mail inbox full everyday did bother me a bit at first. But, the "water cooler" type of relationship was one I didn't miss because it wasn't part of my experience.

It is very possible that your experience in this regard was very different. If you had a work environment that included co-workers you enjoyed, clients or customers who were a pleasure to deal with, even a boss who treated you well and rewarded you fairly, missing that human interaction might be a large part of your first phase of a satisfying retirement.

First Stage Discoveries

During these first steps of developing a new satisfying retirement lifestyle I did quickly discover a few things that became important:

· Time becomes a friend. Initially time is seen as a tremendous ally. Suddenly you have control of the clock. You determine how your day is to be structured. Of course, commitments to a spouse or other relationships don't stop. But, the blessings of a day and evening that lack the rigidity of your former workday fills you with a real sense of freedom.

· Self discovery is a journey that begins anew. You learn things about yourself and spouse that you never knew while working 8 or more hours a day. We've all read about the adjustments that a spouse has to make when the husband or wife is suddenly "underfoot" 24/7. It is true, even if you worked from home for all or part of your career. Unless you are single, that other human being is not used to your charming presence all the time. If you approach the process as a positive, the personality traits, thoughts, and interests of the other person gives you a chance to expand and grow yourself.

· Your "possibles" list has fewer restraints. Books you want to read, trips you want to take, projects around the house, changing a spare bedroom into den space, taking on a new hobby that has always intrigued you, involvement in volunteer work, the chance to more fully develop your spiritual side if that is your thing...the list of "possibles" can be endless. Of course, financial, family, and health care issues impose certain limits. But, those boundaries are quite a bit farther apart when you are enjoying a satisfying retirement lifestyle.

Second Stage: Reality Raises Its Head

The first "honeymoon" phase is when time stretches forever toward the horizon. You see all the possibilities of an active, productive, exciting decades-long part of your life. That euphoria can last a few weeks, a few months, even a year or more. But, at some point, virtually everyone leaves the first stage of retirement and gets a slap in the face: this is the Second Stage.

I am not a mental health professional so I can't tell you why this happens. Nor, would I even pretend to tell you how to "fix" a severe problem. Hopefully, knowing that you are not alone and that these feelings come to most everyone might make the process easier to bear.

·As you make the transition into this new phase of retirement, there is a growing sense of unease, even panic. "What did I do? Am I crazy? I'll be broke in a year! What if I get really sick?" The reality of being without the safety net that a job provided suddenly strikes you. You are the Master and Commander of your fate and that is scary. What looked so good a few months ago now looks like a shipwreck about to happen.

·Loneliness often rises to the forefront. Even if you are married and your non-working spouse is home most of the time with you, feelings of isolation from what is going on out in the world will build. You have no idea how you are going to fill all the time each day. If you are single, widowed, or your spouse continues to work that void can be even stronger.

·The benefits you took for granted while working are either gone, or curtailed. Medical coverage usually suffers. Paid vacations? No more. Pension contributions? No way. Gaining weight and losing physical and mental sharpness? Yes.

What you must keep in mind is that, this too shall pass. If you suffer a bout of moderate to severe depression that lasts for more than a month, I urge you to seek professional help. Doctors can help you get control of these serious side effects of not working. But, if you have thoughts about any of the question above and are not clinically depressed, breathe easier. The  next stage will definitely follow.

Third Stage: Stability Returns and Real Growth Begins

Luckily for most retirees, Phase Three of your retirement arrives and can become the most satisfying. This is when you achieve a healthy balance between euphoria, panic, and reality. It is when you realize that you have the ability to make it all work for you. A happy, satisfying lifestyle is very possible. 

This isn't a period of Pollyanna-like thinking. It is a time when you can more calmly look at your current position, your options, and your dreamed-about future and decide what you can accomplish. It is a time of possible personal growth and development like you haven't experienced since you were in your 20's. Emotional and intellectual growth opportunities abound. Time really is your ally.

Personally, I originally thought my wife and I would take a long cruise at least once a year, spend the hot Arizona summers someplace else, and maybe buy an RV and explore the country. Almost 16 years later a fair amount of that has happened. We did retire before our financial resources were sufficient to turn all of our dreams into fact. But, that was a deliberate choice on our part. To continue working would not be worth the cost to our relationship or our health just so we could make all those "dreams" happen. 

Also, we discovered that plans are meant to be adjusted, or abandoned. What makes us happy today is quite different from what it was all those years ago. The joy of spending much more time with family and friends and deepening our spiritual life has grown in importance. We have always built our married life on experiences over things and that wasn't about to change. So, some of the grandiose thoughts of retirement lifestyle have been modified. Did we get the RV, occasionally take a cruise and travel to Europe a few times? Yes, Yes, and Yes. Are we perfectly content to spend several months at home? Absolutely, yes.

Did I go through the anguish of Stage Two? Certainly, and I still do every once in awhile. But, I have developed the insight of what was really important to me so I can weather the storm, and so can you.

Questions for you: what phase are you in? How has your experience differed or matched mine? What advice can you share?

March 7, 2017

I'm Headed To The Classroom - As a Teacher!

I should quickly qualify: I will be teaching one class a week for 5 weeks as a volunteer with the Junior Achievement program. The goals are to explain some basic economic literacy and talk about the possibilities of entrepreneurship. In my case it will be with 26 students in a 4th grade class at an elementary school not far from my home. If all goes well, I will become a regular part of the school's schedule.

My mom taught and volunteered in schools for over 40 years. Betty was a preschool teacher for a couple of decades. And, I guess being a consultant for 25 years was a form of teaching. Even so, I have never pictured myself in front of a bunch of real children, in a real school, with a real lesson plan to work through.

I'm finding it kind of exciting, and scary. I was looking for a new volunteer activity that put me in a position to positively affect children's lives, and this seems to fit the bill.

To quote from Junior Achievement's web site, it is the "nation's largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their futures, and make smart academic and economic choices."

Financial literacy is one of the major factors in determining the economic well being of an individual. In the United States, a recent study shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans couldn't pass a basic financial literacy test, so we are failing to educate our children and adults about the way that world operates. Junior Achievement is one of the major players in attempting to change these alarming statistics by focusing on our youth.

I had a training session a few weekends ago. It was my first chance to look at the teaching material, the use of my time in the classroom, and the benefits I may leave behind. I was quite impressed with the quality of all the material, and the thoroughness of the plan. I will have all sorts of visual aids, graphics, activities, and concepts to bring alive to my class. The lesson plan for each 45 minute class is plotted out for me. I just have to bring it alive and make it interesting.

The school I have been assigned is in a poorer section of town. Almost 100% of the 750 students receive free or discounted school lunches. It does not rank very well academically among other elementary schools in the area. This leaves me a little uneasy. I hope there is no serious language barrier or that the concepts I am presenting will have some relevance to the world in which these kids live. 

At the same time, this situation means these children are very likely to benefit from a positive message of economic potential. If this course can give them a sense of possibilities along with a basic understanding of how their decisions will affect their future, then the time is well worth it.

I am likely to start teaching toward the end of this month. I'll share with you how it goes.

March 3, 2017

A Year Spent Close To Home

Last year, our travel schedule was pretty aggressive: a 2 month-long RV trip as far east as North Carolina, almost a week at the Palm Springs Film Festival, an Alaskan Cruise, a week at a beach house in San Diego, a trip to Disneyland with the grandkids, and a few short RV jaunts to nearby state parks...a total of 12 weeks away from home and double our planned budget (oops!). We don't regret a minute of all that travel nor the experiences and memories generated.

2017 is shaping up to be quite a bit different. We have absolutely nothing on the travel calendar, save for a 4 day trip to Patagonia, a small town southeast of Tuscon that we enjoy for its peace and quiet. We will load up the RV and head to the state park just south of town in a few weeks.

I am confident that there will be some more on the schedule. A few RV trips to the Arizona mountains later in the year are easy ways to escape the heat for awhile. We like Show Low and Flagstaff. The grandkids are returning to Disneyland in August; that would be a worthwhile addition. Phoenix area resorts have good deals on rooms and meal packages during the hottest moths. Taking a two or three day pool and spa break is likely. Otherwise, we seem content to stick close to home.

A large part of the travel slowdown is budgetary. We overspent last year and need to show a little more restraint. But, there is also the uneasiness created by the actions coming out of Washington. Travel bans, deportations, the talk of a wall, all of those have the potential to make foreign travel uncomfortable.

It is too early in the process to know exactly where all this is going. Of course, waiting to go to England might put us in the midst of a Brexit upheaval. Other European countries are having struggles, too that aren't likely to end soon. So, is it wise to wait for a return to England, a cruise to the South Pacific, or a river cruise through France? We can't live our lives cowering in the corner, but caution may be called for at this time. Frankly, I am struggling a bit with this part of our decision.

One could argue that attacks in this country are not out of the question. In fact, over the past fifteen years, all the terrorist events within our borders have come from U.S. citizens or those here legally. Hate comes in all sorts of guises and can strike anywhere.

That being said, I think it just seems prudent to let the world stage figure out its next act, and get our budget back in line. We will stay within a few hours of home and simply enjoy our blessings and family. After 30+ years in Phoenix, we are actually used to the heat and know how to make the best of the situation.

How about you..any changes in your plans due to the world situation? I'm not looking to open a political can of worms, rather some feedback if your vacation and travel plans have been adjusted, and if so, how. Maybe none of what is happening has affected your plans. I'd like to know that, too. 

Of course, I have been known to see a brochure for someplace beautiful or different and ignore the budget. Your feedback may be the catalyst this year!