April 23, 2018

Getting and Giving Help: Turn To Your Friends

      Recently, I asked fellow blogger, Jean Potuchekfor permission to rerun a November, 2016 post from her blog, Stepping Into The Future: A Retirement JournalJean has been single and living alone for more than 40 years, so she has the experience to address this subject much better than I do. Also, she is a sociologist who has done research on singles, and is currently in the process of organizing a local support group for “solo seniors,” those who are negotiating aging without a spouse/life partner, children, or family nearby.

      I thought her perspective would be a perfect addition to my ongoing education. 

I recently joined a Facebook group for “elder orphans” – older people without spouses, partners or children. This is a closed group with moderated discussion, and it’s a cut above the usual social media experience. The group discussions are thoughtful and passionate and focus primarily on problems and issues that older singletons regularly face.

Many of the discussions focus on the importance of friendship networks for “elder orphans.” In the words of the Beatle song, we all “get by with a little help from [our] friends.” But those who have lived alone for years have often developed a habit of independence that makes it difficult to ask for help, and those who are newly alone (e.g., recently divorced or widowed or with grown children who only recently moved away) may not have learned yet how to rely on friends instead of family. In this post, I want to share what I have learned over the years about getting help from friends.
  • To get help, you have to ask for help. Don’t expect friends to just notice what you need and provide it for you. Most people like to help others (within limits). Years ago, a psychotherapist asked me how I felt when others asked me for help. “It makes me feel good,” I said. “It makes me feel needed.” “Then why,” she asked, “are you so determined to deprive other people of that good feeling?” It was an important lesson for me.
  • Spread your requests for help around so that you are not asking one or two friends to meet all your needs. I remember one friend who needed a lot of emotional support after a cancer diagnosis. She would glom onto a particular friend and then call that person 5-10 times a day and often wanted the friend to come spend the night at her house. She was burning out her friends at an alarming rate. Friends will find it hard to be helpful if they feel overwhelmed.
  • In order to spread out your requests for help, you need an extensive friendship network. A good network of supportive friends may include some close, emotionally intense friendships, but it also needs to include a larger circle of less intense relationships. One widow of my acquaintance who has been looking to make a few close friends asked “Do I really need more casual friendships?” The answer is yes!
  • Ask people for kinds of help that they are able to give. If they can’t give the kind of help you are asking for, but offer some other kind of help that you could use, say yes and look elsewhere for help with your first request. One member of the Elder Orphans group posted about a sibling who had asked her not to send him a text message first thing every morning. She took this as evidence that he didn’t care whether she was dead or alive. But I found myself looking at this request from the brother’s point of view. I savor mornings of solitary calm as my favorite part of the day. I would experience a request to respond to another person’s text message first thing each morning as oppressive.
  • Many of us find it difficult to ask for help and then get a response of no. We can feel unreasonably rejected and unloved. One way I have learned to handle this is to send out group email messages asking for a particular kind of help and then letting those who can volunteer their assistance. When I had to get to a series of chemotherapy treatments 30 minutes’ drive away from home, I sent out an email to a large group of friends and co-workers asking for help with transportation. So many volunteered that I was able to have different people drive me to and pick me up from each of my six treatments. Word of my cancer diagnosis had spread quickly through my workplace and people were very grateful to be given some way to help. And because I wasn’t dependent on any one person, I was able to retain some sense of control.

Friendship is, by definition, a relation of reciprocity and equality. This means that, in order to get help from friends, you must give help to friends. Ideally, you will have developed some of these relationships of mutual support before you really need them.
  • Offer to help, even before people ask. When I learned that a friend was having day surgery, I asked if she needed transportation. It turned out that she had already asked another friend for that help; but the fact that I offered makes it easier for her to ask me for another favor or for transportation in the future.
  • Put yourself out a little to help others. It’s sometimes tempting to say “no” when filling a request for help is inconvenient; but if you never inconvenience yourself to help others, they will have no reason to inconvenience themselves to help you.
  • Be sure to ask others what it is they need. It’s fine to suggest something, but don’t just assume that the other person wants what you would want in that situation. You might think that nothing would be more wonderful than having friends take turns to provide home-cooked meals for the first two weeks after a hospital discharge; but your friend might be looking forward to cooking and eating her own favorite foods.
  • We can’t help others unless we also take care of ourselves, so sometimes we need to set boundaries on the help we offer. When I saw my very needy friend with the cancer diagnosis burning through her friends one at a time, I knew that I needed to protect myself from the same fate. So I made an offer: I would be happy to set aside one half-day per week to spend with her, doing whatever she wanted to do. She chose Saturday afternoons, and for several months, I spent every Saturday afternoon with her. Sometimes, if she was recovering from a chemotherapy treatment, I just sat and read while she napped. Sometimes we went out for a walk or a shopping trip. One of her work colleagues used our arrangement as a model to set up an online sign-up where friends could volunteer for times to visit with her. In this way, he managed to ensure that she had company every day of the week without burning anyone out.
  • Try to reciprocate the help you get from others how and when you can. One friend of mine with a heart condition that prevents her from shoveling snow bakes favorite confections for the neighbor who shovels the sidewalk in front of her house after he does his own. A friend who is no longer able to drive periodically treats the friend who does her weekly grocery shopping and his wife to dinner out at a nice restaurant. By doing what she can, she maintains the reciprocity that is at the heart of friendship.

Thank you, Jean for your insight and willingness to share. While her focus is on singles, the suggestions above can work for any of us, regardless of our status.

Please give Stepping into the Future a visit. 

April 19, 2018

Managing Your Time: Do You Schedule or Go With The Flow?

Time management during retirement is an important topic. For some of us, we like to go with the flow. Our day evolves with minimal preplanning. What fits our mood or suddenly becomes available is what is do. Certainly, the basics happen on a regular schedule. But, overall, our daily calendar is a minimalist's dream.

Others would find that approach bothersome. Time is a priceless resource. We don't schedule every minute of the day, but we have certain activities and goals that make the grade. Letting things simply unwind would never cross our mind.

I am an interesting (some might say, odd) mix of the two. After 17 years of retirement, I have tried all sorts of approaches to my day. My natural tendency is to schedule everything: alarms that tell me when to take pills, when to go on a walk, when to water the pots, write a blog post, food shop, Even nap times have been determined ahead of time. 

I tried the unscheduled, "what will be will be," approach. Except for a doctor, barber, or repair people visits, I woke free of anything specific to accomplish that day. Not surprisingly, that was a bust. It drove me crazy. I'd realize it was late afternoon and I hadn't done anything "productive." 

Now, I am four weeks into an experiment that is an attempt to blend the two. Since my energy and productivity are highest before lunch I do things that require functioning brain cells or energy: writing a blog post, working on my next book, or food shopping with Betty. I don't schedule specific times, just certain activities.

The time from lunch to dinner  is for things that require less of me: reading, working on a hobby, yard work, Twitter promotion. This is also when I give myself an energy kick in the butt by going to the gym or bike-riding. Again, I don't set a timer, rather just hope to accomplish each by dinner (notice how everything is determined by when I eat!)

After dinner, I leave free for some time watching Netflix shows with Betty, more reading, listening to music, and time with a different hobby. Occasionally we have a concert, play or other activity that requires leaving home. 

So far, so good. I don't feel either over or under scheduled. I don't feel "unproductive" or wasteful of my time. I do think it makes sense to match my energy level with what I do and when I do it.

What about you?  Are you a believer in scheduling your day, knowing that once gone, time is gone? Or, did you leave that approach back at work when you walked out the door? Now, each day is a buffet; you will choose what is best for that day and your mood? 

I am a month into my latest attempt to make the best of use of my satisfying retirement - not too late to take a great idea from you and give it a try.

April 16, 2018

Dealing with Dad: How Did We Cope After Mom Died?

Dad meeting his youngest granddaughter

Caregiving is a topic that concerns most of us. We usually don't look forward to the obligations and responsibilities of taking care of someone else, but we know that is likely to happen. Either a parent, spouse, partner, relative, or friend is going to need our help at some point. Just as possible, we are going to be the recipient of caregiving from someone else.

This topic was raised several times in the recent post, Where does this retirement blog go from here? As one in a series of responses to your interest, today I will focus on what the caregiving experience was like for me and my wife, Betty, after my mom died and we were responsible for my dad's situation. 

Up front comes an important disclaimer. My parents lived in a CCRC, or Continuing Care Retirement Community. That meant they had a full range of services, from prepared meals, to home nursing care, and full nursing center services if needed. Betty and I were not tasked with the daily feeding, cleaning, and monitoring of dad's condition. I am quite aware that our experience in caregiving was much less stressful than it might have been if dad couldn't afford such a level of care. 

Mom died in December, 2010. At that point my parents had been married for 63 years. The only time they weren't together was when dad went on business trips. He was completely devoted to mom, so much so, that sometimes it was hard to tell where her personality stopped and his began. We fully expected dad to die not long after mom. He was so connected to her that life as a single was almost impossible to imagine.

Well, surprise, surprise. Dad spent over four years on his own, seemingly happy and not outwardly depressed over mom's death. While he was one of the least social people you might ever meet, he had an acquaintance or two, dined with those people every day and read at least a book a week. Because mom loved to watch the Phoenix Suns, he continued to do so for a few years, finally giving that habit up two years before his death. He did watch the evening news on a TV that had more more green than other colors, but refused the offer of an upgrade to a newer set several times. He wasn't a music listener or movie watcher, so how he filled his days is still a bit of a mystery.

Betty and I had a few duties as his caregiver that became increasingly important each year after mom's death. He really looked forward to our weekly lunches together. Though he rarely talked, he was genuinely pleased we were sitting at the table with him. Every once in a while he'd agree to leave the property for lunch at a restaurant, but he didn't like leaving his comfort zone very often, so we stopped suggesting it.

As his memory declined, I took over his financial and tax matters. For a time he wanted to know what I was doing. Eventually, he stopped asking, trusting me to protect his interests. That was an important part of our taking care of him. Mom had been the bill payer, dad wasn't comfortable with all of that. 

Three years before his death we convinced him to give up the car. He had no need for one. He was starting to get lost driving to and from our house and his. I convinced him that he was putting his financial future at risk if he caused an accident. Plus, his granddaughter needed a car. By giving it to her he felt good that he could help her out.

Of course, that meant Betty or I would have to take him to all doctor appointments and to the grocery and drug stores for his pills and food supplies. That wasn't a major inconvenience, though it did require some serious planning when we had a month or two RV vacation scheduled. But, the tradeoff of him not driving was worth it.

Dad was seemingly healthy on the morning of March 7,2015. He had breakfast and lunch at his usual table. By dinner time he was gone, found on the floor of his room. Medical folks assured me his passing was quick and probably painless.

Caregiving shifted to funeral arrangements and cleaning out his apartment. It was hard to walk into his place and look at the chair where he spent most days, reading. But, Betty and I consoled ourselves with the conviction that he led a good life, was loved by many, had excellent care, and did not have to deal with a lingering decline before joining his forever wife.

What about you? What caregiving story can you share to help us all deal with what is likely to be part of our future?

April 13, 2018

How Will Younger Generations Be Able To Retire?

Steps to Complete Before Retirement

Recently, I have added a simple poll question on the top right side of the blog. For a period of 6 days readers are asked to pick one of the possible responses. Then, I post another question and collect results. If the responses are sufficiently clear to a particular question, this is a simple way to generate new blog topics. 

A few weeks ago the question asked how your retirement would compare to those in younger generations. Out of the four possible choices, more than half (56%) said, "Worse than me." Another 15% said these folks would never be able to retire. No one thought those who follow us would do better than we are.

That is a conclusive result. Roughly 7 in 10 thought their children or grandchildren would not have the chance to experience a retirement as satisfying as theirs. This is a country where we have always believed those who follow us have the opportunity of a better life. If my completely unscientific poll is even close to right, a majority no longer believes that.

So, the question becomes, Why? What won't younger people have what we do? My answers have to be entirely speculative, since that was not asked on the poll. But, I think I am on pretty safe ground with these thoughts.

1) The lack of company pensions or strong retirement plans. Certainly, the generation before us benefited from a system of pensions and health coverage after retirement. Many older Boomers enjoyed the same benefits. Beginning with changes in tax laws in the 1980's and 90's defined benefit pensions began to be replaced with defined contribution plans. This type of plan is much less generous and provides much less stability to one's retirement planning. 

2) The soaring cost of medical care. On a per capitas basis, health care costs have increased 500% since 1970, or to an average of over $11,000 per person per year. Younger workers have substantially less help in covering health care costs than we did. With the current political climate, it is likely this burden will continue to take away money that might otherwise be invested in retirement accounts.

3) The weak wage growth over the past few decades = poor rates of savings. Average wages have increased 4.63% on an annual basis since 1960. For most, that has not been nearly enough to keep up with the cost of living.

4) Instant gratification and confusing wants and needs. We remain a society driven by consumption. Advertising has one goal: to create dissatisfaction with the status quo. Financial education is lacking, so too many younger folks do not appreciate the need to delay gratification for a long term benefit.

5) A tax system based on what we earn, not what we consume. All the variables are too involved for this post, and I do not pretend to understand all the issues involved. But, a taxing system that emphasizes a tax on purchases, like a VAT tax, seems to be more logical than one based so heavily on taxing income and investments. 

This is a complex problem, one well beyond my ability to suggest a solution that works for everyone. But, the poll I mentioned, along with any number of Internet articles and research reports indicates the ability of younger generations to enjoy retirement like many of us do should be of serious concern.

I sincerely hope that a satisfying retirement is not something that ends when our generation does. It is a stage of life that everyone should be able to experience, if that is their desire. As readers of this blog appreciate, retirement is not just about not working. It is about discovering aspects of one's personality and character that can remain unrealized until the freedom of this phase of life begins.

April 10, 2018

What Would You Do If You Faced This Problem?

You can probably guess what is the #1 concern of retired folks: their health, how it will hold up and how they will pay for it. In the United States our health care system almost guarantees that a large chunk of retirement savings will disappear into the pockets of insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, care facilities, and drug companies.

The second biggest concern is the one I want to focus on with this post: running out of money. Obviously, the #1 concern is a major reason for the #2 fear. Regardless of how dedicated you may have been to saving and investments, a major medical problem, or the need for a nursing home can knock a hole in your nest egg so large, there could be little left. 

The other reasons someone could run out of money are less dramatic but still very real. If you spend a lot on vacations under the "I'll see the world while I can" your later years may suffer. If we live through another recession of the severity of 2008-10, your portfolio may not have enough time to recover. Companies go bankrupt and leave a sizable investment of yours worth pennies on the dollar. You may find yourself supporting or caring for a family member or relative. 

I don't really need to elaborate why you may face a serious money shortage at some point during your retirement; you have a vivid imagination and can come up with plenty of scenarios on your own. The real question, is what would you do? What can you do? 

Obviously, there is no one answer that fits every person and every situation. But, the basic step that must be taken is quite simple to say, and very hard to implement: reduce your outgo to match your income. If only it were that easy.

So, let's think about what you, or a friend or relative, could do if faced with a serious financial shortfall. I have five options. Then, I'd love you to add as many more as you have time to type! There are folks among us whose retirement could very well depend on what ideas we can generate.

1) Change housing. Downsize to a smaller home or condo. Rent an apartment instead of owning a house. Look at manufactured housing communities. Find someone with a spare room to rent. Get a roommate. 

2) Go on a financial fast for a month. For 30 days cut your budget to the bone. Only buy what is needed. Cancel, suspend, eliminate, cut out everything else for one month. After the fast, reassess your financial status. When you can, start adding back those things that bring joy and comfort to your life, one at a time. 

3) Consider government programs you might have overlooked before. If you qualify, check out Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), food banks, free clinics, housing assistance, help with utility costs. If you are caring for a grandchild under five, you may qualify for WIC.

4) Get a job, any job. The goal is to tide you over until you get back on your feet, not start a second career. Greeters, an Uber driver, Amazon warehouse worker, fast food counter help...anything to bring in some cash as long as it doesn't cause you to fail to qualify for government assistance.

5) Ask a relative or friend for help. This is usually one of the last choices folks make. A certain stubbornness or pride keep us from asking those who love us to help us. 

The number of people who really run out of money during retirement is quite small. Maybe savings and investments are dangerously low. But, even then there will be money coming in. Social Security payments continue along with any pensions that you might be entitled to receive. Medicaid provides basically free medical care since  even Medicare costs money each month to maintain coverage and generally doesn't cover dental, hearing, or vision care.

Now, I'd like you to brainstorm. Imagine for a moment this is your situation: you are running low on retirement money. What would you do before things became serious? How would you attempt to solve this problem?

April 7, 2018

How to Ease Into Retirement

After thinking about the almost eight years of this blog and the interaction with readers, I am impressed with the amount of thought and planning folks are putting into building their satisfying retirement. Of course, there are those who due to circumstances or personality are on the "what will be will be" side of the scale. But, the majority seem to be trying to anticipate both financial and personal issues that lie ahead. 

Some of the pre-retirees who are part of our community , those still a few years away from full retirement, have written about how they are trying to ease into retirement. Either they have moved from full time to part time employment, taken a job that allows for more flexible hours, or become involved in telecommuting so they can become accustomed to being home several days a week.

A story on Money Magazine's website I have kept bookmarked for six years detailed some of the same approaches. As these people age they look for ways to reduce their working hours while learning how to be retired. Unable or unwilling to stop all work, these folks have creatively found ways to downshift their schedule.

The transition to full time retirement can be tricky. I have written about discovering what you want to do with your free time before you find yourself on the couch in front of the TV. There have been lively discussions about setting up a budget before your regular checks stop so you have a feel for what life will be like when you must make do with what you have invested and saved. Moving or staying put is one of the most important decisions that I revisit from time to time. Figuring out how to live with your spouse or partner all day, everyday, is often tougher than it seems. Being single brings its own set of challenges. So, if you can do it, the concept of easing into retirement can be an intelligent move.

But, what if your job or situation doesn't allow for dipping your toes fully in the water before taking the plunge (sorry for the metaphor but it was so obvious!)? Is there still a way to make a smoother transition?

Yes, I think it is possible. Try these ideas:

1. The next time you have a long weekend off from work, spend the time at home instead of rushing off the mountains or ocean. Don't start a big project. Try to make time slow down by throwing away your normal schedule and to-do list. Experience what 3 full days without an agenda feels like. Set aside time to think about what you want when retirement comes. Use this time away from work to try out a schedule you control. Does the lack of a list or feeling productive every minute leave you feeling a bit uneasy? That is a good sign you aren't quite ready to cut the cord.

2. Devise a budget based on what you think your retirement income and outgo might be. Live off that budget as closely as possible for 2 months. How did you feel...deprived and stressed or somewhat liberated? What if you had to live that way full time?

3. Make a list of those passions and hobbies you haven't engaged in due to lack of time. Pick the top two and force yourself to make the time to dabble in them to see if the interest is still strong. If not, you should find something that keeps you energetic and engaged before tapering down from work.

4. Have a health checkup or honestly assess yourselfRetirement is not nearly as much fun if you are not feeling your best. Take the steps now to get yourself stronger and feeling better. Retirement puts some pressure on you. Be sure you can handle it.

5. If you can afford it, go somewhere for a vacation that allows you to really disconnect from the planning and pressures of your daily life. As I noted in a post from a few weeks ago, retirement and vacations share some important similarities. 

While none of these ideas replicates the actual feeling of being retired, each gives you a piece of the puzzle that together will be your satisfying retirement.

April 4, 2018

You Thought Your Hobby Was Unusual!

After a few rather weighty subjects over the last several weeks, I thought I'd take a look at something fun today: unusual hobbies and collections. One of the joys of blogging is the time spent on the Internet researching various retirement lifestyle topics. Part of what I am learning is that humans have the ability to entertain themselves in an infinite number of ways.

Most of us have a hobby or two, something we like to indulge in during free time.  As a youngster I was a stamp and coin collector. Recently I have begun collecting and restoring vintage radios from the 1940s. I discovered a company that sells rather elaborate wooden kits of things like locomotives, racing cars, or clocks. These have been fun to put together in conjunction with my grandson. I continue to be a ham radio operator. Part of my office is filled with various transmitters, receivers, scanners, and things with dials all over them. The attic contains s few antennas , allowing me to  talk to other amateurs all over the world, or listen to programming from other countries.

Those outlets and use of my free time (and money) are quite mainstream. I am a hobby straight arrow compared to some of the stuff I found with little effort on the Internet. Just to prove my point that we are a rather diverse life form, here is a small sampling of actual hobbies and collections that exit:

Must have a very big garage
  • real war tanks (Arnold Schwarzenegger, apparently) 
  • accordions 
  • McDonald Tray liners
  • colors (I gather paint chips from Big Box stores)
  • toasters
  • air sickness bags (there is a museum for this one)
  • carved egg shells
  • snow globes
  • cigar bands
  • swizzle sticks (my father-in-law did this)
  • sugar packets
  • Zippo lighters
  • Swingline staplers
  • handcuffs (don't ask)
  • cookie jars
  • barbed wire (I thought they were all the same!)
  • soap bars
  • decorated toilet seats
  • salt and pepper shakers (I've been to the museum in Gatlinburg, TN)

Chain Maille
If you want to make something a little out of the ordinary and are feeling medieval, there are over 600,000 sites to tell you all about making chain maille.

Friends of our family were fascinated by mead, a drink of the same time period. They made it, consumed it, and served it at parties. No one else I know found the stuff very drinkable.

In case you are looking for a hobby, or you have a lot of free time, here is a list of 50 different hobbies and activities for you to consider. Actually, if you have time to read through these items, you have time for a hobby.

As a final treat, here is a video from Youtube of some of the world's oddest collections It is less than 6 minutes long, so if you have the time enjoy what some truly unique folks do with their spare time.

I thought I'd be a little silly and trivial with this post. I hope you had a smile or two. After all, a satisfying retirement is about having fun and enjoying yourself. Hobbies are one way we do so.

What do you do to entertain yourself and occupy some of your free time? It doesn't have to as odd as some of these to add to our enjoyment!

April 1, 2018

Being Single and Retired

I have been called to task in the last few weeks, politely but accurately, for my posts on how various retirement issues affect couples. Since there are over 19 million folks in America over 65 who are single due to divorce, being widowed or never having married, my focus is missing a big chunk of retirees.

Those who called this to my attention are absolutely correct. My problem is I have been married for almost 42 years. My insight into the problems and benefits of being single and retired is quite limited.

I have written about this topic a few times, as well as used an article from people who know the subject much better than I do. If you missed any of these, please click on the links. 




Even so, it is important that in future posts I am sensitive to my approach being too couple-oriented. That doesn't mean I will suddenly have great insight to the different challenges faced by singles, but I can try to be more inclusive.

For this post I'd like to focus on someone who has been single for all or most of his or her life. Someone who has become recently unattached because of a divorce or death of a partner is likely to have a different situation that should be addressed in a separate article. 

I will assume the long-term single has figured out how to make things work: friendships, financial control, activities that keep someone motivated and active.  In that sense, there isn't much difference from what any retired person must do, except it is all on one person's shoulders. That autonomy is the norm. 

So, the married guy has some questions:

Living Arrangements: When you become less able to care for yourself alone what are your options? Is co-housing something you have thought about? Would you consider a retirement community? Do you have family or relatives who you could live with, or depend on for an increasing level of care? Will you age in place for as long as possible?

Social Support: Do you have friends, either single or part of a married couple, who you can count on help you if needed and be available for social activities? Does dining out or going to a play or concert as a single cause you problems? Have you found clubs, volunteer organizations, or churches welcome your singleness?

Travel: Cruises and many packed tours come to mind as a problem for singles: the "singles surcharge" often makes the cost for one person almost as high as for two. There are cruise lines and tour companies that specialize in single travelers though they are not nearly as prevalent as those that focus on couples.

I assume that traveling alone brings some extra challenges, in terms of safety and being more vulnerable to street crimes. It also brings extra freedom to do what you want when you want to do it, not on someone else's schedule. 

Have you run into travel problems? How you do solve them? Are there pluses or negatives to solo travel that you'd like to mention?

Finances: Singles do not have another person to help with the financial load, planning, or execution. Tax laws and social security aren't particularly welcoming to non-couples. If female and single, it is likely you earned less than a man during your working years, meaning what you had to invest and use for retirement is less.

What financial disadvantages come from being a long time single? What are the pluses? 

Think of this post as your chance to educate those of us who do not fully appreciate what it means to be single and of retirement age. Please, comment to your heart's content.

For married readers, or those in any type of partnership arrangement, I hope what our single peers have to say will help us understand a part of life that we are only observing.

As a couple, if you have an observation about singles you know or have observed, please feel free to add your voice to the conversation. The comments are not meant to be restricted to only those who are going through this stage of life as a single adult.

March 29, 2018

Where Does this Retirement Blog Go From Here?

In a few months Satisfying Retirement will have been a blog for 8 years. That is over 1,100 posts, almost a million words, and closing in on 3 million views. 

I am pretty sure I have addressed every retirement question, most dozens of times. There is always a fresh look at an old topic, a suggestion from a reader, a realization that I am ignoring one segment of folks, like singles, or a change in tax laws that prompts a post. Overall, I hope topics don't get too stale. Occasionally I will dip my toe in the waters of politics or religion, or something more personal than normal. If I don't overdo those subjects, everything continues smoothly. 

There seems to be a natural turnover of readership. Some brave souls have been with me since June, 2010. On average, though,  I see fresh commenters while others seem to drop away every 2 or 3 years. That is quite natural. Once someone feels they have a good handle on retirement and its complexities, it is time to move on. New subjects and different bloggers beckon.

In order to stay relevant to those new this blog I do have to keep my focus on the subjects that dominate retirement worries: money, relationships, where to live, making the best use of time, volunteering and giving back. Let's not forget caregiving, grandkids, spirituality, mortality, vacations, and travel.

Who I'd like to address with this post are those who started visiting this blog not all that long ago, and those who have been with me for awhile. You are here, so the subject of retirement living is important to you. I wonder if there are certain topics that I miss, things you really would like me to write about.

Likewise, there are certain subjects you are pretty tired of. When you see a post on .....this...subject, you are likely to skim it or wait a few days for my next offering.

So, I am looking for feedback from:

.... Newer readers, and, 

.... Longer time readers

If you would leave a comment that would be very helpful. Identify yourself as a newer, or longer time reader, and tell me which topics you want to read about more, and which subjects you would rather I take a bit of a break from discussing.

Even though I have to keep circling back to some of the basic topics for brand new readers, it would be ever so helpful to get your input on where I should go for year nine of Satisfying Retirement.

March 26, 2018

Are Commitments Still Important?

I've told the story before how several years ago I happily agreed to help one of my daughters move back to Phoenix from LA. I pitched in with last minute packing and driving the rental truck. She is her father’s daughter. Arrangements had been made well ahead of time for people to load the truck, take a TV and microwave she didn’t want to move, pick up a car she was donating to a charity, disconnect the cable, and do the final walk-through of the apartment. Each of these was reconfirmed one or two days beforehand.

Well, things didn't go quite as arranged. On the day of the move, the packers had dropped her from their schedule. The fellow who was going to pick up the microwave decided after several text messages that he didn’t really want it enough to come get it. For some reason the women who was getting the TV thought she was to pick it up on Sunday, not Friday.

The cable company had no record of the pick up of the equipment. The tow truck to pick up the car was late. Even the apartment representative was 45 minutes later than the agreed upon time.

Do you see a pattern? We certainly did. It was the absolute unimportance of keeping commitments. Not one apologized, except for a few, insincere “Sorry about that.” The insensitivity to the inconvenience, and even the anger shown when we suggested their actions were harmful taught us a very valuable lesson. 

Keeping a commitment used to be a rather serious matter. It was understood that a promise had been made. A commitment meant you and I could trust each other to do something at a specific time or in a certain way. 

Today, it seems more likely that a commitment is considered  flexible. When it suits the person or business that made the promise is when it will be fulfilled. I can’t begin to detail the reasons why commitments are not that important anymore to an increasing segment of society. But, I would like to take a stab at discussing why I believe it is a mistake.

A commitment kept shows respect for others. When a promise is made to do something, there is another person or business that is counting on you. Mae West once said, “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.” To make a commitment and then treat it as not very important, or flexible in its execution, says the other person isn’t as valuable as you. It says your convenience and your needs must always come first.

A commitment kept shows respect for yourself. You are putting your personal integrity and reputation on the line. You are not willing to fail someone else who is depending on you. You want to be known as someone who delivers what he promises. You believe you are able to take responsibility as it affects others.

A commitment kept shows an understanding of your time and energy. Sometimes I have over-committed myself. I think I can do more than I can. I have promised more than I can deliver based on my available time or abilities. I don’t want to say “No” to someone who asks me for something. But, I have had to learn my limits. The amount of time and energy I have is finite. A commitment that I can’t keep is much worse than no promise at all.

A commitment kept is essential for success. From a business perspective, a company or a salesman that promises something will happen or a product will be delivered on a specified date will soon be out of business if that commitment isn’t kept. Trust and a good reputation are essential in business. They are earned when everyone's interests are considered and respected.

The same premise exists for an individual. My personal reputation, the belief in my trustworthiness and my honesty, must be above question. When I make a promise the other person must believe that I will do everything in my power to keep that promise. Trust is a very fragile thing, and once it has been broken there's a chance it may never be fully repaired.

A commitment is a test of that trust. Whether it is as a caregiver to a family member or friend, a promise of a ride to the store, fulfilling an offer to babysit, or something as serious as properly managing someone's financial well-being, keeping that commitment is paramount.  

I’m afraid the experience in Los Angeles wasn’t an isolated instance. Think about your own day-to-day life. Did the doctor really intend on seeing you at the time set for your appointment, or is any time with an hour of that time acceptable? Is the car really going to be repaired for the estimate you received? Will you definitely e-mail the information I need today like you promised?

It doesn’t help to get angry when someone else doesn’t understand all that a commitment implies. You only have the power to not patronize that merchant again or avoid a person who has misled you. You can’t change that person’s understanding of responsibility.

But, each of us has the ability to understand what commitments stands for and to keep them. If a promise is made a promise will be kept. It is that simple. Even if you may be the only person doing so.

March 23, 2018

Our Retirement Image: Do Younger Folks Have It Wrong?

One of my daughters is 37 year old. That places her squarely in what is called Generation X, or the group that follows the Baby Boomers. These are the folks that will inherit whatever the 76 millions Boomers leave behind (the good, the bad, and the ugly).

Recently she was visiting us between business trips. At one point she said, "You guys are not like retired people."  That caught my attention. After 17 years away from working world I would have thought we were about as close to "retired people" as one could find.

So, I asked what she meant. Her answer was important because it revealed an image issue that is probably quite common. She meant that Betty and I are active, have many interests, find new things to do and try, and aren't content to just watch the clock tick.

Her description of her parents fits most of the folks who read this blog and those who leave comments. Being active, learning and trying something different...that seems about right for most of the retired people I know, both in person and through this blog.

I asked her a followup question: "What retired people do you know who aren't like us?"  She named some couples who spend most of their time playing golf, going to cocktail parties, watching TV, or stuck in a routine that rarely varies. In her mind that is what the majority of retired people do; mom and dad are outliers.

Her assumptions put in focus an image problem that retirement continues to have, especially with younger people, about how we spend this stage of our life. And, that is important because it probably influences their likelihood of planning for their own retirement. If they see it as a dull, static part of life, then why would they ever want to retire? 

If retirement is the end of the road, then saving for that future wouldn't be an important priority. Keeping one's health as long as possible, maintaining a stimulated brain....why worry if it is only used for watching TV or playing Bunco?

I propose no grand solution, just some common sense steps. What can we do to help change the outmoded ideas that the younger generation has of retirement? Spend more time with those in their 30's and 40's if that is an option for you. Join clubs or volunteer organizations that have a nice mix of age groups. Go to events at school or church in which grandkids participate...that will put you in close contact with parents of this age group. 

Live outside a retirement community if that fits your needs and interact with dog walkers, kids and parents in the park, your neighbors. If you need to shop, don't go when you are feeling grumpy or out of sorts. Your attitude in public can go a long way to dispelling the image of the angry old person!

Obviously, it is not our sole responsibility to change a flawed perception of retirement. Movies and TV do a great job of pigeon-holing us as has-beens or confused oldsters. Sometimes our reluctance to embrace new technology, or change in any form feeds that perception.

 What we can do is live a life that belies that stereotype, in full public view, and chip away at the wrong image, one swing at a time.

Note: I am visiting dear friends in California this weekend, so I may be a bit slower responding to your comments.  However, I am very interested in what you have to say, so have at it!

March 20, 2018

Will All This Matter a Few Years From Now?

I can't believe the New Year is almost three months old. It seems like just a few weeks ago the stress and uncertainty of 2017 had been boxed up and safely put in my attic (if only). Receipts were bundled and stored away, this year's budget is holding up (so far).

It is a human tendency to want to have a clean break, a new beginning, a way to look ahead instead of behind. January 1st serves that purpose for many. Since we cannot do anything about our past except learn from it, focusing on today and what may lie ahead is the only logical choice.

But, too quickly, it seems we are back into our normal routine. I spend time worrying about mistakes I have made, opportunities I have missed, or people I have hurt or neglected. I read the news and am constantly irritated. I fret over Betty's health though she has been managing everything well for the last 40 years.

At times, don't we wish there was a way to revise our history, to fix something we broke? Wouldn't it be great if we could store all of the negative parts of our past as easily as we box up old papers and tax forms?

Maybe the answer is to take to heart in the question posed by the title of this post: Will all of this matter a few years from now? If the past is, well, past, how do we leave it there? How do we chalk up the past months and years to just part of our life journey and not make it more powerful than it need be? 

This seems especially important during retirement. We should be focusing on what we can affect, right now. Wasting time and energy on what is in our rear view mirror is counterproductive. 90% of our worry about the future won't happen. For that remaining 10% there isn't much we can do about it now anyway except make plans and realize they'll probably need revision.

I found an article on Huffpost from several years ago that is an excellent summary of my point. The author, Shelby Doherty, wrote the following:

"Someday in the future we are all going to end up exactly where we are supposed to be. So why stress about how we get there?"
"Think about how far you have come and everything that you are so fortunate to have, you will realize that no matter how far away your hopes and dreams may seem, where you’re at right now is the perfect place to begin."

I know this is hard. As humans, we believe our lives are a fragile mix of fate, divine intervention, or the flip of a coin, so all our actions have consequences, all our thoughts are worth having. We attempt to enforce our will on a universe that has bigger things to accomplish.

The reality is quite elemental: the only thing we can definitely affect is right where we are with our attitude, focus, and choices we make in this moment. Yes, we should apologize to those we hurt in the past and learn from our bad choices. Yes, we should plan for the future and do what we think is best to prepare.

But, the only thing that we absolutely affect is the now. Excessive worry about what lies in the future is wasted energy. Will it all matter a few years from now?

We don't know.

March 17, 2018

Best Reasons to RV Travel

There is something magical about waking up away from home. The different feel of the bed, maybe the way the sunlight comes through the curtains, the brief flash of unease at the unfamiliar surroundings that quickly gives way to a relaxed feeling of knowing where you are and why. 

If you are away from home in an RV or trailer, then the feeling of a different start to the day is even more pronounced. Space is compressed, things are mostly within your reach. The coffee maker is only a few steps from the bed, which is only two paces from the bathroom.

Hearing a few birds outside is easier since the windows are all around you. Keeping the furnace off overnight means a chilly floor hits you as you step out of bed. 

The start of the RV travel season is only a few weeks away for most of the country. If you are still knee-deep in snow (Hi, Boston!) or just plain sick of the cold, tired of rain and clouds, or just have an urge to hit the road, you may be thinking of planning your next trip. If the idea of owning a motorhome or pulling a fully-equipped trailer behind you is kind of exciting, here are some of the reasons 10 million American have taken the plunge:

1. The freedom of traveling with your home is addictive. Unpack once, bring your pillow, favorite photos, books, and movies. Eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired. You are home wherever you are.

2. Pets are welcome on the road. Does putting your pet in a kennel bother you? RV travel is even better with your best 4-legged friend.

3. Don't fly over the country, rather be immersed in daily, local life. Buy your produce at a farmer's market. Explore a local nature preserve. meet the town characters at the diner. Experience your country in a very personal, interactive way.

4. Being in a small space encourages relationship-building. You learn the art of compromise quickly in 200 sq. feet.

5. After the initial purchase, vacations are much less expensive. With proper care an RV can last a decade or two. Think of all those motel rooms you are not renting and the restaurant meals you are not buying.

6. Life long friends can be found on the road. RV parks are full of friendly folks who want to share and connect. Several of our dearest friends were first met while traveling.

7. You come home with a new sense of satisfaction. Where you live seems fresh, welcoming, and very comforting. There is no place like home, especially after being gone for awhile.

Sounds great doesn't it?  But, there are a few skills you must master:


You want to take a nap, or read, or go to a particular museum in town. Your partner wants to download photos to the computer or take your dog to a local park for a long walk. She would like dinner at 6:30pm, you are hungry by 5:30pm. You are content with an afternoon of people watching while she wants to visit an antique store a few miles away. Your traveling partner never gets tired of watching a movie every night, you do.

RV travel is compromise on steroids. Each of us has things we’d like to do at each new town we visit, and things we’d rather avoid. But, like marriage in any setting, compromise is a absolute necessity to make the time together a joy.

Of course, if you are single, you are the master of your own self-contained universe. You make the rules and break them when you chose.


Being inside a metal and fiberglass box for an extended period is not the way most of us live our lives. Usable living space is probably less than 100 square feet. For two adults and a dog that is tight…no, it is dangerous. The kitchen may have about 3 square feet of counter space, and that is after putting a cover over the stove top. Cooking and cleanup are difficult. So, it is important to cooperate to make life not only bearable, but actually enjoyable.

(The) Calendar:

After two or three weeks on the road it is not unusual to not be able to remember the day of the week or the date. In one sense, there is a sameness to this type of trip. After a while RV campgrounds start to look the same and the hours spent driving from one town to the next blend together. But, the important point is that the date of the month or even the specific day of the week becomes unimportant. What begins to matter are the experiences and memories. The calendar becomes unimportant. For some of us, that is hard to accept. But, accept you must.

(Being a little) Crazy:

To spend several weeks, or even longer with many of our normal creature comforts no longer part of a daily routine requires an openness that may border on being slightly crazy. Deciding if the shower facility at a particular campground is clean enough to use, putting $100 worth of gas into an apparently bottomless pit of an RV gas tank every third day, and wearing the same limited wardrobe week after week can become tiring.

The menu is restricted to what a small refrigerator ( and even smaller freezer) can hold between shopping trips. When you want to stay in touch with family and friends, Internet connections, even cell phone service, can be frustratingly poor.

It helps tremendously to let yourself go. If you want your regular lifestyle and all that implies, you are going to be frustrated. If you like a vacation with room service, clean sheets every night, and a poolside cocktail, stay away from the RV dealer.

The RV lifestyle is not inexpensive. The upfront cost is enough to make your budget scream.  Even with a small, pop up camper, you will find most RV campgrounds cost from $30 to $75 a night, or more. A motorhome is lucky to get 10-12 miles a gallon. Repairs can be expensive. If you tow a trailer you probably need a large SUV or truck to pull it.

Even with all this "craziness," life on the road is addictive and stimulating. It produces experiences you can have in no other way. It gets into your blood.

As regular readers know, my wife and I RV'd for almost 5 years. We loved the trips and have incredible memories (and photos) to prove it. About 10 months ago we sold our motorhome. We thought the time was right to move to another phase of our retirement travels: cruises and airplane flights to where we wanted to go.

RV travel was a special time for us. We had our share of on-the-road hassles and irritations. But, overall, we don't regret that part of our satisfying retirement for a second. In all honesty, we miss the freedom.