January 20, 2018

A Perfect Retirement Day

This is a bit of an experiment. It will be a fun, engaging experience, or a total bust. 

I am turning the success of today's post over to you. I am asking you to describe a perfect retirement day. What would have to happen (or not happen) for you to declare it a "perfect" retirement day?

Would you be with friends or family or alone? Would it be in the woods, by the ocean, or hiking a mountain range? Would it be sunny and warm or snowy and cold? Would you never leave your home all day or be gone from sunup to sundown? 

Would you read, watch movies, listen to music? Would you meditate? Would you go to the animal shelter and pick out a new dog or cat? Would you catch up on long-delayed shopping for things you want to add to your home to make it your personal retreat? 

There are as many answers as there are people. That's why this could be a real learning, sharing experience for us. 

Oh, my perfect day? It might include a mix of some of the following:

1) Time with family. A meal together, watching a movie or playing games, conversation about this and that.

2) Reading one of the books I always have in a stack nearby.

3) Responding to a flood of comments on a blog post that I wasn't sure would generate much interest, let alone feedback.

4) Replacing a few parts in a 70 year old vintage radio I am restoring.

5) Taking at least one nap.

6) Taking our dog to a park to watch her frolic and hunt for lizards (her favorite thing in the whole world). Having a picnic lunch. Bike riding.

7) Having a glass of wine at 4pm while sitting on the back porch, listening to the water fountain, and having no real thoughts.

8) listening to music - a mix of favorites and something new.

9) Making a stranger smile.

10) Firming up plans for a 3 week trip to the beach.

OK, now your turn. Tell us what your perfect retirement day would be. Keep your answer as short or long and detailed as you want. Give us a glimpse of your idea of perfection.

January 17, 2018

Is This Missing From Your Retirement?

You might be thinking. "nothing is missing. What are you talking about?" The short answer is a hobby or  something that engages you. Then, you might respond, "Why do I need a hobby at all? My life already full and getting busier. Who has time to take on a new commitment?"  I'm suggesting the answer is, you, if you haven't thought seriously about finding one. What exactly is a hobby? According to the dictionary it is an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation.

Two words in the definition give you a clue to its importance: pleasure or relaxation. Often I have discussed the common misconception that a retired person has nothing but free time, few obligations, and even fewer responsibilities. If you have been among the non-working for more than a short while, you know none of that is true. A satisfying retirement can be just as hectic as your working days. So, the need for something that allows you to take a break from the routine is every bit as important.

Hobbies are as varied as the people who pursue them. My father-in-law collected swizzle sticks and matchbooks. I started stamp collecting as a pre-teen and eventually moved into ham radio. Now, I am refinishing and restoring vintage tube radios from the 1940s.  Others choose woodworking, quilting, playing an instrument, gardening, mountain biking, golf, sky diving, fishing.....the list is endless. But, what makes a fulfilling hobby?

Some pick a hobby that is "practical," others do something just for the fun of it. A practical hobby would be sewing, woodworking or vegetable gardening. While it provides the pleasure or relaxation you need, it also produces something that can be used, sold, or enjoyed later. Just for the fun of it is pretty self-explanatory. Mountain biking, ballroom dancing, or most forms of collecting are taken up because the activity is enjoyed. Generally there isn't a practical use for whatever is done. Importantly, both categories have equal value. A hobby satisfies a need you have. Whether it is practical or just a lot of fun doesn't matter in the least.

A good hobby is one that often uses skills or talents that weren't fully utilized during your working career. If you spent a lot of time in front of a computer, a satisfying hobby might involve something more physical, or with different skill sets. If you wrote technical reports all day, turning out a good mystery novel might be just the ticket. On the other hand, if your day used to be filled with some form of manual work, a hobby that uses more brain than brawn could be best for you.

A new diversion can boost your creativity. The energizing aspect of a good leisure activity can prompt you to tackle something new. You learn new ways to solve problems. You face new challenges that must be dealt with differently than during other times of your life.

In most hobbies there are opportunities to meet new people who have the same interest as you. Everything from formal clubs to informal gatherings over coffee are part of many hobby activities. Problem-solving and question-asking through e-mail or telephone exchanges introduces you to someone you may never have met any other way.

Most hobbies require a serious dose of "me-time." You are intently focused on the activity or process. You shut out distractions or the needs of others for just awhile. You feed only yourself. Particularly if you are involved with other people most of the time, this solitary experience can be very pleasurable.

Showing the versatility of hobbies, the exact opposite situation may also occur. You may spend time with a spouse, child, or significant other in a way that is totally different from normal interactions. If you are both hiking a mountain pass, the experience will trigger reactions and conversations very different from those involving who takes out the trash or what's for dinner. The chance to learn more about each other can make a shared hobby a real kick.

Finding a hobby that really fits your needs takes experimentation. Unless you are lucky, you might have to try out several until something clicks. You might change hobbies over time as your needs and interests evolve, and that's OK, too. My only advice: keep searching. I went for almost 8 years without anything that would qualify as a legitimate hobby. As soon as I found what I was searching for I knew it.

What about you? Do you have something that brings you pleasure or relaxation? Have you found something that really brightens your free time? Or, are you still searching? I'm interested in learning about your hobby or your hunt for one. Please share your experiences with us.

January 14, 2018

"I Want To Retire Some Day. How Should I Prepare?"

Clock is ticking down, but you aren't there quite yet

If you are reading this blog, I assume you have some interest in retirement. Maybe not tomorrow, or even next year. Maybe it is a savings and money issue. Maybe you enjoy your job and the stimulation it gives you. Maybe your responsibilities with your family must be front and center for now. Maybe retirement scares you a bit. That just makes you normal. But, eventually you want to retire and would like some suggestion on how to prepare for the day when you are ready.

If you are already retired, I am asking a favor: read this post anyway, and then add you own hints and ideas as a comment. Your experiences qualify you to help those who have yet to make the move.

A) Make Your Financial Projections: Get a paper and pencil, spreadsheet program on your computer, or anything that will help you with the following:

What is your projected income from now until you retire. Obviously, this is a guess. Your job might disappear tomorrow. But, based on your past situation, you should be able to make an educated guess of what you expect to make from now until you do retire. 

What do you expect to receive from Social Security? Avoid the "it won't be there for me" panic attack. We don't know the future, but we know the present. If Social Security undergoes revisions, then you will adjust your other projections. But, for now, use what is real today.

 You get a yearly report that tells you what you can expect based on your past earnings. Do you think you will have to take your payments as early as allowed, or will you be able to wait? There are logical reasons for both courses of action that are based on your status. Add that monthly amount to your projections. There are often slight upward adjustments to your monthly check, like 2018's 2% bump, but it isn't enough to change any of your planning.

What is the current status of your retirement savings and investments? You can't predict what the market will do. You can project how much you plan on saving and investing in the years ahead. Using a conservative growth projection, what should you have when you are ready to retire? What do you need to have available when you retire?

Here's a biggie: what about health care costs? None of us knows what the future holds in this area. Personally, the only thing I expect are prices for coverage, medicines, and services will go steadily up. Plan on at least a 10% increase every year until you are eligible for Medicare (or its successor). If you are lucky enough to have good coverage through your workplace, you are lucky. That removes a large worry from your plate, at least for now.

Be aware, that even with Medicare after you turn 65, expect to spend at least $240,000 on medical expenses during the rest of your lifetime.

OK, now with those figures available to you, can you live on that for 30 years? People in good health today who are in their 40s or 50's can expect to live into their late 80s or mid 90s. If you retire sometime around 65, you will have to take care of yourself for another 30 years. Can you?

B) Make Your Lifestyle projections: Your financial situation will determine the overall structure of the life you will lead in retirement. Lifestyle issues will determine the quality: whether it is enjoyable and satisfying. Are you ready?

Where will you live? Many folks want to escape weather they don't like and use retirement as the motivation to move somewhere more to their liking. Or, their family lives somewhere else in the country and moving closer would make them happier.

Others like the roots they have established where they are, have family and friends nearby, and don't want to go anywhere. Moving to a retirement community on the other side of the country would never cross their mind.

Do you envision yourself in an "active adult" community, an age-restricted setup, an urban or rural environment, or selling everything and becoming a nomad in an RV?

What about the complications that arise when one or both spouses are with each other 24/7? Trust me, this is a a major adjustment for both partners. No matter how much Dr. Phil you have watched, how many books on relationship building you've checked out of the library, and how much you love your partner, being together all the time is tough without some planning.

Do you have something besides work that you love to do? If work is your vocation and avocation what will you do when you don't have that anymore? Do you have any interests, passions, or hobbies you'd love to explore? It is best to figure that out before you walk in the door of your house, retired, with no idea what to do next.

I've made the point many times in multiple posts that retirement is a huge adjustment for anyone. I don't care how well prepared you think you are, there are things you have not forseen that will happen. Such uncertainty shouldn't freeze you in place. Life is all about change. There is no way to cover all your bases ahead of time.

So, what to do? Plan, plan, plan. Then plan some more. Consider everything you know and things you know you don't know. Then, when the time is right for you, just do it. You will learn to adjust. You will struggle, grow, panic, and thrive. That is life whether you are retired or not.

January 11, 2018

Life-Alerting Challenges Can Open a Door

My young family had just moved from Salt Lake City to Tucson. With two daughters under the age of 3, my wife and I were excited by our new adventure. We had grown up in the east and had no idea what living in a desert climate would be like. Though we enjoyed our stay in Utah, the thought of no more snow and cold winter days had too strong a pull. 

I had accepted a job with a start up radio research firm. They were in the market to buy radio stations across the country and assured me I was an important part of their plans. The future opened up before my eyes.

Less than 8 months later, their plans and my life had crashed. The purchase of the radio stations had fallen through. The president of the research company had quit to start his own firm across town. With almost no staff, no marketing budget, and me woefully in over my head, the end result was predicable. I was fired, given a small settlement, and sent on my way.

I can't describe the terror my wife and I felt. The job I left behind was already filled. There was no other company in town that was looking for what I had to offer. Four hungry mouths needed to be filled and I had no idea how that was going to happen. 

After a few weeks of panic and thinking through my options, it was clear the only logical decision was to start my own business. Had I built enough positive feelings with those I had interacted with over the previous five years? Could I develop a marketing strategy that could be put together on a shoestring budget and work? Frankly, there was no Plan B. This idea had to succeed. 

A scary 7 months later, things began to jell. One major client took a chance on me. His influence was enough to convince others to follow. Clients began to enjoy better ratings, bringing more business to my door. Two major group broadcasters  each signed contracts. Eventually, what begin out of desperation on a kitchen table blossomed into a successful 20 year business.

Sometimes what happens in life is a case of "right place, right time." Other times we make our own future through an idea, maybe a dash of luck, and an extra helping of perseverance. Prayer plays an important part for many.

I am quite interested in your story of being faced with a failure or life-altering problem, and how you turned things around. It may be a story of job loss, like mine. Or, you had to turn things around after a divorce or death of a spouse. It could be a problem with an adult child that needed a special combination of effort and luck. Maybe it was finding your life severely limited by a health issue you hadn't expected and couldn't "fix."

There is tremendous restorative power in sharing experiences. We learn we are not alone. We find we have more strength than we believed.  We may be inspired by how someone else approached a problem that bothers us. We may find a new direction to follow. 

I ask that you add to our discussion and help all of us learn from your problems and your strengths.

January 8, 2018

The 10 Commandments of Retirement

Borrowing rather shamelessly from the Bible, here are 10 "commandments" that will help you increase the odds that your retirement is a satisfying oneUnlike the Bible's version, none of these are necessary to keep you on God's good side, or keep you from breaking a law or two. But, at least in my view, they should form the foundation of your future.

Thou shall not:

Spend More than you make. There may be times in your life when this was necessary. Few of us can buy a house or car without taking on debt and a total obligation well in excess of our cash flow. College education for the kids, major medical bills...life happens. Having the ability to borrow money and temporarily go into debt is OK. What can quickly ruin your retirement, however, is spending on wants and desires in excess of what your income is. The basic rules of finance don't get suspended once you cash your last paycheck. Funding your retirement with credit cards, home equity loans, or other options that put you in a perpetual hole will only get deeper. 

Ignore the need for a budget. Closely related to the point above, I don't know how you can make it if you haven't kept and maintained a budget for years in advance of retirement. That need continues. In fact, when regular paychecks stop, tighter control over your income and expenses is even more vital. The old rule of thumb is you should plan on spending roughly 80% of what you spent before retirement. I suggest that "rule" no longer applies. You should develop a budget based on your resources and what you think you will spend. If those two numbers work for you, then the percentage is not terribly important. But, you must maintain a budget.

Assume others will take care of you. By others I mean the government, your old employer, your family, or winning the lottery. We are living in a period where personal responsibility must be your primary care provider. It is likely you will receive some assistance in the form of Social Security and Medicare. If you have a pension you may receive everything you expect. Your family very well might be there for you every step of the way. But, I strongly urge you to plan as if none of that support will be there when you need it, not because I am overly cynical but because ultimately whatever happens will fundamentally affect your life, not theirs. 

Make a retirement plan and never review or change it. An overworked cliché, maybe, but still true: the only constant in life is change. That is absolutely true when you retire. There is no way you can correctly anticipate what interest rates, the stock market, real estate, or inflation will do over the next 20 or 30 years. The political process guarantees unpredictability. At the very least, once a year take a look at every assumption, every budget category, and every projection of your future income. Adjust as required.

Become bored and restless. Too many retired folks go back to work because they don't know what to do with all the free time. Others spend their days in an arm chair, watching TV or flipping through magazines. Still others play two rounds of golf a day, not because they love it that much, but because it fills the time. This should not happen. Time is a priceless resource. Control over how you spend it is one of the biggest pluses of retirement. Find your passion. Find something to do that jump-starts you out of bed each morning. All too soon, you will wish you didn't squander something that can't be bought, can't be stored, and can't be replaced. 

Treat a spouse or partner poorly. The entire dynamics of a relationship changes when one partner retires. To assume the person who just stopped working gets a free pass and can contribute nothing to the smooth operation of the household is not going to work. All that extra time together can be the greatest period of your relationship, or can contribute to the rapidly rising divorce rate among older Boomers. Work hard on your budget and finances...work even harder on strengthening your primary relationships.

Move right after retirement. The stress of retiring is substantial. Suddenly what your life looked like changes. Much of what gave you purpose and meaning is over. That is not the time to tear out the roots of your home life. Regardless of how much you want to move away from the rain or snow or desert, no matter how much you want to live near your grandkids....do not make that decision for at least a year. After the upheaval of not working settles down, then you are able to rationally look at what you'd be giving up and what you'd gain by moving. 

Ignore your health. I don't need to belabor this point. If you don't feel well, if you don't take care of yourself, and if you don't follow common sense steps to maintain your health, your retirement will not be all you want it to be. If you already have health issues don't stop fighting for the life you want. You have a mind and you have creativity. You are alive and you are a unique being who have things to contribute and people to love.  

Allows others to define what a satisfying retirement is (including me). This is a personal journey. Lots of people will tell you what to do or sell you a book with the 8 steps to a happy retirement. Heavens, I blog about the subject every three days! But, the bottom line is retirement will become uniquely yours. Take all the input and suggestions you can. But, in the end, you decide what your life will look like

Become a curmudgeon. The stereotypical grumpy old man (or woman) isn't a requirement of aging. Don't become so set in your ways that you reject everything new as flawed and no match to "the good old days." No one likes to be with a grouch.

Unlike the tablets Moses gave us, these ten commandments aren't written in stone. What have I missed that should be the 11th or 12th commandment? What in your view is the most important one on my list?

Or, do you believe that retirement is the time of life when the whole concept of a "commandment" is not appropriate? You spent your working days taking orders from others. Now, it is time to go with the flow and live for today.

I look forward to your thoughts.

January 5, 2018

Retirement and Humanity

Maybe it is because Christmas with its serious doses of family love and good cheer is still fresh in my mind. Maybe because it is I am so tired of reading and hearing about all the division, hate, partisanship, and violence that we accept as part of daily life. Maybe it is a dawning revelation that, as a group, retirees, could be a powerful force for so much good and change in our fractured world.

Whatever the genesis, I wanted to step off the normal topic list of this blog just for today to try to make a point and stimulate a meaningful discussion. Those of us on the other side of the working world divide are well aware of the need for prudent financial planning and control. All of us are quite aware that our health, or lack thereof, will play a large part in how satisfying our retirement will be. Those in any type of serious relationship understand that love between two people is the foundation of everything. That includes single folks: relatives, friends, even caring neighbors can fill that role. Bottom line: we are not built to be alone all the time.

I am a Christian. That said, there has been a lot done in the name of my religion that disturbs me, causes me to wonder if some people who wear the same label have actually read the Bible. The acceptance of the central message of my belief is not that hard to understand, but difficult to live day after day.

I will assume that some of those who follow a different faith, be it Jewish, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, whatever, have some of the same feelings: that the core of their belief system has been hijacked, politicized, or in some way perverted from how it began. I guess an atheist would also struggle with core beliefs and how the world is functioning, even without belief in a god.

This is not a post about religion, or its power to do good and evil. But, I had to set the stage for what my main point is: the time of life we are so privileged to enjoy should come with a moral or ethical obligation to make the lives of those not so lucky just a little bit better.

As I look at my 2018 budget and worry whether the money set aside for vacations, or Netflix, or dinners out will be enough, I ask myself about my priorities. If I believe what I profess to believe then I have three simple marching orders:

1) Feed the hungry
2) Protect the weak
3) Welcome the stranger

There is nothing in there about vacations, re-doing the bathroom, buying a new car, or even refreshing my wardrobe for spring. Nothing. They don't make the list. Yet, I live as if they were actually somewhere in the top 10.

I am asking you to consider a simple question: as a retiree should we have an outsized sense of responsibility for engaging in the world's problems? Should we be using our gifts of time and freedom to do more than just make our own lives satisfying? 

Is retirement a time when our humanity can really exert itself? Is it the phase of life to get back to work - living like our bounty is meant to be shared to ease another's burdens?

Honesty alert: My answer is yes, but I am not putting that into practice. Shouldn't part of my retirement be a more active living of my faith?

I apologize if you came to Satisfying Retirement for the first time today, and wonder whether you have been taken to the wrong site. NO, you are where you want to be. The next post will be about one of the subjects that form the basis of a retirement blog: relationships, health, finances, whether to move, how to use your time, and so on.

Every once in a while, though, I must address my inner demons and express a strong feeling.

Thank you for reading.

January 2, 2018

Do You Feel Invisible?

The lead sentence in the New York Times article caught my eye: "Nancy Root remembers when she vanished." Reporter Frank Bruni writes about the "disappearance" of an 82 year old woman who lives in a Phoenix suburb. Even though her mental and verbal skills are just fine, because she is confined to a wheelchair most of the time she has become "invisible" to many people.

Getting someone to help her takes much longer than it did when she simply strolled into a store. When a clerk finally comes, offers of help are directed to the person pushing her wheelchair, not to Nancy. In doctors' offices, receptionists talk to whomever brought her to her appointment, often referring to Nancy in the third person, as if she isn't even there. The same invisibility happens at movie theaters, restaurants, and on airplanes. 

The reporter found a disturbing pattern: there is often an assumption that someone with a physical limitation is also mentally limited, too. There is a general belief that someone above a certain age does not deserve full attention. The story ends with the disturbing conclusion that Nancy is learning to make peace with such neglect. She has decided not to spend her time angry or bitter at this type of treatment.

I must say that this story has opened my eyes to something that has probably been right in front of me. I just didn't see it. I don't think I treat someone in a wheel chair as detailed in the report. In fact, how I do respond may be just as bad. I may go overboard and be too deferential and treat him or her as if they are fragile or needing special help.

The folks I know who have a wheelchair or use a cane expect the opposite. They want no special privileges or treatment. They don't want their physical limitations to affect how I interact with them. After all, we all have limits of some kind.

As our country ages, more of our peers will find themselves needing help getting around. Wheelchairs, electric scooters, canes, or walkers will become an even more common sight. That group of folks with "limitations" will likely include us. Do we want to be treated, or ignored, like Nancy is? Of course not.

Here's my question for you: because of any physical limitations that require assistance do you ever feel invisible? Do you find yourself marginalized because you are a certain age? Do sales clerks wait on you last?  Do waiters talk with a younger companion instead of you?

Or, have you found this isn't the case? You are older than many people in a store or supermarket, movie theater or restaurant, but that has not affected how you are treated. Do you do or say anything differently to make sure you get the attention you deserve?

The newspaper article quotes one of Nancy's friends, who is infirm and does feel discriminated against. She takes a more direct approach: she tells those people "to go to hell."

Hopefully, we can find another way to interact. But, Mr. Bruni has shone a light on a subject that is an important one: are senior citizens, especially those who are limited in some way, invisible to others?

Your experiences and reactions are welcomed.