February 28, 2018

How To Get Out of Debt and Start Over: Part Two




This is the second post about people tackling financial problems and getting their life back on track. Laura, a fellow blogger, tells the story of a scary financial meltdown and the steps she and husband, Brett, took to become whole again. During that journey they decided to completely reinvent their lives, sell many of their belongings and move to an island. But, that is not the end of the story....


Brett came home from work one Friday evening in late October 2008 and said his pay was being cut. About a third of his income would disappear, but he had not been laid off, which had happened and would happen to others. We knew we were lucky that hadn’t been his fate. Also, his company announced there would be no Christmas bonus that year and several other company-provided benefits were being cut.

We were worried, but felt that by cutting back some and judiciously using our savings we could weather what was coming. Instead, we became the proverbial frogs in the pot, with the water turned up underneath up and us slowly boiling to death. As the months continued there was just never quite enough, and eventually our non-retirement savings disappeared and our credit card balances began to grow. At the end of 2009 we knew we were in big trouble, and our debt unsustainable.

Our first step was to sit down and go over everything and add up what we owed. It was frankly shocking. We decided we would pay off smaller balances first and then “snowball” the extra onto the next smallest balance. We had two credit cards and they were put away. If we could not afford something we would go without unless it was an emergency.


Then, we sat down with our daughters and told them honestly about the situation we were in, and the changes that were going to be made. They were afraid we were going to become homeless, but that was actually the one thing we could reassure them about. Brett’s military retirement would always cover our mortgage.

Paying off debt was a long, hard slog. According to the “experts,” with our repayment plan our debt should have been gone by the end of 2011. But as we quickly learned, debt repayment was a not a smooth, easy path, but one where we encountered seemingly insurmountable peaks, deep valleys, and plenty of obstacles along the way.


It seemed that everything that could have gone wrong in 2010 went wrong, from our furnace quitting, our car developing engine trouble to our beloved dog dying the day after Christmas. It was a horrible year. But, we kept plugging along in spite of setbacks. We knew what our goal was and what we needed to do to get there and we stuck at it even though we felt beyond discouraged at times.

We all adapted our lifestyle and made changes, like keeping our thermostat at 58 degrees at night and a maximum of 64 degrees during the day in winter, and spent our days bundled up in sweaters and under extra blankets. We turned off lights, cut way back on our water use, and we combined errands whenever possible to save gas.


We sold one of our cars, and Brett used public transportation to get to and from work. We sold other things we could live without. High school students received free bus passes, and our two older daughters took the city bus to and from school each day.

I had “retired” from teaching in 2006, but found work again as a substitute which brought in a little extra each month. We cut back our food budget and I did all our food shopping with cash and stopped buying “extras” or “stocking up.” The girls became experts at shopping at thrift stores on a limited budget, and to this day still prefer shopping thrift versus buying new.

Absolutely every expense was put under the microscope, and we focused on needs versus wants even though it was difficult at times. We learned to live well below our means on a lower income while still enjoying a satisfactory quality of life and paying off debt. We also discovered that in many ways we had actually been living quite frugally all along, and all we had to change was doing those frugal things a little more efficiently. Little by little, but faster and faster, our debt began to disappear.

Brett had thought he would have to work well into his 70s, but we could all see he was tired. In 2011 (he was 61) we discovered that Social Security provided additional family income for dependents under 18. We were surprised to discover that when we put together his navy retirement, a small pension he would receive from work, and the extra Social Security income for a few years along with being debt free we could afford for him to retire.


We set a target date of June 2013, and applied ourselves even more diligently to getting rid of the last of the debt. There were of course setbacks - in the summer of 2011 the engine blew up in our car, and as a one-car family we had to buy another. We didn’t have the funds to pay cash and needed something reliable, so we ended up with a used minivan and another car payment. But, by this time we were able to fit the payment into our budget and it barely slowed us down.

In 2011 we also began talking about where we wanted to retire. We had lived in Portland by then for over 20 years, but both Brett and I were ready for a change, and had grown tired of the damp, dreary, cold winters and longed for someplace warmer and sunnier. We came up with a list of nine things we were looking for in a retirement location, made a spreadsheet, and researched different locations. Many locations were in Southern California, where I had grown up, but we also added Arizona, New Mexico, and Florida. Hawai’i was added to the list as a joke.

Some of those locations came off the list fairly quickly, but to our surprise Hawai’i met eight of the nine criteria: sunny weather, ocean nearby, mountains nearby, military facilities nearby, a substantial Asian population, low taxes for retirees, OK schools, and proximity to Japan, where our son and his family lived. 


The only mark against it was the high cost of living, but we begin to wonder if that was something we could figure out and deal with because others certainly did. We knew how to live frugally and simply at that point and we would have my student loan payment (from graduate school) as our only debt. Brett and I were also ready for a major change - we longed for a simpler, slower life in a warmer location, and felt Hawai’i might be just the place to find it.

After doing LOTS of research, and deciding the island of Kaua’i would be the best fit for us, we committed to making the move in 2014.
We knew from years of experience with military moves that staying positive was key, and that it was possible for our teenagers to adjust to a new location. We sold our house in early 2014, sold or got rid of most of our things, shipping only 4500 pounds over to Kaua’i. The adjustment to island living was surprisingly easy, but again it helped that our time in the military had prepared us well for the ups and downs of settling in to a new location.

Without hesitation, the move here has been a positive one for all of us, and we’ve yet to grow tired of life here or suffer from “rock fever.” Brett enjoys hiking, and we both enjoy exploring the island - after four years here there’s plenty still left to discover. We brought the just right amount of things with us to live comfortably and have bought very little. 
We appreciate that life here is far less materialistic than it was back on the mainland, as well as the focus on family and community.

Now, we are now looking forward to our big travel adventure next year: a nine-month around the world journey, including a three-month stay living nearby our son and family in Tokyo. Once again we’re saving and downsizing and looking forward to another big change in our lives. We’re grateful and fortunate that we’re able to make what’s been a big dream for us come true.

The joy of being retired and debt free, and not currently tied down (for now) with home ownership is that we can take our time to decide what we want to do next and where. With all honesty though, leaving Kaua’i, even if it ends up being for only a few months, will be extremely difficult. I feel great sadness when I think about it. I’ve never felt so blessed to live someplace in my life, especially a place as beautiful as here.


_______________________________________

From being in serious financial trouble, to living on an island paradise, to planning a nine-month around the world journey is an amazing story. She and her husband's realistic acceptance of what had become a nightmare shows the power of each of us to stop a financial slide and turn our life around. 

Thanks to Laura and Brett for sharing. Laura's blog, The Occasional Nomads, is one I read regularly. Being a lover of all things Hawaii, Laura provides my island fix.

How about you? Did Barbara and Laura's story inspire you to shake things up, face your financial situation head on and plan for the life you really want?

Or, if you are doing well, what tips can you share to help us all?


February 25, 2018

How To Get Out of Debt and Start Over: Part One




Getting into debt is not all that difficult. Getting out takes substantially more effort. For the next two posts, I have asked fellow bloggers, Barbara and Laura, to share their stories: how they managed to get their finances under control to achieve life goals. Each story is longer than a normal post from me, but their stories are too important to shorten.

Barbara's story is first. Her world was upended by the unexpected death of her husband. Her story is a powerful cautionary tale of knowing enough about financial affairs to protect oneself if need be, and how to put the pieces back together. 

1) You went through the traumatic loss of your husband at an early age. In addition to the emotional pain you endured, what did this do to your plan for the rest of our life? What was the initial financial impact?

It impacted my life in huge ways, both emotionally and financially, and that of my still dependent child. Neither my husband or I were at retirement age. He was looking at at least ten more years of working in a job he loved after changing careers. The thought of retirement and the financial planning involved were simply not part of our horizon yet.

Had we been in retirement or much closer, I'm assuming we would have had some kind of financial planner and I of course, would have followed his or her advise. I was in a position where funds had to be transferred and designated immediately, and I was completely unqualified for this thing thrust upon me.

I am a 'I won't spend more than I have and I'll make it last as long as I have", kind of budget girl, but I was never the saver.  I was used to having all the other money out of my hands and far, far away. I was unprepared for this, never mind having to decide where my child and I would live, or the myriad of other things I had to decide. I was not in a position to "wait a year" to act, and that impacted me.

As I write this, I realize how it may sound to some folks. But I was a financial airhead who had debt in the past, and my husband was a financially savvy guy who was a finance guy in his job. It worked for me. Until it didn't work for me.

In terms of other financial types of discussions, as I said, I was the budgeter and he the financial manager and rarely did the twain meet. I think this would have been fine had he died later in life when we had time for more of the money and planning discussions.

We had never discussed for example,  the specifics of what his pension would be, or any other survivor benefits. Occasionally we jokingly acknowledged that we would not have a great deal in retirement or for son's college, as we had knowingly sacrificed those funds for European experiences that were one of a kind and once in a lifetime. But as far as what the pension would be? How much money we had and how long it had to last? Where to put said money? I don't even think he had those discussions with himself or anyone else at that point.

The other impact on my finances and my emotions, of course, was that I spent a good eight months experiencing what I now know was severe depression. I remained overseas so that my son could finish school with his friends, but that meant I was mainly alone:  we lived on a military base that was closing, and people were leaving every day. My coping mechanism was to sit at the computer and eat all day, every day, and spend money all day, every day. I'd only stop to take and pick up my son at school.

2) During the early stages of your retirement you have written about how you burned through your nest egg at a rapid rate. When you realized you were about to have some serious money problems, what were your first thoughts?  

My first thought minor panic and "Oh, s*** what have I done, John would kill me". My second thought was "Thank you, thank you , thank you". The latter because I know that my husband could have made much more in the private sector, but chose to stay with the Feds knowing that it would provide some kind of pension and that I (we) would always have good affordable health care. I had a foundation. 

I was also, frankly, if not in despair, at a very low self image during that time. It never, ever occurred to me that once I got my act together, had taken care of my son, risen from my depression and faced the world, that I would not get a job. Never, ever, ever. I realize this is not exactly what you asked, but I feel strongly that it's important that whoever is a survivor and reading this, to not have the "I'll be fine, I can get a job if I need to" reaction.

 Plan your future on what is happening now, not what you think will happen later. That's my motto, one that was hard learned. I was a Federal Government employee within the GS system with wonderful credentials and recommendations. And I could not get a job as a dog catcher.

3) Describe how your lifestyle changed during this period: budgeting, what did you decide to give up and what was important to hold on to, did you have a long term plan or did things sort of evolve as you want along? Did your housing change, how you spent your time?

I did not have a long term plan. I'm not sure I have a long term plan now, and I'm not sure it's a bad thing. I tightened up as best I could. I made what some would say was the wrong decision, in that I immediately applied for my husband's social security benefits.

I realized rather quickly, although it took me time to act, that I needed to leave the house I was in.  I could not afford to pay it off and did not want to be house poor in terms of time, energy or anything else. As a woman with handicaps I would have to pay to have pretty much everything done for me.

I had spent much of my time traveling and much of my time attempting to start two low cost startup business. I left both behind. I sat down and decided how I wanted to spend my time in retirement, who I wanted to be close to. I realized I was unwilling to be stressed about money, and I wanted to spend my time how I wanted to spend my time. 

4) How long did it take for you to get the financial side of your life back on a positive path? How would you describe your life now?

It took me a few years, to say the least. It required re adjusting more than once, as well as re-evaluating.

My life now is mainly wonderful. Although I would never share a home with anyone but family, I have embraced living with my sister, though we are quite different people. When she fully retires somewhere down the road I will probably move.

I travel a couple times a year, volunteer and generally had to step back a bit from my "I don't know how I had time to work" lifestyle. In the long term, I expect to downsize again to a senior apartment or condo type of situation in Texas, or Arizona, and have begun looking at that for the long term.

In terms of the day to day, my income is sufficient to do most anything I want to do and more. I expect I pretty much live like the average middle income retiree. I have everything I want, just not all the time.

My few financial discussions with myself revolve around having no major savings for the big emergencies, deciding how best to proceed with life and finances in order to make things easiest on my kids . With my handicaps, long term care insurance is almost impossible. I still have lingering issues of undischarged debt,  mostly having to do with those early years of taking on student loans for my kids.


5) What advice would you share with retirees, or those about to leave work, who find their finances  are a problem or maybe debt is threatening their future?

Well, obviously I am the least financially savy person around and many of the choices I made (even post recovery mode) would be frowned on by most financial advisors. I discharged some unpaid debt, for example. I took social security early rather than waiting longer and having more. I chose not to have my house be an investment and to rent instead, probably for the rest of my life unless I live with offspring.

So, in general my advice is this: Get rid of anything you can hanging over your head financially. Any way you can, even if it requires using bankruptcy or negotiated debt in some extreme circumstances. If you are still working and have large investment type expenses you KNOW you will use and need consider investing more there. Taking some of that money and paying cash outright for two cars was one of the best things I did, as well as a sewing machine. 

Most importantly, sit down and figure out exactly where you are. My experience is that knowing is better than not knowing, that being surprised is the worst. Because if you know, you can (much of the time) fix it. Start your life based on what you see there. And THEN look at earning more, working more, and making drastic changes. But begin with what you have, not what you would like to have or wish you had.

And finally, realize there is no perfect retirement. Just because you dreamed about traveling around the world or an African safari and have to put that aside does not mean your life is over. Having to live in a condo or apartment does not mean life is over. Find what rewards you the most, do that, and ignore all the rest. You can have it all, but you can't have it all at once. And remember that there are many retirees who have nothing at all, or close to it, often through no fault of their own.

______________________


I deeply appreciate Barbara sharing her story so openingly and fully. She has had a tough go of it, but has come out stronger and in much better shape. Frankly, I find her inspiring and someone who I count as a friend. I urge you to read her blog, Living Richly in Retirement to learn more about her life and creative spark.


Today is my father's birthday. He would have been 94. Happy birthday, dad.


February 22, 2018

6 Retirement Lifestyle Questions: How Would You Answer?


When I began Satisfying Retirement several years ago one of my favorite bloggers was Tess Marshall, author of The Bold Life. She had fascinating insights and an engaging writing style that inspired me.

A little over two years ago she stopped blogging and moved on to other things. One of her posts that really grabbed me was a list of 50 questions about personal growth. Until the paper became to faded to read I had them on my desk. A few that still resonate with me might be ones you'd like to answer. I have included my self-confessional responses and then urge you to add your thoughts:

1) Have you been spontaneous in the last five days? 


Part of the joy of retirement is the ability to not be locked into a schedule as rigid as the one you probably maintained during your working years. Sure, you have obligations and commitments, sometimes too many. I've written often about the importance of time management. Lots of comments from readers tell stories of finding themselves busier than ever and wondering how to fit in everything. I certainly struggle with that problem.

So, the answer to Tess's question is: not nearly enough. I use Google's calendar function to the extreme. Between it and an extensive to-do list there is little in my life that isn't planned ahead of time. My family jokes that I have my weekend chore list done 6 months in advance. No, I don't. It only goes into mid April. So there.

Spontaneity and I are too often distant cousins. Sure, every once in awhile I'll suggest dinner out instead of what is on the menu for that night. Or, maybe I'll throw caution to the wind and decide to drive to a nearby lake for a picnic lunch. Wine tasting at a new cafe? Sure. But, a truly spontaneous act, like deciding on an overnight trip, throwing a change of clothes in a suitcase and jumping in the car 30 minutes later doesn't happen. I'm just too regimented, our schedule is too full, and there is the dog to consider. I would like to change but I don't know how. 

2) Have you spent quality time with a loved one in the past 48 hours?

At the time I am writing this on a Tuesday afternoon, the answer is yes. Our family gets together almost every Sunday for dinner, and a movie or game. My grandson decided he'd like to have us all take part in a book study. So, for the last few months we have been working through Ramona, The Brave. Everyone from my son-in-law's parents, to my 7 year old granddaughter has an assignment every time. It has been lots of fun and shows that even a simple children's book can hold important life lessons and stimulate interesting discussions.

3) Have you disconnected from all electronics for at least 24 hours in the last month?

No. Even though I wrote about the pitfalls of social media, Social Media, It's Risks and Pitfalls  just a few weeks ago, I remain involved. Blogging means being online an hour or two a day. My Amazon Dot, Kindle, streaming video and  smartphones are never far away.

Could I go 24 hours without any of these tools and toys? Seriously, I don't know. Then I guess the question is, does it matter? What would be better if I took a 24 hour sabbatical? I'd be willing to give it a try if I saw a positive benefit. So...is this electronic linkup bad? Should I disconnect for a day? Why? 

4) Have you read a book from cover to cover within the last 2 weeks?


Actually, two books finished within the last 14 days, and several more in various stages of completion. I find mysteries, some Sci-Fi, and thrillers relaxing so there is always at least one on the nightstand. I am reading a book on mindfulness and one on spirituality. I have a Bible study guide that is reviewed before meetings. 

As I wrote in 2011 in Super-Charge Your Brain, I try to read one book a week and have several others underway. I truly believe it helps my life, I know it helps this blog, and it keeps me plugged into the world in a way that the Internet and social media can't. Even though I am hooked into the electronic world, I continue to prefer physical books instead of the ebook version.

How about you? How much is reading a part of your day? Are you tackling a course of study, reading all the classics you skipped in High School or College? Or, is your reading now purely for entertainment?

5) Have you spent some time in nature this  last week?


This is the time of year when living in the Phoenix area is a true blessing. So, the answer is, absolutely. Picnics, walks around neighborhood parks, biking for a few miles, and enjoying places like the Desert Botanical Garden or one of the lakes that lie north of the Valley keep me and my wife in touch with nature. Sitting on the back porch and reading or having lunch in the backyard, allows us to enjoy fresh air and natural stimulation. All too soon the temperatures will make most of these activities unpleasant so we make an extra effort to be outside now.

6) Have you looked into someone's eyes and said, "I love you" in the last seven days?


Yes..actually several times every day. That is one of the real benefits of satisfying retirement and a happy marriage. 


Again, thanks to Tess, wherever she may be, for the questions that prompted these thoughts.

And, if you enjoyed this post, may I ask a favor? Please share on your favorite social media source. I appreciate your support.


February 19, 2018

How Come I Don't Feel Retired?


I am surprised how often I receive some form of the question, "How come I don't feel retired?" And, it doesn't seem to matter whether the person has been gone from full time work for a few months, a few years, or almost two decades.

A good example is my wife, Betty. She and I retired together in 2001, which means we have been on this journey for 17 years. That is a substantial amount of time. Even so, she will remark, on a regular basis, she is still looking forward to retirement. What she means is more control over her time, doing only what she wants to do when she wants to do it.

So, that raises two questions: why hasn't she been doing that all along, and what will it take for her to feel fully retired? I will explain what I think her answers are (a risky move!). Importantly, I want to broaden the focus a bit.  I am guessing her feeling is not unique to her. If the "How come I don't feel retired" question is being asked something else is at work here.

One issue could be the image of retirement creates certain expectations. I have written before about the mistaken idea that retirement is one long walk in the park. Unfortunately, retirement is a stage of life, not a step into another realm. The responsibilities that come with being an adult don't stop when the paycheck does. Bill paying, repairs, replacements, emergencies, health surprises, financial pitfalls - can easily sap the joy from retirement if you let it. If you have a feeling that retirement should mean all of the baggage that is part of living ends, then you are likely to pose this question.

Another possibility is one of personality. In Betty's case, she is a giver. If someone needs something she is first in line to help. She is also a self-admitted over-giver. If that person wants to know what time it is, she will build them a watch. If the church needs help on a big project, she will volunteer to do almost all of it. She is extremely creative, dedicated, with a major dose of perfectionism, so it is just easier to do it all.

Of course, that can lead to burnout and self-imposed pressure. Even though she absolutely loves helping others, her physical and mental health can suffer. She leaves herself little time to work on things just for her, things without deadlines. So, she has yet to find the balance she is seeking even after 17 years.

Yet another reason might have to do with a spouse or partner who hasn't accepted the sharing part of retirement. If your partner is no longer working but expects you to continue doing the lion's share of household chores, there are going to be problems. Excuses like she (or he) has always done the cooking and cleaning and laundry fail the fair test. "I don't know how to cook or run the oven" are just as lame. It is hard to feel retired if almost nothing has changed in what your "responsibilities" are in maintaining a household.  




So, what to do? Here are a few ideas that may help:

1) Accept that retirement isn't just a float in a boat. Align your expectations with the reality of living. Honestly compare your lifestyle before and after work: what is better and what is worse? When you look at the big picture you may be surprised how much your life has changed for the better. For those things still bothering you, can you do anything about them?

2) If you find yourself overcommitted to others and under committed to yourself, realize that is something you can change. You have the power to protect yourself and your needs. That doesn't mean withdraw from helping others achieve their goals, it means realizing you must help yourself achieve what is important to you, too.

3) Decide that you need to start a new season of your retired life, one that is a better match to what you want now. Your needs evolve over time, be sure how you treat them does, too.

4) Work on developing what you consider a fair sharing of work and chores at home. That doesn't necessarily mean a 50-50 split. If you truly enjoy the cooking then hold on to that part of your domestic life. It is part of the "I feel fully retired now that I can cook to my heart's desire." But, giving your partner a pass on chores and work load, you are hurting your own experience.

Have you ever admitted to yourself that you don't feel fully retired? Do you know why? What would it take to make retirement "official?"

Did you go through a transformation at some point that marked your move to real retirement mode? Do you remember what it was?

As someone who does feel completely retired, I am quite interested in the feedback from those who don't. I know Betty and anxious for your feedback, too.


February 17, 2018

Put Out To Pasture? Not Really

This post first ran almost 5 years ago. The message continues to be relevant for a new crop of blog readers

On the west side of Tucson is Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Home to the 355th Wing,  this air base continues as an active training and support facility. It is also a storage facility for literally thousands of planes that have been pulled from service. Every type of military aircraft sits in neat rows, stretching for miles. To get a sense for how big this is, you have to drive by it. But, since that is impractical for most, watch this short video. Be sure to stick around for the last 30 seconds and try to count the planes:



Why are they here? Parts are used to keep other planes flying. Some are sold to other countries that want the type of aircraft offered or need the parts for their own planes. And, of course, while 20, 30, even 50 years old, these aircraft could be made air worthy and fly again for the Air Force. What struck me as I drove down Kolb Road in Tucson and saw all these "retired" planes were the parallels to our own retirement.

For some of us, feeling "mothballed" after an active life becomes a problem. Just as these aircraft served their country for many years, we worked hard at whatever we did to be able to invest and save enough to be able to stop working. But, what happens next is really key. Without work do we feel sort of like an out of service airplane, put away with no real function? Do we sit in the Arizona (or Florida) sunshine waiting for.......?

Or, are we allowing our "parts" to keep functioning. As noted, these stored aircraft often have a second life. Their parts are used to keep other planes flying or they may be sold. They can be used for training purposes. The fact that they aren't being flown every day the way they used to be doesn't make them worthless. It just makes how they are used different.

satisfying retirement is very similar. This phase of life has the same highs and lows, pros and cons, disappointments and joys as any other time of life. It offers the same opportunities to learn, grow, contribute, and make a difference. Attitude has a tremendous effect on the level of success at this time of life. If you view your productive life as over, in effect, put out to pasture, then that is probably how it will be.

I suggest we take a lesson from the planes sitting on those acres of tarmac in Tucson. If they were worthless it is likely they would have been turned into scrap a long time ago. But, as the video mentions, this part of the Air Force actually makes money for the government. These aging, pulled from service, past their prime machines have enough value for the Air Force to spend many millions of dollars to protect and guard them.

No matter our age or our current station in life we have value. Our job is to scrape off any dust, reinflate our tires, and figure out what we have to offer.

Heavens knows the world needs our wisdom and help.


February 16, 2018

The Killing of Our Children and Teachers

Read the list below slowly and out loud. 17 names. 17 people dead at the 18th school shooting of 2018. 17 lives ended and 17 families devastated.

That is one attack on children and teachers every 63 hours.

As a father, grandfather, and human being I really don't know how we tolerate this situation. 

If another public figure says, "Our thoughts and prayers are with you" I will get physically sick.

The excuses, missed signals....none of that changes the fact that our culture has allowed our children and their teachers to be human targets at what should be the safest place they can be.

There is nothing more to say except shame on all of us.





Alyssa Alhadeff, 14


Scott Beigel, 35

Martin Duque, 14


Nicholas Dworet, 17

Aaron Feis, 37

Jaime Guttenberg, 14

Chris Hixon, 49

Luke Hoyer, 15

Cara Loughran, 14

Gina Montalto, 14

Joaquin Oliver, 17

Alaina Petty, 14

Meadow Pollack, 18

Helena Ramsey, 17

Alex Schachter, 14

Carmen Schentrup, 16

Peter Wang, 15



February 14, 2018

Mom and Dad are Moving In...With You: How To Prepare


He saw them at the far end of the corridor. Of course, their flight would use the most distant gate. Two slightly slumped figures, rolling carry on bags and dad with his cane, moved slowly toward him. Unable to pass security, he and his youngest daughter could only wait until they passed the barrier protecting the secure from the unwashed masses. Why didn't they ask for an electric cart, he asked himself. 

His parents had left their farmhouse home of forty years and were destined for the spare bedroom in his house, their new home, after living independently proved to be too much for dad. How would his children, heavens, even the two cocker spaniels, adapt to having Gran and Grandad as permanent parts of their lives? There were going to be major changes and adjustments ahead.


This scenario is one faced by a growing number of us. With retirement communities financially out of reach for many, grown children become the answer for parents who need an increasing level of care. Certainly, such a situation comes with all sorts of adjustments, some good, good not so much. At a minimum, private space and control of one's schedule are affected. Depending on their condition, a serious commitment to caregiving is made.

Several years ago I used input from the book, When Your Parent Moves In, by David Horgan, as an excellent resource to write about this difficult process. His suggestions make just as much sense now, maybe even more so as our parents are requiring more of our time and concern.

As Mr. Horgan notes, having mom or dad (or both) move in with your family can be a mixed blessing. Unexpected problems can cause family arguments, financial stress, even increased divorce. The arrangement can also be enriching, a strong statement of love for parents from their grown children, and a lesson in responsibility for younger family members.

He suggests these considerations be a part of your preparation for blending a few different generations:


  • Be open: Have a clear and open discussion with your family, siblings, spouse, kids, and ultimately your parent(s), to decide if making the move is the right decision for all parties involved.  Discuss:
    1. The pros and cons
    2. The different ways this move will effect the family
    3. The ways each family member’s routines may be disrupted. 
    4. Expectations that may differ from “the way things have always been”
    5. Any possible monetary issues that could arrive
    6. Compromises that each family member will have to make
  • Medical Management: An elderly parent is apt to have a litany of doctor appointments, medication, and needs.
    1. With the help of medical and geriatric care professionals, assess your parent’s medical needs and gain a clear understanding of how those needs will affect you and your family.
    2. Gather all possible medical resources, containing both specific people and organizations, to minimize frustrations as well as possible mistakes.
    3. Use your support network to create and implement a plan as well as back-up plans. 
  • Moving Day: Moving is stressful under any circumstance. Moving in an aging parent entails a permanent lifestyle change and one that may be met with resistance, which can make it even more difficult. Plan for every detail upfront to minimize the potential strife.
    1. Ready yourself for possible volatile emotions and flaring tempers from all parties.
    2. Use your utmost compassion and support when you decide what stays and what goes.
    3. The move may not have been a parent’s first choice. Avoid sweeping decisions, such as throwing away Grandma’s 50 year-old collection of National Geographics, without discussing it with her first. 
    4. Decide ahead of time on furniture placement.
    5. Make a disbursement plan for who gets items that cannot fit into your house. (Storage, give away, other siblings.)
  • House Rules: Your parent is used to running the household with his/her own rules. Everyone must openly acknowledge that each family member must compromise to make the new living arrangement successful. It is important to create a plan that is respectful to all parties, so your parent doesn’t feel slighted and uncomfortable as the “newcomer” to your home. You also want to make sure that you and your spouse do not feel like outsiders. Decide on:

    1. Chores
    2. Who waters the plants and feeds the cat etc.
    3. Who helps and who doesn’t help in the kitchen
    4. How you like laundry done
    5. Bathroom etiquette
    6. What you make for dinner and what time
    7. When are lights out, and television off



As Mr. Horgan points out, there will be changes in everyone's life that could last years. As the parent declines, nursing care will become more of an issue and a major expense that someone will have to shoulder. This is not an issue with easy answers. But, it is certainly a good idea to work out as many details as possible ahead of time. There will be enough stress as it is.

I'd be quite interested in your comments, especially if you have had to face this problem, either as the adult child or the parent who moves in. Your experiences and feedback will be quite valuable to us all. If you'd feel more comfortable  sharing anonymously, that is perfectly fine.

February 11, 2018

Age Is Used As An Excuse For -


......Anything and Everything 





We don't get that part time job we'd be good at because we are too old. Our doctor tells us we can't engage in our favorite activity anymore, the knee joints won't allow it. The television industry believes older folks aren't attractive  enough to advertisers to produce shows that match our tastes. Movies are too loud, too violent, too sex-filled, or too moronic to motivate us to trek to the theater. Some of our medical providers don't listen to us; they already know what our problems are. These examples of ageism are real and hard to combat by ourselves.

However, there is another type of limitation based on age that is mostly self-generated. We tell ourselves we are too old to learn a new hobby, travel to a fascinating place on the other side of the globe, or go back to school and get the degree we've always wanted. It is too late to find new friends. Moving is too much work at our age.

Stop.

I suggest that a lot of this negativity is in our head. We have convinced ourselves that it is too late to take a risk, too much trouble to fulfill a dream, too silly to attempt to achieve a long-term goal. Yet, history tells us exactly the opposite:

J.R.R. Tolkien published first volume of Lord of the Rings at 62.

Noah Webster finished his dictionary at 66.

Ed Whitlock became the oldest person to run a standard marathon at 69.

Katsusuke Yanagisawa climbed Mt. Everett at 71.

John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space at 77.

Nola Ochs became oldest person to receive a college degree at 95.


You get the point. For these folks, and millions more, age was nothing more than a number. It didn't limit them, it didn't control them, it certainly didn't suggest they were past the point of doing something big or meaningful.

Most of us don't have a Lord of the Rings waiting to be written, but we may have a burning desire to document our family history. Even fewer are willing to undergo the rigors of a marathon or climbing a 29,000 foot mountain. But, the 5K fun run or hiking through the mountain preserve in our town is very doable with a little practice and effort.

Engaging with people younger or older than we are can help widen our horizons and force us to think differently. Embracing some new technology, refusing to talk about "the good old days"  and dwelling on the past certainly helps. A self-imposed sense of helplessness in certain situations becomes reality; if you think you can't do or learn something, then you can't.

Speak up when confronted with a comment or generalization that puts you in a certain age-defined box. "She's 80 and still taking online classes," or  "Can you believe he's 68!" Politely, but firmly, reject such age-based comments when they directed at either you or someone you know. 

I found an excellent resource for recognizing and rejecting age-based comments or generalizations. Be sure to read this article all the way through. There are examples I would have never thought of as hurtful or condescending. 

Ageism is a rather new phenomenon that has been allowed to infect our thinking and our society. If we aren't the ones to point out its limitations and hurtfulness, then who is?

February 8, 2018

How Do You Make Your Living Space Feel Like Home?




Retirement usually means more time is spent at home, even if you have a busy social or travel calendar, volunteer commitments, or babysitting the grandkids. For many of us, our home or apartment, provides comfort, security, and a sense of place. What we surround ourselves with makes us feel good.

Or, maybe you look around and say, this isn't who I am at this point in my life. The decorating I choose and things I surrounded myself were fine when I was younger and working every day. But, now, this space doesn't reflect who I am.

Either way, I'm looking for feedback about what makes where you live feel supportive and welcoming, or maybe detracts from a sense of joy and restfulness and should be changed. Comments on a post like this are always filled with ideas, new ways of looking at our environment, and can be a spur to necessary changes.


So, look around where you live. What do you see that pleases, or disappoints you?

.... On the walls: art, photos, paint color

.... On the floor: carpeting, hardwood, area rugs

.... Books and magazines: too many, not enough, the wrong ones

.... Music: on, off, the right kind?

.... Digital photo frames with photos you enjoy (or haven't noticed forever)

.... Lamps and windows to provide the amount of light you like

.... Things that trigger memories, or stuff that no longer pleases you

.... A TV that is too large or too small, or a TV at all. 

* Do you like it when friends drop by, or are you happier with long stretches of solitude? Is your home properly set up for your preference?

* Is there enough room for you to be creative, whatever that means to you. It could a desk for writing, a table for painting or sketching, a large table for quilting or crafts, a garage with tools to restore an old car, a shed packed with tools and fertilizers for your garden, even a fully equipped kitchen to cook to your heart's delight. 

* Do you like a unorganized space that feeds your creativity, or are you "a place for everything type?" Does your home reflect that?


This isn't meant to be an episode on HGTV; Chip Gaines I am not. Demo day would be my nightmare! Rather, I am hoping we can look at where we live with a fresh eye, a new perspective. To use a sometimes overworked word, are we mindful of our home and environment, or did we stop giving it much thought a while ago?

For this post, let's assume a major renovation is out. A new kitchen, sun porch, or extra bathroom might be nice, but not what we can afford at the moment. Instead, focus on the little things that make you happy and what it would take to match that feeling with where you live.



Me? 

Lots of sunlight, not much clutter, plenty of books, music, art, and computer access, pictures of our family, a space for my vintage radio restoration and ham radio gear, and a quiet, dark bedroom for naps when called for! A good sized backyard for the dogs, flowers in pots, whimsical sculptures or art objects on the property walls, a fountain to create the sound of splashing water, and lots of outside seating plus a dining table that can seat 8.

You? 

February 6, 2018

Social Media, Its Risks, and Fake Followers




Bots, and spam, and trolls, oh my.

The wonderful world of social media continues to have its ugly side exposed. Advertising designed to sway opinions. Involvement from shady characters allegedly part of foreign governments. Revenge porn, suicide pacts, misleading or outright fake information, cyberbullying. If you focus on the problems, social media is a cesspool that screams out to be ignored, banned, or severely  restricted.

Recently, the New York Times reported a massive problem with Twitter: "followers" who are not real. Though technically illegal, for a few hundred dollars it is possible to buy thousands of followers, artificially improving one's supposed status.  Most of those purchased names are automated bots, fake humans, or real Twitter users who have had their identities copied. A few days after that story ran, the company began deleting millions of those fraudulent followers from some of its more high profile users. 

Even so, 330 million people use Twitter every month. Over one billion are on Facebook every day. 100 million use the photo app, Snapchat, every 30 days. LinkedIn claims 467 million users. Let's not forget Instagram with 800 million monthly users and 40 million photos posted every single day.

So, what's driving this amazing disconnect between the potential for harm and the massive use patterns? Are the reasons for using Twitter or Facebook or Snapchat, Instagram,or LinkedIn so positive that any harm is accepted as the price of doing business? Or, are the damages that can occur from hacked accounts, ruined lives, wasted time, or political mayhem too abstract to be real to the average user? Is it the "Until it happens to me it isn't real" mindset?

I have no idea. The continued use of such dangerous outlets for social interaction baffles me, even as I continue to take part. Yes, driving a car can result in an injury or even death. Something can happen in the blink of an eye that changes my life.  But, the positives of driving so far outweigh the risks that I continue to get behind the wheel. 

I may have a bad reaction to a flu shot, but I believe the scientific studies that prove my odds of getting the flu decrease if I have the protection, I gladly take that slight risk. 

I have been blogging for nearly 8 years. Close to three million times someone has clicked Satisfying Retirement to read what I have written and others have had to say in response. Yet, I am one massive cyber attack from finding this corner of my world stolen, distorted, or turned into a weapon against others. So far, I have considered that risk and decided to proceed with my writing here. What will I do if a bad actor wants to harm this site? I don't know. though my odds are increasing that I will find out!

I have had my Facebook account hacked twice, yet I am still there, albeit in a very limited way, restricted to just a few dozen friends and family. I work at increasing my Twitter profile as a way to promote this blog. All privacy settings are turned on and I restrict what can and cannot be done with my data. Even so, a determined bad actor could make mincemeat of my account and work in seconds.

I continue on Facebook and Twitter even though I am running a verifiable risk. I am committing the same mistake that I am cautioning you against. Why am I doing that? Are the handful of people who discover Satisfying Retirement through my social media efforts worth the hassle? 

If you use social media in any form, why: connecting with family and friends, learning about something new, entertainment?

Are you worried about having your account hacked or your identity stolen? If so, are you keeping your accounts open anyway?

I guess this is an interesting social experiment. Hundreds of millions of us continue with behavior that has the potential to be harmful. What motivates us? What is the line that we will not cross?

I expect to be fascinated by your responses.


February 3, 2018

A Closet Full of Old Photos - Now What?

One small section of the photo storage closet

It takes a bit of muscle power to wrench open the closet door. Every square inch is packed, floor to ceiling, with massive photo albums, many 10 inches wide and weighing 10 pounds each. This is not a collection of a sometimes photographer, this is the repository of a serious shutterfly, my wife, Betty.

Taken over our 41 year marriage, as well as lots of photos of our parents and even grandparents, many of the color photographs are fading into a permanent greenish or orange-tinted hue.  The oldest black and white ones are morphing into a uniform grey.

There are so many photographs that digitizing them by ourselves is impossible. We won't live that long. Our kids have shown little interest in most of them; neither has any room to store one-tenth of them anyway.

The obvious answer is to thin out the duplicates or uninteresting blurry shots of trees, beaches, and random people who wandered into the shots. If there are 800 pictures from the 1992 trip to Maui, how many does it take to bring back memories of that trip - 400, 150, 75? 

Therein lies the rub. My answer is probably 75 or less; Betty's would be closer to 400. How do we agree to disagree on the photos needed to remind us of a particular trip and give our kids a sense of what was important to us? How do we throw away irreplaceable, but not terribly important, snapshots?

There is one fact staring us both in the face: at some point we will move into a much smaller living space at a retirement community. There is no way these albums can come with us. And, as noted, our daughters don't want all of them, nor can they give up a large closet either. So, a compromise is inevitable. 

After cutting down the raw number of pictures we have, turning those fading analog ones into digital files is the only answer. I found a company, ScanMyPhotos, that will convert around 1,800 of them for about $150. Or, for someone more like Betty, around 10,000 old photos become digitized for $800.  Considered we have at least 80,000 digital photos, suddenly even 10,000 doesn't seem quite so overwhelming! 

Is this a problem in your household: what to do with tons of old photographs that take up lots of space, are fading before your eyes, and may not be terrible important to others? Here are some more thoughts from a post of a year ago: Managing Your Photos.

Betty and I are still in the midst of negotiations about how deep to cut the closet collection, and when. Maybe your thoughts will help us solve this picturesque problem. 

Here's a short video that gives you three options if you are ready to take those old photos and digitize them:




Whatever you decide, good luck!