April 29, 2018

Retiring Abroad: What Do I Need To Know?

A recent poll on the blog had a clear result: close to 70% who responded said they would not consider retiring abroad. Even so, it is not unusual for me to receive a question about this subject. In fact, it came up several times in my request for new topics you'd like me to explore. At least 600,000 U.S. seniors receive Social Security checks in other countries along with millions of other Americans who live somewhere else. Whether the reason is because of costs, climate, or simply wanting to try something new, becoming an expat is no longer for just a few.

Any move planned for retirement requires plenty of research and thought. Resettling in a foreign country raises the stakes. Luckily, the Internet has plenty of resources to help you decide if this is the right step for you. After filtering out the sites that are pushing a particular country or community, or those that never see a dark cloud on the horizon, I think you will find this is a dependable list of real life factors that need to be considered:

I) Rent instead of buy?

Housing costs are often substantially lower than in the States so your initial thought is to buy your dream home in your dream location. However, there are a few important cautions to that approach. Getting a mortgage as a non-citizen can be difficult, if not impossible. Without a mortgage any tax advantage disappears. Paying cash ties up a large sum of money that you may not be able to get back quickly if the need arises or you change your mind. Signing a contract in a foreign country without qualified legal help is very risky.

Renting allows you to remain flexible without tying up large sums of money. You are free to move somewhere else if the place you picked turns out to be less than you hoped. After a year or two by the beach, you may long for the bustle of a city.

Who knows, you may decide being an expat isn't satisfactory. Moving back home is so much easier if you don't have to sell a piece of property in a foreign land, with different title and contract rules. 

2. How will you deal with family?

Living in another country can complicate staying in touch with your family. You need to determine the costs and ease or difficulty of traveling to see your grown children, grandkids, or other relatives. If you want your family to visit you, consider what that means in terms of passports, visas, or other complications for them.

If you are single don't assume this doesn't apply to you. It is the rare person who doesn't occasionally get homesick or long for a familiar face.

3. Are you willing to learn at least a little of a new language?
While it is certainly possible to enjoy your time in a place where you don't speak some of the primary language, one of the joys of living in another country is taking advantage of the differences in their culture, art, and lifestyle. Unless you retire to a country where English is the primary language, you are missing out on one of the important reasons for moving if you don't converse more like the natives.

4. Being a resident is much different than being a tourist.
Can you adapt to a different pace of life? Two weeks of a slower paced vacation, in a pampered environment where the everyday hassles of real life don't exist is nice. It is very different from making a go of it in a country where punctuality and commitment may have different meanings than you are used to. What you find charming about a locale for a week or two might become irritating if you are exposed to it every day. Decide if your personality can change to match your new home.

In some countries, things we might consider standard can be quite different. Internet access can be slower or only available in public locations. Electricity service may be more sporadic than you are used to. Business may all close on one or more days of the week. Paying bills may require you go in person to each business; online bill paying is not as universal as you may think.

Every country has periods of weather that are ideal for you. But stop and do your research. The warm, sunny days of vacation time may be replaced by rainy, cloudy, humid weather for other parts of the year. Would that bother you?

5. Fully understand the basics

How do you get decent health care in your new locale? Medicare does not work outside the country, except in very limited situations. What would medical care cost? Are quality doctors, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies nearby? As we age these can become vital concerns.

Do you need a visa to stay more than 30 or 45 days? What are legal requirements? How about taxes in your new home? Besides still paying U.S. taxes, you may find yourself on the hook for foreign taxes, too.

Your Social Security check can be direct-deposited to a checking account, but does the local bank charge extra fees for that transfer? Do they put a hold on the money for a period of days?  What about other transfer of money from your IRA or pension plans? Are there fees involved in getting to money to you?

Ok, Enough of the "scary" stuff, what are the good things about retiring in another country?

A) You discover the world is a wildly diverse and exciting place that is just waiting for you to explore. There are billions of people and thousands of places that live differently than what you may be used to. 

B) With proper planning you money will go farther, much farther. In health care alone be prepared to be stunned by how reasonable costs are in places other than the United States. Rents tend to be much lower, household help affordable, even restaurant meals at places the locals frequent are a real bargain compared to American prices. The web site, International Living, has just added a piece on the cost-of-living advantages in several popular expat choices. Click here to read the article.

C) Living in a place that satisfies more of your dreams can make each day a joy. Of course, this could be true staying in the States. But, the variety of climates, locales, lifestyles, and the approach toward life cannot be duplicated.

D) You discover new strengths and parts of your personality. Life in America is very convenient. Things work or are easily repaired or replaced. You turn on the faucet and expect water. You turn on the thermostat and expect heating or cooling.

In most foreign countries that attract the biggest group of expats, these things are not as true. You learn patience, that tomorrow or next  week is soon enough. A store may not stock what you want, when you want it. You realize that slow Internet service or lack of drive throughs on every corner are not really bad things. 

Ok, now to the real experts. If you are living overseas, haved lived as an expat but came back to your home country, or are doing some planning about such a move, please add your thoughts: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the great!
There are lots of folks who are waiting for your input.

And, this is an invitation to snowbirds, too. Living away from your home during winters or summers doesn't really qualify you as an expat. But, being in another country for 4-6 months a year still requires lifestyle and attitude adjustments. Feel free to add your thoughts!

Note: Recently I receieved a copy of a new book to review that is one of the most thorough and helpful of any of the resources I consulted for this post. If retiring abroad interests you, take a look at How To Retire Overseas: Everything You Need To Know to Live Well (for Less) Abroad

April 26, 2018

Living With a Slightly Neurotic Dog

Our Bailey at 9 weeks old

For six years Bailey has been a very important part of our life. We bought her as an 8 week old pup from a kennel in Missouri. After a long search in the Phoenix area we could not find a cocker spaniel pup or cocker mix anywhere locally, at any price. Shipping a puppy in the belly of a plane would not have been our first choice, but was the only way.

Her travels to her new home might have been part of the reason she is a little off, a little different from other pets we have owned. Because of a flight delay and a missed connection, when the puppy arrived at the freight shipping office at Sky Harbor, she was a wreck. Her water bowl and tube were bone dry, her food dish overturned and empty.

As we lifted her from the shipping crate she was shaking uncontrollably.  She promptly drank the contents of a full water bottle and then part of another. She gobbled down some pet snacks as if she was starving. While I drove home, Betty sat in the back seat, holding her tightly to her chest.

She did adjust rather quickly to our home. There was a large backyard for exploring. She was affectionate and learned to use the doggie door almost immediately. Having 4 dogs before her, we are experienced pet owners. But, she has taught us a new level of patience with some of her unique personality traits.

For example, She refuses to eat her food out of a dog bowl. Early in her life, she was still so nervous that we had to hand feed her and then have the rest of her food on a plate. There was a level of trust we needed to establish before she would willfully begin to eat. "Priming her pump" with a few handfuls of food from us would be enough to get Bailey to eat.

Unfortunately, that habit has never gone away. Now, she will eat from a small salad plate, but not a dog bowl. She usually will not make a move to the food unless Betty starts her out with something from her hand. I can't do it, it must be Betty.

My son-in-law is not one to over-coddle dogs. Rightly so, he says she will eat, from a bowl, without hand feeding, when she is hungry enough. Early on, she went 3 days without eating because we tried that approach. Never again. I am sure she would eventually eat the food put before her, but we aren't willing to test that theory or put her through that trauma, so she gets her dinner on a small plate. 

Hiding from some imaginary threat
She remains a nervous animal. Training and even time with a dog shrink hasn't changed her tendency to shake. Almost every day we take her to a park for a good run and doing her doggie business. Just the 5 or 10 minutes in the car on the way to and from a park is spent in constant shaking. Even with Betty holding her tightly, she seems worried that we will abandon her by the side of the road! 

When we took her on RV trips, she would never lie down while the vehicle was in motion. Sometimes that meant 6 hours, sitting upright between us, shaking. Once we got to a campground she loved it. All the new smells and things to explore made her very happy; the to and from was just not her thing.

After a tough day on RV travel, Bailey was ready for a nap
I guess this is a sign of how much she loves us both, but Bailey will not take a walk around the neighborhood unless both Betty and I accompany her. Try as we might, unless one of us is holding her leash and the other a few "poop" bags, she won't walk farther than the front lawn. That does make things a little difficult when both of us aren't available. But, Bailey stands her ground. She will wait until our schedules permit dual walking.

Bailey is a barker when there anyone walking past the house, delivery trucks unload or the pool service man down the street gathers his supplies. As I am typing this, our next door neighbor is having a garage sale. Big time alert from Bailey!

For protection of our home, that is just fine. But, her nervousness carries it to a whole new level. Again, training has done little to dampen this habit. Either she runs out of steam and stops, or we give her a few shots from a spray water bottle to break her concentration. 

Even with all the problems or special traits, she is a very important part of our satisfying retirement. We can't imagine waking up without her happy wiggles and licks to our face, her joyous reaction when we come home from shopping, or her insistence to lie at my feet wherever in the house or backyard I might be.

Come to think of it, Betty and I have enough personality quirks to make Bailey seem quite normal ! But, that is a subject for another post........

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.