October 29, 2018

How Much More?

I can absorb only so much horror and experience so much disgust until I must relieve some of the pressure.  I can yell and pound my fists on the nearest hard table. I can take a sabbatical from reading the front section of the morning paper. 

And, I can write something that breaks away from my normal post topics.

Pipe bombs mailed to political targets. Is this a step in our "evolution" that cannot be taken back? Is killing of opponents now on the table? Is assuming, even for a second, that the targets of the bombs did it themselves as a political ploy a leap of conspiracy theorizing that should never see the light of day, but did?

Synagogue killings in Pittsburgh. What level of hate must someone possess to do this? What could possibly have been the lifetime of built up delusions and lies to cause a human mind to warp to this degree? What rational mind would suggest that the best answer is an armed guard to prevent the massacre?

Grocery Store shooting. Two people shot to death at a grocery store in Kentucky, simply because they were black.  Two lives gone, simply for being in a place where another human being, so full of distorted rage, decided it was his right to end their existence due to the color of their skin.

And, the event this past week that finally pushed me over the edge: a lock-down at my grandkids' school: Police, SWAT team members, terrified children, frantic parents left outside the school buildings with no information for 40 minutes, imaging the worst.

My grandson huddled behind chairs, one day after his 12th birthday, praying that this wouldn't be his last day on earth. My granddaughters staring at police with weapons and body armor, desperately wanting mommy. Mommy, in her car in the parking lot, watching police arrive, with no way of knowing the fate of her children, becoming more terrified and distraught by the minute.

It turned out a youngster brought a toy gun to school, one that was designed to look exactly like a real 9mm weapon. All ended with no injuries, at least physical ones. Mentally, the children's safe world had been invaded and made deadly for a time. "This is the new normal" became the summary. 

96 Americans are shot and killed every single day. In two days that would equal my high school graduating class. Yes, people who should not have guns will always find a way to get one. Yes, we have the right to bear arms for sport and self defense. But, that argument loses its power when that "right" is abused so constantly and when the answer is always, more guns.

This post has very little to do with gun control. It has to do with impulse control. It has to do with the hate that is flowing freely all around us.Our nation is being torn apart not by different opinions but by different visions of reality and truth. Words that once meant the same thing to all of us now serve to separate us, violently and with malice.

Too many leaders have zero concern for the long term health of society. All is about power, ego and image, the next election or next political "win." The ultimate short game is only appealing if there are winners and losers...for some even losing isn't enough..it must be elimination.

We are becoming an of an out-of-control, self-absorbed and delusional, reality-deficient society. Every single one of us is just a moment away from becoming another statistic for no other reason than being at the wrong place at the wrong time, holding a particular set of views, or exercising our First Amendment rights.

Yes, the individuals who killed the people in Pittsburgh and the Kentucky grocery store were mentally sick. Yes, the man who allegedly mailed the pipe bombs was seriously out of control. And, yes, killings like this occur with shocking regularity throughout our nation's history. They are not "owned" by any one political party, viewpoint, or time in history.

But, the number of hate crimes over the last few years, and the frequency that insane conspiracy theories are given plausibility by media, both public and social, is clearly a reflection of how we now talk and think about each other. 

We have created a world where instant communication means instant dissemination of the most violent, implausible, ridiculous claims and counterclaims. Stories and fictionalized scenarios that we wouldn't accept in a crime novel, are given credence and believability, instantly, and with no take back or serious thought.

America is a strong country. We have a history of overcoming problems that would have destroyed a less stable system. But, every empire, every major power, eventually fades from view. That is the reality of history. It is either destroyed by an an outside enemy, or a moral collapse within. This is beginning to feel like the latter. 

How much more can our present day situation remain unchanged before we cross a point of no return? I wish I had an answer. 

For now, I only have a deep, deep feeling of disappointment and fear in the pit of my stomach. 

Your thoughts and comments are encouraged.

October 25, 2018

What Did You Love As a Child?

I had a very pleasant and supportive childhood. At one point before she died I told my mom that I had no bad memories of growing up. I know that made her feel very good about her performance as a parent. I know for an absolute fact that my satisfying retirement is due, in large part, to that upbringing.

I realize that not everyone can make such a statement. In fact, the longer I live and the more people I meet, I realize how very blessed I was. Particularly in my past volunteer work with prisoners I heard horror stories of childhood abuse and neglect that pretty much guaranteed a flawed adult.

Even without serious parental failures, I understand a happy childhood isn't always the case. Even so, I hope what I am writing about today brings back some pleasant memories of things you loved to do when you were so much younger than today.

When I was a young child I'd love to:

Is there anything better
than Winnie the Pooh?
Read anything I could get my hands on. I came from a family of librarians. My earliest memories are of having Winnie the Pooh read to me. Before TV took over, we would spend our evenings reading books and playing games.

 My room usually had as many books as toys. That set me up for a lifetime of reading. Even today I have several books on the nightstand, and another few next to the "daddy chair." I turn to books for comfort and stimulation.

Mom & me saluting the flag
at the farm
Go on car trips and vacations with the family. Most summers found us piling into the back of our station wagon for the 7 hour drive from our home near Philadelphia to my grandparent's "farm" north of Pittsburgh. A 32 acre wonderland for kids, there was no running water or electricity in the large, two story house. The bathroom was down the path to the outhouse.

Coffee was boiled over a grill in a large speckled pot. Days were spent exploring the woods and fields. Near the end of our two week stay my brothers and I, along with my uncle, would try to walk the 5 miles to the nearest town, Mars, for ice cream cones. The other adults would meet us with the car for the trip back to the farm. To me, those memories defined summer until I started my own family.

Go on picnics and hikes. Weekends in the summer always meant a drive to a local lake or park for some hiking and a blanket-on-the-ground-ants-in-your-food picnic. Eating outside was a time when mom, dad, and the three boys would be together to laugh, complain, share, and run around.

Notice: no helmets in those days!
Ride my bike. Every kid in my neighborhood had a bike that became his or her freedom machine. Mine was decorated every 4th of July for the town parade. I put baseball cards in the spokes to create a motor sound.

I had fringe on the handle bars, baskets on the back, and a bell that announced my arrival. Getting my first 26" bike was a recognition of my maturity. 

Build a business. I was an entrepreneur from a very early age. My first money-losing scheme was to publish a neighborhood newspaper. I would write a few stories that mom would then type, using carbon paper, to make copies for me to distribute to neighbors. The only subscriber was my grandmother. She paid 10 cents for a mailed copy.

A few years later I got the idea that I could make money buying postage stamps from other countries, repackaging them, and selling them to stamp collectors. I had a desk filled with small plastic envelopes, a catalog of foreign stamps for sale, and a marker pen for writing the price on each bag. I don't think I actually sold anything, but for a time I was in the exciting world of commerce.   

Like most boys of that era, I had a paper route after school (remember afternoon newspapers?). Unfortunately, my route covered a neighborhood that was down a steep hill and started over a mile from my house. That wasn't really a problem except in winter time.

Cambridge, Ohio gets a lot of snow. Many a day I would be pushing my bike around my route or back up the hill because the snow was too deep to ride. It was dark and very cold. Today, parents wouldn't let a 12 year old attempt such a job alone. The world has become a much more dangerous place.

I finally decided to become the "boss" by hiring others to deliver my papers for me when the weather was bad. There were serious flaws with that plan. By the time I paid the boy to deliver my papers I lost money that day. My "employee" was less concerned with doing a good job so I usually got a few complaints about customers being skipped or papers thrown on the roof after my fill-in was finished.

Play the clarinet. After a few years of struggling with the piano I switched to the clarinet at 10 years old and later joined the school band. I guess I played well enough; I was selected for two years in a row to play second chair clarinet in the All New England Band. But, I never thought of myself as a musician. The clarinet was more a hobby and a way to be with people I enjoyed.

After high school my music "career" ended until recently when I started playing the guitar. I have found the basics of reading music and playing survived a 52 year layoff. I missed making music for my own enjoyment.

Childhood in the 1950's and early 1960's in suburban America was a great time to be a kid. All the problems of the world were kept at bay. Howdy Doody and his friends made everything OK.

Of course, a childhood like that was in many respects artificial. We never experienced, or were even aware of, racial inequities and discrimination or poverty. Most everyone I saw was white and prosperous. A few years later when I left for college my eyes would be opened to what the real world was like.

But, for awhile, childhood kept all that at bay. Today I am certainly more aware and troubled by what the real world is like. Even so, the positive memories and habits formed way back then live on in me today. And, for that I am grateful.

How about you? What are your strongest memories of your childhood? What helped you become the person you are today?

October 21, 2018

Go-Go, Slow-Go, No-Go: Is This A Smart Retirement Life Plan?

I have written before about the three stages of retirement: excitement and euphoria, then panic and fear, followed by settling in and enjoying the freedom.

But, Go-Go, Slow-Go, No-Go is a bit different. Instead of thinking about time management or finding a passion, these three phrases do an excellent job of describing an approach to a satisfying retirement journey from an activity standpoint. 

We are aware of the changes in our energy level, physical stamina, and overall health as we age.  Obsessing about this reality is a waste of time. What we can do is manage our approach to living to match what is likely to occur.

During the Go-Go stage we have the energy, physical and mental stability, and desire to do things. We have determined that our financial situation will allow us to splurge for the time being. For many this means travel. This is the time for that extended road trip, tour the country in an RV, take a walking tour across Ireland, board a cruise for a trip across the Pacific, visit the Holy Land...whatever is part of your dream list. We are at the peak of our retirement health and monetary stability. 

For others, Go-Go might mean going back to school to get the degree you have always wanted. Hours of studying, rushing from classroom to classroom, balancing a home life and a school life is not for the faint of heart.

For the athletically inclined The Go-Go phase means ski trips, long distance bike rides, taking part in swim meets, joining the tennis club and perfecting your backswing. It means a real dedication to workouts at the gym or extended walking commitments.

At some point, and it differs for all of us, we move into the Slow-Go period of retirement. With a diminished energy level, maybe less physical  stamina, or a need to pull back on spending, the focus becomes a bit closer to home. This is when we think about remodeling or improving our home, or even downsizing so there is less maintenance to worry about. 

Slow-Go doesn't have to mean no travel, just trips that tax us a little less. Maybe a packaged tour takes the place of independent trips. A long weekend in a favorite place instead of a 2 week driving tour sounds more appealing.

Instead of going back to college full time, Slow-Go is the time for enrichment classes at the local community college. It is the phase when hobbies become more important. With more time at home, we develop our woodworking, quilting, writing, or auto repair skills. Starting a home-based business built around one of these hobbies often occurs. 

The third stage, No-Go, is when our interests, desire, stamina, and health are more likely to limit what we can safely and comfortably do. Importantly, I want to emphasize that No-Go does not mean being parked in from of a TV 6 hours a day, or glued to your easy chair. It doesn't mean cocooning inside your four walls. 

Rather, this is the perfect time to work on projects and interests close to home. Online courses in subjects you've always wanted to explore, a reading plan centered on a deeper study of a favorite author, period of history or subject, and games designed to keep your mind stimulated are excellent options. A day trip organized by your local senior center might be fun and get you out of the house. Spending more time with your extended family members or friends can be a good fit. 

No-Go may involve a tightened budget as health costs increase. But, with less travel, expensive vacations, and major house remodels, your financial direction can more easily be adjusted.

These three activity and energy stages are a natural part of the aging process. Each of us moves from stage to stage on our own unique timetable. That difference is important to respect in ourselves and others. This awareness is extra-important if a spouse or partner is not in the same phase as you.

Again, I want to emphasize that these stages do not affect your ability to have a fully satisfying retirement. Like all of life, we are happiest when our abilities, interests, and goals are in alignment.

October 18, 2018

We Published a Book Together: The Grandkids and Me!

Betty and I have three very excited grandchildren. Begun as an idea a few months ago, today we celebrate the publication of Bobo's Great Adventure.

In the summer of 2018, the grandkids were visiting Gran and Grandad’s home for an afternoon of play and games. At one point our grandson was looking at one of my books online. That was the trigger.

He asked if he and I could write a book together. As a youngster who loves to read and has an amazingly inventive mind, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Even so, his request caught me off-guard. After quickly recovering, of course I agreed. That would be a fun project we could do together.

Realizing his two sisters were close by and each had talents we could use, I asked if we could all work on the book together. Everyone agreed: writing a book, illustrating it and producing a finished product would be a great goal for the rest of the summer.

Photos were taken by Gran, then converted into sketches by our granddaughters. Gran helped to tweak the final pictures that fit the story written by Grandad. The boy who started it all took over the role of proofreader and marketing director.

Bobo’s Great Adventure is the result.

The Fuddle Family, with Bobo
The Fuddle Family along with Bobo, a stuffed toy dog, embark on a memorable adventure. Along the way they explore the countryside, meet friendly people, and animals.
Then, a scary encounter with a flash flood puts Bobo in jeopardy, but just for awhile. The Fuddles rescue Bobo and return home, safe and sound with memories of a great family adventure that will be with them forever.

As you might imagine, Gran (Betty) and Grandad (me !) as proud as can be over this joint effort. Josh, Kaylee, Kassi, and their mom and dad are celebrating the completion of something that is meaningful and memorable.

Bobo on a swing all by himself
There is just one step left, and for that I turn to you: when people order a copy, much more than the money will be shared among the three kids. There is a very real validation of what they have accomplished. To produce an actual book that others are interested in buying is a big deal to them. 

The Kindle version is just $1.99 while the paperback is $4.99 (due to printing costs).
Click here to go directly to the book on Amazon.

I would very much appreciate your support in this regard. And, yes, 100% of the money goes to the three kids.

Bobo meets a horse

Thanks so much, and I hope you enjoy the story.

October 15, 2018

Retirement Budgeting: It is Not Safe To Ignore This Step

I received the following e-mail from a regular satisfying retirement reader and commenter.  Except for a little editing and name changes, I've left her message intact. After reading through her concerns, see if you can add anything to my thoughts.

"Bill and I are definitely taking the next step towards retirement and we're getting our business ready to put up for sale.. a big step. Bill is pretty nervous, I am calmer about it. A big leap but we are sooo. ready. The stresses of business and the challenges of staying up to date in an ever changing industry are wearing us out! We're ready to move on to the next phase of our lives.
Reading your blog helps us both to have the large view and not be too scared. We'd feel better if our savings were still making the 7% and the 5% even that they used to, in municipal bonds. (Wouldn't everyone!?) We're having to learn more about investing. "IF" the economy had not taken a slide we probably would have retired several years ago as we had originally planned.. but we're in the same boat as everyone, with interest rates what they are. LUCKILY we did not lose in the stock market dip ten years ago.
One thing we're going to do is sit down and remember what it is like to live on a stricter BUDGET. I wonder if you would address this issue in a blog post? How does one go from having a good bit of discretionary income to living on fixed income again? We certainly did this in our early years, but we have to relearn! Do you and Betty each get an "Allowance" monthly for personal spending? I don't spend much, monthly, but my husband does have a Home Depot habit.
We live frugally but well, but it is still a challenge to return to a stricter kind of budgeting so our retirement funds last..we are weighing that sense of FREEDOM and TIME we will gain (and better health, too, no doubt..) with the minor discomfort of having to watch pennies again. I read that the Frugal Girl and her spouse have a once a month budget meeting-- do you and Betty? Or do your retired readers?
One PLUS of doing this again in our lives (stricter budgeting) is that we are reviewing the importance and meaning of every expenditure, reviewing what kind of travel we REALLY enjoy and get our money's worth from, and just reviewing "meaning" in general-- a good thing!"

Besides writing most of this post for me (!), I seriously appreciate the thought Sue put into her questions and concerns. I'll take a stab at answering them. Like many, she is looking forward to retirement with a healthy mixture of edginess and excitement. With interest income still quite low, and the "normal" investments no longer the safe places we once thought them to be, she and Bill are refocusing on the need to choose how the monetary resources they have are best utilized.

Betty and I do not have a monthly budget meeting. We set our budget on January 1st for the coming year. It is based on last year's expenses, what we think we will need to spend, and what our income will be for the next 365 days. Also, we have a certain amount of money set aside for emergency expenses.

From then on it is my responsibility to keep things in balance. If we get some income we didn't plan on we discuss what we should do with it. If expenses are tracking higher than they should I make suggestions for cuts and adjustments and Betty gives her approval or suggests a modification here or there. I do record everything we spend in Quicken so I am never surprised by an out-of-whack expenses category. I can catch a problem very quickly.

Our total expenses have remained relatively steady over the past 17 years. How is that possible considering the effects of inflation and in areas like health care where costs have gone up a average of 10%-15% a year? The answer is simple: they had to because my income is relatively fixed.

When I retired in 2001 at the age of 52 I had a investment/savings account designed to carry us until I planned to start taking Social Security and withdrawing from my IRA at the age of 64.  We have lived off that savings and investment account through boom and bust cycles. When those investments were making 10% we had extra cash flow. When our average return sunk to 3% or less, we were short. But, because we didn't spend more when times were good we had enough to carry through the tough times. A dozen years ago I had planned that the savings account would run out of money on my 64th birthday. I was one month off.

Over the years we have adjusted budget categories many times. In some years we decide it is time to replace some home furnishings, so another category must be cut. In another year, maybe we decide we would rather cut back our dining out budget so we can spend a bit more somewhere else. Cable TV and the land line phone went away several years ago ago when we realized they weren't worth the money to us.

My clothing budget is 85% less than it was when I was working and I still have money left unspent at the end of the year. I need jeans, a T-shirt, and gym shoes. Heavens, our dry cleaning expenses for last year for both Betty and me was $36....not a month, but for all of 2017. We simply don't buy or maintain clothes than cannot be laundered.

We each get a small sum of money each month (less than $100) that doesn't have to be accounted for. Betty tends to spend hers on the grandkids or the house. I spend mine on stuff for my blog, books and house.

This post is getting a little long, so let me summarize what I believe the key to our financial stability has been:
  1. We have no consumer debt, no mortgage, no credit card debt
  2. We adjust our expenses to fit within our income, not the other way around
  3. We constantly adjust to stay on track
  4. We have learned that it doesn't take much for us to be happy

OK, your turn. What hints or tips can you give to Sue and Bill and everyone else? After all, we are all in this together.

October 11, 2018

The Worst Things About Retirement

For some of us the worst thing about retirement is that it didn't start sooner. After experiencing the freedom and opportunities that become available after work ends, we are happy that the employment stage of life is behind us.

For variety of reasons, others find the transition is less than ideal. Concerns like financial fears, health problems, or relational issues are not my focus this time. Instead, I'd like to look at some things that may be a little less obvious but still make us less than satisfied. Some of these may feel familiar to you. For some reason the pieces of retirement you thought would fit together nicely, don't.

In each segment I have included a link to a post that might help you find some answers.

* After awhile the freshness wears off. Then, every day seems like the one before. This happens when the honeymoon period ends and we realize what is in front of us: a schedule that is up to us to design. Forty hours (or more) every week is now ours to fill. Say what you will about an unpleasant job, at least it came with a structure that required little effort on our part to design. 

Is retirement like a permanent vacation?

* I don't like telling people I am retired. It makes me feel old and not useful. The lack of a clearly defined "role" bothers us. The "What do you do" question was easy to answer. Now, not so much.

Retirement does not mean not working

* I don't have many friends who have retired so I miss seeing people at work or during the day. This is actually two connected issues. If you retire earlier than others the natural tie you would share with retirees is not in place. You lose both your friends at work and can find yourself isolated in social situations. Those who are around during the day tend to be young mothers with their kids or business people rushing from one appointment to the next. Your contemporaries are not around. 

I often wonder about the growing trend of folks in their 30's who want to retire very young. After the initial period of exploration and freedom who will they have as friends? Virtually every one of their peers will have work for validation and friendship.

Finding Friends After Retirement

* I feel stagnant and drifting in place. Being retired can feel like an anchor has been pulled up: the anchor of knowing where to go and what to do each day. Without that structure, you can feel like your mind lacks stimulation and you have left a port with no destination in mind. You are just drifting through your days.

5 Things You Learn About Retirement - After Retirement

* I am the go-to person for babysitting or running errands. Sometimes it can seem as though you are the only person in your relatives' address books. Helping out is something you are happy to do, within limits. Why don't others understand I'm not being unkind or rude? It is just that I didn't retire to become an answer to other people's scheduling problems.

The 10 Commandments of Retirement

* I put on weight since I'm not as active as I was at work. I'm worried about my health. Yes, I know, I had a desk job. But, just the walking around the office, to and from the parking lot, and a quick bite for lunch kept me looking and feeling OK. 

Now, it is too easy to snack when I am bored or have no particular things to do on any type of schedule. I probably watch too much TV, too, which isn't helping. Since I am not interacting with other people as much, maybe I just don't care as much about my appearance or health.

The health concerns that keep us awake

* I just don't have enough to do to fill my days. Obviously, that is part of  several of my other complaints. But, I have never had a hobby and I get tired of reading. At least at work I had something to fill my time without me having to figure out what to do.

What Do Retired People Do All Day?

If you find some of the things on this list fit you, then you are not having the type of experience you expected. You know these are not just minor complaints but things you struggle with every day. 

If these dissatisfactions bother you let me assure you that you are not alone, and these are not frivolous problems. They are very real and important. 

After each item on the list I have put a link to an earlier post that might give you some answers or encouragement that you can turn things around. Please take the time to read the ones that might help.

If you would like a more personal response, I invite you to email me with specific questions and concerns. I would be happy to begin a dialogue with you. No promises that every issue of yours will be solved, but I would love to be able to help you cross at least one thing off your "worst things" list.

October 8, 2018

Retirement Living Options That Are Not For Everyone

After the post of a few days ago, How To Move to a Retirement Community  I thought it would be fun to look at some options that are very different retirement options that aren't designed for everyone.

One of the really nice things about a satisfying retirement is the freedom that comes from deciding how you live or even where you spend your time. Some of us are happiest staying where we are now, with an occasional trip to add new experiences to our lives. 

But, what about those retirees who have decided to really break the mold? A while back the Wall Street Journal had a story about folks who have picked, shall we say, more unusual retirement options. A few other news stories that filtered across my desk make it obvious that a "traditional" choice may not be so obvious. Consider these:

Live on a Ship

For roughly the same monthly cost as a typical full service retirement community, a small but growing number of people are living for several months or more each year on cruise ships.

A recent research study concluded that the services on a typical cruise are comparable to those in a retirement community: dining choices, escorts for dances and dining, help with doling out medicines, and daily housekeeping. Cruise ships have a doctor and nurse on board and on call 24/7, as well as a decently outfitted medical facility without worrying about health insurance or copays. Entertainment, fitness centers, libraries, and satellite TV complete the package.

Between cruises, those who have adopted this lifestyle stay with friends or in a short term apartment rental or hotel. Of course living space is at a premium, but as a trade off you spend your time visiting fascinating location anywhere in the world and have your needs and wants taken care of.

Just a month or two ago I saw an article about folks who live on cruise ships full time. For all the reasons noted above, these people have left any land-based living arrangement behind. Click here for an excellent article on the good, the bad, and the ugly of cruise-ship living

Spend part of the year as a Park Ranger

This retirement lifestyle could be considered a type of snowbird living. Folks spent the summer months living in an RV while serving in volunteer capacities at national or state parks. Usually the rental fee for the camping space is free, or deeply discounted in exchange for the help. 

The volunteers may serve as managers of a camping/RV site, teaching interpretative classes, or working in a gift shop. The story I saw told of a couple that spent last summer at Yellowstone, the previous summer at Yosemite, and plan to be at Mt. Ranier this year. During the winter months they pull the RV to a warmer climate or spend time visiting friends. For more information on this option, For more information on this option, click here

Share Housing with others

If you have an interest in living communally, this may work for you. Residents of these communities have private living spaces, but share kitchen and other facilities.

There are a growing number of such senior developments in the U.S. with more in other countries. I have read predictions that most metropolitan areas will have at least one cohouse development within the next decade. Especially for those who have lost a partner or have no nearby relatives, the sense of family and of sharing one's life with others are major draws.

If this sounds like something you'd like to explore, take a look at CCohousing,org's website.

Live in another country

Moving to a place like Costa Rico, Mexico, Belize, or anywhere else in the world is becoming a reasonable choice for many. Estimates are that over half a million Americans are spending their retirement years outside their home country.

The primary reason is cost. Health care is usually 50-80% less expensive with comparable care. Many doctors in Central or South America, for example, are trained in American schools. Larger cities have modern hospitals and clinics. Housing is usually much less expensive, too. Social Security checks can usually be sent to you, though the rules vary by country.

Another reason folks choose to pull up stakes and start over again is the desire for adventure and a fresh start. Retiring to another country is a major decision that requires serious thought and preparation. It is not something to be done on a whim. Learning a new language and customs while fitting into a new culture can be daunting to some, but amazingly stimulating for others. Interesting? Click here

I've just scratched the surface on this topic. Additional options include some form of extended volunteer work, like the Peace Corp, or building a small apartment on the property of grown children to create a multi-generational situation without sacrificing privacy.

I'd like to know is what do you think? Are any of these ideas (or others I haven't mentioned) logical alternatives to aging in place or a typical retirement community? 

It is kind of exciting that we do have options.

October 4, 2018

Making It Feel Like Home After a Move To a Retirement Community

Where to retire? From a few years ago, this is a guest post from Sarah Jennings on the steps one can take to make the move to a retirement community as stress-free as possible. Whether a retirement community is in your future or maybe for a parent or relative, I find her suggestions and ideas worthwhile.

After retiring, many people choose to live in active retirement communities. Unlike assisted living homes, retirement communities are designed to keep newly retired individuals living independently but with an array of activities, hobbies, and social events to choose from.
However, as appealing as those services are, it can be hard to adjust to living in a different place than the one where you made memories in raising children, developing your career, and forming the person you are today. It’s often difficult at first to really feel at peace with the decision, but just like any major life change, it’s normal to experience cold feet and second thoughts. Chances are you made the right choice, but just like any species on the planet, being in a new environment is all about learning how to adapt, how to make it a happy retirement choice.

Make it Feel Like Home

As obvious as this tip is, it’s normal for new residents to not decorate and adorn their new home right away, if at all. Remember, your new apartment is your home; it’s not a dorm room where you’ll be moving out it nine months. Don’t be afraid to go all out and really get creative with it as bare walls and naked rooms can make it hard to truly feel at ease.

Making it feel like a safe, relaxing, and comfortable place you can retreat will really speed up the adjusting process. Hang up pictures of friends and family, set and decorate the table, and get all your old, familiar mementos out and ready to display. However, try to avoid making it look exactly like your old home; let this be a new chapter in your life, and it’s important to let your new home be just that: your new home, not a replica of your old one.

Be a Neighbor

This doesn’t mean a quick wave to the person who lives across from you or an occasional, “How are you?” This is one circumstance where it’s good to be old fashioned; introduce yourself, offer your neighbors some baked goods or a glass of wine, and really get to know them. This is what the term “community” is all about. Getting to know the people who live around you allows for friendships to flourish, and the feeling of familiarity will make easing into your new home go much smoother.

Get Involved

Your retirement community most likely offers a large variety of events and activities to choose from. Avoid being a homebody, and get active. The sooner you start taking advantage of the available activities, the sooner you will warm up to the facility. Getting involved is the best way to meet other residents with similar interests, and making new friends is the key to feeling at home in a new place.

Even just taking a good book down to the lobby to read is a simple way to surround yourself with others. Keeping yourself isolated does nothing but prevent you from experiencing your new life to the fullest, and a large percent of your rent goes to the amenities offered. You might as well take advantage of them and have a good time.

Keep in Contact with Friends and Family

One of the biggest arguments against living in an active retirement community stems from the fear of losing contact with close friends and family. However, it’s all about how you personally make an effort to keep in touch, and most facilities are more than happy to allow your guests to visit and even stay overnight.

Minimizing your contact with friends and family can contribute to resenting your decision later on, but remember you’re not on a desert island; you just changed locations. Have your family over frequently to share meals or attend events, or schedule a coffee date with an old friend or neighbor. Sometimes, nothing is quite as comforting and enjoyable than spending time with a familiar face.

Talk with the Staff

It’s just as important to get to know the staff as it is other residents. It’s a good idea to build a friendly relationship with any them as they’re the ones responsible for taking care of any issues you have with the facility. Also, the employees see new residents move in all the time, so they most likely have some tips and ideas that would be helpful in getting you better acquainted with the place.

Moving into a retirement community is a major life decision, and it can take some time to fully adjust. 

However, by making your new place comfortable, actively reaching out to connect with others, and keeping old ties close, the initial hesitation will ease into a feeling of satisfaction and excitement about your future.

It’s a brand new phase of your life; you might as well do all you can do make it one of the best ones yet.

Sarah Jennings has been taking care of others her whole life. In 2005, she moved her mother into her family home. She uses her personal experience to share with others about caring for the elderly. She wrote this piece on behalf of Brookdale Senior Living.
Note: Satisfying Retirement  received no compensation for this post or the links included.

October 1, 2018

Stolen Social Security Benefits: You Must Read This

A good friend of ours had the unimaginable happen. Someone stole his data files and filed a fraudulent Social Security claim for benefits under his name. Because he had not asked to start receiving his benefits, this theft of money and his identity continued for a while.

As you can imagine undoing the damage is a long and laborious process. In a stroke of good luck there were apparently enough red flags raised at the bank selected to receive the fraudulently-filed benefits that they rejected all of the transfer attempts. They alerted the Social Security Administration that there appeared to be a problem. Even so, Social Security has to update his records to show he hasn't filed for benefits and the money paid did not go to him. The process could take 90 days.

The takeaway is simple: if you are over 62 and have not started receiving Social Security benefits you are a prime target of these lowlifes. It is essential that you make sure no one has filed for your benefits. 

The following release from AICPA provides an excellent summary of the problem and what steps you should take to keep your files safe (or as safe as they can be in today's world). The author had his benefits misdirected, too. Even as a CPA he fell victim. In the following he is advising fellow CPA's what to do. His suggestions apply to everyone.

If you or your clients are at or nearing retirement age, you need to know that hackers are targeting social security accounts. I found out the hard way. My career as a CPA Personal Financial Specialist was devoted to advising individuals and families on their most important financial goals, including tax, retirement, estate, risk management, investment and retirement planning.

After decades of helping my clients navigate and manage these important decisions, imagine my surprise when I received a letter in the mail shortly after my 67th birthday congratulating me on initiating my Social Security benefits. The trouble was, although I had entered the glory years of retirement, I had not yet applied for Social Security benefits, opting to wait until age 70 to receive my benefits. Further digging uncovered the unfortunate fact that a thief had received $19,236 of my benefits. I was dumbfounded.
How did this breach occur? And if I was victimized, who else might be at risk? What can you do to prevent this or respond should this happen to you or your clients?
Who is at risk?
All individuals age 62 to 70 who have not yet applied for benefits are at risk, particularly if their personal information was exposed in the Equifax breach. For beneficiaries over age 66.5, the risk is even greater. In my case, a fraudulent application was made one month after I turned 67.

The timing is not coincidental – in fact it reveals that the thief was sophisticated enough to understand the Social Security system. Individuals who have reached full retirement age and have not applied for benefits can receive a retroactive payment from Social Security of up to six months of benefits. So, beginning at age 66.5 (for people born between 1943 and 1954), thieves can access the maximum amount of back benefits.
How did this happen?
While I’m not entirely sure how the thief obtained my personal information, it’s likely that the Equifax data breach, which exposed the vital personal identification data of as many as 143 million consumers, contributed to the identity theft. According to the Equifax website, my personal information was potentially exposed as a result of the breach.
Prior to the Equifax breach, I had frozen my credit with all three credit bureaus, effectively denying any attempts to obtain credit in my or my wife’s names. Despite the freeze, the thief was able to have my benefits direct deposited into an account opened with a bank that proudly advertises at major retailers that they do not perform credit checks prior to issuing prepaid Visa debit cards.

If these stores had done a credit check, in my case, they would have found that I had freezes on all three bureaus and would have then rejected the false application they had blindly accepted with my stolen information.
But Equifax, the bank, and the retailers who market and sell these cards are not the only players involved. There is a flaw in the controls on the Social Security website that, unfortunately, does little to protect the beneficiary.
Beneficiaries who set up a my Social Security account can view their Social Security Statement, update their address and phone number, start or change direct deposit of their benefit payment, and view benefits online. This secure website sends an email or text message with a secure access code to the contact information on file on the website before login can be completed.
However, there is a separate, unsecure website that is not located within the secure my Social Security account, which was the door the thief used to perpetrate the fraud. This website, the Social Security Retirement/Medicare Benefit application, can be used to apply for benefits online.
On the unsecure website, the thief changed one digit of my phone number, entered a fake email address, set up direct deposit information for the bank prepaid card that had been fraudulently opened, and applied for benefits. Although the personal information entered by the thief did not match the information I had previously entered on the secure website, I received no notification of these changes or the fact that a benefit application had been made.
If there is a silver lining, it is that addresses cannot be changed on the unsecure benefit application website, so I received a letter in the mail congratulating me for initiating my benefits. Unfortunately, six months of back benefits and a current month of benefits, totaling over $19,000, had been dispersed to the fraudulent bank card account prior to when the Social Security Administration (SSA) mailed the letter and 11 days before I received it.
What Next?
Whether or not you are a victim of this crime, taking precautionary security measures to protect yourself from a diversion of benefits is critical. The SSA provides recommendations on how to secure your information online. Unfortunately, because of the notification breakdown and unsecure nature of the benefit application website, taking these steps does not ensure that you will not be victimized. At a minimum, I would recommend that you a create a my Social Security account and log in at least annually (more frequently if over age 62) to verify your personal information and benefit status.
If you discover that you or one of your clients has been the victim of a Social Security breach or theft, make an appointment (if you can) or wait in line at your local SSA office immediately. You will be interviewed and required to provide a written statement certifying the circumstances of the fraud. The agent will freeze further payments on your account.

Maintain digital and hard copies of everything that you receive. Furthermore, I was advised to file a police report with a case number, which I have maintained in my files. Finally, I had electronic access to my account blocked.
I just received Form SSA-1099 for the $19,236 that was disbursed out of my account.  I will now have to battle with both the IRS and the Social Security Administration, and eventually Medicare as this additional income would tip me over the threshold for means testing on my Parts B and D premiums.
I urge you to alert your clients of this and other cybersecurity risks. The AICPA Tax Section has a toolkit relating to tax identity theft, including a client identity theft checklist with action steps for recovery that is open to all AICPA members. Consumers can also benefit from materials on the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy website relating to identity theft. In addition there is a page of SSA recommendations

The author of this release is James A. Shambo, CPA (retired), president of Lifetime Planning Concepts, Inc., which is located in Colorado Springs, CO.

This can be a serious matter and create a real mess in your life. I found this article eye-opening and worth my attentive followup.

Satisfying Retirement provides this post for informational purposes only. No compensation was received nor endorsements implied.