December 31, 2018

We Made It....Welcome 2019

2018 has been a wild, upsetting, energizing, discouraging, encouraging year.

Through it all Satisfying Retirement has had a busy year: 4 new booklets published, podcasts started, and the 2nd edition of a long time favorite has been re-published. 

Thanks you you, we passed 3 million view in September, just three months after we marked the start of our 9th year. Your support, insightful and passionate comments and emails, continue to brighten my day and, hopefully, help us all on the journey to, and through, retirement.

From Bob, Betty, and Bailey, have a safe and happy New Year's day.

December 28, 2018

Underestimating The Priceless

Yes, this post title is meant to be ironic. After all, how can you underestimate something if it is priceless. Yet, we do it all the time. I guess that is just part of the human condition. We are hard-wired to chase the shiny and ignore the mundane. We react to the new while downplaying the reliable. We want to move on even if where we are is completely satisfying.

With that in mind, let me put five words or concepts in front of you....things that I suggest are priceless but undervalued. Than, I ask you to react to the ones that resonate the most with you.

1) Silence. As rare as a TV newscast with only good news, the lack of noise is almost impossible to find anymore. Deep in the deepest forest you will hear an overhead airplane, a distant car engine, or birds chirping happily away. Inside your home you will hear the on/off cycling of the refrigerator, the bark of a neighbor's dog, or the ding of a cell phone text notification. Absolute silence is absolutely impossible for almost all of us.

I am referring to the silence of your mind, the lack of chatter bouncing around inside your head.  With effort, this type of quiet is still attainable. Silence from worry or striving, quiet from the judgments and reactions is so important to our overall stability. For some that means meditation. Others find a healing form of silence while hiking through nature. Quietly watching birds in your backyard or a goldfish in a tank can accomplish much. The desire it to still the "noise," real and mental, that fills our days. Silence from concern, silence from judgement, silence from worry is priceless. 

2) Commitment. Some might argue this is as rare as real silence. I'm not cynical enough to agree, but certainly, the concept of commitment has taken  some hits over the years. This is a pretty broad term. In this context I mean commitment to things and people. Commitment to being the best or achieving one's goals are important, but not where I am heading.

Commitment to something bigger than yourself is what I think is undervalued but priceless because then it is something that becomes a foundation, a dependable anchor in a rough world. Commitment in relationships, to always doing the absolute best for children and family. Commitment to doing more than giving lip service to the needs of the poor, hurting, and disadvantaged that are all around us. Commitment to your core principles, regardless of the cost. 

3) Your Word. Closely connected to commitment, there are few things more important than having your word be utterly dependable. You do what you promise to do. Family, friends, business associates, whomever, have trust that your word is every bit as reliable as a signed contract. 

If someone promises something substantial or important and then wiggles out of that pledge for personal gain or convenience, a priceless resource has been lost, or at least severely damaged. Your word is your bond. It is what makes you someone who can be counted upon. Never underestimate the importance of staying true to what you say.

4) Time. 
 "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”  Frodo in Lord of the Rings
“How did it get so late so soon?”   Dr. Seuss
“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”   Charles Darwin

The point is clear. Time is the one thing that every human has a finite amount of but uses as if the supply is endless. No amount of money, no success in business and life, no fame or notoriety, no system of calendars and to-do lists, can restore the priceless value of time once we underestimate its importance and squander it away.

5) Love. For something that should be at the center of our existence we certainly have a cavalier attitude toward love. We "love" our dog, our car, our house, our TV, our new hair style, our vacation in the Caribbean. 

That must mean there are different levels of love, or maybe our culture has cheapened the meaning of the word. We can think that being in love, falling in love, and loving another are the same; I'm pretty sure they are not. The first two are emotional or physical states caused by infatuation, romance, sex, and expectations. The last one is the state of carrying more for the well-being of another than yourself. It is setting your self, your ego aside when needed.  

I realize this might seem a little off target for a retirement blog, but, I don't think so. These five concepts or actions are very important parts of a satisfying retirement. They help define who you are and how others will interact with you. They are things that a life of joy usually contain. Setting a price on each is impossible. But, that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to possess them.

December 25, 2018

I Would Really Like to Have Techie Support!

Maybe you received a new computer, tablet, smartphone, or wireless speaker for Christmas. Maybe you are still trying to get the electronic device you received last Christmas to work properly. You ask Alexa to turn on a light and it plays a song instead.

Over the years more than one retiree has said that he or she really misses the technical help they got at work. Having someone from the IT or the support department install new software, replace an aging computer, or hook you up to the office wireless printer was a perk that ended with your last paycheck. Only when it is gone did you realize how much you depended on it. 

For many of us, few things are more irritating and frustrating than sitting in front of a computer staring at something that looks like a virus, having your Roku unable to locate your home wireless network, or discovering your smartphone has a battery life measured in minutes. The joy of getting a new tablet is quickly replaced by the dread of getting it to work: transferring all your files, finding the  license numbers for the software, uploading all the apps you have become dependent on.

Wouldn't it be great if the type of technical support you got at work was still readily available. You'd place a call, send a text, or type a quick email and someone magically appeared to take away your pain. 

Unfortunately, except for those who read Microsoft manuals for fun, we are pretty much on our own. Yes, there are companies that will help you, for a cost.  People from the Geek Squad or Data Doctors can come to your rescue.

Maybe you have a grown son or daughter, or even a grandchild who can work wonders. Youtube has video tutorials that may allow you to solve a problem, and there are online companies that can analyze some of your problems without coming to your home. Of course, if the computer is not working, how do you go online to get help?

There are some retirement communities that have tech-savvy residents who are glad to help someone else solve a problem. Most libraries have computer stations. The people maintaining them can often recommend where to go for help.

So, today's question is, where do you turn for help? What is your go-to solution when you face a technical hurdle? How do you get back in the techie game?

Virtually all of us will face these problems at one time or another. Can you offer us any solace?

December 24, 2018

Happy Holidays

Whatever your religious or secular tradition, best wishes to you and your loved ones come from me and my family.

Beyond the hype, the money spent, the rushing about, and the inevitable letdown after the day or period passes, I hope you can feel a deep sense of love and connectedness to the greater community of human beings.

Whatever your present situation you are part of a larger family with many similar concerns. At this time of year I pray you find some sense of peace and contentment.

Blessings from Satisfying Retirement: Bob, Betty, and Bailey (woof, woof)

December 20, 2018

A Fresh Start To The New Year

For more years than I'd like to count, I tend to kickoff the new year the same way. It is a five step process (I'm very organized!) that has worked for me before and during my satisfying retirement. Since we are less than 2 weeks away, it is time for me to get started. See how closely this matches your approach.

Develop a budget

This is always first. Without knowing (or making an educated guess) what my income and outgo is likely to be I can't make any plans for vacations, home repairs and new furnishings, charity donations, and all the things that keep the Lowry household functioning. Usually I draw up a rough budget based on the current year's situation by early December. Once I know about any health insurance cost increases I start to get serious.

For most years I start with the goal of keeping overall expenses no higher than the year just ending. I know how much I want to withdraw from savings and investments so I simply work backward from that figure. If I reach zero before all categories are taken care of, out comes the red pencil until expenses are slightly below income.

In some years, because of added expenses I will adjust the income by increasing the investment withdrawal rate to make the expenses work. Then, the following year we will adjust back down again to keep things in line. Betty and I will get together on New Year's Eve and decide the final look of the new budget...not very exciting but we avoid the craziness of that night.

Betty starts Medicare next year so our medical categories can shrink a bit. As things often happen, any savings will be absorbed by higher real estate taxes and the likely need for a new car. 

Clean out my office

All old receipts and files are boxed up and moved into the attic. Next year will be the last year I am handling the wrap up of my parent's estate paperwork, though I will hold onto all the tax files forever. New files and envelopes are begun for 2019. My computer to-do list program has the previous year's information archived and a fresh slate is started.

As one year's worth of receipts and papers go into storage, the oldest box of similar stuff gets taken to a shredder. Everything that is older than 5 years, except tax returns, paid up mortgages, or other important papers, is destroyed.

I look for books and other items that can be given away or go into recycling so the office is as clean and empty of clutter as I can make it.

Put Away holiday decorations

If I had my way the Christmas stuff would be boxed up and back in the storage shed on December 26th. But, the family likes seeing everything all festive until New Year's Day. So, sometime on January 1st or 2nd we'll take down the lights, decorations, angle tree, and garlands, and put the holidays behind us.

Since we will not have the whole family at our house for Christmas this year there is much less than the normal amount of things to clear out. Once the lights and decorations are packed away, 2018 will be officially over.

Develop our vacation calendar

Betty and I usually discuss the next year's vacation plans each fall. We have a general idea of our budget and where we'd like to go. After our European River Cruise in May and a scheduled trip to take everyone to Disney World at the end of January, the coming year will have no additional vacation plans. Long weekends now and again will have to do. 

Betty has church commitments that keep her pretty busy on various projects each spring. This year I have volunteered to help so that will keep us close to home until June.

Purge the house & backyard area

Betty and I are happiest with minimal clutter. I am also am tired of trying to maintain so many flowering plants around our yard so I plan to downsize the number of pots I have in the backyard: the fewer plants to water and maintain the better.

Even though we had a big garage sale just last week, there are nooks and crannies in the garage and in several closets that need to be thinned out.

I'll go through the books in my office and bedroom that are no longer needed and donate them to a charity. Usually at the beginning of the year I review my clothing situation. I get rid of things that are worn out or haven't been used for at least a year. Off they go to the trash or Goodwill.

2019 may be the year I part with a few of my ham radios. For various reasons they are getting very little use. I should be able to sell them and allow someone else to enjoy them.

That is my approach to starting a new year. But, I am always looking for new ideas and suggestions. What do you do to kick off the new year? How do you organize and prepare yourself, your home, and your mind for a fresh start?


December 17, 2018

An Open Letter To a Politician

...................of any party, any age, any level of government. 

Dear Sir/Madam,

I know you are very busy. Fundraising, meeting with lobbyists, campaigning for the election two years away,  skipping votes on issues that don't help you politically...I am sure your schedule is jam-packed.

But, while you are relaxing at a taxpayer-funded conference, or riding in the back of a town car on the way to a speech for well-heeled contributors, I'd humbly ask that you consider the following from a simple citizen:

1) Do what is best for a group larger than the one you pander to while trying to keep your office.

2) Do what is best for the long-term health of our society. By definition, long-term is farther in the future than the next financial quarter or election cycle.

3) Realize that when the earth's environment collapses through misuse and exploitation the resort you love in the South Pacific will be underwater.

4) Contemplate what your children's children will say when they try to remember what you did that had lasting positive effects on their lives.

5) Understand that the future is built on the present. What you do, or don't do today, has costs. Will you be able to feel comfortable with what you did to make that future a better version of the present?

6) Realize it is not too late to stop our selfish road to destruction, if you will take a stand based on what is best for all, even if it means your political life might end. Is that a worse fate than the actual lives of millions of people depending on you to know the difference? 

7) A politician who is honest, ethical, forward-thinking, and part of the solution is maybe not as rare as we have been led to believe. If this description fits you, please stand firm against the draw of the swamp. Our community, our country, our world is in your hands. Hold it well.

I may be retired, but I have children and grandchildren who must live in the world you help shape.

December 13, 2018

How to Evaluate a Retirement Community

The majority of us want to age in place, that is, remain in our current home as long as possible. The comfort of familiar surroundings and pushing back against the inevitable need for care are important reasons. The reality is that at some point, living alone, or even with a spouse or partner to help, you are going to need more support than is possible at home. 

For some, making that move is a logical decision. Children or relatives do not have the caregiving burden or expense to deal with. The elimination of maintenance and other home-owing or renting facts of life disappear. Moving while still healthy enough to enjoy your new surroundings and lifestyle makes sense.

Modern retirement communities offer more opportunities for entertainment, learning, and staying active, if that is what you want. A full service CCRC, or Continuing Care Retirement Community, has a range of housing and care options, including the presence of a nursing facility if that stage of care becomes necessary. 

This care does not come cheaply. A "buy-in" up to $300,000 (or more) is often required. That gets you in the door and into an appropriate level of housing (independent or assisted living). It guarantees you living space and care for the rest of your life. On-going fees can add anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 a month. That pays for most of your meals, overall care, and all maintenance. Think of it as rent with benefits. 

Other options are less expensive but usually do not include a guaranteed place in a nursing center or a full range of services. Independent living is probably in an apartment rather than a separate casita-type facility.

So, what your fiances can handle, what your care needs are at the moment, and what level of activities and living style you desire are considerations. How to decide what is best? Here are some ways to evaluate full service retirement communities:

1.  CCRC's  or larger retirement communities that offer more limited care are usually privately owned and operated by a for-profit corporation. A community can run into serious financial problems and have to cut services, raise monthly fees, or even go out of business.  Obviously, with the amount of money you have invested in the buy-in and the monthly charges, you could suffer some severe consequences if that happens. 

It is wise to ask some basic financial health questions of a community you are considering. How long have they been in business? Are they growing or contracting? How long has management been in place (lots of turnover could equal potential problem)? What is the staff to resident ratio in the more specialized areas like the nursing center? Something in the range of 40% - 50% is good. Does it have publicly available financial information you can review? Ask to see the last 5 years of monthly fees. Are they increasing more than inflation can justify?

Click this link for a more in-depth look at how to analyze retirement community structures and expenses. Another excellent article: reviewing a community's financial health.

2. What are your first impressions of the facility?  Are the buildings well maintained? Are the interiors inviting and well-lit? Is any landscaping being well cared for? Are the dining, exercise, and public areas attractive? What do the independent and assisted living options look like? Could you see yourself living there? Do any residents you encounter appear happy and active? 

3. What transportation options are available for those who don't drive? Does the community have on-property shuttle or bus service? How about ways to go off-site to medical and religious facilities, shopping, and entertainment options? If you prefer to not travel much, are there enough activities and events on-site that match your interests? 

4. Do you have a pet or plan on getting one? What are the rules concerning ownership and control? If barking dogs bother you, do you hear too much of that while on property? 

5. Try the restaurants and lounges on campus. Would you be happy with the choices, quantity and quality of food and drink on a daily basis?

6. If part of the package, is the nursing center well-staffed, clean, and pleasant? Are residents left in wheelchairs in front of a TV all day, or is staff engaged with each one on a regular basis?  

7. If possible spend some time talking with a few of the residents. They may be your best source of what it is like to live there.

A move to a Continuing Care Retirement Community or larger facility aren't your only choices, of course. Cohousing, having a roommate to share expenses and care for each other, or living with family are all possible options. Smaller retirement communities without a full range of services usually don't require a large initial buy-in. Monthly fees are lower.

Whatever you are considering, take your time, do the research, and be sure the one you pick is best for you. Ask questions and feel comfortable with your decision. 

Since this is likely the last move of your life, make it one you that makes you happy.

December 10, 2018

Taking a Gap Year: Not Just For Young Adults Anymore

It is not unheard of for someone graduating from high school to want to take a year off before starting college. There is the need for a break from twelve years of school, or a feeling that an adventure or life-refreshing experience would be beneficial before tackling college or other advanced education. Sometimes, a college graduate will have the same "itch" to explore the world before settling down to becoming a full-fledged "adult."

A while ago the Wall Street Journal had an article  about Boomers taking a "gap year" during their working career. This is seen as the chance to "wipe the slate clean" by exploring different options for the next part of their life. 

Most of the people who do this return to the working world, albeit in a different way. And, there are some who come back in a radically different form.  It may be tackling a long delayed dream, or a mix of part time work with a newly found passion for expanded leisure. It can mean a different living environment or location.

One of the people interviewed for the article summarized the most important step anyone must take: "Don't be afraid. That's what stops most people my age from making changes. Not only do they fear the unknown, but they fear letting go of the habits, comforts, safety and routine of their lives."

That may be true but it is quite reasonable to worry about having to convince a present or future employee to take a chance on someone who decides to take a period of time off, especially past a certain age. Someone would have to arrange for a sabbatical, have a strong enough skill set that finding a new job would not be terribly difficult, or believe a career change is past due anyway.

While the thrust of that newspaper article was not directed toward a satisfying retirement, the mindset that allows for a Boomer relaunch is an interesting idea for someone who is fully retired at the moment. Taking time to strip away old habits or ways of living and then restarting the journey would work at any age.

If already retired, that drawback with taking a "gap year" is eliminated. Of course, there will be other upheavals, expenses, and maybe some strange looks from friends and family. But, worrying about employment isn't as high on the list. And, any future work may take on an entirely different form: starting one's own business, using skills in a different field, or consulting a former employer.

Our mini-gap machine
I did experiment with a mini "gap" concept and enjoyed it tremendously. After debating the pros and cons for at least a year, Betty and I finally bought an RV. After several short trips to figure out the basics of motorhome life, we took a few, two month-long trips to different parts of the country. They were refreshing, memory-filled breaks from our normal routine. Looking at the photos today brings a smile to my face.

Of course, they were not long enough to really feel as if we had stepped into an alternative lifestyle. For me, that would mean driving until I found a fascinating small town and stop for a month or so. I'd look for some one-time volunteer opportunities, eat at the cafes where the town gathers every morning, get to know the local characters, and adapt to the timing of that location's lifestyle.

Then, I'd pack up and drive down the road to a very different climate or part of the country and repeat the process. After several of these stops, I think I'd be ready to come back to my safe suburban base with new perspectives on my life and the journey I am on. I think I'd be a better, or at least more interesting, version of myself, with stories to tell and lifestyle examples to copy.

On our two month trips we made a classic mistake: trying to cover too many miles and see too many things in the time we had allotted. We were never in one place more than 4 days - certainly not long enough to be more than a casual visitor. Also, we felt that being away from family for 60 days was about our limit. So, the conclusion for us was a full-blown 'gap" experience was not really our style

A couple I admire are in the midst of a serious gap year experience. They sold most of their belongings, moved out of their rental home in Hawaii, and began a one-year trip around the world with nothing more than a few suitcases and backpacks to sustain them. When their journey is over they will decide where to live, what place to call home. 

Plenty of us are snowbirds, living for part of the year in a different climate. But, to me, that doesn't qualify as a real gap experience. Based on the WSJ article, there would have to be a real disconnect from an everyday routine and familiar surroundings to produce the desired effect. 

How about you? If you had the chance, what would you do with a "gap" period, to get a new perspective on life? Is the idea of a time away from the everyday intriguing? Or, are you a homebody who is perfectly content with short vacations and feels no need to hit the road or shake up what is a comfortable satisfying retirement?

Part of me wants a real break, a "gap" experience. The logical and realistic part of me tells me, "No."  I will be fascinated to read your comments. 

December 6, 2018

Does Retirement Make You Feel Guilty?

A reader wondered how much a part guilt plays in one's satisfying retirement. Frankly, I have never thought about it in those terms until he raised the issue.

Yes, the way our most disadvantaged citizens are treated bothers me tremendously. It is hard to fathom some of the dismissive talk I hear about folks who are homeless or forced to fight to survive on not enough food and minimal health care. 

The approach of some in government to make up the deficit by cutting the bare necessities even further for these people because they have no political "value" doesn't line up at all with my religious beliefs. When children are involved I feel ill.

But, as the reader noted, for most of us, that is not our situation. We have some type of roof over our heads, enough food and medical care to be as healthy as our bodies allow us. We have heat in the winter and cooling in the summer. There is likely at least one car in the garage unless we have chosen to do without.

When we compare our lifestyle with so many others we are blessed. Does that ever raise a feeling of guilt? In part, here are those comments:

"Feelings of guilt at being able to retire when so many others are likely to have no opportunity. We are able to retire due to thoughtful (or lucky?) strategies of investment and/or frugal lifestyle. Or due to the good fortune of being born into an advantaged/educated household. 

Still, when I see so many hardworking people - and there ARE many hardworking poor people - who have no real hopes of retiring, I have to accept that the world is indeed not fair. Still, it rankles me that working hard does not guarantee some kind of retirement opportunity.

When I was retiring from my teaching career, so many colleagues said that I certainly "deserved it." Some of being able to retire was due to hard work and strategic living, but much was also due to a small inheritance and the larger inheritance of good health and good education. There are lots of hardworking and less fortunate individuals who are also deserving.

Also feelings of Guilt from no longer being "productive" in the typical 9 to 5 style. Not necessarily new, I know, but many of us don't feel useful unless we are on that blasted "hamster wheel" of the work world.

All sorts of these feelings of guilt can be turned into appreciation for whatever gifts we have earned or been arbitrarily given, but for me, it has taken some time and processing."

This quote raises some very important points to think about. The common definition of guilt implies that something wrong has been done. It leaves one with a feeling of self-reproach for some ethical or legal failure. I'm pretty sure the reader isn't implying he "cheated" his way into retirement. 

This "guilt" is one of comparison: comparing his situation with other human beings who are in a much worse state through no fault of their own. In fact, he notes their situation may be in spite of doing things correctly. That prompts the question, "Why me? How can I live the way I live while others suffer without me feeling guilty?"

The feelings that were expressed are those of a person with a finely tuned sense of morality and fairness. What he sees is the condition of humanity: there are perceived "winners" and "losers " who may be in those categories through no action of their own. There will always be poor people and always be those who are well-off. But, what he is reacting to are those who have been "mis-categorized" and can do nothing about it.

Obviously, there are folks who ignore the basic rules of good financial stewardship. They spend too much, use credit poorly, and don't save. These are not the people the reader or this post are addressing. The "make your own bed" cliche is a better fit for them. Certainly we can have empathy for their situation, but a guilty feeling at our situation compared to their's wouldn't seem appropriate.

Before I get too heavy into philosophy and religion let me stop here and make one point: This comment has brought to light a very important issue - that of fairness in society and what our responsibility is to recognize and react to it.

I must admit I don't feel guilty in the traditional sense about being able to retire early and live decently. I also don't believe I did anything better or different than many of my peers who were still working and might continue to do so for years.

Yes, I worked hard, saved a lot and lived within or below my means. But, the talents and skills I was born with came from God. My educational and economic advantages came from parents. These factors were primarily responsible for who I became. 

I do feel guilty that there isn't more I can do to make things more fair. The best I can do is try to make the little parts of the world I touch a little less unhappy and depressing.

Has this post caused you to think about your retirement situation in comparison to others? Is feeling bad about what life has given you counter-productive? How do you react when others express jealousy over your situation? These questions can be important to our overall feeling of living a satisfying retirement. I'm interested in your contribution to this discussion.

This subject was the focus of a recent podcast in the Living a Satisfying Retirement Lifestyle series. It used an earlier version of this post from several years ago that prompted some excellent comments.

The topic is important enough that it is worth a rerun to allow more readers to weigh in on this subject.

December 3, 2018

Retirement and Financial Security: How Much is Enough?

The quick answer is, no one knows, including you.The amount you need to retire comfortably and live a satisfying retirement lifestyle is dependent on so many variable that a definitive answer is impossible. That doesn't stop all sorts of web sites, blog posts, financial advisors, and others from giving you their opinion. I caution you to use what you learn in this manner only as a piece of the total puzzle, not the ultimate solution.

It shouldn't be surprising that I am not going to give you a hard and fast number either. But, I am willing (or foolish enough) to take a look at some of the factors that will help you arrive at the "magic" number for you.

What is First?

The first step is to assess your expected income. While many of us lived our working lives spending more than we made, that was dangerous then, and fatal now. Once you retire, if you spend more than you have resources to support you could be in big trouble. Why? Simply because you cannot predict the future: what will happen to your income stream, your health, even how long you will live.

Retirement income comes from several sources. For most folks your pension, 401(k), IRA, annuities (a contract between an individual and an insurance company promising lifelong income in exchange for an upfront payment), and other investments will be an important source of financial support. Take the time to figure out exactly what you have and what they are likely to produce for you on a consistent basis. If you are unsure, now is the time to get a firm grasp on your assets, and make any adjustments as needed.

Based on those sources, you can use a basic retirement withdrawal calculator to predict how long the money will last if you withdrawal a certain amount each month. As you do so, don't forget to factor in your best guess for inflation, whether you want to leave money to family, any tax consequences, and appreciation of hard assists, like art or classic autos.

Social Security is another pillar of your financial house. The government web site provides a calculator that allows you to predict what your monthly checks will be, depending on when you begin accepting checks. If you missed it, read a post from a few months ago , How To Decide When To Start Social Security

Do you expect any inheritance from a parent or relative? While I strongly suggest you don't count on this money for part of your planning, knowing it may be there for you at some point in the future allows you to make "what if" plans.

It is Budget Time

Next, as I wrote about 6 weeks ago, develop a retirement budget. You will have certain expenses that continue whether you are working or not.  If you own a home property taxes aren't about to cease. Cars will probably be needed well into your satisfying retirement; remember to plan for both repair and replacement. Food, utilities, vacations, health care costs, clothing...these things will continue.

Note: In Monday, December 3rd NY Times Business section, see the excellent article on the reason to budget.

What will take some real thought on your part is the shape you want your retirement to take. Do you have plans to travel extensively or buy a vacation home near that favorite lake or ocean? Do you want to see family members on a more regular basis which means more travel? Is an RV and the open road calling you?

Or, are you anticipating a simpler lifestyle, one that keeps you closer to home. Are you content to explore opportunities to become involved and volunteer in your own backyard? Are you thinking of downsizing your living space to save expenses and work?

What about adult children or parents? Will they be part of your life both in terms of time and expenses? Should you budget for extra money in case your parents end up needing substantial financial support?

Obviously, a large factor is deciding which of these retirement lifestyles (or a combination of them) you plan for is determined by your income. I've always wanted an RV, but the budget to buy and maintain one didn't exist for several years. I'd spend my summers in Flagstaff but not wanting to be away from family that long makes even that 3 hour distance not feasible at this time. I retired before my financial foundation was where I expected it to be. Through a conservative lifestyle and prudent budgeting things are just fine. But, I determined early on the champagne lifestyle wasn't going to happen on my beer and wine budget.

Things Change: Plan For It

Importantly, my desires for that lifestyle changed. It no longer appealed to me. Being home, with family and friends is what makes a satisfying retirement for me now. Volunteer work with Junior Achievement and the Friends of the Library  and the simple pleasures of reading and enjoying all Arizona has to offer are what I aspire to now.

The bottom line for you: pick the lifestyle you think you want to retire to and budget for it. If the numbers work for you, great. If they don't figure out where you can prune while still maintaining what is most important. But, don't be surprised if your goals change as you move through this stage of life. It is the rare person who can predict at the beginning of retirement what his or her interests and desires will be 10 or 15 years down the road.

One more hint: I believe there are three retirement lifestyle phases. If you love to travel and explore you are much more likely to do that in the first decade or two of retirement. If you want to scuba dive the ship wrecks off the coast of Bermuda, don't wait too long (I've done that and it is a blast!). That means your budget will show dramatic shifts over time. What you set aside for travel in the early phase will taper off, to be replaced with higher expenses in health care or maybe dining out.

How much money is enough to retire comfortably? The simple answer is enough to allow you to live the way you would like to at each stage of your retirement lifestyle tempered by the reality of your financial foundation.

The real answer is not one really knows, including you, until you are in the midst of it. The best you can do is plan well, adjust as needed, and be happy with what you have. The most miserable risk in retirement is not running out of money, it is running out of the joy and satisfaction that retirement can mean for you.