July 17, 2019

The Toughest Time of Day - For Me

So What Do You Do All Day? remains the most popular blog post for the last nine years. People are fascinated by how retired folks fill their days, maybe hoping to find new ideas. Certainly I found myself spending extra time in the section of my recently revised book, Living a Satisfying Retirement, that details what the respondents do to stay busy. The variety of activities and interests is really something.

To be honest, though, there is a part of my day that I constantly wonder if I am making the most of my time: evenings. After I first retired I would watch baseball games several nights a week, not because I really cared how the Diamondbacks did, but the game filled 3 hours. After having cable pulled from our house I found myself reading for a few hours each night, killing time with silly make-do jobs, and going to bed rather early. Last year I discovered Sling TV, so the D'backs games are available again. Depending on the score, I am again watching too often, because it is easy.

Even with the lure of baseball (or recently, the World Cup), I am making an effort to use the time from dinner until bed in a positive way. I don't have to be "productive" in the sense that I must necessarily complete a task or accomplish something. There is nothing wrong with purely relaxing with my wife and watching something on Netflix.  But, I do catch myself racking up too many movies or shows all while checking my smartphone.

There have been various activities on my "what to do when I don't want to watch TV"  list. For a few years I was a fan of the the Great Courses from the Teaching Company, especially when they made their material available as a streaming service. After awhile, I found myself taking courses as a time-filler or because i was paying a monthly fee, not because the subject matter really grabbed me. 

There are a few radio shows that I found on the Internet that I listen to now and then. One that I particularly enjoy is Celtic Heartbeat from BCC Radio Wales. Featuring folk music and Celtic artists, the music is entertaining and different from my normal fare.

Another outlet I like to check for its eclectic approach is the community radio station in Bisbee, Arizona. Staffed by local residents, some are rather professional-sounding while others are definitely not. That, along their interesting music and talk programming choices, is what makes listening fun. Since the first of the year I have added Spotify to my life. That has opened up a whole new world of music styles and types to me.

For some reason, I have become interested in turntables and old vinyl LPs again. For well over a decade, I made my living using both on the radio. But, with the advent of CDs, and then streaming music, physically playing an album seemed silly. Now, they are drawing me back.

 Maybe it is the album cover art, or details on the back cover. Maybe it is the physical act of cleaning a record before gently placing it on the turntable. Maybe it is having to get up after 15 minutes to play the other side. I'm not sure why, but this is a "everything old new again" interest.

Betty has always been the photographer in our family, becoming very good with photo editing software. Recently, I have decided to give her a run for her money (only in my dreams!). I started learning how to use her Nikon camera. Then, I downloaded a photo editing software program from Corel to learn how to improve the photos I took. Frankly, it is scary what someone can do with digital photos and a few spare hours to reshape and rearrange reality!

A friend pointed me to an excellent online guitar course. To unlearn bad habits,  I have started at the very first beginner's lesson. Fingers and 70 year old hands are not happy but I am pushing forward, very slowly, but forward.

Is it possible to read too much? I hope not, since I usually have at least three books at various stages of completion at any one time, lying somewhere around the house.

So, that is generally it. The point of this post is actually somewhat selfish. I am hoping you will have some feedback on how you spend your evenings that I can learn from. Because we tend to eat dinner early, I have between four and five hours each evening open for something. That is a substantial chunk of time. 

Help me, and others, make the most if it. Tell us what you do after dinner and before bed?

July 13, 2019

A Soon-to-Retire Reader Asks: Rent or Buy?

A month or so ago a reader emailed me a question that pops up with some regularity. His retirement is coming up early next year. After work ends, he and his partner have discussed moving to an area they both love. But, he wondered, should they buy their next home in the new location, or should they rent? He expressed uncertainty.

Reading between the lines, I think he was concerned about  two things:
  1.  What if one partner didn't like the area as much as the other one does?
  2.  Should they tie up all that money in a house?
Those two questions are good ones to ask well before retirement and certainly before the moving van pulls up to your front door. I applaud his openness in asking the question and wondering about an important decision.

For many years my suggestion has been to not move anywhere for at least one year after retirement. During those 365 days, you body (and that of your significant other) will be shedding years of stress. Your mind will be reorienting itself to a new view of commitments, requirements, and options. Your family and friends will interact with you differently. Adding the uncertainty, expense, and unease of a move is too big a risk. 

One or two years into your new routine, then you are best able to assess all that is involved in changing your address. You will have established a basic routine. Bills are being paid, medical care has settled into some sort of pattern. Your daily routine fits you, for now. Your body and mind will have settled into a new normal. The question this reader asks is now more safely addressed. There are a few things to consider. 

Is the new area one you are familiar with? Have you vacationed or spent time there? Have you experienced the climate in more than one season? Or, is the potential move one based on your internal driver that has always called you to the ocean, or mountains, or desert, or lake, or whatever?

If you are moving with another person it is easy to get caught up in the potential of a move, without insuring that both people are on the same page. Where you live has huge impacts on your overall health, happiness, and satisfaction. If one person is even a little hesitant, I strongly suggest those issues be resolved before ordering the moving van. 

Assuming both of you are excited about what lies ahead, your experiences in your move-to-area are very important. At the very least experience a week or two in each of the seasons. The call of the ocean may be strong, but the humidity may be more than you can handle. An ocean side town can be somewhat claustrophobic in the winter when most of the people have left and stores are shuttered for the season.

Green and moist usually comes with grey and cloudy for long stretches of time. 330 days of sunshine and very few natural disasters can be very appealing...if you can handle four or 5 months of 100 degree days. Those beautiful mountains can become a barrier in the winter when several feet of snow block any exits. 

The point is, even your dream destination has times when things aren't so dreamy. Move with your eyes wide open and an awareness of all the effects a new climate might have on you.

Tying up a big chunk of your retirement money in a home or condo you purchase is not to be taken lightly. At some point you will need (or want) to sell. Housing is an inflexible asset, meaning you must find a buyer who wants what you have to offer, at a price you both can live with. Typically, plan on a minimum of 60 days to sell a piece of property. In a slower economic environment, a listing can linger for months.

If you think you will need to sell quickly in all economic conditions, understand a property purchase comes with that risk. Just think back to 2008 when housing lost 50% of its value in less than a year. Can you afford to weather such a situation?

Of course, owning a home or condo means it is yours to do with what you wish. Owning something comes with a very different mindset than renting or leasing. There is a permanence that just doesn't exist with monthly rent payments.

With all that said, I sense a growing movement of retirees deciding to rent instead of locking up a good portion of their investments in a home. Letting someone else worry about maintenance and repairs, locking the door and leaving on an extended vacation, enjoying the amenities without having to fix them and pay for them all on your own, or even deciding to try a different lifestyle in a different place all support a rent-versus-buy decision.

All of this comes down to two key factors: doing your homework before making a decision and deciding whether owning a piece of property is important to you. Frankly, I don't believe there are right or wrong answers in this situation. The only mistake would be rushing a final choice.

Best of luck to this reader, and let us all know what you and your partner decide.

July 9, 2019

Adding A Dog To Your Life: Is It Worth It?

After a post about loneliness, this subject might suggest a good antidote.

Over 7 years ago Bailey joined our family. After being dogless for several years, considering all the consequences, and finding a reputable breeder, we made the move. After all this time we have absolutely no regrets. She has made our satisfying retirement even more complete.

That being said, adding a dog, or any pet except maybe a pet rock, is a step not to be taken lightly. A pet comes with certain responsibilities, costs, and lifestyle changes that should be addressed upfront. Unlike most purchases, you are making a commitment that may last as long as a dozen years or more. 

Not long ago the American Heart Association reviewed studies exploring the health benefits of dog ownership. What they found is that having a dog is associated with lower blood pressure, better cholesterol, and less chance for obesity since dogs require walking on a regular basis.

What are the other positive reasons to consider adding a dog to your life? While not an exhaustive list consider these possibilities:

Unconditional affection. I hesitate to use the word, love, since a dog is not really capable of an emotion that approximates human love. But, when your dog greets you at the door with his whole body wiggling in excitement at your return, it is impossible to not smile and feel good.

Bailey is a master of this. If Betty and I are gone for 30 minutes or four hours it doesn't matter,  we are greeted as we come through the garage door as if we'd been away for weeks. Her joy is contagious.

Cure for loneliness. For many single seniors, a dog is a constant companion that makes a house or apartment seem less lonely. A pet can help socialization, too. They becomes natural conversation ice-breakers and conversation starters while walking the dog in a park or neighborhood.

This is not a big issue in our house, though there are times when one of us has a full day of appointments or commitments.  Bailey curls up at the feet of whomever is home and makes the house feel less empty.

Adding structure and routine to your day. A dog depends on its owner for everything, from food and water, to an opportunity to relieve itself and to play. For those who find it difficult to maintain a structure after retirement, a pet helps the owner establish a consistent routine from day to day.

Bailey spends her night sleeping on a sofa downstairs, but is as reliable as an alarm clock in waking us up each morning. Bounding up the stairs she will leap onto the bed and lick us awake, all while begging to be stroked and hugged. It is very pleasant way to start the day.

Providing  stress relief.  Studies have shown that petting a dog or taking her for a walk are excellent ways to reduce stress. Bailey absolutely loves to be massaged and have her tummy scratched. It is very hard to be tense or upset while petting her.

The not so good parts

Of course, there are some aspects of dog ownership that are not quite so pleasant, but must be acknowledged:

Costs can be substantial. In addition to the initial purchase, food, vaccinations, toys, and care products, as dogs age they generally begin to develop medical problems that can become expensive. An injury can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to treat.

Bailey cost about $1,000 to purchase and have the initial round of shots and exams. Her food and on-going medical care and dental costs are averaging about $100 a month. As she ages we expect that figure to rise. 

If we decide to add another dog to our lives after Bailey joins the doggie kennel in the sky, it will be a rescue dog. Let's just say our sensitivity to the plight of unclaimed pets has increased rather dramatically since we bought her.

Arrangements must be made if leaving the dog at home for extended periods. Even though Bailey has a doggie door that allows her to take care of her business, we would never leave her home alone for longer than 6 or 7 hours. Her water must be freshened (this is Arizona and she drinks a lot) and her food must be made available.

Luckily she did love to travel with us in our RV, but that is a part of our past. A longer car trip with a dog is impractical. there are times when it is impractical to take her on trips. Our daughters can pitch in and we have found an excellent dog-sitter for trips that last more than a few days.

The loss of a dog generates real grief and pain. I have had to watch four dogs be put to sleep. It doesn't get any easier. Even though the process is painless for the animal, it is usually  wrenching for the owner. I have been reduced to tears all four times and will be again when it is Bailey's time to go.

Your social life may be affected. There are couples we know who don't like dogs. They are uncomfortable in our home with animals underfoot, so we visit at their house.

A little over four years ago our youngest daughter added a dog to her life, too. Her formal name is Adler, but prefers to be called Adi. Although it took a few years to adjust to not being the queen dog, Bailey now spends much of her time with her sister. Adi's mom travels a lot so she spends several months a year with us. 

Just so you know, two dogs are even better than one!

July 5, 2019

Retirement and Loneliness: The Unhealthy Couple

Here is a shocking statistic: there is a 45% higher risk of dying too early if  someone is battling loneliness. Over 42 million Americans of all ages identify themselves as being lonely. This is not just a retirement issue. Smoking and obesity are just as risky to one's health as being perpetually lonely. 

Importantly, there is huge difference between loneliness and being alone. For many of us, being alone is actually a good thing, something we look forward to for at least part of our regular schedule. After a hectic career, raising several children, or moving on from a troubled marriage, being alone can be quite a blessing. Even in a happy relationship, you may function well with periods of alone time. If you have been single for your adult life, functioning well alone is simply what you do.

Engaging our own interests, satisfying our need to volunteer, reading, watching old movies, listening to music....that type of aloneness can be a very positive state. It  can be liberating to have so much control over how you spend your day.

Loneliness is quite a different condition. Usually it is not voluntary. Maybe it occurs after the death of a spouse or life-long friend. Adult children might live far away, making any together time rare. Having no real interests or passions, so each day becomes a chore to endure is a major contributor.

The type of loneliness one might experience can change. Bouts of it, lasting maybe a few days, weeks, or even months, are not as much of a health threat if there is an awareness that this condition will end. But, an open-ended sense that being lonely is when things start to press down on a person.

OK, so loneliness is a bad thing. What can be done about it? I spent a fair amount of time looking for something on the Internet that didn't present the standard answers: get out of the house more, meet new people, develop a hobby, etc, etc, etc. For those who struggle with perpetual loneliness I find these suggestions rather patronizing. They fall into the "eat your vegetables" type of advice: obvious and not very helpful. 

As I probed a little deeper, an important point emerged. Loneliness is a condition that is as much a mental or emotional state as a physical one. There can be an overwhelming feeling of rejection or hostility, real or imagined,  from others. If this is true, then forcing social contact or attempting social exposure will only worsen the problem. That feeling that "Bob" or "Mary" doesn't like me or approve of me will not vanish just by spending time with Bob or Mary.

Someone who lives in Midtown Manhattan can feel terribly alone. The standard advice to meet new people and experience new things would miss the point. This person is lonely not because he or she is actually alone. Rather, the perception of being rejected or cutoff must be tackled first.

This blog is not the place to dabble in psychological solutions. However, I found this distinction important because it opens up a new avenue of dealing with the problem. Finding out why someone feels loneliness may be the first step.

Here's where my lack of medical or physiological training exposes itself: If this is so, then doesn't the person crippled by serious loneliness have to resolve the problem from the inside first? Must the path forward start inside and move outward, rather than using external forces to change the internal dynamic?

If so, then the advice to join a club, meet new people, join a club, or even move to a new town, would be wrong. It is attempting to deal with the symptoms, not the cause.

If we know someone who suffers from chronic loneliness is there anything we can do to help? I don't know if this makes sense, but the thought that came to me would be begin a dialogue with the affected person, a dialogue that involves asking questions and getting that person to talk. Without being judgmental or armed with "solutions," maybe simply listening is a useful approach. 

Start slow and easy, with non-threatening questions and gentle conversations about childhood memories the two of you can share. Funny stories about relatives, or friends from elementary school might be a way to break the ice. 

It seems the goal is to get the lonely person to talk, converse with another person, and use memories to establish a positive baseline at some point in the past. Eventually, it is possible the person will begin to reveal hints and specifics about why he or she feels isolated and fearful of breaking the cycle.

If it were me involved in that probing, I would stop when some self-analysis seems to be occurring. I am not trained to offer solutions or action steps, unless the target of my care suggests something they might like to do. I would see my role as opening up some doors and windows, but not pulling that person through those spaces.

Am I even remotely correct in this approach? Do you have any personal experiences to share, either as someone who struggles with loneliness or someone who attempted to help another?

Loneliness is a serious fact of life for too many of our fellow retirees. Can we help?

July 1, 2019

Financial Basics: You Owe It To The Person You Love

Is your relationship one-sided? Don't get defensive, most are. I don't mean that one of you is always taking and the other always giving. I mean in a way that proves how much you love the other person. You prepare him or her for handling a crucial part of modern life if you are unable to do so: the couple's finances.

It is common in a marriage or a serious relationship between two people that one of them handles all, or certainly a significant part of the financial side of things. Bill paying, taking care of tax returns, handling interactions with investment people, and managing bank accounts are the primary responsibility of one partner. Usually, there is agreement that one person is better suited to handle those duties. He or she probably enjoys it and has developed a system to ensure that what needs to be done is taken care of.

That is fine until a health problem or an untimely death leaves the survivor suddenly facing a desperate form of on-the-job-training with the potential of a financial crisis. Of course, another option is to find a relative or outside person or business to take over this role. This can be quite expensive. Even worse, the person overseeing the matter may be untrained or even unscrupulous. Very quickly a lifetime of careful planning and investments can disappear.

It is much better for the "financial person" in the relationship to teach the "non-financial person" what must be done before disaster strikes. Taking the time to prepare another is an act of love. Frankly, I believe it is also an obligation, a part of what must be done in a committed relationship.

Does any of this apply to a single person? Absolutely. You may not be living as part of a couple, but someone, at some point, will have the responsibility of managing what financial pieces of your life need to be dealt with. The suggestions in this post are just as appropriate for a single retiree to review with the person likely to be called upon when you are unable to make important decisions. Leaving it all to a financial institution, the courts, or a lawyer is not advisable.

OK, so what are the basics that both partners (or a single person and a confidant) must know? Here is a list from my own experience. As the financial person in our marriage I am committed to be sure Betty knows enough to avoid any financial pitfalls while she is looking at all her options if I am unable to be there.

  • Where do we have accounts? 
  • How does she get up-to-date statements?
  • What are the PIN codes for the various ATM cards?
  • Are there minimum deposit levels to maintain to avoid fees?

Credit Cards:
  • What cards to we have?
  • What are their limits and when are payments due?
  • Where does she go on-line to check charges?
  • What should she do if she sees a fraudulent charge?
  • Where are card numbers stored in case a card is lost or stolen?
  • How to unlock credit freezes on three major bureaus.

Bill Paying:  
  • She must know which bank accounts are used to pay which bills
  • What to do when receiving an e-bill
  • How to set up automatic bill pay
  • How to change payment dates and amounts when needed.
  • Where on-line passwords are stored and how to change them occasionally.
  • Where extra checks are stored 
  • How to see which checks and payments have cleared.

  • Car and homeowners policies? Who is the agent?
  • Health Insurance information and policies, customer service numbers, limitations or restrictions, keeping premiums current?
  • Name, address, and phone number of adviser.
  • How to look at statements on-line for investments and IRA accounts.
  • How to get cash from investments transferred to other accounts to pay bills and provide living expenses.
  • How to get new checks printed under your name 


This is an area where I do advise her to have a professional handle the state and federal returns. I enjoy doing them (odd, I know) and can make Turbo Tax do what I want. But, there is no reason she needs to be able to take over this area.

There are things that should be understood regardless: a basic handle on what expenses are deductible, what paperwork to maintain for the tax preparer, and the deadlines for things like quarterly taxes and returns. But, with tax rules and regulations changing with the political climate, a professional should be part of the team.

This is the list of things we both feel each of us should understand if the need arises. I'd be interested in two things: have you done something like this for your spouse or the person who may have to take over? If you are single, what planning for the future have you completed?  And, what have I overlooked? Since I still have most of my faculties (!) there is time for me to take care of anything I may have missed.

I've never done this before

My final, parting, comment: Don't wait "until tomorrow." None of us are guaranteed even that much.

June 27, 2019

Summer Road Trips: What Can You Learn?

Taking a vacation is one of the real joys of a satisfying retirement. Sometimes that means a night away at a local hotel or resort. It may mean a long weekend when your calendar is suddenly open. Every once in awhile it means something truly out of the ordinary: a cruise through the Caribbean, a week on the beaches in Hawaii or Mexico. No matter how elaborate or inexpensive, a vacation always has the possibility of enriching your life in ways you didn't expect. It becomes more than just a break in your routine.

Several years ago Betty and I took a driving trip in the car. This wasn't a two hour jaunt to Flagstaff, or 6 hours over the desert and mountains to San Diego. This was a long distance endurance test: 25 days covering 5,000 miles and eight western states. 

Named The Drive Till You Drop Road Trip we saw the country, experienced bizarre weather including some flooded roads,  lived together in close quarters for almost a month and not only survived but prospered.  

We even managed to handle a major adjustment without a meltdown. When we were as far away as we could possibly be from Phoenix (Port Townsend, WA) our eldest daughter called to tell us our third grandchild was coming early and asked when would we be home. The answer was "as soon as we can." The return 1,500 miles was covered in just over two days and in time for the birth of Kassi.   

When we were able to catch our breath, unpack, and download thousands of photographs, we asked ourselves was it worth it? What did we learn? Quite a lot, actually:

Compromise and patience. For something this involved, we began planning 6 months before leaving in late May. Thank goodness for the Internet, AAA's maps, and the phone's GPS.  With a set limit of days away and so many places we could see, there was a lot of compromise involved. After some give and take on both our parts, we developed a viable itinerary. Of course, some of that careful planning was tossed out the window as we raced home for the birth.

Even the best-made plans need to be adjusted. Consistently rotten weather for a good portion of the trip forced us to re-route and re-plan on the fly. In late May we didn't expect to encounter snow, hail, sleet, days of heavy rain, fog, and temperatures in the 40's. We certainly didn't pack for it. A laptop and WIFI allowed for last minute reservation changes....along with a little luck and a lot of prayer.

Seeing America up close and personal is a thrill The country looks totally different from the window of a car than from the window of an airplane. Small towns are often interesting, welcoming and attractive. People are generally friendly and helpful. Tell them you are on a long road trip and everyone expresses envy. Little known attractions and historical sites are everywhere. With the freedom of a car, we were able to stop where and when we wanted.

Seeing your traveling partner up close and personal is a treat. There is no better opportunity to learn more about your traveling partner and yourself than being in close proximity for 25 days. My wife and I both came home feeling the time together was a tremendous bonding experience. Even after so many years of marriage, we discovered new things about each other than will help us with whatever lies ahead.

Time away from routine is important.  The change in your schedule, the different foods, sights, and sounds can act as a tremendous dash of refreshment. Having someone else do the cooking and cleaning is hard to turn down. I knew there were things happening at home I'd have to deal with upon our return, but while away it seemed like someone else's life.

Creating forever memories is priceless. We finally decided to take the trip because we began to worry we'd run out of the ability or opportunity if we kept delaying. Now, we have the satisfaction of doing what we set out to do, and creating memories that nothing can take away from us. The money we spent was an investment in us and worth every penny (lots of pennies!).

We like small vacations. A weekend away or even two nights out of town is a tremendously invigorating experience. But, this road trip was unique. No other trip to Europe or Hawaii or wreck-diving in Bermuda came close to being as intense a learning experience. I would heartily recommend one as part of your journey in building a satisfying retirement.

What about any trips you have taken that proved particularly memorable, either good or not so good? Where did you go? Was it worth it?

June 23, 2019

My Projections: Was I close?

A handful of years ago I contributed an article for the book, 70 Things To Do When You Turn 70. At the time I was 64 but took a shot. I assumed that I would be be doing many things differently six year in the future, but exactly what was impossible to predict. Retirement had taught me that all my great plans were in a constant state of flux. My only requirement was to open to them. Like everyone else I was still working on the answer to common retirement questions even a dozen years after I began this journey.

Now that I am 70 I took a fresh look at that book to see what the other sixty nine contributors had to say. I expected to find some fresh ideas or perspectives. What I had forgotten was a dash of "elder" humor included. A sampling:

Elaine Madsen said, "The first thing to do when you turn 70 is to plan on being 80."

Samuel Eyser noted, "Some men drink. Some men womanize. I play the Trombone."

One of my favorite authors, Mary Sarton, who lived to be a feisty 87, had her thoughts included in the book: "In answer to the question, "why is it good to be old?' I said because I am more myself than I have ever been. There is less conflict. I am happier, more balanced [and] more powerful." 

Marshall Duke wrote, "...if indeed there is a battle between nature and nurture, nurture may have its day, but in the long run, nature always wins. And, that needs to be OK."

Of course, there are those folks who insist on trying to keep our bodies in semi-shape. Edna Levitt urged us to squat when we turn 70. Some explanation is required. For those of us she calls 'vintage adults' her advice is to do three sets of 12 squats while standing at the kitchen counter waiting for your morning coffee to brew. Several large muscle groups are used, and our rear porch (butt) gets some toning, too.

June Lands reminds us that Wolff's Law keeps it simple: Use it or lose it.

Allan Schwartz made a very important point: "The stereotype of people who are aging is that they become less flexible in their attitudes and opinions. Speaking for myself, it's become easier to admit my mistakes. Perhaps that's because I no longer worry that asking for help or seeking clarification will be perceived as a sign of weakness. Ego and pride are no longer associated with not knowing."

I like Patricia Rockwell's suggestion that we become detectives, curious about what life has to offer.

In his contribution, Robert Rector echos that feeling: "The sun is still above the horizon, though not by much. But, I'm not ready to say goodbye yet. Like a six-year-old, I'm still searching for worlds to explore and adventures to be had."

A quote from 96 year old Alyse Laemmle says, "Never run out of responsibility; if you don't have one, find one. Find a cause and knock yourself out for it."                

Ilene Little recalls one of my favorite movies, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. She writes, " I loved that movie for its portrayal of scenarios where high-spirited seniors resist the efforts of 'well-meaning' relatives to organize their lives."

"Becoming 70 is a chance to open new doors and enjoy life to its fullest," says Susan Kersley. "Recognize with gratitude that you are able to have opportunities to make a difference in both your own life and the lives of those around you."

Carol Osborn provides a perfect closing quote for this post: "When it comes to planning for your later years, the most important part is knowing what you can have control over, what you must accept, and as Reinhold Niebuhr put it, 'the wisdom to know the difference."

When I wrote my piece in 2013 I really didn't know where my life and attitude would be. I am happy to report in the intervening years I am satisfied with how things have evolved. Frankly, I was wrong: I am doing much of what I was doing 6 years ago, but more satisfied and content with the pace of things and my place in it all.

Life is good.

June 19, 2019

If I Am Retired Have I Stopped Working?

Let's start with two definitions:

Retirement means "The period of life after leaving one's job and ceasing to work."

Work means "an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result."

Most of us think of "work" in a much more specific way: "an activity or physical effort done in order to earn money."

But, that isn't the literal definition of the word. And, that is part of the problem with the whole concept of living a satisfying retirement: the words are mis-defined. Retirement has nothing to do with no longer working. It has to do with no longer working at a particular job or career for money. But, nowhere should it be assumed that retirement means no more work.

Do you play golf? I am willing to bet you'd say that the game involves work, both physical and mental, even if you ride a cart for 36 holes.

How about growing some of your own vegetables? I know from our recent experience: this is work! Forget check the need for watering for even one day and things start to wilt. Don't pull weeds and your efforts suffer.

Do you exercise? Sorry, but even with an endorphin "high" that is work.

Do you flower garden, read, paint, build furniture, play a piano or a banjo, cut the grass, attend a Spanish class, write a blog, travel, basically do anything other than sit in a chair 18 hours a day staring at the wall? Then, you work....at something.

Retirement does not mean not working...it is supposed to mean working at something you enjoy. It is a life reimagined or redefined.

Now, let's pause for just a moment and admit a very common reality: folks who have retired from one job may start another. Whether that employment is full or part time, self-employed or working for pay for someone else, the economic realities of the world can require additional income to lead the type of life someone desires.

Is that person still "retired?" I suggest it depends. If I spend 25 hours a week writing this blog to satisfy my creative urges and manage to earn a little extra money through those efforts I consider myself retired. I am not writing Satisfying Retirement for the money. The dash of extra cash is a nice side benefit but it isn't a motivator.

If, on the other hand, I go back to my part time tour guide job I would think of myself as partially retired. That job would be taken with money as the primary motivator. There are side benefits, but I certainly wouldn't do it for free.

Or, what if I had the ability to build wood cabinets and coffee tables and sold them? I would be working with a passion of mine: woodworking (this is a made-up scenario!) and generating income. Because I choose to use a talent and enjoy it, I would consider myself retired with a lucrative hobby.

I know, this is splitting hairs and it really doesn't matter how someone is "categorized." The individual determines how he or she feels about his life or control of her time.

The point is much broader: retirement absolutely does not mean we stop working. We work at something until we die. It is part of being human. We do stuff.

So, the next time someone asks how come you aren't bored by not working, educate him about the meaning of the word. 

The hardest working "retired" person I know: Betty refinishing a door

June 15, 2019

The Worst Thing That Could Happen

....rarely does.

We are experts at imagining all sorts of improbable scenarios, outcomes of decisions gone terribly wrong, undiagnosed diseases, or catastrophes of all shapes and colors.  As Mark Twain said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

Sure, unpleasant things happen to us. Our bodies act as if the warranty has expired and begin to break down. Loved ones and friends die with unpleasant frequency. Financial plans and expectation are met with a cosmic laugh. The path forward suddenly seems to be leading us into a dark forest.

Buit, for most of the time, for most of our lives, and for most of our worries, when we ask the question, "What's the worst that could happen," it becomes obvious that the worst isn't really much of a likelihood.

Or, the "worst" isn't really all that bad. If the computer dies and I lose 5 years worth of emails, I won't miss 99% of them. If the car develops a fatal hiccup, I can afford another. It will knock my carefully crafted budget for a bit of a loop, but compared to something really serious, that doesn't begin to reach the level of "Worst."

The good news (see how I injected an optimistic tone into a discussion of pessimism?) is we are  prone to assume bad outcomes. Studies show at up to 70% of our mental chatter is negative. Maybe when we were cave men and women, believing the saber tooth tiger had us on the menu kept us violent and alive. Whatever the reason, you are not unique in this regard.

Psychologists call it a cognitive distortion, a habitual and unconscious way of thinking that isn't based on reality. In this case, assuming the worst, is our distortion. While there might be an underlying personality cause, in many cases we just have to break the habit of assuming the worst outcome.

Another phase to describe this condition is catastrophizing: everything will end poorly, we will be blamed, guess I'll go eat worms.

For those of use in the retirement stage of life, "the worst that could happen" is not something we leave behind, like a paycheck. Health problem, relationship issues, financial meltdown...you name it and we can worry about it.

Writing in Psychology Today a few years ago, Meg Selig, offered three alternate thoughts to help us break this self-perpetuating cycle:

  1. It’s not happening now. Focus on that
  2. Whatever happens, I can cope. I am stronger than I think I am.
  3. I am causing my own suffering. Could I stop? 

The worst that could happen may actually occur. We live in a very unpredictable world. But the odds are exceedingly low. To spend our mental energy on spinning a web of what ifs just doesn't pay off.

June 11, 2019

The Value of An Education

Carnegie Library Syracuse University
I was raised with the very firm belief in the requirement of a college education for success in life. There was never any question of my going somewhere after high school. The cost of my four years at Syracuse University was equal to what one year at a major university costs today. But, in the late 1960's and early 70's  my parents sacrificed to make sure I had both the opportunity and a debt-free start to my future. I did work full time as a radio DJ during my senior year to cover my costs. When I got that diploma it came without a bill.

What we called Junior Colleges, or community colleges today, provided a more cost-sensitive way for many  to further an education after high school. Since the core classes that virtually everyone studies during those first two years are pretty much the same, the choice of a local two year institution for much less money was a wise choice. With good grades it was usually possible to transfer your credits to a four year university.

Of course, plenty of people made a very nice living and were quite content following a path that didn't include college. Working in the trades, starting one's own retail business, following in dad's footsteps...all were legitimate career paths. It was very possible to build a solid life with just a high school diploma.

Since I wanted to be an on-air radio performer, college wasn't really a requirement. But, in my social circles,  there wasn't even a debate: get that degree, list it on your resume, and your future is solid. As my parents noted more than once, when I "outgrew" my DJ lifestyle I'd be set for a grownup job. Today, the situation is so different I wonder if I would have selected the same path that had been predestined for me.

Approximately 70% of high school graduates continue in some form of higher education. Just a high school degree means a tough path forward. But, that education after high school isn't necessarily in a typical university setting.

With experienced plumbers, electricians, carpenters, or HVAC technicians able to earn incomes well in excess of what many white collar workers bring home, spending time in technical schools or learning a trade as an apprentice is a perfect choice for many. A computer-savvy young adult can skip a "formal" educational path and find employment quite readily. His or her skills are very marketable.

OK, so with that background, I am circling around to my question: is a college education always worth the cost? The average for tuition, room, board, supplies, and incidentals for a four year public university is between $25-$45,00. Want an Ivy league education, or attendance at a prestigious private school? How about $55-$67,000 per year.

We are aware of the number of young people who leave college with a lifetime of debt. We have been reading of wealthy parents who pay enormous sums of money to simply get their prodigy into a well-ranked school. For those caught, that can result in fines, jail time, and the expulsion of their child. Such is the net result of attempting to cheat the system.

A recent research study showed 95% of grandparents believe it is important for their grandkids to get a higher education Yet, our influence in this is probably a bit limited. We may be able to voice our opinions about what the educational path of a grandchild might look like, but the final decision will be made by the parents, with input from the young adult. If we have the resources, we may be able to help cover some of the costs, either voluntarily or after "hints" from the parents. The same study says 21% of us give money to be used for a youngster's tuition.

But, doesn't that beg the question? Even if a college education can be paid for, should it? Is the path to success always through the ivied halls of an institution of higher education? If the young adult will leave with a sheepskin and a looming debt, is the cost-expense ratio still in his or her's favor?

Sure, wanting to become a doctor, lawyer, teacher, scientist, or other endeavors that require specialized knowledge equals four, six, or even eight years of schooling. But, a liberal arts education with a degree in English Lit, International Relations, or History? Does that on a resume equal solid employment?

I come from a family deeply involved in higher education. My answer remains, yes, college is important. But, my reason why it is important has changed. Being away from home at a four year school should do two things: teach someone how to manage the art of living and responsibility, and to develop the ability to think and reason. College isn't so much about any individual class. It is about learning how to learn, how to think on one's own, and how to begin to form a world view that is not just a copy of one's parents.

The actual degree means much less today. Electronic resumes emphasize experience and personal skills. Educational achievements are often listed last. Someone will be hired based on what they have done, what skills they possess, and how they help an employer achieve goals, not because the 3.7 GPA from State U.

So, go with me for a minute. If what I just wrote is true, then gathering life experiences is the real path to success. Working well with others matters. Being computer-literate, knowing how to use Excel, understanding the use of social media for promotion and marketing.....these are the skills that may get someone hired.

Is a four year education after high school required for everyone? If your grandchild decides that type of environment (and cost) isn't best for them, would you support that choice, and more importantly, feel good about it?

My bottom line straddles the fence a bit: college can be a time to learn to develop one's independence and function in an adult world. It is when one can use the priceless gift of time to learn how to think.

At the same time, it can saddle someone with debt and give them freedoms they are not equipped to handle. Four years in college may actually delay a young person's career path if their skills are not enhanced by a standard degree.

So, here are my questions to you: 

1) If you attended college, was it worth it to you and your family? Did the skills you learned directly apply to your employment? Did you get a return on the investment of time and money?

2) If a grandchild asked for your opinion about attending college, what would you say? If that child decides to skip the university path, would you feel disappointed, worried for their future prospects, or supportive of that decision for that particular person?

3) What is the value of a college education today? How much debt is it worth?

June 10, 2019

Nine Years and Counting!

Today, June 10th, marks the ninth anniversary of Satisfying Retirement. Over 3.3 million views, in excess of 1,000 post...I am as surprised as anyone I am still at this! 

So, just a thank you for your support, comments, ideas, and constructive criticism that has made this process a creative joy.

I must add that the civility and graciousness of the vast majority of blog comments and emails means I haven't had to go to more restrictive  procedures or spend too much time deleting spam and hate messages. In today's blogosphere that is no small thing.

If you are so inclined, I'd love to read any comment you care to leave. What are your favorite parts of this blog, and what could you live without? Are there any posts that have stuck with you over the years, posts that helped you over a retirement hurdle of some kind?

Bottom line: thanks for 9 years. The tenth year of Satisfying Retirement has begun!

With fondest feelings,

Bob (and my wife of almost 43 years, Betty)

June 7, 2019

I Turned 70. What is Age-Appropriate Now?

The usual definition of something being age appropriate involves a decision whether certain activities or media (like movies or video games) may be deemed suitable to someone of a certain age. Often used by parents to help filter what their children are exposed to, a PG movie, for example, may be a bit too intense for a 7 year old, but entirely age appropriate for a child who is 11. Of course, that child is itching to see the PG-13 movie all her friends rave about.

Beginning a dating relationship is obviously an example of a decision, based on the young person's maturity level, of when unsupervised time together at a dance or movie is appropriate. Being a dad of two daughters, I know my answer was when they turned 30, but that didn't go over too well (just kidding!).

So, what does any of this have to do with a satisfying retirement? A lot, I contend. I would like to suggest that we miss out of all sorts of experiences and fun, growth and opportunities by not doing something because it isn't "age appropriate" to a 70 year old man or 75 year old woman, or whatever. We allow ageism to dictate what we are willing to do, how we look, and how we live.

We may be concerned what others might think. Maybe we are afraid of injury. Perhaps the financial cost seems too high. We would have to expend too much energy, either mentally or physically.

Frankly, at our age we should be very unconcerned about what others think. If someone is still trying to impress the neighbors with a huge house, expensive sports car, or vacations in the south of France, then this message will shoot right over that person's head. Having these things isn't wrong, unless the motivation is to make one look "appropriately" well off in the eyes of others.

We tend to associate people our age with words like settled, stable, predictable, or safe. How many retired, or almost retired folks, would you describe as adventurous, devil-may-care, unpredictable, or daring? How many are gutsy?

Too few, I would guess, and that is a shame. When else in our short time on earth are we as free to push against the restraints, take a risk on a new lifestyle, or try something and not worry if we fall flat on our face.

If we fail at something, so what? If the move to the mountains in Spain doesn't work, come home. If the karate lessons leave you unfulfilled, sell the white outfit to someone else. If trying to salsa dance leaves your hips out of whack, take up line dancing. If your efforts at Haiku poetry leave others scratching their heads, assume they have dandruff.

There are several folks who read Satisfying Retirement on a regular basis who I would classify as being unconcerned about being "age appropriate" in the eyes of others. Whether due to a high energy level and willingness to try everything while still physically able, or leaving a comfortable home in the suburbs to live their dream in the mountains, these people are taking their best shot.

A woman uprooted herself and moved 1,000 miles from her home to be closer to family and try on a new lifestyle. Still another took classes and tests to fulfill a dream of becoming certified as a professional mediator. Yet another moved from a big city to a seaside location that has a strong pull on her and her husband, a pull that must be acknowledged. Yes another person I know is now leading African safaris, a dream she has held for years.

Importantly, the whole question of age-appropriateness doesn't have to center around a physical challenge or change. Going to a poetry slam at a bookstore, tackling an online course in Greek history, putting together a coffee table book of photos you shot at the park or beach...these all fit my definition. 

Deciding to watch all the Avenger movies in chronological order so you can talk about them with your grandson, taking chess lessons, replacing the 30-year-old hair band T-shirts in your closet with something more colorful or simply, different, fits the goal, too.

My book, Living a Satisfying Retirement, is filled with stories of people, just like you and me, who took a leap of faith toward a new life. Were they being "age appropriate?" I don't know. But, I do know they didn't care. With more of our life behind us rather than in front of us, what in heaven's name are we waiting for?

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, this post is directed squarely at me. I can write about it, but do I live it? I think I am getting better. My soon-to-be 39 year old daughter made me fill good recently when she noted, "you are not like any of the other retired people I know. You do stuff, you try new things."

That was encouraging, but also a little sad, since what I do is what virtually anyone could do: get out of the house and try something new, go to a new coffee house or restaurant, see a live play, take advantage of the free concerts in the park or open mic night, get a rescue dog to love.

We don't have to dye our hair purple, though we can. We don't have to attempt physical feats that will result in injury, though our physical limits may be more self-imposed than real. We don't have to eat dinner at 4pm and go to bed at 8pm, unless that makes us happy.

Age appropriate behavior is too often defined by others and treated as gospel by us. Society has placed enough restrictions or limits on how we enjoy our life. Let's not add more to the boundaries.