September 14, 2019

Is Retirement Really About The Little Things?

Being happy is an important part of living a satisfying retirement. Life is too short to be spent grumpy and out-of-sorts. If you have figured out what brightens your days and makes you smile you have taken important steps toward an enriching retirement lifestyle.

The fascinating thing about this subject is the list of happiness-producers is always unique to you. If you try to copy someone else's path to joy you will be disappointed. These triggers must be figured out by you. It is also quite true that things that make you the happiest aren't usually big things. Sure, winning a lottery will probably put a smile on your face (until you see the tax bill). Landing a major sale from your hobby-turned business or the birth of a grandchild are  good things.

But, what about the small stuff that can brighten any day? What are the little things that, when they happen, make you feel pleasure and contentment?  Are you missing moments of happiness because you are thinking too big? Maybe you need to shrink your focus. Discover some happiness triggers that you can lean into whenever you choose. From my life here a few examples to get you started:

Hot cocoa and a fire. Since I live in a place that is hot a good part of the year, when things turn cooler my wife and I get excited by the simple pleasure of a log crackling away in the fireplace and a cup of hot cocoa while we snuggle on the sofa to watch a favorite movie or read quietly side-by-side. We are happy and content when the wind blows (sort of) cold air from the North and the whipped cream in the cocoa sticks to our lips.

Sunshine on the patio. For almost 330 days a year, Phoenix enjoys sunny days. You might think the simple joy of sitting on the back patio in the sunshine would have worn thin by now. Not by a long shot. I can enjoy watching the birds at the feeder, listening to the fountain.  and watching the shadows move across the floor. Overcast days make me sad. I live where I do because sunshine makes me happy.

A giggling child. My grandkids have the greatest laugh. It is physically impossible to listen to one or both start to giggle and not smile and laugh right along with them. Their obvious joy is instantly transferred to me. 

A puppy. Is there a puppy alive that can't charm a smile out of even the grumpiest old man? Is there any way to not be happy around something that so blindly loves you and wants your love and attention? 

Yes, there is extra responsibility and those occasional messes to clean up. But, overall, aren't puppies happy-producers?

Fixing a problem with a computer. Though not an expert by any means, I do enjoy helping friends when something has gone wrong with their computer. After performing the necessary cleanup of software conflicts or deleting unneeded programs, I love seeing the smile of their faces when everything works the way it should. It takes very little of my time, but makes someone else's life just a bit easier and it makes me happy to help.

A mystery book you can't put down. Reading is one of the great pleasures in life. A well-written novel can take you anywhere whenever you want a getaway. I love mysteries for their ability to weave a complex set of clues through a few hundred pages, finally tying it all together at the end. I rarely figure it out early, but the challenge is there.

A thoughtful comment on this blog. Someone taking the time to leave a comment makes me happy. It shows I have written something that caused another person to take a few minutes to read and react. Seeing there is a new comment on one of these posts makes me smile.

I could have added bigger things to my list like a paid-off mortgage or next year's cruise to the South Pacific. Certainly a clean physical exam makes me happy. Those triggers are obvious.

Maybe not quite so obvious is to focus on the small stuff, the everyday parts of your life. If you can put just a few of your own happy points in your day, your life will feel blessed, content and delighted. And, that is a satisfying retirement.

September 10, 2019

How to Retire

That seems like an odd title, doesn't it? How to retire is simple: stop working. Well, no, that isn't quite the case. If over 1,000 satisfying retirement blog posts have taught me anything, it is that this is a complicated journey. It is unique to each of us. Sure, there are general guidelines and certain steps to take to improve your odds of retiring well. Even so, I am struck again and again by how each person approaches this process in a slightly different way.

Retiring cannot be reduced to a series of specific steps. Yet, How to Retire is one of the most Googled terms in the area of retirement information. It only lags a little behind retirement financial calculators and retirement pensions in the total number of hits. So, there is a real hunger for help, a desire to find some guidance. Not being one to shy away from a challenge, let me try to summarize in a way that anyone will find something to work with.

1. Why do you want to retire? You've had a bad week, or month at work. Your boss or customers are annoying. You are tired of the daily commute. None of these should be enough to make you decide to retire. Trust me: retirement carries the same bad days, the same annoyances, the same routine. That is what living includes.

To really want to retire voluntarily the reason has to be two-fold: you have reached the end of the line in terms of enjoyment or satisfaction with your work. You dread getting up every morning and facing the same old things. Your dissatisfaction has been building for quite some time, not just because of a rough patch.

The second reason is you can't wait to tackle a new phase of your life. You have plans and dreams, you itch to try something new, you can't wait to tackle whatever is next. You feel you have talents and energies that must be tapped.

Retirement isn't running from something, it is running to something else. Any other reason is probably not sufficient.

2. Are your prepared financially? Trust me, none of us ever feel we have enough money to retire. The thought of no more regular paychecks is sobering. But, there is a difference between not being ready and being ready but still being concerned or cautious. The average 50 year old American has less than $50,000 saved for retirement. That person is not ready, no matter how much he downsizes and simplifies.

I don't believe in set dollar amounts for retirement. There are too many variables. But, common sense says that even with a decent Social Security check each month you are likely to need quite a bit more to live for another 20 or 30 years. If you live within your budget, understand how to use credit, don't treat your home equity (if you have any) like a piggy bank, and understand the concept of delayed gratification, you are well on your way.

3. Are your prepared emotionally? Do I mean to accept all that free time and lack of deadlines? Am I ready for a stress-free life? No, that's not the issue. Emotional preparation means the loss of your personal identity. Most of us see ourselves as valuable and defined by our jobs. "What do you do?" is the first question asked when you meet someone. Who will you be when the answer is "nothing." Can you find meaning and purpose when you have to create it yourself? Are you mature enough and secure enough in defining your life by who you are instead of what you do?

4. Is your primary relationship strong enough? Being home full time with another person is a major adjustment. I'll say that again: this is a big deal. Retirements end with one or both partners going back to work simply because they can't stand being together full time. Divorce is a growing issues with older, retired folks. In fact, the largest percentage increase in divorce comes from those 50+. The time to work through differences and decide on the balance of we and me time is before work stops.

5. Do you have ideas on how you will use your free time? At first blush, an unstructured day seems like heaven. Each 24 hour period stretches before you with no commitments, no deadlines, no pressure. The reality is very different. After financial worries the biggest fear of those getting close to retirement is how they will use their time. What will they do all day? With 30 years filled with a job or career, there has been little time to develop any outside interests or passions. As point #1 above notes, retiring into nothing means you aren't ready to retire.

The most pleasurable retirement happens when someone has things to retire to: hobbies to pursue, new interests to explore, travel to take, grandkids to visit, books to write, volunteering opportunities to accept......things that bring meaning and purpose to your days. These are the things that cause you to get out of bed full of energy and enthusiasm. For those faced with another day of puttering around the house, reading for hours at a time, and ending the day falling asleep in front of the TV, retirement becomes a type of prison, locked into a behavior whose only goal is to get from morning to night.

6. Are you ready for the time of your life? As someone whose whole existence was defined by his work, who did a poor job of relationship building and who entered retirement unready emotionally and without real goals, I have finally arrived at a place where I can honestly state that this has become the best stage of my life. I stumbled badly for several years. I read too much, watched way too much TV, spent too many hours surfing the Internet, and longed for the security of my former high profile career.

Then, I found my stride. I stopped worrying about finances. I found passions that ignited me. I discovered the thrill of giving back and making a difference through meaningful volunteer work. I allowed my spirituality to blossom and define why I am here on earth. I rediscovered the thrill of a relationship that is growing and respectful.

I wish I had sen a post like this 18 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of wasted time and frustration. Retirement is just another part of life. It takes work, You will make mistakes. You will occasionally throw up your hands and ask yourself why are you doing this.

But, then, suddenly you will find the correct light switch. You will figure it out. You will have what it takes to live a satisfying retirement.

September 7, 2019

Highs and Lows

I know regular readers enjoy posts that feature pictures of places Betty and I visit. If so, you are in luck.

A few weeks ago we headed north for a 4 day trip to revisit a few places we enjoy: Flagstaff and The Grand Canyon. With temperatures predicted to be around 110 at home, even the mid 80s up north seemed pleasantly cool. 

Flagstaff was our first stop. Surprisingly, we were a bit disappointed this time around. The downtown had several more vacant storefronts than we remember. Our favorite place to eat is gone. Another that offered nice dinners on an outdoor patio had become the home of fast-casual type meals. The homeless population has increased while the streets and parks are less clean. Overall, things just felt more frayed at the edges. 

Even so, the weather cooperated, with clear sunny days. We decided it was a good time to ride the ski lift to the top of Snowbowl ski resort, about 20 minutes north of town. During the winter, several hundred inches of snow blanket the slopes and the 55 different trails.

Our visit was much more to our liking: low 70's and nothing but wildflowers, green grass, and towering trees. The 25 minute trip up the lift travels to 11,500 feet. Though still 1,000 feet below the highest peak,  the view is amazing. We saw the Grand Canyon some 70 miles away,  mountainous volcano cones in every direction, beautiful meadows, and even the beginnings of a forest fire on a distant ridge. The Forest Service was aware of the blaze and letting it burn, but the sight was still a little unsettling. 

Here are some pictures that don't really capture the total quiet and peacefulness, but give you a chance to armchair travel (without the effects of rather thin air over two miles above sea level).

Less than two hours north is the Grand Canyon. A mile deep in some places, covering well over 200 miles from end to end this is a really big hole in the ground. Even though the distance from the popular South Rim to the less-visited North Rim is just 10 miles, to drive from one to the other takes five hours;  there's this wide chasm in between, you see.

This is one of the few places in the country where the majority of people are not starting at cell phone screens. To walk along the trail near the edge of the canyon does not lend itself to distracted strolling. Instead, thousands are using the built-in cameras or simply enjoying the breathtaking beauty and power of the place.

Another thing we noticed were the number of languages being spoken by the clusters of people walking by us. German, Japanese, Italian, Greek, Polish and others we didn't recognized filled our ears. English was very much in the minority.

Obviously, this little fellow has done this before

Beautiful sights, a great time to reconnect as a couple, and some lasting memories. Thanks, Northern Arizona.

September 3, 2019

Being a Beginner is Not Natural... For Me

I've written before about my dislike of feeling like a anything. For some completely irrational reason, I believe I should go from not knowing how to do something to being proficient within a month or two. Not being good at something for a long period of time just has never worked for me.

Ask Betty how long my various attempts at dancing have lasted. Two lessons and I want to leave the moves to Fred Astaire. Tennis? Don't ask. Guitar? I think I have finally found a course of study that is slowly working for me, but it has been at least half a dozen failed attempts up to now; I get to some point and become discouraged with my lack of progress. Oh, and my dogs and family find places to hide behind closed doors when I practice.

So, it was a powerful mark of either boredom or emotional growth that I started oil painting a few weeks ago. If you name one skill I do not believe I have, painting would top the list. I used to joke that I couldn't draw a straight line with a ruler. Even my stick figures have to be explained. So, why am I subjecting myself to being a beginner in every sense of the word? 

Oil paints are different from acrylic? What is a fan brush? Is there such a thing as odorless paint thinner? How much does paint cost? How about canvas..can I use a less expensive choice? Landscape, still life, portrait, abstract...good gracious, you mean there several different approaches I can screw up?

I am slowly learning the answers to most of these questions. I am also learning that Bob Ross makes the whole process seem much less difficult than it is. Bless his long departed soul, Mr. Ross had a voice and presentation style that would convince anyone with a pulse that painting is as simple as breathing.

I fell for it. First was a trip to some crafty-type stores. One thing I quickly learned is that the people who populate these places love to talk to the checkout clerk, apparently about every single thing being bought. 10 minutes per customer is not uncommon. And, there is always a line and too few clerks.

Anyway, with Betty's help and the all-forgiving Mr. Ross, I settled on oil paints, mainly so I could follow each step of his video lessons. Oh, and the answer to a few of my initial questions is: expensive! A tiny tube of Prussian Blue (doesn't that sound pretty!) is close to $10. Mr. Rose requires I have 9 different colors plus something he calls Magic White, which is some special type of base coat that is spread all over the canvas first. It is not easy to find and not inexpensive.

One of the stores was having a sale on canvas and easels so I loaded up my shopping cart. Then, the hunt for brushes. Mr. Ross insists on natural bristle brushes; I couldn't find any labeled that way. I finally settled on an assortment that had bristles of undetermined origin. 

I have publicly displayed my first attempt on an earlier post. I am pretty sure my grandkids could have done better. I recognize some shapes as tree-like objects and a smear of blue as probably water. Otherwise, forgettable.

Since then about every four days  I pull out a new canvas, or canvas board, watch a video, set up my paints, easel, and dropcloth, and give it a go. My representation of the sky and fluffy little clouds is slightly more recognizable. Mt. McKinley in Alaska, not so much. Apparently, using a palette knife takes even more skill than a 1" paint brush.

But, I guess here is the important lesson I am learning: being a beginner is not a fatal condition. I have not hurt myself nor damaged the house or the carpeting. Even though my family tends to hide when I strum the guitar, occasionally I hear Betty singing along with the tune, so what I am doing must be somewhat recognizable. 

Being a beginner and a bit of an obsessive perfectionist is a dangerous combination. Both the painting and guitar fly in the face of my self-image and how I usually conduct myself.

Maybe that is a good thing. After all, I have managed to stay married to the same marvelous human being for 43 years, and I was a total beginner when that journey started (probably still am, in some regards).

So, bring on the paints and tune up the guitar. Just don't expect me to show you what I have done or play a song for you for quite some time! My comfort level with beginner status does have its limits.

August 30, 2019

A Closet Full of Memories

I bet you have a bunch of old photos stored away in boxes or drawers somewhere in your home. We certainly do. In our case it is an office closet filled with photo albums. Since a digital camera didn't replace our film cameras until 15 years ago, there are a lot of memories in that space. If there was ever a fire I'm not sure if my wife would grab me or some of the pictures first. They are important reminders of the journey we have been on together.

Like many people, the pictures were taken and stuck in a closet or some empty shoe boxes rarely to be looked at again. The change to digital means these old photographs are often too much trouble to haul out, and that's too bad. There is a lot more than old photographs in that closet.

Places I'd forgotten I'd been. We have been lucky to travel rather extensively in the United States, and visit several countries in Europe. I was looking over the album titles last week and realized all the places we visited that I had forgotten about. Fall foliage in upstate New York,  the pink beaches of Bermuda, a cute B&B outside Salt Lake City, the horse country of northern Florida, a castle in the lakes district of England and The Quiet Man setting near Kong, Ireland. Looking again at the scenery brings back the sights, some of the friendly folks, and lasting memories. It felt good to look back and remember.  

Places that were an important part of our family life. We had a few time share condos near Sarasota, Florida that were the center of family summer vacations for almost twenty years. To look at the girls from our first visit with their grandparents, to our last when they were grown up is a rather vivid reminder of how fast life passes by. The 2 Christmas vacations we spent on Maui don't seem like almost 30 years ago, but they were. The pictures bring back all the details that made those trips so special. There is some sadness in the process, but overwhelming pleasure at seeing the joy on those young faces again.

How fast time goes. When were my wife and I ever that young? Why did I wear my hair in that silly, uncombed mop? Whatever happened to all the people in those photos that left our life when we moved? Is that renovation we made to the first house in Cedar Rapids still there? Old pictures allow you to relive fabulous memories. But, each page you turn in the album is like a ticking clock. It is important to remember that each moment captured in that particular photo will never be repeated. Today will never come again. Time is too valuable to not squeeze the most out of every minute. The photos make that time passage very real.

Remember when parents were with us and vital. I have written a few posts about the difficulty of watching loved ones age and decline. Our photo closet is full of visual reminders. My wife's parents have both died, so our memories of them are fixed in pictures when they were playing with our girls, or enjoying themselves at our various homes. My parents are both gone, too. It is important to see them when they were active and physically fit, joining us at the beach, our cabin in the woods, or Disneyworld. It is good to see them walking together, holding hands, in the woods of northern Arizona, without a care in the world.

Winter....Ugh! After 35 years in Arizona I could never go back to where I grew up. Pictures of me shoveling snow off the roof of our home in Iowa, trying to find my car in a snowbank in Syracuse, or shivering in cold rain in Boston are stark reminders of my dislike of cold and snowy weather. But, I lived in that climate for my first 30 years so it was important in my life. Looking at some of the pictures reminds me of why I don't live there now!

Dogs were a big part of my life. I had forgotten how much pets were part of my life until just a few years ago. I grew up with dogs in the house. During our married life we have had five dogs. Each one of them is memorialized in the photo albums. There are loving memories and lots of smiles as we remember the unconditional love each one gave us.

If you have some time this weekend can I suggest you pull out your photos and look at them. All those memories and all those important timelines in your life aren't doing any good locked away. Some of the memories will be bitter sweet and some bring tears to your eyes. Isn't that the reason you took them all those years ago?

August 26, 2019

Retirement Travel: Striking a Balance

Traveling can be one of the joys of the satisfying retirement phase of your life. With fewer commitments, you have much greater freedom to pack up and go. No longer must you travel when everyone else does. Midweek departures or hitting the road while families with kids are tied to home by the school calendar are now possible.

Of course, your own preferences, interests, retirement lifestyle and finances have a bearing on what your travel itinerary might look like. My wife and I like a combination of big trips every few years mixed with long weekends or several-day excursions. 

Each year we say we'd like to spend part of the summer away from the Arizona summer. When we owned an RV we made that happen. For the last few years, though, we have stayed at home. Being close to everyone has been more important.

We are healthy enough as I write this to not have many travel restrictions. Would I scuba dive like I used to? Probably not. That is pretty strenuous. Would I agree to walk across Ireland? Maybe, depending on the length we covered each day and the type of accommodations at the end of each day (no tents!).

I prefer to avoid air travel as much as possible simply because airlines have made that form of transport as legally close to punishment as possible. Actually, my first choice would be train travel but Amtrak pulled out of Phoenix almost 20 years ago so that isn't a viable option. That means we usually drive.

For Betty and me the only real restraint at the moment is a self-imposed budget. And that really gets me to the core issue of this post. At some point our health will begin to limit our travel options. That is as given. It could be something dramatic that changes our lifestyle completely. More likely it will be a gradual decline in physical strength and abilities.

There may come a time when one of us is afraid to have the other in a foreign country where medical care is more of an issue. But, for now, these scenarios are not in play. So, should we ignore our carefully planned budget for travel and "go for it" while we can? Should we do all we want even if we have to tap into savings and investments that weren't supposed to be for traveling?

Should we live with the worn out carpeting for another few years and put the money into trips? Will we look back at some point and kick ourselves for not having the experiences while we could? Or, will we second guess our decisions to put ourselves in a financial hole that may have serious consequences?

In our household, this is an ongoing debate, but we have taken steps to travel more while we can. Overall, we are homebodies. We enjoy where we live and the people who fill our lives with happiness. We have a  schedule of volunteer, and social events most of the year. We buy season tickets to Broadway shows that visit town. I enjoy finding things to do in the area that are different and low cost.

Still, the call of the road is always there. Since we sold the RV we have taken an Alaskan Cruise and a River cruise in Europe. Next year a 25 day cruise to the South Pacific and New Zealand has been booked. We will go to Quebec, Canada to be with our daughter as she turns 40 (really?).

Betty has been strongly hinting that her days of RV travel are not over. A small Class B motorhome is her dream. We both see one or two longish road trips in our future. 

I guess the most important step is to prioritize our wants. In that way, if a health issue arises we will have had the experiences most important to us. 

Then, we must decide how deeply to dig into our retirement fund to pay for this. If RV #2 happens, our budget would undergo a major overall. There will be some serious discussions over the next several months. Don't tell her, but I miss the RV, too.

Me, contemplating my choices
I have heard all the arguments that we saved and now we should enjoy it in any way we want. Our grown kids agree. But, do we?

I hope we have at least another 10 years of travel ahead of us. Deciding how to balance our desires with our resources and what we view as responsibilities to our family keeps us constantly reviewing our options.

How about you? Have you decided to travel now and worry about the expenses later? Or, have health issues forced you to scale back? And, if so, are you content with your life?

August 22, 2019

The Way We Think About Financial Security Needs Adjusting

...or at least needs some serious rethinking. Historically low unemployment numbers (except for minorities), a stock market that regularly flirts with record highs, and an economy that has yet to show noticeable cracks due to tariffs would seem to say, "relax, come on in, the water's fine."

At the same time, serious questions are being raised about what lies ahead. There are a growing number of indicators that a recession is not unthinkable. Tariffs are starting to bite some segments of the economy. What has worked for the past few decades may not continue to produce the same results for us and those who follow us.

Long term, financial security, one of the keys to a satisfying retirement, is undergoing important adjustments. How are we to react? What financial planning linchpins do we have to reexamine, assess with fresh eyes, maybe adjust direction?

Let's consider five "basic" building blocks of financial health and see where we are:

1) Savings. Keeping money in a bank's savings account is rather pointless. The average yield is 0.06%. That means that $5,000 held in a bank earns $3.00 a year. The average household holds just under $9,000 savings in a bank or credit union, producing a pathetic $5.40 in interest. Online banks or money market funds average 2%, or $180 a year for the average savings account.

How about Certificates of Deposit? You can find an extra quarter to half a percentage point in interest if you are willing to lock up your money for a year or more. But, will that extra $45 really take care of business? Even with minimal inflation, at returns this low you are losing ground. Your money will be worth less next year than it is today.

The oft-cited finding that 40% of Americans would struggle to pay for a $400 emergency is actually a misleading figure. Based on how the question was worded, recent research suggests the percentage who would be unable to easily cover that size of an unplanned expense at closer to 20%. Of course, that raises the obvious question: how do 1 in 5 save for retirement if even $400 would cause a problem? 

Aggressive savings was one of the keys to my retirement planning. Bank rates were never great, but CDs regularly paid between 5-8%. Sure, inflation was higher, but by living well below our means, a 7% return on our cash was meaningful. Thirty years of saving 15% of our income was a solid foundation. I couldn't depend on that part of my plan today.

2) Home Ownership. The "American Dream" included owning a house. All of my generation (and the ones before) envisioned the home in the suburbs, white picket fence, and a 30 year mortgage. The route to happiness and financial stability included real estate.

Apartments were for college students or those scrimping and saving for a future than included a piece of land with a building on it.

That is not necessarily the case anymore. Younger folks are not nearly as likely to aspire to own a home. Besides the daunting barriers of saving enough for a down payment, one of the important benefits of owning a house has been severely restricted: mortgage interest deduction on our tax returns. With the doubling of personal deductions, the attractiveness of this longtime plus has lost its luster.

Also, and this is pure speculation on my part, is it likely that a culture where online ordering of everything, nearly instant shopping, and a decrease in marriage and child birth rates, lessens a desire to own? Having someone else take care of maintenance, retaining the freedom to move to follow a job or a lifestyle choice change all support a drop in home ownership as a necessity.

3) Stock Market growth. Over the past 50 years, the stock market has produced an average return of 10%. Over the past decade the rate is closer to 7%. Of course, inflation must be factored in, so subtract about 2% to get closer to an actual return. Virtually all financial experts (I am not one!) continue to tell us, over the long term, stocks are our best bet.

The problem? The periods of instability are also baked into the system. Recessions are a part of our economy. There have been at least five important recessions since the mid 70's in the United States. As I write this, there is a growing concern of world-wide economic slowdowns due to tariff battles, Brexit, and a more unstable political environment.

If these happen with regularity, why worry? Well, primarily because it becomes a timing issue. There are plenty of us who have yet to fully recover from the last big meltdown of 2008-9. If you are close to retirement when the cycle is going the wrong way, that creates a serious problem. During retirement, if you are dependent on a flow of investment income and it suddenly dries up, or drops precipitously, then what?

What can you do? One answer sounds great, but it isn't practical for most of us: save and invest enough to weather a recessionary cycle.  Lower your withdrawal rate (4% to ?) Realize that many of the dips are on paper. Unless you must sell at the bottom, things will recover in time.

For the rest of us, the only real option is to have the flexibility to cut expenses and change life styles to match reduced income with reduced spending. If you are downsizing things are easier if you don't own a home, though some equity in a piece of property might come in handy. Not selling what you do own in stocks or other investments during a big dip is vital. If you sell at the bottom you are locking in losses forever.

4) Health Insurance. I can't believe I am still writing about this. After so many years, many of us remain one health crisis away from bankruptcy. Too many of us shun necessary medical care, reduce required medications, or delay important procedures due to cost.

As an aside, I read about a new medicine for a serious disease that will cost $2 million for treatment. Besides the obvious ethical questions that pricing raises, there will be no insurance company anywhere (even Medicare) that will agree to fund that criminally high charge. 

Speaking of Medicare, the clock is ticking. Without changes in how the program is funded, the combination of an aging population, fewer workers to support each retiree, and ever-increasing costs without robust ways to negotiate savings at some point in the future there will be a reduction in benefits. I used to believe no politician would allow this to happen. That is no longer true. We are too polarized, too firm in our "us vs them" mindset to assume cooler heads will prevail.

I'm sure you have read the scary figure of $280,000. That is what the typical senior couple can expect to spend on health care costs from 65 until death. To put that in perspective, that is five times more than what the average 50 year old has saved for his our her retirement. Yes, Social Security will help (assuming its continued health...a subject for another post), but that is a major chunk of change.

What to do? Realize that saving for your health costs are every bit as serious as savings for any other part of your future. Make an investment in yourself by doing everything you can to delay the inevitable decline of our bodies and minds. Make friends with family members who will allow you to live with them (a joke, but maybe not!). 

For most of us, we can only do the best we can do in planning for our future. Unfortunately, in so many areas, some of our fate is in others' hands. My takeaway is to be optimistic that all your foresight and preparation will make your journey as pleasant and satisfying as possible. But, stay informed and remain open to adjustments. Too many other people have their hands on the steering wheel to ever fully relax.

August 18, 2019

Applying The Skills You Have

I am a firm believer in the positive power of volunteering one's time. Even so, over the years I have learned that limits need to be established. It is easy to find time spent on volunteer opportunities can begin to take over larger portions of one's time.

That said, volunteerism is an important aspect of retirement for a lot of people. The chance to give back one's time and experience is a win-win: you feel good and the organization or person you help benefits, too. If you are so motivated, I urge you to donate something of yourself to others.

Like anything, being an effective volunteer requires certain qualities. Regardless of how you choose to become involved, here are 6 basic considerations:

You have the skills needed  or can learn them in short order. In anything there is a learning curve. Whether you are restocking the shelves at a food bank or helping to build a house for Habitat for Humanity, there will be certain abilities of yours that can be used. If a certain way of doing something is needed, you will be taught how to accomplish your task. 

You can use common sense to problem-solve.Sometimes you have to make a decision without specific guidance or policies. Common sense comes in handy if there is no one you can turn to for an answer. Trust yourself to make the right choice. 

You are dependable. Even though being a volunteer means you are not being paid, there are others counting on you to do what you have promised to do, when you promised to do it. Make your word your contract. Be sure others know they can count on you.

You are able to cooperate with others. Often volunteer work means you will be interacting with others. If this is the case you should be able to operate well in a group environment. Complaining about this and that or trying to enforce your will isn't going to make your experience a positive one. It will also limit your effectiveness. Remember nice.

You are able to serve someone else freely and openly. This is a tough one for many of us. We normally don't like to put ourselves in a position of serving others. Yet, that is exactly what being a volunteer all about. Your are a servant for a greater good. You must be able to be humble.

You have compassion. This probably should be listed first. Unless you are volunteering because your company tells you to, deciding to give some of your time and self to help others requires a well-developed sense of compassion. You have an urge to help others ease their pain and suffering. You are aware you are better off than another and want to help ease that person's burden just a bit.

One other type of volunteerism that often gets overlooked but is just as valuable is the type that occurs in your own family. If your daughter has young children, what are the odds she would welcome your offer to play with the kids or watch them while she took a break or went shopping? Could your Mom or Dad use your help in going to the pharmacy or grocery store? Does your son's or grandson's scout troop need another leader or someone to teach a merit badge?

It really doesn't matter if you donate time through an organization like the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, a local elementary school, prison ministry, or just within your own family. Volunteerism enriches your life and the lives of others. It is part of being human, and it feels great.

Finally, let me share a few quotes from various people that really capture the essence of sharing yourself:

It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little - do what you can.  ~Sydney Smith

It's easy to make a buck. It's a lot tougher to make a difference. ~Tom Brokaw

The purpose of life is not to be happy - but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all.  ~Leo Rosten

Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him.  ~Albert Schweitzer

August 14, 2019

Sometimes Creativity Just Appears

Several years ago I featured a post from Angelita Williams. She wrote about the importance of creativity during all stages of our life, but especially during retirement. For whatever reason, recently I have experienced a burst of fresh creative energy that is opening up some new experiences and areas of growth. So, it seemed logical to revisit a sampling of her thoughts and see how they fit what I am going through.
After years of tedious and difficult work in the same career  or job field, our capacity for creativity can diminish. This is not to say that doing the same type of work throughout your whole life ruins your creative edge, it's just likely that your creativity becomes narrowed and specialized to your specific area of work and thinking.
In my case, absolutely. I was so focused on building and growing my business, then maintaining it for as long as possible, that creativity was  limited to business-oriented thoughts. That wasn't bad, but too small a box for what might have been possible.
Creativity is one of the most powerful tools we as human beings possess. The power to think and create beyond our own immediate knowledge and existence is a very useful and invigorating thing. One of the luxuries that retirement can offer is the time and inspiration needed to rekindle your creative state of mind. While it can be a challenge to step into the world and mindset of creativity again, it can also be one of the most rewarding activities you have. 
Again, Yes. Angelita has described what happened within a few years of leaving full time employment.  In my case, I took my consulting experience and applied it to other teaching-type activities: lay minister, prison ministry, and teaching Junior Achievement classes. After years in radio, becoming involved in ham radio seemed a natural. Then, blogging allowed my need to write to be expressed.

However, as Ms. Williams points out in her next section, I wasn't trying new things or reaching for new parts of me. Teaching is what I had done for several decades. Was there any other way to push my creativity in new directions?
It is only through experiencing new things that we can engage in new avenues of creative thinking. Take on new experiences, visit new places, try things you've never done before—these things can help to spark some new line of thought that only that new sensation can inspire.
If coming up with new things to do is a challenge, going back to things and places from your past can be a good place to start. Revisit things that used to inspire and motivate you that you lost the time or place for in the working world. By revisiting these old interests and passions, you can rediscover why those things inspired your creative energy. 
I have been starting and stopping guitar for quite some time. I'd get to a certain point, then stop. Music has always been an important part of my life but I couldn't break through this barrier.

Then, a friend told me about an online guitar course he had discovered two years earlier that really excited him. Besides being free, the lessons are all available on both this fellow's web site and Youtube. Each takes a bite-sized step forward until you are feeling definite progress and playing songs.

I am about 5 weeks into Justin's ( course and making more progress in feeling confident in my chord playing than I have in years. 

Next, the author suggested observing creativity in others. I had marveled at my wife's creativity vin the visual arts for all our married life, but assumed that was a type of creative outlet that was not on my horizon.
Submerging yourself in their world of creativity is bound to arouse some creative juices of your own. Spend time  with creative people—writers, artists, musicians—and take in their work and their spirit. While this may sound a bit hard to accomplish, it really is a great way to awaken your creativity.
What many people fail to realize (or at least fail to reveal) is that much of our creativity comes from seeing the creativity of others and mimicking it. Finding inspiration from the creative masters is just another method for tapping into your own more original ideas.
I was cleaning out some attic space and uncovered some of the paintings my father had produced in the last decade of his life. He had never shown any interest or artistic bent before, but something made him pick up brushes and a canvas. Now, I had a motivation. Betty had shown me how an artist worked, and my dad showed me what was possible.
I found years of Bob Ross videos (his happy clouds and powerful palette knife!) on YouTube. Betty convinced me to give it a try. Bob Ross made it seem doable. So, I bought some paints, brushes, canvas and other tools of the trade. Covering the dinette table in drop cloth, one morning a few weeks ago I gave painting a whirl. 

Well, my sky is greenish, my trees an unnatural shade of red, and water has never looked less wet. Even so, I enjoyed it! Betty gave me ideas to practice my color blending and how to use the palette knife. On video, Bob Ross continued to believe that a true artist is hidden (apparently very deeply) inside me.

The point of these examples is not to pass myself off as a Renaissance man, giving da Vinci a run for his money. Rather, I hope it gives you some encouragement to try something new, something that you don't believe you have the ability to pull off. 

My painting "career" might last only as long as my $150 worth of oil paints and canvas. I may find the experience interesting, but not my thing. Then, again, my dad might have passed on something to me that just needed a chance to blossom. Betty has promised I can put one of my paintings in the living room if I am comfortable with it (it won't be the one above).

Then, as I am gazing at my landscape, maybe I'll break into an extended guitar jam with my new-found ability to change chords without looking at my fingers!

Retirement is a journey that can take us down unexpected paths to uncharted destinations. We only have to have the little bit of courage it takes to try something new. If we fail, we are exactly where we were before we tried. If we succeed, we will have to explain that big smile on our face to everyone we meet.

August 10, 2019

Blogs You Recommend: Retirement or Otherwise

About once a year I turn to the experts, you, to help me find blogs that have slipped beneath my radar. I occasionally freshen the list of blogs I follow but am always open to suggestions about something that you find engaging and want to pass along to me.

Importantly, the blog(s) you want me to be aware of do not have to be just about retirement. If one lesson has become clear over the past nine years, it is that we are quite an eclectic group of people, with wide-ranging interests. To assume that someone who reads a retirement blog reads only retirement blogs is probably mistaken. 

So, I'd like to expand my blogroll (the list on the right side of the home page) to include well-written approaches to other subjects. No religion and no politics. 

Otherwise, almost anything is fair game: writing, reading and books, hobbies, artistic or creative thoughts, travel, relationships....anything that you find worth your time.

Of course, pointing me toward retirement blogs that I have overlooked is encouraged. I get (steal? borrow?) some of my best ideas from what others have to say about the struggles and joys of retirement living.

So, there is my request. Leave a comment that lists sites you think I'd enjoy. Don't worry about trying to type the full web address; if I have the title I will find it.

It is the middle of a very hot Phoenix summer. Your suggestions will give me every reason to stay inside, enjoying what you have found.

August 7, 2019

Success In Anything Is Built Slowly - Even Retirement

You are familiar with stories of actors who achieve "instant stardom" after fifteen years of hard work. Thomas Edison spent 14 months of testing to get a light bulb that lasted less than 14 hours. Hard work and time are usually required before the payoff. Still, as a society we expect instant gratification, instant solutions, instant success, even instant mashed potatoes. Are those expectations realistic? 

For most of us, most of the time, the answer is "No."  It is more likely that some or all of these five steps will have to be taken. It doesn't matter if you run a business, write a blog, want to maintain a marriage, or simply want to maximize your own potential. Every one of these strategies applies, even in retirement:

You must offer something of value
You may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, but they will not come back. If you try to sell an inferior product you will be out of business. If you think you don't need to work at making your marriage succeed but believe your partner needs to do all the work, you are headed for divorce court. Write a blog with below-average content and you will probably be writing for an audience of one.

Value isn't apparent immediately. For someone to judge value there has to be a period of time when you prove again and again that a consistently good outcome is associated with you.

You can't simply copy what someone else has done
Over the years I have spent a lot of time reading various blogs. looking at how others do what I am trying to do. It is impossible not to notice how many blogs basically copy each other. There are probably 1,000 simple living or minimalist blogs. Maybe 100 of them are original in content, approach, and feel. The rest recycle the same stale list of tips and ideas. 

Guess which ones are successful. Hollywood and TV networks are shameless in copying someone else's ideas. Reality shows went from a new idea to completely overdone and absurd in very short order. One hit movie will generate a dozen copycats (or sequels...think Avengers, or Star Wars).

In whatever you are doing, true success comes from something unique about your product, idea, or method. Unless your name is Xerox, copies aren't an acceptable approach. Look for that angle that makes you stand out. Don't repeat someone else's life, mold your own.

You must keep commitments
Keeping a promise has become somewhat of a rarity in many aspects of our life. Politicians will make campaign promises they have no intention or ability to keep. Health insurance companies try to drop you if you really need the protection you have paid for. Someone will make a commitment to you and break it without a moment's hesitation if it becomes inconvenient for them.

When you make a commitment to someone you must do everything in your power to keep it. If you promise to stay with a spouse "until death do us part," that doesn't give you much wiggle room. It  shouldn't mean you can split when things get a little tough or you've gotten bored. When you promise to complete a project in a certain way under a certain budget, then that's what you do. When you agree to head the church stewardship committee you agree to give it the best you have. You teach English as a second language twice a week at the library and show up every time because you know people are depending on you. Success will follow. You will be a person who can be trusted, can be depended upon.  

You must follow up after the sale.
How many times have you been involved in any type of transaction in which the seller only cared about closing the deal? They did nothing to insure you'd be happy after the sale. The only thing that mattered was your signature on the dotted line. They didn't care about turning you into a repeat customer.

As any successful business person knows, the sale is just the first step. Keeping a customer is much cheaper than constantly finding new buyers. Attracting readers to your blog doesn't mean you have succeeded, they must return. Building a beautiful wooden cabinet for someone doesn't mean you are done. It opens the door for more.  Success takes time, it takes building a firm foundation of delivering more than you promised. You must constantly strive to do something better than you did yesterday.

You must set goals but remain flexible.
If you don't know where you want to go, any road will take you there. This saying is absolutely true. Without goals you have no plan. You don't know where you want to go. You have no way to measure progress. You are depending on luck to make everything come out right. You are living like a casual gambler in Las Vegas who hopes just one more quarter in the machine will be the difference.

Goals are essential to success, in life, in business, in relationships, and certainly in retirement. Goal setting forces you to think through what you want and how you will get there. At the same time, you must remain flexible. Things change all the time. New opportunities open, old ones close. If you rigidly adhere to goals without making mid course adjustments you will not succeed.

Success doesn't just mean monetary gain. In life, success covers all aspects of your existence. To fail is not a usual goal of anyone in anything. But, success takes dedication, will power, and an understanding of yourself. It doesn't just happen, you must make it happen for a satisfying retirement or a satisfying life.

Care to share any of your "living" success secrets?