January 21, 2019

Retirement: Am I Passing The Test?


I have this image that my retirement experience is quite different from the one my parents lived. Of course that includes the value judgment that mine has probably been better. To prove the point I built a list of some of the major events in their retirement journey so I could compare it to mine.

Surprise, surprise. In several important criteria Mom & Dad's time after work beat mine, hands down. I would never have thought that true until I wrote this. It has been quite an eye-opener. Using my original list, here is a comparison that lead to this conclusion that my beliefs were more myth than reality.

Financial Expectations: My parents assumed that the pensions and investments they had accumulated would be there for them when needed. They planned on Medicare and a strong supplemental policy, earned by Mom's 35 years as a teacher in Massachusetts, would take care of their medical expenses. They assumed Social Security would remain solvent and send them each a check every month.

Every assumption they made, every promise society made to them, was fulfilled. Substantial medical bills were taken care of. Their investments continued to grow most years. Their pensions remained fully funded; the organizations did not look for ways to cut benefits or go back on their word.

In my case, I self-funded my retirement savings. They suffered a hit a few times but always have come back. My wife and I never had a group medical policy; we had been in the individual market, which is expensive and has major restrictions on care. My Medicare coverage, and Betty's that begins next month, will help tremendously, but we expect it to be less generous for us in the coming years.
  • In this comparison my parents are the clear winners.

Enjoy Freedom and Free Time.  For the first 10 years after retiring, Mom & Dad enjoyed travel. They made several trips to Europe, took cruises, visited friends back East, and went for month-long driving trips. For several years their passports got quite a workout. 


Dad took up painting. He was an electrical engineer by training and had never exhibited any artistic leanings. Frankly, we were amazed at his interest and ability in this creative endeavor.  Mom taught for 35 years. When she retired her teaching didn't stop. For another decade she volunteered as a classroom assistant at a school near their home. That kept her active, involved, and excited to work with the youngsters.

My wife and I have traveled since retirement though not as much as my parents. Our financial situation wasn't nearly as solid as my parents, primarily because I retired at 52, they at 65. Those extra 13 years gave their nest egg quite a boost over mine. Also, I had flown so much in my job, I wanted to stay home. We have been to Europe three times, on a few cruise, spent time in Florida with friends, and covered most of the Western US on various trips. We owned an RV for almost five years and had a blast on several extensive trips.  

Creatively, it took me awhile to find my stride. For the first few years after work I was into not much more than serious puttering. Then, I became active in volunteer work.  I wrote a travel book. I became heavily involved in ham radio. Obviously, blogging has been a major part of my creative life for the past eight years. My wife has developed her photographic editing skills to the point where we may start selling her work on line. She has become Super Grandmother to 3 incredible children.

  • In this comparison I am going to declare a tie.

Health and Preventive Care. This is one critical area in which Mom & Dad  did not do well. My Mom never exercised beyond what she did in a normal day. There was no gym, or walking or stretching program to keep her limber. Growing up our menus were heavy on meat, pasta, and cheese. She almost never drank plain water, but got her liquids primarily from coffee and milk. Her rapid physical decline in the last few years of her life was accelerated by the poor shape she was in.

Dad was been a little bit better. He took daily walks. A quintuple heart bypass operation gave him a second chance to be more aware of diet and exercise. He lived until 91 and was able to do more physically than most men his age.

My wife and I have watched  what happened to my parents and vowed to approach our older age differently. We both lost weight and do our best to stick to an exercise regime. Meat appears on our menu only once a week.

My wife has cut her medications in half and moved from diabetic back to pre-diabetic status. We drink lots of water and virtually no soft drinks. Maybe because of our poor health insurance, we have been doing all we can to prevent costly problems.
  • In this comparison we are much better off in retirement than my parents.


Marriage Mom & Dad were married for 63 years. For the last twenty of those years they haven't been apart for even one day. They are deeply devoted to each other and very much in love. It is hard to imagine one without immediately thinking of the other. I'm not sure in their own minds if there is was an  "I" or "me" anymore, it is just "us" and "we."  It is inspiring to experience this type of bond.

I must quickly write that Betty and I have been married for 42 years. I feel we are a stronger couple now than at any time earlier in the marriage. Being together full time for the past seventeen years has strengthened our love and understanding of each other. Are there still arguments and rough patches? Sure...we are two individuals who have different opinions about almost everything. But, neither of us can imagine a life without the other.
  • In this comparison my parents beat us on longevity and have given us the perfect model to work from.


Foresight. Because this post is getting long, I'll quickly summarize one last area. My parents moved into a continuing care community while they were still in decent health. Their primary reason for doing so was so I wouldn't have to worry about the quality of their care and their living arrangements when they could no longer take care of themselves.

We are not quite there yet so that is something we haven't given much thought to yet, but their self-sacrifice and concern for us will be repeated by us when the time comes so our kids don't need to worry either. 
  • In this comparison my parents gain the edge for their foresight and planning.


As I noted in the opening, I assumed my retirement has been more complete and more satisfying than my parents. After all, I had a 13 year head start on them. But, that belief has been pure self-deception. By almost all measures, Mom & Dad Lowry had the type of satisfying retirement that I write about.

It is good to be humbled every now and then. 


January 17, 2019

Travel Inspirations For a Cold Winter's Day

As winter tightens its hold, many of us have our thoughts turn to warm weather travel. As you look at your calendar and think about where you would like to explore when you hit the road, I thought I'd give you some visual inspiration. Here is a random collection of pictures that might stimulate your travel ideas.


Silver Falls State Park, OR.

On way to Kanab, UT from Arizona

Zion National Park


Near Kihei, Maui 


Upper Mesa Falls, Idaho

Maui

Fool's Hollow State Park, AZ

Outside Fredericksburg, TX


Oregon Coast

Near Grand Tetons



Red Rocks, Colorado


Grand  Tetons National Park

Captain Cook, Big Island of Hawaii

Near Mt. Hood, OR

Oregon Coast


Park in Spokane, WA


Grand Canyon

near Sisters, Oregon


Cannon Beach, OR


Dead Horse Ranch State Park, AZ
Maui  (Do you see a dragon head?)

January 14, 2019

Retirement: Not For Me!


Retirement isn't a foregone conclusion. There are lots of people who decide not to retire, now or ever. The reasons usually fall into one of four categories:


1. I love what I do and see no reason to stop.

2. I haven't saved enough so it isn't an option.

3. I have nothing else to fill my time; I'd be bored silly.

4. I want to start my own business.


I understand the rational of these arguments. If this is the situation, I actually agree with someone saying retirement is not for them. There is one foundational fact about retirement: it is a unique journey for each of us. One size does not fit all. If that means it doesn't fit you at all, or at least not now, then that is your reality.

If you started a company, nurtured it through hard times, and watched it blossom, it is probably much like a child to you. You are proud of its success and maturity. You have a whole range of emotions about your "baby." The thought of selling it to someone else or closing it just doesn't compute. 

For a whole range of reasons, you may not have enough money set aside to retire. You may have fallen victim to the siren call of our culture and allowed spending and debt to outpace income. You might have suffered a major financial reversal for any number of reasons. Your answer is to keep working while you dig yourself out of that hole.

Because your work is your life you have no outside interests. Maybe you dabbled with sports when you were younger, or took up tennis because you spouse asked you to. To you, a hobby is just something that means spending money on an activity that doesn't deeply satisfy you. You have a high energy level that is best satisfied by meeting goals, staying busy, and using your skills at something you think of as productive.

You have a dream of starting a business. Maybe you know you can provide a better service or product than your old employer. Maybe you have always wanted to open a franchise. Maybe you are an inventor who believes you have developed a better widget. Retirement makes no sense now. You have big dreams to explore.

Odd, I know, for a retirement blog to tell you retirement isn't always the best choice. Over the last 8+ years of writing Satisfying Retirement, I have learned enough from comments and countless emails that confirm a choice to stop working isn't a foregone conclusion. 







Retirement - Not for me!  



January 10, 2019

Retirement Advice: Do You Have Urgent Needs?


Have you noticed how many websites or blogs use some sort of sensational headline to grab your attention? Sort of like the one above? With hundreds of millions of them on the Internet, sometimes word play is required to break through the clutter.

I will offer a calmer, somewhat counter-intuitive answer to the question posed by the headline: What are retirement's urgent needs? My answer is: none. That's right, there are no retirement urgent needs. 

That is the whole point of building a satisfying retirement. When you get to the point where retirement is a viable option there should be no urgent needs. Now, that obviously doesn't mean you won't encounter problems and needed adjustments to your goals or lifestyle. But, to claim there are five or seven or whatever number of things you must do or your retirement will crash and burn, is simply untrue.

Let me explain my rational. In order to consider retirement I am going to assume the following:

  • You have looked closely at your investments and sources of income, savings, and a projected budget. You have reduced any debts to the lowest amount you can. You have at least 6 months of emergency cash available if you should need it. You believe you can make it all work. 
  • You have done the best you can to plan for health care costs. That includes health insurance, thinking about long-term care plans, and some of the emergency fund money for a major medical expense. You are holding up your end of the equation with plenty of exercise and a healthy diet.
  • You have talked through the effect of your retirement on your key relationships. If married, you and your spouse have discussed the effect of you being home 24/7. If single, you have talked with your friends or other family members to advise them of your plans and enlist their (non- financial) help if needed.
  • You know what you are retiring to. That means you have some interest or passions (or several) that will keep you active and engaged. While it is almost guaranteed that those interests and passions will change over time, you are not entering retirement with no idea how you will fill your day with productive and interesting activities.

If you can check off these four areas, then your retirement has no urgent needs. Retirement is simply the transition to the next stage of your life. It isn't the end of anything. It is not a destination. It is just a step forward into something different, just a fascinating part of your journey.

If you have urgent needs, then you aren't ready for a satisfying retirement. If you have any choice in the matter, then don't retire when these needs are still in play.

Life is a collection of needs, wants, problems, solutions, adventures, disappointments, and successes. That doesn't stop when you retire, but there is no reason to add urgency to the list.


January 7, 2019

Recession and Retirement: How Are We To React If It Happens Again?


For the past month the stock market has been on one of its periodic roller coaster rides: erratic enough to make you sick. China's economy is cooling down, giving the whole world a cold. Britain is getting close to a no-deal exit from the EU. Tariffs are good...or bad, depending on whether you benefit or are hurt. Even the golden goose, Apple, is having some problems. As of this writing 25% of the government is shut down. At some point those working for no pay are going to decide, no more.

As retirees we are directly feeling the effects of this instability. Our income is baked in. Stocks, mutual funds, bonds, pensions. savings - what we have is all we are likely to have. Depending on your age, it may be getting a little late for the markets to fully recover and world economies to play nice with each other. 

During the 2008 recession, my investments lost about 30% in (paper) value. Same for my house. In the ten year since, everything has recovered and grown. Of course, I lost several years just clawing back to level ground. But, the American economy does regularly rise and fall, so I just figured this was part of the game. 

That dark period was caused by greed, lax regulatory oversight, and a collective belief that everything only goes one way - up. I am pretty sure none of the people (minus Bernie Madoff) or businesses set out to throw our lives into a tailspin. That was simply a byproduct of unethical and risky decisions by too many people, including those who were offered a mortgage they couldn't afford.

This time around, the situation seems to be more worrisome, simply because I am a decade older than before. I have less time to rebuild what my wife and I are dependent on to keep us happy and healthy for the next fifteen or twenty years.

How far away are we from unpaid TSA agents and air traffic controllers walking off the job, bringing air travel to a grinding halt? The IRS is so short of people that tax refunds may be indefinitely delayed. National Parks are being closed both because of no staff, and our abysmal behavior when a park ranger isn't looking over our shoulder.

What if the economy slips into a recession this year? What if the stock continues to shed hundreds of points a day, only to recover a bit, and then fall again? As retirees what can we do?

This is not a financial blog. I wouldn't pretend to tell you what to do, only what I did and will do again, if need be. The late 80's recession, the dot-com bust of the early 2000's, the turmoil in 2008....we have all been here before. 

During those three periods I did not give up on my planning. I did not sell low when things were scary just to sit on the cash. I had enough faith in the country's overall health and in my ability to weather the storm that I did not allow myself to become scared and run down the wrong path.

I cut our expenses. I delayed anything that was discretionary and expensive: house remodeling, vacations farther away that two hours north to the mountains, new furniture..anything that could wait. We sold a weekend cabin in the mountains and several weeks of timeshares in Florida.

We had simpler meals, more leftovers, fewer trips to the movie theater and restaurants. We cancelled magazine and newspaper subscriptions.  

We delayed the purchase of replacement cars.  Amazon's free shipping and added Prime services hadn't taken off yet; not having that tempt us certainly helped. That meant fewer opportunities for spur-of-the-moment purchases.

Now, in 2019, I am taking some of the same steps. Betty and I discussed our budget in December when things started looking shaky. We agreed that instead of waiting, we would be proactive. With our nest egg down about 10% in the last 30 days we are not prepared to cross our fingers and hope.

If the government can find a path to compromise, the world economy doesn't have a major upheaval and Britain somehow leaves the EU without falling off a cliff and pulling all of Europe down with it, we will restore what we have cut.

I must be honest: after the 2008 recession, not everything we cut from our lives has been replaced. A simpler, more-pared down retirement has been a good fit for us. True, there have been occasional splurges. But, after 17 years of retirement, we are finding quiet times with each other and family leave us quite satisfied.

In one of my strongest memories of the time during and right after the 2008 problems, I remember I felt almost no stress or worry. It was an odd reaction to a serious situation, but I felt calm and that things would work out. I had faith in our ability to weather any storm. 

Whatever comes now we believe we can handle it. And, that is a great feeling.


January 5, 2019

3 New Retirement Resources For The New Year




Look closely just above this post. Do you notice some new additions to the clickable links?

  • Frugal Retirement
  • Aging in Place Technology
  • Retiree Travel

Whenever I write about these three subjects, those posts never fail to generate extra views. They are subjects that we never grow tired of reading about, learning of new solutions to problems, or exchanging ideas.

As we start 2019, I am adding these topics as expanded additions to Satisfying Retirement. The regular posts on everything from financial well-being to relationships, health and medical concerns, how Social Security works, moving after retirement...all the stuff you have come to expect for the past (almost) nine years continues. 

Now you can find additional information on frugality, seniors and technology, and all the ins and outs of senior travel are just a click away.

What Should I expect? 


In each of the new sections you will find links to articles and websites that are worth reading. Photos and descriptions that help you identify and visualize something. There will be product reviews to help you when it is time to buy a new smartphone, television, or aging in place gadget to keep you safe and secure. 

I will provide checklists for helping you stay away from hackers and evil-doers on the Internet. Want to take a trip to somewhere new? The Travel section will have resources on everything from discount plane and hotel sites, whether travel insurance is necessary, and how to be sure you can stay in contact with family while thousands of miles from home.

Need to cut back because of the unnerving stock market gyrations? Looking to reduce your carbon footprint? Have a tip you would love to share with others on how you keep your monthly grocery bill under $200? The Frugality section should be your stop.


How Often Will You Add New Information?


Each of these sections will continue to grow as I add new information and links. I hope to add fresh information at least once every few weeks. Please check back often. The newest material will appear first.

Of course, your comments, suggestions, and ideas will be used to guide me in what should be added in each section.

January 2, 2019

Radical Retirement


Retirement usually comes with certain "rules" and expectations. To leave work voluntarily requires planning, financial sacrifices for years beforehand, an idea of how time will be managed, and the ability to adjust to life's changes.

This subject has been my blogging topic for over eight years. One of the most important lessons I have learned is that each journey is unique. One size doesn't come close to fitting everyone. There is no "correct" way to retire. So, what is a radical retirement? What does that mean?

I am proposing that every single retirement is radical in some way or another. Why? For the reason I noted above: each one is unique. It comes from how your life has unfolded, where it is at this moment, and where you want it to go.

If I tried to follow your path I would mess it up because our life experiences, goals, relationships, spiritual foundations, and  personalities are different. To me, some of your choices would be radical, even dangerous.

Likewise, follow everything I have done and every choice I have made and you will not be satisfied. As legal sites make clear, consult (yourself) before making any decisions. I offer ideas and general knowledge collected during 17 years of my personalized journey. Your mileage may differ. 

So, I'd like you to think of your retirement, or what you hope it to be in the future, in terms of being very special, very radical. Accepting the uniqueness of it gives you the absolute freedom to not judge your path as a success or failure compared to others. What they have done can be interesting and may be encouraging, but cannot be used to judge yours.

Sure, you may be dissatisfied with some of the choices you have made or opportunities missed, but you are still living a radical retirement compared to everyone else in the world. Isn't that empowering? When you stop placing your life on a scale designed to measure others, all sorts of stress and disappointment disappear.

All that said, where do you look for ideas, or things to consider? What is something that could become part of the fabric of your existence? We all search for ways to improve our lot in life; that is part of being human. We look at what others have done, hence the reason you read this blog, and then decide if any it might work for you. What might you add to your radical retirement?

Let me present some examples of what I mean. These folks and their choices don't fit my life exactly. Their life journey and particulars are not mine.  Even so, some of their choices resonate with me. 




I am inspired by the example of Brett and Laura Hawks, the Occasional Nomads. After selling most their possessions, they left their home on Kauai to travel the world for a year. Where they will live when their adventure is over has yet to be decided. 

I first became aware of Sonia Marsh when she guest-posted on this blog several years ago. She and her family had left their protected, privileged life in Southern California to experience life in Belize. Upon returning to the states, Sonia endured the end of her marriage and a search for what her life's passion would be. She found it as safari guide to Africa for groups of women. She is truly a gutsy person.

Linda Myers, along with husband, Art, have found a life-altering passion: volunteering at refugee camps in Greece. Some 6,000 miles from their Seattle home, they have found a way to add a special facet to their life journey. She and Art make me want to be a better person.

Barbara Hammond is a loud voice of liberalism. She minces few words in her analysis of the disfunction that consumes Washington. What has inspired me has been her life story: one filled with serious abuse and disappointment. I had the chance to read an advance copy of her soon-to-be-published book. I had to keep reminding myself this was not a work of fiction; it was the true story of someone who endured more than I can even imagine.

Debbie and Michael Campbell, The Senior Nomads, are another couple that left everything behind 5 years ago to travel the world. They are still at it: hundreds of Airbnbs and more than 50 countries later. Their home? Wherever they stop next.

Good friend, Galen Pearl, has had a life that sounds like a Hollywood movie: salmon-fishing in Alaska, several years living in Indonesia, solo backpacking travels to South America, being a law professor, and raising several foster children, including two with special needs. She is one of the most intellectually stimulating people I know. Time spent with her is a fresh reminder of the power of the mind and the power of love.

I have written about friend, RJ Walters, before. He certainly belongs in an example of radical retirement. Besides producing a fresh blog post seemingly every few hours (!) he has spent the last several decades without hearing. In a world that makes any disability a hassle, he has figured out how to live a full and satisfying life. His deafness is not a disability, it is simply part of his life that he deals with.

Here is a good place to add my wife, Betty. She has had a laundry list of physical problems for the last thirty-some years. Most resist medications or pills that she can tolerate. Some days she is so fatigued from the pain that she must nap every few hours. Ye, through it all, she stays actively involved with volunteer work at church and making our adult daughters and grandkids' lives overflowing with crafts and fun and love. After 42 years of marriage I am constantly amazed at her fortitude and good graces. She could have retreated into a shell years ago, but refuses. That makes her radical.

Barb Bomberger has faced and defeated some serious challenges in her life. She has crafted (an intended pun based on her artistic side) a life that is full, satisfying, and richly rewarding to her. I find her story uplifting.

Barbara Torris and husband, Earl, have gone from blogging contacts to real friends over the last several years. They helped inspire Betty and me to try the RV lifestyle for awhile. As snowbirds who live part of the year in Tucson and the rest near Portland, their experiences living in different locations has been the source of several blog posts and helped me see options I had not considered before.

Not restricting my retirement examples just to folks I know, there are countless stories of fellow retirees who take a hobby and turn it into a business, those who decide that this is the perfect time to get a college degree, or volunteer with the Peace Corps or SCORE. Raising a grandchild and being there for an adult child who needs you because of illness, personal crisis, or financial mishaps certainly can qualify as plotting one's own retirement path.

Of course, there are countless blogs and websites for those who view retirement as something that should be accomplished as soon as possible, often within just a dozen years or so of becoming employed. Radical? Yes. Dedicated to a goal? Absolutely. The long term effect of being done with work for 50 years? Who knows. I guess they will find out.

Making a serious effort to cut one's carbon footprint to minimize the impact on a fragile environment, cutting back on possessions and housing, trying to go for a period without buying anything beyond essentials. Radical? To most of us, yes. 

What else makes an individualized, radical retirement?

* volunteering at a place that makes you feel good and helps others.
* taking an online course to get a degree or or satisfy your curiosity.
* caring for foster pets.
* taking part in a book club at the library.
* becoming an expert on British mystery TV shows on Netflix or Britbox.

My point is that any approach to a retirement life, from traveling nonstop for years, to starting a business, volunteering at the library, reading every book by a certain author, becoming an expert on Cary Grant movies, to writing out your family history to share with relatives, is radical. It is radical because only one person in the entire world could pull it off in exactly the way you do.

Let's start 2019 as radicals, dedicated to and celebrating our uniqueness. Retirement is crafted, one day, one decision at a time. And, only you can do it in your own special way.

Celebrate the radical that is you.