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.


Banks:
  • 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.

Insurance:
  • Car and homeowners policies? Who is the agent?
  • Health Insurance information and policies, customer service numbers, limitations or restrictions, keeping premiums current?
Investments:
  • 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 

Taxes: 

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.