October 30, 2020

A LIfe: Before and After Retirement

Awhile back a sermon at church caused me to think not only of the message but also how the points relate to a satisfying retirement. His message was based on Paul's life and his conversion from a hater of Christians to the author of almost one-half of the New Testament. The pastor used two sets of three words to describe Paul's journey. 

Since thinking about blogging and post topics is an ongoing process, I welcomed this burst of connectedness. There are certainly three words that can accurately describe my life before retirement and my existence since.

Before Retirement:

* Angry - I worked with men just before and after their release from prison. Usually, those guys had a lot of anger to deal with. Uncontrolled anger often was what landed them behind bars in the first place. I have seen, firsthand, what unresolved anger can do to someone's life.

In my case, I am not talking about that type of anger. During the last 15 years of my career, I was angry at my feeling of being out of control. I was angry; I was gone from home all the time. I was angry that clients wouldn't listen to my suggestions. I was angry that the house was never "perfect" when I returned home from a road trip.

* Ambitious - There came a point when I was rather well known in my profession. I have a gold record on the wall of my home office given to me as a thank you for a young artist's rise to fame. Within the narrow context of a certain type of music programming, I was a national figure whose presence was sought as a speaker at conventions and group meetings. I helped write a study that changed the face of radio news. One of the major radio networks hired me to tell them how to improve. Radio stations would seek me out. I was receiving large sums of money to tell people what I thought.

With that type of adoration and financial support, I was riding on a wave of hubris (a great word that doesn't get used enough!). I didn't take the time to learn anything new about my industry. I was content to keep repeating the same message and following the same game plan year after year. Eventually, my ambition and pride would catch up with me in a big way and end my ride.

* Unfulfilled - Even with the travel, money, and career fame, I was not happy. I kept thinking that someone would discover I really had no idea what I was talking about. My life revolved around work...no, hold that, I had no life. I had a career and nothing else. There were no hobbies or interests that occupied my occasional off-hours.

The family would take vacations in Hawaii or our condo in Florida, but I'd never relax because I was worried about everything under the sun. Through all this, my incredible wife and two amazing daughters would stand with me and never tell me to my face. I was out of control.

After Retirement:

* Calm
- If you have been reading this blog for a while, you'd probably conclude I am rather happy with my lifestyle. I don't think my writing expresses much anger regularly because I don't really feel any (except when politics gets too stupid to ignore). My life has achieved some sense of balance. I have learned to keep my various activities, interests, and responsibilities in their proper place. It took me many years to figure out that anger is destructive to a person, a relationship, and a future. Anger is all-consuming and counter-productive. This is a work in progress, but there is progress.

* Content
- Sure, there are moments when I worry a bit about our finances or health. The pandemic is not magically going away, it is getting worse...again. My daughters and grandkids and their future are never far from my thoughts. I don't have the type of financial resources I expected to have at this stage of my life.

My lifestyle is simpler and less cluttered than I would have ever pictured for myself. I am happy with much less than I once was. In a word, I am content..content with my place in society, my family, and my life. You know me well enough to know that doesn't mean static. Contentment doesn't mean an end to growth and struggle. It means an end to striving for unrealistic and undesirable goals.

* Fulfilled - I am fulfilled by the way my life has unfolded. I have a woman by my side who has given me over 44 years of her life and means more to me than life itself. I have a family one only dreams of. I am doing what I want, how I want, and when I want. I believe I am loved by a Supreme Being. I have a few friends who I would walk over hot coals for. No matter what the future holds for me, I have a peace and sense of fulfillment that can never be taken away.

Retirement has been very good to me. I wish for you the same.

October 26, 2020

What Books Have You Been Reading?

The post asking whether you prefer to read print or digital versions of books generated many comments. Frankly, I was a bit surprised at how passionate we can be about a book's format. Also, I found some of the comments about audiobooks and how they can be sleep-inducing to some of us completely unexpected.

So, the logical follow-up post is to help each other build a reading list. Printed, digitally downloaded, audiobooks on the computer or CD's, it doesn't matter. Fiction, non-fiction, YA material, biographies, science fiction...What are some of the books you have been reading that you can recommend? Add a short synopsis or even a review if you choose. That will help us focus on the books that should be added to our future must-read list.

I will start. Here is a list of what I have read and enjoyed over the last three months. Clicking the blue link will take you to that book on Amazon. Disclaimer: I will earn a small commission if you actually purchase the book in any format.  If you and I share anything on this list, please add your thoughts to your comments.

*Caste by Isabel Wilkerson  A truly terrifying, eye-opening,  must-read about the history and power of dividing human beings into categories of power and subservience based on race and skin color. You will never again think the same way about our own history.

*The Crow Trap by Anne Cleeves  The first mystery featuring detective Vera Stanhope, the basis of a successful TV series about this woman solving crimes in Northeast England.

*The Moth Catcher by Anne Cleeves  Another in the Vera Stanhope series. 

*The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell  If you live anywhere near any coast, be very, very afraid. The author paints a vivid picture of what will happen to Miami, Venice, New York City, and any place vulnerable to rising sea levels.

*Mirage by Clive Cussler  The plot doesn't really matter. It is just an exciting read by the recently deceased master of adventure tales.

*Assumed Identity by  David Morrell  An undercover agent, a master at assumed identities and personalities, must suddenly become himself. He has forgotten who he is.

*Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell  Based on actual crimes in England in the 1800s, a real-life eccentric, Thomas De Quincey, consumer of huge quantities of opium,  helps solve crimes that baffle the authorities. I also read the other two books in this series, Inspector of The Dead and Ruler of The Night.

*Madame Fourcade's Secret War by Lynne Olson The true story of a woman who headed the largest spy network in occupied France during WWII. For fans of The Alice Network, this would be right up your alley. 

*The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz  A Sherlock Holmes mystery written by a true lover of Arthur Conan Doyle. This "new" Sherlock tale was authorized by the Doyle estate because of the author's faithful recreation of the Holmes-Watson mysteries. 

*The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz  Absolutely fascinating whodunit inside another whodunit. Never read a book with this approach before.

*Frantic Unleased (Part 1) by Missy Palrang Written by a friend of mine, this is a true, powerful, emotionally-wrenching inside look at what the suicide of a loved one can do to the people left behind. This book opened my eyes to a subject that most of us have precious little understanding of. 

*Total Meditation by Deepak Chopra The latest book by this well-known name in meditation and mindfulness circles. This time, he shows how to achieve a state of healing and awareness 24 hours a day and includes weeks of meditation exercises. 

*Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump  Donal Trump's only niece, a trained clinical psychologist, gives some context and backstory to why the man who runs our country is the way he is. Her story is a powerful explanation of the role of family and early experiences in shaping and damaging a life.

So, there is a look at what has been on my end table since last spring. Now, your turn. What can you recommend we read (or avoid)? What books have filled your Covid summer with inspiration, terror, education, or validation? 

October 23, 2020

Are We Done Yet?

Last Friday night set a new record: I saw 5 solid minutes of political ads on one of the channels on Sling, back to back to back: Trump-Biden-Mark Kelly-Martha McSally-Mark Kelly-Trump-Biden-Martha McSally-Mark Kelly. Which ones do you notice? Probably only the ones that support an already-made decision on your part. 

Less than two weeks to go and the avalanche of information, misinformation, exaggeration, mug-slinging, facts, and alternative facts increases daily. Considering an estimated 42 million people have already voted, you have to ask: "Has the horse already left the barn?"

Illegal ballot boxes or virtually no drop off locations at all. Early voting in Georgia produces 11-hour waits. There have been several reports of mislabeled, incorrectly printed, or ballots mailed to the wrong people.

Looking for an escape route? There was an article in Psychology Today a while back that gave ways to navigate the treacherous waters of political and social disagreement without alienating or enraging others. If you are interested, click this link. 

Frankly, I thought the suggestions were fine if arguing whether the Cardinals or Raiders are better football teams, or something equally mundane. But, our cultural conversational skills are too far gone for most of the issues riling us up at the moment to have these common-sense suggestions make any real difference.

Now, someone is likely to comment that the rift between us isn't as bad as the media makes it seem. The fringes are at war, but the majority of us want to live near Mr. Rogers and just be neighbors. After November 3rd we will all become civil again and recognize our common goals while singing kumbaya.

Don't think so.

If you had told me QAnon was a real thing, with hundreds of thousands of believers, I would have assumed you were playing a sick joke on me. Cannibalistic, satan-loving, pedophile, baby-killing deep state government workers are running things? Right. What is the punch line? 

The punch line is us. The joke is on rationality and intelligence. Conspiracy theories thrive on the majority's inability to take seriously such utter nonsense from members of the same human species.

I don't know about you, but I am so ready for this all to end. Of course, all sorts of talking heads say we won't have a definitive answer on the evening of November 3rd. Additional time to count mail-in, absentee, and provisional ballots could take days or even weeks. Expected court challenges to every decision, every result, every T that isn't properly crossed could easily push everything into the new year. 

Just when you thought 2020 couldn't be any worse: a tsunami of new Covid infections are now threatening to wash us all back to total lockdown, run-on-toilet paper days. Unemployment figures are up again, job losses continue to mount. Colleges are going back to online courses as student illnesses set new records. Heavens, even Disneyland seems likely to be shuttered until well into 2021. This fall is going to be downright miserable. 

So, I am just clinging to the edge with my fingernails, waiting for November 4th, and what happens next. We will have done our duty to vote, trusting that eventually, it will count. Even if all the uncertainty comes to pass, the drumbeat of political ads, signs on every corner, and a chicken in every pot promises will stop. And, we will have no debates. Thursday night in Nashville ended that painful exercise. 

Remember 2000 and all those "hanging chads" in Florida that helped determine the next president? Don't be surprised if we look back at the Bush-Gore election as a model of civility and decorum.

Are we done yet? I am ready for someone to stick a fork in it all and say, "Yes."

October 19, 2020

"We Retire From a Job, Not From Life"

Jude, at Dr. Sock Writes Here, wrote the words above as part of her response to a comment I had left on her blog. It really jumped off the page as an important point to emphasize. Especially this year of all years, when everything seems to have been upended, tossed by winds of uncertainty, and mixed with political insanity, we need to remind ourselves of the basic truth Jude states so simply.

Many of us work for several years to set ourselves on a particular career path. It may turn out to be a little convoluted and twisty with occasional false starts and cul-de-sacs. But, there is a method to our madness. We find our footing and spend the next several decades, making our mark, making money, and planning for our future.

Then, at some point, all of that effort and dedication comes to an end. Either perfectly planned or thrust upon us by the fickle finger of fate, what has defined us since our 20's, is no more. The relationships made on the job wind down. The order to our days and weeks is upended. The paycheck or commission that made life possible stops.

We are adrift on a sea we don't quite know how to navigate. We are on a journey with no clearcut direction or markers. Probably for the first time since we were three or four years old, our day-to-day schedule is our own; we must decide how to spend the time between waking and sleeping. It can be somewhat overwhelming.

Suddenly, like the sun breaking through a heavy overcast, we see a way forward. The trail appears before us. Not paved, certainly with rocks and slippery spots, but still a definite direction we start to follow. The retirement journey begins in earnest.

That is when Jude's "we retire from a job, not life" really hits us. The realization that all those years of work, those years dedicated to building something, those years of often putting others' requirements or demands first, have ended. Responsibilities continue, but they are duties we choose to fulfill. 

I have written about this startling shift in a life's direction hundreds of times. But, I am still excited to share the truth of the absolute freedom, openness, opportunities, and control that leaving the world of work in your rearview mirror creates.

If you are not convinced, spend just a little while looking at some of the comments left on many of the posts on Satisfying Retirement. The enthusiasm, welcoming growth with open arms, the sense of burdens lifted off one's shoulders, and the unleashed creativity are quite obvious.

Especially this year, we need to remind ourselves of how blessed we are to enjoy this time of life. I realize we are in the minority; billions struggle to feed themselves or find clean water. Through no fault of their own, millions of fellow citizens in this country find themselves in a financial mess or battling an illness that seemed to come out of nowhere and knows no boundaries.

Anything we can personally do to make some of these dreadful circumstances better for others should be near the top of our list. As the quote that started this post makes clear: we do not retire from life or the necessity of helping others. With time and energy under our command, we can do something to help.

Retirement is a privilege that requires us to fully embrace the possibilities and the power of our status. It is not a time of life to mourn what was, but to open our arms to what can be.

October 15, 2020

Books: Printed or Digital?

Saying anything positive about the pandemic experience seems wrong. Over 200,000 dead, millions unemployed, tens of thousands of local businesses gone forever...it is hard to put a positive spin on the last seven months, and probably the foreseeable future.

So, I understand the question posed by this post is not important in the grand scheme of things. Even so, it is one I think you might have some thoughts to contribute, so here goes.

One of the ways many of us have spent the last half-year plus is by reading more. With all this extra time at home, it is safe and socially acceptable. Plus, you can sit in your favorite easy chair without a mask and enjoy it.

Personally, I am always a voracious consumer of the printed word. It is unusual for there not to be two or three books in various stages of completion lying about the house. But, since March, I am outdoing myself. As I type this, five books are sitting by the sofa and the easy chair.

Bookmarks show the progress through each. The library texts me when one is about due so I can return or renew it. And, the twelve reading options on my library hold list are just waiting to be picked up when they (and I) are ready.

Every one of these reading choices is a printed version of the material. I own a Kindle and use it to keep my reading need fulfilling when on vacation or when something is only available in digital form. But, it is not my preference at all. I want to hold something in my hand,  turn each page, and mark my progress with a colorful marker.

I even enjoy seeing an occasional penciled note that someone has randomly (and quite rudely) added to the margins. Is that a coffee stain, maybe a slightly greasy fingermark from potato chips? Do those page edges look like they were once dampened and have dried with a wavy look?

None of these secret, forbidden bonuses happen with an electronic version. Those are every bit as sterile and unmarked as one would expect from a computer. Sure, the text size is probably adjustable, highlighting is both possible and encouraged, and it is easy to add an electronic placeholder to know where to start again.

Even so, I am a print guy. I will always be a print guy. I volunteer at the library just so I know when new books have arrived...well, not entirely true, but partly. Considering how often I am picking up or returning material, I probably should have my own parking spot.

This is a good place to take a little detour into the world of audiobooks. Unlike ebooks, which are actually declining in sales, audiobook versions are booming. Hard copy (printed) sales continue to dominate the book world, but audiobooks are increasingly popular. The combination of sound and word can be powerful inducements.

When we were RVing, we would listen to audiobooks as we drove. The combination of a first-rate narrator, some sound effects, and music, plus using different voices to indicate character changes, made a good audio-book a tremendous way to pass the miles between campgrounds.

But, since coming off the road, I am back to holding a book in my hand. I will listen to some podcasts that cover subjects in which I am interested. But, audio-books just don't hold my attention as well as the printed word. I find it too easy to have my mind drift away from the book presentation if someone is reading to me.

So, here I am, comfortably stuck in a bygone age, sniffing books and enjoying my time between the pages.

How about you? Boxers or briefs...no, no, wrong subject. Printed or digital? Audio-books? How do you prefer your literary works delivered? Honestly, you aren't likely to change my mind, but I will love the read the answers ...because they are words appearing on a page!

October 12, 2020

How Covid Might Affect Our Retirement FInances

If you are one of the tens of millions who have lost their job, or found their hours and pay cut because of the Covid attack, the answer is obvious: retirement may not be possible in the foreseeable future. With predictions ranging from two to five years before the economy is back to it's pre-virus state, the odds of that old job coming back quickly are not good. The unemployment rate will remain well above historical standards.

With the massive shift to work at home in virtually every industry, is it unreasonable to assume some of the perks that once came with a job will take a hit? Companies might find that even medical insurance can be reduced under the argument that they can't be responsible for accidents or sicknesses you pick up at home.

With so many working from home, what about all the businesses that depended on buildings filled with workers to support them...coffee shops, restaurants, delivery services, office supply stores?

All that means the money that was destined to be saved, invested, or otherwise made available for retirement will not be there. The best scenario? Your retirement is delayed for a few years. The worst? Retirement is not likely to be an option.

For those already retired, the outlook is also a little unclear. There are a few storm clouds that we should not ignore:

Social Security and Medicare will remain under siege. With a 3 trillion dollar deficit, the government cannot continue on the path of borrowing unheard-of sums forever. Whether they admit it or not, the mound of debt will have to be dealt with. The pandemic has made things worse. Trillions of stimulus dollars coupled with massively reduced tax income are creating a perfect financial storm that is not about to magically go away. 

Unthinkable as a target even ten years ago, Social Security and Medicare are not immune to cuts to begin to reign in our financial mess. Talk of reduced benefits, means-based distributions, and delays in when one can take advantage of these critical elements of virtually everyone's future is not restricted to behind closed doors, but being talked about in the open.

Housing prices are rising rapidly right now.  If you are ready for a smaller home or decide it is time to move to a CCRC, the high home prices are in your favor. No one knows for sure, but the consensus is things will stay hot for the next year or so.

Because we are spending so much time confined to our living space,  there is a noticeable surge in major upgrade projects of homes. If you plan on spending several more years in that dwelling you should be OK when it is time to sell. On the other hand, if your future holds a move in the next few years, these projects may be risky. At some point, we will face the inevitable housing pricing downturn. The cyclical nature of our economy guarantees it. How soon today's hot market will last is unknown. 

And, just as an aside, I wonder if an at-home space dedicated to working will become as important as that third bedroom, dining room, or large family room? A space for working remotely might become a must-have for many buyers. 

Interest rates remain unable to keep up with even minimal inflation. My original retirement plans included investments generating a good part of my yearly living expenses, as well as allowing those investments to grow. That scenario died several years ago. CD rates at 1%? Bank savings accounts at .05%? 

Greater growth percentages are available in other ways, like stocks, bonds,  but they carry substantially more risk and have no promise of stability.

Medical costs, particularly prescription drug prices remain stubbornly out of control. Politicians talk about controlling costs during election season, but too often that is the end of it. As long as our medical system is primarily built on the backs of a for-profit system, people's wellbeing will always come after the bottom line is taken care of.

At some point, the massive U.S. deficit will have to be faced and dealt with. That means higher taxes and/or reduced services. As noted above we cannot sustain a multi-trillion dollar deficit without a societal cost.

The trickle-down economic theory will not die even though it has been proven, time and time again, to be pure fantasy. The "trickling" stops with the wealthiest members of our society.

No one likes to pay taxes, but isn't that part of what our society, our country, is built on? Have we not agreed that we, the citizens, will contribute to the maintenance and protection of ourselves through the group effort of taxation? 

Who exactly will pay for road maintenance, airports, educational systems, military protection, the safety of electric and water distribution? Who will (in theory) protect us from disease and products that might harm or kill us? 

The answer is obvious: only the federal system has the resources to perform these necessary functions. States can barely keep school doors open or have enough money for fire protection. Can you imagine what our infrastructure would look like if left to individual states? What New York or California can afford would be pure fantasy for Wyoming or Iowa or New Mexico (to name just three).

We must have a tax system that asks the well-off to pay their fair share: not $750 or finding every loophole and pushing the tax code to its breaking point. We must provide actual incentives for working people to save for retirement. In the long run, such restructuring will make retirement years more stable and productive for everyone.

This is not an exhaustive list of how what has happened, and what might occur for the rest of 2020 that could affect our retirement finances and what our post-work world looks like. So, I encourage you to add your thoughts. It seems rather apparent that this virus has fundamentally changed our world. For how long, and in what ways, are the questions we really can't answer yet.

But, it would be foolish to ignore what may happen and not make reasonable preparations. 

October 9, 2020

Being A Sticker

Recently I read an article that referred to a person being a sticker. I stopped reading for a second, thinking the author meant to write, a stickler, as in someone who insists on high quality, like a stickler for detail.

But, no, he  (or she, I don't remember) meant what he wrote: this individual is a sticker. Meaning he sticks to a belief even in the face of adversity, obstacles, or active pushback. She is determined to "sticks to her guns." 

Ignoring the firearm reference, this says someone doesn't waver in the face of opposition. The path is his choice; he moves forward to a goal regardless.

I like that description of a personality trait. It resonates with me now, for a few reasons. Firstly, the turmoil we are in as a society will not find lasting solutions if at least some of us aren't stickers.

 It is easy to be riled up about perceptions of injustice. Covid-19 has mutated into a test of political will; it is no longer a disease but a statement of political beliefs, manliness, and freedom. Racial unrest and protesting are reflections of deeper problems that have been with us since the country's founding.

Police overreach can be the result of an over-reliance on the concept of law and order. It becomes a condition that must be maintained at all costs, as long as the majority are protected from real or perceived threats to normalcy.

The power to police, to enforce society's rules is crucial to a functioning society. Anyone who wants to "defund" the police totally, is living in a fantasy world. But, having limits, constraints, and the procedures to ensure all laws and enforcements are handled without bias or excess is the key point. Insisting on these restraints is a legitimate role for a sticker.

Then, broadening the sticker idea a bit, I believe retirement requires being "sticky."  We are confronted with more decisions and opportunities than during our working days. Our fate is much more under our control, and that can be a good thing. Our time and resources are ours to do with what we will. We have learned how to say "No" when asked to do something that doesn't fit our desires. We adjust our finances based on whatever craziness is going on in the markets and the economy.

On the flip side, retirement also means we can be a "sticker" when we shouldn't. Insisting on a particular way of life, economic behavior, or other self-chosen direction even when it proves to be ineffective or no longer what is best, gets us into trouble. Insisting on doing something because "that's the way I have always done it," or, "it was good enough for mom and dad" is a self-defeating type of sticker.

"Being a sticker" is an interesting way to describe what a life might be. Also, it is a realistic description because being one can be both a good thing or one that leaves you repeating old mistakes and "sticking" to outmoded beliefs.

I will freely admit I am a sticker, both to my benefit, and my detriment. I guess my challenge is to decide which of my behaviors and beliefs are which.

And you?

October 5, 2020

What Are You Doing To Keep Boredom Away?

We are into our seventh month of pandemic upheaval. Thinking back, 2020 started off well. Betty and I had plans for some once-in-a-lifetime vacations. Everyone's health was good, the economy was setting new records. Leaving the house with a mask? That's only for those who suffer from a serious illness. 

Fast forward to October and all those early year positive signs and normal behavior have been dumped in the waste can. There is no need to recount them all. Suffice it to say, 2020 will not be my favorite year, though certainly one of the more memorable ones.

A friend, who is also a loyal reader (it happens!), asked me to give everyone the opportunity to share ideas that may help all of us continue our slog through these troubled times. Her request was to ask what hobbies, passions, or new interests you have found to help cope with social and mental isolation. What are some of the things you are doing today that you weren't doing several months ago, or at least not as intently?

Maybe a lifelong pursuit has taken on new importance. You have the time and enforced solitude to spend more time with that passion. How about something new? Learning a new language, taking a stab at knitting, or watercolor painting? There is plenty of time to reorganize room in your home to make the environment reflect your personality at this stage of life. Downsizing possessions? Go for it.

Cooking? I know several folks who have rediscovered they own a kitchen and what can be made in it. 

Gardening? There is real satisfaction in watched that tomato plant produce something for your salads. Sanding down that old nightstand and refinishing it with a warm mahogany stain. Never time for that before now.

This year has forced upon us a heightened sense of what we can do or try. Our mind wants to distance itself from so many problems and disappointments. We hatch new ideas, make plans both large and small, and rededicate ourselves to making the best of this unexpected gift of extra time.

With that setup, it is now your turn. What are you doing right now that really excites you?  What is it that gets you out of bed, fired up and ready to make the day both interesting and pleasurable, even if you don't feel comfortable stepping foot outside the door? 

Tell us...........

October 2, 2020

Offering Retirement Advice and Having Much of It Questioned!

Goodness, it has been a long time since my wife and I were profiled in Money Magazine and on CNN.Com. In fact, it is so long ago, Money is no longer being published, though a digital version is available. I know there are lots of new readers who didn't see this when it was first published. I thought you'd enjoy it today. 

The messages still apply, but the rather snarky pushback I received was not quite as common as it is today. Nothing like a good dose of hate mail to brighten your day!

In one of my braver moments, I decided to look at the comments left on the CNNMoney.com web site about my retirement advice that is also available in October's Money Magazine.

As I expected, many of the comments were negative, some downright hostile. There is something about the Internet that can bring out less than the best in people. In this case, instead of seeing if there is anything to be learned from the experiences of others, many of those who left their thoughts decided to use rudeness and draw incorrect conclusions.

The good news is, I didn't take any of it personally. Human nature is such that we all like to tear down someone else who does something we can't or haven't. It also gave me some quotes that I can use to try and set the record straight. So, here are a few of the quotes and my responses:

"What are they doing for health care? Obviously, none of these people has health insurance or ever goes to the doctor."

 I can't speak for all the other couples in the article, but our situation was pretty clearly spelled out:  We spend 33% of our total yearly income on health care. Betty and I have been on the individual market virtually our entire married life. Except for 4 years early on, we have never been covered by health insurance through work. We do skip or delay some treatments that aren't essential because of the cost. When safe to do so we usually split pills in half to keep prescriptions costs under control.

We both have regular physicals, see the dermatologist yearly, get new glasses every two years, and see a dentist twice a year. Betty gets new hearing aids as required. We have very high deductible health insurance that keeps premiums under control but that means we pay for most everything out of pocket. Betty has several health challenges that she manages the best she can by knowing as much about her problems and treatments as any doctor she deals with.

Are there people who pay a lot more? Sure there are. The article didn't say everyone in America can be exactly like us. It gave a snapshot of our situation so others could decide if they are better or worse off in certain areas.  But to assume we never go to the doctor and still leave a satisfying retirement is kind of silly.

"You can't use the phrase 'low-cost retirement' and Scarsdale, NY in the same sentence."

There was a woman profiled who actually did live in Scarsdale and is living well in retirement on not much money.  Scottsdale isn't exactly low-rent either but we are making it work. Of course, some places are more expensive than others but we choose to live here for all the reasons listed in the article. If someone is living in an expensive community then logic dictates that will be part of the financial calculation to develop a plan for retirement. Could we live on less money somewhere else? Probably. But family, church, and friends are too important. It is part of the cost of retirement we are willing to bear.

"How do you save money like that with the average American living paycheck to paycheck?" 

The implication in the question is that you can't. I would respond that the median income for Americans is over $46,000 a year (more than we live on in high-rent Scottsdale). That average American family is carrying a $15,000 credit card debt, at least one car loan, a hefty first mortgage, and very likely a home equity loan. They are living paycheck to paycheck because they are overextended, over their heads in debt, and unwilling to delay gratification.

If your income situation is much more modest, then saving is a real problem. I am not minimizing the mess the economy has made of millions of lives. But, in that situation you are not likely to be anticipating retirement anytime soon which of course, was the focus of the article. 

"Don't they (the magazine) do articles on folks with a nest egg of $50,000 or less?  

If someone has less than $50,000 in a nest egg and is even thinking about retirement, they are in deep denial. The terrifying fact is the average American at age 50 does have just $50,000 set aside for retirement. That person has no legitimate hope of retiring, unless they want to attempt to survive on a typical monthly social security check of less than $1,200 (before deductions for Medicare).

What worries me the most about the tone of some of the "comments" left on the web site is the obvious lack of grasp of reality and what needs to be done to achieve one's goals. There is an undercurrent of looking to blame others for a lack of planning, of sacrifice, and of common sense.

The sad, horrible fact is that way too many of our fellow citizens will never be able to experience a truly satisfying retirement. For many, that reality is not due to any failure on their part. They are being passed over and trod underfoot by the way our world operates now. Their future is bleak. It should bother us tremendously.

But, the other side of that coin is that many millions could experience a tremendously gratifying retirement experience. But, they are not willing to take personal responsibility for the choices they make today that directly impact their future tomorrow.

Retirement is all about choices. Make the right ones and a satisfying retirement can be yours.

More from the Money Magazine photoshoot

Note: The interview and having a photo crew at our house all morning was an interesting experience. I hope more people today have a better grasp on what retirement requires than some did in 2011.

September 28, 2020

Childhood memories: Which Ones Do You Treasure

The last post asked you to think about what you have to be thankful for in a rather miserable year. I hope some fresh thinking allowed you to dwell on some of some positives. Frankly, the comments helped me find some new light during a dark time.

This time, it might be fun to remember a time that wasn't bombarded by all sorts of nasty, adult-type news: your childhood. As summer comes to an end, I have been thinking of some of the more powerful childhood memories that defined this season of the year. Especially this year, thinking about good things helps us get through the uncertainty ahead.

My grandparents owned a 36-acre plot of land about an hour north of Pittsburgh. We called it "The Farm" even though nothing was planted or harvested, except memories. From the time I was four until an early teen, I spent two weeks every summer here with my parents, brothers, uncle, and grandparents. Some fifty-five years later, that time is still nothing but golden memories for me.

For a child of today, the conditions would seem unbearable. There was no electricity or running water. Cooking was done on a substantial wood-burning stove or over a fire pit. The bathroom was a rickety outhouse down a path. Water was pumped from a well.

A weekly bath involved heating buckets of water on the stove and dumping them into a large tin bathtub in the living room, not too far from the fireplace, which was also the only source of heat in that two-story house. The second-floor bedrooms could get rather nippy overnight, but no matter, we just piled on extra blankets.

Kerosene lamps were used after to dark keep downstairs pleasant. The adults read, played cards, or talked. My brothers and I would play with simple toys or listen to the stories my uncle would tell. Upstairs, a flashlight was the light source if a trip to the privy was required. I remember falling asleep listening to squirrels (or something small) run around in the attic above my head.

I would awake each morning to the smell of my grandfather boiling coffee and frying bacon over the outside fire pit. Coffee grounds and cold water would be dumped together in a pot and placed over the fire. Eventually, a robust smelling brew would be passed around to the adults to jump-start their mornings. The younger set settled for orange juice and cereal from the icebox (with a real block of ice).

Days were spent sitting under the large trees listening to the adults talk. Obviously, there was no television and only a battery-operated radio, so days were filled with conversation. I remember my grandfather had an outbuilding that was packed to the rafters with old tools and all the things needed to maintain the property. Being the oldest, occasionally, I was allowed inside the shed to watch him built or repair something with tools that probably came from his father.

My uncle was our primary source of entertainment. Not only did he tell great stories but helped us "improve" the land. Each summer, we would plan for some paths through the woods and fields all over the property and then proceed to lightly trim a path. We gave them names, like Lowry Lane or Munn Boulevard. Of course, each summer, these paths had to be rebuilt, but that didn't seem to bother us. The hard work kept us busy and produced tired little boys each evening.

Near the end of each year's stay, we would have our big adventure: walking to the small town of Mars for ice cream cones. Since it was five miles from the farm, for the first several years, we only made it part of the way. After an hour of trudging down the dirt roads with mom and dad alongside us, grandad would pull up in his car, pick us up, and take us to the general store for ice cream. Each year he'd tell us how far we had managed to walk in the allotted time.

Finally, when I was probably eleven or twelve, we managed to walk all the way to town before being picked up. We were so proud, though we were happy to accept a ride back.

Over the past several years, as close as I could get to the experience of the farm was RV travel. The campgrounds satisfied my need to be surrounded by nature. The freedom of rolling down a back road reminded me, for just a moment, of the walk for ice cream down a dirt road near Mars, Pennsylvania.

Mom and I salute the flag on the 4th of July at The Farm

What childhood memories come to mind for you?

September 24, 2020

The Summer That Wasn't: What Do I Have To Be Thankful For?

I have survived the last six months of Covid with my sanity and budget intact. For us desert dwellers, summer is always the toughest season, this year even more so. Normally, we have some diversions: movies in a chilly theater, plays, concerts, museums, restaurants, baseball games inside Chase Field. But, a quick review: closed, closed, closed, closed, closed, no fans. Vacations in cooler places? Nope.

The weather has started its agonizingly slow march toward more human-like temperatures. As I type this the next few days are predicted to be only about 100 or so. Some of the places and the events listed above are starting to spring back to life. Time in the backyard and walks around the neighborhood or nearby parks are only a few weeks away. Fall officially started a few days ago; the desert southwest is always slow to accept that fact. 

How about I focus, for just the next few hundred words, on the parts of my life that have been satisfying in an otherwise bummer of a year. Especially with the political nightmare that is building to some sort of climax in a little over a month, I could use a reminder of the little successes and pluses of everyday life. 

Miles and miles of hiking trails are just a few minutes away. I live within 10 minutes of three parks, just waiting for us (and the dog!) to enjoy a picnic under a tree, or simply sit and read while soaking up the sounds of nature.  

There isn't a weekend from early October until May that doesn't have at least a few festivals or special events somewhere in the Valley of the Sun. I just have to make a little effort to enjoy something different.

I am thankful my 11 year old car is still running well. The car was bought for cash so there has never been a payment. The air conditioner blows cold air in the summer and heat in the winter. It remains dependable and still has less than 95,000 miles on it. We did plan on replacing it with a more efficient hybrid last March but...

I am thankful for my hobbies and interests. After 19 years of retirement, I haven't run out of things to do. Guitar playing, oil painting (Thank you Bob Ross!) and ham radios keep me busy. Music on Spotify and old vinyl records with a turntable to play them have been a blessing. In the next three or four weeks, we will replant all the pots on the back porch and around the yard with six month's worth of color.

I have been able to read more in the past several months than in the last several years. Some of that is because there are not many options; otherwise, I love books and enjoy reading, especially murder mysteries and historical fiction.

We have a bird feeder in the back yard. Most months of the year there are winged visitors, eating up the seeds almost as quickly as I can replace them. Birds in our area aren't as colorful as other parts of the world, but they add their songs to my day. 

I have been married for over 44 years, to someone who is my opposite: we hold different opinions on many topics; as we get older I have noticed she is much less hesitant to point out when my thoughts are "wrong." But, we are committed to each other with full trust and love. I can't imagine how difficult the Covid lockdown would be like with someone who gets under your skin or is negative or unsupportive.

I am thankful that both of us enjoy the simpler things in life. We like finding a bargain at a second-hand furniture store. We get excited when we can re-purpose an old dresser or chair into a conversation piece for the house or yard. When flea markets reopen we will be there.

I am extremely thankful that my immediate family is close by, all feeling well, and enjoys spending time together. Our Sunday meals together are simple and satisfying. My youngest daughter's industry (business incentive travel) shut down in March. That is a bad thing. But, it has meant she is home instead of always on the road. We have spent more time together than at any time I can remember. 

A restaurant meal doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to offer us the time and place to be together, away from our own kitchen.

All of us, me included, tend to focus on the big stuff of life, this year in particular. But, isn't it the little things that make up a life that determines your mood. Did you do things that allow you to go to bed at night feeling satisfied with the day? The overall character of your satisfying retirement will be better. 

September 20, 2020

Where Are The Good Repair People?

After the post about higher education prompted several comments about the viability of a trade career, I thought the time was right to bring back this post from eight years ago. I have freshened it a bit to relate recent problems, but the bulk of the post remains unchanged.

Finding dependable repair people is not easy. Places like Angie's List, Yelp, or Google reviews may give us a starting point, but I take those writeups with a heavy dose of caution. I used to depend on friends or neighbors for ideas, but they tend to be as lost as I.

For the last six months, I have had a few auto repair disappointments when my long time favorite sold to a new company. Late last year, we contracted with a handyman to fix a closet door. He never showed up.

Our ice maker has been out of service since March; I am very hesitant to have someone come traipsing into our home while the virus is still a deadly concern. And, even when I finally feel it is safe, it will be a crapshoot to find someone who won't rip me off. He (or she) will see an old guy and figure they can tell me anything, even though I am pretty sure it is the water input valve. 

Seriously, have our standards really fallen this low? Have all the people who are good at repairing problems around the home retired? Since there hasn't been much work for the last several months, have all the home contractors forgotten how to do their job? My wife and I have just about given up on finding anybody, at any price, coming from any source, who knows what they are doing or committed to doing it well. This lack of skilled workers is starting to mess with our satisfying retirement.

At one point we had a handyman come to the house to repair and re-tile a portion of a bath. He and his "helper" mis-cut the green board but put it up anyway. Then he proceeded to put so much adhesive on the tiles that they stuck out a good 1/8 of an inch from the undamaged tile. He left enough gaps in the grout and caulking to defeat the purpose of the repair job. To make sure we really appreciated his work, he got the rows of tile crooked. The effort was so sloppy we had him rip out half the tiles he had just installed. Against our better judgment, he promised to return the next weekend to finish the job. Of course, he never showed up, nor did he answer his phone. The only good news? He didn't get paid.

During that same period, we decided to install a new toilet in the same bathroom. It was purchased from one of the big box stores, along with an extra fee to have it installed. The day of the installation arrived, and the plumber appeared at our door right on time. That was the last good thing that would happen. He took one look at the old toilet and said he couldn't help us. The old toilet had a line of grout between it and the tile. He said he was not allowed to even attempt to cut the grout for fear of damaging the tiles. If we cut the grout ourselves or hired a tile man (see above!) to loosen the toilet, he would come back to install the new one.

Even though he was more than 6 feet tall and at least 250 pounds, I suggested in words and tone that were probably not appropriate for a good Christian man that he get out of my house...NOW. After storming up to the store and ranting about the poor quality of "professionals" they used, I got my money back for the installation. The new toilet is still sitting in the upstairs hallway.

Before moving out of one of our previous homes five years ago, we had a contractor install wooden steps in place of the worn-out carpet. Not cheap by any means, his crew was sloppy enough we had to retouch the stain and the paint on virtually every step and support. Half the stairs squeaked because they had been cut incorrectly, so they were taken out, re-cut, and reinstalled, which resulted in more marred paint. As a final insult, one man cut the carpeting upstairs wrong, so there is a nice rip in the rug. 

Go back 4 months before that, and another two men, with good references, did such a crappy job painting the inside of the house that my wife (primarily) and me (a little) spent almost a week afterward applying touch-ups to the places they missed or over-painted. 

You get the picture. No matter how we search and research, what passes for quality work is not. It is average, marginal, or substandard. The people doing the work are always baffled when told what they have done doesn't meet our expectations. They genuinely believe the type of performance cited above is suitable.

So, what are we to do? Things will need to be repaired, fixed, painted, or replaced. We can't just stop all maintenance. After thoughtful consideration of our options, I have decided to go to a technical college and be trained as a handyman.

No..that isn't the choice we made. I am fortunate to be married to a woman who enjoys tackling projects that many people wouldn't touch. She may not have ever replaced tile before, but as this picture shows, there she is, in the bathroom repairing the mess made by the handyman and learning as she goes.

Guess what...when finished, it will be better than anyone else could or would do because she has pride in her work and will do it until it is perfect.

She has decided we will replace the toilet. Our wooden front door is badly worn and starting to crack. With a replacement door costing almost $3,000 or a refinishing of the current one nearly $2,300, Betty has said we will do it ourselves. We will take the door down, sand it, wood putty the cracks, sand it again, and then paint it. The sidelight panel will have a similar treatment. Our cost will probably be less than $300.

We have remodeled the powder room downstairs, including ripping out the counter, refinishing the cabinet, repairing tears in the drywall, and faux-finishing the walls. She has built a three-level rock waterfall in one of our backyards and a brick accent wall in the front yard. I could cite a dozen more examples, but the bottom line is: I trust her to do a better job at virtually anything we need to have done (minus biggies like a new roof or repainting the house) than anyone we could hire.

She shouldn't have to do all this. Yes, on one level, she enjoys the hard work. But, it takes away from things she would rather be doing and wastes time spent on cleaning up after others. Unfortunately, with the current state of sloppy, uncaring, or under-trained repair people dominating the marketplace, we have been burned too many times to trust again.

This post is not a good example of what makes a satisfying retirement lifestyle. But, it is an accurate representation of what homeowners face today. 

The last tile fits!

Bring back apprentice programs and incentives for those handy with tools to produce quality workmanship!

September 17, 2020

Shifting Priorities

Over the ten year life of Satisfying Retirement, I have written a lot about changes, both mine and yours. In most cases, they are essential adjustments, discovering new passions and interests, working after retirement, how to 'survive" being home with your spouse or partner all day...things that take effort and work. These changes usually come as a result of understanding more completely the consequences of no action, or habitual behavior that produces unsatisfactory results.

In some cases, what happens is a shift in priorities. What seemed very important is now less so. Either we change, or our circumstances do. What are some examples of shifting priorities? Let me count the ways!

Worrying about Retirement Finances: Like most new retirees, this concern was probably #1 on my worry list when I stopped working. No matter how many times I crunched the numbers, there was a nagging fear, I forgot something important. There was no way I was prepared correctly.

Almost twenty years later, this fear has completely disappeared from my priority list. In fact, I would guess that this particular concern was not terribly worrisome after four years of retirement. That doesn't mean that some economic bump or stone wall isn't in front of us.

But, after weathering everything the economy could throw at us over two decades, we trust our ability to survive and stay happy. Of course, we have made cutbacks and adjustments to our expenses and plans. But, those changes actually fit our current lifestyle very nicely. I am not naive, just confident in our ability to weather any storm.

How I Spend My Free Time. I love to read. Retirement provides many hours a day to indulge in this pleasure. While working, I had little time to simply pick up a book or two (or three) and clear the time to dive in. That is no longer the case. I read at least one book a week, with usually two or three different genres going at once (historical fiction, non-fiction, murder mystery, spiritual)

Our backyard is an enjoyable place to be. Enough plants and trees, grass for the dog to run and play, colorful pots with flowers in bloom for 7 months of the year, and a small fountain fashioned out of an old pump and basin that adds the cooling sound of falling water all help draw me outside. However, in one important sense, I have noticed a priority change in the last three or four years. In the past, I would be sure all the pots were filled to the brim with flowers in full bloom, even in the summer, when it is hard to keep things from burning up. Plants would be trimmed every week, and weeds would never live to see a second day.

But, now, my priority is to enjoy what we have even if almost all pots remain barren during the heat of summer. Weeds are noticed here and there, and I don't obsess about them. A few patches of grass are kind of barren; the sprinklers don't provide full coverage. Spending hundreds of dollars to fix that deficiency doesn't seem worth it. Maintenance has taken a back seat to enjoyment.

Time in Nature. We live in a part of the country that experiences very few natural disasters. Tornadoes, earthquakes, mudslides, blizzards, or ice storms are virtually unknown to the Phoenix area. Our winters are mild and benign. While forest fires can be deadly in parts of Arizona, Phoenix is safe from the type of disaster that the West Coast is living through.

Of course, searing summer heat of 100+ for five months can be deadly if you aren't prepared. But, after seeing pictures of the damage from tornadoes or Hurricanes like Laura just caused,  I'll take hot anytime.

Like many Phoenicians, I tend to spend a lot of time inside. Over the last few years, I have begun to force myself outside more often. Embracing nature a bit more have affected my attitude. I also enjoy being in the sunshine and fresh air. At 71, I know I don't have an endless future. The ability to enjoy outside is now. This priority is rising rapidly. 

Staying Up To Date On World Events. Partly because of my job and somewhat because I liked to stay in touch, I used to be a news and current affairs, junkie. Two daily newspapers, a dozen different magazines, an hour or two of CNBC a day, and another hour surfing the Internet keep me on top of what was happening in the world. I was stimulated and engaged by following everything so closely.

I don't know if this is a function of retirement or simple burnout of the current political craziness,  but I find myself much less interested in following all of that. I am aware of the big stories of the day. It is impossible to not be mindful of the dysfunctionality of the U.S. government and polarization. 

Not consuming all the information like I once did doesn't mean I am in the dark. I just find it more beneficial to read the analysis or maybe someone's thoughts on what a particular event means to the big picture. 

In switching most of that input off, my attitude, happiness, and ability to develop other interests have increased dramatically. The point is not that staying looped into news and information is a mistake. It is that my priorities shifted, and I was able to drop something that had been an integral part of my life and swap it out for other things.

Retirement isn't the only time of life when you find yourself making changes. That happens continuously, whether you are 8 or 80. The important message is to recognize when something is no longer feeding you what you need and change your diet. It is much too easy to become stuck in a rut and settle for consistency. It is counterproductive to stick with a priority in your life after it is no longer a real priority.

Retirement is about finding  new peaks to scale

September 13, 2020

Is College Right For Everyone?

My alma mater: Syracuse University 
A while ago, I was contacted by a fellow who works for an Internet training company. The CEO had just posed a provocative question on their web site. The question asked was whether a college education is worth the money. Is there enough of a return on the investment of tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars for everyone who goes?

The author, Dave Dunn, cited figures that projected the costs of sending his three children to private colleges several years into the future. The totals were over $1,000,000. He used that million-dollar figure to raise the issue.

Aside from the obvious fact that no one has to go to the most expensive private universities (unless on a full scholarship!), his point is still one that we, as parents and grandparents should ask. The mess that has become the college loan industry has been in the news. We are probably quite aware that the cost of college education, even at a state-run university, averages close to $40,000 for in-state students, and $100,000 for out-of-state attendees. Triple that for a top-flight Ivy League or private college, and there is serious money involved.

Now, with Covid shutting campuses, or forcing them to operate partially on-line, the question becomes more relevant. I have not read that any universities are cutting costs for a less-than-normal experience. Maybe dorm charges are not being enforced, but higher learning institutes are suffering a tremendous loss during the pandemic, so who knows.

When I was in high school, it was expected that everyone who could afford to do so would go to four years of college after graduation. For those with limited means, two-year junior colleges (now community colleges) were an option. Technical schools were available for those with mechanical interests. But, in my neighborhood of suburban Boston, college was simply a given.

As post-high school education became increasingly expensive, folks began to ask the question: is college right and necessary for everyone? Well, for some professions like doctor or lawyer, the answer was, and remains, yes. But, how about for other careers or job paths? How many require a four-year degree versus shorter, specialized training and experience? How many of us actually used a lot of what we learned for those expensive four years?

Betty's school: West Virginia University
For this post, I raise the question because grandparents are sometimes asked for help in sending a grandchild to college, or of their own volition, establish a college fund for a child's child.

If the money is available, is college always the best option? Do we accept that a high school graduate may leave college already seriously in debt?

As the graduate of a well respected private university, I will add two thoughts:

1) I have freely admitted that the money my parents spent on me was largely wasted. I had decided on my career path while barely a teenager. My chosen profession did not require a college education. During my last two years, I worked almost full time at a radio station in town, learning my craft and improving my future prospects. My college classes were an interruption. In my case, college was somewhat wasted on the young.

2) I wish I could have gone to college when I was older. I would have possessed the maturity and intellectual curiosity to have made full use of what college is meant to do: teach one to think and learn critically and independently. 

Continuing one's education after high school is essential for the development of many of the skills for success in our technologically oriented world. High School graduates face a daunting task to survive and thrive. When used to its fullest, those extra years of schooling can be a building block to a full and satisfying life.

But, with college education becoming something that is being priced out of reach of all but the well-to-do, we should ask if a traditional college is always the best choice. And, as grandparents, whether we pay part of the bill or not, we should ask if a four-year institution is in the best interests of the young adult.

What do you think? How critical is that diploma? Is the amount of debt often required justified?

What about on-line schools (even during non-Covid times) degrees, where most of the work is done, at home, with only limited classroom time required? Technical colleges are readily available for virtually any career choice. Community colleges have developed well past just being a feeder system for four-year schools. 

Is the time away at school vital in one's development as an adult? Is it more than just classes and study?

Your feedback is encouraged.