November 27, 2020

Running Low on Money: Part of Retirement?

 This type of question is e-mailed to me rather frequently:

"How do you manage your finances so that you make sure that you do not run out of money?"

If you are retired or looking forward to this next phase of your life, that is a question you have asked yourself. Everybody asks this question. Regardless of how well you have planned or how well you think you are positioned for life without a regular paycheck, you wonder and worry. I am 19 years into my retirement lifestyle, and I still ask this question on occasion, though much less often.

Here is the unfortunate reality: there is no way to make sure you do not run out of money. We live in an inter-connected world. What happens in China or Europe can have a straightforward impact on our financial status. Obviously, whatever wind is blowing, the folks in Washington blow through your life. Decisions in your state capital and even local government mandates are not without consequences.

The days when most of us lived on a farm or in a small, self-contained community where we were much more in control of our own financial destiny are gone and never coming back. We are at the mercy of many forces that we cannot control or even predict with much accuracy.

So, as we move through or try to plan for retirement, we are really in a Catch 22 situation. I like part of Wikipedia's definition: A Catch-22 often result from rules, regulations, or procedures that an individual is subject to but has no control over.

So, what's a conscientious person to do?  Simply, the best we can with what we have available. Over the past few years, I have written several posts that deal with the importance of taking personal responsibility for our financial well-being. Here are a few excerpts from a couple of those posts: 

"Financially, we must take control of our own money. If your bank is treating you poorly or layering on the fees, move to another bank or credit union. If you are comfortable with an Internet bank, go for it. If you have a financial advisor or stockbroker, are you confident he or she understands your desires, your risk tolerance, and your goals? Sit down with them and review your account—question everything that doesn't make sense to you. If you are unhappy, give that person new marching orders or switch to someone else.

We can't afford to be uninformed about the world of money. If you don't use a budget, start. If you have no idea how much interest your credit card company charges, find out. If you don't understand your pension or IRA, use the Internet to get educated. If you don't understand some aspect of the financial world that affects you, ask questions, and get answers you can understand. If you still believe these folks are really looking out for your best interests and ignorance is bliss, then you are likely heading toward a rude awakening.

The government may be unable to figure out how to tame a deficit, but luckily we are quite a bit smarter. We can choose to not spend more than we make. It is easy to eliminate things from our life that cost more than they are worth to us. We understand we can't afford every want when we want it. Instant gratification is a freeway to financial ruin. Simplifying our lifestyle, cooking more meals at home, using coupons, and shopping grocery store specials can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year. 

We control how much we spend on travel, leisure, and entertainment. Leading a satisfying retirement is really about making smart choices. If you have saved enough money for the 12 day Caribbean cruise and it is important to you, take it. If you don't have the money, then stay off the ship. Spend the time finding things going on around you that are free or very low cost. Unlike the government, we don't have to spend money we don't have."

Another post focused on how our parents and grandparents lived. I suggested several of these approaches would work for us today:
  • Waste Not, Want Not.
  • Pull Yourself Up by Your own Bootstraps and Keep your Nose to the Grindstone.
  • A penny saved is a penny earned.
  • Keep your nose out of other's business.
  • Don't Cry Over Split Milk. The Past is Past.

So, the answer to the question, "How do you manage your finances so that you make sure that you do not run out of money," is actually quite simple. Let me reduce it to these five steps:

1. Save at every opportunity, both before and after retirement. If you think you are saving enough, you are probably wrong. Save more.

2. Spend as if you have less than you do. Under-consumption and living beneath your means are the two essential steps to financial well-being.

3. Take responsibility for your financial future. The minute to stop paying attention or turn it over to someone else is the moment your future is at risk.

4. Realize you have much less control than you think you do. It will help you stay sane in an insane world.

5. Enjoy your life with whatever resources you have. The biggest lie we tell ourselves would begin with the words, " if only I had enough money, I'd..." As far as money is concerned, there is no finish line. There never is a time when you can say, "now I have enough money, so now I'll be happy."

Of course, nothing this important is as simple as just following five steps. But it is a good start.

November 26, 2020

Time for Thanksgiving and Family

The Thanksgiving holiday is a time for family, friends, and a heartfelt thanks for all our blessings. It is time to enjoy a special meal, maybe a football game, sleeping late, and remembering how far we have come on life's journey.

If Covid is making a traditional holiday impossible for you, I sincerely hope that your extended family and relatives are safe and in your mind. If all you can manage is a phone or zoom call, be grateful you can still connect. There are over 265,000  Americans this year who can only be accessed in our memories. 

It is a time to give thanks that the year, 2020, is almost over. There is always a feeling of renewal and fresh possibilities at the start of a new year. All of us will really hope that is true in just 5 weeks.

It is a time for me to thank those who have viewed satisfying retirement blog almost four million times since it began in June of 2010.

It is time for me to thank my regular readers.

It is a time to thank all those who leave comments, send me e-mails, or just let me know they are there. Even when we disagree, we are polite and show each other common courtesy..a rare commodity today.

It is time for me to turn off the computer and join the family.

Give thanks!


November 22, 2020

Imagine If We Treated All Problems This Way: No, Wait. We Do.

We notice a 5-year-old child is struggling with reading. We assume she'll figure it out in time so we ignore the problem. 

By 10 she has fallen behind all her classmates in her ability to comprehend the words in her books. and is at risk of being kept back a grade.

The teacher suggests she spend more time practicing her reading and a little less on video games. Her parents don't seem all that concerned.

At nineteen she finally graduates and tries for a job at a local restaurant but can't read the IRS's W-4 form properly, or even parts of the menu. The owner agrees to use pictures instead of words for each menu item. After all, we are a very visual society.

Far Fetched? Maybe, or maybe not.

Now, take that train of thought and apply it to some of the mess we face in our country at the moment.

The Covid pandemic is sickening 150,000 each day...I say that again...EACH DAY. It has killed over 260,000. The response from tens of millions? It is no biggie. I haven't gotten sick so what's the problem. Wear a mask? And look weak? Restrict my freedoms? This is America. I am free to get sick and make you sick. Where are the hot sports for infection and death at the moment? The two Dakotas, one of which is run by a Governor who refuses to take meaningful steps to save her fellow citizens. 

Frankly, I assumed it was a joke until I read several confirming reports, about a person who died even while denying his Covid case was real. The patient asked the attending nurse to tell him the truth...was it pneumonia, strong flu? Why did he need the tubes and masks if he didn't have the pandemic? This individual literally died while using his last breaths to deny the reality of the virus killing him. That has to be one of the saddest stories I have ever encountered about the harm that a world of "alternate facts" can cause. 

The election from hell drags on. Every time there seems to be a clear path forward someone puts up a barrier. The reality is unable to be faced. So, keep saying "it ain't so" until it ain't. 

You might not like the name, climate change, so call it something that isn't so about "weird weather?" Regardless, whatever its name it is reality. Coastal cities are flooding on a regular basis. Hurricanes are getting more intense and forming more frequently. Places like Phoenix are getting hotter and drier. The desert southwest will become unlivable within my grandchildren's' lifetime. The climate will continue to change whether we want to admit it or not.

How about the looming disaster facing our Social Security benefits, a train wreck that has been right in front of us for at least twenty years. While the exact date is up for debate (like everything else), at some point in the next 15 years or so the payments to Social Security recipients will have to come from the trust fund, something that hasn't happened since 1982. When that happens, benefits will be cut by at least 20%. And, that will be just the first cut, but it will not be the deepest or last. 

All the warnings and all the demographic trends haven't been enough to motivate politicians to do their job for this problem. Like nearly every important issue of the last few decades, those fine folks in Washington wait until the clock has hit 11:59 before even admitting there is a problem. Knowing that a cut in the monthly checks to nearly 79 million of us is looming isn't enough yet to prompt any serious responses.

This leads me back to my story at the beginning. Knowing about a problem and ignoring it too long never produces the best results. Emergency patches always contain glitches or unintended consequences that must be repaired. By waiting until the last minute, or beyond, the lives of tens of millions of us will be balancing on a razor's edge of uncertainty.

During our retirement, I believe the dangers of not facing a problem head-on are substantial. The same logic applies to how everyday problems, challenges, and hard decisions are resolved.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if we started dealing with what we know is coming instead of turning away or simply closing our eyes, looking for the mythical "they" to solve all the problems so we can skip merrily through life?

November 18, 2020

Retiring Overseas: Is It An Option For You?

Over the years, I have written quite a few posts about various housing options we have to choose from for our satisfying retirement.

A few weeks ago, How Covid Might Affect Your Housing Choices attracted some insightful comments. A few years ago, I wrote about a new spiritually-based community taking shape on Hawaii's Big Island. 

If you want to remove yourself from the daily mayhem, how about spending your retirement living on a cruise ship or in an RV? See Unusual Retirement Options for more details. Of course, the debate between aging in place or moving to a planned retirement community is one we are all familiar with. I've written about those options many times, including What's Best: Aging In Place or A Retirement Community. A few months ago, there was When Is It Time To Move Into a CCRC?

Of course, the idea of living somewhere other than the U.S. has been in the headlines over the past several months. Some are overwhelmed by the out-of-control virus that feels like it is becoming a permanent part of our lives. These folks are looking for a place that takes the pandemic seriously and has concrete steps to limit the deaths and disruption.

Others have found the political mayhem a bridge too far. Recent events make it reasonable to assume a change in administration will not solve all the problems; the departing Administration and its Congressional supporters seem determined to make things as disruptive and difficult as possible for the country. With the prospect of years of this narrative, an escape to somewhere else (anywhere else!) begins to sound more attractive.

One option I have not really explored as much is the idea of becoming an ex-pat...moving to another country full time. A few readers live in Mexico for part of the year and have commented before on the cost benefits and friendships they enjoy. Former blogger Sonia Marsh spent a year in Belize. The latest figures indicate that over 9 million Americans live overseas for all or part of the year. This total does not include those who have given up their American citizenship to become citizens of another country.

Because I have no experience or personal insight in this area, I thought it best to take a two-pronged approach. First, here is a list of several websites that seem to do an excellent job of looking at the pros and cons of retiring overseas. Not all are U.S.-based, but it seems their advice is universal enough to be worth the inclusion. Each has a slightly different approach, but are worth looking at if this subject interests you.

The last site listed ( expatexchange) is a tremendous place to go if you have a particular country or continent in mind. There are dozens of links to other sites that provide the specifics you may be looking for.

The Costs of Living Abroad

The Pros and Cons of Retiring Abroad

What To Consider When Retiring Abroad

Expat Exchange: Country by Country Guide

Secondly, I ask anyone living abroad, has thought about living abroad, or was an ex-pat and has returned to their home country to share your expertise with all of us. Obviously, moving to another country is not a step to be taken lightly. Nor should it be dismissed as completely unworkable. If the idea is interesting to you, do yourself a favor and spend some time at these web sites and come back to read the comments from readers.

Who knows. Maybe Satisfying Retirement will be typed while sitting on a South Pacific beach someday.

November 14, 2020

Aging Well, or, Well, Just Aging?

Yes, the title is a play on words, but one that makes sense. Getting older is something we cannot control. Yet, we have a lot of sway over how we age. 

There are examples all around us, in public and private life, in our present and our past. The obvious examples are the two 70+ year-old men who ran for president this time around. The Speaker of the House is 80, the Majority Leader of the Senate is 78. Nearly a dozen members of Congress are in their mid-to-late 80's.

Mick Jaggar is 77, Paul McCartney is 78, Ringo is 80. Bob Dylan is 79. Bruce Springsteen is my age, 71, and rocking harder than I did at any age. Cher is 74, and Tina Turner still has excellent legs at 80.

My dad made it to 91, without a walker or wheelchair, living independently. My son-in-law's dad is fighting Parkinson's Disease, but at 74, attends every weekly family dinner and plays cards well enough to often win.

The point is age no longer defines us like it did a generation or two ago. I was sent an excellent article from the Atlantic magazine by long-time blog reader, David Davidson. I will give the direct link at the end of this post, but I suggest you spend a few minutes reading it yourself. 

The author cites an example that resonates with me: Lyndon Johnson. He was 55 during the first year of his presidency. Look at a picture of him from 1963 or '64. He didn't look like many 55-year-olds I see today. He was more wrinkled and worn out than most of us appear at 70 today. He left the presidency just 5 years later, looking very beaten down, the same age the actor Colin Firth is today. He looks, well, younger.

Most of David Brooks's piece is about Bruce Springsteen, his new album and film. The author is a fan; that much is clear. His point about how we choose to age and continue to grow is important, even if you are not a big follower of 'The Boss." 

He says, "the urge to give something to future generations rises up in people over 65."  I would suggest that empathy and compassion start earlier than Medicare age, but his point is well taken. As we age, we have the chance to turn inward, focusing on our own problems and possibilities. Or, we can look outward toward the larger community for inspiration and satisfaction.

If you have grandkids, you probably know the innate urge to give them unconditional love and support. If you are happily married or in a committed relationship at our age, you are aware of the importance of that other person to help complete you and allow you to support and nurture him or her.

Volunteerism is highest among seniors. The urge to mentor, to teach, to pass along a life's wisdom is a powerful force that helps allow us to age well if we encourage it to thrive.

Just being mindful of the blessings of being alive: touching, tasting, smelling, and seeing all our world has to offer, is a powerful induction to age well.

Here is the article if you are so inclined:

November 10, 2020

Sex and Seniors

The title of this post may generate extra views and spam. Mention sex, and virtually everyone perks up. Even though sex is required for the continuation of the species and is a natural and normal activity as part of a healthy life, the subject comes with tremendous baggage. Some of that baggage is cultural, some religious, some from lack of information, and some from too much information.

Why am I writing about this subject? Because it is a subject that is important but pretty much ignored in the retirement blogging world.

If you are reading for a gratuitous thrill or titillation, you will be disappointed. I am not discussing specific activities, body parts, or anything that may shock you. There will be no YouTube video clip. My intention is a mature discussion, not a wink and snickers interaction.

The questions are really simple: What role does sex play in a relationship as we age? How important is it? How does it change over the years? Is there a way to maintain a romantic feeling without active sex? A change in public perceptions and the place of sex in relationships that don't require marriage means this subject can affect all of us. Single, widowed, doesn't change the importance.

Plenty of studies indicate that our improved health allows for sexual activity to extend well into our later years. Common wisdom used to be that "senior citizens" didn't engage in sexual activity after a certain age, often by 60. But, recent studies rebuke that. In fact, a federal study released a few years ago found that at least a quarter of respondents still were sexually active in their 70's and 80's. The decline in sexual activity can be traced as much to being alone after the death of a partner as to physical or psychological reasons.

It is true that sexual activity does taper down for many in their late 50's. But, it certainly doesn't have to stop. There may be changes in the type of activities undertaken, but total cessation is usually not necessary.

There are obvious physical changes that happen to our bodies. Embarrassment over sags and bags can prevent someone from feeling comfortable during lovemaking. Male and female bodies may not perform the way we want them to as we age. While pills or other medications can help, the result isn't as natural or spontaneous as we remember.

So, what should be done? What can be done?

The most important answer is no different when you are 60 or 70 than when you were 20 or 30: become engaged in sexual activity for the right reasons, like love and companionship, not become someone wants you to or you feel you are "supposed to."  From what I have read, the pressure to have sex doesn't stop just because a certain birthday is reached. And, that type of pressure is wrong at any age.

Your doctor can determine if you are healthy enough for any type of sexual activity. Various medications can be prescribed if the need is indicated. Probably every single one of us would be hesitant to discuss this with a doctor. But, I think you will find your physician understands how important sex can be to your emotional and physical well-being so they should be strongly supportive.

Other web sites dealing with this subject offer plenty of options for maintaining the physical or romantic side of a relationship even if sexual activity is not possible. Holding hands while walking or cuddling on the sofa while watching a movie together allows for the power of touch. Hugging and kissing can be quite pleasant at any age.

Having a regular "date night" could mean a meal at a favorite restaurant (maybe not at the moment, but you get the drift)  followed by a walk together while holding hands and window shopping. Or, it could mean shutting off the computers and cell phones, lighting a few candles while dimming the lights, and watching a movie together at home. The key is to make time to be with each other without interruptions. Sex doesn't have to be on the menu for a date night to be memorable and meaningful.

The web site romanceclass had an excellent summary of the way to think about non-sexual romantic activities: "Intimacy is all about two people forming a connection and bond between them. That involves becoming best friends, trusting each other, knowing each other, understanding each other. A couple holding hands and sitting together quietly, watching a sunset, can be FAR more intimate and connected than sex. Intimacy is grown and developed; it can't be rushed."

Absolutely. I guess if I throw in my 2 cents worth (and I probably should), keeping the romance alive is a very important part of a satisfying retirement. If it involves fulfilling, consensual sexual activity that is great. If it involves looking into each other's eyes, holding hands, giving a shoulder rub after a tough day, or simply giving your full attention when your partner wants to talk, that will heighten your intimacy and satisfaction every bit as much.

One thing we can be thankful for: the pressure to perform in one way, and one way only, is something most of us left back in our youth. Life and love are so much richer when you engage all your senses and your mind instead of just your body.

If you'd like some additional thoughts, this is a good web article: Sex As You Age.

Now, wasn't it nice to not think about a virus for a few minutes!

Note: a heartfelt thank you to all the expressions of concern and support in the comment section of the last post, Goodbye Dear Bailey. It meant a lot to Betty and me that you shared your experiences and let us know we were not alone in our feelings of loss and pain.

November 8, 2020

Goodbye, Dear Bailey


Have you ever had a pet that when it passed away, left you crouched on a closet floor, crying and yelling out in pain and loss?  

Have you ever made the decision to end a dog or cat's life, sure you are doing what is best for the animal but still agonizing over the decision, wondering if you could have done more?

When we bring a pet into our lives, we accept the reality that one day it will leave us, that its all too brief life will mark us for the rest of our days, with great joy and almost unbearable grief.

And, we willingly do it again and again. In our case, Bailey was our fifth dog in the 44 years of our marriage. Each time we said goodbye, our insides broke, and our home was instantly quiet, still, and empty.

Human beings have a bond with a pet that really defies reason. We know it will break our hearts, but we keep putting ourselves back on the path of certain loss. I have never had a cat, but I assume that the relationship is just as strong. 

What does a dog in your life do? It teaches responsibility, it alters your life, it makes you think of another living creature that is totally dependent on you for its survival and comfort. It demands little, just the chance to share its heart with you.

Bailey was near death in early July. She had begun bleeding internally. After thousands of dollars and what seemed like oceans of tears, we brought her home to die with family. A tumor on her liver was large and inoperable because of her spontaneous bleeding problems. While steroids and other meds kept her comfortable, she was obviously struggling.

Literally, one hour before we were to take her to the vet to be put to sleep, she suddenly started to perk up. She got up, wanted to play, and started acting like a puppy...a healthy puppy. She ran around the house, wanting to tug on her favorite toys. She begged to go outside to explore. We knew in our hearts her time was limited, but we saw it as a blessing that she could be part of the family for a while longer.

In mid-October, things started deteriorating again. She couldn't catch her breath, stopped wanting to leave the house for walks, lost most of her appetite, and was showing us it was time for us to let her go.

October 26th, we said goodbye to our darling dog. While surrounded by family, crouched on the floor of a room at the pet hospital, she slipped into a deep sleep, and within a few seconds, her chest stopped moving. The vet nodded to confirm what was obvious. 

The next day, I was a basket case, tearing up, crying, and despondent. At the exact time she had died 24 hours earlier, I lost it, worse than I remember for any of our other pets. She was Daddy's girl and never left my side. Now, that space was a painful hole.

A few days later, I had regained control of my emotions. I was able to look at pictures of her and smile. I could laugh and relive memories of the great times we had together. I still have moments when I look for her or say her name, but they are less frequent.

At some point, it is likely Betty and I will decide to ask another dog to share some of our life. We will find a rescue dog that needs a home, love, attention, and everything we can do to make its time with us special.

Why this post, now? After a political and election season that refuses to end, I wanted to focus on something that involved pure love and sharing. I needed to remember something so good and positive in my life, untouched by discord. For over eight years, something that was a daily reminder that loving and being loved is powerful and affirming.

Goodbye, Dear Bailey. Thank you for the gift of your personality, your love, and for sharing your life with us. You will never be forgotten.

November 4, 2020

How Covid Might Affect Your Retirement Housing Choices

As of bedtime for me on Tuesday night there remains well over ten million early and mail-in votes still to count. The nightmare continues for another day or two. 

So, this is a post about something other than the election, politics, and the mess in which we find ourselves. Take a brief break from all the angst and focus on something that is quite important to your future (as much as the subject I am avoiding for now!)

In August, I had an idea to write about Covid and housing. Naively, I thought we were "rounding the turn," as someone said. After five months, I thought we would have a handle on how to control the spread of this disease. I could take a look at how retirement housing may change with the course of our future a little clearer.

Here I am three months later, and the housing picture is no easier to predict. Pandemic infections are getting worse. Vaccines are not available until some time next year. What could have been a four or five-month battle is turning into an open-ended war with casualties mounting day after day. 

So, my thoughts on what all of this may mean to our housing choices and options remain more guesswork than fact, unfortunately. But, I am not one to avoid a roll of the dice. So, here goes:

Staying put until full-time nursing care needed. At this moment, many of us have been scared away from crowded places. The advice to stay safe has had all the consistency of jelly. We have been forced to decide our own approach. That means our home, whether that is a house, apartment, condo, or even an RV, begins to look like our best option. We control our interior conditions and venture out when we must. 

The ability to get assistance in cleaning, food delivery, or medical and health care makes staying in place a viable choice. Moving in with family or buying a home that can handle a few generations living together may be a option we see expanding.

Housing prices rising rapidly. In many areas of the country, housing prices are steadily rising. In my area, homes are often selling quickly and for more than the listing price. These conditions may prompt you to decide now is the time to take your equity and use it for another housing choice. Others may decide to rent and wait for conditions to stabilize before making a more permanent decision. 

Not surprisingly, rental costs and occupancy rates are increasing, reflecting the overall strength of the market. These factors may mean your apartment or house rental choices may be limited or more expensive than you are comfortable with. But, the flexibility this choice brings makes this decision right for you.

Housing prices start to decline after another year of Covid-based disruption. Housing prices are on a cycle like everything else in our economy. We all remember the loss of billions of dollars in home value during the 2008-9 recession. If you own a house and, for a variety of reasons, decide now is not the best time to sell, you understand the market is not likely to be where it is today when you are ready to move. 

The pandemic effect on the economy and how long-lasting those negatives will be with us are unknown. But, if we are still in some sort of lockdown-social distancing-fear of crowds-closed business mode, it seems reasonable to expect a softening of the housing marketplace. If that is the case, your option to sell and move to retirement housing will be affected.

Retirement housing may become more difficult to find or move into. For the reasons mentioned above, there will either be a rush to cash in on rising housing prices or an inability to do so because of a contraction in prices. 

Pandemic effects on the current retirement housing market have been well-documented. Certain housing types, especially assisted living and nursing care, have suffered from higher rates of infections and deaths. Obviously, the older someone is, the more likely to be negatively affected by a serious illness or disease. 

More crowded conditions, less privacy and space, plus a lack of specialized training and equipment, and these choices are less attractive at this time. Fewer people are willing to risk being locked away from family if a pandemic-type disease occurs. 

This means retirement communities will have to consider new housing models, with social distancing in mind. Smaller dining areas, with no more buffet lines or open tables of desserts, seem likely. Multiple dining times, so only a percentage of the residents are gathering at any one time, may become standard. Better ventilation, temperature checks at the entrance, and several steps could be taken, but they will be expensive and reinforce the image of an inherently more dangerous place.

Cohousing becomes a more mainstream choice. This may seem a bit counterintuitive, but a small number of individuals could form something similar to a closed nuclear family environment. Interactions with "outsiders" would be limited. Living, socializing, and cooking together would provide social interaction essential to good mental and physical health. 

Cohousing has developed to the point where all sorts of arrangements are possible: same-sex, mixed gender, lifestyle, and religious similarities are available in most major cities. 

A pandemic has the power to upend our life, our economic viability, our family, our health. What the effects might be on our choice of where to live are still unknown, but we can all agree there will be adjustments.

Your (non-political) thoughts are appreciated.

November 2, 2020

Here We Go

As I publish this, we are one day before Election Day in The United States. Everything that can possibly be said, written, promised, or advertising has occurred. Whatever happens, as the votes are tabulated, will follow.

Speaking just for me, I have my fingers crossed that we won't tear ourselves apart any more than we already have. Democracy is under attack around the world; The United States is just one of several countries that is finding our civility and structure being tested like nothing since the Civil War.

There is no more for me to state at this moment. I will steel myself for whatever is ahead and do what I must with whatever is the result.

We are not likely to know the results by then, but I will be back with a new post on Wednesday.