May 30, 2021

A Summer Challenge With The Grandkids - I Can't Wait

Our three grandkids are now out of school for a few months. While the family has some trips and other activities planned, I know their mom and dad would appreciate something to keep them occupied and excited during the time when they are stuck inside by the temperatures. After all, you can only jump in the pool so many times before a new activity is needed.

Problem solved by Gran and Grandad. First, here is the backstory. These three reading machines introduced me to a series of young adult books based on the hobby of book scavenging. The young heroine and heroes discover a real aptitude for solving puzzles and riddles, even ancient ciphers and learning about documents written with invisible ink.

A famous fiction author and local bookstore owner befriend them and soon these three kids are scouring the city for clues that lead them to locations of hidden books and finding buried treasure after following long-forgotten historical clues. Think of it as geocaching for books.

Well, this is right up my alley! Gran and I are hiding some books the kids have identified as ones they would love to own and read. Each book will be discovered only after following clues, figuring out the secret code to read where to go next, and then finding the prize.

At the moment I am discovering dozens of different ciphers and ways of hiding a message behind codes and letter substitutions, all of them geared towards the grandkid's age level. I am learning about the Ogham, Pigpen, and Atbash ciphers, the Ceasar shift code, and letter substitution puzzles. There are hundreds of websites that explain these and many other ways to making a simple message become a brain-teasing exercise in decoding. 

Betty and I scouted out nearby hiding places a few weeks ago. Now  I am busy writing clues in code! Their mom will join us as we let the grandkids direct our route to find what is not in obvious sight.

I emailed the author of the books to let her know of our plans, using her novels as the genesis of the activity. Within hours, she responded with excitement and obvious joy that her efforts were spurring such an inventive way of taking her fictional ideas and making them come alive. She has offered to send personalized Book Scavenger bookmarks and other materials to hide along with the books to make it all extra special. They arrived just in time!

So, later this week the kids will become book detectives, solving ciphers, following clues, and being rewarded with a book they want to read and own. Each week a different grandchild will be in charge of decoding and sleuthing.

I can't think of a better way to spend part of their summer break.

May 25, 2021

Medical Expenses - Even With Medicare


It probably comes as no surprise that a top concern of retirees is the unknown cost of ongoing and future health issues. Even with Medicare or Medicare Advantage, private insurance through a former employee, or some other way of paying for health costs, many of us are not fully prepared. We may be in for a rude awakening over what lies ahead.

Recent studies tell us that up to $300,000 in costs are is possible for those over age 65. Don't we assume that with Medicare, a Medigap policy, an Advantage option, and drug coverage, that can't possibly be right? 

Unfortunately, the most expensive parts of our health costs aren't covered by those policies. Moving into an assisted living facility can easily cost $4-$5,000 a month. A nursing home might be closer to $7,000 every 30 days. Medicare covers your residence in such a facility for only a limited period of time each year.

When my mom went into such a facility,  I remember she had a change rooms from a Medicare-covered to a non-covered room after just a few months. If you elect to stay in your home, you will still need expensive on-site nursing and custodial care that can cost about the same as being in a facility. Research shows 70% of us will need either short and long-term care at some point.

True, you can buy a long-term insurance policy, but they are quite expensive and usually have a waiting period before payments start. They are dependent on the insurance company staying in the long-term care business, not a sure thing as costs outstrip their ability to generate sufficient return on their investments. You could face either large premium increases every year or the company leaving that segment of the insurance market completely.

Vision and dental care are expensive and not covered by traditional Medicare. True, some Advantage policies offer these services but usually require visiting a tightly controlled network of providers. Hearing aids? Not covered by Medicare. These three expense categories can add up quickly. 

A part D drug coverage policy does make the expense of many prescription drugs reasonable. But, there are still co-pays and deductibles. Newer drugs aren't necessarily covered right away. And, because Part D coverage is provided by private insurance companies, they can assign certain drugs to the highest cost category or deny filling a prescription without an appeal process and approval. 

More than half of us fear falling victim to Alzheimer's or dementia more than any other health issue, even cancer, heart issues, or stokes. Another study tells us that most retirees fear medical debts may overwhelm their finances, with up to a quarter of us already in trouble due to medical bills.

The good news in a not-so-good scenario is that Medicare does cover a good portion of both the in and outpatient costs of dealing with these debilitating diseases. 

So, why am I detailing these scary numbers and scenarios? Because being prepared and facing reality are our best weapons. To have a satisfying retirement, a position of denial is not going to work. Facing the financial possibilities of health costs down the road now will help you if, and when, it occurs.

Remember that $300,000 cost cited earlier for a typical couple after age 65? Well, assume an average life expectancy of twenty more years, and your budget must cover $15,000 a year, and that does not include nursing home costs, long-term in-home care, or long-term insurance.

Obviously, we must do our part to stay as healthy as we can as long as possible. Medicare or Advantage plans offer plenty of free or deeply discounted ways to stay on top of our health and take steps to short-circuit problems. Too many issues we face, however, cannot be avoided just by doing extra situps or laps around the track.

A line item in our budget must include reasonable projections for future medical costs. Forgoing some present pleasures may be necessary to help with future expenses. The health care center won't offer much sympathy when you tell them you can't pay their bills because you took a month-long cruise down the Amazon or have a vacation home in Vail.

The health care system in the United States is unlike any other developed country. We have a for-profit approach to health care. While that provides for the potential of the best medical care possible, it brings with it financial hardships or even ruin if someone isn't prepared.

After several years of Medicare, a Medigap policy, and drug coverage, I am pleased with the large reduction in my medical costs compared to previous years. 
 We are both relatively healthy and have avoided expensive problems or costly drugs. 

However, even with those policies in place, we still spend over $9,000 a year in health care costs, and that figure will only increase. Thinking even ten or fifteen years down the road I wouldn't be surprised if we see our yearly costs almost double. I am aware of what may lie ahead and am doing my best to protect Betty and me from a rocky financial future.

I'd rather spend the money on something else, but health care savings have become part of our life. That is our responsibility.

May 20, 2021

Suddenly You Are A Parent Again - To Your Grandchildren

 grandparents walking with grandkids

"One subject that I would suggest has to do with Grandparents (retired) who find themselves assisting adult children and grandchildren through financial and/or emotional difficulties; sometimes long term. I have two friends who have custody of their grandchildren.
 One has embraced it as a "second chance", while the other struggles with the disruption to her recent retirement. In both cases, they were the only option for the children. So, it makes me wonder just how many situations like this there are out there, and how people cope with their circumstances."

What an excellent and important question. Whether you are a grandparent or not, have a similar situation, know of someone who does, or have never really thought about it before, this is a topic full of important issues. For this post, let's assume that the grandkids are not someone's responsibility because of the tragic death of the parents. I think that probably changes the responses dramatically. Rather, because of a divorce or other familial problems, children need a home and someone to raise them.

Most of us expect a satisfying retirement to be the time in our life when many major family responsibilities are no longer of concern. Any children of ours are grown and on their own. While they may need occasional help to get through a rough patch, day-to-day involvement is unlikely. Yes, there are situations where a life crisis means moving back home or more active involvement in that adult child's life, but such situations are usually short-term. For many of us, grandkids pay a visit, are a joy for a period of time, and then whisked back home. 

Care for aging parents may become part of our routine, too. From occasional visits to check on their welfare, to actually having one or both parents living with you full time, this situation can substantially alter one's retirement plans. But, I am not sure there is any more unsettling event than that questioned by the reader: suddenly becoming full-time "parents" to grandchildren. 

To have a new infant, a young child, or teenager in your home brings an immediate change to the routine, budget, and energy needs of a retired person. Regardless of age, that child (or children) will require 24 hours of your commitment for years. The normal definition of retirement doesn't include such a situation.

As the reader notes, there are different reactions possible. One is viewing the care of grandchildren in a positive light. Some of the mistakes from the first time raising kids can be avoided. Being older and more experienced than as a young parent, a grandparent has the advantage of hindsight. The energy of a young child can be contagious. A deeply meaningful purpose in life becomes clear.

On the other hand, it is entirely understandable for a grandparent or a retired couple to be less than pleased with this new responsibility. Well-laid plans and expectations must be shelved. That energy bubbling out of a youngster can be draining and frankly, overwhelming. Never-ending 'why" questions are the new norm. The budget is knocked seriously askew. 

My question to you is how would you cope with this situation? If you are a full-time "parent" to a grandchild, please share your thoughts and experiences. If this is not your reality, but you know someone who is raising a child, again I'd urge you to give us all some insight. Even if you have no children who might leave you children to raise, you can empathize with those who do and share some thoughts.

This is a very tough question. It carries with it all sorts of feelings of responsibility. There may be some guilt and anger. Or, there may be a feeling that someone has been given an incredible opportunity to properly shape a human life. I can understand both reactions.

How do you feel?

May 15, 2021

How Important Is Finding Your Retirement Passion?

I read something a while ago that has stuck with me. It was a piece of advice that seems counter-intuitive to common wisdom. But, as I thought about how life unfolds, it made sense: spending time and energy focused on looking for the next great passion or overriding interest might not be the best approach.

Let me explain.

There is no doubt that a passion or hobby that is meaningful to you is one of the keys to a satisfying retirement. Just filling time will not keep you happy for long. So, why might searching for those things that inspire and motivate you be a waste of time? Because it may mean you miss so many other experiences that will enrich your retirement. 

If you spend all your time searching for that perfect passion, or the one activity that will define you, are you missing the fact that all we really have is today, right now? (see the post on meditation!). Are you bypassing experiences or something that might be fun or memorable but you think isn't really part of your passion search? Or, how do you know something that strikes you today as fun or a momentary pleasure may not open the door to a whole new avenue for you to explore? 

Examples? OK, let's say you play the piano for fun. You can follow a melody or handle the most important chords, with either hand, enough to have fun but that is about it.

Then, one day you find yourself playing a melody, with harmony and varying tempos just because they sound good together. You work at it a bit and realize you have just composed a new piece of music.

Suddenly, you realize you have an ear for making new music; melodies are popping into your head. You have stumbled onto a passion for creating music that never would have happened if you hadn't started playing the piano just for fun.

How about the last time you volunteered to tutor a youngster after school. You find you enjoy watching him or her light up when they finally understand that math problem or importance of a historical fact. They get excited because they can read a page in a book without help.

You get excited: you have discovered you REALLY like to teach and interact with kids. You discover you can get a teaching certificate based on your life experiences. Your long-buried passion for teaching explodes after a stint of volunteering.

How about this blog? I have always liked to write but didn't have any outlet so I kept journals. It was pure happenstance that I stumbled into the world of blogging almost eleven years ago and discovered an important interest.

The point is don't allow yourself to stagnate just because you haven't stumbled onto the one thing that lights your fire. Try all sorts of activities, add to your life experiences, take a gamble on something different. 

If what you are doing does not grab you, stimulate and energize you, drop it.  When you find that passion, the thing that pushes you out of bed each morning, you will know it.

In the meantime, you have had fun, learned something new, helped others, got your blood pumping, or at the very least gotten off your butt.

May 10, 2021

Why is It So Much Easier To Offer Help Than Accept It?


At one time or another, all of us need some type of help. We may be unsure about a financial decision. Something about our important relationship seems a bit off. A relative has a health problem we don't know enough about. The point is, none of us comes with a complete set of knowledge on every subject. So, we ask friends, experts in the field, even strangers on the Internet for some feedback.

Even knowing we could use some assistance doesn't mean it is easy for us. We love to give advice, we're not as anxious to receive it. I certainly needed help several times in my life, but was slow to ask. In looking back I have thought of some of the reasons. So you don't repeat my silliness here are some reasons why you shouldn't hesitate to seek and accept help when you need it (me, pay attention!). 

Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. From time to time, every one of us needs the advice or opinion of others. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength. You recognize a need and take an assertive step to fill it. A true leader knows his or her strengths and weaknesses and takes steps to shore up the areas that need reinforcement.

Asking for help allows you to tap into a large pool of knowledge. There are people who know a whole lot about something you don't. To seek out that advice, when you could benefit from it, is a smart thing to do. After all, if you are asking for help shouldn't you check the best source available? If you look closely you will notice that the most successful people surround themselves with other people stronger than they are in other areas.

 Most people love to be asked for their help. Unless you are asking a complete stranger, someone you approach to give you a helping hand will be quite willing to do so. If that person is qualified to advise you, then both of you will benefit. Don't worry about others judging you because you asked for their help. They are likely to think quite highly of you for turning to them for the advice!

Don't assume the person you need help from isn't willing to give it. Most of us are leery of imposing on a friend or someone who has experience solving your particular problem. We may rationalize they are probably much too busy to spend time with our issue. If that's your thought, re-read the section above.

Accept help or advice graciously. If you ask for help, it is not a good course of action to tell that person why his or her suggestions won't work. Remember, you asked them. Accept what they have to say and decide later if the answer will work for you. Even if a friend, co-worker, or spouse offers unsolicited advice, accept the offer to help with a smile. That person may have noticed something you didn't or has fresh insight. Ultimately, you decide whether to act on the suggested fix.

Ask for input before you are overwhelmed, frustrated, and angry. You won't be at your receptive best if whatever is bothering you has reached a critical stage. You will be looking for a quick fix that may do nothing to solve the underlying issue. You won't have the patience to explain the situation fully so the other person can give you good advice. Ask for help as soon as you are aware you need it. 

Finally, say thank you. People like to help other people. They also like to be acknowledged for that assistance. Someone went out of their way, probably invested some time in the problem, and gave you their best advice. Thank them, even if you don't plan on using the suggestions.

Many of us do everything we can to avoid admitting we could use assistance. We will knowingly make the situation worse before asking for help. I am living proof. At one point or another, I have ignored every single item listed above. I think I'm a bit smarter in my old age. I realize that asking for help is not an indication I'm weak. I hope this post will help you to avoid my mistakes.

Then, I will have been helpful.

p.s. today is my 72nd birthday. I feel lucky, blessed, and pretty good for an old rock 'n roller!

May 5, 2021

Retirement and Working From Home

No toilet paper or sanitizer on the store shelves? Kids can't go to school? I must do all my work on a laptop in the dining room? Is it safe to walk in the park with so many others making the same choice?

Zoom allows me to see other human beings and keeps me sane. I had no idea how much I needed my weekly book club meeting until it was canceled. 

I complain about going to the gym, but I couldn't wait for it to reopen.

If the last 15 months of a major disruption to our life has taught us anything, it is we must be adaptable.  From time to time we may grouse about our computer, tablet, or smartphone. We may cringe and swear at our Internet provider every time the rate jumps. Or, we worry that we have no privacy left; every bit of our life is for sale to the highest bidder. Being overly connected can be a problem, too.

At the same time, the links we have to the rest of the world have opened doors that didn't exist for us before and became life-saving during the worst of the pandemic. In addition to the ability to stay connected with family and friends, stream movies, or read or listen to almost anything, we discovered we may not need an office to work. We learned how to create from home.

What? Work? Retirement means not working. Well, not always. Retirement can mean we have the freedom to work in all sorts of different ways. Sure, the traditional away-from-home employment picture is starting to brighten. You may decide that after being separated from people for so long, you want to reengage with the rest of the world and get paid for it.

Volunteering is becoming safer. The need to serve didn't stop with Covid. if anything, it intensified our need to share ourselves in some way. Libraries are reopening, Food banks continue to operate at high capacity. Docents are coming back to museums or botanical gardens as we venture outside again.

Maybe the enforced severing of normal human contact has led you to a new idea for using your talents or hobby, or skill set to produce something that others want to buy. eBay, Etsy, or similar e-commerce sites are chock full of folks just like you, selling flea market finds, quilts, clothing for children, online tutoring lessons in computer skills, financial literacy, or any of a million interests that others have. 

Create your own website with simple, free web page builder services. Again, there are all sorts of people who would love to help you build a business online.

I have learned about a company in the business of hiring retired professionals in medical, legal, or mechanical fields to answer questions posed by those needing help. If this is you, check out There is even a company, called Swimply, that allows you to rent your swimming pool to others by the hour or longer. Who would have thought? 

Do you love the smell of sawdust as you create wooden tables, cabinets, or rocking chairs? Do your photographs always elicit praise and envy from friends? Those watercolor paintings stuck in your office actually look as good as some of what you see for sale at craft fairs or online. Let the world pay you for your creativity.

Guitar, piano, or violin lessons? Online is where people are now turning for your help. Cooking hints and tips? Do some easy-to-make video clips of you in the kitchen and post on YouTube. Have enough people click on what you are showing, and you have a business to promote and sell sponsorships.

Covid has turned the world on its head in many ways. One is making money and feeling fulfilled. We have had obvious evidence that the electronic tools we have in our home, the creativity we all possess, and our need to connect with others does not require anything more than a little space in our home, the time to dedicate to a passion, and the will to succeed in any way you define it.

Working from home may have very little to do with additional income, though who'd complain about a new money source? Maybe, more importantly, it allows us to feel competent, productive and involved. 

After a year of being literally on the shelf, your creative and entrepreneur self may be ready to blossom.

I'd be fascinated to learn about anything you have done to fill in the Covid-separation with some type of work, craft, or another endeavor that allowed you to make the most of your enforced time at home.

May 1, 2021

Second Helpings and Retirement


Remember second helpings? When you were younger with a body that would allow you to eat almost anything without gaining an ounce, second helpings were probably quite common. The food was good, you still had room to squeeze in more, and the platter beckoned you to help yourself. You may have felt stuffed when you were finally done, but so what. Even cotton candy was on the menu. Life was good.

As we age, weight seems to pile on with virtually no effort. We have learned that our body will gain pounds and inches just by thinking about food. Second helpings are a fond memory. We eventually learn to push back from the table.

What about other things? Have you developed the habit of pushing back from the table of life? Do you "know" that certain things just aren't good for you or probably not worth the effort? Instead of pounds, are you afraid of change?

If so, you are entirely normal and human. Certainly, I went through a period in my life where I became so comfortable with a certain pattern of existence that I avoided most variety. I wasn't thrilled with the rut I had parked my life in, but I was comfortable, and comfort tends to win. That is sad. When I think back to what could have been during those years, I wish for a magic wand that could give me a partial "do-over."

What was it that kept me living a life that was far less than it could have been? 

  • Fear of change and the risks involved
  • Fear of the unknown. I was doing OK with the known
  • My family seemed to be prospering. Why shake them up?
  • I had to act age-appropriate, didn't I? I had responsibilities
  • I had expenses. The cash flow had to be maintained
  • I knew how to do one thing. What else could I do?

It took a major jolt to my nice, safe, tidy little world for me to understand I had been pushing back from the table of life for years. What happened? My business died. It faded away to nothing a good 10 years before it was supposed to. I was kicked out of my rut and into retirement before I was ready.

Guess what? I landed feet first with a burst of insight and clarity that money and security and safeness had been hiding: I disliked what I had been doing and how I was spending my one and only life on earth. I had been avoiding life by pretending to live.

From that moment on, I wanted second helpings. I wanted to repair the damage to my marriage. I wanted friends. Wanted to know God and deepen my spiritual side. I wanted to push myself. I wanted second helpings...not of food, but of experiences and a sense of opportunities waiting to be "eaten."

The last fifteen years of retirement have been some of the most satisfying of my (almost) 72 years. It took a kick out the door of comfort, but I finally realized how much more I was capable of. The box I had drawn for myself was too small for the person inside. Most of the limits were self-imposed. I had become afraid of stretching myself.

Am I a wild and crazy guy? No. Am I likely to walk across Africa or live in a tent in Alaska during an Arctic winter to prove I can do it? Not going to happen. How about a 100-mile bike ride? Nada. Will I surprise myself occasionally by tackling something new and different? Yes, and that part of me is getting better.

I am willing to bet there are parts of your life that could use a shakeup. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to think of a few ways you want to add a dash of change, a pinch of excitement, and a spoonful of risk to your satisfying journey. Come on, admit it, there are times when you really would love going back for second helpings....maybe even an entirely new cuisine.