December 25, 2021

A Time For Us All To Pause

Whatever your religious or secular tradition at this time of year, the best wishes to you and your loved ones come from me and my family.

Beyond the hype, the money spent, the rushing about, and the inevitable letdown after the day or period passes, I hope you can feel a  spirit of love and connectedness to the greater community of human beings.

Whatever your present situation you are part of a larger family with many similar concerns. At this time of year, my wish for you is to find peace and contentment.

Even with the last two years beings ones with more than their fair share of challenges, I enter the new year with a fresh sense of optimism, misplaced though it may be! 

My Satisfying Retirement will be taking a brief, end-of-year break. Look for a fresh post to kick off 2022 on January 1st.

December 21, 2021

Volunteering : How Does This Fit Into Your Retirement?

 It has been a long time since I offered a post that posed a question about volunteering. It has always been a given that, after retirement, there is often a desire to spend part of one's time serving in some way.  The benefits of helping others have been well-known for quite a long time.

Like many, I over-committed myself during the first several years. While things like Prison Ministry and being a Stephen Minister counselor were fulfilling, both took a lot of time and energy. Then, I added in some food bank work and I found myself resenting the demands on my time, demands I had accepted. There was no one to blame, and no one who could put his life back into balance except me. So, I focused on what was the best match for my personality and skill set. 

That realization led me to write the post a decade ago asking readers for ideas on how they decided if volunteering was important. And, if so, how did they decide which opportunities to pursue. I hoped asking for ideas would help others decide on the proper balance.

It is high time to get some fresh input and ideas from you. The last time, dozens of comments presented possibilities for helping others and the community that apparently hit a chord. The number of views was one of the highest for this blog during its first year.

So, here we go again.

I know many of the folks who visit this blog are active volunteers in all sorts of ways. So, I would deeply appreciate you responding in the comment section below with answers to any of these questions (if they apply to your volunteer situation):

1. What volunteer work do you do?
2. How did you decide this was a good fit?
3. Did try a few different things before you found one that fit you?
4. Have there been any drawbacks?

Like everyone else, I am very interested in learning about the wide variety of volunteer opportunities that exist for us. I bet there will be things I have never thought of that would be a tremendous way to give back to my community while feeling good about myself.

So, please, anything you do to help....let us know. Teaching Sunday school, walking a neighbor's dog because she can't, school crossing doesn't have to be as dramatic as working with prison inmates, but it might be! Our society has more needs than we have volunteers.

Do you know someone who is an inspiration in this area but he or she doesn't normally read this blog? Could I ask you a favor:  would you ask them to come over this one time and tell us about what they do?

I am sincerely looking forward to your ideas, thoughts, and cautions.

December 17, 2021

Are You an Expert? More Often Than You Think

Whether retired or not, we all tend to gravitate to experts. If we want help managing our money we find a financial planner or adviser. For our health, we consult not just doctors, but specialists. There are experts ready to tell you how you save your marriage or put the spark back in your love life. Websites have all sorts of places that list easy steps to solve every sticky problem in your life. Our society worships experts. If someone is an expert, whatever he or she says must be right.

Yet, time and time again, we rely on experts and find the advice doesn’t work the way we have been told it would. Then we question ourselves up and assume we must be incompetent because “it worked for all those other people.” Yet, the pandemic mess should be proof enough that what constitutes an expert is often open to personal interpretation. Your expert may be a quack to me and an oracle of truth to others.

Unfortunately, there are lots of people who try to separate older folks from their money with investment schemes that are little more than scams. A claim of legitimacy, a fancy title, a slick brochure, a four-color mailer, or a well-designed website is all it takes to separate lots of people from their hard-earned money.

My non-expert advice: don’t do this to yourself. Sometimes advice doesn’t work because it’s bad advice. Of the hundreds of personal development, financial planning, or retirement books I’ve read over the years more than a handful contained bad advice. The ideas and suggestions simply did not work for me in my situation. They produced zero results or even had negative outcomes. They were not just useless, but potentially harmful to me.

This doesn’t mean the authors were lying. In most cases, I could see a reason why the advice might have worked well for the author but wouldn’t work for me. We’re all different. What works for one person or even a group of people doesn’t always translate well to every individual. We can't out-source our life to others.

It really doesn’t matter how well schooled an expert is or what studies she has to back up her claims. Unless the author has spent time with you personally be suspicious of any advice that comes from averaging different types of people together. Do studies on “average” people apply to someone who isn’t average? Are you average, or are you a unique human being? 

Do you completely fit the average mold in terms of your genetics, diet, upbringing, education, finances, family situation, residence, hobbies, etc? Probably not. No one person does. That's why it is an "average." That means the step-by-step approach to solving your specific problem won't necessarily work like you hope it will.

At this point, stop and consider: experts certainly know less about you than you do. They want you to stop worrying and just do what they say, buy what they recommend, and live how they have determined is best. An expert is often self-declared. He may have no track record or experience to have earned that label. She has no idea what works best for you in your unique set of circumstances. Consider that maybe you are the best expert in figuring what is right for you. 

Study yourself as an individual, and use expert advice only as a general guide for new experiments of your own. Notice what works for you and what doesn’t. Trust your senses. If the experts say one thing, but your personal experience suggests the opposite, put more faith in your own experience. Stop listening to every talking head. Start listening to yourself. That will take you much farther down the road of a satisfying lifestyle.

How specifically could this apply to you? Without coming across as an expert (!), here are a few obvious examples to make my point:

Health care.  If any doctor said I need surgery or a course of treatment that is expensive, possibly debilitating, and risky I am going to get a second opinion. I am going to do my own research on the Internet. I am going to attempt to talk with others who have had the same medical issue. I very well might do what that first doctor suggested. But, not just on his say-so.

Finances. My financial adviser suggests I purchase something, sell something, or consider a new direction. Nothing happens until I have enough time to think about it, research it, and consider other options. It is my money and future at risk, not hers.

Blogging. There are thousands of bloggers ready to tell me and sell me something so I can be a "successful" blogger. They have a plan to add 10,000 new readers in a month, or 20,000 Twitter followers by tomorrow. All I have to do is buy their book or sign up for an online course, and I'll be the next big thing. Or, maybe it is better for me to continue the way I have been. After all, it has worked pretty well for over eleven years. Only I can decide what I want this blog to be and how to get there.

What decisions have you made and steps you have taken that were counter to "the experts?" Do you have examples of some piece of advice you followed that turned out to be all wrong for you? What is keeping us from trusting more of our own sense of what is right and wrong for us?

I have looked at "expert" advice, a life-time of experiences, and decided things work out best for me with a cautious blend of someone else's thoughts and my self-knowledge.

December 13, 2021

What We Have Decided After Your Input

Over the past month or two, I have raised a few questions in some of my posts, asking for your input. I figure you deserve an update on the effect of your comments and thoughts and my time to ruminate (love that word!) over my options.

Why is it so Hard To Buy a New Car? lead to a discussion of several options to resolve my dilemma. Keeping our 11-year-old CR-V for now, leasing a new car or buying out someone else's lease, buying an older car to drive until the hybrid plug-in we wanted becomes available, or using a service like Uber as a fill-in until demand catches up with supply were the primary suggestions. All were workable possibilities in our situation. After a week or two of reviewing our choices, the answer was clear.

Our decision: keep the Honda with 103,000 miles for now as our only car. When the plug-in we prefer makes it to the dealer's lot, we will purchase it and keep the CR-V as the backup second vehicle (assuming it is still running!). When that vehicle dies, we will revert to a one-car family, but now with an environmentally-friendly automobile that will require maybe one tank of gas a month.

Is Food Delivered to my Door...A Good Thing? I was interested in whether you had used the services of local supermarkets or services to have food brought to your home during the worst of Covid. If so, did you plan on continuing with the ability to skip the chore of in-person grocery shopping?  Also, there were some comments that dealt with meal delivery services that became quite popular, either from a local restaurant or the meal prep kits.

There didn't seem to be a clear-cut consensus. Some of us enjoy going to the store to pick our own items from the shelf, while others are very happy to pass that chore on to others. Individual meal delivery fared less well, primarily due to the expense and problems with cold food or incomplete orders. Meal preparation subscription services were mentioned by one reader (Janis).

Our decision: we will continue to go food shopping in person. If the new Covid variant forces us to avoid stores and crowds, the at-home option would be reconsidered. For most, it worked well, particularly as the user become more adept with the ordering procedure. But, we enjoy the shopping experience together and like to be able to make last-minute purchases or change plans on the fly, based on what is in stock and pricing.

One thing we are signing up for is the meal preparation kits. As a break from cooking, a reduction in what we buy at the store, and as a way of trying new main courses, we are going to have two or three meals a week for the two of us delivered. Our daughter has used a few of these options and recommends HelloFresh for our situation and tastes. 

Streaming Services: How "Plus" Are All The Plus Options?. Hulu offers Hulu Plus, Pick Disney or Disney+, HBO or HBO Max, Discovery or the plus version...with streaming the way the majority of us receive entertainment, the companies didn't take long to find a way to further separate us from our recreation dollars. For some, the monthly bills have started to match or even exceed what cable TV used to cost. 

The Lowry household is probably about average. We have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, PBS Passport, and the ad-supported Hulu. With an antenna, free over-the-air TV is also available; there are nearly 70 channels in the Phoenix area broadcasting in an old-school way. Kanopy is free with library membership.

The post was meant to help us to decide if any of the services we do not receive are worth the cost. There was good support for HBO Max, Britbox (all British shows), and Apple +. After reviewing our options we dropped Disney + and added Britbox. We last subscribed to Britbox in 2017 and were pleasantly surprised to discover several new seasons of shows like Shetland and Vera that we remember liking four years ago.

Since I wrote this post, we have started the meal prep delivery service. The dinners are quite tasty and the directions are simple to follow. The selection is broad enough to have p[lenty of choice.

 The biggest downside is the amount of packaging. The small containers of spices, condiments, and ingredients hold only enough for that one meal. Then the plastic plus the delivery bag goes into the trash and or recycling. It seems all rather wasteful. That rather than the cost may be what ends this experiment.

Thank you for all your thoughts and input. I will let you know if anything changes.

December 9, 2021

Here We Go Again...With a Name Straight From Marvel Comics

Omicron sounds like a Greek god I might have learned about in high school. Or, maybe the villain in some Captain America sequel. What it doesn't sound like is we are out of the virus woods...not by a long shot. 

In what feels like being trapped in a house of mirrors, a new Covid variant spooked the stock markets, worried the Federal Reserve, and sent many businesses into a new panic during the holiday shopping frenzy. Normally placid school board meetings became literal battlegrounds. Parents are left to figure out the best way for their children to be safe.

I think we can assume that those who are vaccine-adverse are not going to suddenly line up for protection. Whether driven by politics, religious issues, possible reactions due to underlying health issues, or the "freedom" banner, there will be a large minority of the U.S. population who would rather risk serious illness or death than change their stance.  The only time someone in this camp is likely to reconsider is when they, someone in their family, or a friend contracts the virus. 

There is no chance the government will try another nationwide lockdown. Enforced shots appear to be a non-starter in many instances. Several federal courts have put a stop to mandatory vaccinations as a condition of employment, even in hospitals.

So where does this leave us? I am afraid the answer is not very reassuring. In all likelihood, some form of Covid is going to be with us for years to come. Until natural herd immunity is reached, a rather constant state of higher death rates, various countries closing their borders to others, instability in our economic life, fights over masks and protection, plus an overall feeling of life being at least partially out of control will be our lot.

Personally, I have grown exhausted by watching the battles to convince otherwise rational people to not take horse deworming medicines, or blame the virus on cell phone towers. The conspiracy theories have become so bizarre that after a bemused shake of the head, I turn my attention to anything else.

I don't see any other way to continue living in a strange world where up is down and right isn't. I understand that some resistance to the vaccines is caused by fear, by the bandwagon effect, and by humans being very uncomfortable changing their position once their flag has been planted.

I will likely stock up the pantry again because of supply problems. At least for the moment what I won't do is barricade myself in the house again.  As Omicron, or Covid-B's effect becomes clearer I may go back to masks in public spaces. We will stock up again on hand sanitizer. 

Both my wife and I have had our shots and our booster. While that doesn't ensure our total safety, I am not going to stay huddled in a corner again. And, I am not going to waste any more time or energy trying to figure out why so many of my fellow citizens want to roll the dice with their health, and mine. That ship has left the dock.

December 5, 2021

Success is In The Eye Of The Beholder

From a very early age, we are "programmed" for success. Schools and parents teach us what they believe are the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the world. Our mastering of those tasks was measured with a grading system that clearly defined our progress. 

Religions have rules for keeping us on the straight and narrow to help ensure our passage into an eternal life filled with joy and love. Where we worked certainly had clearly laid out paths to success within the organization. Stay on task you will do well. Falter and you may be replaced was the clear message given to us all.

Running your own business had the measurement of achievement: money. Make enough and you succeed. Spend more than you make and fail.

Notice anything obvious about these parameters that attempt to measure success? They all come from external sources. Your performance is judged by someone else, using very different determinations.

Some are within your control, but many are not. You are judged by another person or system that is independent of your skills and talents, wants, and needs.

If nothing else, retirement frees you from this cycle of judgement, imposed on you by others. Now, what qualifies as success is defined by you. Being unique means quite simply: only you know what success feels like.

In fact, the whole idea of success in retirement is so singular that I can't offer my opinions or thoughts on the subject. So, I found a list from Ralph Waldo Emerson.  All the things on his list are not likely to fit your needs.

What if might do, though, is prompt you into some serious contemplation about yourself and feeling worthy and complete. Are you still allowing others to build a box that you are being urged to inhabit?

Consider the following:

 What is Success?

  1. To laugh often and much;
  2. To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
  3. To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
  4. To appreciate beauty;
  5. To find the best in others;
  6. To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
  7. To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived

Rather than external markers, this list, and any you generate measures success in life using your ruler, your measuring device,  your sense of completeness and accomplishment.

Think about it.

December 1, 2021

Nothing Satisfies the Person Who Is Not Satisfied With a Little

About 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher, Epicurus, expressed a truism that I find remains absolutely accurate today if given a qualifier: "a person who always wants more is never satisfied with whatever he has at this moment." 

From a material standpoint, he is correct. The mindset that says there is never enough money, or possessions, or power, or....whatever, is what drives many of us forward. It is the power behind the desire to upgrade our home, get a bigger car or truck, buy the biggest TV screen available. The children need to go to an Ivy League school. This urge to never be satisfied is what drives our economy.

While my family never really played that "more is better" game, we wanted the best for our kids. We bought an Apple computer soon after they became available so the two girls could learn about a new world that beginning to open up. We weren't above subtly mentioning we had spent Christmas in Maui, creating lifetime memories.

We just never got caught up in the "impress the Joneses" lifestyle. A purchase fulfilled a need for us, not to dazzle someone else. Frankly, since Betty and I decided very early on to live well beneath our means, we could not have afforded to play that game anyway. Even so, we were part of the materially-driven culture; it surrounded us every moment of every day.

Importantly, I have found that retirement has the potential to disrupt that mindset. Because so many parts of your life change when you leave the world of regular paychecks, it is the perfect time to reassess your relationship with material possessions, desires, and what drives you in your life.

If my experience is at all normal, pulling away from that incessant pressure to buy, to upgrade, to remodel parts of the house simply because you have become bored with the color, or the layout, or appliances, lessens the longer you are away from employment.

Quite often, when you start to spend more time at home, doing some freshening and repair work does occur. You notice that the wallpaper is starting to peel a bit. That huge sectional sofa was great when all the kids lived at home now dominates the room for no particular reason. You sense that the 15-year-old dryer seems to take forever to dry a load. The drafty back windows are hard to ignore when the snow starts to fly. Being in the same space heightens your attention to those things in your living environment that need some TLC.

When you find yourself replacing, upgrading, or adding to your possessions because you are bored or restless, you have to stop and think through the decision. Each new possession or change to your home comes with two costs: the original purchase price and the maintenance/upkeep expenses. Even if that means nothing more than dusting, vacuuming, or occasional repairs, these are events that tap into your energy and time, two parts of your life that may be better spent in something productive, creative, or simply restful. The fewer excess possessions, the more time can be spent on you and your interests.

In one sense, the Covid mess of the past 21+ months has had a potentially positive side effect. Like many of us, you spent many hours streaming movies, shows, and documentaries on your TV or laptop. Except for a few exceptions, most streaming channels are commercial-free. That means you have avoided hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours of commercials on television. The first time you go back to a movie theater, you are thrust headlong into the consumer world: the first 10-12 minutes before the previews are packed with attempts to motivate you to buy something. Covid has meant you weren't in a reclining seat absorbing all that stimulation to purchase.

Malls, shopping centers, even individual stores are designed to trigger a "buy me" impulse. Companies spend millions each year to know what impulse products should go at the front of a store or on those displays at the end of an aisle. Packages are researched continuously to test what color, box size, and wording are most persuasive. If you aren't in those stores, all that emotional stimulus doesn't make its way into your consumer's brain. 

I have been fascinated with the (partial) idea of minimalism. Like many things, some people take a simple idea and go overboard: all your belongings in one suitcase, one plate, one cup, and one saucer. To me, minimalism is more a mindset than a physical representation. To me, thinking before making a purchase, any purchase beyond a bag of fries or a new t-shirt to replace one ruined by paint thinner, is how my minimalistic mind works.

We will spend money on a 10 day trip to Kauai without a second thought: a business purpose, seeing new friends, and taking our first break since Covid destroyed so many plans made that expense worthwhile. Memories and taking care of our mental health made that money well spent.

What if  I suddenly decide I'd like a VR headset. I will research the various products available and understand I'd have to spend hundreds on the headpiece and various games and simulations.

I am going to close the Amazon page until I can think through that purchase. Resisting the urge to just click has to become a learned response.

Each of us maximizes our contentment in different ways. Unless a purchase or decision jeopardizes someone's fiscal, physical, or mental well-being, none of us can judge another. If we can control our own impulses and decision-making, our chances of having a satisfying retirement are greatly enhanced. 

The qualifier I mentioned at the beginning of this post is if the quote is about a person who is not satisfied with a little creativity, an OK marriage or serious relationship, time with an enjoyed hobby, or time spent with family. In those cases wanting more is to be encouraged. That type of pursuit should not be stopped when there is more to learn, more to paint, more friends to enjoy. That is a positive part of being a human being. Fulfilling all we can be should remain a neverending quest.