November 26, 2022

At Least It Keeps Me Busy



Every once in a while I feel compelled to display what I have painted over the last few months. I show them to push myself to improve and tackle new subjects. If  I didn't have anyone other than me or Betty see what I am up to, I am not sure there would be much improvement, or I would find one thing that is decent and just reproduce the same scene again and again. There is power in accountability.

Also, I know my humble attempts to put brush to canvas have inspired a few others to pull out the long-dormant easel and paint to give it a go, or some other creative attempt that has been forgotten.

My granddaughter noticed months ago that I prefer landscapes to people or animals as my subject. She is correct. I have tried living things, particularly when sketching. But, the end result is more Halloweenish than I prefer, plus I  find landscapes more calming to paint and look at afterward.

So, what follows is a sampling of some of what has been finished. I am averaging a new painting about once a week; some survive and others get covered in white gesso, never to see the light of day until I try something new.

I have asked Betty to share some of her flow art, too. It is a technique that appears deceptively easy but is not. Pouring paint on a canvas and then blowing all the colors around with a straw and hairdryer takes a real artistic eye. I have found the freeform abstract approach isn't my thing.






















And, here are some samples of Betty's flow art










I hope this leaves you inspired to follow your passions and interests wherever they lead you!


November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving To All

 

Though the election season is past us, there remain powerful feelings and a sense that we have a long season of healing.

Even more than most years, for this day I want to keep my focus on the good things in my life, and that starts with family. As we gather together, all the other problems will disappear and become unimportant, at least for a day. Covid may not be gone, but it no longer preventing me from being with the ones I love.

I also must thank my faithful readers. For over twelve years you have made Satisfying Retirement a labor of love for me. You are part of my family, too.

God Bless you and yours on the day to remember the good things in our life. 

Happy Thanksgiving,

Bob and Betty

November 20, 2022

Cooler Weather is Here: Where I Live That a Good Thing


No longer too hot for this!

Cooler weather is a fact of fall. Summer left us two months ago and winter is not far away. Yet, like so much in life, how each of us reacts to seasonal change has a lot to do with where we live, and probably where we grew up.

I spend the first thirty years of my life in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. Lots of cloudy skies, muggy, humid summers, frigid winters, snow as a chore-producing hassle, with icy sidewalks, slippery roads, and the constant need to shovel something....that was my universe.  I am reading that parts of the Buffalo area have  received 6 feet of snow this weekend. That is a lot of shoveling.  

Of course, I understood that places like Florida or Hawaii, or the Caribbean did not experience what I did. But, in that way of making sense of where you are, I just assumed that winters were meant to be cold and miserable, summers sweat-inducing, and the in-betweens of spring and fall not nearly long enough to make up for their evil twins.

Then, I moved to the Southwest. Are you kidding me? There are places where people don't shovel much of anything, plus blue skies and even the sun most days? Because of low humidity levels, it is possible to see 30 miles to the horizon? Winter is to be celebrated, not feared?

I immersed myself in a new understanding of how the weather could directly affect my mood. Three overcast days in a row suddenly seemed unnatural. Rain became a natural phenomenon worthy of soaking in the experience while sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee. 

Blistering summer days were not a biggie. I spend most time inside air-conditioned spaces. Unlike snow, sleet, or ice, there was no shoveling. I could structure any time outside for early or late and hibernate during the day. I found adaption to the new normal easy.

Hot days start sometime in April and last through most of October. The various equinoxes that mark seasonal shifts don't apply. For us, fall starts about now. January often includes stormy weather with temperatures in the 50s from time to time, so that must satisfy nature's need for winter. 

By late February it is not unusual for the thermometer to creep into the 80s every now and then. By March, we are skipping what you probably think of as spring to begin an early summer warmup.

After 37 years of this, I accept our off-kilter way of marking the seasons. But, I have developed a special love, an almost religious greeting of cooler weather. It is welcomed with open arms (and windows and doors). Here in late November, we are just leaving the 80s with the 70s and 60s as the norm. This lovely condition will remain until the atmosphere turns the heat back on in four or five months.

When I was younger, cooler weather and early sunsets felt like a kind of death. The scourge of a frozen winter was bearing down on me and there was to be no respite for many months. Now, cool weather is a rebirth of being able to reengage with nature, fresh air, and a reinvigorated attitude. 


How do you feel about autumn and the inevitability of winter just a month ahead? Do you welcome the changes, or are already making plans for what to do next spring? Is a frozen pond the perfect place for an afternoon of ice skating, or a reminder that it is way past time to pack away your shorts for this year?

My attitude has changed completely based on where we live. 

How about you, even with a ton of lake-effect snow covering the ground?

November 16, 2022

How Is Inflation Impacting You?

 


Are we in a recession? Is the housing market in the midst of a correction? Are the prices at the store changing your buying habits? Have you dropped something from your normal routine because of the cost?

How about retirement? Particularly with a fixed income, the relentless uptick in prices has likely caused a rethinking of what lies ahead.

If so, you are not alone. A new study from Magnify Money reports that 50% report inflation has impacted their retirement strategy, More than half of us report delaying a financial milestone for now. Over the last two years, 20% of us have had to take money from our retirement accounts to cover emergency expenses. If you'd like to see the full study click here.

Personally, the Lowry household has made some adjustments. Between the higher food and gasoline prices, plus the uncertainty and costs of air travel, our shopping lists and plans for the future have been modified or even canceled. The last few months of wild swings in the stock market haven't helped our sense of stability.

The most obvious shift for us has been at the grocery store. We had already reduced our meat eating; the price stickers have accelerated that change. Once a week something involving a read meat is all we are comfortable with, both for cost and health reasons. Chicken has gone way up in cost, too, but it remains an important part of our week's planning.

Eggs have left the building. Usually, we buy just a half dozen a week, for a fried or hard-boiled egg, or maybe a recipe.  With the price for six eggs 300% higher than last spring they are much less likely to be on the list. Pasta, fruits, vegetables, salads, a chicken-based something, and homemade soups are now the bulk of most week's planning. 

In a stroke of good luck, we bought a hybrid plug-in car last March. 26 miles of range on electricity covers most days' worth of errands and trips.  We rarely have to switch over to the gas engine, sometimes doing so just to keep the gas from going bad or deposits forming. In eight months we are only halfway through our third fillup. The old SUV, with its 20 miles per gallon habit, is used only when absolutely necessary.

An expected trip to Portland was shelved earlier this year due to an impending railroad shutdown. Even though the strike was settled at the last minute we had already canceled everything. We lost close to $1,500 in cash, and have $2,100 worth of credit that must be used or will be lost, too.  All this put any additions to our travel budget in a rocky position for the next 12 months.

Occasional periods of inflation are normal in our economic system. Stock markets go up and then come down. Housing prices form a bubble and then drop closer to earth. Those egg prices will eventually return to a more normal level. Being humans, we tend to forget about the cycle and always look for someone or something to blame. 

This time there are some obvious inflation drivers: the effect of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on energy costs, the overspending, by us, on almost everything after two years of Covid shutdowns exacerbating supply and demand issues, a series of Federal Reserve inflation decisions that were slow in coming, and some government stimulus programs that pumped a serious amount of cash into a system still unstable from the pandemic.

Whatever the reasons this time around, I am interested in how it is affecting you.

  • What have you had to cut back or cut out? 
  • Is your income straining just to cover necessities and fewer extras? 
  • Are you driving less, changing your menus, and bypassing movies or other entertainment.? 


Inflation is part of life, but that never makes it easy.


November 12, 2022

Well, That Is Over...And I Feel...Better



Have you noticed..no more barrage of political ads filling your TV screen? Is your mailbox a little less full of those staged shots of someone with their family looking sincere and serious? Has your favorite news source stopped quoting the results of new polls every day?

November 8th has come and gone. When I looked out my front door this morning everything was still in its proper place. People were still walking dogs and pushing strollers with toddlers aboard. Amazon, UPS, and FedEx trucks continued their constant parade up and down the street. The sun still appears every morning and seems to sink below the horizon around 5:30 each evening. Not believing in a flat earth, I realize the sun isn't moving, the earth is.

Yet, just days ago the headlines would have us believe the end is near. Our life is destined to be turned upside down. A Red Wave would wash over us and a new day would dawn.

Oops...didn't happen. Actually, it was barely a pink puddle. For the first time in decades, the party holding the White House didn't suffer huge losses in both House and Senate. As I type this there are still races to be decided at all levels, with continued control of the Senate still well within Democratic reach while the House is likely to turn Red. Several governor races flipped to Blue and the number of female governors hit an all-time high.

The point of this post is not to gloat over the results, though I am pleased that things turned out much better for my preferred candidates than the polls and pundits led me to believe were possible.

Rather, this election seems to signal that the turmoil, rancor, misinformation, and hostility may have reached a tipping point for the majority of American people. I have read a description of this election as a move toward normal. Ticket-splitting was clearly in play with not everyone voting strictly along party lines.

I am not naive. I fully expect the grandstanding and politicking to continue in Washington and elsewhere; that is how our system works. Opposition is a must to keep those in power in check. There must be debate, dissent, and loud differences to allow all views their day in the sunshine.

But, the level of distrust and bitterness, of literal hate for the opposition may be doing a slow fade. I completely understand your disappointment if your chosen ones did not prevail. Talk to me about 2016. Supporting the losing side has happened many times in my lifetime. Yet, never have political differences been so likely to spark violence.

Remember the 2000 election when the Supreme Court gave the election win to George Bush over Al Gore. The two men were separated by a literal handful of votes and hanging chads. 

Yet, Once the decision was made, we moved on. No one from the Gore side talked about secession. No one from the Bush side talked about political vendettas. This was only 22 years ago, though in today's climate seems almost quaint in how polite and civilized it was.

November 8 (and counting) gave me a new sense of optimism. We are not likely to return to the 2000 level of interaction anytime soon. But, I really sense the pendulum has swung as far as we will let it in one direction. Now, just like in life and history, it will inevitably move back toward the center.

At least, here's hoping.

November 8, 2022

I Miss This Hobby




Growing up, I had a few hobbies that filled time that wasn't taken up with music lessons, band practice, dealing with two younger brothers and school work. But none grabbed me quite as firmly as shortwave radio listening.

I guess I was about twelve when I was given my first shortwave radio. I still remember it was made by a company, Lafayette, that no longer exists. About the size of a kitchen radio, that electronic box was a window to the world and the beginning of a lifetime of connection to radio and the endless excitement of broadcasting.

To most folks today, shortwave radio is probably an unknown concept. Except for an occasional reference in a World War Two movie about spies and transmitters hidden in suitcases, the idea of sending a signal into the atmosphere for someone else to receive it seems downright silly. The concept seems so haphazard. 

Yet, there was a time not all that long ago that was how a lot of people received information. Governments broadcast information to enhance their image in the world, news and documentaries were aired, and even religious groups spread their messages on what was known as short wave broadcasts. 

Though called short wave, these radio signals could travel thousands of miles. A broadcaster, like the BBC or Voice of America, would have transmitters all over the world, sending signals that anyone could listen to, usually in their own language. Before computers, the Internet, smartphones, or social media, a  $30 shortwave receiver would connect someone to the world. 

Growing up, I became hooked on tuning in all the strange and exotic broadcasters. Radio Havanna, Radio Canada International, Radio China, Radio Australia, Radio Moscow, and Switzerland Radio became my nightly companions. Heavens, (pun alert), even the Vatican had its own broadcasting wing. 

Most countries in Africa or the Far East were easily received and always offered at least some daily programs in English. Those spreading their version of the Gospel used radio to reach and, hopefully, convert, anyone who tuned in.

There used to be an annual book, about the size of a 300-page novel, that listed every broadcast from every country and when they were receivable in the United States. That was my ticket to a hobby that enthralled and educated me for years. 

Today, the world of shortwave broadcasting has virtually vanished. Yes, The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) still sends its messages to various parts of the globe, but its antennas no longer point toward the U.S. It is illegal for The Voice of America to broadcast a signal that can be heard here. Radio Havanna in Cuba, and Radio China are still out there but in very limited ways. Religious sects, primarily fundamentalists, are about all that is heard anymore.

Why? Shortwave broadcasting is very expensive. Whether a program can be clearly received depends on the atmospheric conditions required to allow a radio signal to travel from here to there. Multiple arrays of antennas, soaring hundreds of feet in the air, were necessary, as were several high-powered transmitters and the costs for all the people who worked there.

Broadcasters realized the Internet provides a much less expensive and more dependable way to make all that programming available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. But, "listening" to the music programming from Findland on a secure Internet connection destroys the excitement of pulling that same program "out of the air," knowing it traveled thousands of miles to get to my ears.

Shortwave listening, or SWL as it is known, is gone. I mourn its loss and miss that important part of my younger years. I am still somewhat involved in Amateur, or ham radio which uses the same radio frequencies. But, my talking to someone in Canada or Hawaii isn't the same as snagging a station from Ethiopia or New Zealand. That thrill is gone.

Your turn. What hobbies excited you at some point in your life but are either no longer viable, or you simply moved on? What interests helped shape you when you were growing up? Is there a passion you had all those years ago that you have recently rediscovered? 


November 5, 2022

A Shift is Needed


Over this year there has been a clear sign that I need to make adjustments to my topic selection. After 12 years, I can't be surprised. 

Everything has a certain life span, whether it is a dishwasher, a fashion trend, the dominance of a sports team, a bull market, or the focus of a blog.

When I write something that has to do with the nuts and bolts of building a satisfying retirement, the number of comments tends to drop. If the subject is narrowly focused on retirement relationships, housing choices, dealing with aging parents, or the hows and whys of Medicare, the number of views is often below average. A "How To" post isn't connecting as often with readers as it once did.

On the other hand, if the subject is about how to have fun, what streaming services are worth the money, good books you have read, vacation ideas, friendship, or any subject that is more about living a full life that just happens to be after retirement, the views and comments are usually higher.

Since I continue to write because I still enjoy the process, should I really care if certain subjects don't have the appeal they once did? Well, the answer is, Yes. If I am going to spend the time and energy, I would rather it be on a subject that connects and engages others.

So, while the blog name will remain the same, you should begin to notice a wider selection of topics. Hopefully, there will be more about subjects that stimulate you to leave a comment or suggest a friend of yours would enjoy the article.

I won't turn my back on retirement; I have spent twelve years building a  reputation for solid advice based on experience. There will continue to be days where the focus is on "need to know" information. Trust me, after all these years I continue to learn more about this journey, often from comments. Retirement discussions are important.

Just look for a bit more personal, wider-ranging take on our life and times, the challenges we face, and ways to bring more joy into our lives. Together we will see how it works.

November 1, 2022

Financial Literacy

At a recent meeting of the Friends of the Library board, one of the members raised the question of whether our group should, and could, sponsor a series of financial literacy workshops for teens, young adults, and seniors. She expressed concern over the lack of educational outlets for this vital part of living a satisfying life. 

There are real-world consequences in not having an understanding of some of the basics: compounding interest, FICO score importance, short-term versus long-term thinking, and even the risks and powers of proper credit use. Unfortunately, it is very easy to not have access to this foundational information.

Each age group faces distinctive challenges in navigating an increasingly complex financial world. For teens, social media and advertising can create a seriously distorted picture of consumption. What you wear and own, how instant gratification is a basic right, and the whole crazy world of influencers is your school. 

For young adults faced with building their own life, the "shopping lists" are endless. Housing options, furniture, that big screen TV you have always wanted, maybe marriage and children, a car, and let's not forget any student loan that must be paid for. Credit cards are readily available, but is the knowledge to not get in way over your head? 

Seniors have unique challenges: usually a fixed income without many options to bump up cash flow, ever-increasing health issues, expenses, and needs, and even housing for the future. Older adults are a primary target of scammers, out to separate someone from their home, money, or savings. 

The board member's suggestion received solid support and will be passed along to the library administration to explore the possibilities. If it can happen, the Friends organization will sponsor the workshops and pay to make them happen.

When I taught a Junior Achievement economic overview class to 5th graders for a few years, I found those children to be blissfully unaware of how this world works. Checking accounts were pretty much a mystery. They knew about credit cards but didn't really grasp that those charges must be paid. Compounding interest on outstanding balances? No clue. Getting a job after school to help the family? Yes, but no real grasp of how a job interview works, or the importance of dependability and being on time. 

I fully supported the suggestion of financial education workshops. To me, learning how the world of money works is as essential as a good education in any subject.

While this post is a little shorter than normal, I want your input on what I think is a critical part of growing up, and one that is shortchanged too often by our schools, our media, and even our parents and peers.

How important is financial education? How do we explain money literacy to the young and those of us who are vulnerable to some of its traps?  Where can anyone turn for reliable, relatable help?


October 28, 2022

Friendships Built To Last

 



I will be the first to admit I struggle when it comes to making friends. I always have.  Over the last several years, fellow bloggers and regular readers have been my only real source for most of my relationships.  

Since I have explored this question before, I know I am not alone in this regard. Especially as we age, inviting someone into our life seems more difficult. Even so, enough research has shown that having even just one or two close friends can be important. So, as much for me as anyone, what are the characteristics to look for when making not just acquaintances, but true friends? Inviting someone else into our life? I may not adhere to all these suggestions, but they make sense.

One of the keys is the ability to share openly. If we are with someone and we must constantly watch what we say or self-censor too much, then a real friendship is unlikely. Sharing both joys and sorrows is critical to a meaningful friendship. That can't happen if communication isn't open and expressive. We shouldn't be hesitant to open up to a real friend.

Be willing to try and experience new things together is a good test of friendship. When any of us leave our comfort zone there is some tension and nervousness present. Even something as simple as trying a different cuisine because your friend likes it can reveal a lot about the state of the relationship. Traveling can be another test. Being together for several days while away from the security of home and routine may strain a budding friendship. If you can laugh together at misfortunes and share great experiences, then a deep friendship may be possible.

A core of common beliefs and the acceptance of different convictions must both be present. While these points might seem contradictory, I believe they are critical. Common beliefs might include the importance of respect for other people, that discrimination has no place in our society, or that children deserve the very best we can provide. Different beliefs may be about spirituality or religion, political affiliations, and hot-button issues of the day. Friendship requires that those differences are never used as a wedge or weapon. Spirited discussions and honest disagreements should create a stronger bond between two people who value that relationship.

There must be no pressure to "perform." Think back to a dating relationship you have had. Small talk and overt politeness are part of that world. We want to present our best possible face to the other person. But, in a true friendship, it is perfectly OK for one person to be having a bad day and admit it. We don't have to always look or feel our best. That isn't real life and friends don't want someone to put up a front or play a part. "Dress-up" isn't part of this type of relationship.

There must be a sincere interest in learning more about that person. Nothing could be more unfulfilling than to spend time with someone over a long period of time and never learn more about each other. That would mean one or both people are being dishonest about their feelings and needs. It would mean that the relationship would never become more than skin-deep.

Many people much wiser than I have made the point that friendship brings depth and joy to someone's life. True friendship is a special gift that two people give to each other. As Proverbs notes, "Disregarding another person's faults preserves love." Deep friendship is an important part of a life lived well and fully. Maybe it is not too late for me!


October 24, 2022

It is Up To Me

 


Somewhat strangely, I find the results of a recent poll to be encouraging. I guess that speaks volumes about the world in which we find ourselves, but I will take what I can get.

A national poll indicated that 91% of adults believe the spread of misinformation is a problem. More of a surprise was the political consensus: 80% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans say that misinformation tends to enhance extreme political views. Those interviewed also agree that hate crimes and violence based on race and gender are negatively affected by untrue statements.

So, there is a strong majority who believe that misinformation is wrong and dangerous. An important unanswered question, though, is who is the source of this dangerous tactic? Do those in one political party blame those on the other side of the aisle? I can't find the answer to that inquiry in the study recap. Even so, logically, I am willing to bet that, yes, the source of misinformation is often believed to be one's political enemy. And, that is a whole other issue and post.

But, let me focus on a rare point of agreement among our fellow citizens: misinformation, non-truths, exploitive exaggerations, and statements taken out of context are harmful. The study does identify the Internet and social media as the primary source of this stuff.  In fact, up to three-quarters of those asked said they have not forwarded or shared something because of questions of its legitimacy.

From these points of consensus maybe there is a way forward, a path that isn't littered with truth decay. There are a few steps each of us can take before we hit the share button, repeat something we heard from a friend, or believe the oft-repeated story on the Internet. While it feels good to validate our beliefs about some particular evil or nefarious activity, there is some understanding of the potential for making things worse.

One way is to "fact check" something that seems too good to be true, or maybe too outrageous to be real. Most of us wouldn't click on the tab that promotes a $99 roundtrip to Hawaii, there is clearly a catch or a scam involved. Using that same sense of logic, it isn't hard to discern the truth behind that titillating headline on social media or the "I just heard" comment overheard at the grocery store.

Start here: The Arlington Heights Memorial Library has an excellent overview of fact-checking and links to a few of the most-trusted sites.  In particular, I like the CRAAP Test. You know the "if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck...." The CRAAP acronym helps you use your own natural intelligence and common sense to uncover that "duck." 

The Associated Press has an extensive website that reviews not only the most talked about stories of the week but basic educational information on things like using absentee ballots and election rules...particularly important leading up to November 8th.

A fascinating resource is Medawise. This non-partisan outfit offers free tutorials on how to spot fake news from any source and make yourself a more discerning consumer of information. It has a separate Teen Network for helping young people navigate the dangerous waters of social media. something a grandchild or a parent might find helpful. There are sections designed especially for seniors. It is worth taking a look.

An approach I find helpful to separate the real from the fanciful is to read from several sources on each side of the major political divide. Look for key giveaways like "alleged," "one source reports, "unconfirmed information." Each of these gives me a clue that the story or piece of a story is potentially speculative or unproven. Those trigger phrases prompt me to check more sources to see who else may have more details. 

If I can't verify what I have read, I do not resend it, repost it, or use it as the basis for a snarky putdown on Facebook. I am not saying this statement is untrue, I am simply refusing to further its spread until I am convinced of its veracity.

If the poll numbers I quoted at the beginning of this post are accurate (and I did check that this story was not from just one source), then the bulk of us understand the harm misinformation can cause. As individuals, what we can do is not be part of the problem by spreading, amplifying, or keeping alive something that can hurt people. 

I am quite aware that there will be some who read my words and suggest I am naive. "They" want me to put a lid on the spread of important facts. Fact-checking is run by the "them" who want to keep us powerless. Even though it comes from two very well-respected organizations, this poll is bogus.

I have no magic words to change that way of seeing the world. I cannot make conspiracy theories or fear of "The Other" go away. What I can do is not be part of the mechanism that spreads fear, mistrust, lies, half-truths, and offensive BS.

Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, apolitical folks....the labels don't protect us from truth erosion. Incendiary rhetoric can come from anyone at any time. 

All I can do is try to keep myself from being one of the sources. I am asking you to consider doing the same.
 

October 20, 2022

Yes, You Can


I don't have to remind you that the midterm election is just a few weeks away. If my mailbox and many of the ads on certain streaming outlets are anything like yours, it is impossible to avoid the shouting and posturing and claims of disaster just ahead.

To give us all a little breathing room, and to prepare us for what lies ahead, today's post is a simple exercise in "Yes, You Can."  Yes, you can make a few changes in how you react to your environment that will give you a more positive mindset, and maybe help someone else who needs a simple boost.

From a source I don't remember, this is what I will call an encouragement to-do list. There is nothing here particularly novel, difficult, or too far out of your comfort zone. But, for at least a few days, let's focus on something other than the supposed end of the world after November 8th.

None of us is expected to accomplish everything on this encouragement list, Sainthood isn't the goal. Rather, by picking just two or three tasks you feel you can handle, your focus will be on helping others, with simple acts of encouragement or civility, instead of the rancor and heat of the moment.


Point out to someone a quality you appreciate in them.

Look for ways to cooperate

Hold back your critical comments

Say "Thank You"

Search for ways to get along with others

Support those who are having problems by loving them

Think of a situation that tries your patience - plan how to react beforehand

Make a list of your gifts...then cherish them

Avoid situations where you will be drawn into the temptation to overreact

Encourage those who are timid and afraid


Most of this would come under the category of good behavior. We do have the ability to change our behavior, and possibly, that of others. But, it does require not always putting ourselves first.


October 16, 2022

Retirement Pitfalls To Avoid

 




I know there are more than seven things to avoid as you move toward, and then through, your satisfying retirement. But, in the interest of brevity I have picked these examples of things to avoid.

Of these seven, I committed three of them early on. Even so, twenty one years later things are progressing very nicely. None of those screw-ups was fatal to my journey.  OK, so what are the seven miscues of retirement?


1) Try to copy your parent's retirement. Except in rare cases this is not going to happen. The days of solid company pensions and gold-plated health care coverage are not coming back. Responsibility for a happy retirement lifestyle is now firmly ours to determine.

Another important difference is probably your approach to your health. Never terribly active, my mom and dad stopped any type of physical activity shortly after retirement. I firmly believe that destroyed the quality of life for my mom's last few years and quickened her death. 

2) Try to copy a friend's retirement. Retirement is as unique as you are. Wanting to live like Bill or Sally or whomever is not likely to work. It is as pointless as "keeping up with the Joneses" during your working days.

The mix of financial, emotional, relational, and health status that defines you means your retirement must be built for you. If anything positive has come from the Covid pandemic, it is the realization that most of us can be happy and satisfied on much less than we thought possible. Your best friend spends his summers in the south of France, you in Portland. Are you happy? Then, send your friend a postcard.

3) Do whatever a web site or books tells you. I have written tens of thousands words on the risks involved in depending on others to design your retirement for you. It is important that you educate yourself, using all the resources you can. But, it is just as important that you adapt all those suggestions and ideas to your needs, your interest, and your comfort zone.

4) Assume things will work out. This laissez-faire approach to something as important as the next 20 or 30 years of your life is risky. Maybe you have always landed on your feet: great job, lots of money, loving spouse and cute, well-behaved children, an in-law you like...Not so fast. Life has a habit of throwing you a curve ball just when you least expect it.

Things will work out, but probably not how you'd like them to. Proactivity is a much safer course to a retirement lifestyle you want.

5) Count on financial promises and performances to remain unchanged. When I retired in June of 2001 I had a budget that had been under development for several years. I based it on my experience and best guesses. Boy, was I wrong. Most importantly, over the next several years my investments didn't produce nearly as much as I had expected. My financial advisor made a few really bad recommendations that I accepted and lost enough money to bother me.

A bank that I had tens of thousands invested in went belly up. When do banks go under? Also, I failed to anticipate the massive, annual, increases in the cost of health care insurance for Betty and me. Who would have thought any industry could try to drive away its customers with 15% increases year after year? It took a fair amount of scrambling on our part to stem to bleeding and adjust to the new reality but we did and it has worked out well...thank goodness for Medicare!

6) Not trusting your instincts and decisions. I have become a firm believer in my innate instincts and "gut." I am continually gathering information and constantly relooking at our finances and lifestyle choices. As time went on, though, I gained more confidence in my ability to make a good decision based on what seems right to me. I have made mistakes that have cost me money and wasted time. Occasionally,  I have followed a path that turned out to be unsatisfying for me or Betty. But, overall, I now will trust an instinct rather than be stuck in a no-decision mode for an extended period.

7) Panic. Oh boy, did I fall into this trap. After retiring I had major night terrors over my decision. Even though I had done a thorough job of planning, I kept feeling I had forgotten to take something really, really important into account. As point #5 above notes, I did forget or overlook some things that cost me.

But, the panic I felt was much more general: we'd run out of money at an early age and live on the streets. My parents' estate would turn out to be built on sand and we'd have to find room for them in our house. I would never find a passion and spend my last years in an easy chair, watching game shows.

Panic is part of the first phase of almost all retirements. After such a huge lifestyle change that is normal. What is self-defeating is to let panic debilitate you and cause you to make choices based on fear or anxiety.

____________

Your turn. What mistakes have you made that you'd advise others to avoid? If you could go back in time what would you do differently? A satisfying retirement is a nonstop learning experience for us all.

October 12, 2022

How Much Money Is Needed To Retire?

 retirement planning, financial planning


This post was first published over six years ago. Recently I noticed it has close to 5,000 views, making it one of the top twenty most popular over the past twelve years of Satisfying Retirement.

So, for those who weren't here in 2016, or would like a word of encouragement after a rough couple of Covid inflation-inspired problem years, here it is in all its glory.



$825,375

It would be nice if I could give you the exact amount of money you need to retire. Achieve that figure and walk away from your job. Stop worrying about the stock market, what the Fed is doing, or who says what in Washington. Hit your number and go.

If you type the search phrase, How Much Money Do I Need To Retire, into Google, you will get something in excess of 43 million links to that question or a close variant. Isn't that amazing? A question that is very personable still has 43,000,000 places you can consult. (Note: in 2022 that has ballooned to 183,000,000 links!)

That dollar figure above is probably incorrect for you. The amount of money you need to retire is based on these five factors:

What your goals are for your retirement


Do you want to spend the first several years traveling the world, visiting your adult kids and grandchildren, remodeling your home, or splurging on the RV you have always dreamed about before settling down? Or, are you really looking forward to staying close to home, being with family and friends, spending more time reading, relaxing, volunteering...simply enjoying your freedom?  

The answer will determine one of the most important questions about money and retirement: the type of lifestyle you want to live. While it is normal for after-retirement living expenses to drop anywhere from 25-50%, it is entirely possible to spend more while you are fulfilling lifelong dreams and aspirations. 

How much you have saved to this point

The average 55-64-year-old American has set aside just over $100,000 for funding his or her retirement. That is around $300 a month spread over a typical lifespan. Add an average of $1,300 in monthly Social Security, minus the cost of Medicare, and that person will have to make due on about $1,500 a month, or $18,000 a year. That is not enough.

Most reports I consulted say that an absolute minimum of $600,000 is necessary to provide a decent lifestyle in retirement, and that assumes two people receiving Social Security and with no major health issues to pay for. The most common figure given today on some of those Google pages is $1,000,000 or more. Even at that figure, your retirement will not be lavish, but with careful planning, you should be good for the rest of your life. Does being anywhere near these goals seem completely out of your reach? Then the next factor becomes critical:

 How much more you can save before you want to retire

Are you willing to change your spending habits now to achieve your retirement goal? Can you figure out a way to put 20% or even 30% of today's income into your retirement investments? Can you move from instant gratification to a delayed payoff? While the answer should be obvious, too many folks don't make the proper choice. 

Really, it is a simple math question. What you have in savings and investments plus what you add to those accounts = your retirement nest egg. One plus one is two. There is no way to finesse a different result. Unless you don't want to retire until much later in life, you must sacrifice now to make tomorrow happen.

 How your health or family situation will affect retirement


The average American will spend around $250,000 in medical expenses after age 65. Even with Medicare and a good supplemental policy plus drug coverage,  you must plan on about $12,500 a year in medical costs. With a major health challenge, that figure can easily double. If you are already living with a serious health concern or two, plan on the higher figure.

Are you likely to have to care for one or two aging parents? When you or your spouse or partner needs assisted living or nursing care, will you have the money to pay for that? Will family members be willing to pitch in? Add those projections to your needed money totals.


 How long you will live


If you thought the first four factors were tough, I have saved the best for last. None of us like to face our own mortality, but the question becomes quite important as you run numbers through your retirement calculator. If you come from a family that has many members who make it into their 90's or beyond, then you should probably be on the safe side and assume you will live that long, too. 

If you take care of yourself, watch what you eat, and are generally happy, statistically you are likely to live longer than someone who believes pizza is one of the major food groups. Of course, any one of us could be hit by a car tomorrow. But, prudent planning cannot assume anything.

Of course, it is important to point out that isn't the best choice for everyone. If that is you, pass this information along to a friend. Otherwise, I hope these five retirement planning factors help you work through some tough questions. 
_________________________

I will add that six years after this post was written, I stand by all five statements. They have worked well for me for over twenty-one years.


October 8, 2022

Medicare Open Enrollment: A Timely Review

 


We are just a week away from the start of the annual Medicare enrollment period, a time when Medicare recipients can make changes to their coverage for a start date of January 1, 2023. Ending December 7th, this is the time each year when you are allowed to change from Medicare to a Medicare Advantage program, or back to traditional Medicare from an advantage plan. You can change from one supplemental policy or company to another, and change your Part D drug coverage. 

An important note: If you have a Medicare Advantage program you are given another period to switch to another Advantage plan, or back to the original Medicare. This do-over is called the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period which occurs from January 1st to March 31st. 

In essence, you are allowed to change your decision during the standard open enrollment period or the Advantage open period Because there are some extra considerations beyond the scope of this post, I urge you to check for all the information about what you can and cannot do,.

Back to the original open enrollment period, does it pay to switch? Not always, but looking at options every year is a wise decision. Betty and I switched to a different Part D coverage plan two years ago, for example. The plan we had was set to impose a 100% rate increase...yep, double. Instead, we picked one that covers the drugs we take, at the pharmacy we use, for 50% less than the new monthly premium. Just by spending 20 minutes online, we saved nearly $1,000 in premium costs. For 2023 our plan is raising the monthly cost by 25%, but it is still our best option.

So, this post has a dual purpose: urge you to do some comparison shopping, and for those approaching Medicare age, a brief review of what can be a complicated system.
 I am covering Medicare, not Medicaid which is an entirely different animal. As with most federal programs and health insurance coverage, there are enough exemptions and differences to fill 20 posts. I will only attempt to explain the usual, most common situations.

Medicare is a federal program that pays for certain health-related expenses for people 65 and older (and younger in certain situations). While many costs are covered, an individual enrolled in Medicare is responsible for certain deductibles and copays. Some services are not covered at all and others are for only a limited period of time.

There are four parts of Medicare:

Part A is hospital insurance. Copays and deductibles will determine what you will pay. Usually, there is no premium for Part A.

Part B is medical insurance that helps pay for doctor visits, outpatient care, preventive health care, and equipment. There is a monthly premium for Part B. For 2023 the government is projecting a modest decrease in the monthly cost for most of us, after a significant increase in 2022.

Part C is better known as Medicare Advantage. This is coverage provided by Medicare-approved private insurance companies.

Part D is prescription drug coverage. This is also run by Medicare-approved private insurance companies.

Most folks get Part A and Part B automatically. If you receive benefits from Social Security you will automatically get Part A & B coverage starting the first day of the month you turn 65.  If you aren't yet receiving Social Security, because you are still working, or waiting until your full retirement age, there is something called the Initial Enrollment Period which is the period from 3 months before until 3 months after your 65th birthday. If you miss this window your benefits will be delayed.

If you decide to wait until after the Initial Enrollment Period, there is a general Enrollment Period during the first three months of each year. However, if you use this option, realize your part B premiums will be higher for the rest of your life.

If you are covered by a group health plan at your place of employment and then want to start Medicare, there is another time period, called the Special Enrollment Period that generally allows you to avoid the higher premiums for a late signup.

With me so far?


Other Factors to Consider

Medicare does not pay 100% of most services. The Affordable Care Act has put in place several free screening tests for those on Medicare, like colonoscopies and mammograms. Free vaccines for protection against several diseases and infections are also available.

Most doctor visits, tests, drugs, and equipment are going to cost you money...usually, something approaching 20% of the total, discounted rate. That's where Medigap or supplemental coverage enters the picture. This is a policy, sold by a private insurance company, that acts as secondary coverage to Medicare. 

It pays what is left over after Medicare pays what it will. As a point of reference, our Medigap, or supplemental policy, has worked perfectly for the last several years. We have had to pay nothing for any service or procedure after Medicare and the supplemental policy have taken care of all charges.

Just like the rest of Medicare, there is a specific enrollment period for Medigap coverage. You can buy any policy that is offered for sale in your state, regardless of your health status. The amount of supplemental coverage, the monthly cost, and any deductibles are different for each policy offered. You decide how much supplemental help you want and can afford. 

A word to the wise, though: if you decide to buy a less expensive policy at some point in the future from the same company you may be prevented from doing so due to pre-existing conditions, at least for a period of time. 

Speaking of costs, Part A Medicare coverage costs you nothing since you already paid into the Medicare fund while you were working. Part B coverage does carry a monthly cost. For 2023 most will pay $164.90 per month. There is also a $226 yearly deductible. 

Part D prescription coverage costs vary depending on the plan you select and the level of drug coverage. A recent change has shrunk the "donut" hole," or the amount you must pay after you and your Part D company has spent $4,660 on prescription drugs in a calendar year. Even so, there are various limits on what you are required to cover on your own until you emerge from this coverage gap. 

What is Covered?

There is no simple answer to that question. Medicare publishes a booklet that is an excellent resource. In general, here is what you can expect:


Part A pays part or all of inpatient hospital care, inpatient care at a skilled nursing facility, hospice care services, and home health care services for a defined period of time. As you might guess there are all sorts of qualifications and exclusions for this list but this is the primary purpose of Part A coverage.

Part B helps cover medically necessary services like doctor visits, outpatient care, durable medical equipment, and several preventive services and screenings.

Part C is the designation of Medicare-approved private insurance companies that has various coverage options and costs. You still have Part A and Part B coverage, but the specifics are likely to be different from the original Medicare. Generally, coverage is more complete and the costs tend to be lower. But, that comes with network restrictions and gives the company the ability to deny coverage for certain procedures or tests.

Part D covers some of your prescription drug costs. If you don't need a lot of drugs now, it still may be wise to take this coverage because of late enrollment penalties. Part D is provided by private insurance companies and varies widely in costs and coverage. As my example above notes, rates can vary widely and change dramatically from year to year. 


Importantly, these items are not covered by Medicare (not a complete list...some of these services are covered by some Medicare Advantage Plans):
  • Routine Dental care
  • Dentures
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Hearing Aids
  • Exams for fitting hearing aids
  • Long term care

If you'd like more detailed information or see if specific services are covered, this government website should be your first stop.


On a personal note, Medicare, along with a supplemental policy and Part D drug coverage, has been a blessing for us. While we are still spending just over $680 a month for premiums and prescriptions, the process is so simple: no paperwork, no claim forms, and no hassle. Before both of us reached coverage age we were spending close to $1,100 a month, just for the insurance coverage. Today I am sure we would be forced to pay almost double that for much poorer coverage through the private insurance market if we weren't Medicare-qualified.

Another reminder: this post is for informational and general guidelines only.  Check with Medicare,gov, or your Medicare Advantage plan, supplemental, or Part D coverage company to obtain the latest info.

There are some advantages to turning 65, but one of the most cherished is Medicare coverage. It is a life-changer!

Questions? Feel free to ask. Comments? Feel free to type away!

October 4, 2022

Truth and Wishful Thinking: How We Confuse The Two.

 


Nothing is as it seems. What I know to be real, believe to be true built on my reliance on facts is apparently passe. It's official: Truth is dead. 

The latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary has made it official. Post-truth now has an explanation: "objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." 


Of course, that definition is post-truth, so it may or may not be true. The Oxford Dictionary may be a propaganda tool written by the liberal media, the alt-right, conservative pundits, or some unknown Russian hacker. 

And, therein lies the problem that has me scratching my head. If "truth" or "reality" are no longer what they have always been, how does one separate the wheat from the chaff? How does one construct a rational response to events when rationality is under attack?

Is Mars really populated by little green men (and women)? If enough people on the Internet claim it to be so, then does that makes it so? Did we go to the moon, or just stage a launch in a studio? 

Is there a child sex ring being run from the basement of a pizza restaurant by a former presidential candidate? Is the fact that the restaurant doesn't have a basement relevant? 

Is the government planning on installing microchips in our arms the next time we get a flu shot? Did Covid come from alien 5G signals? Is the earth flat, or round?

These examples are absurd, at least to me, but believed at some point in our history. They gained traction with our fellow citizens. No matter how bizarre or disconnected from how we think the world and its citizens operate, any statement has the potential to be accepted in a post-truth world.

So, how do you determine the difference between what is downright silly or ludicrous, and what are true, meaning facts with reality supporting the premise? At the risk of being seen as part of a plot to deceive, I offer the following suggestions:

1). If something seems too far-fetched to be true, then do your research rather than accept it as presented. Most of us agree that if something is too good to be true, like a Hawaiian vacation for $99, then it probably is a scam. Use that same discernment with news or "facts" that raise questions. Something important can be found in multiple sources, not just one that is re-tweeted or shared over and over.

2) Realize that truth or facts are not dependent on what you believe. They are independent of emotions and beliefs. An inconvenient truth is still true. 

3) If someone claims to have a simple answer to a complex or difficult question that has bedeviled humans for a long time, question that solution. Complex problems do not have simple answers, especially those that can be summed up in a 280-character tweet or 30 second TV commercial.

4) Does the story attack a large non-specific foe, like Big Government, Republicans, all liberals, or The Media? Such broad-brush revelations are very rarely based on fact, but much more likely on emotion or a particular agenda.

5) Accept that uncomfortable "truths" may require you to change your worldview or opinions about something. To ignore or deny simply because you may have to change is done at your own peril.

6) "Truth" does not change over time: the world was flat for thousands of years until the truth of its roundness became obvious. The world was always round; people just didn't have the tools or mindset to accept it. What changes is our awareness and understanding of what is true, not the truths behind it.


With all that being said, I would add a suggestion: question everything. Just like the round world example, question what you believe at every turn. The "truth" as you know it may be wrong, or not fully understood. Be ready to adjust to new, credible, information.

It is not easy, it goes against human nature. But that is the only way we evolve as a species: to separate fiction from the truth, rejecting the former while embracing the latter.

Now that we are knee-deep in the alternate reality known as the American political season, this may be the perfect time to see if you can tell the difference between what is real and what is just convenient or comforting to believe. Your detective skills will be needed constantly for the next few weeks.


If you are really looking to become confused and irritated at the human tendency to believe pure silliness, read Off The Edge, a book about the Flat Earth belief system and its continued presence in the (round) world. I found this an eye-opening look into why we believe all sorts of bizarre conspiracy theories that treat truth and facts as irrelevant.

Be safe out there, people. Not everything is as it seems.

September 30, 2022

How Would I Live Differently... If?

You see them on the side of milk containers, or on the tops of canned goods. Over-the-counter medicines and treatments have them, too. The "best if used by" date is when the manufacturer has determined that a product is past the time when you should consume or use it. 

The cynic in me says those dates are designed to get us to replace a perfectly good product with a new one. I know when we cleaned out my dad's apartment after his passing, we found things in his medicine cabinet that were years too old but still worked for him, and had nothing to do with his cause of death.. So, I fudge a bit. A can of mixed fruit probably won't kill me if the date was five months ago. But, after a nasty experience with turned milk, that date I follow. 

So, here is a random thought: what if humans had a "best if used by" date stamped on our can (butt), or somewhere on our body? How would that affect how we spend our days?

I like this question because there is no correct answer. In fact, the question is answerable only in the abstract. To decide what I would have done differently for the past 73 years or what I will do in the time remaining if I learned when I was going to expire, is simply an interesting mental exercise, isn't it?

Another version of this would be, "what would you do if you knew you had one year to live?" My answer (and more importantly, yours) gets to the heart of what we have decided is important to us. It helps us clarify what we have learned that makes our life worth living. With an expiration date, we have no more fantasy about the lie we tell ourselves that "there's always tomorrow" or "I have all the time in the world to do that."

If I had an expiration date or just discovered my "best if used by " stamp what would I do differently? A few thoughts may get you to ask yourself the same questions and entertain us with your answers. Of course, how long in the future I have until I expire affects my answers. So, just for sake of argument, let's assume it is 5 years in the future:

* My to-do list each day would probably look different.

* I would see some of the sights I  promised to see "someday."

* I would cut back on computer time.

* How I spend my retirement money would change.

* My spiritual life would likely deepen and strengthen.

* I would leave a book of my life lessons for my children and grandkids.

Because this is just a fantasy (I hope!) it is hard to say what else might be on this list. But, the last item jumped out at me as probably the most important. 

Regular readers know my wife is a photographer. We have hundreds of analog snapshots and a few hundred thousand digital photos filling a linen closet and several computer hard drives. So, forgetting what I looked like and the times we all spent together wouldn't be a worry for those left behind.

Of more lasting value may be what I can pass on to my kids and their kids. Like you, I have had my troubles. I have been fired, seen the dark side of some financial reversals, watched a business I built fail, had family members die, and struggled to be the kind of husband I promised to be 46 years ago.

Even so, I take the Satisfying Retirement title of this blog very seriously. If my life hadn't been one of learning and growing, solving problems, and moving forward my retirement wouldn't look like it has. If my health and finances hadn't held up so far, there is little doubt I would be different.

There should be some life lessons that someone else in my family can benefit from. I feel obligated to tell them what I know to spare them as many stumbles as possible. I would spend some of my remaining time writing down what I have learned from this journey that has been my life. Hopefully, I would honestly detail my failures and missteps as much as my successes.  In that way, the things I have learned would not stop when I reached my due date.

I should quickly add I do not want to know my expiration date. If a fortune teller wants to read my palms to check on my "Life Line,"  I will politely decline. If some fancy DNA test says my odds are 72% I will live until I am 84, that's great, but it isn't gospel.

Only, if medical tests reveal something that is likely to give me a timeline, would I want to know. Otherwise, the joy of living is too precious to worry about when it will end. No "best if used date" on my body? Good.

What about you? Would you want to know? Even as an interesting experiment, what would be on your list to accomplish if you could see into the future?