February 27, 2022

How Retirement Starts

I recently shared a post about my continuing valent attempts to paint. That reminded me that eleven years ago I wrote that retirement begins like a blank canvas.  You’ll buy all the paints and brushes but will have no idea what it will look like until you start applying the paint. Update: Over the years, I have learned this is not a very accurate depiction of what happens.

At the time, the empty canvas seemed as valid a metaphor as any. In theory, we all begin our time after full-time work unsure of what is going to happen. Sure, we made plans. Obviously, we have ideas about what a satisfying retirement will look like. We collect opinions from friends and family. We probably have read a few books.

Like me, maybe you were convinced you had it all figured out. Step A will be followed by Step B. This will happen, and then the next thing on your retirement to-do list will occur. So, the idea of starting with a blank canvas and creating what you want from scratch made sense.

Yet, rarely does it work that way.  Life has a nasty habit of messing with our plans. Things completely out of our control suddenly pop up in the path ahead of us. You are not going to know what your life really looks like until you are into it. Add to that the reality that life is really nothing but a series of changes. Maybe an etch-a-sketch would be a better visual prop.

Create what looks good to you at this moment. Then, you realize that whatever is before you isn't working. Your financial foundation begins to show a few cracks. A relationship that seemed destined for a long run starts to veer off course. 

That volunteer work that made you feel complete and helpful began to take over more of your time than felt right. A hobby that once made spare time fly by became more of an obligation.  I better keep playing the guitar, not because it is fun but I don't want to waste the money I spent to buy it, an example of the sunk cost fallacy, where someone irrationally clings to things that have already cost something.

I have had an idea for a side hustle that combines my love of woodworking with a shot at making some extra income. I seem to be pretty good at identifying stocks that will increase in value. Should I spend more time learning about self-investing?

My mom is getting sicker. I really have to make arrangements to get her into a safer environment and spend extra time visiting her. 

I really, really love to travel, explore places I have never been to, and meet people who can teach me about a different way to live. 

The examples are endless, but the point is a retired life, lived to its fullest, can't be permanently portrayed by paint on canvas, or anything that is permanent. My metaphor doesn't hold up well to reality, except in one regard.

I described the canvas as having lots of open space left after you had filled in what you wanted to happen. That part of the analogy still works. I wrote, " There is still a lot of open space left. The canvas is still more than half empty. Why? Because every single day you have the chance to add something to your life. If you approach retirement as an adventure that is open to additions and recreations, the canvas will never be finished. Just like a good artist, you believe you can always add a dash here or a blob there to improve the painting and your life."

Over twenty years of retirement and almost twelve years of writing about it has taught me a lot. It has opened my eyes and it has shocked and disappointed me on more than a few occasions. 

It has also amazed me with the resiliency of the human spirit and the will to grow. It has proven that no life is meant to be a blank canvas we complete just after retirement. A photograph is just one second in time. 

Our journey in this third stage of life is impossible to capture in all its fullness and complexity with any one idea, one representation, one approach. Forget trying to fill in the blank canvas. Instead, embrace the spaces still left to discover.

Every once in a while, give your etch-a-sketch a good shake.

February 23, 2022

Aging With Purpose and Grace


I am a sucker for lists. To-do lists, productivity lists, how to be happy lists, the best movies in a foreign language list...doesn't matter. I like lists. How about one that has nine, easy-to-follow steps to a more positive journey as we age?

1. It’s time to use some of the money you saved up. Use and enjoy it. There is nothing more dangerous than a distant relative or investment guru with big ideas for your hard-earned capital, now or after you are gone. You saved and sacrificed for precisely this time in your life. Without putting future needs at risk, get over the feeling that any excess spending is wrong. If you don't take that trip, fix the kitchen, or give a monetary gift to a grandchild, when will you? 

2. Keep a healthy life, without overdoing physical effort. Do moderate exercise (like walking every day), eat well, and get your sleep. It’s easy to become sick, and it gets harder to remain healthy. That is why you need to keep yourself in good shape and be aware of your medical and physical needs. Keep in touch with your doctor, do tests even when you’re feeling well. Stay informed. And, no, you don't have to spend two hours a day at the gym or train for a marathon...unless you want to.

3. Always buy the best, most beautiful items for your significant other. The key goal is to enjoy your money with your partner. One day one of you will miss the other, and the money will not provide any comfort then. Enjoy it together now.

4. Don’t stress over the little things. You’ve already overcome so much in your life. Remember, you have survived 100% of all the bad stuff. You have good memories and bad ones, but the important thing is the present. Don’t let the past drag you down and don’t let the future frighten you. Feel good now. Small issues will soon be forgotten.

5. Always stay up-to-date with topics that interest you. Stay in touch with friends. If social media isn't your thing, write letters or use a telephone for something other than texting! Keep your mind open. You were born knowing nothing. Everything you know now you had to learn. Well, that doesn't stop just because you are older. Keeping in touch with what is going on and with the people you know is important at any age.

6. Respect the younger generation and their opinions. They may not have the same ideals as you, but they are the future and will take the world in their direction. Give advice, not criticism, and try to gently remind them that yesterday’s wisdom still applies today. 

7. Even if you don’t feel like it, try to accept invitations. Baptisms, graduations, birthdays, weddings, conferences. Try to go. Get out of the house, meet people you haven’t seen in a while, experience something new (or something old). The last two years of a pandemic have crippled human interaction, but time locked away has proven how much we need others. If you are more comfortable as a solo act, you can still leave the house from time to time. Go to museums, go walk through a field. Get out there.

8. Be a conversationalist. Talk less and listen more. Some people go on and on about the past, not caring if their listeners are really interested. That’s a great way of reducing their desire to speak with you. Listen first and answer questions, but don’t go off into long stories unless asked to. 

Try to accept situations as they are. Everyone is going through the same things, and people have a low tolerance for too many complaints. 

9. Take no notice of what others say about you and even less notice of what they might be thinking. They’ll do it anyway, and you should have pride in yourself and what you’ve achieved. Let them talk and don’t worry. They have no idea about your history, your memories, and the life you’ve lived so far. 

There’s still much to be written, so get busy writing and don’t waste time thinking about what others might assume. Now is the time to be content, at peace, and as happy as you can be!

As an aside, recently I finished reading  Having Our Say. This is the life story, told in the words of Bessie and  Sadie, the Delany Sisters, two black women who lived to be over 100 years old and shared the struggles and triumphs of their fascinating lives. They were powerful examples of aging with purpose and grace against difficult odds.

February 19, 2022

You Asked: Yes, I Am Still Painting

I am warning you up front: this post will be a little self-indulgent. As regular readers know I started painting almost 2 years ago. I had run across some work my father had done after he and my mom moved into a retirement community. For someone who showed no artistic inclinations until then, he suddenly became captivated with learning to sketch and then to paint.

I was looking for something new to stretch my creative wings a bit, something that I had never tried before. I was convinced that this type of inventiveness wasn't in my genes. But, we felt that same way about my dad until he proved all of us wrong. So, I gave it a try.

Progress has been steady, but slow. Much of what I produce gets a coat of white paint over it and I try something else. Betty is the artist in our house. She has tried to teach me some of the basics. However, being rather stubborn, much of what I do is the result of trial and error.

Importantly, even though I am not happy with some of what ends up on the canvas, I do get excited each time I start something new. The blank canvas and tubes of acrylic paint offer a fresh beginning. Anything and everything is possible.

The only judge is me. If the end result is pleasing I put it on display for a while in my office or the living room. If the colors are a bit muddy, the details lacking, or the end results not something I want to look at, that attempt is chalked up to the learning process. I take a few days off and tackle the next project.

What all of this is teaching me is the bottom line lesson I want to pass along to you. Being afraid of doing something new means missing an opportunity to find a fresh way to gain a sense of satisfaction. Even if what you are working on is never ready for prime time, that doesn't make the effort any less important. 

Forever I have shied away from anything where I would be a beginner. I just didn't like the feeling of not being good at something, immediately. Painting is helping me conquer that silly attitude. I am quite obviously a beginner, but am OK with that status.

Several readers have asked if I am still putting brush to canvas. Maybe my dogged pursuit inspires them to keep going at whatever is not quite as simple as it looks. So, to assure you I am pursuing my inner Van Gogh (or Gramma Moses), here is a sampling of some of the paintings that have not found their way to the trashcan since the last time I dared to show my efforts.

And the practice and attempts continue!

February 14, 2022

The Beauty of A New Beginning

One of the weekly prompts for my year-long writing course involved the topic of beginnings. A series of questions about times, places, relationships, and experiences were designed to get me to think about times in my life when something was fresh, a new route to follow, or a new experience that left a lasting impact on me.

That simple premise took me down several interesting paths, yet the one that triggered this post was not one of those new beginning points in my life that I thought would have so much significance. My dating and marriage, a career decision? A new hobby? Sure, those made the list, but are not what rose to the top.

Becoming an RV owner and spending months away from home did. Being very much outside my comfort zone is something I normally avoid. Cautious is my middle name. Buying a 30-foot long metal home on wheels, learning how to not kill ourselves or others, understanding the complexities of dumping black water without covering myself in sewage, or backing into a camping spot without taking out a tree did not come naturally.

Betty and I had dreamed of getting away in a rolling house for several years. When we were first married we did own a Chinook, a very early type of mini RV that introduced us to the fun (and frenzy) of a mobile lifestyle. 

Even with that positive experience, though, it would be over thirty years until the subject came up again (think loss aversion). After getting over the fear of spending tens of thousands of dollars on a used RV, we did it...we joined the RV people.

At first, the experience was intimidating. With no rearview mirror, I had to depend on the side mirrors and always being aware of other vehicles and where they were in relation to us. Planning ahead for exits from freeways, where the next rest stop might be, or how to get to our campsite for the night took being constantly "on." Piloting an RV cannot be done while thinking of other things. Even songs on the radio could become distracting if I was driving through a congested area.

Not knowing all the "rules" and common courtesies did take some getting used to. I still remember the first time I walked through an empty campsite and was told, in no uncertain terms, that was not done. I was to stick to the circular drive to get where I was going; no shortcuts were permitted. I never figured out why, but I learned my lesson.

No matter what anyone tells you, emptying the holding tank for the toilet does not come naturally, or easily. There are several ways of embarrassing yourself or needing a very hot shower. Finding out your drainage hose has a broken collar or a crack happens, usually late at night. 

Over time, lessons were learned, roads traveled and experiences collected. Neither Betty or I ever second-guessed our choice or knowing it was time to bring this chapter to an end. The packing and unpacking, cleaning, repairing, and storing of the vehicle became reasons to delay trips. When that began to happen on a regular basis, we knew it was time to end things. 

Over four years we covered nearly 20,000 miles, visited 32 states, and have enough photos to keep us knee-deep in memories for a long time. The urge to try something new, to risk a new beginning, paid off very handsomely. 

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Note: As you read this Betty and I are enjoying a week at Disney World. She was there during the park's opening year, and really wanted to be part of the 50th anniversary. So, a Christmas present and birthday gift (today, Valentine's Day, is her birthday!) of this trip was a perfect choice. 

I might be a little slow in responding to your comments, but now you know why.

February 10, 2022

What is Loss Aversion? How Does It Affect Us?


Human beings are not always logical or predictable. We have a complex mix of thoughts and behaviors that means sometimes we make choices that baffle others.

There is one trait we all share: Loss Aversion. This is the tendency for people to strongly prefer avoiding losses, even over gains. In fact, this force is thought to be twice as powerful as acquiring profits. \

In simple termswe hate losing what we've got, even more so than gaining something. If there is a risk of a loss or the possibility of a payoff, we are much more likely to do what we can to prevent a loss. One who loses $100 will feel worse than the satisfaction that same person feels from a $100 windfall. Loses and gains aren't equal. 

 "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" is a cliche that applies. What we have we don't want to lose. This is why someone suffers a large loss on a particular investment in the stock market yet still has a very tough time selling the loser and moving forward. Even as the losses mount we tell ourselves it might turn around. If we bail out now, the loss is permanent and our mistake is there for all to see.

For a satisfying retirement that can be problematic. By avoiding risk and allowing our loss aversion tendency to dominate we are likely to miss opportunities for new experiences and growth. Actually, t
he post from last month about investing after retirement deals with loss aversion.  We are so afraid of a change in the status quo we will remain fixed in place even if our rational mind tells us there is something better available, or we need to combat the negative effects of inflation.

I think the first time I became aware that loss aversion is a real thing was six years ago when we were comtemplating a move. We decided to move from our thirty-year stay in Scottsdale to an area right around the corner from our daughters and grandkids. The housing market was strong enough we would make a nice profit on our current home, in fact enough to buy the next one for cash. This choice would seem like a simple one, right?

Well, loss aversion raised its head a few times during this process. I liked our home, its location, and its warmth and comfort. I liked our church and being near some good friends. I liked our backyard a lot. We are close to a large park that has it all. At times I heard that insistent voice saying to me, "Stay put. Don't move to something unknown. You are comfortable here."

That is the voice of loss aversion telling me to not risk a loss even if I may gain much more in the future. It was a siren call hard to ignore. But, ignore it we did. Betty and I chose to take that step. With my dad dying just two months before that move was scheduled, we were reminded that our time on earth is not guaranteed past this one moment. By avoiding the risk of loss we might be bypassing a world of possibilities and gains.

Bottom line: that decision was one of the best of our married lives. We love our (now) almost seven-year-old home. We are literally five minutes from the grandkids and my son-in-law's parents. Our other daughter is a 15-minute drive. This area of the Phoenix metro is booming. The streets are wide and the sky endless.

Loss Aversion is a powerful motivator. Try with all your might to not let it be a deciding factor in your future.

February 6, 2022

The Mundane Moments of Life

For most, chores and activities happen on a predictable schedule. My completely unscientific guess is that at least 85% of any 24 hour period is filled with just doing stuff. Empty the dishwasher, feed the dog, roll out the trash can, make a quick lunch so you can go to the gym before all the teenagers from high school can overwhelm the machines.

Pay some bills. Look at the latest silly videos on Facebook. Wash the sheets. Go to the grocery store because you are low on everything. Oh, wash a load of clothes since you are low on underwear. Water the house plants. Make a haircut appointment. Sleep. Nap. It is 4 o'clock; time for a glass of wine. Eat, sleep.

This is life: ordinary, predictable, mundane. It is why Monday is suddenly Thursday and you are hard-pressed to remember Tuesday and Wednesday since they were pretty much like Monday.

On one hand, this is a pretty dispiriting look at our existence. We read about lucky folks whose days are simply bursting with unique moments, unforgettable experiences, bursts of creativity all while we worry about a dog grooming or dentist appointment.

Maybe you have a friend who seems to spend all day creating an artistic gem in the studio. They are always out with their camera taking stunning photos of waterfalls and sunsets. Or, reading a book every few days is their norm. They seem to be floating above that 85% of the day-to-day routine that so occupies you.

However, it is very likely that the person whose life seems to be anything but ordinary does the same stuff as you and me. All the chores and responsibilities listed earlier can't be ignored. It is simply a case of a different set of priorities and scheduling. 

Maybe that person wakes up earlier, goes to bed later, or can be coherent on less sleep. Maybe the volunteer or church activities that are important to you and take time, are not part of their life. No children, nearby grandkids, or caring for relatives can make a real difference in the free time one of us has.

Thanks, Bob, for stating the obvious: life is a lot of work, of repetitive patterns, of doing what must be done. However, I suggest that opens the possibility of a fresh way of approaching our reality.

Not to just plod through the mundane but to approach those events as a time to allow your mind, your thoughts, your inner self, to churn with ideas and observations. Sort of like driving to a store you have been to a million times, your brain tells your body what to do but it isn't likely you are consciously going through all the starts and stops, the turns, and deciding on the best route.

Instead of just zoning out or going blank while emptying the dishwasher or sorting the laundry, allow your mind to use that time to think of something creative, something you'd like to do, something later today that you enjoy. The dirty clothes will still find their way into the washer, but you have used those few minutes to let your mind expand, explore, think new thoughts. 

Example: obviously this is what I attempt to do, but it may have application for your situation: I try to use mundane chore times to think of new blog topics. I try to use that "dead time" to practice my meditation techniques. Sorry if that sounds a little too zen, but really it just means I allow my mind to be open to any random thought. Some are about concerns or problems or worries. They come into my head and then are quickly shown the door. Other unexpected ideas for almost anything may make themselves known. I attempt to allow them to stimulate something and prompt some future action or decision.

Now, before you conclude that I am a monk-like figure who has a head filled with enlightenment all the time, these periods of open thinking during mundane tasks only happen occasionally. I am doing something most of the time, and no great light goes off. I am paying a bill, rolling out the recycling can, spraying weeds,  not while finding a solution to climate change...I am just doing humdrum stuff. But, every so often...something different happens and my life is better for it.

I simply ask you to consider the time we spend doing what is required can sometimes be a time of questioning and probing other ideas. It may open a door, and that door is not just the one to the laundry room.

February 2, 2022

Retirement Revisited: Seven Things To Avoid As You Retire

Every so often I am returning to the roots of Satisfying Retirement and rerunning a post that deals strictly with the nuts and bolts of retirement.  If you have yet to leave full-time work and have questions about what is ahead, I trust these posts will help you. If already retired, there is never a bad time to review what got you there and how to improve your experience.

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, things are progressing very nicely. None of those screw-ups was fatal to my journey.  OK, so what are the seven mistakes 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. Dad underwent a quintuple bypass brought on in part by a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. For the last five years of his life he spent virtually all his waking hours in a chair, reading and napping. That is not acceptable to me.

2) Try to copy a friend's retirement. Retirement is as unique as you are. Wanting to live like Bill or Sally or whoever 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 economic downturn, 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 website or book tells you
. I have written a lot 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 adopt 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 extremely risky. Maybe you have always landed on your feet: great job, lots of money, loving spouse and cute, well-behaved children, and in-laws you like...Not so fast. Life has a habit of throwing you a curveball just when you least expect it.

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

Next 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.

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. At times 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.