August 17, 2022

Money: The Struggle Between Wanting and Needing



Recently, I read a quotation from philosopher Eric Hoffer that grabbed me with its simplicity. Consider his thought: "Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some."

In other words, the more we have the more we want, and with greater determination. The mindset that "there is never too much" is more likely to infect someone who is already starting with an overflowing basket. 

I find that both depressing, and very true. In most instances, human nature is pretty predictable. In our developed economies the acquisition of stuff, the accumulation of power or influence, and the desire to ascend the social totem pole drive too many of us too much of the time. 

What compels this imbalance in our personality? Is it nature or nurture? Did the way we were raised in regard to money and possessions shape us? Or, does our daily barrage of social media, advertising, and peer pressure warp our values over time? Do we even notice the pressures all around us to conform and do our part to support the economy?

I don't pretend to know the answers. But, one of my weekly writing prompts produced some questions that might help us get a firmer handle on what is going on. I will give you my personal reaction to a few of them, and then ask you to add your experiences and thoughts.

What do you remember your family saying about money during family conversations? I grew up in a comfortable, middle-class suburban household. Therefore, money was rarely talked about. I know my dad struggled with steady employment for much of his working years. But, my mom's teaching kept things steady and any financial problems were never discussed in front of the three boys.  We were not a family that spent much on non-basics, though a yearly family vacation was normal. 

I heard occasional stories of life during the Great Depression. I know my dad had to sell vegetables door-to-door to help support his family; an orange was a typical Christmas present.  I picked up the idea of avoiding the power of instant gratification through examples but not formal instruction. Financial basics through osmosis were more like it.

What is your first memory of making money for yourself? How did it feel? I guess I was born with an entrepreneurial streak. I remember having a paper route early on. Living in Ohio at the time, winters were cold, long, and snowy. My route started at least a mile from my home at the bottom of a long hill from our home. Instead of bags over my shoulders, sometimes dragging a wagon filled with papers was required

Either I was industrious or a bit of a wimp: when the snow was particularly deep I hired a few neighborhood boys to complete my route that day. I paid them probably more than I made but I couldn't face pulling that little red wagon through snow drifts. This "contracting out" my work didn't end well. The boys I hired were not particularly concerned about where the papers landed. Complaints to my boss about having to retrieve a paper from a roof or under a bush forced me to conclude I would have to handle things myself. One winter was enough; I left that employment option behind.

After a move to a less-snowy clime, my next money-making brainstorm was to sell postage stamps to collectors. A 4n amateur philatelist (stamp collector) myself, I bought small, plastic envelopes, ordered stamps from other countries through the mail, packaged them, and attempted to sell my product doot-to-door. 

Not that different from the paper route experience, I lost money. The stamps and envelopes cost more than the few I managed to sell to neighborhood folks. I am sure most bought something from me out of pity, or neighborly concern.

Even so, these two experiences were actually positive for me. Over the years other ideas sprang forth from my youthful brain, some successful, some not. But, the thrill of possibility, of maybe hitting a winning streak keeps me on the hunt.


Do you believe money is a gift, a curse, or something in between? For me, money is a tool. At times it has been a scary reality. When I was fired after moving to a new city, the need to support my wife, two very young daughters and myself brought our financial situation into very sharp focus. 

After solving that dilemma, I have never seen money as anything more than the necessity to provide for the life I wanted for my family. I give my upbringing credit for not thinking of money as some measure of success or status. It was a tool to live, nothing more, nothing less.

I must quickly add that I have been very lucky. My career was successful and was one that paid well above average wages. If I had been in the position to struggle, cut every corner, and not be able to pay for my kid's college or fund our retirement, I really don't know how my attitude might have been different.


How about your experiences with money? Were you given a firm foundation at home, or maybe learned what not to do? How about your first jobs? Pleasant and exciting, or pure drudgery?

"The love of money is the root of all evil." Money, itself, is benign. It is how we think about it and use it that makes it more than a simple method of exchange.



August 13, 2022

My First Experience With Physical Therapy



I guess I shouldn't be surprised; I have just completed my first few visits to a physical therapist. I know people younger than me who had a problem that required P.T. sessions after a car accident or a knee replacement. Frankly, though, I never thought of me needing their services. Indestructible Bob!

After a painful and irritating bout of sciatic nerve pain, my doctor prescribed a medicine to help me manage the discomfort. It did, to a point. But, I suggested a physical approach rather than a more potent pill. My continuing goal is to stay away from prescription drugs whenever I can. Dealing with the symptom instead of the cause is not the way I prefer to go.

Doc agreed and set up a physical therapy appointment at a facility not far from my home. I will admit I was pretty apprehensive. I pictured a session with a tough woman named Helga, who berated my shrinking muscle mass, flabby underarms, and disappearing butt. She would have me sweating and grunting in short order.

None of that happened. The person I was assigned to was a he, young enough to be my son but easy to talk with. He asked all the right questions, typed furiously on his laptop, and began an exam, not unlike a chiropractor with strong hands.

It didn't take him long to determine my hamstrings were too tight, my core and flexibility needed some work, and my symptoms certainly fit the definition of sciatica. Then he answered the most critical question: Medicare would pay for as many sessions as I needed to relieve the pain and regain strength in my leg.

He prescribed four simple exercises to start. I  am to perform each, twice a day, every day. We settled on a twice-a-week appointment time, and I was out the door 55 minutes later, none the worse for wear. I am keeping my part of the bargain by following through on the daily stuff; the nerve pain down my left leg seems to have already improved.

My long-term goals are for these sessions to improve my mobility, decrease the likelihood of falls by improving my balance, keep any surgery out of my immediate future and stay away from pills. Not bad for some exercise and the guidance of a professional.

August 9, 2022

What I Don't Do

 


Posts that detail what retired folks do with their time each day are among the most popular on this blog. Some continue to generate hundreds of views. Even for those who have been retired for quite some time, finding out what others do is interesting and sometimes inspirational, or maybe we are just a bit nosey.

This time around, I want to take a different approach: here is a short list of six things I do not do as part of my daily routine.

1) Check my financial investments and the stock market daily. I can't think of a quicker way to drive myself crazy than watching the constant gyrations of the financial markets. There are folks who do that for a living. I use one of them to watch my money and let her try to make sense of a rather confusing system to protect me and my family's long-term future. To my untrained eye, everything seems to run on emotion, rumor, or events in a place so distant I am lucky to find it on a map. What looks like good news to me sends the Dow Jones into a tailspin. 

For the last several months it seems as if everyone is wondering if we are in a recession or not. Frankly, I don't really care if conditions meet the technical definition. Inflation is bad and supply chain issues still affect the grocery store shelves and the markets continue to send out mixed signals.

Once a month I add the various totals from my accounts to a spreadsheet. Even then, if there has been a drop I don't panic and place a call to the advisor. Over the past three or fourth months of downward dips, I have asked my advisor if everything is where I want it to be. After a discussion, I settle back down.  Even during the nasty times of 2008-2010, I didn't sell much or worry. I trusted the long-term strength of the economy and her skills. It has paid off.

2) Regret something I did years ago. What would be the point? I can't change it, I can't relive it and do something differently. To regret it in a way that it remains bouncing around in my mind on a regular basis doesn't happen. I try to fix whatever happened as I move forward and learn from that bad choice to avoid making it again.

3) (Sort of) Forget that the clock is ticking. I turned 73 a few months ago. I am not a spring chicken. According to the life expectancy for the year I was born, 69 years on earth was what I should expect. Now that I passed that, that same chart gives me another 12 years. Based on my family history and my overall health I plan on beating that. After all, 85 seems right around the corner!

Even so, nearly 85% of my life is in the rearview mirror. It is my absolute intention to make that last 15% full of happiness, productivity, and doing things beneficial to others. We hear that life goes by so quickly. Yes, it does. I hear that clock ticking but I am not allowing it to terrify me or hold me back. 

4) Take my important relationships for granted. My wife, Betty, and I just celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary. That is just as hard to grasp as having the majority of my life behind me. She has been part of my life, a part of me for so long, that my years before her almost don't seem real. We complete each other in ways that are too numerous to list. We help each other grow and change in positive ways, ways that would be impossible without each other.

My grown daughters have developed into tremendous adults. Each is comfortable in her own skin. Each has built a life that is satisfying for them. Having them close by is a blessing that shows itself every day. Adding grandkids to the mix is almost too much good news. 

5) Believe I can have a chili dog and onion rings for lunch and not pay a price. See point #3 above! What I eat, how I use my body, and the attention I pay to what it is telling me is mostly within my control. Shame on me if I trade my future for instant gratification today. My cardiac episode of almost seven years ago was a powerful reminder.

6) Allow my mind to stagnate. To stop learning new things, to stop listening to new music, to stop having conversations with people I disagree with, to stop engaging in the world, is to stop living. Frankly, it is easier at our age to let our thinking sort of calcify, to harden around what we know, to stick with what makes us happy and comfortable. It is hard work to push back against a mind that wants to just rest. It is also the way to slowly fade away. 

I can't imagine a time without my attempts at painting, playing the guitar, working on this blog, enjoying the time spent reading, and working as a volunteer at the library. They add joy and sparkle to my day. My mind may fail me at some point, but until then I am not simply waiting for it to happen. 


There are six things I try not to do as part of my satisfying retirement if I can help it. Just so you know, I fail to live up to one or more of these points more often than I'd like to admit, even in a blog.


August 5, 2022

Follow Up on Signing...and a Quick, Cool Getaway.


Because neither of this post's topics seems to hold the promise of 700 words of deep insight, I am breaking the rule (mine) and covering two totally different subjects.

A few months ago Betty and I took on the challenge of learning sign language. Using the ASL method, we have spent some time each week working together to master many of the basic signs we may need to communicate between ourselves or others.

There are dozens of apps and hundreds of YouTube videos that have made this easier than I first assumed. Of course, like any language, those proficient in it flash signs much more quickly than we can decipher. Even with the ability to slow down the playback speed, there are times when we are left scratching our heads or taking our best guess.

I find it interesting so many of the signs are intuitive. The rocking of your arms for a baby, turning a steering wheel to represent a car, waving goodbye for...Bye, are obvious and part of the language. Of course, some are more complex and some are purely invented to communicate something. 

ASL doesn't use verbs or articles. So, if I point to myself and give the rocking motion, I am rocking/holding a baby, assuming the person watching will fill in the am and a part of that statement. English sign language does use symbols for verbs and such so their signing is more complete. But, for our purposes, filling in the obvious words to complete a sentence or thought is so much easier.

Bottom line: While neither of us could communicate very well with another hearing-impaired person yet, we are beginning to make each other's desires or actions known. Like anything else, ASL will require regular practice and use. Betty and I know enough now to tell the other person to take a hike...no, just kidding. I don't know the sign yet for hiking, but the one at the top of the post means, "I love you."


After three weeks of dealing with temperatures between 105 and 116, we finally hightailed it out of town for an all-too-brief getaway. At 8,900 feet, the tiny town of Greer, AZ is usually 40 degrees cooler than the Valley. Daytime highs in the low 70s or upper 60s meant we could wear long pants and sweatshirts for the first time since early May. With one general store and two restaurants, there are few distractions. 

It rained every day, generally showers or overnight thunderstorms. This time of year is considered the monsoon season in Arizona, A flow of moisture from Mexico is responsible for rain all over the state, but the White Mountains tend to soak up a lot of it.

Our cabin was perfect for the seven of us. Our youngest daughter was supposed to be with us, but her business required a trip to Quebec. I don't feel too sorry for her! We kept the days open for games, hikes, movie-watching, reading, and eating simple, filling fare. We had two dogs with us who were kept more than busy by the new smells. 

Here are some pictures to help you take a quick mental vacation  A special thanks to granddaughter, Kassidy, for providing many of the photos for this post:








Mother and child reunion



Betty is in charge


Yes, Main St is always this busy



Kaylee contemplating High School

Kassidy thinking about Junior High




Daddy enjoying the solitude


Josh thinking about the start of football








All of us enjoying time together



August 1, 2022

What if A Normal Retirement Seems Out of Reach?


For many of us, retirement follows a pattern that seems almost preordained. We have worked for several decades. We live a "normal" life, sometimes spending more than we should but being careful to set aside money for the future. We try to control our human urge for instant gratification and do our best to live within a budget. Eventually, we leave the world of work and begin to experience the freedoms of this new phase of our life.

Social Security starts. Medicare eases many of our worries about health expenses. We travel some, spend more time with family, satisfy our creative urges, volunteer in a way that gives back some of our blessings, and often see growth in our spiritual life. In short, our retirement is what we hoped for.

Unfortunately, not everyone lives in this idealized picture. A post a while ago dealt with grandparents becoming parents. That topic generated some excellent comments. Another article about continuing to support adult children also hit a hot button for several. When does our financial commitment end, or is having a child a life-long support commitment? Most of us expect that the daily parenting part of our life is over as we approach retirement age. But, for too many, it is not. Dreams of a very different future are put on hold or ended.

What about having to retire due to an unexpected job loss, a Covid-induced issue, or any of the dozens of problems we all seem to be dealing with these days? How about folks that lived either paycheck to paycheck, just scraping by, or stitched together a series of part-time jobs, just trying to stay afloat until the economy and inflation tipped over their boat? The image of everyday retirement life isn't part of their reality.

I will readily admit that my retirement is progressing well. I am living pretty much the way I thought I would be at this stage of my life. A few early struggles over financial worries and time management are the worst I have experienced so far. Finding passions and things to occupy my mind and energies took a few years. 

To offer advice to others in very different situations makes me somewhat uneasy. I have some thoughts based on what I have read, researched, and seen, but not based on personal experience. So, I hope I am not way off the mark. I can offer some thoughts and hope you will add your ideas and suggestions. 

* Housing is likely to be a significant problem for someone with serious financial restraints. A typical home or condo is increasingly out of reach for new homeowners. If you sell your current home for more than you ever dreamed possible, the next one will be just as mind-boggling. In many parts of the country, affordable apartments are hard to find. Or the past few years, this problem has become a literal crisis. Evictions are on the rise after a pandemic moratorium.

What are alternatives? Roommates and shared housing are options. The tiny house movement is a possibility. Park Models at RV parks offer security and comfort at reasonable prices. Certainly manufactured housing, either purchased or rented, can be an option. Staying with relatives may be the only option for now. 

*Many skills and experiences lend themselves to participating in the barter and exchange economy. An estimated $14 billion in services are exchanged in the U.S. annually without cash. A family member of mine exchanges a 60-minute massage for hairstyling. Both ladies benefit, and no money changes hands. Maybe you have training as a nurse or adult daycare worker. Is it possible to exchange that experience for room and board?

Folks are making enough money to make life more pleasant by selling household items or collectibles on eBay. Buying things at a local flea market and then reselling them is common. Millions of us visit the website every day, all looking to buy or sell.

* The quickest way to make money is to spend less of what you have. I hope I am not minimizing the real problem some of our fellow retirees face. Choosing between food or prescriptions is not a theoretical choice for too many. Living through a hot summer without air conditioning can be life-threatening as we get older. 

Even so, most of us can find something we can live without. What we consider a necessity may be a luxury when times are tight. After all, when we were growing up, there were three TV channels, no cell phones, and a meal out was a special treat. We didn't feel deprived. 

* Retirement is not a forever state if you can't afford it to be. There is absolutely no shame in going back to full or part-time work. You will be thought of as a successful entrepreneur if you turn a hobby or skill into a business that generates any level of income. Don't get discouraged if some form of age discrimination makes things more difficult. 

* It is hard to make sense of a situation where health care costs, particularly prescription medicines, are unaffordable to tens of millions of our citizens. . For the truly poor, Medicaid guaranteed treatment at the emergency room, and other government programs are available. They can be onerous and sap one's dignity, but they will keep someone alive. The lower and middle class gets shafted in this country, and I don't have an answer. If someone is forced into early retirement, employer-provided health care coverage is gone. Meals-on-Wheels may provide the only decent food someone receives all week, and services like that have suffered dramatically after Covid.

The pre-Obamacare model didn't work. The current state of health services is an improvement but continues to allow too many to fall through the cracks. Health care based on maximizing profits and minimizing contact with people who need a doctor is ridiculous. 

Frankly, this is not a political issue. This is a moral and ethical embarrassment. Society has a responsibility to provide an essential service like health care to its citizens that can't afford decent care. New legislation that allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices appears likely and is a long overdue step, but that is not nearly enough.

A "normal" retirement shouldn't be our goal, regardless of financial or health status. I will tell anyone that retirement is a unique experience for each of us. At the same time, there are questions about how our less-fortunate citizens can deal with the problems that confront them.

I hope a few of the things noted above are helpful, but I am willing to bet you have some thoughts, ideas, and approaches I haven't touched on.