Stock Markets Rebounding, At Least For Now

Boomers, you can rest a little easier tonight.

U.S. stock markets rebounded strongly on Wednesday, with the Dow-Jones closing up 600 points. That was a relief for investors, especially retirees and those nearing retirement. The world needed a rally after a six-day losing streak in New York.

And news media are reporting, shortly before midnight Wednesday, U.S. Eastern Time, that even China has opened Thursday’s trading day on the upside. Markets in Japan and other Asian nations also opened higher.

Maybe retirees could simplify their lives if they held investments in less volatile places than the stock markets. Simplify your life, sleep well, live long. But don’t look to me for investment advice, please. I simply report what I hear.

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Retirement Travel Made Simple. Or Is It?

Baby Boomers who are still technologically challenged (you know who your are), but who also plan to be world travelers in retirement, need to get up to speed. Just do it.

You can kiss your friendly, all-knowing travel agent Good-bye. Like other humans in the knowledge industry, and most other industries as well, they’re going to be replaced by technology.

Travel, like real estate, is becoming ever more do-it-yourself, thanks to smart phones, tablets, and your trusty laptop. All those devices are as willing to follow you anywhere as your dog. And if you need to find a pet-friendly hotel in a hurry, your smart phone can help. There’s probably an app for that.

Take a look at “See How Your Travel Experience Is Switching Up Digitally” for helpful details, provided by a savvy millennial blogger.

Selecting A Nursing Home, Or Call It A “Care Center,” If You Wish

Michelle, over at The Green Study, offers lots of insight and information, as all good bloggers should. And, she is an excellent writer. For example:

“And here’s a tip: If a waft of urine rolls over you when you open the front door of a nursing home (euphemistically now called a Care Center), this might not be the place for your loved one. Also, if the employees’ name tags are handwritten on pieces of paper taped to their uniforms, this might indicate also NOT A PLACE FOR YOUR LOVED ONE. I saw both during tours yesterday.”

Doesn’t “a waft of urine” just about say it all? The Green Study is located here.

Here’s hoping that, when the time comes, I will skip right past the nursing home, or care center, or whatever they call it, and go directly to hospice care. However, we’re not going to think about this any more today.

Retirement Warning: Cable TV News Is Hazardous To Your Mental Health

The financial news on CNBC today is frightening for retirees and those nearing retirement, as it has been for the past week. If you switch over to CNN, the news is depressing. That’s really all you need to know. Don’t watch Cable TV news unless you feel strong. Cable TV news can only bring you down.

The financial news and the stock markets can be particularly toxic for senior citizens and people on fixed incomes. People nearing retirement often have significant investments in the equities markets, which can be volatile. Few people, if any, know when it’s time to get in or get out. People with too much invested in stock markets can lose a lot of their retirement nest egg in a few days.

People who are already retired are all too aware of the fact that retirement incomes are often fixed. That is, you’re not going to get raises year after year, except cost-of-living increases in Social Security, and COLA increases don’t even necessarily keep up with inflation.

On other cable news channels, talking heads often repeat the most violent story of the day, all day long, with constant replays of the same appalling film clip. Or in the absence of violence, they’ll chew over the insignificant political development of the day, or the most inane comment by a presidential candidate. The frequency of mass shootings, or any kind of shootings, is particularly saddening.

If you want today’s basic bad news, without the gory details, you can read the following indented paragraphs. If not, skip to the closing paragraphs that aren’t indented.

Bad news today, Wednesday: In the middle of the trading day, world stock markets continue to be chaotic. China, India, and Russia have another losing day. The Shanghai Index ended down 1.3 percent for the day. Generally speaking, stocks in Asia and Europe were down Wednesday. Developing economies seem to face a great deal of uncertainty. That’s practically today’s ONLY story on CNBC.

Meanwhile, the killing of a news reporter and photographer dominates the news on the other cable TV channels. That shocking tragedy took place live, on the air, early Wednesday morning. The two journalists were working for a Roanoke, VA, television station, filming a  story on location. The alleged killer is a former employee of the same TV station. The shooter was cornered by police several hours later on a Virginia highway and took his own life. New details of the story were reported all day. It was practically today’s ONLY story on CNN.

The financial losses in China, especially, are shaking markets all over the world, including the developed Western Countries, where economies are said to be relatively strong and continuing to grow out of the 2008 recession. Billions in value have been lost in the past week, especially in China. But even in the West, the economic picture is uneven. Greece and Puerto Rico are in deep debt.

In the past two days, markets in the U.S. and Europe have been trying to rally. But the rally failed in New York in the last hour yesterday. U.S. stocks had a good morning today, faltered in early afternoon, staged a rally in mid-afternoon.  Market experts are saying: DON’T PANIC. Sounds like good advice to moi.

Now it’s 2 p.m. Wednesday, which is like the witching hour. (Something about margin calls.) U.S. markets are now up for the day. People holding their breath from now to the closing bell. The takeaway, don’t watch the hour-to-hour stock fluctuations. Do as I say, not as I do 🙂 If you must, you can see the latest numbers from CNBC here.

On CNBC, analysts are naming stocks they say are down so far that they’ve become bargains. I’m not paying any attention to that. But then, I don’t have any money in the stock market, and I don’t have any to invest. Meanwhile, some experts are speculating that the market might be turning into a bear market. This stuff can drive you crazzzy!

I usually avoid giving advice, especially specific advice. I’m not qualified to give advice on most subjects. And even if one is qualified, unless someone asks for advice, I avoid volunteering it. Unsolicited advice is usually unwelcome.

The exception is advice from your health care professionals They need to give you advice, even if you don’t want to hear it. It’s for your own good; sometimes it can even be a matter of life or death. Listen to advice from your health care professional. Of course, when there are decisions to be made about treatment, the patient has the right to make the decision. Usually, the patient is wise to consult with health care professionals and family and friends. If you like, get a second opinion from another doctor.

Another exception is weather news. Often, knowing the weather news can help you stay safe.

Regarding news, I’m a retired newsman, so I claim a degree of expertise. Having been close to breaking news all my life, I hope I’ve built up some resistance to bad news. I also know when to shrug off news as irrelevant or silly or simply incorrect. I understand the effect that too much bad news can have on people. Older people have a tendency to watch too much television news, and are more susceptible to depression from the news, at least sometimes, than younger folks.

Scary Times In The World’s Stock Markets, Expensive Housing In My Own Back Yard

Dollars and cents have been on my mind ever since I retired in 2013. I had known for a long time approximately how much my income would be after I stopped working. I naively thought it would be comfortable enough. I knew that I would bring almost no personal savings into retirement, for reasons I might or might not go into in another post.

Actual retirement focused my mind on my financial situation, and I got the housing equivalent of sticker shock. I discovered that — in 2015 dollars — my retirement income didn’t stretch as far as I thought it would a few years back. The cost of living in general has gone up, but the cost of renting or buying a home in the county where I grew up had gone through the roof. (I call housing, “Shelter From The Storm.”)

As a result, I’ve been preoccupied for the past year with searching for the right place to set down retirement roots for the long run. It has to be affordable over the next ten or twenty years, at least.

I’ve done a lot of research. Back when I was sixty, I started a blog intending to focus on living a simple and frugal lifestyle. It became a general-purpose blog, but I did write a number of posts, early on, about the differing costs of living in a number of geographic locations, such as North Dakota and Maine. (What made me think I’d ever want to live in such cold places?)  I’ll have to provide links to some of those earlier posts, but not tonight.

Tonight, the news is focused on a stock market meltdown in China, and reactions in stock markets  around the world. You might think China’s general economy is in a shambles, but that must be hyperbole. Despite problems, China’s economy is reportedly still growing. But growing how much? How’s that for burying the lead? What I’m saying is that you’ll read more about the difficulty of finding affordable Shelter From The Storm in future posts. A lot more! Establishing a permanent retirement home is Job One, for me.

But tonight, all eyes are focused on financial news. Makes me realize how fortunate I am, not having any money invested in the stock market. Also reminds me how important money and frugal living are for retired people like me. I file everything about money under Dollars And Cents.

I was glued to CNN for a couple of hours tonight, and I imagine many other retired folks were too.  The news is perhaps most riveting for those who plan to retire in a few years. If you’d like some analysis, try Stock Market Bears Are Growling.

A lot of folks postponed retirement during and after the recession of 2008. One would hope we all learned a lesson from that one. However, the U.S. stock market returned to apparent health, and I suspect many people plunged right back in. Some have been trying to recoup losses from the recession. Many others awaken, late in their careers, to how little they’ve saved, and hope to make up for lost time.

Breaking news: this just in! The Shanghai market was reported declining late Tuesday morning, China time. But other Asian markets were trying to rally. In the U.S., investors must be nervous as hell waiting for New York markets to open Tuesday morning.

Background: Last week saw a general selloff in world stock markets. In the U.S., the S&P 500 was off 3.2 percent on Friday alone. The Dow-Jones Index fell 1,000 points, or 5.8 percent, for the week. The Dow opened the new week with a 600-point loss on Monday.

You want to know what financial advice they’re talking about on CNN? I can summarize it in two words: DON’T PANIC!  Thank goodness I’m not writing one of those retirement blogs that try to sell you on investing all your money in stocks, or bonds, or gold. Hog bellies, anyone?

If we’re not about investments, what are we about? “Retirement Made Simple” is now into its third week, a good time to remind readers, and myself especially, what it’s all about. I outlined the general scope of the new blog in this third-day post: Housing And Money And Cars, Oh My

Second Week For A New Blog

Today is Day 12 for “Retirement Made Simple.” Today set a new personal best for the blog, logging 18 visitors and 35 views. Previously, I’d gone over 10 views twice, but not yet hit 20. Today we soared past 20 views AND 30 views to 35, with an hour left.

Also today, the blog got its first referral from a search engine! Throw a party! Seven search engine hits, in fact. Five from Bing and two from Yahoo. What’s up with Google? Google still missing after 12 days?

I believe it’s much harder for a new blog to attract attention through a search engine than it was a few years back. I hope the search engines are aware of my posts by now, but most hits for a new blog will be buried under thousands of other hits. Who’s going to see it? I’ve been getting one or two visits, now and then via the WordPress Reader.

Since no readers have come from search engines before today, how were a few people discovering the blog? Most of them were other bloggers whose posts I’d commented on, and some were readers clicking over from a comment. Interacting with other bloggers is time-intensive, but it’s also fun, informative, and so important.

I’m also using the WordPress publicize feature to send notice of new posts to my Facebook page and Twitter feed. I have about 125 friends on Facebook, and every post draws two or three visits via Facebook. Haven’t received a visit via Twitter yet on this blog. On my other blogs, I’ve regularly received a few hits from Facebook, but rarely any from Twitter.

Discipline and focus in posting

My blog is about Retirement, Simplicity, and Aging Gracefully on a fixed income. My target audience is retired folks and workers who are nearing retirement or thinking about it. But surprisingly, many of my readers so far have been younger adults. No age discrimination here.

You’re probably wondering, what was the post that sparked the surge from 5 visitors and 12 views on Thursday and 4 visitors and 7 views on Friday, to 18 visitors and 35 views on Saturday? It’s a breaking news story: “Social Security Cost-Of-Living Increase For 2016 In Danger.” The source is rock solid, AARP. The story also mentioned an expected increase in the Medicare premium for 2016, as well as the bad news about the Social Security COLA.

The story is spot on for my target audience. Retired folks care dearly about Social Security and Medicare. Most of us depend on Social Security for the bulk of our retirement income, and on Medicare to cover the high cost of health care. This is the way it’s supposed to work folks. You focus as tightly as possible on one or a few related subjects that interest your target audience. If you provide the right information, they will come.

Hey, just had one more visit and one view at 11:25 p.m. New total 19 visitors and 36 views.

One thing more. I notice that nearly every day, the number of views is about double the number of visitors. This is gratifying. It means that visitors aren’t just making a quick hit and then surfing on to the next big thing. They’re lingering for at least a minute or two and exploring other posts on the blog.

Here’s the take-away:  Inside blogging information is as dull as grass growing on a cloudy day to most of my target audience. The spot-on Social Security story was the right kind of post. This blog statistics stuff is the wrong kind of post. (But since many of my readers early on are other bloggers, I can probably get away with it.) You and I want to build readership for our blogs, and also credibility according to the algorithms of the soulless search engines.

You won’t see many more posts that stray from the core topics that interest my target audience.

How else, indeed

Concise and profound!

Live & Learn

red-butterfly-butterflies-painting-art-Hermann-Teuber

It is necessary to write,
if the days are not to slip emptily by.
How else, indeed,
to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?
For the moment passes, it is forgotten;
the mood is gone; life itself is gone.

~ Vita Sackville-West, Selected Writings


Sources: Poem Source:Schonwiener. Painting by Hermann Teuber, Red Butterflies, (1959) (via Journal of a Nobody)

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Social Security Cost-Of-Living Increase For 2016 In Danger

This just in from AARP:  The annual cost-of-living (COLA) increase for Social Security recipients is probably not going to happen in 2016. Retirees depend on the COLA to keep the value of their Social Security benefit from depreciating over time.

Meanwhile, Medicare Part B premiums are almost certain to go up in 2016. Silver lining: if there’s no Social Security COLA, retirees whose Medicare premiums are deducted from their monthly Social Security benefits will not have to pay the higher Medicare premium

Here’s the full text of the AARP statement that landed in my email Friday:

 “Nearly 60 million Social Security recipients will probably not get a cost-of-living increase next year, according to projections in the 2015 Social Security and Medicare trustees reports.

This would be the third time Social Security beneficiaries have gone without a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) since 1975, when automatic raises were put into place. The COLA this year was 1.7 percent, making the average monthly check for retired workers $1,334 as of May.

Increases in benefits are tied to the third-quarter average inflation rate compared to the same period the previous year. Inflation has been virtually flat in 2015, due to the crash in oil prices, says Michael Kitces, director of research with Pinnacle Advisory Group in Columbia, Md.

While that makes a COLA appear unlikely, it “is a projection and could change,” says Nicole Tiggemann, a spokeswoman with the Social Security Administration. But it would take a dramatic upturn in prices in the next few months to trigger a COLA for 2016.

AARP and other advocacy groups have long argued that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) used to determine the inflation rate and calculate annual Social Security COLAs doesn’t accurately measure the spending patterns of older Americans.

“Older Americans tend to spend their income differently from the working population that is measured by the current CPI,” says Alison Shelton, senior strategic policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute. For instance, they spend more on health care, a cost that tends to rise faster than the inflation rate, she says.

The net effect of this difference has been about 0.2 percentage points a year, she says. In other words, if the standard inflation rate is 1.5 percent, for older consumers it feels like a 1.7 percent increase. “It tends to add up,” Shelton says.

The lack of a COLA would also have an impact on Medicare beneficiaries. Most of those who have Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security checks would not see an increase in those payments because rules hold them steady when there is no COLA. That’s about 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who now pay $104.90 a month in Part B premiums.

The rest of the Medicare beneficiaries — including those with higher incomes, those who didn’t participate in Social Security at their workplace and new beneficiaries — would bear the brunt of any premium increases. The latest Medicare trustees report projects that the base premium for these groups next year would rise to $159.30 a month under this scenario.”

More than the COLA is in danger, in the medium run and the long run.

I used to be confident that Social Security would continue to provide an income floor for older workers, at least for the foreseeable future. However, a number of developments in recent years have shaken my faith.

The inability of the American political system to effectively manage public revenues and expenses, the faltering economy, the embrace of austerity in advanced Western nations, and finally, the steadily increasing concentration of wealth among the few and impoverishment of the many, all these changes give me reason to worry about Social Security.

Most of all, the steady drumbeat of propaganda against Social Security seems to be creating a self-fulfilling prophesy of failure.

I personally don’t think the demise of Social Security is inevitable. But the prospects for deep cuts in the Social Security program seem to be growing. Same thing is true for Medicare and Medicaid, I believe. A likely outcome in my opinion: one of the three — Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid — might be sacrificed in an attempt to save the other two.

Retirement Offers Freedom, If We Can Seize It

Talk about serendipity! I’ve recently started a blog called “Retirement Made Simple,” and suddenly, today, I stumble upon the best definition of retirement I’ve ever read.

“We don’t have to be who we were yesterday. We don’t have to live on auto-pilot anymore. You have permission to let go, spread your wings, and be who your heart is telling you to be.”

This is what my work life felt like, more often than not

This is what my work life felt like, more often than not

Isn’t that what the first day of retirement ought to feel like? We truly have the opportunity, if we can seize it, to make a clean break from yesterday. We are free of the perpetual rat race of work, commute, dress for success, bow down before the corporation, sacrificing our individuality — and maybe our health — on the altar of profit. We can, perhaps for the first time, live as the person we really are, or really want to be.

The above quote is from a blog post titled “You Have Permission,” over at a new blog called “Hippy.ish.”  What an awesome blog! It’s written by a young woman who doesn’t fit the traditional image of a retired person. In fact, she’s not retired at all. She has a young child. She’s a person who is, as she says, “Chasing A Life of More Based On Less.” Her way of life and goals are not necessarily shared by most retired people. I think she has a lot of wisdom about “minimalism” to share with all people, retired and otherwise. The point is, we have freedom!

A clean break from yesterday. Daunting words, frightening or at least unsettling words, for those of us living life in a rut. Not ideal words, but the best I can come up with. Note that a clean break, taken literally or to the extreme, is not necessary, and not necessarily in our best interests. Change is always stressful, often frightening. For most of us, a measured transition, a gradual letting go, might be the better way to implement change.

Retirement might look more like a serene waterfall.

Retirement might look more like a serene waterfall.

A clean break does not imply a complete break. We can keep active the friendships we had at work. We can remain an interested observer in a lifelong profession, if we wish. But we aren’t required to do so. We are free!

Or rather, we have the opportunity of freedom, if we are able to seize it. Many of us, if we’re brought to the very edge of freedom, might choose not to fly. That could be a good thing or a bad thing. Not for others to judge.

Some of us are among the fortunate few who’ve been flying all along, as real as can be. We might already have responsibilities to fulfill outside the realm of paid work. Or promises to keep. Taking care of family members or friends comes to mind. We might have satisfying roles at church or in the community that we intend to continue. We might already reside in our dream house! We wouldn’t change the status quo at all, except for not setting the alarm clock and going to our accustomed job every day.

I don’t count myself in that group. I’ve rarely had work I enjoyed. The job was mostly a grind, something I must do to earn a living, not something I would choose to do. In later years, full-time work consumed most of my time and energy. I didn’t get a lunch hour, or a lunch half-hour. I needed the weekend to recuperate and pull myself together for another week of drudgery. I suspect that’s pretty much the standard experience of the working person.

To be sure, retirement will bring new challenges. Mountains to climb, or maybe only rocks to scramble over. We will have some freedom to choose our mountains. But life never offers total freedom. (Photos by John Hayden)

To be sure, retirement will bring new challenges. Mountains to climb, or maybe only rocks to scramble over. We will have some freedom to choose our mountains. But life never offers total freedom. (Photos by John Hayden)

However, even if my life has NOT been satisfying or fulfilling, the prospect of seizing freedom is problematic. Do I even know how to fly? Do I have the courage to walk out the prison door when it opens? Now that I have freedom at last, what is it that I want or need to do?

We can expect barriers. Simple inertia. Laziness. Apathy. Poverty. Sickness. Fear.

We have choices. Some retirees, especially men, might sit down in the recliner and watch television until they die.

Family and friends will be uncomfortable with change. But most of all, I will be uncomfortable. Do I even have a clue what I want to do? I’ll press the issue one step farther.

Do I know what I’m called to do with the rest of my life? Sorry. The rest of my life is the wrong question.

How long is the rest of my life, anyway? None of us knows. Rarely can we see years ahead. The most I can reasonably expect is light for the next step. Those words are not original with me. “Light for the next step.” I picked up the concept at a weekend conference years ago. I’ve kept my eyes open for light ever since, but rarely have I seen it. Usually, I feel my way along cautiously in something like a fog.

We’ve come to the crux of the matter now. At every crossroads in life, what we need is discernment.

Retirement is no different. That’s a good stopping point for tonight. Discernment.

Simplify Retirement By Downsizing Your House, And Your Furniture

One of the main focuses of this blog is, as the title says, making retirement simple for you and me. Put another way, how to simplify our lives in retirement. Here’s some spot-on advice from AARP: Downsize from your Big House to a smaller residence appropriate to your needs. Specifically, AARP recommends:

“Consider making this decision as soon the kids are gone rather than when you’re ready to retire. Even if your home is already paid for, there are still significant costs in owning more space than you really need, including taxes, utilities, insurance and repairs. Plus, it will force you to downsize other belongings, too. You’ll also have an excuse for why the kids can’t move back in with you later!”

You can find a quick slide show with concise information about specific categories of possessions to consider parting with, here.

In my opinion, might as well sift through all this stuff, sort it out, and get rid of it now, rather than move it to your new, smaller digs, where it simply will not fit.

Here’s a secret I learned from personal experience. Look at the large sofa, dining table, and other furniture that’s comfortable in your spacious manse. If you try to stuff large pieces of furniture into a small one- or two-bedroom condo, or maybe an efficiency apartment, you’re going to have no space to walk between the furniture. You’ll feel like the place is overflowing with furniture and the walls are about to explode. Point is, furniture should be right-sized for the size of your new abode.

Appropriately sized furniture fits more comfortably into smaller spaces. Replacing  that sofa with a loveseat will make the room look larger. Do you really need a dining room table for twelve in your new two-room condo? You might consider an intimate table for two in the kitchen.

It’s a pain in the neck to sell used furniture. But furniture in decent condition is always needed by many people. Find someone in your family who can use it, or give it to Goodwill. Some charitable organizations will send a truck to haul away your excess furniture. They’ll either pass it along to needy families, or sell it in a thrift shop to raise money for the charity. They’ll give you a receipt so you can deduct the donation from your income taxes!

I’ve given away a ton of stuff over the past seven years. Life is simpler with less.