Tag Archives: Retirement

Taking Stock: Time

“The right combination of structure and flexibility, productivity and relaxation.” My retirement goal as well.

Stepping Into The Future

Clock Clip ArtAs my second year of retirement begins, I am taking stock of how things are going. My last post (Taking Stock: Finances) focused on how I am doing financially; this one focuses on how I am using my time. While finances tend to be the biggest worry about retirement and something people think about and plan for well in advance, time is both the great lure of retirement and its great unknown. I probably wasn’t unusual in spending years thinking about how I would finance my retirement before it occurred to me to consider how I would spend my time in retirement.

I have always had a strong relationship with time. As a child, I made long complicated time schedules to structure my summer days. Recently, an old college roommate reminded me about the hourly schedule that hung over my desk in our dormitory room. I didn’t always…

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AARP Says More Work And Less Retirement Is Good News

Remember when AARP was an organization for retired persons? Remember when the American Dream included a decent job, a house and yard, and retirement?

The acronym AARP was shorthand for “American Association of Retired Persons.” But the organization decided to change its brand. The spelled-out moniker was dropped in favor of just plain AARP.

The capital letters AARP became the full, official name. The letters don’t stand for anything. I’m beginning to wonder what AARP, the organization, stands for.

Did the organization that advocated for retired persons change its identity — and its mission — along with its brand? Has AARP decided that retirement is no longer cool? It almost seems as if they’ve  decided to support WORK and give up on RETIREMENT.

The cover story for the September issue of AARP Bulletin proclaims:

“Good News for Older Workers: Keep, Change or Improve Your Job After 50.”

The “RP” in AARP now stands for “Real Possibilities.” I’m not making this up.

“Tens of millions of older Americans are working today at ages when their parents and grandparents had retired.

Nearly a quarter-century ago, in 1991, only about 1 worker in 10 planned to stay in the workforce beyond age 65. Today, that number has risen to almost 4 in 10.

In 1991, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 30 percent of Americans age 55 or older were working. By 2013, the workforce participation rate for those 55-plus had passed 40 percent, and it’s rising steadily. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says the current era marks the first time in U.S. history when four generations — pre-boomers, boomers, Generation X and millennials — are engaged in the workforce at the same time.”

The above quote is from the article, “The Value of Older Workers: Experience makes them better problem solvers and more reliable,” by R.R. Reid in the September 2015 issue of AARP Bulletin. The September issue is not yet up on the website, but AARP Bulletin Today includes many related articles.

The hard copy of the September issue cites excellent sources for the claim that millions of older Americans who would have been enjoying their hard-earned retirement in the late 20th Century remain hard at work in the brave, new 21st Century. So it must be true. People of my baby boomer cohort are less likely to be retired — and more likely to still be working — than were our parents and grandparents, who were probably retired at our age.

300px-SocialSecurityposter2I’m constantly reading or hearing about the difficulties of retirement. Many people say they can’t afford to retire; some say they expect to work until they die. They believe they have little choice. For many, the cost of living outstrips retirement income based on Social Security, pensions, and savings. See the results of AARP’s latest survey of workers aged 55-64.

Retirement income is usually fixed income. The amount of our monthly income from Social Security, pensions, and savings is not likely to go up. Monthly income is more likely to go down, as a retiree burns through savings. Even the annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) is not guaranteed. See the earlier blog post.

Many people fear that their Social Security benefit will, in the not-too-distant future, be reduced to 75 percent of the present benefit. That fear is based on a drumbeat of negative news. (I personally believe that we can and will find a way to preserve full Social Security benefits, and also ensure that Social Security remains viable for our children and grandchildren. Call me an optimist.)

AARP views the trend to less retirement and more work through rose-colored glasses. But I’m wondering if the American Dream of retirement for nearly everyone has ended. Workers in the 1930s to 1970s era were likely to have pensions and to own houses with paid-up mortgages. But since about the mid-1970s, the trend has been away from guaranteed pensions. In the later decades of the last century, many workers began to rely on home equity loans. People refinanced their homes repeatedly, and never paid off the mortgage.

Only in recent years have many baby boomers started to wake up and smell the burned coffee. The new reality is retirement without adequate pensions and savings. And meanwhile, you’re still paying the monthly mortgage. Is the American Dream of retirement about to become a nightmare?

I can hardly wait to see how Robert De Niro plays a 70-year-old intern working for a much younger boss (Anne Hathaway). Watch the trailer. Is it a comedy or a horror movie?

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.

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.

Retirement, Depression, And Blogging

I want to post as often as possible on this new blog, even daily, but I’m tired this evening. As a compromise, I’ll repost this pertinent piece, which is a status report on the state of my retirement as of July 10, 2015. It seemed to strike a chord, because it generated 32 comments. It’s a more personal version of the musings on retirement in the first three posts on this new blog, which, unlike my other blogs, will focus like a laser on retirement questions.

BOOKS, POLITICS, SIMPLICITY

Hello friends. I’ve been in a funk. Haven’t published a blog post since April 30. Probably my longest hiatus since I started blogging in 2007, or since I began this blog in 2009. I’ve continued to read bloggers I follow (but irregularly) and to post comments (rarely).

I’ve been trying to adjust toretirement. Not as easy as I thought. Also, I’ve been all over the place in the past year regarding the purpose and audience of this blog. I began my first blog in 2007 with a focus on Maryland. That blog became more local when I moved to Ocean City.

I started this blog in 2009 to write about “life after sixty,” but I soon wandered into politics and economics. After retiring in 2013, I returned to my hometown, Montgomery County, and focused on local stuff for a while. I started several experimental blogs, but none of them clicked. The experimental blogs…

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Housing And Money And Cars, Oh My!

Quickly, without overthinking it, here are some of the retirement issues that fascinate me.

Shelter from the storm

First and foremost on my mind right now is:  Where am I going to live? Not as simple as it sounds.

One of the wonders of retirement is that we have freedom, perhaps for the first time in our lives, to choose our geography and environment. Stay put? Or resettle in Florida, or Alaska, or Panama, wherever?

It’s not simply a matter of what part of the country or the world; it’s also, what kind of environment? City, rural, small town? How important is it to be near family?

And critically, what kind of housing? Big house, little house, condo, apartment, tent, travel trailer.  For the sake of completeness, the options for some are reduced to: Sleep on a park bench, or a heating grate, or in the woods.

The many aspects of where and how to live are a consuming interest for me at present.

Dollars and cents

Financial issues loom large for many retirees. As I said in the previous post, Retirement Made Simple is NOT a blog about saving and investing for retirement. Too late for that, for me and for many! From where I sit, the money issue is about making do with what we have. How to conserve and use wisely the limited resources available?

The scare tactic favored by the investment industry is warning workers that if they don’t save and invest enough, they risk running out of money before they die. Talk about morbid advertising! For those of us not in the investment class, that is, for the rest of us, the issue is more immediate and more pressing.

The issue most retirees grapple with is: Retirement resources are limited. In the absence of a winning lottery ticket, or returning to paid work, my retirement income is fixed. It’s not going to increase, beyond the paltry annual Social Security cost-of-living increase, which is at the whim of Congress. Given the  present political climate, the cost-of-living adjustment could very well disappear.

Cut to the chase: For the rest of us, the retirement imperative is budgeting and economizing. Scrimping and saving. Or to put it in a more positive light, living a simple and frugal lifestyle. I suspect I’ll be talking about budgeting and simplicity a lot.

Hell on wheels

My car is an important resource. It grants the miraculous freedom of going to the grocery store or going on a cross-country road trip.

Most of us dread the moment when some responsible relative might confiscate our car keys. Or the day the state replaces our DL with a mere ID card because we can’t pass the eye test. Or even the time when we simply can no longer afford the luxury of a car.

There are other alternatives to a car, but those alternatives are closely related to local geography (see Shelter from the storm, above). In all too many modern American suburbs and rural areas, a car is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. We should seriously look into alternative modes of transport before the car issue becomes a car crisis.

And the list goes on

There are other issues of concern to retirees. Primary among them is health and illness. I’m not very well informed about health issues, but that probably won’t prevent me from writing about it.

I won’t avoid issues such as aging gracefully, playing a positive role in our family and community, and simply enjoying life. These are important parts of retirement, but I’m nearly clueless about such things. Nevertheless, I look forward to learning about those other aging issues, and probably writing about them.

And that’s a quick preview of what I hope to explore with you on this blog. Have I left out anything important or interesting? What would you like to talk about? Your suggestions are welcome.

Retirement Investment Advice: NOT!

Have you Googled “retirement?” You’ll find no shortage of information. I got 236 million hits. Nine of the first ten retirement hits were about retirement investment and savings. For example: Fidelity Retirement Planning. Here’s another one: New York Times Retirement Planning, information on IRAs, 401Ks, annuities, and such. One more: The Harvard Business Review, on the “Crisis In Retirement Planning.” Here’s an excerpt from the Harvard Business Review:

“The result was an acceleration of America’s shift away from defined-benefit (DB) pensions toward defined-contribution (DC) retirement plans, which transfer the investment risk from the company to the employee. Once an add-on to traditional retirement planning, DC plans—epitomized by the ubiquitous 401(k)—have now become the main vehicles for private retirement saving.

“But although the move to defined-contribution plans arguably reduces the liabilities of business, it has, if anything, increased the likelihood of a major crisis down the line as the baby boomers retire. To begin with, putting relatively complex investment decisions in the hands of individuals with little or no financial expertise is problematic.”

Such information is aimed at a target market of the wealthy and the affluent, high-income earners with surplus discretionary income. I imagine they’re a lucrative market for the investment industry.

That’s not me. It’s not most American workers. The high-flying investment advice is for the top one percent, maybe the top ten percent or twenty percent. This blog is for the rest of us.

Forgive and forget the past

For myriad reasons, we haven’t saved much over the course of a working lifetime. Or we haven’t been able to save anything at all. Why not? Children to raise on an insufficient income. Baby needed new shoes. The family needed food on the table, TODAY, not next week. Unemployment. Babies to be born. Illnesses. College tuition. The list goes on, but there’s no sense in rehashing the past.

The investment gurus might point the finger and say it’s our own fault. Mea culpa.

Time to let go of the should-haves, could-haves, might haves. Let the past rest. Retirees and future retirees reading this blog need to move on. Forget the past. This blog, “Retirement Made Simple,” is concerned with today, tomorrow, the rest of our lives. It’s about retirement done my way.

If you’d like to vent, you might as well get it over with now. The comments section below is available for free. It’s cheaper than a therapist. Go ahead and scream that primal scream, write down your feelings and get them off your chest.

Next, in a day or three, we’ll zero in on some of the common concerns we’re all facing now, or will face in the not-so-distant future.

Ah, Retirement

Welcome to my new blog.

Nearly everyone I know is retiring. Most folks in my circle of friends and relatives begin collecting Social Security at 62. I know I did. I took Social Security at 62 because I needed it (my earnings plummeted in the recession). Social Security was a welcome supplement to my wages, but not enough to allow me to quit the job.

The building blocks

At 62, health insurance was a major obstacle. Between the job and Social Security, I was able to purchase health insurance through a state program. I worked mostly to pay for health insurance until I turned 65. Because I was already collecting Social Security, Medicare kicked in automatically at 65. Is this a great country, or what?

Also, I had a couple of small pensions I was able to start collecting at 65. Medicare was the missing piece that made it possible to retire with the peace of mind that I’d have access to health care when needed. There you have the building blocks of retirement: Social Security, Medicare, Pensions. You might notice that one obvious building block is missing. Savings! I plan to talk about retirement savings as little as possible, for reasons that will become clear.

Peace of mind

Retirement plus peace of mind — that’s what it’s all about for me. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It certainly hasn’t been as easy as I had imagined. I’ve hit a few bumps along the way. Long story short, I realized I need to simplify my life while maintaining a tolerable lifestyle. I prefer simplicity, and I know that my limited retirement income will require simple living.

Aging Gracefully

I feel pretty healthy right now (age 67), but I’m fully aware that as the months and years roll by, faster and faster, I’ll be growing older. I’d like to age gracefully, be kind to to all, contribute something to my community, and find joy in retirement. And I’d like to write about it along the way. That, in a nutshell, is the reason for this blog. And that concludes the introduction.

The next post, within a day or three, will enumerate the subjects you’ll read about here. I hope to focus tightly on retirement and graceful aging, and avoid going off topic. See you soon.