September 30, 2014

A Sampling From The Trip

There is no particular order for these photos, just some that caught my eye as I started to review the thousands Betty took on the RV trip. We would like to put together a few "coffee table" books for our home based on different subjects, like sunsets, mountains and monuments, beautiful campgrounds, and oddities on the road. It is also time to freshen some of the photos printed on canvas that adorn our walls.

All in all, we have enough photo projects to keep us busy until next year's trip to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.


Look at that smile on Betty's face.....even after 6 weeks together in an RV

Time together we will always treasure

One conclusion we have reached is that long, 5,000+ mile RV trips like this one, are probably not going to be part of our future. Why? The cost of gas. The time we spent together, the experiences, and places we saw were exceptional. But, at 6 miles to the gallon an RV just doesn't make sense for us financially. Plus, upon our return I spent over $1,700 in repairs and on-going maintenance. 

Next year we are going to Palm Springs for a film festival in January, three or four long weekend jaunts to the mountains of Arizona, and a trip to Portland in the summer. All of that is 25% fewer miles than this year's 2 month excursion, or almost $1,000 less in gas (at today's prices). If prices drop to well below $3.00 a gallon we may change our minds. But, for now, the drives to New Orleans, Key West, or New England are not likely. San Diego, California wine country, and Oregon are looking better and better!

September 26, 2014

A Retiree Builds His New Life

A month or so ago I received an e-mail from Carl, a reader who wanted to share his story. Since I know there is a healthy interest in how folks live a satisfying retirement, his thoughts are certainly worth sharing with you.

I think it's great you started a blog that addresses retirement. Everyone dreams of not working. But I'm not sure they think about how they will spend their time. I retired from the Automotive industry after 35 yrs, at 54 yrs of age. That was two years ago. I also wrote songs on the side for 20 yrs.
It took a year or so to get a schedule going. I try to run errands, fish, exercise in the mornings. I am a safety & security volunteer for our private lake and neighborhood homeowners association watch, which I patrol at various times of the day and night. I usually Work on my music projects after lunch and a nap, until around 5:00 pm. Then I spend the rest of the evening with my wife,who is younger and still works. I stay up until 11:30pm most nights.
I believe each person has to hammer out their own schedule. Whatever works is fine. The main thing is having the flexibility we never had while working to suddenly change your plans at the drop of a hat. That's what I most enjoy about retirement is flexibility!
I still make sure I'm producing results, just on my terms, not someone else's. My advice to would be retiree's, is to find something you're passionate about before you retire, and start doing it before you retire. Then it will follow you into retirement and become part of your new agenda. 
Also, always build some goof off time in your schedule. After all that's what part of retirement should be. After 2 full years of retirement I'm still honing my schedule and loving retirement.

          Take Care, Carl

Notice four important parts of Carl's story: 

1) It took him a year to figure out a schedule that works for him. That's just about average. I, on the other hand, was a slow learner. It took me almost three.

2) He understands the importance of having a passion or interest to follow you into retirement. It may not be the one that you maintain forever, but you need something to give you a focus as you make the transition from working to the next phase of life.

3) Flexibility is one of the most important traits needed after retirement. Planning and preparing for what you expect to happen is vital, but so is realizing that your plans might become irrelevant overnight.

4) Build goof off time into your day. In this context "goof off" doesn't imply wasted time. I think he is saying don't be so structured that you can't decide to savor a cup of coffee for an hour while you watch clouds blow by, or enjoying the pleasure of a movie at 2 in the afternoon. 

I can't say it often enough: retirement is unique for everyone. Reading about someone else's day is entertaining and potentially helpful. But, if you try to pattern your retirement after Carl's (or mine) you will ultimately be dissatisfied.

Find your own path and enjoy the journey.

September 22, 2014

Retirement and Debt: How Do You Handle The Two?

Our just completed vacation trip was expensive. Importantly, it was planned and budgeted for well ahead of time. We would not have pulled the RV out of the driveway if the trip was going to be funded with credit card or home equity debt. We would have stayed home if the money spent would mean serious cutbacks once we returned.

Retirement is not a time to be worried about excessive debt. Yet, recent studies show too many of us may be putting ourselves in that position. A story in USA Today last month showed some disturbing trends. According to the article the percentage of homeowners age 65 and older carrying mortgage debt grew from 21% in 2001 to 30% just ten years later. For those over 75, the rate almost tripled to 21%.

After the housing market collapse of 2007-2009 the increase in housing debt is particularly surprising. Seeing housing prices plummet or knowing so many folks are upside down on a mortgage, one would think extreme caution would be called for. Maybe some of the mortgage increase among older citizens is due to helping a struggling son or daughter by co-signing. Or, refinancing has resulted in a needed increase in monthly cash flow. But, regardless of the factors, being 65 or 75 or even 85 and carrying a mortgage has the potential for putting a satisfying retirement on shaky footing if major problems develop that require extra allocation of resources.

From my perspective, even scarier was the dramatic increase in credit card debt. The average balance for 65 to 74 year olds was $6,000 during the last full reporting period, or triple what it was ten years earlier. For those 75 and older the debt went from virtually zero to $4,600. With credit card interest usually in double digits that type of rolling average means hundreds of dollars in interest down the drain every year and a balance that is never paid off.

So, I have three questions for you. Please leave a comment that answers any or all of them. If you don't choose to publicly answer, then I urge you to think about your situation and decide if you are comfortable.

1) Do you carry a mortgage? If so, does it ever worry you?

2) If you could pay off your mortgage would you, or are there tax advantages or other reasons why maintaining it makes sense in your situation?

3) Do you have a monthly credit card balance or do you pay off the bill in full each month?

All of our situations are unique and none of us can be in a position to fairly judge someone else's decisions in this area. That being said, I believe it is helpful to not only look at your own situation with a critical eye, but get a sense of what others are doing.

Who knows, you might decide you could make a change - or are pleased with exactly how you are handing your debt. Being debt free in contemporary America is not easy, and some would argue, not wise. Using other people's money is smart.

I am not comfortable with debt so I avoid it. What about you?

September 18, 2014

Travels With Bailey, or RV There Yet?

Our 2 year old cocker spaniel, Bailey, is unlike any other pet we have had. Even though she is our fifth cocker, she is unique. Everything makes her nervous, even things that don't exist might cause her to bark or run to us for protection. Up until three months ago she refused to eat out of her doggie bowl unless one of us was right there to assure her the food was not going to harm her. She needs more love and attention than any dog we have ever seen.

Of course, Bailey came with us on our just completed RV trip. Leaving her in a kennel for two months would have killed her and no family member could make such a long commitment. So, what is it like to travel with a dog, especially a dog like Bailey?

A sing along

Actually, a joy. The trip would have been much less fun without her. She forced us to take long walks several times a day. She prompted us to go outside in all sorts of weather. She woke us up each morning by jumping up on the bed and "suggesting" it was time to start the day. She curled in our lap and made us feel special.

She is not a good traveler, however. Betty has set up a cushioned doggie bed in the front of the RV right between our two seats. Even so, Bailey spends the three, four, or even five hours we are driving somewhere sitting up and shaking. No amount of cajoling, giving of treats, or ignoring her behavior results in any changes. Only if Betty sits back in the living area will Bailey lie down, but only as long as her head is on Betty's lap and she can still keep an eye on me!

Once we have arrived at a campsite, though, she is transformed. All the new sights and smells have her on high alert. She adores exploring wherever we may be - the campground, a park, or a picnic area. 

She sees her first bunny

How brave she has become: The bunny stares her down

Whatever it is must smell good

What's that over there? Can I go?

Water must be from a bottle, just like mom & dad

I know they are coming back..aren't they?
She has no problem if Betty and I leave her in the RV, with a few treats, lights and air conditioning, for several hours while the two of us go places dogs aren't allowed or appropriate. She doesn't bark and doesn't create any mess. She simply lies on the coach near the door or on her bed waiting for our return.

Her ability to wait calmly for us turned out to be very important. We could go out to eat, visit a museum or historical site without a worry. We discovered that many local, state, and some national parks do not permit dogs, even if on a leash. I assume there are health and liability concerns but it was a shame we couldn't take her to some beautiful places that she would have loved. If she didn't have the ability to be left behind, this trip would have been very different, and not nearly as satisfying.

Some RV parks have a rule against leaving your pet alone in the RV. Again, I understand. Being in a campsite next to a barking, lonely dog for several hours would not be pleasant. We solved the problem by ignoring the rule. Bailey doesn't make her presence known so any disturbances were not likely. And, we decided if the campground made an issue of it we'd pack up and go somewhere else. The trip would have been a major disappointment if we had to always have the dog with us. 

All dogs (and cats, I assume) are different so what we experienced with Bailey may not apply to you. But, for us, the RV adventure would not have been nearly as enjoyable and memorable without Bailey along. She is part of our family and belongs with us wherever we go. That's just the way it is.

I received the following graphic from a home security company just as I was finishing this post. Based on the above, I would classify Bailey as part barking buzzer and part couch potato.