July 1, 2016

Brexit and Retirement

Credit: dailymail.co.uk
The vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union came as a shock to everyone, maybe no more so than for the citizens of the U.K. The so-called Brexit vote caused financial markets around the world to plummet, the pound to take a beating, and the economic outlook for the rest of this year and beyond to look shaky. 

The referendum was a clear example of the power of political persuasion. Surveys after the event indicate that a lot of folks who were in favor of the U.K. remaining in the Union didn't bother to vote, assuming their side would be the winner. Meanwhile, some of those wishing for the Brexit voted for that outcome without understanding the ramifications, or even believing their vote mattered. In part, they responded to emotional appeals to halt immigration and protest the regulations coming from Brussels, both of which are important problems. But, leaving the EU will have a direct and long-lasting impact on the economy that will have a serious effect on individuals.

What does the turmoil in Great Britain and the rest of unified Europe matter to those of us who live in America and are retired, or moving in that direction? Our political narrative seems to be leaning toward a turning inward of our economy and commitments. Trade pacts, tariffs, protectionism......concepts most of us are not well versed on but have a direct effect on our daily life have taken on a new urgency since the U.K. vote. 

Satisfying Retirement Journey is not a financial blog. I am not going to give my opinions on the relative merits and pitfalls of such talk. But, I am comfortable in offering some thoughts on how all of this may impact your retirement.

Certainly in the short term, the Brexit vote will be a drag on the world's economic health. As of this writing, the Dow Jones Average has recovered most of the nearly 1,000 point drop it suffered in the first few days. If you were brave enough to look at your investments during that period, antacid pills were probably required. Now, with more than a week of the upheaval behind us, things have stabilized. No doubt more economic shocks are ahead of us. But, the initial shock has passed.

Looking ahead, it could take two years for the U.K. to cut its ties with the European Union. During that time there will be ongoing negotiations to determine the part Great Britain will play in the world economy. The world markets hate uncertainty and that will be our future for quite some time. I expect that means difficulty in planning and projections of financial impact and that translates into an unstable period.

For our retirement planning, I suggest this should mean four things:

1. Make no immediate changes to retirement investments or holdings. The worst time to make financial decisions is when stress and uncertainty are present. Just ask someone who dumped everything in 2008.

2. Review any foreign holdings you have. Those in European countries should be watched carefully as things unfold over the next several months and years. Projections of the Brexit effect on financial growth are purely guesses at this point. All foreign investments need extra scrutiny in periods like this. Yes, money is made in down markets if you know what you are doing. Abandoning investments outside the U.S. is not the answer. Being vigilant is.

3. If you have been looking for an excuse to downsize and simplify, use Brexit as a motivator. Sometimes it just takes an outside event to push us in a direction we want to travel. Use economic uncertainty as a reason to reduce your expenses and cut back on consumption. Even if there is little direct impact on your financial health from the world situation, cutting back to bring needs and wants in better balance is always a good thing.

4. Pay attention to the upcoming election, get beyond the sound bites, and vote in November. As I noted earlier, there are reports of "buyer's remorse" from some who voted for leaving the European Union. Those folks say they did not know the impact their "leave" vote would have on their daily lives, or they thought of their vote as just a protest that would not affect the final results. Many in the "Remain" camp made similar miscalculations when they assumed the outcome of the referendum would be to stay, so they didn't bother to vote.

Could we allow assumptions and miscalculations to have unintended consequences this fall? Absolutely. Is there a "do-over" option come November 9th?  Not until November of 2020.

June 29, 2016

I'm Not Retired, I Just Don't Get A Paycheck Anymore

Retired, or retirement are such weak words for what we are experiencing. They were fine and fit the lifestyle 30 or 40 years ago. Most often someone "retired" from an active, productive life and then spent their "golden years" traveling, volunteering, or relaxing on the front porch, watching the world go by. 

Today, that is not the normal experience. For many of us this phase of life is more vibrant, more creative, and simply more fun than when we were working full time to prepare for "retirement."  Even if we have had to cut back on our spending habits, move to a smaller home, or curtailed our physical activities because of an illness or injury, none of that should affect the reality of having the time and freedom to explore other parts of ourselves.

As the title of this post implies, not receiving a paycheck or regular income from gainful employment (interesting phrase) doesn't automatically lead to an accurate description of where we are in life. It certainly shouldn't imply we are living a certain way because of how we receive our income. 

I imagine you would agree with me that many of the people you know are just as busy and working just as hard as they did while getting a regular paycheck. For many, the cliche about not knowing how " I ever had time for work" is quite true. When the obligations of regular employment end, the freedom to craft each 24 hour day to please and satisfy us can suddenly make a day seem too short. 

Of course, good time management can get away from us. I have written several posts about the problems that arise when we over-commit, over-schedule, and over-promise our availability. We feel pressure to do more, be more available to others, and to believe an hour on the porch reading a book is a wasted 60 minutes that could have been more "productive." Time becomes our master instead of our servant.

After several months, or even a few years, the demands on our time tend to find a proper balance. We are able to have the proper mix of "me" time and "involvement with others" time. We learn to say no when necessary and yes when it suits us. 

Roughly one-third of retired folks say they have considered going back to work, either full or part time. Boredom, financial needs, loss of community, and a need to contribute are often cited as reasons. While I understand these motivations, I would argue that all but financial considerations can be addressed without rejoining the workforce. 

Too often I think these reasons are just the easiest answer, not necessarily the best answer. I would argue that taking a job because of boredom, feeling isolated, or because of the need to feel like part of a team is cheating you out of a much richer, more satisfying experiences. Taking any job comes with limitations on your time, your freedom to make choices, your inability to react to something spur-of-the-moment - limitations that don't have to exist when you are not working for someone else.

There is one exception to this: you have turned a hobby, a passion, or an idea into a business of your own. But, isn't that fundamentally very different from working for someone else? Because it occurs within your retirement framework, you can control how much time you are willing to give to whatever it is. You decide how far to take something. You draw the lines that prohibit encroachment into the rest of your life.

The previous link between a regular paycheck and what it means to be retired no longer exists. We don't cash a check every two weeks, but that has nothing to do with how we live our life. We can be as busy or relaxed as we choose. We can spend our days shifting from project to project, volunteer work to grandkids duty, classes at the community college, zumba at the gym, wine tasting class in the evening, or binge-watching Bloodline on Netflix.

Or, we can spend the day on a hike through a nature preserve, bike to a favorite ice cream store, spend an hour weeding the garden, read the trashy summer time novel, or nap in the hammock before having dinner at our favorite restaurant by the lake.

None of these choices imply retirement to me. They are simply a full menu of options available when I am not trading my time for money.  

retirement planning

June 26, 2016

A Satisfying Retirement Blog: 6 Years and Still Here

Dear Reader,

Today marks the six year anniversary of this blog. Except for a two and a half month sabbatical last year, I have continued to experience an ever-evolving satisfying retirement journey on these pages. 

742 published posts or about 500,000 words, well over 2 million page views, nearly 16,000 published comments (and probably 7,000 that never saw the light of day) - and I still look forward to sitting in front of the keyboard most mornings.

A year ago I began to burn out on writing about the same topic. After all, how many times can the same subjects be covered? Well, the answer seems to be for quite a long time. With a bit of a broader topic focus on my retirement journey, I have been able to continue to find new things to write about, or a fresh perspective on an ever-popular subject. I have found that a lot of my daily reading brings me a new idea for a post that might be interesting to you.

As has been true since day one, the posts I think will generate the most comments often don't. The ones I sort of dash off in 20 minutes, do. All that proves to me your interests are as varied as retirement is exciting and fulfilling. As long as that is true I plan on continuing.

Again, thank you, loyal readers. I write for my creative satisfaction. But, if all these words did not continue to provide a service to others, and generate readership and comments, I would likely take up a new pursuit. 

Since that is not the case, please make time in your day to read and react when you see a new post. If you are so motivated I would appreciate your "like" on the Satisfying Retirement Journey Facebook page and a follow on Twitter. Both tasks can be accomplished by clicking the links found near the top of the right sidebar. They are my only real promotional opportunities that fit a budget of close to zero!

Have a great day. My love and gratitude to you,


June 22, 2016

The Secret To Success: Begin

Famous Graphic Designer, Milton Glaser, once said, "You can't do [something] by simply thinking what you are going to do. So you begin. That's my entire secret: begin."


As someone who will read half a dozen books on a subject before starting anything, his simple statement resonated with me. Not too long ago I wrote about my dislike of being a beginner. Too often that feeling keeps me from following Mr. Glaser's advice - I don't get to the begin stage because I don't like the time I am stuck in the learning phase. Of course, as I noted, that is silly since none of us are good at much of anything without learning about it and then practicing.

Blogger Joel Gascoigne wrote that successful people always start with small projects. They begin at the beginning and then grow. "Try anything" says writer, Andi Cumbo-Floyd. Parenting advisor, Mary Kathryn Johnson, says we all need "Practice, Patience, and Perseverance." Author James Clear says, "Getting started is more important that succeeding."

Does all this advice relate to building a Satisfying Retirement? I'd suggest, "Yes."  In the post, You are doing nothing wrong in your retirement, I argue that your retirement journey is, or will be, unique. Your mix of circumstances, life experiences, trials and troubles, and preparation will be unlike anyone else. 

That really means you began at the beginning. Your whole life has led you to where you are today. You built a foundation and then added to it as you aged and matured. Now, you have constructed a unique path for your retirement journey. You didn't fear beginning because there was no other choice. 

That should be an encouraging thought, even for someone like me who hates not to be good at something from day one. If I look back at what allowed me to retire at 52 and where I have journeyed in the last 15 years, I was constantly starting over, refining and readjusting.

I am beginning some aspect of my life, over and over, rather constantly. I am absolutely not the same person I was years ago. Emotionally, financially, and relationally, Bob Lowry is almost unrecognizable from my days as a DJ, new dad, workaholic-travelling entrepreneur, or new retiree. 

"When there is a hill to climb, don't think that waiting will make it smaller."  Or, from the Sound of Music, " Let's start at the very beginning...a very good place to start."


June 19, 2016

Arrogant Ignorance - A Problem?

A while ago, the president of Arizona State University, Michael Crow, gave a fiery speech to a group of area leaders. As head of the nation's largest public research university he is well aware of the problems facing our society and particularly the educational system. In his speech he did not mince his words. Based on how directly he spoke I think we can assume he isn't running for a political office.

Intrigued by some of what he said, I thought several of his comments were worth repeating, with a thought or two of mine added. My thanks to an article by Sonu Munshi in the Arizona Republic for alerting me to his message.

Mr. Crow said, "A collective arrogant ignorance" holds the nation back. He cited the educational system that's not innovative enough, a lack of awareness or even acknowledgment, of global competition, and a lack of long-term vision. He said we, as a country, are resting on our laurels.  "We don't understand ...the development of the rest of the world as competitors. He went on to say " we are the means by which solutions will be derived."

Turning to the educational system, he noted we should be comparing our educational system not with the schools across town, but "with schools internationally." He accused his fellow university presidents of being too focused on the elite students and not thinking of what's best for educating the entire country.

Wow. I wonder what the reaction was in the meeting hall to those thoughts. He pulled no punches in laying blame where he saw it: the lack of appreciation for how the global economy has changed and a certain smugness on our part, the inability of the educational system to stay competitive, and the focus on just the cream of the crop, not everyone who is required to help us compete.

Personally, I believe he has made some extremely important points that more than just 200 people in a conference in suburban Phoenix needed to hear and think about. I was invited to attend but didn't. That was a mistake.

What is your reaction? Is he addressing critical issues that need to be discussed, or is he making things out to be worse than they actually are? Are we living with our collective heads in the sand about the world changes, or are we positioned to continue to lead the world in innovation and technology?

A few weeks ago an article in the Wall Street Journal presented the author's thoughts on why countries that have gotten much richer over the last century have done so. I think she glossed over some of the not-so positive reasons for this massive increase in wealth. But, her central point mirrors what Mr. Crow said: it is ideas and the ability to implement them that propel society forward. 

Personally, I think how we treat and pay teachers is shameful. They have direct, immediate, and a lifelong impact on our children. To pay them as little as we do is indefensible. Plus, all the teacher I know spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars from their own pockets each year for their students because there is not enough money in the budget for supplies.

But, that is probably a subject for another post. For our purposes this time, think about the "charge" that we are complacent and set our country's sights too low. Do ideas drive us? Are we losing the global ideas race?