August 21, 2017

Loosening the Purse Strings


When I first retired I was worried about my finances. Would the money we had invested and saved be enough? Since I quit work a good ten years earlier than I planned, how would we pay for everything that was to come? Would we end up in a spare room in one of our kids' homes? 

Regular blog readers know the answer: Everything worked out just fine. My financial fears lasted a few years and then slowly faded away. As we became used to our new lifestyle we understood how flexible we could become to match income to expenses. We shifted our thinking from having to doing. We saw overall expenses drop to 50% of what they had once been even as our happiness increased.

Seventeen years into our satisfying retirement journey we are wrestling with another financial question: how do we accept that is OK to spend a bit more on experiences and things that would make us happier at home? How do we give ourselves permission to spend more? How do you loosen the purse strings?

Both Betty and I are financially conservative. We aren't big risk takers (except for retiring so early!) in how we manage our money. Beginning with our first steps into the financial world we have taken baby steps in the stock market. Its tendency to overreact to emotions, innuendos, or the fear of the day, rub us the wrong way. I tend to prefer the tortoise over the hare in the child's story. I have missed many growth opportunities by following this path. But, I have lost less sleep (and money) than others who were whipped wildly up and down by the market's gyrations. 

That all brings us to today. Our IRA and investment accounts have grown since leaving the world world in 2001. Granted, a healthy part of that is from my share of my parents' estate. That gave us all sorts of breathing room. The net result is what we have been withdrawing each year is less than the accounts generate. 

One of our personal goals is to leave a decent inheritance to our daughters. Each share won't be large enough to fund their retirements, but should be an important safety net for each. I know people have different views on leaving money for their kids. The last time I wrote about this there were some none-too-subtle suggestions that adult children shouldn't get anything; we worked for the money so It was ours to spend. I accept that point of view, I just disagree. 

Another goal is to enjoy the fruits of our sacrifices earlier in life. Delayed gratification was a linchpin to our financial planning. But, importantly, that shouldn't mean, delayed forever. Never doing some of the things we dreamed about would be wrong. That would make the earlier sacrifices futile. 

Interestingly, early in our retirement when our financial situation was less secure, we went to Europe twice and spent several glorious weeks in Hawaii on two different occasions. Last summer we took a long-delayed Alaskan Cruise and loved every moment of it. The memories were tremendous and the experiences very positive. Did i worry about how much we spent? Yes.

Two months ago we decided take the big plunge and book a river cruise from Amsterdam to Basal in Switzerland. The cost will be substantial. We splurged for upgraded airline economy seating, a full balcony room on the ship, added extra days before and after the trip, as well as pricey travel and medical insurance. When I was presented with the final bill, I swallowed very hard, and said, OK.

I told myself not to think of it as a large percentage of our yearly budget, but as an investment in our lives together, something we'd look back upon as a highlight forever. With this trip, I believe I have accepted that the money we worked so hard to accumulate is there to use. We won't be foolish with our blessings, but, neither will we say no to experiences that will enrich our lives and make us happy.

As I type these words, I continue to wonder how tightly I am holding onto those purse strings.


August 18, 2017

Exercise: What Do You Do To Stay Healthy?


Regular reader, Madeline, asked if I would take a look at an area that many of us struggle with: exercise. A recent study found that a higher percentage of those 65+ are more concerned about health issues than financial stability. That makes sense since a major health crisis can do major damage to one's financial situation, even with Medicare and supplemental insurance in place.

It is a given that moving our bodies is helpful. Suggestions for people our age center on both cardio or aerobic and well as weight bearing activities. Thirty minutes a day for at least five days a week of walking and a few days of muscle strengthening exercises seems to be the consensus. If you jog or run, the total time can be reduced by half.

I can only speak for me, but that exercise frequency is not always met. Since Betty rejoined our gym we are doing better; 4 days a week is pretty typical. We start on the treadmill and then move to free weights or machines. During the cooler months of the year I will ride my bike a few miles a few times a week. Because of bad knees and hips, Betty has tried biking but finds it is painful.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a good summary of the needs of older adults. One section deal with the amount and intensity of exercise we need. Another area details how to make physical activity a party of your life. Of course, there are thousands of other web sites that may give you important tips and ideas that help you. I have listed a handful at the end of this post.

For us, the primary concern is making exercise a part of our life without injury. I have the unfortunate habit of deciding to add more to my exercise life, only to pull or strain something that forces me to back off again. Learning our personal limitations becomes an important part of the process. 

So, I am turning things over to you for ideas, support, and suggestions. What have you found works best to stay as healthy as you can? How do you find the time to do what you should? Do you have to force yourself to meet your exercise needs, or do you look forward to physically pushing your body? 

Here are a few web sites that you might find helpful:


Senior workout needs

Physical activity for older adults

Activity Guidelines for Older Adults

Choosing the right activities

Easy home exercises


And, if you are limited to only chair-type exercises, here is a sample of what you can do to stay fit (if there is an ad at first, you can skip after 4 seconds!)





August 15, 2017

Retirement and Adventure: An Uncommon Couple?


Generally, I play it safe. You aren't going to to find me bungee-jumping, sky-diving, rock-climbing, even riding a big, fast roller coaster. Thunder Mountain at Disneyland is about my speed. Financially, my wife and I are conservative. Our possessions are quite mainstream. When we vacation we make standard choices like Hawaii or the Pacific Northwest.  Going to Tibet or the rain forest of the Amazon aren't really on our radar, though next year we will break out a bit with a river cruise in Europe.

So, why a post about adding adventure to your life? Primarily, I need to listen to the message. Also, adventure has a much broader definition than is usually assigned to the word. It doesn't have to just involve physical activities. Adventure is what being alive is about. This subject also seems like a sensible follow up to the post based on two quotes that ran last month.

Why Be Adventurous?

What are the possible gains if you decide to embrace a more adventurous life? Self-confidence and belief in yourself with be strengthened. You could discover abilities you think you lack. You might learn to overcome some fears that have been holding you back from a truly satisfying retirement.  Of course, fear is a good thing. It can keep you from physical harm. But, fear of things that aren't likely to hurt you can limit your life experiences.

Trying new things might help you understand more about your strengths and weaknesses. If your limits are not tested how can you know what those limits are? Henry David Thoreau said it best: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. "  We can't know what music is still in us if we have no idea what we are capable of.

What Does Adding Adventure Look Like?

Adding adventure to your life can come in several forms. No matter what I write here, I'm still not jumping out of a plane or exploring deep, dark caves. It just isn't going to happen. But, that doesn't mean I can't discover what would work with my personality and temperament. One idea is to look at friends and acquaintances who are higher up the adventure-meter than I and see if there is something I can adapt to my life.

I know a man who loves to mountain bike. He thinks nothing of hurling down a hill, full bore, with just his skill and a dash of luck to keep him from a serious spill. OK, not my style. Not gong to happen. But, I've toyed with the idea of getting a trail bike and starting to pedal my way through desert trails in the Phoenix area. There is still some danger from rocks, loose sand, even an occasional rattlesnake. But, that level of danger I believe I am able to tolerate. It sounds like fun, it is something I can handle physically, and would expand my horizons. I wouldn't shatter my comfort zone, just push the edge back a bit. It doesn’t matter how wild or daring this adventure is. What matters is trying something new.

I read somewhere a definition of adventure that includes anything that makes your heart race or your pulse quicken. Thus almost any experience in life qualifies. For example, what if you went to a restaurant that serves food you normally don't eat? What if you order something from the menu you can't even pronounce? Would that qualify as an adventure? Absolutely. You are allowing yourself to fail in an adventurous attempt to succeed. The only real risks are wasted money, you go home hungry, or you missed the chance to discover a whole new cuisine you enjoy.

Are these adventurous -  talking to a stranger at a social or community event, painting your living room a bold shade of red, or going to the opera when you are sure you will hate it? Absolutely. Each of those is every bit as much an adventure as rafting down the Colorado. How about trying a new flavor of coffee? Buy three magazines in subjects you don't know or understand. Read them.

Here is an example that I just added to my adventure palette: restoring vintage radios. I have bought a few radios from the 1930s and 40s. I find them pretty to look at. The wooden cases are beautifully crafted. Even more fun is actually getting them to work. 

I have the tools I should need and an excellent source of "how-to" steps. What I don't have is all the technical knowledge to be sure I will be able to repair and restore them. But, I am going to give it a shot. The worst that happens? I have invested a few hundred dollars in something that won't work but is still nice to look at. Whether these 70 year old radios work is almost beside the point. The effort is the adventure. 

Life is An Adventure, isn't it?

Adding adventure really just means that you choose to become a lover of life. Decide to say, "Yes," when your comfortable self wants to say, "No."  There be will  mistakes, there might be some embarrassment. Heavens, you may fall flat on your face, both literally and figuratively. If this happens get up, learn from you mistakes and give it another shot.


Choose to say, “Yes.” Do what have you always wanted but never dared try. Don’t fear risks. Take measured risks. Know that you are grabbing onto what life has to offer.

Question: What one thing have you done that surprised even you? What would qualify as an adventure in your life?


August 12, 2017

My Smart Speaker Experiment



Blog reader, Rick from Oregon, read my post from a few weeks ago,  Do You Have a Smart Speaker?  and decided to issue a challenge. He suggested I buy an Amazon Dot and try living with it for a few weeks. If I didn't find it useful he offered to buy it from me. That sounded like a win-win deal, so I took him up on the offer; my $50 Dot arrived on July 26th and was installed in the living room.

The Dot is the little brother to the Echo, the device that is getting most of the press. The Dot does what the more expensive version does but with a smaller speaker. If using the Dot to play music it should be plugged into a sound system or a better quality speaker.  Otherwise, it is the same device: an always on voice-activated command center.

In the almost three weeks I have had the Dot, how have I used it? I started by asking it to answer some random, silly questions, like the distance to Mars, the current temperature and chance of rain, the start time of a baseball game, and to tell me some jokes. I asked it to read what was on my calendar for the rest of the day and to set a reminder for several hours in the future.

Then, I asked Alexa to play some music. I  tried light jazz, oldies, smooth jazz (there is a difference), piano solos, and big band vocals. She (because of Alexa's voice I think of the Dot as female) performed flawlessly. I can ask her to raise or lower the volume, skip a song, or simply "Stop." Unfortunately, I can't use Spotify unless I upgrade to their premium service, which at $10 a month isn't worth it to me. Pandora's free service and Amazon music are just fine.

I am not particularly motivated to get whatever is required to have the Dot turn my lights on and off, or perform other smart home functions. I can see the value if my mobility were restricted, but for now I will control my own lights and air conditioner, thank you very much.

Betty likes audio books, and the Dot can fulfill that need. Any book we have purchased and downloaded to our Kindle can be read to us. There are other services, like Audible, that can be added for an extensive library of choices. 

What else can the Dot handle? I haven't tested any of these, but the list of functions is pretty impressive:


Calling and messaging
Check your calendar
Connect Bluetooth devices
Control music
Discover music
Find local businesses and restaurants
Find traffic information
Fun and games
Get weather updates
Find out about movies
Hear the news
Keep up with your sports teams
Listen to Audible audiobooks
Listen to Amazon Music
Listen to Kindle books
Listen to podcasts and radio
Request Music
Shopping options
Set reminders
Set timers and alarms
To-dos and shopping lists


I have disabled the microphone once: when the grandkids were here and peppering Alexa with unanswerable questions! Otherwise, I have left it on and am not feeling spied upon. I would probably turn it off if I was in the habit of discussing financial matters in the living room or running a business. I don't believe Amazon is monitoring my every conversation, but hacking into a WiFi network is very possible. 

I do assume the company makes use of what I may order or ask about to target ads to me on other devices. Amazon already uses past purchases to recommend similar ones, while Google certainly uses my searches to suggest what my life may be lacking. 

Bottom line: Rick, I will not ask you to buy the Dot from me. I could certainly live without it. It doesn't do anything I couldn't accomplish some other way. I would not have bought one without your challenge. But, it is convenient and easy to use, and at times, even fun. So, it will stay and answer my commands, or at least most of them.