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Aging In Place, Or Then Again, Maybe Not
Downsizing may make more sense, even for boomers who still have their health
When we built this house 17 years ago, I was a mere 40 years old. It’s a huge undertaking to custom-build a home, especially when you’re closely involved in every aspect of the job, from drawing up the design and blueprints to choosing the fixtures to poring over paint chips to doing the construction clean-up.
On moving day, I remember telling my husband that it would take men in white jackets to haul me out of this house, and even then I’d put up one heck of a fuss. But you know what? A lot of eldercare water has flowed under the bridge since then, and it’s given me plenty to think about.
Both of our mothers became young widows. In fact, neither my mom nor my mother-in-law still had husbands in their lives by the time they were my current age. And even though they managed to live in their own homes for many years after losing our dads, both they and the houses seemed to be in ever-increasing rates of decline.
For one thing, the houses—-purchased to shelter multiple children, as ours is meant to do—-were just too large. Our mothers ended up sequestering themselves into one or two favored rooms and using the rest of the house like a paid storage unit—-not good. There were closed bedroom doors that could not be opened (if you valued your safety!) unless it was to fling the latest trashbag filled with junk mail on top of the heap.
There were basements and attics and garages so stuffed with stuff that our mothers finally took to using their existence as an unveiled threat: “You just wait. Someday, you’ll have to sort all this out. I don’t intend to do one thing except add to it, so there.” Yikes!!
These family homes were shut down many years ago now, when we had no choice but to move our mothers into care facilities. I still remember the months spent sorting and purging and dividing the valuables and giving away, selling, and trashing the rest. A truly exhausting (and yes, I’ll go ahead and say it, thankless) job. Our mothers never understood what we went through, and that’s fine.
What isn’t quite fine with me anymore is expecting my kids to bear a similar burden, when we could right now put a plan in place to begin the process of downsizing.
These days, as I contemplate a future with less money available in retirement that we’d projected even a few years ago, it’s starting to make so much sense to me to consider trading down from this relatively large house to a small house, patio home, or even 2-bedroom apartment. As much as I would not have believed at age 40 that I could be thinking like this at age 57, I no longer feel a need to age in place—-at least not in this particular place.
What if, by eliminating the need for exterior maintenance (a 3-acre lot requires significant upkeep and and long gravel driveway must be plowed after big snowfalls) and interior repairs and updating, we actually found a way to free up more time, energy, and money for pursuits we now find much more compelling?
I’ve decided that the last thing I want for the rest of my life is to end up trapped by a house that I’m not able or willing to maintain. What if getting out earlier (while we’re fully able to made independent decisions and do a lot of the heavy lifting), rather than sticking it out till the bitter end, turns out to be the best answer to an age-old question?
I, for one, am giving it some serious thought.
Posted by Katy on 02/10/11
Grandparenting Is All It’s Cracked Up To Be!
But Long-Distance Grandkids Require Skype, FaceTime, and Southwest Airlines
Everyone’s told me my whole life long how wonderful it is to have grandchildren. That it’s nothing like being a parent, unless you count the unconditional love part and the fact that you bring all your parenting experience into the role, and then some.
It’s really true about the blessed abundance of unfettered holding and rocking and spoiling with undivided attention and then handing little Theo back to baffled parents, who think you must have done something evil to their darling because all of a sudden the kid wants more of the same. A lot more, only there’s just not as much where that came from when the kiddos are back with their own parents.
Parents, after all, have lives, as well they should. Grandparents do, too, of course. It’s just that they’ve got their priorities straight when it comes to Precious Ava being Number One, to the point that she is not only allowed but also encouraged to interrupt any and every adult pursuit, to fulfill her own desires.
Parents think you must have overdosed their baby on sugar or FD&C Red Dye Number Two or whatever the food-additive contaminant of choice is these days. Otherwise, why would Sierra be demanding time and displaying the boundless energy, at the age of two months, of a child with ADHD?
All this is well and good and is part of the natural order of things, especially as they relate to relationships between the generations. The real problems don’t arise when grandparents behave as they are expected to (for all young parents anticipate that their elders will behave egregiously in these matters…..), but rather when grandparents are not on site locally to effectively create such a familial uproar.
Imagine, if you can, the grief in extended families when it becomes necessary for either the younger generation or the older to move far away, leaving the grandchildren impoverished of their grandparents’ over-indulgence and likewise of their parents’ indignation.
Heart-wrenching, isn’t it?
Well, luckily for grandparents of a certain age, technology now exists that, if used liberally, can almost make it seem like you’re seeing your grand on a daily basis. Between Skype and the smart-phone app called FaceTime, you can talk to your grand while they view your moving lips and funny faces, and they can do the same for you. You can tell that kid he’s the cutest and smartest thing you’ve ever seen, and he’ll believe you as if you were face-to-face, inches apart.
If that’s not enough (and it isn’t…..) there’s facebook, YouTube, and Flickr.
Your kids can create beautiful albums of photos for your grandchild’s milestones, such as her first week birthday, 8th day of life, 11th day, etc. For your latest fix, all you do is show up on Flickr or their chosen photo-sharing site and breathe in that sweet new baby smell, without even having to imagine the smell that might explode in the nappies.
On facebook, you’ll be delighted to read status updates on the baby’s first tooth, on how rambunctious Taylor is getting along in pre-school, and on Lacy’s percentage of height to weight as noted by her pediatrician.
And then there’s YouTube. If your kids are willing to record their progeny’s exploits, you will be overwhelmed to share in the first time Morgan says Mama or the first time Molly rolls over. It’s an experience that can only be had one other way, and that’s in person.
Which brings me to my final point. When you just can’t take it any more, and MUST see those children, don’t hesitate to log on to Southwest Airlines and book flights. SW won’t charge you if you have to change the flights, and as of last week, will even credit the difference to your SW account if a flight you’ve reserved has its price decreased at a later date.
Between a few technological goodies and plain old-fashioned flight, there’s no good reason you should be separated from your grandkids for longer than you can stand.
Remember, in spite of the unfounded complaints of your kids, it’s in everyone’s best interests for this love-fest to continue for many years to come.
Posted by Katy on 02/09/11
I’ve Got Fewer Non-Cash Tax-Deductible Donations To Give This Year
It's sad for my 2008 taxes, but maybe crummy deductions is a good thing?
For many years now, I’ve used a program now marketed by Intuit called “It’s Deductible”.
It started out in booklet form, which I still consider way more convenient than the computer program, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway, this program lists the supposed fair market resale value of your used clothing and household items, so that you can come up with an IRS-approved valuation of your donations for tax-deduction purposes.
I’ve been frankly shocked by the generous values I’ve been able to assign to my non-cash charitable donations, which usually end up being carted to my local Goodwill Store. In fact, the money I’ve saved on our income tax bill each of the past five years has amounted to something of a part-time job for me. It’s made me feel a bit proud of myself to think of how I’ve (legally!) prevented Uncle Sam from getting his hands on even more of our money.
This year, though, was different. For one thing, no kids lived with us for even part of the year. Which means, of course, they weren’t here to move out, thereby not leaving half of all their stuff for us to dispose of. In addition, in the fall of 2007, after our youngest son moved into a house with his buddies, we did a major dejunking of every square inch of our property. What we didn’t sell, we gave away and took the tax deduction.
And finally, we resolved to STOP buying more stuff. Honestly, when you get to be a Late Boomer, if you’re anything like us, you’ve got as much stuff as you’ll ever need. I remember my grandmother telling us, when she was about my age, “Don’t buy me anything else I’ll have to dust.” Amen, Grandma!
So last week, I sat down to valuate my giveaway pile, and let me tell you, I was sorely disappointed. I compared the total value of all my non-cash donations to what I’ve given in previous years and wondered how on earth I could have come up with so little to give.
Was I being a cheapskate, ignoring the serious needs of the less fortunate? Was I becoming bizarrely sentimental about stuff I should obviously be getting rid of? Or could it be that my husband and I had actually succeeded in halting the flow of material possessions into our home?
Bingo! We have a winner!
Of course, that left me with the little problem of how to replace that lost tax deduction. Why, if I didn’t help out around here by continually shopping, storing, sorting, bagging up, and getting rid of stuff, I might have to get another real job!
Here’s the deal: Until the government cracks down on what they’ll surely end up calling loopholes in the tax code, there are other ways to get deductions. For me and my house, that means bigger contributions to our tax-deferred retirement accounts, fully funding our tax-advantaged health savings accounts, and writing a larger check to our favorite charity.
If the feds decided today to lose the non-cash donation deduction, I guess I could live with that. Especially since I’m finally not hauling home any more stuff.
Late Boomer, Indeed
I Only Thought Boomers Were Behind The Retirement Curve!
Please allow me to apologize for my woeful dearth of blogging here at Late Boomer. I’m getting back into the groove now, I promise.
Can you believe everything that’s happened out there in the world since I started this simple site earlier this year? Honestly, I thought I’d just provide a forum in which those of us nearing or entering retirement could encourage each other along the path. Especially those of us who have failed to plan or execute our plans in such a way as to make our later years relatively painless.
But now? Now we’re all in pain, unless I’m mistaken. Even the folks who had it all together have now gotten it undone. Something’s gotta give, boomers, because now it actually SEEMS as late as it IS.
If we’re headed for an extended bad time of it, economically speaking and in other ways, too, we might as well face facts and come up with strategies to lessen the blows. I, for one, didn’t know how fast I could break a Starbucks addiction. But, baby, it’s gone.
In fact, my husband and I have cut back in a hundred small ways, and in a few big ones. I spend part of each day examining not only the news, but our own habits, bills, and expenses. I’ve made lists of small repairs that need to be made to the cars and house, the types of expenditures that will keep us from spending more later. When Doug, aka Mr. Fix-It, has a few minutes away from his desk, he knows he can always look at the list and accomplish an item on it with very little time or effort. And a sense of accomplishment that will prove useful both now and going forward.
I’m also working on taking inventory of everything we own—-right down to gadgets like a non-electric can opener, craft items (who knew I owned a decorative wood-engraving tool?) and car stuff like windshield wiper fluid and cans of de-icer. Not only is this inventory important for insurance purposes, but it prevents us from purchasing something we’ve already got (somewhere!) and affords us the opportunity to be much better stewards of our possessions.
We’ve been blessed in so many ways! I refuse to throw a pity party over our dismal investments, when we’ve got a beautiful family and love enough to go around.
Our lives haven’t changed too much yet, in spite of the devolving situation the world economies find themselves in. But the truth is that all of our lives could end up changing a lot, and for the long term. And the best thing we can do now in order to prepare for that possibility is to begin valuing the things that really matter.
After I’ve taken inventory of my material blessings, I know I’ll come back around to the only appreciating assets I’ve ever really had: faith, family, and friends.
It’s where we all started, and it’s where we’ll end up, too.
Posted by Katy on 11/17/08
Choose A Primary Doctor With Hospital Admitting Privileges!
Boomers and their parents often neglected by emergency room care
It all started when my mother changed doctors, and we found out too late that he did not have admitting privileges to any hospital in town. In case this sounds strange to you, it’s probably because it really didn’t used to be this way.
Time was when you called your doctor during a medical emergency, and while you were on the way to the hospital in an ambulance, he was driving to meet you in the ER. Once there, you would be attended to by the ER team, but your own doctor would be standing by, making decisions in your best interest.
In recent years, though, the trend has been for hospitals to employ doctors they call “hospitalists.” These doctors are typically not in private practice outside the hospital, and neither do they work for the ER. They see you after you’ve been admitted, if you are so fortunate to not be sent home during what is truly an emergency situation.
My own mother has been sent home from the hospital several times because her primary doctor was not authorized to admit her. This past winter, we finally got wise. She presented in the ER with a UTI (urinary tract infection) and a fever. She was also delirious and could not take a single step unassisted. The ER doc prescribed an antiobiotic, gave her a bag of IV fluids and SENT HER HOME. Several hours later, her fever spiked to 104, she had a grand mal seizure, and—-because of the downward spiral that ensued from there—she nearly died.
Do you think they admitted her the SECOND time she presented on the same night? Oh, yeah. By then, they knew their butts would be in a sling (a little medical pun) if they neglected her care again. (By the way, a huge mistake we made that night was not to involve the hospital social worker on duty. She can be instrumental in helping you get satisfaction from your ER experience, but she can’t work miracles.)
Here’s the point: As soon as we got my mother stabilized, we found a doctor who admits to her hospital of choice AND who is a gerontologist. Not only does she love him, but we’ve already had a chance to put our new strategy into play. Mom became very ill again two weeks ago, and had no trouble at all getting admitted for the required care. She still went through the ER, but by the time we arrived the doctors there had instructions from the admitting doc about what was to happen.
Since then, I’ve asked a few questions just to make sure my own doc still has admitting privileges to the hospital next door to his office, and he does.
Of all the times a patient should not have to suffer neglect, it’s during a bona fide emergency.
Make sure you and your loved ones never get sent home from an ER inappropriately. The time to safeguard your own care is now.
Long-Term Is Right Around The Corner
If you're a Boomer without long-term care insurance, it's time to plan
Boomers are eternally optimistic, I think. And the one thing they are most optimistic about is never-ending youth. But honestly, it’s time to get a grip.
Not only are Boomers not going to live forever—-facelifts and butt lifts and fantastic vitamin formulations notwithstanding—-a whole bunch of us are going to “do time” in a long-term care facility before we kick. They still don’t have a cure for Alzheimer’s, you know (although those brain teasers we’ve been working on are bound to help), and the US is looking down the barrel at 80 million Boomers retiring over a 20-year period.
With life-expectancies stretching into the 80s and 90s, a much larger percentage of our generation could end up facing dementia than in previous generations, if only by virtue of the fact that we’re living longer. I don’t know about you, but I hesitate to ask my children and grandchildren to fork it over for the costs of my long-term care. And I certainly don’t plan on them caring for me themselves.
So what’s a Boomer to do? I suggest we waste no time investigating the long-term care policies on the market today. And I do mean TODAY. 2008 is already half over, people! If six months can fly by that quickly, do you believe time is somehow going to start moving more slowly? I didn’t think so.
Of course, the sooner you apply for long-term care insurance, the lower your premiums will be. If you’re in your 50s when you take care of it, it’s truly not terribly expensive. But if you wait until you have to be admitted to the hospital for something like, I don’t know, a bit of a dizzy spell, the origin of which manages to elude diagnosis?
Never mind that you recover and never have another episode. Even if you’re in your mid-50s, you WILL be turned down for long-term care insurance, and kindly invited to never apply again.
There are times in life to strike while the iron is hot. The time to act on attempting to meet your own future needs is while it’s inexpensive and before you’re disqualified by some transient health concern.
You can totally ignore this advice if you believe the government (aka the next generation of taxpayers) will pay for all your nursing home expenses (and in case you believe that they pay for our elders now, they don’t!).
Or if you believe that your children are just dying to change your diapers.
Posted by Katy on 07/02/08
in Family • Our Children • Health • Personal Finance • Retirement
Any automatic savings for Boomers beats none
Do you have automatic savings and/or retirement plans set up with your employer?
Although we are self-employed, I can vouch for the fact that any automatic savings plan you can put into place will work wonders for your future.
So, as Vice-President and possibly even Chief Financial Officer (hmmm…I might have to check the corporation’s bylaws on that one!) of our company, I’ve taken it upon myself to automate tons of stuff. I’ve done this on the personal side of our finances, as well.
Since our health insurance is a high-deductible policy, we’ve opened Health Savings Accounts, into which we automatically deposit the maximum allowed by law each month. There is talk of Medicare being completely broke in 11 years, you know—-corresponding with the exact year Doug would like to retire. Something tells us it’s a very good idea to have a hunk of money set aside to cover our future medical expenses.
Right now, I think we’ve accumulated enough for one of us to break a bone. And it would have to be a non-complicated break, at that. No surgery required. Just a pink or green cast for six weeks and enough money left over to buy a Sharpie marker for autographs. Can’t pay for physical therapy after the cast comes off, either. But if we keep socking away money—-and we will, because it’s automatic—-maybe by next year, we can pay for a printout of recommended exercises.
Our other automatic savings are adding up online, in accounts divided into funds for emergencies, car replacement, and travel.
This travel fund is hugely important to us. We’ve been to Ireland and Scotland twice, and boy, do we want to go back again. So, even though we contribute a nice amount every month automatically, I’ve thought of a way to trick ourselves into beefing it up even more.
Both of our mothers are in assisted living facilities. They both require lots of supplies, which their kids end up purchasing. But guess what we forget to do? Ask them to reimburse us. Sometimes we’re out hundreds of dollars at a time. But, see, The Moms are good for it. We somehow don’t feel right in getting our money back—-and we should.
So Doug and I have made a deal. If we complete a transaction with our mothers, no matter how large or small, by getting reimbursed, that money is transferred directly into the travel fund. Sure, we could be more responsible and put it into retirement, but we really don’t want to be people who waited too long to travel, especially since it’s one of our passions.
I bought my mother $80 worth of Depends the other day, and immediately wrote myself a check for reimbursement. Our travel fund now looks that much better.
Makes me wish I’d bought her a boatload of groceries, or maybe a new car.
Every Woman Has Her Price
Boomers economize, then can afford steak
Doug and I have taken to making our movie-going experience as inexpensive as possible (Okay, cheap).
I estimate we only go to the theater maybe three times per year, like when some action flick’s showing on the big screen that just won’t translate to our 25” TV with the degree of joy my husband wishes to experience.
So, yeah. We did see the new Indiana Jones movie, which was plenty of fun. But here’s the deal: We saw it at 11:00 a.m. That’s in the morning, people! I know some of you stand in line for midnight showings of new movies, but we…don’t. We’ve found that once you’re inside the theater, where it’s all dark and cozy and nearly empty before noon, you really forget that it’s not nighttime. In fact, when you come out of the theater, you’re shocked to see the sun shining and the flowers growing and to find that your wallet still has some cash intact.
That’s right. At the theater closest to us, movies that start before noon are half price. $5 per ticket is still more that I want to spend, which is why we do it so occasionally, but $10? No way. We also refuse to purchase tickets online, since that privilege adds $1 to each ticket. Why not arrive a few minutes early (which we want to do anyway to get our favorite seats where we can put our feet up on the railing) and relax?
Every once in a while, Doug thinks he has to have popcorn, and even though I argue with him, he gets it anyway. But bottled water? No way. If you ask, they’ll give you cups of tap water, even though they do look at you like you’re cretins. And who knows? Maybe we are. All I know is that unless I’m in a foreign country and at risk of acquiring a nasty intestinal bug, I will not pay to drink water from bottles.
About that popcorn thing? Have you ever figured the per-ounce price for that classic film-munchie? Smart Money’s article “9 Ways to Save on Movie Tickets” did the math:
“Per ounce, the smallest size of popcorn is twice the price of filet mignon.”
Look, there’s a pretty swanky steak joint in the same parking lot with the movie theater. By the time the show ends around one, we’re hungry. All that adventure burns a lot of calories! And by one, the lunch crowd is clearing out of the restaurant, but the lunch prices are still in effect.
If you’d rather eat popcorn than steak, I’d like to hear about it. As for me and my hubby, we’re happy with early movies and late lunchesas long as the price is right.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Some Boomers imagine working forever, but life surprises them with early retirement
We’ve all heard about Ed McMahon’s woes by now. I’ve tried every which way to understand what went wrong with his thinking, but it’s hard.
I get that he’s generous and gave away tons of his money to others in need. I know he has previous wives to support and a current one whose clothing design business he invested in heavily before it went belly up. And word was he might lose his McMahonsion to foreclosure, since he owed nearly $700,000 in back payments.
What I don’t get is how an 85-year-old man can say his financial woes are due to the fact that he broke his neck and couldn’t work in recent months. Tell me the truth: do you honestly see yourself working for a living in your mid-eighties? I’m not saying it’s a bad idea—-heck, it might be a great idea, if you’re doing something you love.
But how on earth could you count on being physically and mentally capable of working at that advanced an age? Wouldn’t you want to, say, have a paid-off house by then, just in case?
U.S. News & World Report, in an article aptly titled “Getting Ready for a Surprise Retirement,” says:
The vast majority of baby boomers want or plan to work in some capacity as long as they can. Eighty-four percent of people between the ages of 51 and 70 expect to work after they formally retire, and nearly two thirds say they can’t see themselves ever retiring completely, according to a survey by management consulting firm McKinsey Global Institute. The McKinsey analysis also indicated that 60 percent of boomers will need to work in order to maintain something like their current lifestyle.
But what if the world doesn’t turn out to be perfect? What if something happens that makes it so you can’t continue to work?
An Urban Institute analysis offers a sobering look at what can go awry with your retirement plans. It looked at people who were 51 to 61 years old in 1992. A decade later, over three quarters of them had lost their jobs, become widowed or divorced, developed new health problems, or were confronted with frail parents or in-laws. Any of those circumstances can take a bite out of retirement plans, if not force workers to scrap them altogether. A third of the participants had a health condition that limited their work, and 19 percent went through a layoff or business closing, the study found. And laid-off employees who managed to get a new job were less likely to get health insurance and earned about 25 percent less per hour, says Richard Johnson, a coauthor of the study.
Look, I love the stories of the geezers who walk to work every morning, put in twelve hours six days per week because they want to, and then die happily during a coffee break. It makes me happy to think of people well past the age we’ve come to think of as “retirement age,” still useful and fulfilled, doing exactly what they love and what they planned to do.
I’m just sayin’, you might wanna have Plan B in place.
And if you’re positive you’ll be working until you’re 85, I’ve got a McMahonsion to sell you.
Heading Off Trouble
Boomers might ward off Alzheimer's with brain exercises
My father died at 62, full of mental agility even though his heart gave out for the last time. My husband’s father died at 62, a man of still-brilliant intelligence taken down by malignant melanoma.
Our mothers, though, have lived to be 78 and 86, long enough for Doug and me to become just a wee bit frightened of Alzheimer’s. You’d be scared, too, if you were us.
But even 35 years ago, when my father’s sister retired from a long and successful career, he told me she was in big trouble. “She’s a genius, but the second she quit working, she refused to read a newspaper or a book, or to do a crossword puzzle or play Scrabble. She’s going to end up with Alzheimer’s.”
Sure enough, she did. Within a couple of years of her retirement, she was failing fast. Soon, she was in a nursing home, and didn’t survive long.
I think of my aunt often when I read current news about keeping the brain active and in training in order to avoid Alzheimer’s. Even something as simple as using your non-dominant hand to perform simple tasks, or closing your eyes while using the keyboard, or purposely taking a different path to the office can cause new connections to be made in the brain.
It shouldn’t surprise ambitious Boomers that now there’s a growing demand for brain fitness training.
“People are worried,” says Dr. John Hart Jr., Medical Science Director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas. “You have a large group of the population getting to the age where they are sort of vulnerable to degenerative neurological diseases that seem to be prevalent.” Hart says there is “reasonable evidence” that challenging your brain by learning new things can stave off the cognitive decline that comes with aging. But brain fitness programs differ from traditional learning by focusing on drills for specific cognitive abilities, such as concentration and retaining information.
I gotta say, I still regret giving in to the calculator. I know they were around when I was in high school, but we were forbidden to use them then. If you couldn’t do the problem, you couldn’t do it. And you know what? Now that I use a calculator to do my checkbook, I sure don’t add and subtract as easily as I used to. I’ve kind of lost something in translation.
That seems a shame, doesn’t it? I’m going to start some of the brain exercises on the Internet. And I’m going to get on the ball writing my second novel. If that doesn’t keep those old neurons firing, nothing will.
Don’t Stop Thinkin’ About Tomorrow
Retiring Boomers must plan for a life, not just a 401K
Evidently, boomers aren’t giving enough thought to how they want to live their lives if and when they’re no longer working full time.
We all remember stories from our parents’ generation. The stay-at-home wife made her peace with the idea of her husband being “under her feet” (that’s the expression my grandmother used) all day, well before her man got the gold watch and the glass of punch.
But then, way too often, the retiring man would spend his last day at the office, wake up the next morning, and not have a single idea of what he might want to do with his time. Or maybe he’d decided that a life of golf would suit him, and found out within a couple of weeks that he needed something…else. Something…more.
Sometimes, these gentlemen would find their minds and bodies in a rather rapid decline, if they didn’t find worthy and fulfilling occupations. Now it’s the Boomers’ turn.
ABCNews is reporting that unless our generation of retirees has interests in place, depression can easily set in. And in the absence of the social network provided by work mates, we’d better have some great friends.
Social worker Sherry Parrish says:
People who stop working tend to lose that sense of being part of a team. For example, if you don’t show up for work, someone calls looking for you. But when you’re retired, nobody comes looking for you if you stay in bed all day. So whether you volunteer, get a part time job, or you work in your garden — it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s just important that you do something.
So. Maybe you’ve got a so-called retirement plan in place. But if it’s just about the money, it’s not gonna’ cut it. Do you have a plan for your time and for your mind? Do you have friends and interests and maybe even a cause?
Something to think about, eh?
Boomers caring for their parents, while starting to creak themselves
August 2 marks the seven-year anniversary of my mother’s long health decline. You probably think it’s odd that I remember the day I took her to the ENT for treatment of what became a relentless string of ear infections, but trust me, I remember.
The night before, Mom wanted to treat my family and the two Irish girls we’d sponsored for much of the summer to dinner at a wonderful Japanese restaurant here in Kansas City. She knew we’d be taking the girls to the airport that next morning for their flight back to the auld sod, and she’d decided to do something special for them. They loved it, and so did I.
Little did I know, though, that a very fun memory would mark the beginning of her woes and the start of my season of heavy lifting.
By December of 2001, she’d been hospitalized in order to put her on an insulin regimen, since oral meds were no longer controlling her diabetes. By early spring of 2002, she’d begun having serious seizures. She could no longer drive her car, since in Missouri you must be seizure-free for six months to maintain that privilege.
She was alone in the big house she’d raised us in, the house she’d lived as a widow in for 17 years, and suddenly she was having debilitating panic attacks, during which she made all of us come to the house because of her feeling that she was dying right that very second.
In a few days, we’ll mark the six-year anniversary of moving her out of the family home into assisted living. If you haven’t closed down your family-of-origin home yet, let me just say it’s quite an ordeal. Since we shut down the big house, Mom’s moved several more times. Three different trips to nursing homes and then back again, plus a four-month stay in an independent-living apartment and then back to assisted living.
If I’m counting correctly, that’s nine moves for Mom in six years. And yes, the moves into nursing homes count. You may not have to take a lot of furniture, but you do take some. Plus c-pap machines for those with sleep apnea, clothing, shoes, special blankets, pillows, framed pictures, etc. It’s at least a carload each time.
Then there’s the heavy lifting for Doug’s mom. We shut down her home of 30 years also, sometime after we did Mom’s. She kept getting lost five minutes from her house. And even though she wore a button around her neck, she couldn’t remember to push it when she fell. The last time it happened, she was stuck on the kitchen floor for perhaps as long as two days, thinking she was in a “fine hotel with a very hard bed.” Finally, her dog must have pushed the button.
When we started in on her house, we found she’d kept every Price Chopper ad dating from 1970, all thrown in paper grocery bags and tossed into Doug’s old bedroom. They were mixed in with property tax statements and petty cash. We had ourselves quite a little situation, the solving of which took months.In the past 4.5 years, we’ve moved my mother-in-law (if memory serves) three complete times.
Twelve moves in six years. All for the welfare of two little ladies. I wouldn’t have it any other way, don’t get me wrong. It’s an honor to be able to help our mothers when they need us.
Still, when I look in the mirror, I see where the U-Hauls have carved paths into my face. The intersection of “Home and Nursing Home” never had a street sign until now, where the roads cross like a religious symbol on my forehead.
And sometimes, when the phone rings in the middle of the night and I rush to meet an ambulance at the hospital, the siren competes with the sound of my own creaking knees.
To Work Or Not To Work Might Actually Be The Question
Boomers may have less of a choice than previous generations in whether or not to continue working
The only thing that kind of freaks me out about suspecting that our retirement accounts aren’t currently what they should be is wondering how long we’ll be able to work.
Doug and I are both self-employed. He owns and operates a web design firm, for which I work part-time. I am also an aspiring author, having (finally!) completed my first novel.
He loves what he does, and he’s brilliant at it. He never was very thrilled with “working for the man” until the man turned out to be him. I, too, have spent most of my lifetime resisting the lure of the cubicle. I’m hoping to have a late booming career as an author, a hope my agent believes is not misplaced.
But our freewheeling work lives don’t come without a price.
We have, of course, no pensions. And no vacation days, or sick days. Doug has long-term disability, which would kick in if he was totally disabled for more than 90 days. For the first 90, we’re on our own.
And then there are those fantastic “matching funds” we hear so much about. We don’t have those, either. No matter how things turn out for us when it comes time to finally retire for good, we will have provided all the dough. Doh!
Philosophically, we have no problem working long past the age of 65, especially if our work continues to be satisfying. In that, we aren’t alone. As MSNBC reports:
William Zinke had plenty of resources to retire when he reached his early 60s. He didn’t want to stop working but did want to get away from the hectic pace of New York, where he ran a human resources firm. So Zinke moved his firm to Boulder, Colo., where the pace is more relaxed. Seventeen years later, at age 80, he continues to put in full work days. “I’ve had a very good life,” Zinke said. “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’m not done.” Zinke said he is fortunate to own his business and to be able to set his work schedule. He has formed a nonprofit organization, the Center for Productive Longevity, that is working to encourage other employers to help older workers with flexible schedules and other accommodations. “We need to change the way we think about retirement,” Zinke said.
The only difficulty we have imagining working well into our senior years is that we haven’t had this lifestyle modeled for us. Both of our fathers were dead by age 62, and our mothers moved into assisted living at much younger ages than we hoped they would.
So I’m wondering: Have you seen gainful employment successfully modeled among the elderly people in your lives?
And if you think you’ll be healthy enough to work far beyond the age of 65, what exactly makes you think so?
Cause I’m Leavin’ On A Jet Plane
Boomers need to lose some of the baggage, travel light, and enjoy the trip.
Last summer, my husband Doug and I made our third trip to Europe. And from a strict luggage point-of-view, it was by far the best.
Granted, the whole venture was planned on the spur of the moment. We hadn’t thought we’d be able to get to Switzerland for our youngest son’s college graduation, both because of the expense and because our daughter was getting married a mere week after we’d return.
But at the last minute, we knew we had to go—-and by “had to” I mean really, really wanted to. It was to be a six-day trip, and let me tell you that is not enough time to meet yourself coming and going. Jet lag is not my friend. Jet lag actually reduces me to a weeping puddle of pathos, from which it typically takes at least three days to recover.
So we made one great decision. We decided if I was going to bawl for three days, we sure weren’t going to make the situation any worse by hauling around too much luggage. We decided to take one carry-on wheeled bag, plug a smaller tote bag. For two of us. Period.
It was fantastic. Now I think maybe on the other trips, I might have actually been crying from a displaced shoulder or something. Do you realize how few clothes you need on a trip, if you’re willing to wash out some items in a sink if necessary?
John Flinn, who writes a column called The Competent Traveler for The San Francisco Chronicle, offers advice on hand-washing that a child could follow:
I’m surprised at the number of experienced travelers who don’t know about this trick to cut drying time in half: Lay out a dry towel on the floor, place your clothes on it and roll it up lengthwise. Take off your shoes and shuffle back and forth a few times on the roll to squeeze the moisture from your clothes. Give it a quarter turn and repeat. Let it sit for a few minutes and repeat once more. When you unroll your clothes, they’ll feel almost ready to wear.
Doesn’t that sound like some serious vacation fun? From now on, no matter how long of a journey we plan, we are not checking luggage. We’ve got no one to impress except each other, and that’s already been taken care of.
As Usual, It’s All About Balance
What about semi-retirement, with deferred gratification not quite so deferred?
Financial columnist Humberto Cruz has long been a model for me of deferred gratification. I remember reading his stories twenty years ago, about how he and his wife gave up something in the here-and-now in order to have something in the seemingly far-off future.
But eventually, the future arrives. Even for Humberto Cruz, who must sooner or later face the fact that he’s done an outstanding job with his money. And that—-even though he’s still working—-it might not hurt to spend some of it now rather than wait until he’s too old to enjoy it.
Without enough money saved, you may have no choice but to postpone retirement. But that doesn’t mean postponing gratification, at least not all of it.
Cruz recently had a conversation with Christine Fahlund, a senior financial planner with T. Rowe Price in Baltimore. They discussed how many aging Boomers are being dealt the hard news that, because of the economy, they might not be able to retire as soon as they planned. And how the news affects them. Some, apparently, go into denial and retire anyway, insufficient funds notwithstanding.
There’s an alternative way to approach this dilemma, says Cruz:
Say you had your heart set on retiring next year, but a review of your finances shows you will need to keep working a few more years to build up your savings. At the same time, and making sure you stay within your budget, you could start to indulge in some of the “wants” you were putting off until retirement.
In other words, according to Fahlund, maybe it’s time to lighten up a little.
“If that is a cruise, take it now,” Fahlund said. “If you wanted to build a better workshop in the basement, start investing in the equipment you want. Do not delay gratification. Focus more on the cruise and the workshop” rather than on having to keep working.
Whatever you do, Cruz and Fahlund agree, don’t retire before the time is right. For every six months to a year that you remain in the workplace, you have that much less time to provide for during your non-working years. And if you can begin to really enjoy some parts of life you’ve been postponing, it might just make going to work much more palatable.
Staying The Course, But Maybe Not The Golf Course
Downsizing to weather the recession.
It’s really hard not to worry a bit about the effects of the housing bubble burst, high-priced commodities like food and gas, and a stock market in the doldrums on the ability of Baby Boomers to retire as plannedif at all. I’ve read stories of Boomers in the first year or two of retirement who’ve been hit so hard by declines in the value of their holdings that they’ve been forced back into employment, and these were folks who planned well and did everything right.
Today I read this at The Daily Dash, written by Ed Coury, senior editor and Midwest bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal Radio Network:
Fear of a long recession has hit the affluent baby boomer segment of the population, prompting many of them to downsize their lifestyles and tighten their belts, a new survey finds. A quarter of affluent 60-year-olds are cutting back by contributing less to charity, canceling vacations, reducing retirement saving or postponing retirement altogether, according to a national survey conducted by Bell Investment Advisors in Oakland, California.
I can understand canceling a vacation, but I figure in bad economic times, charities need our help more than ever. And while postponing retirement in today’s environment might be a plan, is reducing retirement savings a brilliant idea? Maybe halting savings and giving to good causes explains this:
The financial woes have also lead to mental anguish, the survey finds, as thirty percent of those polled say they feel more stressed than they did six months ago.
Um, yeah. Cutting out the giving and the savings would definitely do it for me.
High-tech car keeps grandma driving
“Every time I drive my car, I get lost,” my mother-in-law told her oldest daughter.
“But, Mom, you only drive within five minutes of home…”
“It’s fine. I stop at a gas station, show them the address on my license, and they point me toward the house.”
“Really, Mom, it sounds like a problem to me.”
“Don’t worry. And whatever you do, don’t tell the others.”
If you’ve ever tried to wrestle car keys from your elder, you know how nearly impossible a task it can be. That’s why I’ve got to wonder how many senior citizens would actually put themselves in the situation of voluntarily submitting to an ongoing critique of their driving habits.
Doug Newcomb, writing for the Wired Blog Network, tells us about a dandy automobile that will be on the market about the time the boomers’ children start to ask for their old folks’ keys:
The car of tomorrow will make senior citizens better, safer drivers and let them know when they ought to hang up the keys for good. It also could tell the DMV. Researchers at MIT’s AgeLab are building the “Aware Car,” a Volvo XC90 packed with cameras, monitors and sensors that keep tabs on drivers and their behavior to improve safety. The technology won’t be ready for another 20 years—but that’s about the time the last of the Baby Boomers will have turned 65 and one in four drivers will be that age or older. AgeLab studies the quality-of-life issues of an aging population, and the idea behind the Aware Car isn’t getting older drivers off the road but allowing them to drive safely as long as possible.
Tell me, with all the secrecy that typically surrounds advancing dementia and other concerns of old age, do you really think the Aware Car will ever be a big hit with Boomers intent on hanging onto their independence?
I didn’t think so.
What’s In A Name? Not Nearly Enough, Evidently
Two-thirds of Baby Boomers unprepared for retirement
Maybe it’ll end up that our generation has been sabotaged by its very name.
The Baby Boom, of course, refers to the idea that post-World War II, there was a whole lot of baby making going on. If our parents are known for their greatness, we are known for our…large quantity. Yeah, there are a lot of us, all right. And it looks as if the majority misunderstood the moniker.
The name was never meant to encourage a gazillion people to act as if they expected their entire lives to be Boom Times. Nancy Trejos with The Washington Post says:
Most of us have probably painted a rosy financial picture of Boomers. We think of them as the wealthiest generation. But it is only a top tier of Boomers that holds much of the generation’s overall wealth. And while it is true that boomers make more money, they also tend to spend more.
According to a study just released by the McKinsey Global Institute, it looks like a whole bunch of boomers are about to go bust.
In fact, more than two-thirds of early Baby Boomer households, meaning those between the ages of 50 and 63, are financially unprepared for retirement…The fall in home values and stock prices is not helping matters. For the past few years, especially, Boomers have been relying on the wealth in their homes and on stocks and they haven’t thought much about saving, said Diana Farrell, director of McKinsey Global Institute. “There was a sense of I don’t need to save. I have assets.”
It’s a shame, really. We’ve never complained about the fantastic name “The Greatest Generation” ended up with. And as much as some of them turned out to be scoundrels, I’ve never heard a single one admit that maybe he wasn’t exactly the greatest. But whoever the powers-that-be are who sit around making up this stuff over skinny lattes at Starbucks need to, for the sake of every as-yet unnamed generation, get a grip.
Next time the Generation Namers name a generation, I really think they ought to be more considerate, don’t you?
Enormous disparity in sibling's retirement
How thoroughly do you know the financial circumstances of even your own family members?
I was recently invited to a party and as the guests dwindled, the five siblings ended up openly sharing with each other (apparently for the first time) what their retirement years would look like from a monetary perspective.
Three of the five siblings have traditional pensions in place, which would essentially replace nearly their full incomes upon retirement. When two of them stated how much money they’d be receiving, I saw another sibling start to appear awestruck.
“I’ll only have however much I’ve put into my 401K. I don’t even understand what a pension is.”
A fifth sibling joined 401K-only girl, but this last sibling was in much more favorable current circumstances and would have the opportunity to invest much more money than Sibling Four. In fact, anything Sibling Five said to try to comfort Sibling Four did not hit its mark. The only thing they really shared in common was the lack of pension.
It was when Pension Number Three got specific that Sibling Four nearly lost it. Because Number Three not only has an extremely adequate pension, but already had a huge 401K in place at a young age.
“I think we’ll be able to live on our pension pretty well, but it might be a little tight,” Number Three said. And then Number Three went ahead and named the guaranteed monthly amount. It’s more than four times the monthly amount Sibling Four earns WHILE WORKING.
Sibling Four looked truly shocked. And amazed. And dismayed. “You mean, they’ll pay you that much for not going to work?”
Five siblings. All started out relatively (ha!) equal in life—-with the same advantages and disadvantages. And yet in their so-called Golden Years, an enormous disparity will exist among them.
It made me sad, but I’ve got to wonder how often this happens across America every day?
And if siblings very often share the particulars of their situation with each other like those kids did?
Do you know how well-off your siblings will be when they retire? Is it better not to know?
Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me
Here’s a situation I’m just not happy with: our cell phone/land line/Internet charges.
Because we have a business and because I simply cannot hear using a cell phone (I’m deaf in one ear, which complicates things considerably), we have a line line. In fact, we currently have two land lines. Plus Call Notes (AT&T’s answering service) on both lines. We share one cell phone, with 450 minutes per month plus 5000 weekend and anytime minutes. We don’t come anywhere close to using our 450 minutes. NO WHERE close. And we never text, although I noticed that on my most recent bill, we got charged for six such messages.
Our land lines, cell phone, and Internet fees are all bundled with AT&T. The taxes, surcharges and other “special fees” alone add up to $33/month! (Of all the fees I resent, I resent the special ones the most.)
We don’t make many long distance calls. But since I can’t hear on the cell, I usually pick up the land line to make them. And it’s usually in a quasi-emergency situation, like when I need to call my out-of-town sister over my mother’s hospitalization. It does add up. What I need to do (I guess) is call my person and then ask them to call me back, using their cell phone minutes and free long distance. Then I would pick up my land line and be able to hear. That’s the best plan I can come up with at the moment, although Skype would also work, I’m sure.
I’m voting for immediately losing one of our land lines, and relying on Caller ID to notify us of calls we need to return. Additionally, I’m voting to ditch AT&T CallNotes and go back to a phone with an answering machine component. CallNotes costs WAY too much money, and yes, it we dump it we won’t be able to call in remotely to hear our messages. But if we carry a cell phone, why is that so important?
As a Late Boomer, I feel like I need to get a handle on some of these ridiculous expenses. None of my adult kids have land lines, and I envy their freedom. I doubt if that will ever completely work for us, but we need to know some alternatives that are working for others.
What are you doing to keep your telephone/Internet charges under control? How low can we go, dollar-wise, and still enjoy the services we need?
Time’s Not On My Side
If you’re as old as I am54 as of this writingthere’s still a bit of time. Not much, but I’ve heard tell that it’s amazing how much one can accomplish toward a goal if she puts her mind to it.
If you’re older than I am, I hope you still have a mind to put to it! Ha. Doug and I are committed not to waste these minds a moment longer. If we put our heads together, maybe we can come up with some great, implementable ideas that just might save our sorry behinds when the day comesand it willwhen we’re even OLDER than we are now.
If you’re younger than I am? It’s almost too late for you, too, but there’s still hope. Lots of hope. You can definitely turn your financial situation around, assuming it’s currently facing the wrong direction.
And once we get ourselves turned around, it’ll be all about the mo. I’m counting on the mo working in my favor, even if it must work really hard for a very short time.
Never mind the old boomer songs. Time is NOT on my side. If you’re fortunate enough to have it on yours, don’t let that sucker get away from you.
Here’s something you might as well know about me up front. Until nine months ago, my husband Doug and I had never had an emergency fund.
I know, I know. It flies in the face of all that is good and sensible not to save up at least three to six months of your monthly expenses, in case you lose your job or become disabled. But somehow we always managed to have a baby (*ahem*, this is a very old excuse!) or need a car or have all the roof shingles blow into the backyard during a freakish wind storm. We always thought paying for the new furnace, thereby not freezing our patoots off, trumped stone-cold cash in the bank, and while we didn’t exactly put the furnace on a charge, we didn’t save up for it, either.
An emergency fund, you see, is not an account in which you save for FORESEEABLE expenses like car repairs (cars do break down, you know) or new appliances (these days, those darned washers and dryers have a predictably short lifespan). No, THOSE items we’re supposed to be saving for all along. An emergency fund is for those items and events we can’t possibly foresee needing, like an impromptu trip to Ireland or a yacht. You get the idea.
If you, like me, have focused more on your emergency fun than your emergency fund, hang with me. As improbable as it seems, we might be able to do better. We might be on track to actually grow up sometime before we croak.
So, if you still hesitate to bite the deferred gratification bullet, wait no longer! Set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account into one of those online savings accounts like HSBC (currently paying 3.5% interest), and start your very own emergency fun.
I mean FUND. Honestly, I do.
Guaranteed ROI On Meat Purchase
Here’s the deal: I’m a meat eater. In fact, as of eight years ago, meat has displaced chocolate as the most important food group in my home. :) Now, of course, I can get my all-important protein fix with thank-God-they’re-still-not-as-expensive-as-gasoline eggs, but eventually a girl gets tired of eggs. Sometimes, a chick wants steak. I’m just sayin’.
That said, it’s been awfully difficult to afford meat in recent months. So if I ever see a grocery store loss-leading with a humongous meat sale, I’m so there. Recently, Price Chopper had hamburger for $1.29/lb. We hosted a huge party for our Sunday School class and their families. I made enormous kettles of chili to feed fifty, plus a few other items. This sale was a lifesaver. I bought a case of Mexican chili beans at Aldi’s and was all set.
The way I look at it, buying food that I know I’ll use when it’s on sale for practically nothing provides me an instant return on investment the likes of which I can’t get anywhere else. So my grocery shopping is all about loss leaders. I purchase what they’re giving away, and plan my meals around those foods.
It may not be as exciting as plunking $50 down on a share or two of stock, but it’s a sure thing. And with the money I save, I can put us in an even better financial position by paying down a debt, adding to savings, or—yes—contributing to our retirement account.
Are you taking advantage of the rate of return you can achieve instantly by purchasing groceries at a steep discount? The bargains are still out there, even though prices across the board have definitely gone up. Grab them while they’re hot, and don’t burn your tongue enjoying some good old-fashioned meat.
Rely On Recommendations
Doug and I have been taken to the bank and robbed so many times in thirty-plus years, I can’t even count them.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to keep a notebook or a computer file or some easy-to-access record of all the vendors and services you’re actually happy with—and then remember to use them again!
Sometimes, in a desperate and stupid moment, we pull out the Yellow Pages, close our eyes, and call the plumber on whose name our fingers happen to fall. Is that the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard, or what? The trick is to NEVER be that desperate. And to ALWAYS have available the contact information for someone in each type of business you’ll eventually need—preferably someone who’s come HIGHLY recommended by those whose judgment you truly trust.
Here in Kansas City, we just recently were referred to Anthony’s Heating and Cooling, and I can’t tell you how much we liked the repairman they sent out. He was thorough, honest, respectful, and clean. He earned our trust and our repeat business. We will NOT be playing pot luck anymore, when we know that Anthony’s can meet our needs.
Don’t be like we’ve been in the past. Save yourselves some SERIOUS time, money, and frustration by keeping a file of dependable service people. You will be SO happy you followed my recommendation!
So if it’s likely that our lifestyles might be somewhat, let’s just say, reduced during our retirement years, why not try to absorb some of the shock by voluntarily reducing our circumstances now?
What if we earned $80,000 per year right now, and managed to spend each and every cent—and then some? We could, with a bit of gritting our teeth, turn our lifestyle on its ear and end up not only happier in the here-and-now (a girl can dream, right?), but also in better shape in the future.
What if we got even with the world (read: no debt, except maybe a house, in which we’re building equity fast because of a low interest rate and a short term) and then began saving and investing like there’s more than one tomorrow? And then, after successfully relieving ourselves of debt, what if we took the 10% or so of our income we were spending on debt repayment and, additionally, found a way to cut our regular annual expenses by another 10%?
I don’t know about you, but I could make tremendous financial headway with $16,000/year. I’d have a dandy emergency fund, a beefed-up car replacement fund, a thrilling travel fund, plus a fair amount going into pre-tax retirement accounts.
Not only would I be guaranteeing more adequate provision for our later years, I’d be making the kind of almost imperceptible shifts in our current lifestyle that will make “living on less” during retirement feel like living on not quite so much less.
A lot of folks say they know they’ll be able to live on much less during retirement. Like maybe half as much as they live on now. If I believed that, the best thing I could do is start proving it to myself by making the kind of adjustments today that I’d supposedly have no trouble making in the future.
If I’ve got something to prove, I might as well prove it to myself right here, right now.
Are You a Late Boomer?
If looming retirement is catching you off-guard between an aging parent and a revolving-door kid, you might be. If you've delayed travel only to discover they've changed the names of all the countries, you are. And if you're a member of the Baby Boomer Generation who's ready to give back but you've forgotten where you put it, stay tuned. From healthcare to personal finance, from career changes to volunteerism, it's time to boom where you are planted.