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Busy Living and Loving Retirement

March 23rd, 2013 at 04:54 pm

I decided to do a quick update or another month will go by. I am alive and well in the City of Trees. Tomorrow we leave for China, where we will spend almost a month seeing much of the country. We will be on a Road Scholars tour with a small group and an English-speaking guide. We will start in Beijing and will return from Shanghai. I appreciate the educational component of this tour... we will learn much during this adventure.

The best news in a while, is that in early February our grandson was born, about two weeks early but healthy otherwise. He is adorable, but I guess I am just like any grandma when it comes to thinking ours is the cutest. We love being grandparents and spending time with him as much as we can. Fortunately he lives only a few miles away.

We recently finalized plans to have a new house built, just a few miles from our current home. The new house should be ready this summer. We felt it was the time to do it because real estate and building is starting to take off in this area. We looked at several pre-built homes but none of them had everything we wanted, so building seems the best option for us.

My sister and BIL are in the process of downsizing in CA, from their home of 30+ years to a condo in an "over 55"community near our former home. I think they will love their new, simpler and less expensive life.

Well, I need to finish packing, so I'm off. Hope all at SA have a Happy Easter in the company of friends and family.

Retirement Redux

January 3rd, 2013 at 02:10 pm

With the New Year upon us, I've been reflecting on my life in retirement. Before retirement I worked for almost 30 years in education in positions ranging from classroom teacher to program specialist, and culminating for the final 15 years as school principal. On a daily basis there were problems to solve, challenges to face, and goals to meet. My life was fast-paced and intense but I loved my work.

On a personal level, preparing for retirement was an important goal and a challenge I undertook with enthusiasm. Although I once thought I'd retire at 55, I worked until I was 58, still ahead of many who have to work to age 66 or beyond. Planning for eventual retirement took a fair amount of time but setting goals helped keep my eyes on the prize... retirement.

Thanks to long-term planning, we retired with enough resources and income to fund a comfortable standard of living. But in some ways, I miss the challenges that made the days go by quickly and that gave me great satisfaction. So in retirement, I've had to find new challenges and create new goals.

Fast forward to January, 2013... I've been retired for 4 1/2 years. How is it going? In many ways retirement is everything I thought it would be and more. I enjoy mostly stress-free days and manage to keep busy. From spring to fall, gardening keeps me busy. I've joined a gardening club and have a membership at the Botanical Garden that gives me access to classes, events, and volunteer opportunities. We continue to volunteer with a national organization that provides disaster relief to individuals and families.

Dh and I have joined local bird-watching groups and he has taken several short trips out of state for birding festivals. Although I'm always "invited" to go, I prefer to stay home and enjoy some alone time. Bird watching has been a great hobby for dh to get into and he has given several presentations to various groups. An added bonus: it gets him out of the house and gives him a hobby he can do anywhere in the world.

And we travel a lot. Our 121 days of travel in 2012 took us to new and old places around the world: Cayman Islands, Belize, Curacao, Aruba, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Puerto Rico. We explored more of the USA with trips to Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon, Utah, and Nevada. Most of our travel was great fun, except for a 2 week cruise where hundreds of passengers contracted the norovirus. Let’s just say we are putting cruising on hold until we’re (much) older. Add visits to family and bird watching trips for dh, and we were out and about over 5 months total. Whew!

On the financial front... how did we do in 2012?
Life continues to be simpler and less complicated, especially financially. We sold our house in CA in 2011 so now we just have one home to maintain. In 2012 we sold one of our rentals to DS and his wife, so we also have one less investment property to deal with. Two rentals were refinanced, a smart money move resulting in a good cash flow.

Our income is fixed (defined benefit pensions) and direct deposited to the bank, and most bills are on auto-pay. A property manager handles the three remaining rentals. I track our expenses in four basic categories. "Living" is all expenses excluding travel, giving, or saving (i.e., medical, property taxes, food, entertainment, clothes, auto, etc.).

Our net worth grew 8%, excluding real estate. This figure represents the average growth of taxable accounts, tax-deferred accounts (to be tapped at 70 ˝), and stocks/mutual funds. The 8% includes a stock portfolio that grew by 24%, mostly due to Apple's strong performance in 2012, so this skews the totals a bit.

We spent our 2012 net income as follows:
~ Living 30%
~ Giving 15%
~ Savings 32%
~ Travel 23%


And that's the recap of 2012 in the life of a very happy retiree. Although I rarely blog anymore, I continue to enjoy visiting SA and keeping up with the lives of my online friends.

The following picture is from our trip to Mt. Rushmore. As much as we travel around the world, the USA is IMHO the greatest country in the world.

Happy New Year everyone!

Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer…

July 8th, 2012 at 11:06 am

Summer in the City of Trees is my favorite season. Dh and I spend time enjoying our adopted city before our serious travels begin again in the fall. This week we are having a heat wave in our neck of the woods, with six 100+ degree days predicted. Nonetheless, I love summer and the fun that comes with it. Before retiring, summer was our major down time and although we enjoyed it to the max, returning to work always loomed in the back of our minds. Now that we're retired, there is a carefree aspect that adds special enjoyment to summers. An best of all, many of our local activities are free or reasonably priced.

Dh and I are having our bikes tuned up in preparation for some riding on the greenbelt or the municipal park, two great areas for riding, with some long shaded stretches mixed in. It's fun, free, and healthy. Another low cost activity is a visit to the Botanical Gardens, where we have gone several times in the last few weeks. Once for a food and wine tasting fundraising event and once for a lengthy walk. We are members, so we get in free but non-members pay a very reasonable fee of $5 adults/$3 seniors. And, admission is free on Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 7:30 and 9:00 a.m. in the summer. Tai Chi classes are offered for a small fee every Saturday morning in this gorgeous setting, and also summer concerts on Outlaw Field. The gardens are next door to the historic Old Penitentiary, another fun place to visit.

On Tuesday afternoons we usually go to the movies, often to the theater where admission is $1 (only on Tuesdays, but $2 all other days). The movies offered are usually 2-3 weeks from their release date, so not too old. The house cleaners come every other Tuesday, so we started going to the movies to get out of the way and like it so much we go almost every week. Sometimes, depending on the movie, we'll go to the "regular" theater where we pay $7.50 to get in, but still less than the $10 we used to pay in CA.

We belong to the local Audubon club and have gone on several field trips they organize. These field trips are free, and although sponsored by our club, you don't have to be a member to participate. Last week 14 of us participated in a daylong trip on the "Bluebird Trail" to check many bluebird nest boxes and watch the banding of the baby birds. On that trip we counted 42 species of birds, including a golden eagle. We took two other birdwatchers in our car, and each chipped in $10 each for gas. Paying one's fair share for gas is the only "requirement" and the group leader determines the contribution amount.

On Saturday mornings the downtown farmer's market offers fresh, locally grown produce at reasonable prices, and much of it is organic. In addition to fruits and vegetables, this is a good place to get flowers, plants, bread, pastries, cheese, wine, and interesting arts and crafts. Before or after visiting the farmer’s market, you can treat yourself to breakfast or brunch at one of the excellent downtown restaurants like Goldie's, one of our favorites.

If you enjoy a good wine like me, a good day trip is to some of ID's wineries. A 30-minute drive will take you to the heart of the Snake River Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area). The SW region has 24 wineries and the SE region has 5. Too far for a day trip, the northern region has 5 wineries but is worth visiting if you are going that way. I'm happy the wine industry is booming in ID because in my younger days I lived 30 minutes from CA's Napa Valley, renown for its wines, and I love sight of beautiful vineyards, especially in the fall. There are endless events and concerts offered throughout the year at many of the wineries.

For an extra-special activity, there is the Idaho Shakespeare Festival featuring a variety of performances throughout the summer. We have tickets to see The Mousetrap in about a week when my DS and BIL are here. We'll pack a picnic dinner, a nice bottle of wine, and some dessert to enjoy before the performance begins in the beautiful open-air amphitheater at 8:00 p.m. Not too far from the Shakespeare Festival is Barber Park, the beginning point for floating or rafting the Boise River in the summer months. We haven’t tried this very popular activity that takes you six miles down the river, but it sure looks like fun. Alcoholic beverages and glass bottles are prohibited on the Boise River and PDFs are recommended.

To get out of the heat, we can always go to one of the many museums (e.g., World Center for Birds of Prey, Boise Art Museum, Black History Museum, Basque Museum, Discovery Center, Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, etc.) or, if its not too hot, it's fun to rent a paddle boat at the park, go to the zoo, or walk the trails at one of the amazing parks. And, I can't say enough about the simple enjoyment of a BBQ on one's own patio, with family and friends, or just the two of us and lots of good food.

Another activity that keeps us busy in the summer is our volunteer work with the Red Cross. While it certainly is not "fun" to go to the site of a disaster, it is very rewarding to be able help families that have experienced a disaster. In our area, this almost always involves house fires and sometimes floods. This summer has been busy so far during the weeks dh and I have been on-call, especially during the hot, dry and windy days. Considering how popular fireworks are in this state, I'm surprised we did not have too many fires around July 4th.

Although we love to travel to explore our beautiful world and learn more about other cultures, some of the most interesting and enjoyable activities are right at our doorstep. Although I don't blog often these days, I still like to read the SA blogs. One reason I don't blog often is that I don't have a lot of financial insights to offer on a day-to-day basis. But I can say this: if you plan and prepare adequately in your working years, retirement will be all you dream of and more. However, don't forego enjoying life before retirement. Balance is important... spend some $$ now but save some for later. Hope everyone at SA has a safe and relaxing summer!

I was going to post some pictures but there seems to be a problem with the SA server... maybe later.

So what do you do all day?

April 2nd, 2012 at 07:43 pm

Yikes! Has it really been 3 months since I last posted? I am alive and well living happily ever after in retirement. 2012 is the first year we've had only one house to deal with, so our life has gotten simpler (and cheaper). It was a good financial move to sell the CA condo last fall. A question that sometimes comes up from family and friends who work: What do you do all day? Well, we manage to keep busy, and at times busier than when we worked.

My volunteer time with the American Red Cross has been a rewarding experience so far. In between travel, I am on-call as a member of the Disaster Assessment Team. Dh is also a volunteer and sometimes goes with me on calls. In the last month I've had 7 calls, all of them in response to house fires in my city and some neighboring cities. I'm getting to know other volunteers and making new friends, another benefit of belonging to this group.

More and more, we're adapting to the colder climate and enjoying spending more time in this beautiful part of the country. But now when the weather gets TOO cold, since we can no longer escape to CA, we plan getaway trips to warmer areas. We're still not ready to be snowbirds in one particular place so we've been migrating all over the globe. January and February took us to Florida and Caribbean for about a month, an experience that was mostly good.

Our trip included a two-week cruise on the Crown Princess, the ship that made the news because over 500 passengers and crew got sick with norovirus. We thought we'd escaped the epidemic but dh and I both got sick the day we disembarked. We were sick enough to visit the ER and we spent the good part of a week recuperating at our timeshare condo. So the last week was not so good, but the other weeks were wonderful. We've taken many cruises and this was the first bad experience, so we're taking a break from cruising for a while but not for good.

The weather at home has been nice enough that I've worked in the garden a few days. I won't plant my annuals until mid-May, but the perennials are starting to sprout and in need of thinning and pruning. We're having the exterior of our house painted and it will happen this week if the weather cooperates. It's been a fairly mild winter but with some strange weather. One day it's in the 70s... the next day it may snow. If the painting doesn't happen this week, it will have to wait until mid-May when we return from our next trip.

Next week we'll leave for Guatemala, where we'll spend about a month. We'll start with a ten-day Caravan.com tour that begins in Guatemala City but we are going a few days in advance. We think Caravan's prices are reasonable and we enjoyed the Costa Rica tour we took with them last year. After the tour we'll be in Antigua with friends and end with a week at a hotel/resort, also in Antigua. We will visit the schools where we used to train our SJSU student teachers and spend time with students we are sponsoring. We have planned a side trip to the Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, during the latter part of the trip.

The only thing I can share related to saving money is I got a very good deal on our tickets to Guatemala. We are flying first class for about $100 less than the price of an economy class ticket. I did it by using award miles combined with purchased miles to complete the transaction. Also, we are staying at a lovely resort in Antigua for only $159 a week by booking it through our timeshare exchange program.

I do have one financial goal for 2012 that supports my philosophy of giving. This year I would like to make my contributions through a donor-advised charitable fund. So far, I am leaning toward the Schwab Charitable Fund. My plan is to use appreciated stock to establish the fund and use future contributions to support my non-profits of choice. I want to proceed in the most-cost effective and tax-friendly manner. A charitable fund seems simpler than establishing a foundation that involves lots of paperwork and requires management.

Well, I haven't been blogging much because our financial life is really pretty boring these days. I guess it's better than having drama related to money (or lack of). The years of focused planning and saving have paid off in terms of providing a comfortable and secure retirement, and for that I am grateful. We planned for the future and now we are living it. Life is good.

Happy Easter to all! I took this picture of lilies at our hotel last time we were in Guatemala.

A Year of Splendid Retirement

January 1st, 2012 at 10:20 am

Yesterday dh and I were discussing how quickly 2011 flew by. After all, we are retired... shouldn't life seem a little slower? So where did the year go? And how are we doing financially... where did our money go?

January - Our "National Geographic Experience"
We started the year on an Amazon River cruise where we spent 4 weeks visiting everything from remote villages to the industrial city of Manaus. Our trip back to the USA took us to Devil's Island and several Caribbean countries. It was amazing and we learned so much about the flora, fauna, people and cultures of the Amazon Basin!

February - Family Time
Spring in Idaho was quiet and restful. We took a road trip to our condo in Silicon Valley, stopping to see family in Oregon along the way.

March - Time for Family and Friends
Went to Newport and Gleneden on the Oregon Coast for a week with dh to enjoy bird watching and the ocean. Later I took a "girls only" trip to Las Vegas to celebrate a friend's 70th birthday. Dh and I ended the month with a week in Cabo San Lucas for our niece's renewal of vows.

April - From NYC to the Rain Forest
The first week was spent with my sister from CA in NYC visiting my grandnephew (her grandson). Later that month, we were in El Salvador to see family for a week, followed by 10 days in Costa Rica on a Caravan.com tour, one of the best travel bargains around.

May - R & R
Had thyroid surgery... prognosis is good despite some unexpected news. Appreciated being home to rest and recuperate, and my daughters and dh were wonderful during this time. Prepared my garden for planting.

June - Home Sweet Home in ID
The garden is starting to bloom, I volunteered for the Red Cross, and took a four-day trip with dh to beautiful Yellowstone. We decided to sell CA condo... we just don't use it enough to justify expense of keeping it.

July - Cutting Ties to CA
The best part was that my sister and BIL from CA came to visit us in ID for a week of fun. We got an offer on the condo... drove back to CA. It was wonderful to spend time with CA family, including dh's family reunion in Soledad. Cleared out CA condo in expectation of closing escrow in August. Rented a storage locker in ID and hired movers to help us with items we are keeping.

August - Summer in the City of Trees
So happy with our beautiful flower garden in ID... annuals and perennials galore! Volunteered some more and enjoyed a relaxing summer in this beautiful city of trees (that is the meaning of Boise), biking on the greenbelt, and going to the fair, museums, parks and the zoo.

September - European Adventure Begins
We FINALLY closed escrow on our CA condo! Left on September 25 to celebrate with newly retired friends in for Barcelona, Spain, the gateway for our next adventure.

October - Wow... what a month!
We were in Europe most of October, exploring 8 different countries... an amazing experience. The best part: four days with my favorite cousin and his delightful family in Switzerland. Did some volunteer work for the Red Cross when we returned to ID.

November - So Much to be Thankful For
My DSS came home from Iraq, safe and sound after one year working as a medic with his National Guard unit in a particularly dangerous area. Thanksgiving in Idaho was lovely, hosted by DD1. After Thanksgiving, dh and I left for Cabo San Lucas, one of our favorite SUNNY and WARM places.

December - Escaping the Cold
Went to Cabo San Lucas for three weeks. Came home in time to celebrate happy holidays with 3 of our 4 adult children. DSS want to relocate to ID. We decorated the house and put up our tree. It was wonderful! I especially love the ornaments we've collected from our world travels.

On the Financial Front... where did our money go?
I spend less time on things financial now that we're retired. It's not that I care any less about personal finance... it's more that we are on autopilot. We have a property manager handling the rentals, so I do not get involved much. The financial planner I've used for 25+ years does a good job with the tax-deferred investments, so I don't worry about those. Our income is fixed and direct deposited to the bank, and most bills are on auto-pay. Life is simpler now.

I track our retirement income in four basic categories. "Living" is everything we spend that is not travel, giving, or saving: medical, property taxes, food, entertainment, clothes, auto, etc. I was surprised our net worth grew 4.87%, excluding real estate (I expected less). This represents the growth (averaged) of taxable accounts, tax-deferred accounts (to be tapped at 70 1/2), and stocks/mutual funds. I adjusted figures to exclude cash generated from the sale of the CA condo.

Distribution of our 2011 net income is as follows:
~ Living 32%
~ Giving 12%
~ Savings 31%
~ Travel 25%

We spend a lot on travel, made possible by diligent pre-retirement planning and saving. Our expenses are low, our income is fixed (~30% goes to taxes), we save almost one-third of our net income, and we are in relatively good health. This is the "go-go" stage of our retirement. The "slow-go" and the "no-go" stages will follow, but for now we are actively crossing items off our bucket list. 2011 was a good year!

Happy New Year to All at SA!

A Snowbird Experiment

November 23rd, 2011 at 10:13 pm


Now that we permanently live in a colder-in-the-winter part of the country, the snowbird lifestyle is gaining appeal. On Saturday dh and I will leave for three weeks in warm and sunny Cabo San Lucas. We'll stay in a one-bedroom condo at the Hacienda Encantada, a resort that sits on a point with great views of the arch and the Sea of Cortez.

Some snowbirds we know flee the cold for 3-6 months. Our relatively short trip to Cabo is an experiment of sorts... I guess you could call us "semi-snowbirds"... but the point is we're getting away from the Idaho cold to see how we like this area for extended winter getaways. We'll explore future options such as renting an apartment or a house. Cabo is home to large numbers of retired Americans and Canadians, so it must be a good place to spend the winter.

I reserved a "studio suite" with timeshare points from last year, trading a week in Lake Tahoe for three in Cabo. The unit has a full kitchen so we can eat meals in whenever we want and shopping will be easy with a Walmart and a Costco within a 10-minute drive. Resort amenities include laundry facilities, free parking, and free wifi. And although the resort offers an “all inclusive” option for meals/drinks, it is not worth it to us. We tend to eat healthier by cooking our own meals and dining out occasionally. My budget for these 3 weeks is $3,000+-.

So far, the costs are:
RT airfare for two: $1084
$154 per week Exchange Fee: $462
Car rental @$183 a week: $549
Food and gas: ~$500 (est.)
Excursions/misc.: ~$500 (est.)

We've never been to this resort, so I hope it lives up to our expectations based on the website and Trip Advisor. If we like it, we may decide to go back every winter for 3-4 weeks or longer.

Castles and windmills...

November 1st, 2011 at 08:24 pm

...are some of my favorite memories. It's been a week since we returned from our European trip, and our life has fallen back into a comfortable routine. We had an amazing trip visiting 8 countries in 30 days, but it is good to be home. We stayed within our budget, but I did spend on an item I couldn't resist: a carved Black Forest musical cuckoo clock. It hasn't arrived yet but I have the perfect spot for it when it does, and it can be turned off if it drives us crazy.

Life in Europe is very expensive, especially in Switzerland. For example, in most countries, gasoline ranged from a low of ~$6 a gallon to ~$8. Understandably, many Europeans walk extensively, use public transportation, or ride bikes. We certainly can't complain about paying under $3.50 a gallon in Idaho. Food was expensive, both in markets and at restaurants. Of course, if we lived in Europe we wouldn't dine out as often. A meal that is ~$40 in the USA ran ~$70-$75 in Barcelona and even more in Geneva. Two coffees and two pastries at the Starbucks in Basel was $29. (Yeah... dh had to get a Starbuck's fix.)

I loved Amsterdam with its beautiful canals and was fascinated by the Dutch custom of bike-riding everywhere. It seemed there were more bikes than pedestrians. Not surprisingly, the Dutch, in general, seem very fit... I didn't see many overweight bike riders. People of all ages and professions cycle everywhere, often with kids, pets, and packages in tow as you can see in the above link.

What would I do differently? We had to pack for two climate zones (the warm Mediterranean and cool fall weather in Switzerland, Germany and Holland), so next time I would try to avoid this to pack lighter. Instead of taking as much cash in USD, I would just get more Euros from an ATM. Businesses give a lower exchange rate than banks when you pay with USD. It worked well to use my Chase Sapphire card when I could, and the Schwab savings debit card was used at ATMs... neither charge foreign exchange fees.

All in all, it was a great trip. We enjoyed traveling with friends during the first half, then spending time with my Switzerland family, and finally ending with a romantic week-long cruise on the Rhine. People tell us we're "lucky" to travel as much as we do, but in reality it's due more to years of focused planning and saving for retirement rather than luck.

Here are some pictures of the trip:


The view from Erice, a medieval town in Sicily, Italy.


The Parthenon at the Acropolis of Athens, Greece.


The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.


Montserrat... a monastery near Barcelona, Spain.


The United Nations compound in Geneva, Switzerland.


Old homes in Strasbourg, France.


Marksburg Castle in Braubach, Germany.


One of the many windmills in Kinderdjik, Netherlands, used to pump water to reclaim land from the sea.

A Busy April

May 8th, 2011 at 01:26 pm

First of all, Happy Mother's Day to mothers everywhere. May your day be a special one. Dh and I went out for a lovely brunch and we will be having dinner tonight with my daughters. It should be a lot of fun.

April came and went in a whirlwind. Early in the month I was in NYC, spending a quiet week with my sister and grandnephew. We managed to do lots of sightseeing and shopping. I especially enjoyed the annual Macy's Flower Show. When the week was over, I headed back to Idaho and my ds, back to her teaching job in CA.

Mid-April was tax time, and unexpectedly, we got a $713 federal refund. This was due to adequately estimating our withholding, not because we had any write-offs to speak of. As expected, we owed a tidy sum to the state. One good aspect of living in ID: our CPA charged $290 compared to our California CPA who charged $925 to do our taxes last year.

On Friday, April 15, we left for a week in El Salvador. Easter week is seriously celebrated there, and it meant most of my family had the week off (government sector workers) or part of the week off (private business workers). The city, usually a crazy hub of people and cars, was calmer because many people leave the city for the quiet of the mountains or sea shore. We stayed with my cousin and dh enjoyed bird-watching without having to leave the grounds of her home. This is her garden:


Plants we know as house-plants flourish outdoors in the tropical climate of El Salvador:


These cashews grow on a tree outside her kitchen. The fruit is used for a refreshing beverage, and the nut is roasted:


On Good Friday, we left El Salvador for Costa Rica to begin a 10-day excursion. We traveled with a company called Caravan.com and I highly recommend it. The cost is reasonable ($995 per person for 10 days) and includes three excellent meals a day, all excursion fees, baggage handling, and 9 nights at 4 and 5 star hotels. We traveled in a very comfortable bus and although there were 40 in our group, the trip was orderly and well-managed. Caravan uses a seat rotation system that is fair and eliminates competition for the "best" seats.

We loved Costa Rica, a clean and safe country. I've traveled to Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Panama, but Costa Rica is the first Central American country where one can drink the tap water in most places and not get sick. Costa Rica's infrastructure is advanced compared to other Central American countries, largely attributed to the fact Costa Rica has not endured destructive civil wars as have the others.

We expected to see lots of wildlife and were not disappointed. Here our guide, Derek, holds a rhinoceros beetle that is sucking juice from sugar cane:


We traveled to Tortuguero Island, and although not the season for the annual sea turtle migration to the sea, a very worthwhile two-day visit. We saw many howler monkeys, lizards, toucans, egrets, herons, and caimen, and more. We stayed at Laguna Lodge, in the midst of the rain forest. This is the view from the nearby Tortuguero Village:


Then on to Fortuna for two days where we stayed at a comfortable hotel called Magic Mountain, located at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, seen here from the plaza in town:


Our last two-day stop was in Guanacaste on the Pacific Coast, where the weather was warmer and the terrain dryer. We stayed at the Marriott Resort and Spa and had great rooms. Here is the view from the nearby beach:

I'm Still Here

April 6th, 2011 at 05:09 pm

It's been a while since I posted, so I guess an update is in order. My dh and I have been busy traveling. In early March, we spent a week on the Oregon coast. The weather was cold and we had some rain, but it didn't dampen our spirits. We enjoyed whale watching right from the condo balcony, walked on the pristine beaches, bird-watched, and dined on fresh seafood. Our favorite restaurant is Mo's which has the BEST clam chowder. A timeshare exchange made this a very affordable trip.

In late March we were in Cabo for a niece's 25th wedding anniversary and their renewal of vows. We stayed at the Dreams resort that is pricey, especially if you choose the all-inclusive option. Through our timeshare exchange company (Interval International Getaway), I reserved a one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette for $759 for the week. We saved on meals, especially breakfast and lunch, by preparing our own. Cabo has a Costco, two Walmarts, a Sam's Club, and every American fast food restaurant you can think of. In fact, it is a Canadian and American vacation and retirement haven.

Currently, I am in NYC, spending a week with my ds who is on spring break from her teaching job in CA. We are having fun with her two-year-old grandson, but are doing lots of sightseeing while he is in pre-school. His parents are taking a vacation to Turks and Caicos while we babysit. I had never been to the annual Macy's Flower Show and it is beautiful. Not to mention that Macy's is the biggest department store I've ever been in.... with nine floors to shop, three Starbucks, a McDonalds, a full restaurant, and more. I love NYC!

Next Friday, we are off to El Salvador (1 week with family) and then flying from there to Costa Rica (two weeks of bird-watching and trekking). I've been so busy I haven't updated my travel blog but will get to it one of these days. In the meantime, another
adventure calls.


How Much Will You Need to Retire?

February 25th, 2011 at 08:04 am

One of the blogs I enjoy reading, GRACEful Retirement, had a post about a recent Wall Street Journal article on the shortfall in baby boomer retirement accounts. The article suggests being prepared for retirement means having about 85% of your working income and boomers are failing miserably. The comments to this article are interesting, and like Grace, many readers assert you DO NOT need 85% of your working income in retirement. And while I mostly agree, in reality, it depends.

There are far too many factors to consider in retirement for any specific figure or percentage to apply to most people. Before retiring, it's critical to understand your unique financial picture, but many people put off even thinking about retirement until it is almost too late. Over the years, I've talked to many people in their 40s and 50s who have not done any retirement planning whatsoever. Even sadder are people in their 60s who are "ready" and want to retire but can't because their finances are not quite where they need to be. The recent economic downturn has been bad for many, but especially bad if you've put off retirement planning and really want/need to retire.

Not only is it important to understand how much income will be at your disposal, but also what issues might impact your income. People with defined benefit pensions (e.g., teachers, state employees, police/firemen, etc.) have reliable, guaranteed monthly incomes based on a formula (e.g., years of service X age factor X highest salary). Some people will rely solely on Social Security, while others will depend on a combination of sources such as Social Security, company pensionS, 401k/457 accounts, and/or savings and investments. If retirement income is invested in stocks or real estate, market fluctuations will have an impact on cash flow. Taxes can be an unpleasant surprise if you are not prepared and will impact your net income.

In addition to understanding projected retirement income, you need to estimate your expenses. I estimated on the high side... and factored in 4% annually for inflation. If you will have a mortgage, higher medical expenses (e.g., insurance), plan to travel, or undertake expensive hobbies, even 85% of your pre-retirement income may not be enough. In my case, I am spending 3 times as much as I used to on travel. We also eat out more and spend more on entertainment and leisure activities than before retirement. We even spend more on groceries now that my dh tags along. But we still manage to live below our means.

In 2008, I retired with ~46% of my pre-retirement gross income, but since I am no longer contributing the max to 403b and 457 plans, nor do I have work-related expenses, I can live comfortably on this. The bottom line: my retirement net income is ~99% of my net working income because I planned it this way. However, before retiring I never spent anywhere close to 85% of my gross or net income so retiring was an easy adjustment, financially. It helped that a few years before retiring, I estimated my pension benefits, practiced living within that income and saved the rest.

Before deciding to retire, I formulated a budget that included a "retirement enjoyment" category. Travel, entertainment, dining out, and basically, everything that's a want vs. a need went into this line item. I didn’t want to spend the next 25-30 years home-bound, unable to do the things I dreamed about because of an inadequate income, so I planned accordingly. It meant making choices such as downsizing, creating a realistically padded budget, and having an emergency fund to address the unexpected.

Retirement, no matter whether at 47 or 67, can be everything you want it to be if you understand your priorities, set goals, and make a plan to achieve them. The sooner you start, the better your chances of retiring when you are ready.

Amazing Amazon Experience

January 26th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

We're back from our month-long trip to the Amazon Basin. We traveled 1,000 miles on the Amazon River in Brazil to the industrial city of Manaus, then turned around and sailed back to the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way, we stopped at several smaller cities and remote villages. It was a memorable National Geographic-type experience, and definitely worth the time and expense.

Money-wise, it was a pricey trip but we stayed within our budget. We plan big trips about a year in advance and save systematically to our travel account so the trip was almost completely paid for before we started. We budget extra funds for unexpected events and spontaneous activities. Nowadays, we buy very few souvenirs (except for my grandniece and nephews), but we do take lots of pictures. Thank goodness for digital photography!

Health-wise, we did fairly well. Dh caught a stomach bug that lasted about two days. I was bitten by fire ants while visiting Boca da Valeria, a remote village near Parintins... very painful but fortunately, I didn't have an allergic reaction like I do with bees. Our doctor in the USA gave us meds for all possible ailments, including malaria, so we didn't have to see the ship's doctor like some of our fellow-travelers.

A few highlights and pictures from our trip are posted on our travel blog if you are interested.

Love Our Senior Discounts

September 17th, 2010 at 12:27 pm

For the past week, dh and I have been staying at Brian Head, Utah. Many people have never heard of it but it is in a beautiful corner of the state, high (and I do mean high) in the mountains. With the summer crowds dwindling, we thought this would be a good time to visit nearby Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.

Two years ago, dh purchased the lifetime senior pass to enter any national park, along with up to three adult guests. The senior pass is a bargain at $10 and is available to anyone 62 or older. The entrance fee to Zion and Bryce Canyon is $25 per car or $12 per person, so we saved quite a bit. We also used it to enter Cedar Breaks National Monument, although the entrance fees there are only $4 per person.

We opted to stay in Brian Head, an hour and a half scenic drive from the national parks because we reserved a comfortable 1-bedroom condo at a beautiful lodge for only $139 for the week. This was done through our timeshare exchange program. The elevation at Brian Head is 10,350 feet, something we were unaware of although it turned out to be a good thing. In about two weeks we will be traveling to Peru and staying at Brian Head gave us an idea of the effect of high elevation on our bodies.

It did take about a day to get acclimated to the high elevation, but we learned some important things: stay hydrated, take it easy for a day or so, eat carbs, and avoid alcohol.

Here are some pics... while they last:

Cedar Breaks National Monument is only 5 miles from Brian Head. Here they get 400 inches of snow annually and close the park in October:


Bryce Canyon visitors can drive right in. It has spectacular vistas... it's like a cross between Sedona and the Grand Canyon:


Zion National Park is open from May 28 until December 1 and is a national treasure. Visitors can go deep into the park by shuttle only, and these run every 6-8 minutes. There are many hiking trails, from moderate to challenging. We went on two hikes, to the Weeping Wall and the River Walk. Here is a shot of some of the interesting Zion hoodoos:


Making the Decision to Retire

August 18th, 2010 at 11:09 pm

How much money will I need to retire comfortably? This was the burning question I pondered for several years before retiring. My retirement planning involved some specific steps to answer this question and it helped me feel confident in my decision to retire. Even though I retired two years ago when the economy was imploding, I have not regretted it for a moment.

Here is what I did to come up with my answer:

1. I determined the annual income I would need in today's dollars. This involved creating a budget that allows for unexpected expenses and also a healthy amount for travel. My basic budget categories are:

Housing (includes expenses for second home)
Utilities (includes phone)
Food/Misc.
Auto (gas, maintenance, insurance, registration)
Medical
Charitable Donations/Gifts
Personal Allowance (includes clothing)
Insurance
Entertainment
Travel Savings
Regular Savings
Taxes

2. I chose my planned retirement date: August 19, 2008.

3. With input from my accountant and financial planner, I analyzed the market value of my investments. These included both taxable (cash, stocks, real estate) and tax sheltered accounts (IRAs, 457 and 403b). Taking into account a conservative rate of return on these investments (2%), we projected values at 70 1/2, when Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) kicks in.

4. I requested a benefit estimate from my state teacher's pension plan. In my case, I knew the exact amount of my pension and that it is supposed to have a guaranteed 2% annual COLA.

5. I calculated the withholding on my pensions at approximately 25%.

6. I determined my pension WOULD NOT keep pace with inflation (using a 4% lifetime average inflation rate). In the future it would mean saving less and/or drawing from my retirement accounts to supplement my pension income (definitely will need to do so by age 70 1/2).

I put all this data on a spreadsheet and saw that I could afford to retire on my chosen date, even though waiting three more years would have provided a significantly higher income. In my case, the additional money was not worth the stress generated by my work. My job as an elementary school principal was taking a toll on my health (e.g., high BP) and I wanted to retire on a high note, rather than after I'd burned out.

These are the steps I took to "crunch the numbers." There are plenty of calculators available online, some of them very useful. However, I just used a simple Excel spreadsheet. I did this exercise at least once a year for about 4-5 years before retiring. I knew it was time to retire when I began to review my retirement spreadsheet every month!

My husband retired in 2009 so we are now both able to enjoy a completely different life. People sometimes ask what we do to keep busy now that we're retired. The reality is that we are always busy, but what we do to keep busy is our choice. It's wonderful to have so much control over our lives. We love to travel and have documented some of our adventures on our travel blog.

In addition to retirement income planning, we downsized in 2006 to a condo in Silicon Valley. This was a good move because we sold our big house when prices were high and we were able to move to the condo that we had bought in 2003 but had rented out. We used profits from the downsize to buy our Idaho home for cash, so there is no mortgage. So now here we are in beautiful Boise where we have relocated. We still have the CA condo, but it is now our second home.

Before/After and More

July 18th, 2010 at 11:58 am

Hope everyone is having a great summer. Ours has been busy. We are back in Idaho after spending two weeks in Hawaii and then two weeks in our CA condo. The Hawaii trip was planned to help my DS and BIL celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. My dh had never been to Hawaii and he liked it so much he wants to go back... I LOVE Hawaii, especially the weather, so we will go back in 2011.

We spent the first week on a cruise circling the islands of Maui, Hawaii, and Kauai, and the second week we spent in a timeshare condo on Oahu that I exchanged through Interval International. Here is a view from our room:


One of my favorite memories is of the spectacular Naapali cliffs in Kauai:


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Back in Idaho, the landscape contractor completed our patio project. I love the low maintenance aspect of our new patio. Our back yard is very small and faces an alley that gets very little traffic. BEFORE all we had was a patch of lawn and a concrete patio:


Now we have pavers and rock planters with excellent soil and an automatic watering system. Dh and I spent the last two days planting. The planters contain perennials and I also have 8 large pots with annuals. Here is a picture AFTER the project was completed:


Rent or Sell?

June 9th, 2010 at 11:07 am

Now that we're retired and free to move about the world without the encumbrance of jobs, we've been contemplating what to do with our condo in CA. Here is what we have discussed so far:

*****************************************
Sell It

Pros:
No more PITI, HOA fees, and utilities;

We could invest the equity or use it for something else, TBD.

Cons:
The real estate market's just starting to improve here, so it might be prudent to wait;

We might owe taxes since we would not be buying a replacement property.


*****************************************
Rent It

Pros:
The rent would cover all or almost all expenses (PITI/HOA/Management);

We could save or invest what we now pay in PITI/HOA;

We know a good property manager.

Cons:
Renting can be a disaster with the wrong tenants;

Renting won't help us tax-wise due to income limits.


*****************************************

So, back to the question: rent or sell? After much thought and discussion, we've decided to do neither. We're going to keep the condo and look at things again in a year or so. This way, we will have a place to stay whenever we're in CA, and we will be spending about 4 months here in 2010. Dh, as an Emeritus Professor, still has access to the campus library and other resources and he wants to do some research/writing (with no stress or deadlines, just for enjoyment). We'll keep the Prius parked in the garage for wheels and thankfully, not have to deal with packing and moving dh's office just yet.

We're Moving

May 17th, 2010 at 09:06 pm

A few months back dh and I decided it was time to make Idaho our legal residence... we plan to spend more than 50% of our time there, and it makes sense from a financial standpoint. We bought our ID home in 2006. We will definitely save on some basic expenses:

Homeowner’s insurance:
ID - $320
CA - $578 (changed carriers)

Registration for my car (2007 Murano):
ID - $74
CA - $376

Auto Insurance:
ID - $1067
CA - $1459 (two cars)

State Income Tax:
ID - 7.8%
CA - 9.55%

State Sales Tax:
ID - 6%
CA - 9.25%

Property Tax Homeowner's Exemption Savings:
ID - $1,005
CA - $70

When I use Sperling's cost of living comparison calculator, it's 42% cheaper to live in Idaho than our city in California. We've been in Idaho for about two weeks now and I definitely notice the savings at the grocery store and the gas pump.

We will keep the CA condo in Silicon Valley, at least for a few years. We have family and friends in the Bay Area that we will visit frequently so the condo will be used regularly. And, when it gets too cold in Idaho, or if we have to fly out of SFO or SJC for one of our trips, we have a nice place to stay. The Prius will remain at the condo for use while we're in CA.

In other news, I am scheduling some landscaping work in our back yard using Basalite pavers/stones. Right now, the back yard is a patch of grass with a small concrete patio... that's it. My vision is to create an "outdoor room" with pavers and stone planter boxes to be filled with perennials and annuals. We will also plant a tall, narrow tree for privacy in one corner. The work is scheduled to be done in June. Before and after pictures to be posted when the work is done.

April Update

April 29th, 2010 at 08:13 pm

It's been a while since I last posted to my blog. April has been a busy and expensive month. I say expensive because of all the taxes we paid... Thankfully, we had savings to cover our bigger-than-expected Federal and State tax underpayment. Then there were also property taxes due on our CA home. So glad that's behind us!

In mid-April we spent two weeks in Mexico, mainly to visit the World Heritage archeological sites near Villahermosa and Merida. These are both very safe cities but I especially loved Merida, a beautiful colonial city with a rich history.

Giant Olmec stone head in La Venta Park near Villahermosa. These are as big as a room:


The Museum of Anthropology in Merida is worth a visit:


The archeological site at Uxmal:


One day, we drove to mangrove forests of Celestun on the coast. Dh had a blast bird-watching. Celestun is the feeding ground for thousands of flamingos:


The Yucatan is riddled with sinkholes, called "cenotes." These are usually filled with clean water and are popular as cool, underground pools and for cave diving. These limestone cenotes are connected by a vast underground river system:


About the trip:
~ We didn't get sick;
~ We had great accommodations through our timeshare (Hyatt Regency in both cities);
~ While in Merida, we saved money and had more flexibility by hiring a private driver for the day instead of going on a group tour. We were able to see and do much more for less than $60 a day;
~ We went over on our food budget because we invited our driver to eat with us each day, but he was knowledgeable and helpful;
~ The weather was good... some days actually a little too hot (over 100 degrees) but after Florida, we welcomed it;
~ Speaking Spanish really helped us get around.

One thing that really "gets" to me when we travel in Third World countries is to learn how LOW the minimum wage is in some countries. At ~$5 USD a day Mexico has a minimum wage even lower than EL Salvador, where I was born. I don't know how people live on this, but they do.

It also distresses me to see so many stray dogs that look like they're starving. They wander the streets looking so pathetic, but what can you do? There is no SPCA that I know of and people are mostly indifferent to these poor creatures. If you try to feed them, people look at you as if you are crazy.

At La Venta Park, people do feed the coatimundis... it's the local practice. These raccoon-like animals can be quite aggressive, and even chase you if they think you have food.


And, yeah, they caught me!


In the next few days I will be posting more on the World Heritage sites on my travel blog, in case you are interested.


Taking Stock

March 30th, 2010 at 11:55 am

Today I decided to analyze my stock portfolio, something I haven't done in over a year. Here is the lowdown:

1. The portfolio has now surpassed the high of October 2007;

2. It's gained 95% since the low of February 2009;

3. Overall gain since inception has averaged ~7% a year;

4. I have not bought or sold any stocks or mutual funds in years;

5. My portfolio consists of 90% individual stocks and 10% mutual funds;

6. My best performing stocks in terms of gain over purchase price are: AAPL, SBUX, PG, WMT, ABT, HPQ, AMZN;

7. I buy stocks based on liking/using a company's product, not on a high-level analysis. (Note: I DO NOT recommend this approach!) For example, I bought AAPL at $6 a share in 1996, because I'd used Mac computers since they first came out in 1985. I was lucky... AAPL has split twice and has had outstanding gain;

8. Most (but not all) stocks I bought outperformed mutual funds I bought (VFINX, SNXFX, SWPPX);

9. When I decide to buy a stock, I will buy between 100-500 shares;

10. As much as I'm interested in personal finance, I just haven't gotten into educating myself about the stock market, but maybe this is an area to explore. I still feel like a rookie.

I've always thought of my stocks as an asset I'd probably leave to my children or a charity and had not counted on these funds for retirement, but it's a good backup option. On the other hand, my retirement accounts (403b, IRAs, 457), some of which are invested in mutual funds, are entrusted to a professional financial manager.

------------------------

In other news, dh and I have been in ID for the last two weeks, enjoying some special time with my daughters and SILs. The weather's been colder than CA, but nothing unbearable. Dh has a new interest: photographing birds and wildlife, so we've spent hours at local parks and wildlife preserves. Idaho has abundant wildlife and beautiful landscapes, so there are endless photo ops. Dh just spent a small fortune upgrading to a better camera (Canon EOS 7D) but saved money on taxes (ID is 6% vs. CA @ 9.25%).

At the end of the week, we'll drive back to CA (with TC the cat) to spend Easter with family and friends. I'm looking forward to seeing my sister, niece, grandniece, and grandnephew. I love how the kids get excited about their Easter egg hunt and we'll all have a wonderful brunch with close friends and family.

Then in mid-April, dh and I are off to Mexico for a few weeks to explore some major archeological ruins in the states of Tabasco and Yucatan. From our base in Villahermosa, we will go to La Venta and Palenque. Then we'll fly to Merida, and will go to Uxmal and Chichen-Itza from there.


No Penalties due to Safe Harbor

March 13th, 2010 at 11:22 pm

We went to our CPA today to have our taxes done. 2009 was an unusual year in that dh worked full-time and also received his pension for 6 months as part of a faculty early retirement program. I also worked part-time as a consultant and for the university. So the visit confirmed we owe a BIG chunk to both IRS and the Franchise Tax Board. We were not able to use any of the rentals as a write off due to income limits.

Because of safe harbor tax rules, we are exempt from an underpayment penalty because we withheld more than 110% than in 2008. Phew! In 2010, our income will drop but we still need to increase our withholding according to our CPA. I am learning that we will have very little we can itemize now that we're retired: property taxes, mortgage interest, charitable donations... and that's about it.

In 2010, we increased charitable contributions to include a large donation to a Guatemala school to be used for scholarships. But just as we thought, the CPA says it is not deductible because the school in Guatemala is not affiliated with a US charity. Back in January, we decided to donate to the school even though it might not be deductible, but it sure would have been nice.

Our FL trip: the good, bad, and the ugly

March 9th, 2010 at 02:50 pm

Well, we're back from two weeks in Orlando and overall we had a great time.

The Good
~ A side-trip to the Everglades... awesome! You can read more about the Everglades on my travel blog if you're interested in the flora and fauna of this immense area. I took some great pictures of gators and birds.

~ Disney World... we visited the four parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) and Magic Kingdom twice. I bought our tickets from a discounter at Denny's at a good savings, paying $418 (including tax) for two adults for 5 days, single park per day option. I researched the best days to attend and we never had to wait more than 5 minutes for any of the rides.

~ Floridays Resort - For Week 1, we had a lovely two-bedroom apartment with all the amenities including free Internet, W/D, and a full kitchen. We got a good deal through Expedia and our accommodations came to ~$105 a night including the surcharge added upon checkout. It was located close to everything, but it was way more space than we needed. Two people do not need a two-bedroom apartment with three TVs but this was the smallest unit available. We probably could have saved a little more by shopping around (maybe ~$85 a day) but it was a last-minute trip. This is a great unit for 4-6 people and the resort is beautiful.

~ St. Augustine - This was an easy day-trip from Orlando. What a great, historic city with so much to see. In retrospect, we should have planned to stay several days. We used dh's senior pass, good at any national park, to get in free to the Castillo de San Marcos. Here I am at the city gates.


~ Our rental car from Alamo was a good deal... the pick up and delivery was easy, and we saved ~25% though Costco plus got a free day. This was a good investment because it gave us flexibility to go to the attractions or anywhere else without having to follow shuttle bus schedules. We were able to go to Tampa Bay, Daytona Beach, Miami, St. Augustine, the Everglades, and more.

~ Arabian Nights... this was a good dinner and an amazing performance featuring beautiful horses. We paid only $13 for the two of us to get in and had great seats. I'll explain more later.

The Bad
~ We went over budget on meals by ~ $9 a day... so not too bad. We just couldn't resist those snacks at Disney World, and they are not cheap. For example, a Haagen Daz bar was $3.75. I also had not budgeted $14 a day for parking at the Disney resorts, but it was well worth it to have the flexibility. But as much as I love to save and always have a budget, our travel account is padded so we can absorb going over budget without causing any distress.

~ The weather was COLD... even colder than back home in Silicon Valley, but we dealt with it by layering and it didn't dampen our spirits. It did mean no swimming or sunning, though.

~ I got sick... a serious sinus infection sidelined me for a day and required going to urgent care, but I was soon on the mend. The visit and 2 prescriptions were only $40, thanks to our good health insurance.

~ Westgate Lakes... Week 2 was at this resort and it was a timeshare exchange that cost only $139 for the week. That being said, I won't get too nit-picky, but let's just say we won't be staying there again if we can help it. Mostly, it has to do with the management and not the facilities which are older. We were given wrong information about basic things such as the location of the laundry facilities, the "free" breakfast, the housekeeping service, etc. At check-in, before giving your room key, they pressure guests into considering a timeshare sales pitch, which leads me to...

The Ugly
~ We decided to sit through their 90-minute timeshare sales pitch in order to get our almost-free tickets to Arabian Nights (normally ~$64 per person). We did not want to buy another timeshare and once they figured that out, they were rude and ugly. But they did "dismiss" us before the 90 minutes was up and we still got our tickets.

~ My dh actually went on two "scary" rides with me. After riding DINOSAUR at Animal Kingdom, I took a photo of the photo they try to sell you when you get off. We are the two on the right in the very back. Yeah... we are a pretty ugly sight, for sure. He also went on Thunder Mountain, so I'm proud of him, but I had to go on Space Mountain by myself.

Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst

February 16th, 2010 at 09:05 am


Maybe somewhere deep down I'm a pessimist, but most of the time I'm a woman who thinks the glass is half-full. But when it came to financial planning and retirement, I covered all the bases.

I am one of the lucky ones who retired with a state teacher's pension. This is touted as "safe" and provides an annual 2% COLA. Participants in this pension system are not eligible for Social Security, however.

But being ever so wary of what could go wrong, and always wanting to be prepared for left curves life throws at us, I also did the following:

1) Contributed annually to my 403b accounts and also to Roth IRAs when I was eligible. So far, I have not had to touch this money;

2) Invested in the stock market. The "star" of my portfolio is AAPL which I bought at ~$6 a share in 1996. I stopped investing in stocks years ago, but I have fun tracking this asset. I don't know if I will ever sell any of it, but it's there if I need it;

3) I also have a stash of cash... some in CDs, some in ING, and some barely earning any interest elsewhere. It would help me survive for several years if my pension dried up.

4) I have avoided debt like the plague, except for a small mortgage.

So, why I am writing about this? Well, yesterday a good friend...also an educator... called and lamented she may have to work until she's 64 or 65. You see, her teacher's pension just won't be enough for living in retirement if she retires any sooner. And even when she does retire, she'll have to make "drastic cuts" to her lifestyle (like no more travel).

Don't feel too sorry for her. Most Americans have to work until 66 or 67, but many teachers we know like to retire around 60 or 62. My friend, though, never saved for retirement because she figured her pension would be enough. And in reality, it should/could be. And it is "safe." But what if...


Change of Plans, Part 2

February 10th, 2010 at 11:56 am

Our trip to Peru in February was canceled due to torrential rains and ensuing floods that washed away the railroad tracks, but we have rescheduled for October. We've been looking forward to the trip for months and the cancellation was a letdown that left us itching to go somewhere, anywhere. Fortunately, our 2010 travel savings has enough to allow some "unscheduled" travel, so I researched "last minute" deals. Unable to resist the bargains, we decided on two weeks in Orlando, Florida. Our itinerary includes St. Augustine, Miami and the Everglades, and the Disney World parks.

Some things that saved money:

~ The first week was booked through Expedia as a package that included airfare, so we saved over $500 (another condo with a kitchen);

~ The second week was booked through our timeshare (Interval International) and will cost $139 for the entire week (studio condo with kitchen);

~ The day-long excursion to Miami and the Everglades was booked using a discount coupon;

~ The car rental was booked through Costco Travel at a 25% savings plus one free day;

~ We will prepare one or two meals each day at the condo, a healthy option that will save money.

We are set to leave next week. Now, if only I could talk dh into going on the "scary" rides with me at Disney World...

Jam-packed January

January 31st, 2010 at 03:40 pm

It's the last day of January and looking back, the month has flown by. We were in Idaho for the first week then drove back to CA. Since weather conditions were very icy, we opted to break up the trip by spending the night in Reno instead of making the 12-hour drive in one day. We stayed at La Quinta, a "pet friendly" hotel that was clean and reasonable (~$63). The hotel didn't charge extra for TC the cat and provided a free continental breakfast in the morning (with choice of warm oatmeal, cold cereal, juice, coffee, yogurt, toasted bagels/cream cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and more).

A few days after arriving back in CA, dh's colleagues honored him at a brunch at the Dolce Hayes Mansion. My DDs flew out from ID for the event, in honor of his retirement and almost 30 years of distinguished service. The day before the celebration, we took the girls whale watching on the coast. This is something I've always wanted to do, but never had. The excursion was reasonably-priced, very successful and one we'll do again. Some of the best experiences are in our own back yard.

We saw an abundance of migrating gray whales... this one flashing its beautiful tail.


We encountered a school of Risso's dolphins. Here a calf is sheltered between two adults.


These California Sea Lions like to pile up on the jetty.


Mid-January, I took off to NYC with my DS. There are some great fares to be had from SFO to NY, even cheaper than flying to Boise. After spending a week with my sister, I realized how much fun it is to have our "girls only" time. Well, we did have a little man with us... my grandnephew who just turned one. One of the reasons DS and I went to NYC was so my grandnephew's parents could take a much-needed vacation. So DS and I enjoyed being grandma and great-auntie for a week. Fortunately, the baby was happy and easy to care for. We enjoyed decent weather... very little rain, and clear but cold (low 30s and high 20s).

Staying in my nephew's apartment was an interesting experience. Their apartment is one of ~22,000 (not a typo) in an East Side complex known as Stuyvesant Town. The apartment is ~700 square feet and they pay ~$2,500 in rent that includes heat, electricity, water, and garbage. I guess this is average rent for NYC.

It struck me as odd that they cannot regulate the heat in their apartment. For my taste, the apartment was frequently too warm, so much that I'd wake in the middle of the night. When I did, I'd look out the window and see many apartments with the lights on and windows cracked open. What a waste of energy, and especially alarming since Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town are having economic woes.

I stayed well below budget on this trip. We saved money by shopping at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and in Chinatown for produce, all within walking distance. Dinners were home-cooked gourmet meals but we did eat lunch out several times. The thin-crust NY pizza is yummy but my favorite is Bon-Chon chicken.


In Chinatown, a good place for bargains, I bought dried mushrooms and ginger at reasonable prices for my CA pantry.


On many street corners you can find small "bodegas" that sell groceries and fresh flowers.


One of the most entertaining things to do in NYC is "people watching." This professional dog-walker has her hands full. New Yorkers love dogs.


And for those who want to save time...

This Time It's Real!

December 5th, 2009 at 09:18 am


The day after I retired in August 2008, I took a part-time job at a local university supervising student teachers. Then my dh decided to retire in July 2009 from the same university. But he went back to work full-time for the Fall 2009 semester under a program allowing retired faculty to work 50% for up to five years.

My part-time work brought me full-circle... I began my career as a teacher and I ended it as a teacher. In between, I spent more than 15 years as an administrator but teaching has always been my passion. The most enjoyable aspect of my "retirement job" was working with my students, a dedicated and passionate group eager to begin their teaching careers. And while the job helped me transition from intense full-time work to retirement, it also prevented me from doing some things I really want to do.

So, when my dh decided to opt-out after just one year in his post-retirement program, it was my cue to bow out too. Now it's official... as of yesterday, we both are completely work-free and 100% retired. Our goal is to take time for some serious traveling so we can decompress, regroup, and reflect about what we want to do for the next 20 years or more.

So now we are free to travel the world without the encumbrance of jobs, and we have made plans. At various times in the next year we will be somewhere else: Panama, New York, Peru, Mexico, Hawaii, Bryce Canyon, Brazil, the Amazon... and maybe other places not yet dreamed of. So far, 120 days are scheduled. Some trips will be on our own, some will be cruises, and the Peru trip will be with Exploritas, a travel program formerly known as Elderhostel. We are also looking into a volunteer trip to Latin America through Habitat for Humanity, if the dates work around other commitments.

Some people don't like to travel at all, but it's always appealed to us on many levels. We learn about other cultures and people, and in the process we learn more about ourselves. And, although it's the perfect escape for some people, we're not the types to spend all our time sipping margaritas under a palapa on a beautiful beach somewhere. Well, maybe I could handle it for a day or two, but that hedonistic life would eventually get old. We especially want to see places that are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

So how will we pay for all of this, especially now that we're retired? We didn't hit the lottery or inherit money. Travel in retirement is NOT as difficult as one might think... it's about choices, planning, saving, and of course, dreaming. We've gotten into the habit of saving something every month, plus any extra money that comes our way in our travel savings, so our 2010 trips are fully funded and then some. Our frugal lifestyle helps... we live comfortably, but below our means and saving is easier because we are debt free (except for a small mortgage).

To keep in touch with family and friends, I've started a blog that focuses on different aspects of travel, including some money-related topics. I'm encouraging dh to blog along with me, and he seems open to the idea. If you're interested in reading our travel blog or if you'd like to write a guest post about one of your trips, share photos or travel tips, please visit Sage Travelers. My last post was about the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

The Cardinal vs Golden Bears and More

November 21st, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Yesterday I met with my student teachers for the last seminar of the semester and led a discussion on interviewing strategies. Over the years as an administrator, I hired about 90-100 teachers, served on countless interview panels for other positions, and recruited for the district teaching pool. It was good to share information from my experience that will hopefully help them land jobs.

In CA, this is possibly one of the worst times to secure a teaching job. Due to state budget woes, school districts are laying off or cutting back their teaching staff. Getting a job in education is extremely competitive and thus it's necessary for candidates to stand out in a sea of applicants. During the last week of November, I will meet with each student to debrief and verify that all program requirements have been satisfied, then they will be ready to apply for jobs.

Work is really winding down for us. After December 4, we are completely and utterly free... me from my part-time job and dh from his full-time position. Then we will begin some serious adventures. I will be posting about our travels on my new blog. I welcome any guest posts if you are inclined to share your travel stories or photos.

As far as the weekend, things look good. Last night was a dismal and drizzly and I was concerned it would continue into the weekend. Today the sun is out and the weather is beautiful. Later today, we are heading to the Stanford stadium (with DS and BIL) for the big game... The Cardinal vs. Golden Bears. Stanford does not have an official mascot which I find odd. They are known as "The Cardinal" as in the color, not the cleric. They used to be the Indians but that is no longer PC and then there's a tree but it's not really a mascot. Strange. Hope it's an exciting game.

Using the "B" Word

November 19th, 2009 at 04:29 pm

I have to chuckle about a conversation I recently had with a friend I go walking with. She shared she wants to retire in the next five years (she is 55, ~two years younger than I was when I retired). My DF is VERY tired of working but wants to repaint her house before she retires and says she needs to save up for it. I asked if she had used any of the online retirement calculators and she said she had not.

"You might want to check some out..." I told her... "A calculator can help you analyze your budget in relation to your retirement income, so you have a good handle on when you can retire. There are lots of calculators available online..."

"Budget? Oh, I don't have a budget. Except for the mortgage, I like to pay cash, and when I make an ATM withdrawal, as long as there's a decent balance in my account, I'm good. I think having a budget is too much trouble, so I don't bother. I'd never be able to stick to it anyway. I know where I am financially, more or less."

"Hmm. Okay... well, good luck with your retirement plans..." I say no more. What's the point? Yes, some people definitely have simplified view of retirement planning. Now I wish I had asked what she considers a "decent balance" in her checking account.

Retirement Accounts on Track

November 9th, 2009 at 09:51 am

It's weird thinking about my "retirement accounts" because I've been retired for almost a year and a half. I'm fortunate that for the time being, my state teacher's pension enables me to live comfortably and I have health insurance provided at no cost through my former employer. In my early 20s, I got into the habit of saving for retirement, and I never stopped contributing throughout my working years.

When I retired in August of 2008, the plan was to leave my tax-sheltered accounts intact as long as possible, possibly being able to hold off until age 70 1/2 when the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) kicks in. An emergency and travel savings in taxable accounts rounds out our cash funds. If the need were to arise, I would tap these before the tax-sheltered funds.

Since retiring I hadn't thoroughly reviewed the status of my tax-sheltered accounts (403b, IRA, and 457). So today I analyzed the growth in these accounts from September 30, 2008 to September 30, 2009. I was surprised to see that growth has been 4.6% overall... I expected it to be lower. This is after taking into account that my 457 Plan had 0% growth last year (this account is keyed to the S & P index and makes up ~22% of my tax-sheltered funds).

If my calculations are correct, in ~12 years when RMD kicks in, the RMD will be less than 4% of the total. If the accounts continue to earn @4.6% and I withdraw ~4%, the funds will continue to grow. Of course, this is a hypothetical situation because in 12 years I may need a lot more than 4% to make ends meet... and then there's inflation. My pension has a 2% COLA that may not be enough in the future.

My tax-sheltered accounts include a Roth and a non-qualified annuity that I did not include in the projections because they are exempt from RMD. If I don't have to use these non-qualified funds for my health care or living expenses, then I may use them for a legacy gift. I am considering leaving a bequest to my alma mater to establish a scholarship fund to support single mothers working to become teachers.

Expanding My Horizons

October 30th, 2009 at 12:08 am

Today I bought a domain at GoDaddy.com to use for a travel blog "we" are planning to initiate. I use the term "we" loosely because I haven't informed my dh that he is about to become a blogger. Since he will be 100% retired in December, I figure this will be our hobby and also useful to keep family and friends informed as we travel. In the next few weeks I will be designing our blog and will initiate it with the trip we have planned in December through the Panama Canal.

I suppose I could have gotten a free blog through blogger.com but I wanted to create something unique that I could potentially expand in some manner that might include the possibility of earning $$... not sure what, but the wheels are turning. Actually, I registered two domains, the .com and the .net versions. The two privacy-protected registrations and the web hosting service through Quick Blogcast is only $7 per month... for everything.

I chose Quick Blogcast because I'll be able to create podcasts, and upload videoclips and photos. If we find the need to expand, GoDaddy also offers several site building plans that would enable us to turn our domain into a comprehensive website. I've really been on a learning curve, but it's good exercise for my brain. I'll share the url (thenameofmyblog.com) when it's ready in case anyone is interested in the travel topics we'll be blogging about.

Caring for Elderly Parents

October 27th, 2009 at 12:42 pm

My parents died when I was twenty-five and consequently, my daughters grew up never knowing their maternal grandparents. I always felt this was a huge void in their lives as well as in mine. No matter how old you are, you can still feel like an orphan. My parents, while not perfect, provided unconditional love and were there for me when I needed them. And I've never stopped missing them each and every day of my life.

So, naturally, unlike some of my friends, I will never have the experience and the challenge of caring for elderly parents. Seeing what some of my friends are going through makes me determined to not be a burden on my daughters when I can no longer care for myself. To this end, I am making sure I address some of the financial aspects of being too old, ill, or frail to care for myself.

One of my friends is facing the likelihood of having to postpone her retirement because she has to subsidize her parents' income. She is dealing with an 82 year-old mother with Alzheimers and a father who until now has never been involved in the family finances. Sadly, he spends uncontrollably because he doesn't understand how to budget. My friend is fortunate that her dh is supportive because the care of her parents is consuming more and more of her time and money. This is just one example, but I know of several others. I have vowed not to do the same to my own children. So what steps have I taken?

My DD1, a registered nurse, is in charge of our advanced health care directives. We figured she would be in the best position to fully understand any health issues and the resulting implications. I also have two revocable trusts because of our somewhat complicated financial situation. I had considerably more assets than my dh when we married, so one trust addresses my sole and separate property (my DDs are the beneficiaries). The other is a community property trust (our 4 children are beneficiaries). My trust also includes instructions for my funeral... I guess you can say I'll be a control freak even after I'm dead.

Health care is one of the biggest expenses in old age and we are fortunate to have some good resources. I have limited long-term care through my former employer who also provides health care for life (through an HMO) to retirees meeting certain criteria (I did). My recently-retired dh also has health insurance through the Public Employees Retirement System, giving us access to a comprehensive PPO for a nominal fee (currently ~$46 a month). We earned these benefits through our 30+ years of service as public school educators, saving us hundreds a month on health care alone.

At a future date, we will move full-time to ID and live in the house we purchased in 2006. The house is small and easy to maintain and best of all, it's mortgage-free. When we get too old or incapacitated, our income should be adequate to pay someone to help cook, clean, run errands, and take us to appointments. Although I know my DDs would gladly help as much as they could, we do not want to burden them. And because I raised daughters that are honest and financially astute, I know I can trust them to oversee our finances when we can no longer do so. I dread doing some of the crazy or foolish things I've heard about... like another friend's mother who subscribed to 27 magazines and donated money she doesn't have to every charity that solicits through the mail.

And lastly, we've earmarked funds to be used if we have to go into an assisted living home. It comforts me to know my daughters will be there for me in the end, and that we will not be a financial burden on them. Someone was telling me about an 89 year-old woman with no family or friends. She apparently had been dead in her house for weeks before she was discovered because the mailman couldn't fit any more in the mail slot. It's very sad when you hear of someone dying alone and unnoticed. Even though you can arrange to pay for your care, in the end it's the relationships that matter most.

"I'm the only one who knows how to do it!"

September 21st, 2009 at 03:18 pm

These were the teasing words of my friend, LM, as a group of us rode to the Capitola Wine and Art Festival a few weekends ago. We were discussing retirement, a popular topic with my friends. Of the five of us on this excursion, four of us are retired. Three of the four, myself included, have continued to work part-time in our retirement. My friend, LM, is the exception and he likes to remind us he "knows how to do retirement." LM loves his leisurely lifestyle that includes playing golf three times a week, and he is fortunate to live in a 55+ community that has an 18-hole golf course among its many amenities.

On the other hand, I do not play golf nor does my dh, and although we have hobbies and interests, we also have ample time on our hands. So we chose to take part-time work, not just to keep busy but also to help the university fill a need. We will continue our jobs until mid-December of this year. Then we will begin some serious traveling that will take us far and away for months at a time. This is something we have planned and are looking forward to... new adventures exploring the big wide world.

The reality is that we Boomers are redefining what it means to be retired, and there is no set way to do it. I recently read an article, "The End of Retirement?" in the AARP newsletter that discusses the increasing number of seniors who continue to work in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Many of the folks in this article are working because they must "make ends meet." But for some, working after retirement is a choice. One woman was 101 (not a typo!) and still worked part-time.

For me, a "successful" retirement means having choices and more control over my life. One of the best payoffs of 30+ years of saving and planning for retirement is that I can live comfortably without HAVING to work. But I know I can choose to work if it is a mutually beneficial situation for me and for my employer. In fact, many of the adjunct faculty at my university are retired from administration or teaching and like me, are enjoying the opportunity to keep mentally active.

So, even though dh and I will not be working (for pay) after December, I have a feeling we will be working at something once we get the travel bug out of our system. And when we feel the need to get involved in something again, we know we can find a volunteer job that is a good fit for us. And who knows, maybe we will even find jobs that pay.

This brings me back to the importance of planning and saving for retirement. According to the AARP article mentioned above, more than half of the baby boomers are in peril of not being able to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Rising health costs and dwindling Social Security benefits will have a negative impact. We are living longer, so retiring later will become the new reality for many. So, if like me, your goal is to retire early (or even at age 66 or 67) and be able to sustain a comfortable lifestyle, then planning, saving, and becoming debt-free will be key to attaining that goal.


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