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Busy Living and Loving Retirement

March 23rd, 2013 at 11:54 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 10:10 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 ½), 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!

Gave Myself a $400+ Raise

September 25th, 2012 at 02:06 am

Well, the truth is it feels like a raise. Today I signed the papers for refinancing two rentals that are my sole and separate property. I have been thinking about it for several years but dragged my feet, mainly because I didn't want to deal with B of A (the current lender), and home values had dropped dramatically. But values are finally creeping up again.

I remembered the name of the loan broker I used when I bought the houses. He used to be with Countrywide (now B of A) but is now w/ a small mortgage company. He was able to get a rate of 3.625% locked in with no points. This is an excellent rate for investment property. I also decided to have impounds because it makes life easier for me. I will no longer have to deal with tax bills or annual insurance premiums... only HOA fees.

It will take about 15 months to recover the closing costs but after that I will have about $447 a month net, after paying for property management and reserving funds for HOA fees to be paid twice a year. Wish I'd done it sooner, especially since I've had a negative cash flow of ~$65 a month.

The cash flow will come in handy... we are expecting out first grandchild (a boy) early next year and I will want to start a college savings account. It's never too early!

Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer…

July 8th, 2012 at 06:06 pm

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

Text is Botanical Gardens and Link is http://www.idahobotanicalgarden.org/
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
Text is farmer's market and Link is http://www.capitalcitypublicmarket.com/
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
Text is Snake River Valley AVA and Link is http://www.idahowines.org/
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
Text is Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Link is http://www.idahoshakespeare.org/
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 3rd, 2012 at 02:43 am

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

Text is Caravan.com and Link is http://www.caravan.com/tour/guatemala
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 06:20 pm

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

Text is Caravan.com and Link is http://www.caravan.com/tour/costa-rica?gclid=CLb9rfrXr60CFQkaQgodsVuZlA
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!

For kids who have it all...

December 25th, 2011 at 02:07 am

...and even for those who do not, a donation to a non-profit organization may be the perfect gift. This year I gave my grandniece and two grandnephews a symbolic adoption of an endangered animal.

Text is World Wildlife Fund and Link is http://www.worldwildlife.org/home-full-5.html
World Wildlife Fund offers adoptions of 100 different species. The recipient gets an adoption certificate and a 12" plush animal in a gift box. I like this idea because the kids are young enough to still enjoy a tangible gift to open but old enough to understand that they are helping a cause.

For the grownups in the family, I will make donations in their name as we have done for the past few years. Favorite charities are
Text is American Red Cross and Link is http://www.redcross.org/
American Red Cross,
Text is Kiva and Link is http://www.kiva.org/
Kiva,
Text is Heifer International and Link is http://www.heifer.org/
Heifer International,
Text is Habitat for Humanity and Link is http://www.habitat.org/default.aspx?tgs=MTIvMjQvMjAxMSA4OjU5OjQ4IFBN
Habitat for Humanity,
Text is the Idaho Humane Society and Link is http://idahohumanesociety.org/
the Idaho Humane Society,
Text is Second Harvest Food Bank and Link is http://shfb.org/
Second Harvest Food Bank, and
Text is Idaho Horse Rescue and Link is http://www.idahohorserescue.org/
Idaho Horse Rescue. Family members are on board with this plan, it makes Christmas shopping easier, plus I get a tax deduction... so it's win-win.

Wishing everyone at SA a very Merry Christmas! May you make memories with those you love.

A Snowbird Experiment

November 24th, 2011 at 06:13 am


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

Text is Hacienda Encantada and Link is http://www.haciendaencantada.com/index.php
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.