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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 http://www.idahobotanicalgarden.org/, 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 http://www.capitalcitypublicmarket.com/ 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 http://www.idahowines.org/ (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 http://www.idahoshakespeare.org/ 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 http://www.caravan.com/tour/guatemala 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 http://www.caravan.com/tour/costa-rica?gclid=CLb9rfrXr60CFQk... 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 http://www.haciendaencantada.com/index.php, 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 http://www.ski-epic.com/amsterdam_bicycles/. 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.

Travel $avings

September 24th, 2011 at 11:20 am



Tomorrow dh and I leave on our next adventure, a month-long trip that will take us to eight European countries. The first leg of the trip will be two days in Barcelona followed by a 12-day Mediterranean cruise to celebrate a friend's retirement. Then we are back in Barcelona for a few days before flying to Geneva to spend time with my cousin. After a few days in Geneva, we'll take a train to Basel to begin a one-week cruise on the Rhine. Our trip will end with three days in Amsterdam before returning to the USA.

While planning the trip I discovered it's sometimes cheaper to buy a round-trip ticket, even though you just need a one-way fare. For example, a one-way flight on Swiss Air from Barcelona to Geneva was $592 (Economy Class). By booking a round trip ticket, I paid $177 (and it is Business Class to Geneva and Economy Class for the "return" trip). Baggage weight limits are lower in Europe and we each have a 50 lb. bag. Business class allows more weight, otherwise I could have spent ~$35 per RT ticket.

Other savings: I booked the first cruise through Costco Travel, and even though the price was exactly the same as through Royal Caribbean, Costco gave us a $500 on-board credit. The river cruise was a 2-for-1 special on Viking. I will use my Chase Sapphire card to pay for hotels in Barcelona, as well as meals and extras, because there is no foreign transaction fee with this card. And at home, I saved ~$150 by putting the garbage, paper, and TV satellite on hold, and by skipping one of our bimonthly house-cleanings.

Recovered Unclaimed Money

September 17th, 2011 at 11:12 am

Today my dh got a check in the mail for $63 from the State of California. This came about after I read an article a few months back that said there are millions of dollars in unclaimed funds in the CA treasury. I checked and, sure enough, found dh on the list of people with unclaimed property. Dh's money was from an escrow he closed about 20 years ago. Apparently the title company never thought to mail the excess to the address of the home he bought. Dh completed the application for a refund, following the instructions on the website and the check followed in a few weeks. Follow this http://www.sco.ca.gov/upd.html to find out more.