Geography And Retirement

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green trees

MARYLAND IS A DELIGHTFUL PLACE TO LIVE. IT’S GREEN, IT HAS MOUNTAINS AND SEASHORE. THIS IDYLLIC SPOT IS IN MONTGOMERY COUNTY. BUT . . .

Time to get serious about answers to that pesky question:

How and where do I live a good life at this late age on a sustainable basis?

As I approached and passed the retirement point, the where question was the most urgent one for me. I’m still working on the more elusive how, and I’ll leave that one for later.

For many retirees, where is not an issue. If you live in a home that you love and can afford to keep, AND there’s no strong attraction to a different location, then case closed.  For most folks in that situation, proximity to children and grandchildren might be the only reason to consider relocating. I had never in my adult life established a permanent home, and I have no children or grandchildren, so I was free to move or stay put.

Two issues convinced me I badly needed a change of geography.

I didn’t mind the weather in my home state of Maryland until my fifties. But after 50 I came to dislike the winter months more with each passing year. Even so, I might not have moved for climate alone. I liked Maryland in most respects, and I have siblings, nieces and nephews, and friends living there.

My car 2

MARYLAND WINTERS CAN BE COLD AND SNOWY.

SnowMon5

HOW DEEP CAN SNOW GET IN MARYLAND?

The deciding factor was cost of living. As job prospects deteriorated in my fifties, I moved to smaller and smaller apartments. Income declined and debt increased. It became obvious that I couldn’t AFFORD the Washington-Baltimore region of Maryland, where I’d lived most of my life. I began researching the alternatives long before I would qualify for Social Security at 62 or Medicare at 65. I started the research close to home, in the different regions of Maryland, and gradually expanded outward.

In a day or three, I’ll pick up the geography story.

— John

 

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The Most Privileged Americans

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Income insecurity is not an important problem for retired Americans.  Not at present.  In fact, it’s just the opposite. Retired Americans probably enjoy more income security than the vast majority of people around the world and throughout history.

I’m a retired American on the brink of 70. I’m not wealthy or even affluent, but neither am I poor or insecure. I’m very grateful for the life and security I enjoy at this point.

The most privileged people in the world today are the following:

  1. The top one percent or five percent of Americans. I don’t know exactly where to draw the line. Maybe it’s the top 20 percent or 40 percent.
  2. Most elderly and retired Americans. (However, it must also be acknowledged that too many Americans, including elderly Americans, remain trapped in poverty.)

Just my opinion.

Some people reportedly believe that older Americans are a wealthy class, living the high life at the expense of impoverished children and struggling younger adults. That’s because we enjoy remarkable income security, thanks to Social Security and Medicare. Many of us also have some pension benefits and even some savings. Younger and middle-aged Americans are rightly skeptical that they will enjoy similar benefits. The stage is set for intergenerational contention. The future is impossible to predict. The income security of younger generations is a matter of politics and economics, and I don’t want to go there. At least not today.

What I want is to present an honest picture about the realities of retired life. It’s not all about money. It’s true that many will need to cut back spending and lifestyle to be in balance with our retirement income. But my previous post about income and spending may have left an incorrect impression linking income and spending issues entirely with retirement. In fact, people can suffer a sudden loss of income at any time in life, and for myriad reasons. Loss of job, divorce, recession, business failure, and illness, to name a few.

Most of the natural world and human life run in cycles. It’s Biblical. Seven wet years and seven dry years. And so forth. The business cycle of expansion and recession is notorious and causes much misery. Financial consequences can be cumulative. An adjustment of income and spending at retirement is simply a part of the much larger cycle of human life. It may be that we are at the peak of the Social Security and Medicare cycle. I hope not.

I will turn soon to lighter subject matter.

— John

 

Income can decline quick and easy, spending seems frozen

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One thing I know. It’s easy for income to crash and burn. It’s not so easy to reduce outgo, that is, spending.

People become accustomed to a standard of living. It’s painful to take an ax to that standard of living after a loss of income. People cling to the familiar. Spending seems frozen solid. It thaws slowly.

If you live in a house, mortgage payments won’t go down, at least not easily. Selling the house could take months, or years. If you live in an apartment, you might at least have to wait for the lease to expire before you can move. And then, move where?

The kind of clothes you’re accustomed to wearing, the food you’re accustomed to eating, the entertainment you enjoy, whether lavish or simple. The car you drive! And the cost of gas. All the familiar things constitute your lifestyle. They cost money. Lifestyle is change-resistant; cutting spending is slow and painful. It’s the way of the American capitalist-consumerist economy.

A few days ago, I promised to outline the steps that brought me to the present, which includes being able to restart this blog. I don’t want it to be all about money. Money is not important; that’s been my philosophy. Nonetheless, income and spending dictate the details of the way we live.

When I turned 65 in the summer of 2013, and became eligible for Medicare, I imagined I could afford to retire. You know, stop working. So when the motel closed at the end of the season, I told the owner I wouldn’t be back for the 2014 season. Even now, I can’t say if that was the right or wrong decision. No point in looking back.

I moved to my home county, because that’s where I grew up and where most of my relatives still lived. It seemed the logical thing to do. But the Washington, D.C., metro area is high cost-of-living. It became apparent that I couldn’t afford to rent an apartment congruent with my accustomed lifestyle. (And I was accustomed to living in quite small, one-room efficiency apartments.) Since rent is the largest item in my budget, rent became the central issue.

So I decided to stop working (retire) in 2013. Retiring and moving in the same year are probably not a good plan, but that’s what I did. The reality of the income/spending lifestyle predicament soon became obvious. I should have been more aware that retirement would reduce income and require adjustments.

The obvious question, which I raised two posts ago, presented itself:

How and where do I live a good life at this late age on a sustainable basis?

Before long, in early 2014, I began pondering and researching the above question. Researching consumed most of 2014, 2015 and 2016. In a day or three, I’ll pick up the story.

— John

Snowzilla Blizzard Success: Car Dug Out, And No Heart Attack

It’s the simple pleasures!

It’s being grateful for the ordinary, everyday things we take for granted.

Such as living and breathing and your heart beating. Can’t get more ordinary than that. You’ve got to do it every day.My car 2My Honda Accord has been freed from the grip of Snowzilla. Took me two days  to accomplish. I consider it a grand success, anytime a male  over 60 digs a car out without a heart attack! And I do not brag. Some other folks were not so fortunate. There but for the grace of God go I. Heaven knows, it’s not because I’m so physically fit. Because, well, I’m not.

I’m delighted to report that here in Gaithersburg, MD, Snowzilla is in full retreat in above-freezing temperatures.

Thanks to all who shoveled, to all those who were prepared in advance with snowblowers, and thanks to the guys who drive those little mean, green machines.

— John Hayden

Retirement Made Simple, A Brave New Blog

Here’s a new blog of interest to readers who are retired or dreaming of one day being retired.

Retirement Made Simple

Aging gracefully and enjoying retirement on a limited income

Here’s a sample of posts that made a hit with readers at the new blog:

  1. Social Security Cost-Of-Living Increase For 2016 In Danger
  2. AARP Says More Work And Less Retirement Is Good News
  3. Erica Jong on Fear Of Dying
  4. Colorful Cuba On My Travel List, Because I’ve Already Seen Florida
  5. Retirement Offers Freedom, If We Can Seize It

The new blog has a narrow focus. It’s about Retirement, Simplicity, and Aging Gracefully on a fixed income, with a little bit of travel in the mix. If you have an interest in any of those subjects, Retirement Made Simple might be for you. Its target audience is retired folks and workers who are nearing retirement or thinking about it. But surprisingly, many of the readers have been younger adults. Seems that people of all ages are curious about retirement.

I hope you find something informative or interesting on the new blog. Let me know what you think.

Retirement, Depression, And Blogging

Hello friends. I’ve been in a funk. Haven’t published a blog post since April 30. Probably my longest hiatus since I started blogging in 2007, or since I began this blog in 2009. I’ve continued to read bloggers I follow (but irregularly) and to post comments (rarely).

I’ve been trying to adjust to retirement. Not as easy as I thought. Also, I’ve been all over the place in the past year regarding the purpose and audience of this blog. I began my first blog in 2007 with a focus on Maryland. That blog became more local when I moved to Ocean City.

I started this blog in 2009 to write about “life after sixty,” but I soon wandered into politics and economics. After retiring in 2013, I returned to my hometown, Montgomery County, and focused on local stuff for a while. I started several experimental blogs, but none of them clicked. The experimental blogs have been abandoned. Over the years, I’ve written a lot about politics, and I tend to get the most hits in the runup to elections. After the 2014 election, I was a blogger wandering in the desert.

Unable to find my bearings in retirement, I tried part-time work. Lifestyle and financial issues came to the fore. I made a conscious effort to cut back on blogging. Even though I wasn’t a very productive blogger, it seemed to consume a disproportionate amount of my time. Instead of blogging, I researched affordable places to live. Took a two-week fact-finding trip to Florida. At this point, I’m confused and undecided.

The truth is, my lifelong struggle with depression has worsened since retirement.

The cover story in this month’s Atlantic magazine, “A World Without Work,” helps explain my retirement funk. The story, by Derek Thompson, is not about retirement. It warns about the continuing loss of jobs due to computerization and robotization.

“For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?”

I’ve found that retirement has a lot in common with unemployment. Thompson points out that although leisure time offers wide opportunities, many unemployed men tend to spend most of their hours sleeping or watching TV.

I can go days without turning on the television, but I spend way too much time sleeping. Some days, I can hardly pull myself out of bed. That’s a sure sign of depression.

Any thoughts, fellow bloggers and/or retirees?

— John Hayden

What Happens To Social Security Owed To Folks Who Die Young?

Retirement is good. I haven’t felt like going to work a single day this week. I’m thankful that I don’t have to. Been there, done that. Enough!

When I say, hear, or read the words “Social Security” or “Medicare,” my reaction is:

“Thanks to God and the Democratic Party.”

Some say Social Security benefits need to be reduced because people are living longer.

Really?

We’ve always had old folks — eighty years, ninety, one hundred, and even higher. Nothing new under the sun. But are more folks living to advanced ages than ever before? Probably, because the population is larger than ever. But just because nearly everyone knows someone very old, that doesn’t mean that everyone is living deep into old age.

“Are people living much longer in retirement? Or is the truth, now and always, that a few people with good genes and good luck make it to old age?” — From “Me And The Blog”

I personally have known more people in the Boomer generation who died at 60, 62, or 66, to pick a few numbers. Boomers are dying in their forties and fifties. All the folks who die young paid into Social Security every week since they began working. They’re never going to collect a penny. Those who die in their sixties draw benefits only briefly. Who gets the money?

Who gets the uncollected old-age benefits of the masses of people who die young? Seems to me that more Baby Boomers are dying in the fourth, fifth and sixth decades of life, than will make it to the eighth and ninth decades.

Seems to me that the many who die young balance out the few who grow old. I’ll leave it to an enterprising young auditor who understands actuarial data to figure it out.

— John Hayden

AARP Online Retirement Livability Index

A new AARP Livability Index can tell you how your city or town (or the place you’re thinking about relocating) ranks as a place to live and grow older. The Livability Index, which can rate practically any neighborhood in the U.S., goes live this week, according to The Washington Post and a host of other mainstream media outlets. You can find it at aarp.org/livabilityindex. (Interestingly, many MSM sources fail to give the url for the new AARP tool.)

AARP describes the new resource as follows:

“The Livability Index is a signature initiative of the Public Policy Institute to measure the quality of life in American communities across multiple dimensions: housing, transportation, neighborhood characteristics, environment, health, opportunity, and civic and social engagement.

An interactive, easily navigated website, the Livability Index allows users to compare communities, adjust scores based on personal preferences and learn how to take action to make their own communities move livable.”

I entered my Maryland zip code into the system and found out in about half a second that my Gaithersburg neighborhood rates 59 on a scale of zero to 100. I also received specific ratings on the following livability measures:

  • Housing (affordability and access)
  • Transportation (safe and convenient options)
  • Environment (clean air and water)
  • Health (prevention, access and quality)
  • Engagement (civic and social involvement)
  • Opportunity (inclusion and possibilities)

Housing in my neighborhood rates a measly 36. Not a surprise to me. I already know that generally speaking, you can’t buy or rent a home in Montgomery County, MD, unless you’re affluent. You need two middle-class incomes or one high income to support a family here. (That’s why I’m researching communities in Florida. The cost of living in many parts of Florida is quite reasonable, compared to the Maryland suburbs. Needless to say, the AARP Livability Index will be a great help in my search.)

On the positive side, my neighborhood rates high in Health (79), and gets pretty good scores of 64 on both Neighborhood and Engagement. (I’m doubtful about the high rating for Engagement. If AARP considered voter turnout in the last election, we would rank much lower.)

Transportation rates 56. Even if you own a car, that’s an optimistic number. The Washington, D.C. area is notorious for rush hour traffic. If you depend on public transportation, I dunno. My part of Montgomery County is past the end of the line for the Metro subway. And Metro overall? I don’t have to ride the subway every day, and I’m glad I don’t. MARC commuter trains are good if both your home and workplace are near a rail station.

The transportation score could go up or way down in the future, depending on whether our leaders and voters are willing to fund plans for the Purple Line in the southern parts of Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties, and Bus Rapid Transit in northern Montgomery.

Take a look at the AARP Livability Index. How does your hometown rate? Are your civic leaders going to be bragging, or running for cover?

— John Hayden

Meanwhile…

I stumbled upon this post, “Meanwhile” serendipitously via Michelle at “The Green Study.”    Thanks to Michelle and also to Wyrd Smythe for putting into words the thoughts I’ve been repressing. Maybe bloggers of a certain maturity are all channeling the same frustrations.

It feels like cheating, but since I can’t force myself to write a worthwhile post of my own this week, at least I can repost a really good post by someone else.

(Regarding our shared perception of few readers and still fewer commenters, the WordPress blogger “Time Thief” has some insight — over at “One Cool Site”  — on the possibility that people are seeing our stuff on the WordPress Reader, so they no longer have to visit our actual blogs.) Thanks to Michelle and Wyrd Smythe for helping me understand the “loose ends.”
— John

Logos con carne

tangled I find myself feeling “at loose ends.” If you search on that phrase, you find a big part of the definition involves the idea of “not knowing what to do,” although sources differ a bit on whether that’s due to having nothing to do or due to not being able to decide what to do. More to the point, most identify the main feeling: being restless and unsettled.

A key reason my ends are loose is obvious given my last post, but this river has other tributaries (I never met a metaphor I couldn’t mix). Certainly in my case, the problem isn’t having nothing to do; I have plenty of projects. The problem is the utter lack of fulfillment in doing most of them.

And, sadly, this blog is turning out to be high on that list.

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The Winter of ’14 And The Promise Of Spring

I talked with my uncle in Rhode Island this afternoon. It was snowing there, of course. Maybe it’s the same snow we had in Maryland yesterday. It shows signs of letting up. Today’s snow in RI., that is. Not the winter of 2014.

My uncle assures me that this is the coldest winter in his 85 years. And it ain’t over yet. When the snow stops, he’s planning to go out and shovel his steps.

He can’t drive just now. There’s good news and bad news from the retina specialist. The fluid in one eye has gone away, after five shots over nearly a year’s time. The shots cost $1,500 a pop. Thank goodness for his health insurance plan, which pays all but a $40 copay.

Meanwhile, vision in the other eye is not so good. It’s three years since he’s had new glasses. So the specialist sends him back to the regular eye doc. Maybe new lenses will improve his vision enough  to make him legal to drive. Fortunately, a cousin lives just across the state line in Massachusetts and takes my uncle to the grocery store every week and the laundromat every two weeks.

The coming attraction is winter storm Titan. Look for it Sunday or Monday. Possible heavy snow,  not to mention ice.  How can we have reached the letter “T” in storms? What happens when we run out of letters? What if winter never ends? Let’s hope we never reach “T” during hurricane season.

Let’s wrap this report up neatly on a positive note. Only two days remaining in February. March arrives Saturday. I can hardly believe it, but my calendar claims that daylight saving time begins March 9. More amazing still, Spring is scheduled for March 20, a few days after St. Patrick’s Day.

Nothing can stop Spring. Not freezing temperatures, not snow. In case of a blizzard, school might be closed that week, but Spring can never be canceled.

I look forward to driving north to see my uncle, but not until the last snowflake falls.

— John Hayden