Quick Summary: The things you want to do are only difficult until you really decide to do them.
One of the things I write about here at Intentional Retirement is pursuing big goals. If you’re anything like me, sometimes staring a big goal in the face can be challenging, scary, complicated, and overwhelming.
Because of that, it’s sometimes tough to get started. I’ve found that the easiest way to overcome this “beginner’s inertia” is this:
~Actually decide to do what it is you want to do.~
It sounds simple, but deciding is the hardest part. I don’t mean hoping or dreaming that you’ll do it. Those are vague and passive. I mean actually deciding. Deciding is specific and active.
Until you decide, you can’t plan; you can’t act. Let me give you a small example. I’ve written before about my goal to get our daughter to all 50 states before she graduates. A few weeks ago we found out that she had a three day weekend coming up due to some teacher meetings. We kicked around the idea of getting out of town, but nothing really came together.
Fast forward to Tuesday of last week. I woke up that morning and said “We’re going to Colorado this weekend.” That simple decision shifted me into tactical mode. I looked at three different areas I had been talking with a friend about and decided on Colorado Springs. I went to www.avis.com and rented a car (ours are a bit small for road trips). I went to www.vrbo.com and rented a house for our stay. I made reservations for several things that we wanted to do, like a train ride to the top of Pike’s Peak. Wednesday night each of us packed a bag and when we picked up our daughter from school on Thursday we hit the road.
If you look at that sequence of events, the most important thing I did was decide that we were going. After that, everything was logistics. Most dreams die for lack of a decision. Keep that in mind as you plan your adventures for retirement. Dreaming is one thing. Deciding is another.
Practical Application: The 100 Day Challenge
I’ll give you a practical application to test your new decision making powers. As of today, there are exactly 100 days left in the year. Think about the goals you had for the year. Think about things you’ve dreamed about doing in the not so distant future. Pick something off your “to do” list and make the decision to do it before year end. If your goal is travel related say to yourself “I’m getting on Expedia today to buy a plane ticket to ____________.” If your goal is to save more for retirement, call the human resource department today and increase your 401(k) contribution. If your goal is to get in shape, decide that today is the day that you’re joining the gym.
Take the challenge and I think you’ll discover what I did. Deciding is the hard part. Once you do that, you’ll be amazed at how easily everything else falls into place.
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It seems like everything old is new again. Starting with the redesigned Volkswagen Beetle in 1998, there has been a flood of retro styled products that are aimed at helping the baby-boomer generation recapture a piece of their youth. To wit, The Rolling Stones 2005 concert tour was the highest-grossing tour of all time, retro muscle cars are a huge hit, and entire neighborhoods are being designed from the ground up to give them a more “1950’s” feel.
Retro products seem to have one thing in common. While the look harkens back to the “good old days,” the design and features offer decidedly modern elements that appeal to the world we live in today.
With 70 million people hurtling toward retirement, I began to wonder what a “retro” retirement would like. Just like retirees of yesteryear, we all want to be happy, healthy and secure during retirement, but our modern world offers challenges and opportunities that didn’t exist a generation ago. Below are five modern updates to the classic retirement.
Personal savings is the new pension. My grandfather hasn’t punched a time clock in over twenty years and yet, like clockwork, his former employer sends him a pension check every month. The lifetime pension has become the exception rather than the rule. A generation ago, most workers were covered by a pension. Today that number has dwindled to less than a third. Retirement hasn’t gotten any cheaper, so you will still need to get that check every month. If it doesn’t come from your employer, it will need to come from you. As you approach retirement, you are likely in your peak earning years. Make sure to save as much as you can, especially in tax advantaged accounts like your 401(k) or IRA.
College is the new golf. We have always known the benefits of staying physically active. New research is beginning to show the benefits of staying mentally active as well. Because of this, more and more retirees are opting for a book bag over a golf bag.
Many colleges and universities allow people to audit classes—that is, paying a minimal fee to attend the class without receiving college credits. Even better, many universities are now putting class lectures on iTunes for free. Interested in art? Just download Oxford’s drawing classes. Want to study history? Columbia University has a free, twenty-five part lecture series on the history of the world. You can also download classes from Harvard, Yale, UC Berkeley and a number of other great institutions on just about any topic you can think of.
Auditing classes or getting them online is an inexpensive way to learn more about a subject that has always interested you and comes with the added benefit of keeping your mind sharp.
Long-term care is the new Medicaid. It is not unusual, as we age, to rely on others for care. This care can be very expensive (A private room in a nursing home averages $78,000 per year) and more and more people are purchasing long-term care insurance to protect themselves. While Medicaid will pay most nursing home costs, you need to qualify by being both sick and poor. A quality long-term care policy will allow you to preserve your assets for heirs, have peace of mind and get into the facility of your choice. To learn more about long-term care, read this article.
Sixty-five is the new fifty-five. Back when Elvis was king, the average U.S. life expectancy was about sixty-eight years. Today, the average life expectancy is about seventy-eight years. Given that information, you would think that the average retirement age has risen. It has actually declined by about four years to age sixty-two.
Earlier is not always better. Retiring at sixty-two not only means a permanent reduction in your Social Security benefits, but it could mean that you will spend 20-30 percent of your life in retirement. That takes a great deal of savings and planning. If you’re in good health and expect to have a long life, you might want to work a few extra years to bolster your savings. Doing so might actually lengthen your life. A recent study showed that mortality rates were higher for employees that retired at age fifty-five than for those that waited to retire until they were sixty-five.
Prevention is the new cure. Quality of life is just as important as quantity of life. Modern medicine has shown us that eating right and exercising your mind and body can go a long way toward avoiding many of the diseases that are associated with aging. Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and many forms of cancer can be directly linked to lifestyle choices. The best way to avoid the negative effects of these diseases is to keep from getting them, rather than trying to treat them once you already have them.
So there are a few ideas on how to put a modern twist on the classic retirement. Make a few updates and you’ll be ready to grab your bell bottoms, hop in your Beetle and head into a long, healthy, secure retirement.
Chris Guillebeau, one of my favorite bloggers and all around good guys wrote a post with that title yesterday. After reading it, I thought about the importance of having things on your horizon that you are looking forward to. That’s especially true for those of us planning for retirement. Why?
For many, retirement is one of those things that is waaaayyyy off in the future. The downside of that is that it’s hard to get too excited about something that might happen 10 or 15 years from now. And if you’re not excited about it, it’s hard to be committed to planning for it. It’s hard to be disciplined to save for it. It’s hard to stay the course when the market drops 400 points (like it did yesterday).
How do you get excited about a fuzzy and far-off concept like retirement? One way is to personalize it. Instead of planning for “Retirement,” you need to plan for “Your Retirement.” Another way is to take the distant and make it current. Rather than waiting until “someday” to do the things you’re dreaming about, start working on them now. Maybe that means setting aside the money, acquiring the skills, or doing bite-sized portions now of what you intend to do banquet style in retirement.
Here’s a quick and easy exercise (with a hat tip to Chris) to make your planning both personal and current: List off three things that you’re looking forward to doing when you retire (personal) and outline ways you can begin doing those things now (current).
I’ll start. Retirement is quite a ways off for me, so I’ll list three big goals that I’m excited about, but that will take me the next ten or twenty years to accomplish:
Travel with our daughter to all fifty states before she graduates from high school.—She’s six years old and so far we’ve visited fourteen states plus Washington D.C. (The picture in this post is the two of us in Muir Woods in California). I love to travel and I hope to instill that in her. I want her to understand that it’s big world out there and there are all sorts of things she can do, places she can go, and people she can meet. It won’t be long and she’ll be heading out on her own. Before that happens I want her to have a broad range of life experiences to draw from so she can make an informed decision.
Read 500 books by the time I’m fifty—I haven’t always been a good reader. I credit my wife with convincing me of its merits. Now it feels weird if I don’t have a book or two that I’m working through. Right now I’m reading Keith Richards autobiography Life (a fun read if you like the Rolling Stones) and a book called A Moveable Feast: Life Changing Food Adventures Around the World (a fun read if you like to eat). The lesson here: You don’t have to jump out of an airplane or climb Everest to get enjoyment and satisfaction from life. Some of life’s greatest pleasures are easy and cheap. You just need to be intentional about doing them (Hence the goal to reach 500. I’m about halfway there.).
Become an expert photographer—As we talk about goals or things to look forward to, hobbies are great because it’s something you can start doing right now. You can start small and scale it over time as you acquire the equipment and skills you need. Then when you transition into retirement you can hit the ground running because you’ve already laid the foundation. That is what I hope to do with photography. I’m gradually acquiring the equipment I need. I’ve taken several photo classes, entered a few photo contests, and gotten information on two or three intensive workshops that I plan to participate in down the road. It’s a hobby that fits well with my love of travel and it’s something I can do for the rest of my life.
How about you? What are you looking forward to? Spend some time thinking about it and, if possible, start doing it now. You’ll be glad you did.
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Ask a hundred different people what they plan on doing during retirement and the answer you’ll likely hear most is “travel.” There is just something compelling about getting out and seeing the world. Especially when your itinerary is no longer limited by the standard two-week vacation.
One of the joys of visiting a far off place is being able to bring back great photos that you can share with others and use to remember your adventures. Unfortunately, most people come home with a camera full of forgettable snapshots. That was certainly true of me.
In fact, I was so frustrated with the quality of my photos after returning from a trip to Paris a few years ago that I asked my friend Nick (a professional photographer) for help. Below are his key photography tips as well as a few more that I’ve learned along the way.
1. Buy the right equipment
Nick’s first suggestion was “Get a quality digital SLR with two good lenses: a wide and a zoom.” I must admit, this was tough for me to do. I like to travel light and am partial to a camera that can fit in my back pocket. I also don’t want to look like the stereotypical tourist, laden down with camera equipment and walking around with my nose buried in a map. But I wanted to take better pictures, so I went out and bought a Canon T2i with an 18-55mm wide lens and a 55-250mm zoom lens. It is a great camera and what I sacrificed in portability I more than made up for with better pictures. A point-and-shoot just doesn’t have the quality and versatility of a good SLR. Go buy yourself a better camera.
2. Use the rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is a compositional technique used to create more interesting pictures. Imagine that the picture you want to take is divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Important elements of whatever photograph you’re taking should fall somewhere on those lines.
Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a picture I took of a bird when I was walking on the beach in Florida. If you divide the picture into thirds by drawing two vertical lines, Mr. Bird is right on top of the left side line. It makes the photograph more interesting than if I had just centered him and snapped the shutter. Resist the temptation to center everything.
3. Look for interesting angles
In addition to the rule of thirds, another way to make your photos more interesting is to take the picture from an unusual angle or vantage point. Instead of standing at eye level, dead center in front of something, try to capture it from a unique perspective. For example, get down on your belly, hold the camera above your head, or move so you’re facing your subject from the side.
Case in point is the photo of Mount Rushmore below (courtesy of Nick). Most photos of Rushmore are taken while standing on the visitor’s platform. They usually have a few strangers caught in the frame, and have T.J. and Teddy dead center. How is Nick’s photo different? He found an interesting angle by climbing the hill opposite Rushmore. Throw in his use of the rule of thirds, the fog blanketing the valley, and the beam of sun illuminating the faces of the Presidents, and you have a really cool shot.
4. Shoot tight
Another common faux-pas is trying to get everything in the shot. People love to zoom out. Ask someone to take a picture of you and they will likely zoom out (or walk backwards) until your entire body, head to toe, is in the frame. Ask them to take a picture of you next to a mountain and the goal will be to squeeze both you and Everest into the frame. This usually makes the subjects of your photos look small and far away.
To avoid this problem, shoot tight (aka zoom in). Pick out an element that looks interesting and zoom in on it so you can see all of the colors and details that made it interesting to you in the first place. Here are two examples. The first is a picture of a trout that Nick took while on a canoe trip with his family. The second is a picture I took of part of a lamppost outside the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Neither of these pictures would have been very interesting if they were just wide shots with all the surrounding scenery.
5. Shoot wide
OK, I know I just told you to shoot tight, but sometimes you need to zoom out to tell the story. If you’re standing next to the Eiffel Tower, you don’t want the photo to be a close-up of your face. To know when to zoom in and when to zoom out, ask yourself: “What am I trying to capture with this shot? What story am I trying to tell?” If the answer has something to do with that enormous thing in the background, then zoom out. Here are a few examples. The first is courtesy of my friend Andy Stoll while he was snowboarding in New Zealand. Andy spent four years on a round-the-world journey and captured tons of great pictures like this one (read more at http://noboundaries.org/). The second shot is Nick canoeing up in the boundary waters. In both shots the background is a big part of the story.
6. Take pictures at dawn or dusk.
It’s amazing how much the right lighting can affect a picture. If it is a bright day and the sun is directly overhead, your photos can look washed out and overexposed. The best light of the day is often the first hour of daylight and the last. That is when it is softer and the angle of the sun makes for some interesting shadows. So resist the temptation to sleep in when you’re traveling. Some of your best photos will come in the small hours of the morning or the early hours of the evening. Below is an example of the latter. I’m standing on the ice flow looking out over the Cook Inlet in Alaska as the sun sets. Notice it’s not a bad use of the rule of thirds either.
7. Know when to get out of the picture
Of course you’ll want to remember your travels by having a certain number of “posed” pictures. The ones with you in the beach chair holding up the Pina Colada or your spouse in front of Buckingham Palace. But resist the urge to be in every shot. Again, one goal of taking pictures is to try to tell the story of the place you’re visiting. Staying out of the photo often makes it more authentic (aka better, more interesting, etc.). Below is a picture (courtesy of Nick) of the harbor in a little fishing village in Ireland. Getting in the picture would have changed the entire dynamic. Also notice that by shooting tight he really brought out the colors and details of the boats.
8. Get involved
One way to tell the story of a place and still be in the picture (without looking out of place), is to make yourself part of the story. Don’t be afraid to meet some locals and participate in their traditions, activities, events, or festivals. You’ll not only walk away with some amazing memories, but you’ll likely get some great photos too. Below are a few examples courtesy of Andy. The first is him at Holi, the second largest Hindu Festival in India. As he describes it: “The streets are filled with revelers running around with water balloons, squirt guns full of colored water and bags of colored powders. You exclaim ‘Happy Holi’ as mobs of people splash and rub colors on any and all passers by, as a sign of the change of season.”
The second shot is after Andy had worked his way onto the set of a movie in Jodhpur, India. Again, I’ll let Andy describe it: “Playing a 19th Century British Soldier (huh?) in the soon-to-be-released Bollywood film Veer, starring Bollywood badboy Salman Khan. It’s an epic, period film about the uprising of a band of rebels against the ruling Maharaja who is aligned with the British crown (think Braveheart, but with more song-and-dance numbers).” Both shots are great examples of moving from spectator to participant.
9. Learn how to shoot with a tripod.
There are plenty of really interesting photo opportunities after dark (especially in cities), but to capture them you often need to shoot with a tripod. That’s because you need to leave the shutter open long enough to allow in enough light to properly expose the picture. If you try this without a tripod, the shake from your hands will cause the picture to turn out blurry.
The technique is pretty easy, though, as long as you know some of the basic settings on your camera. Just put your camera on the tripod, switch to manual mode (usually denoted by an “M” on the mode wheel), and then slow down the shutter speed. My camera allows for up to a 30 second exposure at which point you can switch to “bulb” mode and leave it open for as long as you want.
I’ll put a few examples below. The first is the Raven Glacier Lodge in Alaska where my wife and I were married fourteen years ago. I took this picture when we stayed at the lodge with family this past Christmas. The second shot is one I took of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Nick took the third shot on a winter camping trip with his family. All three photos were taken using a tripod in order to get the proper exposure.
So there are some basic tips for taking great travel photos. Keep them in mind next time you travel and you’ll come home with photos that are a little more “National Geographic” and a little less “forgettable snapshot.”
Time is money, as the old saying goes. If true, you may never be so wealthy (in time at least) as you are during retirement. Gone are the days of having to trade your most precious commodity for whatever the market would bear. More than ever, you are free to spend your days doing as you please. As part of the new “moneyed” elite, however, you will want to spend your time wisely. Otherwise you might find that another old saying applies: Easy come, easy go. What are the best ways to maximize your new time windfall?
Shake up your routine
Retirement is a major transition. That transition can be difficult and you’ll have a certain amount of inertia to overcome as you attempt to move from your normal daily routine into your new plans for retirement. To help jump start the process, it’s helpful to have big, new plans—like moving, traveling, or volunteering—that will force you to steer off the well-worn path you’ve become accustomed to and proactively pursue your new goals. If you don’t have specific new plans, it’s easy to fall into a routine that doesn’t look much different from your working years, save for sleeping in a little bit and having more time to run errands.
More than ever, retirement is a time to throw caution to the wind. As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
If you’re going to shake up your routine and head off in a new direction, there will be certain activities and commitments that are no longer relevant to your plans. Just as it’s important to make a “To-do” list to keep track of things you need to get done, it’s important to make a “Stop doing” list as you transition into retirement in order to free more of your time to focus on new pursuits. Prior to retiring, make a detailed list of all of your commitments and responsibilities. Go through each one and decide which you plan on continuing into retirement and which need to be stopped or handed off to someone else. Once finished, your schedule will be much less cluttered and you will be able to use your time more efficiently.
In addition to simplifying your schedule, simplify your investment accounts. The average person changes jobs several times over the years. That could mean multiple retirement plans at former employers as well as a number of IRAs and other investment accounts. This account proliferation makes monitoring your investments more time consuming and drawing income from them during retirement much more complicated. If you have multiple 401(k)s, roll them into an IRA. If you have multiple IRAs, consolidate them into one. Doing so will help to reduce fees, simplify your distribution strategy, make your investments easier to monitor, and free up more of your time to focus on other priorities.
Focus on milestones, not maintenance
No matter how effective you are at streamlining your schedule, you will still have a good many maintenance type activities that pop up on your calendar every day or every week; things like sleeping, eating, paying bills, going to the doctor, getting groceries, mowing the yard, and cleaning the house. While important, these things don’t really add much significance to your life.
To find meaning, you will want to focus on milestones. Those are the things that, when done, give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Milestones tend to fall in areas like family, relationships, education, adventure, community, hobbies, travel, and health. When reflecting on your life, the milestones will be the things that stick out. They will be the things that you are most proud of. The maintenance will just fade into the background. Because of that, do everything you can to condense, consolidate, minimize, or (if financially able) outsource the maintenance so you can be free to spend more of each day focusing on milestones.
As you can see, by effectively managing your time in retirement you can make the most out of what will surely be one of the most fulfilling and rewarding periods of your life.
I originally published this article at www.fpanet.org.
Note: I originally published this article in the AARP Bulletin.
Carla McDowell has always loved to travel. She’s toured the Soviet Union, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Korea, Costa Rica, England and Alaska. And like a growing number of Americans, she always purchases travel insurance. “No one wants to get sick and cancel a trip,” says McDowell, 64, of Omaha, Nebraska, “but insurance gives me peace of mind that I won’t lose a lot of money if something unexpected happens.”
Travel insurance has been around for decades, but the industry has grown rapidly since the terrorist attacks of 2001, reaching sales of more than $1 billion. Before 9/11, only about 10 percent of Americans taking cruises, tours or international trips bought travel insurance. Today that number is around 30 percent, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (USTIA).
About 80 percent of those policies are “per trip” policies that cover the three most common sources of trouble: canceled or postponed trips, medical emergencies, and lost or damaged baggage.
Should you buy travel insurance to protect your travel investment? Here are several points to consider before you decide.
What’s covered? Terrorism? How about hurricanes? The answer, of course, is maybe. Some policies may exclude terrorism or “acts of God” altogether; others offer broader coverage. For hurricanes, your policy may apply only if you purchased it before the storm was named and then only if your destination is under a mandatory evacuation order.
Bottom line: Read the fine print carefully before you buy, and make sure that the risks you want to cover are, in fact, covered.
Cost. A travel insurance policy can add anywhere from 4 to 8 percent to the cost of your trip, depending on your age and how much coverage you want. Websites such as www.insuremytrip.com can help you compare policies and prices. For McDowell, cancellation coverage for her $3,600 Alaskan cruise cost her an extra $280. “It was worth it,” she says. “Without the insurance, getting sick would have meant deciding between staying home and losing the money or going and being miserable.”
Is it worth it? Travel insurance often makes sense on very expensive trips or on trips that require large, non-refundable deposits or advance payments for hotel stays or special-event tickets. Cruises can fall into this category because most of the cost is paid upfront and canceling even 30 days in advance could mean no refund.
But there are also instances where insurance does not make sense—for example, if your trip doesn’t include high prepaid expenses or if your prepaids, such as airline tickets are changeable for a small fee. If you rarely get sick, cancellation coverage may not be worth the added expense. Most trips go off smoothly or with minor hassles that tend to affect your mood more than your pocketbook.
Credit card coverage. Some credit card companies provide certain travel assistance when you pay for your trip expenses using their card. While helpful, these extras are typically not as comprehensive as travel insurance.
For example, Mike Cimino of Southern Pines, N.C., was traveling in the Canary Islands when he fell and broke his kneecap. His credit card company connected him with medical personnel in the area, facilitated consultation with his doctors back in the United States, and arranged for him to be flown home on a stretcher after his surgery. While this logistical help was welcome, the medical bills were his to pay.
If your credit card company already provides certain coverage, you may be able to save some money by buying a policy to fill in the gaps.
Sources. If you book your trip through a travel agent or cruise line, you likely will have the option to add travel insurance at the time you purchase. In some cases, insurance may be included in your package. For example, Elderhostel includes certain kinds of coverage, including emergency medical evacuations, in each trip at no additional cost. You can also buy policies from a number of companies such as Access America or Travel Guard.
Medical Care. Medicare will not cover health care expenses outside the United States. Likewise, some private health plans limit coverage for those traveling outside the plan’s network. Travel insurance can bridge this gap but you should check with your plan provider to make sure you’re not paying twice for the same thing. Also, some travel policies may exclude pre-existing medical conditions unless you obtain a waiver or purchase the policy far in advance. If you have recently had a heart attack or have diabetes, for example, check with the provider to make sure you’re covered.
Medical evacuation. Travel insurance can pay for evacuation to your home or to the nearest suitable medical facility, important if you become injured in out-of-the-way places. Such evacuations can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, according to Clif Carothers, president of U.S. Air Ambulance.
“We once evacuated a couple whose vehicle had overturned while they were traveling in Africa,“ he says. “We arranged to have a bush pilot fly them from where the accident occurred to an airstrip where our jet could land. They were in pretty bad shape, so we then flew them to Frankfurt, Germany, for care and, eventually, back to their home. The total cost of the evacuation was about $115,000. To make matters worse, they had no travel insurance, so it was all out of pocket.
The odds. According to a recent survey, 17 percent of people who buy travel insurance actually wind up filing a claim. That’s fairly high compared with other types of insurance, considering that one of the fundamental tenets of insurance is that most people won’t use it—if they did, policies would be unaffordable. For some, however, travel insurance can turn out to be a wise investment.
Al and Jodie Goldberg were traveling to Australia from Washington, D.C., via Charlotte and Los Angeles. Because it was a trip with many connecting flights, they opted to pay $269 for insurance. Their policy covered trip cancellation up to $9,000 (the amount of their prepaids), medical expenses up to $10,000 per person and medical transportation up to $20,000 per person; it also had an assortment of coverages for delays or lost baggage.
The trip got off to a shaky start. The couple became stranded in Charlotte when their flight to Los Angeles was canceled due to heavy smoke from California forest fires. Their travel insurance paid for a hotel in Charlotte, meals during their delay and cab fare to and from the airport. It also reimbursed them for a prepaid hotel room in Sydney they were unable to use because of their late arrival. They eventually got another flight, but one of their bags didn’t make it, and the insurance paid to replace Jodie’s formal dress for their night out at the opera.
“I think Murphy’s Law was written with international travel in mind.” Says Al. “The travel insurance helped us to smooth out the rough spots and still have a great trip.”