Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Favorite Products

I’ve always gotten inordinate pleasure from finding just the right product. Sometimes what makes it “just right” is its effectiveness. Other times, there is something about it that provides visceral pleasure, through sense of sight, smell, or taste. Anyway, here is my current list of favorites that I make sure I always have in the house:

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Dish Soap – Basil Scent
Works great. Smells great. Cheaper than Williams Sonoma. What’s not to like?
L’Occitane en Provence Ultra Rich Body Crème
I use this on my feet at night. It completely eliminated dry skin on my heels.
Sugar Free York Peppermint Patties
Low carb and very yummy. When you just need a little treat after dinner.
Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo
Feels fantastic on your scalp. Reasonably priced.
Crystal Light “Immunity” – Cherry Pomegranate Flavor
Sometimes I get bored with the lemonade flavor. This is like a fancy fruit punch.
Whole Foods Soy Crispettes
When you want something crunchy, but don’t want too many carbs. Tasty and light.
Clorox Toilet Wand
Makes easy work of a task I hate. Pop the used scrubber off into the trash after one use.
Self-Stick Forever Stamps from the Post Office
No more trying to figure out how much postage is for a letter these days – just use one of these.
Dearfoams Indoor/Outdoor Suede Clogs
Feather light, soft inside, and cushy and quiet soles. Incredibly comfortable.
EO Foaming Hand Soap – Lavender & Aloe
Luxurious and long lasting. Smells fantastic.
Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil Deodorant
No harsh chemicals, and a light botanical scent. Different and nice.
One A Day “Weight Smart Advanced” Multivitamins
They have a little green tea in them, so don’t smell or taste as bad as many vitamins.

I’m always looking for new favorites. Let me know any you would recommend.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Now Do It

There is an interesting challenge in the process of planning for retirement. At some point, you make the transition to retirement and it becomes time to shift your focus from building your plan to executing it! After so many years of planning and saving, suddenly it’s time to do what we prepared for and start spending our savings and retirement income according to plan. I know this seems obvious, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. We found this to be a surprisingly difficult change to make.

The transition period, from working life to retired life, is a time of tumultuous change. You close one chapter of your life and move into unfamiliar territory. Euphoria can be interrupted by occasional panic. Remember, you have a carefully crafted plan. You know what you want and have the means to enjoy life. Now do it.

Shortly after we retired in May of 2008, the financial crisis hit. The bottom dropped out of the real estate market, the stock market plummeted, and unemployment rose. Oops, we already were executing our plan and couldn’t turn back. Fortunately, we successfully sold our home, cashed the severance checks, and moved on. The situation required a few adjustments, but the fundamental plan was not affected.

A little bit of a leap of faith is required. Trust your plan. Let me give you an example. We budgeted for a celebratory retirement kickoff trip - the vacation of a lifetime. The financial climate caused us to postpone making specific plans for over a year. We wondered whether it would be injudicious to spend cash on luxury travel during these uncertain times. Finally, the lure of heavily discounted travel deals convinced us to make reservations for flights, hotels, and a cruise. Why? Life can be uncertain in so many ways. Today, it’s financial concerns. Tomorrow, it could be health problems. Next year it could be family issues. But right now, we have the money, we crave the experience, and it shouldn’t wait any longer. We’re doing it.

There are things I’ve always wanted to do for which I couldn’t (or didn’t) make the time. Between my career, maintenance of a house and yard, and family obligations, I found little time for my own leisure. I wanted to paint, make jewelry, write, enjoy my friends, exercise, and just have fun! The excuses I had for not doing those things has disappeared.

I’m taking my own advice, “Now Do It”. Just this week, I designed and made a bracelet, spent productive hours exercising in the Man Cave, wrote several blogs, and am looking forward to meeting new friends for dinner Friday night. I’ve moved on from planning to doing, and it feels great.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Expect the Unexpected

No matter how comprehensive a plan you have and how hard you have tried to anticipate life’s twists and turn, unexpected events will undoubtedly create some unwanted excitement from time to time. Don’t panic. Your retirement plan is meant to be modified as necessary along the way. If you build in a little bit of a buffer, hopefully fate won’t deal a blow that knocks you entirely off course.

Even if you have factored inflation into your budget – some expenses may be affected by more than the Consumer Price Index. Our condominium assessment has increased 26% over the past 18 months. In addition, we have had 4 special assessments levied – totaling several thousand dollars. Parking in our neighboring city school lot has increased 25% during the same period. During our search for individual health care, we have had to raise our budget to obtain the coverage we need. Fortunately, some other expenses are coming in lower than budgeted (i.e. transportation, clothes, and dry cleaning). And we were able to drive down our condo and auto insurance substantially with some active comparison shopping. Keep looking at your actual expenses and make whatever adjustments and decisions need to be made to keep you on track.

Other outside influences will inevitably come to bear on your life. You might have grown children that ask for financial assistance, or parents that need more support than expected. Your ability to respond the same way you did when you had a full time job could be constrained. Where you threw money at trouble in the past, you may now need to be more creative about how to help the ones you love. You should have more time – even if you have less money. Time can often be much more valuable.

To minimize your exposure to unpleasant surprises, be sure that you understand the specific attributes of the locale in which you plan to retire. How high are property and sales taxes? Is there a state-subsidized health plan for which you would be eligible? Does your city or state have budget problems that will filter down to you as a resident? What services or special programs are available to seniors? Is there convenient and affordable public transportation? Your decision about where to retire could be influenced by these factors or others.

Finally, good health is precious and sometimes tenuous. Invest in taking care of your body. We only get one vessel in which to travel through this life. If you abuse it, it will show wear and tear, and require expensive maintenance, additives, and parts replacement. Put down that sugar-laden can of soda, drink a big glass of water, and take a walk around the block. Get plenty of sleep and be kind, but stern, with yourself. I’m taking my own advice now – but I wish I had done better fifteen years ago.

You don’t need a crystal ball to plan effectively. But do think beyond the day-to-day and expect the unexpected.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Determining "Your Number"

Some retirement planners start out by asking you how much money you think you need to retire comfortably. You can’t possibly answer the question unless you have already done a lot of groundwork to determine a good number. Don’t you dare pick a number at random because it seems right to you! “Gee, a million dollars should do it.” A million dollars ain’t what it used to be, folks. Consider this: If you retire at 65, live until 85, and need an average of $70,000 per year to live comfortably for 20 years – you need $1.4 million. But it’s not really that simple, unless you plan to hide cash under your mattress (not recommended), and don’t have any other assets that will help create an income for you. How can you determine “your number” and end up with a result and a financial goal that makes you comfortable? If you’re following my blog and taking some action, there are some inputs you have at this point that will help. You know how much money it takes for you to live on today. You have a budget and track your spending. You have aligned your spending with your priorities. You have one or more means of saving money for your future. You have an idea of how much income you should expect from Social Security. And you have some idea of what your retired life will look like. Haven’t been doing your homework, eh? Remember, you can’t achieve your goals until you have goals – so get started.

To get to “your number”, you need to project your future expenses – for the rest of your life. This is not impossible – but it will be an educated estimate. Start with the year you hope to retire, and with your current budget as a base. Adjust the inflows (e.g. salary) and outflows (expenses), based on what you know about how you will live after you retire. Start with the big ticket items first: Investment/Retirement Income, Social Security, Housing, Transportation, Medical, Food, Utilities, and TV/Internet/Telephone.

Year over year, there will be some inflation in our expenses. See the fantastic web site maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( for a goldmine of data that will be helpful in many aspects of your planning. For a history of annual inflation in the Consumer Price Index, go to

Finally, consider how your life may change over time, and account for major changes in your expenses in your timeline for the future. For example, Ron and I picked a year by which we expect to sell our home and move into assisted living together. That creates a temporary leap in liquid assets (from the home sale), and then a heightened, steady depletion of assets for the ongoing expense of assisted living. We expect to buy a new car every 7 years (up until the point we assume we shouldn’t be driving any more).

Creating your projected post-retirement budget is a lot of work. Once you start, it will also be a continued work in progress as the vision of your retired life crystallizes. So get your budget spreadsheet out, copy it to a new tab and start modifying it (with years on the X axis and expense/income categories on the Y axis) to project your future needs.