Thursday, January 28, 2010

Winter Escape with a Purpose

It’s always been our plan to stay in Chicago for just a few years – until we’ve “done” the city, and get weary of the expense, the crowds, and the politics. It’s probably not the greatest place for old-age retirement (although you might be surprised how many retirement communities there are here). So when we moved to Chicago, we decided that every year we need to make at least one trip to the southwest to scout our permanent home locale. It turns out that late winter is a good time to go; allowing us to temporarily escape the effects of cabin fever brought on by the brutally long season of cold, gray, snowy misery.

Last year, we took advantage of one of Southwest’s “Gotta Get Away” fares and flew out to Albuquerque for a week. We stayed at a Homewood Suites property on the north side of the city, and made several day trips to Santa Fe. The weather was fantastic, and we had a good time exploring the area. Pulte Homes has a beautiful planned community in Rio Rancho, and we looked at their model homes to get a sense of what was available in the area. It was very encouraging. There were 3 homes we both liked, ranging from $150,000 to $230,000. We liked Albuquerque and haven’t ruled it out, but aren’t totally convinced it’s the right place for us. Santa Fe is really appealing, but much pricier.

This year we plan to drive out to Prescott, Arizona to check it out. Prescott is in the high desert, 99 miles north of Phoenix. The population is just over 40,000, but it boasts several museums, a courthouse square near the restaurants and shops on “Whiskey Row”, summer concerts, a regional hospital, golf courses, and several colleges/universities. We could even scout the Cubs during spring training in Mesa. It’s an easy drive to Flagstaff, Sedona, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and even Las Vegas. We’ve booked four nights in a Bed & Breakfast, and plan to spend a few hours with a realtor to scope out the housing. I’m working on convincing Ron that we should bring our golf clubs and get in a round or two. A side trip to the Grand Canyon for some hiking and photo opportunities on the rim trails will wrap up the trip before we start the drive home.

How will we know when we have found the right place to settle? We want the dry air of the desert, but not the harshest heat…four seasons without extremes…outdoor recreation opportunities…cultural activities…a reasonable cost of living…the easy pace of a small town, with easy access to a big city. I think we’ll know what’s right when we see it. We’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Poetic License

Same angles and planes
But softer

Shot with silver highlights
More natural

Aging civil warrior princess
In training

Of super womangirl
Seeking essential self

© Laurel Anne Bailey 2010

Thursday, January 14, 2010

When I Grow Up

I’m retired from the corporate world of business – not from life. There are so many things to do now that I have my freedom. Still, I can’t really answer, “What now?” At least not completely. Not yet. When I look inside the jumble of my heart and mind, I hear these insistent little voices:

· I love golf and it annoys me that I suck at it. I want to play more and get better, and fully enjoy any time spent on a golf course.
· The creative process of making jewelry – from buying supplies to making a finished product –is really fun. Besides, I love custom jewelry and this is an inexpensive way to have it. Would it be more or less fun if I sold my creations? Would anyone buy them? Will my sister Althea play with me?
· I really should do some singing to make use of my trained voice. (Note that I wrote “should” and not “want to”. Hmmm.) I just haven’t figured out what type of activity would be stimulating and allow me to dust off my vocal chords without embarrassing myself.
· I’ve done some painting (watercolors and acrylics), but have no training and probably little talent. But I want to paint. I should take some classes.
· Why is my ukulele just gathering dust?
· I’ve always wanted to write a book. Instead, I’m writing blogs. Might the latter lead to the former?
· I have business acumen that is going to waste right now. So what? I really like the idea of being “the man behind the curtain” and helping someone else achieve success.
· I am going to learn to design a web site, dammit. How hard can this be, with all the tools and templates available today?
· With all this time I have, I have to get serious about this last 15 pounds. No excuses.

Don’t be surprised if you catch me muttering to myself on occasion. I’m busy deciding what I want to do when I grow up.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Day of (Budget) Reckoning

With the start of 2010, we tackled the task of analyzing our 2009 expenses. I think we were both a little concerned about how well we had stayed within our budget, since we weren’t disciplined enough to track expenses month by month. I’m sure we will address this monthly from now on, because it took Ron several days to work on the whole year at once. Some electronic records are unspecific, and as time goes by, the memory fades. But Ron was tenacious, digging through all the details a month at a time, categorizing expenses into our pre-defined categories.

Before I tell you about the results, I should explain that for the purpose of modeling and analysis, we actually have four budgets with different levels of discretionary spending. Our Extravagant budget allows a generous level of discretionary spending, especially in the Entertainment and Travel categories. On the other extreme of the scale, the Low budget cuts discretionary expenses to the bare minimum. The Low budget is about 40% below Extravagant. In between, are High and Average budgets. These variations allow us to employ the appropriate annual budget based on economic conditions and/or other external factors.

We closed 2009 with our expenses about 3% under the High budget. We are very satisfied with this result, because we admit that we lived large last year while acclimating to retired life. Our expectation was that we would be closer to the Extravagant level. At the expense category level, we had just a few anomalies. Our Food expenses were slightly above budget, because we cooked at home more (better for our diet and keeping our Dining expenses well within budget). Housing ran above budget due to the cost of refinancing our mortgage last year, and monthly parking jumped from $180 to $225. (Ongoing, our mortgage payment drops $200 per month.) Transportation expenses were much lower than budgeted, as we replaced most auto usage with public transportation. Utilities came in about 50% under budget, probably because we had a really mild summer and we hardly had to use air conditioning at all. I am proud that I stayed well within my Clothing budget. The truth is that I am now happy to live in t-shirts or sweaters and jeans 90% of the time.

FYI, the big Mediterranean cruise was covered under our Capital budget – not included in expenses.

This year, we’ll do our analysis monthly, to give us a chance to make budget and/or spending adjustments throughout the year. It really gives us confidence in our retirement plans to have this data and analysis to validate our long term financials.