Musings

Don't Worry, Be Happy... and You'll Live Longer

Musings Woman-1031000_1920Do you consider yourself an optimist? If you answered "Yes," you are likely to live longer.

According to Harvard University, "Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), and National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System, have found that individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer and to achieve 'exceptional longevity,' that is, living to age 85 or older."

“While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death, we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy aging,” explained corresponding author Lewina Lee, PhD, clinical research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston and assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM. “This study has strong public health relevance because it suggests that optimism is one such psychosocial asset that has the potential to extend the human lifespan. Interestingly, optimism may be modifiable using relatively simple techniques or therapies.”

The study followed almost 70,000 women for 10 years and over 1,400 men for 30 years. According to Harvard, "When individuals were compared based on their initial levels of optimism, the researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11 to 15 percent longer lifespan, and had 50-70 percent greater odds of reaching 85 years old compared to the least optimistic groups."

Chances are you know or have heard about people in their 80s and 90s who maintain remarkably positive attitudes despite the challenges of daily living. On the other hand, you may be acquainted with older folks who complain frequently and whom you probably view as bitter and pessimistic.

This extensive study confirms what many aging Boomers probably know intuitively: Our sense of optimism, contentment or happiness has a lot to do with our physical health. Looking at this study optimistically suggests a strong correlation between a positive outlook and a longer life. Pretty cool!

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Is Money the Root of All Evil?

Musings Money-2696219_1920"For the love of money is the root of all evil..." is a phrase taken from the Bible. When it comes to avarice, the phrase is indeed appropriate, but when it comes to retirement, money is rooted in reality: It is a necessity, plain and simple, for us to have a worry-free retirement. What may be most interesting about the relationship between retirement and money, though, is that many Boomers haven't got a good grasp on just how much money they really need to retire. In fact, some of us don't have a clue.

As reported by Richard Eisenberg for NextAvenue.org, two studies confirm that there is a gap between perception and reality. Perception: 46 percent of "late career" respondents (workers age 53 to 64) said they thought they'd spend less on housing in retirement. Reality: Only 30 percent of retirees surveyed are paying less for mortgages or rent and utilities than when they worked full-time -- and 17 percent are spending more on housing. On healthcare, the balance tips the other way. Perception: 35 percent of late career workers thought they'd spend more on healthcare insurance premiums. Reality: Only 30 percent are spending more, and 28 percent are actually spending less on healthcare insurance premiums. Of course, that doesn't include medical costs that could exceed expectations as one gets older.

As we approach retirement, Boomers are simply not all that accurate when it comes to predicting their expenses in retirement. That said, one of the best ways to predict expenses later is to manage expenses while you're working and set realistic spending targets for when you retire.

You may have to establish a budget that reflects a more modest lifestyle based on a more modest income. Social Security in combination with a draw from a retirement savings account could very well make up the majority of your income. You may find that isn't sufficient to support the lifestyle you're accustomed to -- which is why you, like many Boomers, may want to keep working. Even so, the work you can get in your later years may produce substantially less income. There really are only two ways to solve the basic problem: Generate more income or cut your expenses. Creating a realistic expense budget that accounts for your basic living expenses and includes line item contingencies for optional or unanticipated expenses will certainly help. At some point, you also may have to face some tough decisions to bring expenses in line with income and assets, such as a possible downsizing of your home.

With Boomers living so much longer, the only thing "evil" about money will be how quickly it is likely to disappear. 

HappilyRewired.com is a Top 75 Baby Boomer Blog.

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"Praemonitus, Praemunitus"


Plan-707359_1920

MusingsIf you were one of the fortunate students who took Latin in high school or college, you might recognize the two words that comprise the title of this blog post. It loosely translates into the well-known phrase, "Forewarned is forearmed." This phrase has special meaning for Boomers who are considering retirement: It cautions us to anticipate issues and challenges before taking the retirement plunge.

Lack of advance planning for retirement may be one of the most common problems Boomers face. One reason could be that they intend to keep working and simply don't plan to "retire" in the traditional sense. Another may be that retirement seems unrealistic or far off in the future. Intellectually, we all know we are aging, and some sort of retirement, or "second act" if you prefer, is inevitable. Emotionally, however, we may not want to admit that we will ever "retire."

Advance planning is a kind of mental insurance that pays dividends. On the financial side, advance planning means taking stock of your finances, managing your expenses, and ensuring that you have adequately funded your retirement through a combination of pensions, if any, retirement funds, and Social Security income. On the personal side, advance planning may mean taking steps to improve your physical and mental health as you age.

Writing for The Balance, Wes Moss enumerates eight "headaches" that Boomers should avoid as they move closer to retirement. He discusses such issues as unexpected early retirement, the challenge of what to do with your time in retirement, the possible need to care for elderly parents, how retirement affects your relationship with your spouse, and the reality that you could outlive your money. His article is well worth reading.

The point is this: Boomers who have blinders on about retirement will only find themselves blind-sided if something unanticipated occurs. Life changes both small and large will happen as we age -- the only question is how well prepared we are for them.

"Praemonitus, Praemunitus" turns out to be excellent advice.

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Reconsidering "Woodstock Nation"

Musings Woodstock-art-568933_1920Surely you've noticed all the buzz in the last few weeks about the 50th anniversary of Woodstock (August 15 - 18, 1969). If you had the good fortune (or misfortune, in some cases) to be at that iconic event, you surely have a memory to last a lifetime.

I didn't make it to Woodstock, but I was keenly aware of it. The closest I came to a mini-Woodstock experience was attending a free concert in New York's Central Park. In August 1969, I was a New York University (NYU) student, about to enter my senior year. NYU was a hotbed of radical social protest and anti-war activity; I played a non-violent role as editor of a student satire magazine.

Most of us didn't know it at the time, but Woodstock would come to represent the aspirations of an entire generation. In a recent article for The New York Times, music critic Jon Pareles wrote, "Woodstock was a brief moment that would provide contradictory lessons for generations to come. It was entertainment that felt momentarily rebellious — 'a festival of peace and music' — that posited art as an alternative reality. ...It lived up to that 'peace and music' billing to gather an unexpectedly large, unexpectedly amiable community; it envisioned pleasure as a solution to societal strife, not merely a distraction from it. (That didn’t pan out.)"

Abbie Hoffman, co-founder of the Youth International Party, better known as the "Yippies," famously branded the Boomer generation "Woodstock Nation" in the event's honor, although he may have been projecting his own activism too broadly. The numbers were indeed impressive -- some one million people journeyed to Bethel, New York, where the Woodstock festival took place, and about half a million actually attended the event. However, the impact of Woodstock Nation is harder to define.

One could accurately view Woodstock as the culmination of an era of protest and unrest, largely influenced by young activists. The Sixties and early Seventies included such movements as civil rights, gay rights, women's liberation, environmentalism and anti-war, tinged with the hippie counterculture attributes of "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." While activists may have had the loudest voices, a segment of our generation preferred to align with the "Silent Majority."

Can we objectively credit Woodstock Nation with bringing about real change? Yes, the era's activists participated in movements that eventually brought about fundamental change, not the least of which was ending the Vietnam War. Still, fifty years after Woodstock, we face many of the same social and global challenges we protested against then. Why couldn't we sustain the vision of Woodstock Nation? It may simply be that our generation had to accept the reality of moving on in life -- earning a living, starting and supporting a family, saving for retirement and, for some, caring for our own parents. In short, we grew up.

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The "Doer" Dilemma

Question-mark-96288_1920 MusingsMost of the Boomers I know are "doers." They need to be doing something to keep themselves busy, motivated and healthy. The older doers get, the more they realize that some of the things they have been  doing for years are now a lot more challenging. Broadly speaking, aging may make working long hours more tiring. It may make driving in traffic more stressful. It may make strenuous physical activity more difficult.

These kinds of challenges may cause one to contemplate retirement. When faced with retirement, the doer has a real dilemma. It is likely to be pretty scary. What will the doer do when he or she no longer has the multi-year career that was engaging? For some Boomers, their career may have even defined them as individuals.

In her article on NextAvenue.org, retired therapist Connie Zweig wrestles with this dilemma. She writes,"Like many boomers, I had found meaning and even love through my work. So, one part of me wanted to continue to do what I had always done: push hard to be productive so that I could enjoy a feeling of well-being at the end of the day. But another part wanted to leap into the unknown, letting go of old roles until a new beginning emerged."

Later in her insightful article, Zweig asks the question "Who Are We Beyond Work?" She found that she needed to ask herself "tough inner questions" to discover the answer. She pondered such questions as:

  • "What is the role that no longer serves me? How is my identity tied to that role? Who am I if I am not that role? What has been sacrificed during my career to maintain that role?"
  • "What is my fantasy of the future? Am I drawn to serve others? Am I drawn to a spiritual or contemplative practice? What stops me from engaging in service or meditation?"

Zweig admits that her circumstances allowed her the freedom to consider different retirement paths, rather than be forced to continue to work because of financial need. Not everyone has the luxury of such a choice. Still, those Boomers who have the financial security to leave the workforce and do something else should be asking the kinds of questions Zweig asked herself. That may be the only way they will truly solve the doer dilemma.

HappilyRewired.com is a Top 75 Baby Boomer Blog.

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Double Trouble for Boomers: Money and Health

Money-943761_1920 MusingsSome Boomers like to think they're invincible: They fully expect to be able to work into their 70s or beyond. The good news is that the percentage of workers over the age of 62 in the workforce has steadily increased. But consider this: While the national unemployment rate for workers age 55 and older is generally lower than the overall unemployment rate, the long-term unemployment rate (out of work 27 weeks or more) for older workers is generally higher than the overall long-term unemployment rate. That suggests once a Boomer is out of work, it is harder to get back into the workforce.

Cleo Parker's story is all too typical. As reported in The New York Times, Parker was about to turn 50 when her long-time marketing job was eliminated in 2006, a few years before the big recession. For the next ten years, she had to work a variety of contract and lower-paying jobs. She finally found a full-time job but that ended in 2018. Now 62, Parker finds she is overqualified for most of the jobs she interviews for, and the salary for those jobs is far less than what she earned before.

The financial pressure of this type of situation is obvious. Boomers who have had good, well-paying jobs for decades and then find themselves out of work are often faced with a precipitous drop in income in their later working years. Having all of the things associated with a middle class life -- house, car, sending your kids to college, etc. -- may have taken precedent over adequately saving for retirement. So now, the Boomer who is out of work or working at a low-paying job may be stuck with too much debt and expenses that exceed income. If expenses aren't reduced and savings are meager, the Boomer may have to draw Social Security benefits earlier than planned, which means lower monthly SS payments for the rest of that person's life. In addition, any retirement savings, such as 401(k) investments, typically cannot be drawn upon without penalty until age 70-1/2.

Involuntary job loss can be devastating -- but so can employment that is interrupted or abruptly ends because of health issues. Older workers are susceptible to more health problems than younger workers, if for no other reason than they are older. While there is some small comfort in having employer-paid health insurance or Medicare as of age 65, health problems can still be costly, both in terms of out-of-pocket medical expenses and loss of time on the job. Even worse, a serious health problem can lead to an unanticipated earlier retirement from the workforce.

So what can Boomers do about the double whammy of money and health? For one thing, we need to make a concerted effort to save as much as we can for retirement while we are still working. We should also try to delay taking Social Security payments at least until our "full retirement age," as defined by Social Security, or until age 70, when you can draw the maximum benefit. In terms of our health, as we age, it is very important for us to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and generally take good care of ourselves. Other than that... it's a crap shoot!

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Get Thee to a Financial Planner

Financial-3207895_1920 MusingsI often write about Boomer issues that relate to working past the traditional retirement age, including how to find inspiration for what to do in your second career. I rarely tackle retirement-related financial issues because that is neither my area of expertise nor my topical interest. But I feel compelled to give any reader of this blog a piece of personal, heartfelt advice: If you're approaching the second half of your life and you haven't yet engaged a financial planner, do yourself a favor and get one NOW.

My wife and I engaged a financial planner in our mid-thirties. It was one of the smartest moves we have ever made. With that person's counsel, we have been able to make wise financial decisions regarding budgeting, investments, insurance, purchasing and selling homes, paying for college, and retirement. In combination with a CPA and an estate attorney, the financial planner has also helped us with tax and estate planning.

It is never too late to get a financial planner. As CFP Casey Weade writes for Kiplinger, a financial planner becomes all the more important as we approach our retirement years: "For most people, problems, questions and opportunities are more likely to crop up as their goals change from accumulating money to protecting it. And that usually happens five to 10 years before retirement."

While professional Boomers may be tempted to handle financial planning themselves, Do-It-Yourselfers (DIYers) lack objectivity and broad knowledge of investments. Weade says, "An adviser can help retirees avoid ill-timed investment losses that could devastate their retirement plans, offer guaranteed income options to those who want reliable payments, and discuss the best 401(k) and IRA distribution choices. An adviser also can offer advice on Social Security income options that DIYers often don’t know about." As for DIY investing, Weade writes that "your investment strategy should match your overall financial plan and long-term goals. Too often, self-investing leads to over-concentrating on the tools being utilized rather than the ultimate goal you are trying to achieve."

Boomers are living a lot longer than our parents did, so making smart financial decisions that protect us in our later years is critically important. What are you waiting for? Get thee to a financial planner!

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Making Sense of the Retirement Transition

Musings Wood-3041024_1920More and more experts advise those closing in on retirement to view it as a transitional time. An article appearing on NextAvenue.org suggests that retirees should plan on a longer transition time than they expect:

"It could take months or it could take a few years for you to finally feel comfortable in your new skin. It’s completely natural and understandable for this transition to take a long time. After all, you were involved in the world of work for decades and those habits won’t melt away instantly. ... Instead of commuting to an office, commute to your workbench or to a class at the local community college. Embrace the change while diving into what makes you unique."

The article also encourages retirees to "take a moment to breathe":

"...take a week or two to relax before you jump into your new routines. By taking a mini-vacation first, you’ll be better prepared to approach your new life with a clear mind that’s well-rested and ready for the challenge. The way a honeymoon marks the transition from single life into marriage, this pre-retirement breather period marks another (equally) important transition in your life."

A key point in the article is the need to "build a strong mental foundation for change." This includes building a strong identity, a strong social network and a strong mission. "Mission" may not be a word you associate with retirement, but here's some excellent advice:

"One of the biggest fears people have about retirement is that they’ll lose the feeling of being useful. Figure out your mission, whether it’s helping look after grandkids or mentoring local teens on their career paths. Some find that learning a new language or hitting their list of must-see travel destinations around the world make wonderful missions, too!"

You have the ability to reinvent yourself as you enter life's second stage, but you don't have to rush into it. That may be hard, because our society is so focused on instant gratification. Still, if you take time to assess who you are and what you need to be happy, the transition should be a lot easier.

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Have you heard about the new book, Boomer Brands?


Financial Security in Retirement is Important, But...

Musings Man-505353_1920There are so many sources of information that talk about the financial aspects of retirement. Of course, nothing could be more important than being financial secure when you retire. But what about psychic security? One of the most challenging pieces of the retirement puzzle is finding your true self, especially if you have spent decades working in a single profession. Making the transition from a career into a whole different way of life -- one that may not be centered around full-time work -- can be disruptive and even painful for the ill-prepared.

That's why I like the assessment provided by Michael Rubin in his article for The Balance, "4 Non-Financial Keys for a Happy Retirement." Rubin discusses these four elements in detail:

  1. Work - Rubin makes the point that work in retirement can be a gratifying experience if it is voluntary. He writes "studies have shown that people who voluntarily continue to work, even just part-time, past the age of 65 are happier than their full retired peers."
  2. Relationships - Moving on from work also means moving on from work-related relationships. Maintaining relationships in retirement is essential to avoid social isolation. Rubin indicates "recent studies have suggested that loneliness can result in higher risk of developing Alzheimer's and other dementia-related diseases."
  3. Keeping Busy - Filling time when there is no full-time job to go to can be daunting, but busy retirees are generally happier. "One study showed that the happiest retirees engage in three to four regular activities and the retirees with the busiest schedules tended to be the happiest," writes Rubin.
  4. Staying Active and Healthy -  As Rubin notes, "in a recent study, having good health was outranked financial security as the most important ingredient for a happy retirement, but the two are more intertwined than you might think." One key point is that one's health in retirement directly relates to medical expenses, which can be significant for less healthy retirees.

Rubin's article puts retirement into perspective by emphasizing the non-financial aspects of a happy retirement. Food for thought.

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Have you heard about the new book, Boomer Brands?


Deciding What to Do Next

Musings Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 11.23.50 AMWhether you call it retirement, "rewiring," or your "second act," if you're over 65, you may be thinking, "What's next?" This is a particularly vexing question as it relates to a long career centered on a particular industry or discipline, but it is just as profound when you consider potential life choices. Your second act may not be just about what you do with your time -- it may also involve where you do it and with whom.

That's why I think it makes a lot of sense to start thinking about life's next stage even before you get there. My colleague Nancy Collamer, a "second act" coach, has some great advice to help you navigate new territory. She advises the following:

  1. Complete a self-assessment.
  2. Use a decision-making tool.
  3. Talk to people.
  4. Write things down. Take walks. Repeat.
  5. Try things out.

This is smart counsel, delivered in a logical sequence. The self-assessment will help you identify "what you want, what you do well and what you find meaningful." A decision-making tool will guide you in determining which of the options available you should pursue. Talking to advisors and friends comes next, because "they will challenge your assumptions, support your decisions and connect you with key resources or people that could prove invaluable when making your final analysis." Then you should put it in writing -- think about what you wrote down -- and refine it. According to Collamer, "it’s amazing how the act of writing brings a level of clarity to the decision making process that is impossible to achieve by keeping your thoughts in your head." Finally, just do it -- "you’ll never make up your mind about a career move until you start trying things out in small ways," writes Collamer.

Nancy Collamer offers additional guidance, as well as links to helpful resources in her article. Read it here: https://www.mylifestylecareer.com/how-to-choose-a-perfect-second-act-career/

Image: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

Have you heard about the new book, Boomer Brands?