Sunday, November 23, 2014

What Boomers Worry About

     The transition from the working life to the retired life can be difficult and disrupting, so it should come as no surprise that anxieties have blossomed among Baby Boomers concerned about the financial, social and physical challenges of growing older. Those anxieties begin to bud when middle managers realize their gray hair is no longer a mark of distinction, but a liability for the next job interview. And they grow as people suffer diminished physical capability, loss of control over their lives, and perhaps feelings of invisibility and irrelevance.

     Boomers were born during a time of post-war national prosperity. But the fact that there are so many of us has created a competitive world -- a battle for resources that we have waged throughout our lives, from college admissions to landing a job to buying a home, and now to the struggle for resources in retirement as we begin to put financial pressure on Social Security and Medicare.

     Recent surveys by the Center for Secure Retirement, AARP, and other organizations suggest some of the issues that worry middle class Baby Boomers.

     High Anxiety. According to a poll by AARP Baby Boomers are more worried than any other age group about retirement security. Over 70% of Boomers expect that they will have to delay retirement, and half of us fear we will never be able to give up the 9-to-5. The organization used a number of economic factors, from inflation to affordability of health care, to create an anxiety index. People between ages 50 and 64 topped 70% on the index, while younger people (too young and stupid to worry about it?) scored 50% and the 65-plus crowd (who are covered by Social Security and Medicare, and grandfathered into pensions) came in at a relatively contented 46%.

     Young at Any Age. Ironically, most Baby Boomers do not worry too much about how long they're going to live. Surveys suggest that Boomers feel as much as 15 years younger than people the same age a generation ago. Boomers peg "old age" somewhere around 78 or 80, and most Boomers without major health problems assume they're going to live to about 86. And that's a reasonable assumption. The life expectancy of a current 60 year old, according to government statistics, has reached a record 84 years.

     Health Care. Boomers believe that their health is pretty much out of their control. According to the Center for Secure Retirement, 65% of middle-age Americans think their health is mostly determined by their genes, as opposed to 46% who say it's largely controlled by diet and 44% who credit exercise as the key to health. However, we Boomers still do worry about declining health in our advancing years. Nearly four times as many Boomers worry about health more than they worry about finances or outliving their money. Most of us are concerned about escalating health care costs -- at the very time when we are beginning to have increased needs for medical services and costly prescription drugs.

     Money Matters. Yet, Boomers have very mixed emotions about their finances. Despite our worries, few of us have calculated the actual amount of income we will need in retirement, and fewer still have figured out how much savings we need to produce that income. But many Boomers say they already have downsized their lifestyle and curtailed spending so they will have enough money in their sunset years. Many have also come to terms with the prospect of delayed retirement, and say they are willing to either stay in their current jobs longer, or work at least part time in retirement in order to make ends meet.

     Message Delivered. Boomers in general cite a desire for a simpler, less expensive lifestyle. That dovetails nicely with the fact that many do not have enough savings to support their current spending in retirement. The Boomer desire to continue working in some way during retirement also helps. Still, with the mobility of modern life and the fraying of American families, many Boomers wonder who will take care of them when they eventually become old and incapacitated.

     Meanwhile, some 70% of current retirees rely on Social Security for at least half of their income. Yet almost 80% of Boomers worry that the future of Social Security is in jeopardy, and a third believe that in 20 years Social Security as we know it will be a thing of the past.

     So what are you worried about? To me, it seems that among all the different anxieties, one message rings out loud and clear:  Protect Social Security and Medicare . . . on behalf of all of us.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

$185 Worth of Medical Advice

     I had my annual physical the other day. I decided to go to my primary care physician (which my medical group told me would cost $185) rather than a physician's assistant (which would have been free of charge), for two reasons. I went to this doctor last year for the first time, and there were a few little issues that came up, and so I wanted to follow up on them with the same doctor. The other reason? Well, to be blunt, I figured a doctor would know more medicine, and give me a more authoritative checkup.

     The long and short of it is ... I'm fine. I have no idea if the doctor gave me any better service than a PA would have done. Still, I like the idea of developing a relationship with my doctor, however slight, so he knows my body and my history, and therefore is more likely to sense if and when something is "off." I had that kind of relationship with my old doctor, who I'd been seeing for about 20 years. Unfortunately -- and tragically -- my old doctor, who was the same age as me, got an aggressive form of cancer a little less than two years ago and he died within six months.

     So last year I found a new doctor in the same medical group. He's in his early 40s, and looks very young to me, but I have to believe he knows what he's doing.

     Anyway, I'll pass on a couple of insights from my visit (at no charge!). First, I went in looking for a shingles shot. My sister has been pushing this on me for a while. She got the shingles vaccine a couple of years ago. "You know, Dad got shingles before he died," she reminded me. "So I got a shingles shot, and you should get one too." (In case you're wondering, she's my older sister, and so has no reservations about trying to boss me around.)

     But instead, I came out of the doctor's office with a shot for pneumonia. My doctor said I could get the shingles shot, and yes, he did recommend it for people my age. But his enthusiasm for the shingles shot seemed somewhat measured, while he thought the pneumonia shot was more of a must-have. Honestly, he thought my risk profile for either disease is very low. Nevertheless, he said, if you get shingles, it can be painful. But pneumonia can kill you.

     I could have had both vaccines at the same time. But I decided to get the pneumonia shot now (it's a one-time vaccination); and do the shingles shot next year.

     The other thing he told me is that the scholarly literature has suggested that annual physicals do not, in the aggregate, extend our life expectancy. There are two theories. The annual physical approach is based on early detection. The doctor catches something early, and therefore is more likely to be able to cure it, or at least manage it. The problem is that there are many false positives, resulting in a lot of unnecessary medical tests and treatments, which (again in the aggregate) can often cause more harm than good.

     The other theory says you wait until something goes wrong. Then medicine runs it down, and in most cases is able to treat it successfully.

     All that may be true. But here's my story. I had my first colonoscopy at age 51, and the doctor found a precancerous polyp. He removed it, and I went on with my life. If it hadn't been detected, and was left to develop into cancer, I'd probably be dead by now. So I am firmly in the camp of early detection.
     The other advice the doctor had for me? He said that all we know about improving and extending our lives can essentially be boiled down to one paragraph. Eat a good diet with plenty of fluids, fruits and vegetables, and get a decent amount of exercise on a regular basis.

     And so with that ... I'm heading to the gym.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Slice of Boomer Life

     What are you gonna do . . . we all get older. This serving of the Best of Baby Boomer blogs offers a generous helping of advice about how to cope with the perils and pitfalls of aging -- and the opportunities that go with them.

     Aging can be a bummer (do you have trouble driving at night?), but Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting prefers to concentrate on the positive aspects of life at a mature age, such as being able to go on vacation whenever you want. Check out her post A Retiree’s Life to get all the details -- which (if I'm interpreting her correctly) allows us to eat all the chocolate cake we want, whenever we want.

     Could that possibly be right?

     On a more realistic note, record numbers of Baby Boomers are retiring, and Rita R. Robison, blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, realizes that many Boomers are business owners who plan to cash out and use the proceeds to fund their retirement. But she says:  Not so fast! More than 80 percent of business owners have no formal transition plan, and, in the end, only about 25 percent of businesses up for sale actually do sell.

     Those odds are likely to become worse as millions of Baby Boomers attempt to sell their businesses over the next decade in what she terms an "exit bubble." Combine the lack of readiness with the historically low success rate for selling a business, and you could be looking at a perfect storm for business owners. So in an attempt to help them out, she enlisted guest author Tensie Homan, a CPA, to offer Five Tips for Selling Your Business.
     Next we move on to smaller, more compact matters. According to Amy Blitchok at Modern Senior the recent release of AARP’s tablet, the RealPad, was a bit of a bust. So in her post Great Deals on Tablets for Seniors she offers some recommendations for the best affordable tablets that are perfect for seniors -- and people of any age or skill level -- who want to use a tablet to communicate with their families, share photos and check email.

     Laura Lee, aka the Midlife Crisis Queen, poses more philosophical questions. First of all, in How We Boomers Have Changed with Our Culture and the Music, she contrasts the "pathetically optimistic" tunes of our childhood with the grittier lyrics of more recent times, and wonders if our taste in music has evolved with our worldly wisdom.

     Then (to add insult to injury), she recently walked into a restaurant. The server immediately assumed she was there for the Senior Special, which left a bad taste in her mouth, and made her ponder Do I Really Look Like a Senior Now?

     Finally, on a more serious note, Kathy, at Smart Living, reveals that she is a former smoker in Why I'm a Grateful Quitter. "No I won’t pretend it was ever smart or healthy," she says, "but back when I was a smoker we didn’t think much about it." Yet she admits that every time she coughed she suspected there would be a price to pay.

     Kathy quit over 25 years ago. But her mom wasn't as lucky, and she paid for it with her life. That’s why today Kathy is a strong supporter of the Great American Smokeout and its theme “Quit Together. Win Together.” The smokeout event occurs every year on the third Thursday of November, which this year falls on November 20. As Kathy concludes, "I don’t regret much in my life but I do regret not being able to help my mother quit so we could both have won against this addiction together."

Friday, November 14, 2014

Always Finish What You Start

     On Wednesday it was sunny and in the 60s. Then last night B and I took our dog out for her evening walk . . . and it was snowing! Just the first flurries, but enough to signal that winter is coming.

     There's nothing like curling up with a book on a snowy night. And last night I started reading a new book. B and I always read for a while before we go to sleep, sometimes only for ten minutes, other times for half an hour or more. But we both find that reading a book is absolutely the best way to fall asleep.

      But last night I was having a bit of trouble -- not falling asleep. Something else. Let me explain.  

"What's that white stuff?" asks our fall scarecrow.
     Maybe this seems familiar to you. First, about two weeks ago a friend of mine -- the friend I call Peter -- gave me a book to read. "It's really interesting," he said. "I'd love to know what you think."

     The book is The Burn Palace, a novel by Stephen Dobyns. I'd never heard of this writer before, but he's written a couple of dozen books, so he's not exactly new. The book is a mystery that takes place in Rhode Island, and the problem is: I did not like this book at all. I got through to about page 200 before I thought about giving up on it completely. Then I thought, well, I'm halfway through, so I should finish it. Besides, Peter's going to want to know what I think, and I can't tell him if I don't even know what happens at the end.

     So I plowed on, day after day -- because I find that if you don't like a book it takes a lot longer to read. I felt like I was doing homework the whole time. But I'll be seeing Peter tonight at our monthly poker game, and I know he'll ask me about the book, so I had a deadline.

     I dutifully went back to the book, over and over, reading maybe 20 pages at a time before giving up again. Finally, on Wednesday, I forced myself to finish it. Done! But then, I thought, why do I feel like I have to finish a book if I don't like it? And what am I going to tell Peter (who obviously liked the book)?

     So anyway, last night I joyfully picked up another book. This time I wanted one I would actually like. I grabbed In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien, which was sitting on my son's bedroom bureau. It has an intriguing cover -- and I thought I'd read something by Tim O'Brien before, and liked it.

     I went into the bathroom, washed up, brushed my teeth, then slipped into bed. I showed the book to B. "Have you ever read this one?" I asked.

At least this one I will enjoy
     "Oh, yeah," she nodded.

     "Is it any good? I need something that will really hold my attention, something I can get lost in."

     "That should work," she replied. "It's a really riveting book."

     "I think I read something by Tim O'Brien before. Something about Vietnam, maybe?"

     "He had that other bestseller," she said. "I don't rememebr the name."

     I looked at the book cover. "It says he also wrote Going After Cacciato and The Things They Carried."

     "The Things They Carried. I think that was on Vietnam. A big bestseller."

     So I opened the book and started reading. And . . . wait a second, this seems familiar. John Wade and his wife Kathy are on vacation in Lake of the Woods, Minnesota. Wade has just lost the primary election for U. S. senator: "loser by a landslide" at age 41. Then there was a section called "Evidence" and his mother says, "He was always a secretive boy." And by about page10, I realized I'd read the book before, only a couple of years ago.

     I don't know if that's ever happened to you. But boy, did that make me feel stupid.

     And yet, by now I had started the book. So I have to finish it!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Weekend to Remember

     For someone who claims he doesn't travel -- see last month's post  Why I Don't Like to Travel -- I seem to do a lot of traveling. Okay . . . in my defense, I usually don't go very far. My comfort zone is a couple of hundred miles, a three or four hour drive.

     Last weekend we journeyed to Lancaster, Pa. B has some family in the area, including her 98-year-old mother who lives in an assisted living facility. Lancaster, she tells me, has become a destination for many retirees because it has top-notch health facilities, a variety of independent and assisted living options, and a notably caring community.

     We didn't stay with her mother. We stayed in a very nice B & B a few miles outside of town. And I was surprised -- the place was full! Who would go to Lancaster, Pa. in November?

E. J. Bowman House Bed & Breakfast

      The area is a tourist destination for people who go to see the Amish riding in a horse and buggy. We didn't see any Amish on our long weekend, but we did see a few Mennonites (I think of them as Amish-lite). And we also saw a few other attractions. For example, there is a lot of history connected to the area. Lancaster was the capital of the Unites States for exactly one day during the Revolutionary War. It was also the hometown of a U. S. President . . . President James Buchanan, who is never considered among the best of the U. S. Presidents. But still, he was a President.

Home of James Buchanan, U. S President, 1857-61

     There's also a college on the edge of town. Franklin & Marshall is a small liberal arts college that's part of the Centennial Conference, which includes Swarthmore, Haverford, Johns Hopkins, Gettysburg, Bryn Mawr and a few others.

Kind of screams college campus, doesn't it?

    There's an historic downtown area with a theater and an arts hotel and a stadium for a minor league baseball team. I didn't take a photo of the baseball stadium (not very interesting), but I was very impressed with the train station.

One impressive train station ... and I like the bicycles

     An interesting thing, in my book, is how you can be walking along the city streets . . .

Street scene in the city

      . . . and then drive out just a few miles, and you're in the country, with corn fields all around. A corn field probably doesn't seem very exotic to most people. But I never see a corn field where I live. Any undeveloped land around where I live is covered with hills and woods, not farms and fields.

Recently plowed under

     Finally, I have to make one confession. Most people, when you ask them what their favorite store is, say Nordstrom's, or R.E.I., or something like that. My favorite store is the local convenience store. We have 7-11 and AM/PM, and they're both perfectly adequate as far as convenience stores go. But they don't hold a candle to Wa Wa, which you find in New Jersey and around Philadelphia. But even better than Wa Wa is Turkey Hill, and we ran across several of them around Lancaster. And, by the way, regular gas was selling for $2.93 a gallon. Now there's a trip worth making!

My favorite store, esp. when gas is $2.93!!