Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Ten Commandments of Retirement

     Most of us are familiar with the Ten Commandments, even if we don’t remember them all, or follow them all. But they are universal truths, going back as far as the ancient Mesopotamians around 1000 BCE, who had laws incorporating the same sentiments as those later found in the Bible.

     The Ten Commandments may be a good place to start in advising us about any aspect of our lives, even retirement, although they have to be adapted to make sense in 21st century America. So here are the Ten Commandments for retirement, as inspired by our philosopher ancestors.

     1. Save for retirement. Most of us have Social Security, and some of us have a pension. But benefits can be changed, and besides, nobody ever promised that Social Security would provide anything more than a safety net. If you want a comfortable retirement, start saving early in life, presumably with an employer program or an individual IRA, and resist the temptation to rob your retirement fund to buy a new car or new boat.

     2. Invest your money. Experts recommend you have up to ten times your annual salary socked away by the time you retire. That’s almost impossible to do by saving alone. But if you invest early and consistently, you can grow your nestegg 5 to 10 percent a year, which is a realistic way to achieve financial security. If you're in your 60s or 70s, keep on investing, because you may have to finance another 20+ years of living expenses.

     3. Do not retire too early. Social Security offers a siren call when we first become eligible for benefits at age 62. In Greek mythology the Sirens were beautiful creatures who lured sailors with their enchanting music to wreck their ships on the rocky coast. Similarly, if you start taking Social Security early, you receive a smaller monthly income for the rest of your life, leaving you exposed to a shipwreck on the rocks of unexpected expenses.

     4. Downsize. You no longer need a big house to shelter your family. You may no longer need two or three cars to ferry the kids to school or soccer practice. So consider downsizing your home and your possessions -- especially if you broke any of those first three commandments.

     5. Eat right. When you’re retired you have more time to take care of yourself. So make the effort to buy and prepare healthful foods, and make sure to get the nutrition you may have neglected when you were too busy working and raising a family.

     6. Get some exercise. A reasonable amount of light-to-moderate exercise will extend your longevity, so you’ll be around long enough to collect on the Social Security you’ve been paying for your entire working life. Exercise also makes you feel better by improving digestion, soothing aching joints, and increasing energy levels.

     7. Hold your family close. Your kids are out of the house, but that doesn’t mean they should be out of your life. Loneliness is one hazard of retirement, so make an effort to stay close to family -- especially your grandchildren.

     8. Make new friends. Old friends will die or move away – or perhaps you will move away. Wherever you find yourself, try making new friends, for a strong social network supports both physical and mental health as you get older.

     9. Do something you like to do. Loneliness is one threat in retirement; boredom is another. So after you retire, recommit to your long-time hobby, or find a new one. Become active in your community; find a part-time job; volunteer to help those in need. Do something to make you want to get out of bed in the morning and take part in the bright new day.

     10. Make sure to . . . Wait a second. Look who I'm talking to here ... a lot of people who have more retirement experience than I do. What's your favorite retirement commandment?

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Feeling Guilty?

     Cape Cod has a fragile environment. It's just a spit of sand sticking out into the Atlantic ocean, with enough tourists in the summer, you'd think, to weigh it down and swamp it in Nantucket Sound. Hurricanes and Nor'easters have eroded some of the beaches. And since most of land mass has an elevation less than 50 feet, when the glaciers start melting, Cape Cod will be very vulnerable.

     Many people here think of themselves as environmentalists. Bicycle paths crisscross the landscape. Every town has protected some conservation land from development. People pick up after their dogs. A lot of homeowners go without air conditioning. The local ice-skating rink claims: "Our ice comes from the sun."

A windmill in Falmouth, MA
     I've actually seen a few solar farms on the Cape, which is a surprise since there isn't all that much sun here. And I've counted at least a dozen windmills spread out among the trees. There's plenty of wind on Cape Cod, and so those practical New Englanders have put it to use.

     I recall reading a book, Cape Wind by Robert Whitcomb, during one of our previous visits to the Cape. A consortium was proposing to build a wind farm out on Nantucket Sound, maybe 10 or 12 miles offshore. It would have produced almost enough electricity to replace the oil-and-natural-gas-burning electric generation plant on the Cape.

     However, the Cape Wind project ran into a lot of opposition. It would interfere with boating traffic; it would endanger migrating birds. But most of all it would spoil the view of the well-heeled waterfront property owners in and around Hyannisport.

     One opponent of Cape Wind was Sen. Ted Kennedy, who of course had a family compound in Hyannisport. Senator Kennedy eventually met his maker. But the Cape Wind project has not. While there is still no sign of a windmill in Nantucket Sound, apparently plans are still going forward for a wind farm sometime in the future.

     Meanwhile, there are already a number of windmills scattered across the landscape. So good for the Cape Codders who are progressing along the lines of clean energy, energy independence, and intelligent use of natural resources.

     But of course, nothing is ever quite so simple. Every year the town of Orleans holds an end-of-summer bonfire on Nauset Beach. It's a spectacular sight and lot of fun for the kids. But it seems like enough smoke billows out from the wood fire to cause global warming all by itself.

     I also noticed a conflicted attitude toward automobiles on the Cape. I saw many a Toyota Prius (50 mpg) and Honda Insight (40+ mpg) on the streets of Falmouth, along with other smaller cars that probably get 30 mpg. But there were also plenty of Jeeps (20 mpg), Chevy Tahoes (18 mpg), and Ford Expeditions (16 mpg).

     In other words, a lot of Cape Codders choose to ignore any warnings about air pollution or global warming, and they seem unconcerned that we derive a lot of our gasoline from the dubious practice of fracking, while we still import a lot from our frenemies in the war-torn Middle East.

     I figure, if you drive an SUV, you're a libertarian who believes that people should be able to do what they want, without restrictions on their freedom and despite any consequences to others. But  everybody, no matter what their political belief, agrees on one thing. They want to be able to drive 70 or 75 mph, not 55 mph, and they don't care that it burns up more gas that way. (A typical car engine is most efficient at around 50 or 55 mph. If you get 30 mpg at 55 mph, you will be getting about 25 mpg at 70 mph.)

     I know, I know, you're in a hurry. And gas is not that expensive. And what difference does one car make? But according to mpg for speed, if the national speed limit were set to 55 (as it was in the 1970s) it would save 1 billion gallons of oil per year.

     Of course, I'm like everybody else. I don't want to live near a nuclear power plant; I don't want anyone fracking in my backyard, and I don't want them drilling for oil in the Arctic. But I also want to be able to drive wherever I want, whenever I want . . . and not have to pay too much for gasoline.

     Most of us try to be good. As for me, I console myself that I don't drive an SUV; I drive a sedan and I don't drive as fast as many other people, so I get a little over 30 mpg on the highway. But let's face it, convenience often wins out over conscience. And I wonder. Cape Cod is a nice place to visit. But will it be swamped under water when our 16-month-old grandson wants to come here 20 or 30 years from now?

     P. S. For those who want to follow up on the topic, the New York Times Aug. 5 Sunday magazine devotes the entire issue to an article "Losing Earth" by Nathaniel Rich which focuses on the causes and dangers of climate change.