Saturday, June 15, 2019

Travel Is a Lot Like Sex

     I just got back from a two-week trip to Las Vegas, Utah and Arizona. Our trip was part vacation, to see the sights of Zion and Bryce, and part family, to see some relatives and a new baby.

     And it occurred to me this morning that travel is a lot like sex (Don't worry, I'll keep it PG rated).

     First, there's deciding whether or not you're going to do it. We were invited out when the baby was born, last January, and we did think about going then. But traveling in January? After all the festivities of Christmas? It seemed too much. We didn't want to say no. We wanted to do it, eventually. So we teased them -- maybe we'll do it; well, not now, maybe later. And then we finally did commit, and did the deed in June. 

     B and I made sure we were traveling together. I mean, you can travel alone, just like you can have sex by yourself. But it's much more fun with another person. (I won't get into the group thing. B and I have no interest in traveling with a group. Like taking a cruise with a  group of friends? Not for us!)

     Actually, sometimes B and I will travel alone. She will make a four-day trip to Charleston to see her grandson. I typically take a little extra vacation by myself in Florida in the winter. But like I said, these are quickies. Whenever we go anywhere for any length of time, we go together.

     Then there's the anticipation. Half the fun of travel is making the plans, deciding on the itinerary, making hotel reservations, scheduling the airplane. Thinking about what you'll be doing, imagining how it will be. 

     There's also the anxiety. You have to pick the right clothes. Go to the right restaurant. Will we be able to perform? I worried about how much hiking I'd have to do at Zion and Bryce, given my bad knee. B worries about the airport and the hotels and all the connections we have to make. As it turned out, we were able to do the required minimums. I walked the flat paths and the walkways around the canyon. I didn't even try to scale the heights of Angel Mountain, or plumb the depths of Bryce's hoodoos. And B was happy that the airport, the car rental, the hotel reservations, all worked out just fine. 

     Afterwards, of course, you wonder if the reality of vacation measured up to the promise. When you're actually there, you're probably not thinking about that. But afterwards, you look back on the vacation with fondness, remembering the good parts and not dwelling on the occasional hardships or uncomfortable moments.

     Of course, there are always certain vacations when you just say -- well, I enjoyed it, but I'm not going back there again. Or you might even say ... well, that was a mistake.

     Travel is an adventure. Sometimes we do it just for fun. Or when we travel with someone, it often brings our relationship closer together. Sometimes there's a purpose. The point of our trip to Arizona was to see the new baby. Sometimes we forget that travel and babies go together.

     And then, the very next day after I got home, I began to wonder. Okay, that's done. I wonder where we should go next? Home life can be so boring. We want the next adventure. You see, travel can be addictive too!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Do You Argue About Money?

     Right now I'm in Phoenix, but I'm thinking about a time at home, about two weeks ago, when B approached me after breakfast. "I have something to ask you," she said. "It's a little awkward."

     "Okay," I replied, wondering if anything was wrong. "What is it?"

     "You have to leave the house tomorrow. Between 12 and 1 p.m."

     "Uh, okay." Now I was really puzzled. "Why is that?"

     "Melanie is coming over."

     "Who's Melanie?"

     "She's from the fabric store. We're going to talk about recovering those two chairs in the living room."

     "Ah," I said, suddenly understanding. We've been talking about those two chairs for at least a year. They seem fine to me. But B says they don't fit into our decor, and they have to be either recovered or replaced. I don't see the point. Recovering old chairs? It costs hundreds of dollars, for each chair! We certainly have better things to spend our money on than recovering perfectly good chairs that we hardly ever use.

     Which is why B is asking me -- no, telling me -- to get out of the house, and out of her way. She doesn't want me skulking around and harrumphing about how it costs too much and we don't need to do it anyway. .

     Still . . . "I have to be out of the house?" I pursued. "I can't just go upstairs, and stay there and not show my face?"

     "No. Out of the house." Clearly, she has heard enough from me. And no matter what I say, she is doing this.

     And so I went out for the afternoon. I went to the mall and bought myself a new Ping Pong paddle and had lunch in the food court. And with this scenario in mind, I thought I'd bring you some advice on how not to argue about money. Goodness knows . . . not from me. But from Jeremy Kisner, my go-to financial adviser at Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix (which is maybe why I thought of this).

     Here's what he says. And it occurs to me that his approach might extend beyond money issues and be helpful for any kind of communication with a friend or loved one:

     Money is a hot-button issue in many relationships. It's common for partners to have different spending and savings priorities, and this often leads to conflict. Usually, one partner is more focused on the present and places a higher priority on using money to have fun, buy nice things, be generous, or engage in "retail therapy" to escape stress or anxiety. The other may be more focused on the future, feeling that the most important use of money is to provide security so they will be financially independent.

     Partners often try to convince each other that their priorities are the correct way of looking at things. But this usually doesn't go well. Discussions about money often lead to arguments or uncomfortable silences. Furthermore, financial distress is often cited as the #1 cause of divorce. So instead of avoiding financial discussions, try to follow these seven tips for better outcomes:

     Start with questions. Your first instinct is probably to "tell" your partner what you want, why your priority is important. That is the opposite of how you should approach these conversations. Instead, ask a question that might start a productive dialogue. What do you think has been your best, and your worst, financial decision? What spending decisions have brought you good memories? What was money like in your household when you were growing up? The answers show you why people think the way they do, and help you better understand their financial mindset.

     Don't focus on what you are going to say. Instead, focus on listening. Good listening is a learned behavior that doesn't come naturally for most people. It entails more than waiting your turn to talk. Good listening means asking clarifying questions, even when you think you know what the other person means. Learn to pause before speaking and repeat back what you've heard.

     Find goals you both agree on. Each of you should make a list of the goals you'd like to reach. Then find common goals and agree to work toward them. Each of you needs to be willing to make sacrifices to reach the goals, and if you're initiating the conversation, you should be the first one to offer up something. Do you need to cut down on the Starbucks visits, Botox treatments, dog grooming, poker nights?

     Do not be judgmental. You may find yourself thinking, Wow, it is really stupid to spend so much on XYZ. It is completely normal to have different spending priorities, but if you're judgmental, you're going to poison the well and kill any chance of progress.

     Admit your own mistakes and regrets. The best way to prepare for this discussion is not by gathering evidence of what your spouse has done wrong. Instead, evaluate your own spending and figure out which of your own decisions turned out to be mistakes, and what changes you can make. Then you might ask if your partner has any spending habits or decisions they would be willing to change.

     Be appreciative. If your partner admits to overspending, don't pounce. Instead, be understanding, even sympathetic, and ask more questions such as: What do you think would be more reasonable? Then appreciate their answer, their honesty, and their willingness to work together.

     Agree to revisit periodically. You and your partner should meet to discuss your household budget on a regular basis, perhaps once a month. This is an ideal time to reaffirm priorities and talk about financial goals. Of course, it's always easier to avoid these conversations. But as I like to say, "A lazy man works twice as hard." In other words, a little discipline prevents a lot of future headache. Good luck with your money conversations!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

In a Canyon

     We're on a little vacation, so we drove up from Las Vegas to Springdale, UT, about 160 miles, and spent a day and a half exploring Zion Canyon. Of course, I'd left my National Park senior pass at home, so we had to buy another one. But we were happy to contribute an extra $20 to the cause of protecting the national park system.

Entering Zion Canyon
     There were a lot of people visiting the park. It made me wonder, as Annie Lowrey does in The Atlantic, if Too Many People Want to Travel. It's certainly true that the hordes of tourists from all over America and beyond tramp down and destroy some of the natural habitat.

A Flyover
     But Zion park management is very aware of the danger. Cars are not permitted beyond a certain point in the canyon. Instead, tourists take a shuttle out to the end of the road -- and then they can walk a little over a mile along the Virgin River.

A Zion waterfall
     The Riverside walk, from the end of the road, ends at a place called The Narrows. The Narrows were closed, however, since the river was high with snow melt, and there was no river bank to walk on.

Looking into The Narrows
     We spent two nights in Springdale, then drove up even more, to Bryce Canyon, which sits at 8000 feet elevation. We thought the elevation might affect us; but we were okay, just a little tired at the end of the day.

Looking across Bryce Canyon
     Bryce is in some ways even more spectacular than Zion, with its time-worn hoodoo rock formations. But the main difference in my mind is that at Zion you're below the canyon walls. At Bryce you stand above the canyon, looking down (although intrepid hikers can take paths that twist down into the abyss).

Looking into Bryce Canyon
     A lot of people have already been to these canyons and beyond, so these pictures may seem familiar to you. But to anyone who hasn't gone, I would recommend the trip. Just tread lightly, so Zion and Bryce and all our other natural resources are still around for our grandchildren to wonder at as well.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

What a Difference a Day Makes

     On Monday, Memorial Day, we watched a traditional parade that marched down the street to the historic cemetery, around the corner from our house. Then on Tuesday we hopped onto American Airlines Flight 1886 and flew to Las Vegas.

The view outside our hotel window -- we're not going to see JLow

     I admit I don't like to fly. And then American is talking about going on strike, and the weather report said there were scattered thunderstorms coming in during the afternoon . . . and yet, the flight took off on time and went perfectly smoothly. Sometimes we worry too much.

Gambling machines everywhere

     Neither B nor I is a gambler. We're spending two days at the MGM Grand. B has taken a tour to see the Hoover Dam, while I go rent a car and then spend the afternoon in the hotel's Lazy River. Tonight we're going to see Cirque du Soleil Ka.

We are going to see Cirque du Soleil

     So we're skipping most of the "charms" of Las Vegas, in favor of driving up to see the more natural beauty of Zion Canyon in Utah and the even more spectacular vistas of Bryce Canyon further up in the hills.

This is not us ... we don't really gamble
     Then it's on to Phoenix, the real reason for our trip.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

In Case You Missed the Parade

     It was Memorial Day, dedicated to remembering and honoring people who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. And it is also the unofficial beginning of summer

     The Memorial Day parade is a time-honored tradition in small towns and big cities all across the country. In case you weren't able to get to a parade this year, here are a few photos from our parade in Pennsylvania.

     There were fire engines.

     An honor guard.

     Old cars.

     And horses ... a local group works with horses and wounded vets.

     Along  with boy scouts and cub scouts, brownies and girl scouts.

     Some weird stuff, too, like this old VW bus (which if you look carefully, is being pushed!).

          A marching band.

     The Village Improvement Association supports the hospital and other health facilities in town.

     Another marching band.

     This guy on an old-style bicycle.

     A patriotic group of players.

     Yes ... a helicopter!

     A dancing troupe tumbled along.

     There's a Civil War museum in town -- Pennsylvania is rightfully proud of its role in abolition, the underground railroad and the Civil War.

     And, finally, the farmers brought up the rear.


Sunday, May 26, 2019

Hot Topic of the Week

     The hot topic among Baby Boomer bloggers this week is health, of both the physical and mental kind. Which, I must admit, is a much more positive way to approach the subject than the way I just did in my recent post The Reasons We Will Die.

     On the Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide Rita R. Robison tells us that Most Sunscreens Contain Possible Harmful Ingredients or Don't Protect Well from the Sun. She explains what ingredients to avoid, and reports that the best choices contain minerals, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. In case you can't read the fine print on your sunscreen tube she offers a link to a database listing sunscreens that meet environmental criteria for safety and effectiveness.

Good or bad?
     Carol Cassara reports that she had to take a surgical leave this past spring, and so she knows a bit about what many who are sick or recovering might appreciate. This week in her blog A Healing Spirit she offers 4 Easy, Affordable Ways to Help when Someone Is Sick.

     Kathy Gottberg says that she doesn't think of herself as an anxious person. But even so, she admits she occasionally finds her mind spinning out of control. In SmartLiving 365 she offers advice from psychiatrist Judson Brewer on Reducing Stress and Anxiety by Understanding How Our Brains Work.

     Meanwhile, for anyone facing the stress of moving in retirement, Laura Lee Carter asks: Do you like, or dislike, major changes in your life? In The Big Decision: Retirement Options she talks about how she and her husband made a big change five years ago, moving away from their suburban home outside of Denver. "It's much easier to stay in the same home and hope for the best," she concludes, "but then you will never know the rewards of moving on and choosing something completely different."

     For her part, Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting upped her game this week by beginning a part-time volunteer activity. She was recruited to be one of an elite group called Old Coots Give Advice. She and her fellow old coots encamped at the local farmer's market, where vendors sell healthful fruits and vegetables, local honey and fresh-baked breads, and they offered their wisdom on subjects from babies to bathrooms, from coffee to cooking kale.

Doggie meds
     And speaking of hot, Jennifer of Unfold and Begin recently moved to Florida. For their anniversary she and her husband decided to check out some sites. In Did I Just Swim with Manatees? she recounts her experience at Crystal River, where the manatees winter over in warm waters fed by the nearby natural springs.

     Finally, Rebecca Olkowski with BabyBoomster reports in The Joys and Challenges of Being a Doggie Mama that she is babysitting her granddog, along with two other dogs, ranging in age from 11 1/2 to 14 1/2. Because they are all considered older dogs they each have their own special food, meds and health issues. If you ask me, she's being more of a Doggie Doctor than a Doggie Mama. But regardless, she loves the work. "Having dogs to cuddle with all day long gets me through a lot of stress," she says. "Dog hugs are way better than taking a pill. And the dogs give me plenty of exercise too."

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Reasons We Will Die

     We hear about political issues on TV and read about them on the Internet and in the newspapers. Trade wars. Abortion. Inequality. Corporate greed. Socialism. Health care.

     All these are important. But they pale in comparison to other issues that are more personal and more immediate, because they are the ones most likely to kill us. I've come up with a list of the most dangerous concerns that are right in front of our eyes, the reasons why we are most likely to die prematurely. A top 8, if you will. I list them in order, counting down to the worst killer at the end -- not to be morbid, but as a warning. If we pay attention, maybe we'll dodge a bullet.

     8. Global warming. The storms are fiercer, the fires hotter, the flood waters rising. At least one scientist speculates that deadly bugs and bacteria trapped in the Arctic ice will be unleashed on humankind as the ice slowly melts. Honestly, I don't think global warming will kill me. It might kill my grandchildren, but not me.

     7. Airplane crash. I know, I know, it's supposedly the safest way to travel. Tell that to the 346 people who went down with the Boeing 737 Max. And remind the seagulls to get out of the way of the jet engines. Okay, I will probably not be killed in an airplane crash, especially since I don't fly too often. But I am flying to Las Vegas next week, and I know I'll be a little nervous stepping aboard the plane.

     6. Opioids. Again, I think the odds are with me, especially since I don't take anything more potent than Advil or Tylenol. But I realize that opioids are seductive. Probably very few of the 70,000 Americans who died of drug abuse last year ever thought they'd be a victim, either.

     5. Nuclear armageddon. North Korea. Iran. Pakistan. Russia. Islamic terrorists. Any of these people could wipe us out at any time. I wouldn't be surprised if we're exterminated in a nuclear holocaust long before global warming kills us. Of course, we've been living with this threat our whole lives. But just because it hasn't happened doesn't mean it can't happen.

     4. Gun violence. There are some 30,000 shooting deaths every year in America. More than half are suicides. I'm not suicidal. I don't own a gun. Also, I'm not African American, and for a host of reasons black Americans are eight times more likely to be killed by firearms than white people. Still ... I do go onto a college campus about once a week, and that's where some shootings occur, and so every once in a while I do think about it.

A scary sight
     3. Falling. Some 32,000 Americans die every year from falls. Guess which age group suffers the most? One out of every four older Americans falls every year -- in the shower, on the stairs, slipping on a throw rug. Not every one results in death or injury, but according to the Centers for Disease Control about 7 million older Americans are injured every year in falls, with 3 million of them showing up in emergency rooms. I try to be super careful in the bathroom. I always hold onto the banister when I take the stairs. And I have a running battle with B who likes throw rugs; but t this point the only ones in the house are in her office.

     2. Traffic accident. If boarding an airplane, stepping into the shower or walking onto a college campus makes me a little nervous, then getting into my car should fill me with terror. And sometimes it does . . . for example, when a ten-ton semi is bearing down on me at 70-some mph, or an aggressive driver is weaving in and out of traffic, or someone is tailgating me on the highway because I am only going 5 mph over the speed limit and they want to go 10 or 15 mph over the speed limit. And then I notice, while they're breaking three or four traffic laws they are simultaneously ... talking on the phone! Probably the most dangerous place any one of us goes is onto an American highway.

     1. Ourselves. I have left the most dangerous issue to the last. I know I'm supposed to eat right. But does that stop me from reaching for the sugary donut? I know I'm supposed to exercise. But does that stop me from saying to myself, Oh, I'll do it later? Or I'm supposed to read a book, or do a puzzle, or enhance my social life by going to a party. All these things are supposed to make me live longer. But instead I flop on the couch and watch a rerun of some stupid TV show I already watched a few years ago.

     Yes, we can urge the politicians to address global warming and the nuclear threat. And they should. We can urge drivers to slow down on the highway. And they should. But sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

How Do You Talk to Old People?

     B and I visited her former father-in-law last week. He's 94 years old and lives in an assisted-living facility. He's one of those rare men who outlive their wives. The two of us were bringing him out to lunch.

     Usually, when we go to see him, it's in a family group. He has three daughters (along with his son, B's husband, who died almost 20 years ago). B and I usually greet him warmly, say hello how are you, make some light, casual chat. But we don't really talk one-on-one.

     So in the car on our way over to his place, B and I discussed how we would engage him in conversation. What could we talk about that he'd be interested in?

     Two of his daughters live nearby; the third lives out west. She'd recently visited, and we knew the three daughters had recently gone to visit their old family home in New Jersey. Maybe we could get him to talk about the old neighborhood, tell us a story about the kids. Maybe he'd open up a little about his past life. It would give us something to keep the conversation going, and it might be interesting.

     So we arrived. He was waiting for us at the door. We drove over to the restaurant, helped him out of the car and settled into a table. B and I each ordered a sandwich. He went for a full, hot meal. He is used to three squares a day in his assisted-living cafeteria.

     We exchanged our usual pleasantries. We talked a little about his children, his grandchildren and now two great-grandchildren. Then I mentioned that his daughters had told us they'd visited their old home, and posted a few pictures online. So ... is that where they grew up?

     "Oh, yeah."

     "So, how long did you live there?"

     "Ah, let me think. It was my wife's house. She grew up there."

     "Yeah . . ."

     He stared at us.

     "So," B ventured, "your oldest daughter and her husband were high-school sweethearts, right?"

     Pause. "Yeah, that's right."

     Well, you get the idea. Talking about the past was like pulling teeth. I don't know if he didn't remember much, or if he just didn't want to talk about it. I thought maybe he just didn't talk very much at all anymore, living in the facility by himself, without his wife.

     But as soon as we dropped the questions about his family and moved on to the subject of the activities at his assisted-living facility, he suddenly became very voluble. He told us about his poker game, and his pinochle game, and the exercise class he takes. He waxed enthusiastically about his meals. They got a new grill in the kitchen, and he says now the pancakes in the morning are much better -- lighter and fluffier and tastier.

     So, obviously, I'm got giving any advice in this post. I'm asking for help. I remember as my own parents got older, trying to get them to talk about their younger years, but they were never really interested. I only ever got the bare outline and a few anecdotes.

     Is my experience typical? If so, how do you get old people to open up and talk about their younger years? Many of them led interesting lives, I'm sure. Maybe they were immigrants. Or they grew up on a farm. Or were in the military. They had jobs, owned businesses, lived lives that were very different from ours.

     It seems a shame to let all that history just die with them. So how do we get them to remember their stories and share them with us?

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

How to Live Within Your Means

     After we retire, we no longer get a paycheck. We knew it was going to happen, but knowing it and experiencing it are two different things.

     If you are struggling to live within your budget I've got a few suggestions that might help bring your retirement expenses into line with a more modest retirement income. (And if you have any other ideas, I'd love to hear them.)

     The most important thing, I believe, is to economize on legacy goods and services -- things you're paying for that you don't really care about anymore. For example, maybe you're still paying for a membership to a swim-and-tennis club that your kids used to use, or a gym membership that you intended to use but never did. Or, if you're like me and have remarried, you can consolidate a lot of bills -- like insurance, phone, AAA membership -- to help your monthly budget.

     Maybe you don't go to the big box store anymore, where you drop $250, and now that the kids are gone you end up throwing away half of your "bargain" purchases. And, do you really need life insurance if you don't have any dependents anymore?

     If all this seems like small potatoes, remember, one small change may not make much of a difference, but add them all up and you might be talking real money.

     I know from my own experience that if you downsize, you can sell some of the things you no longer use. Before we moved, I made about $200 when I carted several boxes of "leftovers" from our basement to the local picker's store. I could have made more if we had thought ahead and joined the neighborhood tag sale.

     Other people may have bigger fish to fry. Do you still have that old boat you bought when your kids were teenagers? Do you have an extra car that's rusting away in the driveway, or a vacation condo or time share you hardly ever use anymore? Even if your unwanted items have greatly depreciated, it's still better to have the money now rather than the headache of getting rid of it later on.

     Also, as we enter retirement we should be paying down debt not taking out more loans. There will be no more salary increases to cover those additional monthly payments. The credit card is the worst (do we all pay off in full at the end of the month?) since interest rates are high and penalties lurk around every corner. If you are running a balance, don't hesitate to call your credit company to try to negotiate a better rate. Sometimes it works!

     But we shouldn't worry too much if we're carrying a mortgage into retirement. That is the last debt to pay off. But trust me, there's no better feeling of security than living in a home that's free and clear of the bank.

     I'm not going to try to tell you how to save money when you're traveling, because I'm no expert. I don't travel that much. (But come to think of it, it's certainly one way to afford retirement -- cut down on the travel budget!)

     But I will mention something else. It's something I see all the time: Retired people still buying things for their grownup kids, or sending them a check a couple of times a year. But there's no law that says you have to subsidize their rent or pony up a down payment on a car or house. Remember the old saying about roots and wings. You gave your kids roots. Now it's time to give them wings, and let them fly on their own.

     I got this last idea at a retirement seminar I attended -- not a practical tip, but more of an attitude adjustment. One fellow stood up and told us that he retired from IBM about three years ago. He used to run a department and have people reporting to him, and he had a pretty good salary and some stock options and he wasn't shy about spending his money on a big house and three cars and a yearly trip to Europe.

     After he retired he felt like he had no purpose in life. Then he realized he had defined himself by his job -- he was an IBMer -- and in some sense he "kept score" of his life by how much money he made and how many people reported to him. Now he didn't have that anymore. He had to come up with a different way to define himself and a different way to keep score.

     Now he volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and also at the local senior center. He sold his house and moved into a condominium, and he doesn't travel much anymore. Why? Because now he defines himself as a volunteer rather than an IBMer, and he keeps score not by how much money he makes, or by how much stuff he buys, but by how many people he has helped.

     He doesn't make nearly as much money, and doesn't spend as much either. But he enjoys a closer relationship with his community. And he feels less stressed, more relaxed, and in his heart he is much happier.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Medicare for All?

     I think I'd be in favor of Medicare for all . . . if somehow we could make it work. But it's important to realize that, despite the claims of some politicians, Medicare for all is not the same as free medical care for all.

     And Medicare is not that simple. There's Part A which we get for free. That covers hospital stays and a few associated health services. However, there is a deductible of $1,364, as well as some caps on benefits.

     Part B covers, typically, 80 percent of outpatient care and medical supplies. This costs us $135.50 per month, per person -- or more. If you're single and your income is over $85,000 per year, you pay $189.60 per month. And it goes up from there, as a person's income level goes up. And Part B also has a deductible of $185 per year.

     And neither of these pays for drugs. For that we need a drug plan, which we can get through a Medicare Advantage Plan or else a supplemental Part D plan. The cost for the drug plan varies, but ranges from $30 to $40 per month and up. (Again, higher premiums begin for singles with incomes over $85,000 a year.). And the drug plan also hits us with a deductible.

     Plus, Medicare Part B only pays 80 percent of outpatient costs. For the other 20 percent we need some kind of supplemental insurance, which could be Medicare Advantage or something else. Also, Medicare does not pay for glasses, dental bills, hearing aids, non-prescription drugs. Some supplemental plans cover a portion of these costs, others do not.

     So you see, Medicare is not free. It doesn't cover everything. And it's also complicated.

     Still and all, most people on Medicare are glad to have it (I know I am) . . . because while it doesn't provide medical care for free, it does make it reasonably affordable. And besides, other medical insurance options are very limited for us since we're no longer working.

     Do you think most younger Americans would like to be on Medicare? Would they be willing to pay for it? Would they support the mandatory enrollment that would be necessary to make it viable?

     And then, what happens if people have Medicare, but they don't sign up and pay for a supplemental plan? What happens when they have a real medical problem, and their 20 percent comes to several thousand dollars?

     The obvious problem is that most people want top-notch health care, but they don't want to pay for it. The Sanders single-payer experiment in Vermont, for example, failed when people found out it would raise the payroll tax by 11.5 percent and the income tax by 9 percent.

     And a recent poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation found that some 70 percent of Americans approve the idea of Medicare for all that would "guarantee health insurance as a right for all Americans." But when the question included the reality that any new system would raise taxes, or that people would not be able to keep their current insurance or could potentially face delays in medical tests, the level of support fell to just 30-something percent.

     I hope you don't expect a simple retirement blog like mine to provide all the answers. I sure don't have them. But if you're interested, you can go on to read Bernie Sanders's Medicare for All Explained, and related articles in the New York TimesÀ votre santé!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Have You Been Surprised by Retirement?

     We can’t know what’s ahead in retirement any more than we know about our career when we take our first job. We may start out with a plan. But life happens, and then we’re in the midst of something entirely different.

     The surprises might come right away, when the reality of retirement doesn’t match up with our dreams. They may come later, after we think we’ve got it all figured out . . . only we don’t. By definition, we can’t know what surprises are in store for us. Here are a few. Have you experienced others?

     A child moves back home. No one’s surprised if a son or daughter returns home after graduating from college. The surprise comes when a single, 32-year-old son loses his high-tech job in the city, can no longer pay his rent, and moves back in with mom and dad in the suburbs. This is what happened to a friend of mine. Fortunately, after a few missteps, and a sometimes-anxious year and a half, he found another job and now he’s off on his own again.

     Where are we living now? A close friend of mine told me always figured he’d retire to Florida because, as he put it, “I’m from New York, and that’s what New Yorkers do.” He and his wife spent several years visiting various Florida communities, until one day on the way home they stopped to visit a friend in Charleston, SC. They fell in love with the city, and before the week was out they’d put down a deposit on a townhouse. Now, two years later, they love it . . . but they’re still surprised they ended up in South Carolina instead of Florida. In my own case, I retired to Pennsylvania. Why? Because my wife has relatives here, and we visited a lot, and the more we visited the more we liked it. And then, after we moved, I was surprised to find out that Pennsylvania is rated by wallet hub the 9th best state to retire in, behind Florida but ahead of South Carolina.

     The doctor calls. Probably we all get a nasty medical surprise at some point. I played tennis when I was younger and was going to become a pickleball star in retirement. But the arthritis in my knees and ankles had a different idea. So I’m playing golf instead. I don’t mind. At least I’m on my feet. Still, many people are taken aback when they discover they have to limit their activities or take medication for the rest of their lives.

     Are we going to work? A lot of people plan to take a part-time job after they retire, then are surprised to find out the workforce is not clambering for 65 year olds. I have a friend who works as a checker at the grocery store. He says he likes it, although it's not exaclty my idea of a dream job. Another friend rents out a room in her house through airbnb. My brother-in-law drives for uber. Personally, I had connection in my old company who gave me freelance work . . . until he in turn retired. Now I'm thinking of working at our local independent movie theater. But it's a volunteer job.

     Money doesn’t matter as much. Yet I find that retirement is a great leveler. Most of us expect to live on a reduced income with Social Security, some savings and maybe a pension. Our income is stable. We’re not pushing for a raise or promotion. The pressure is off. So a lot of people are surprised that success in retirement is less about how big our house is, or what car we drive, and more about having fun, hanging out with a good crowd, and leaving a legacy for friends and family.

     We can deal with all the change. I know it's sounds stupid, but it's a surprise to me that after retirement, life goes on -- meaning things continue to change. We move; we have grandchildren; our kids do something unexpectedly different. We have different friends, perhaps different interests. We realize we can cope with a lot of change and adapt to new developments. Yes, some of us are surprised that we can do this!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Going Home

     I've moved to a strange place, in a way. B and I come from the New York suburbs. When we were kids, back in the 1970s, it seemed that everyone left home as soon as they could and headed somewhere else -- Boston or Washington or at least New York City. B and I are almost unusual in that, though we both did live in New York City for a while, we moved back to the suburbs.

     Some 30 or 35 years later our kids and their friends all graduated from high school and also went off somewhere else -- first to college, then to look for opportunities in New York City, Boston, Atlanta, California, or somewhere in between. Hardly anyone stayed in their suburban hometown.

     And now, most of us parents, when we get ready to retire, start looking around for a place to relocate -- Florida, the Carolinas, sometimes Arizona, Oregon or Washington, or even overseas.

     When B and I decided to retire to Pennsylvania, I thought: Who retires to Pennsylvania?!? I even wondered if we'd ever meet any retired people. I figured they'd all left and gone to the Sunbelt.

     Boy, was I wrong. There are retired folk all over the place in Pennsylvania -- as well as the resources to cater to them. My town has a senior center. It has a Center for Learning in Retirement at the local university. There are plenty of cultural events catering to older people -- an independent movie theater, lots of mid-level restaurants, lots of churches, flower shows, a museum, an arts fair, a chapter of the senior women's social group Encore. And there's a hospital much larger than you'd expect for a town our size, along with literally hundreds of doctors doing a land-office business in colonoscopies, knee replacements and cataract surgeries.

     In turns out, according a January 2019 WalletHub report, that Pennsylvania in the 9th best state to retire in, behind Florida and Colorado but ahead of other retirement meccas like Arizona and the Carolinas.

     So we've found that the people around Philadelphia behave nothing like the people around New York (even though they are only an hour-and-a-half away from each other by train or car.) They do not leave home when they retire. And their kids don't leave either. They stay close to home, in Philadelphia, working in the city or the suburbs or across the river on Pill Alley in New Jersey (a stretch that houses a number of drug companies such as Merck and Johnson & Johnson).

     When we meet people who tell us they've moved in from New Hampshire, Chicago, California, North Carolina -- as we do -- then we find out later that they've lived and worked in Chicago or California for 20 or 30 years, but they grew up in the Philadelphia area. They wanted to come back, mostly because they still have family here.

     But where we come from in New York? Nobody goes back. Maybe because it's too expensive to live there on a fixed income. Maybe because our kids aren't there anymore. Or maybe it's because the ex-New Yorkers have established lives in their new homes and don't want to leave.

     So I wonder, is your town or city more like New York, or more like Philadelphia. Do people leave, or do they stay?

Katonah, NY
     Anyway, we finally left New York, and moved to the Philadelphia area. But now we are going back for a visit. We got an airbnb in Katonah, a typical suburban town near where we used to live. The occasion is the annual rummage sale at B's old church. She will spend three days helping to organize, arrange and sell old clothes, toys, sports equipment; furniture, kitchenware and assorted other housewares.

     B likes to volunteer and be helpful. But the real draw for B is that she gets to stand around, fold clothes, and chat with all her old friends, catching up with their kids, their spouses, their activities and comings and goings.

     Meanwhile, we'll have dinner with our old neighbors (who are both still working), and another dinner with an old friend of mine (his wife is still working). I've persuaded my son to come out from Brooklyn to have lunch. I will also play golf with three old friends at a familiar public course. The last time I played there was in August 2017, the day after we attended the funeral of a friend of ours.

     I plan to take a drive past my old homes, and maybe take a pass by the school where my kids went to high school, and the old office building where I worked for 25 years.

     It's only been two years since we left. I wonder if everything will look the same?

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Goodbye Sophie

     We didn't have too much trouble getting Sophie, our 13-year-old mixed breed dog, into the back of the car -- she just needed a little help with her back legs. She's done this many times, making trips to the vet and the dog park, and going on vacation with us. But this trip was a little different.

     When she was a puppy Sophie hated to go in the car. It would make her anxious to the point that she would begin shaking and slobbering. We'd have to lay newspaper down on the car floor just to drive her a few miles to the vet. But eventually she got used to the idea of traveling, and we once even took her with us as far as our beach vacation.

     I like to think that beach vacation was one of the highlights of her life. She took walks on the sand, and loved sitting on the deck of the beach house, basking in the sun and watching people walk and bike and drive down the beach road.

     We got Sophie when B's older son went away to college. She came as a rescue dog from the North Shore Animal League, a no-kill rescue and adoption organization. Her younger son wanted a dog to keep him company while his brother was away at school and his mother went back to work.

     Her son bonded with the dog, played with her and fell in love with her -- despite the fact that she wasn't too active, or too bright. The truth is, Sophie was the laziest dog I've ever seen. She didn't play with doggie toys; she didn't chase balls or sticks; she didn't even eat that much. Mostly, she liked to lie around and sleep, or watch us with her soulful eyes, and then ask to be petted. She loved to be petted.

On the bathroom floor
     They took her to a series of training lessons. She learned how to sit, but not much else. She refused to come. She didn't lie down or shake. She never understood the concept of heel. In fact, she didn't even like going for a walk. We had to coax her out the door, then pull her along when we walked around the block. But as soon as we turned for home, she'd suddenly move out front, now leading the way, anxious to get back to her favorite activity, which was lying on the floor, keeping watch around the house.

     Despite her poor performance at doggie school, Sophie was a well-behaved pet. She never climbed on the furniture. At night she kept watch outside our bedroom door, in the hallway or the bathroom. When a thunderstorm came, her anxiety would hit, and she'd climb into the bathtub. That seemed to give her a sense of security and comfort.

     She almost always waited until we woke up before she barked to go out. It was only in her later years, when she had some urinary issues, that she got impatient and would yelp a few times around 6 a.m.

     B's son went off to college, and then a career, but Sophie stayed at home. She was always there to greet us in the morning, and was deliriously happy whenever we came home after we'd been out ... even if only for a few minutes. She became a passable guard dog. She'd bark when anyone came to the door. But no matter who it was, after a couple of barks she would sit down and nuzzle the person's leg and ask to be petted.

     She was pretty good with other dogs, and I like to think she developed a friendship with my daughter's dog. Whenever we arrived at her house the two dogs would sniff each other and go out in the backyard together. After that Sophie would curl up in my daughter's dog's bed -- and her dog seemed okay with that, satisfied with finding a spot on the rug instead. But it was at my daughter's house that Sophie learned to eat her dinner, only because if she didn't eat right away my daughter's dog would steal her food.

     As Sophie got older she developed arthritis, like a lot of dogs do, and now for the past few weeks she couldn't get up the stairs at night. Her back legs had become too weak. But we were in for a surprise a few days ago. We had a thunderstorm during the night. In the morning we couldn't find Sophie. Finally, we looked behind the shower curtain in the upstairs bathroom, and there she was, looking at us with her soulful eyes. We helped her out of the tub and she gingerly make her way down to the first floor. That proved to be the last time she was upstairs.

     It was last fall when we noticed that she seemed to be drinking more water and peeing a lot, and maybe having a little more trouble than usual with her back legs. Her squatting looked a little awkward.

     We took her to the vet, and he thought she might have Cushing's disease, an endocrine disorder common in older dogs that would explain her thirst. He gave us some pills and suggested we come back in a few weeks.

     She did seem to get a little better, but when we went back to the vet, and after he poked and prodded her, he said we should get an ultrasound. Sophie might have a tumor. If she did, he told us reassuringly, it was likely benign, or if not, probably slow growing.

     We went to get the ultrasound, and then later another one. She did have a tumor. The vet explained that the protocol was surgery, followed by chemotherapy, but it wasn't worth it, not for a 12-year-old dog. The tumor seemed to be small and non-invasive, and we could hope that she had plenty of time left -- as much time as any 12-year-old dog.

     When we went to the Carolinas this winter, we left Sophie with my daughter, and she did okay. After we got home we took her back to the vet for a checkup. He could feel some tumor activity, he acknowledged. But she hadn't lost any weight. Was she still eating? Yes. Were there any elimination problems? No.

     So we went home, knowing that her time was limited. But then her decline began to accelerate. It soon became hard for her to stand up. When she walked into the kitchen, her legs splayed out on the slippery tile floor. We started to bring her water and food dish into the TV room so she didn't have to get up. Before long, we were feeding her out of our hand.

     B finally made the call. She told me, through watery eyes, that she'd made an appointment at the vet for the next morning.

     That night we took Sophie out for her usual evening walk. She tripped out the front door and lumbered down our short driveway and then just seemed to stand there, looking out on the street. Finally she hobbled across the street, did her business, and slowly made her way back to the house. Several times she just stopped, as if unable to go on. We coaxed her along and back into the house, where she settled on the TV room rug and went to sleep.

     And so the next morning we got her into the car. The vet had us come in the side door, where there were no steps. She made her way inside and sniffed around the floor of the office. Then we lifted her onto the table. We stroked her and petted her while the vet prepared a shot. The first one would just put her to sleep -- she'd barely feel the stick. The vet explained that a second shot would stop her heart. B and I would stay for the first shot, but not for the second.

     The vet was very supportive and made some light conversation, then pointed out that Sophie's legs were swollen -- a sign of kidney failure. We were doing the right thing.

     Sophie barely flinched when the vet stuck her back leg. She kept looking at us with her soulful eyes, suspecting nothing, I think, but we'll never be sure. We continued to pet her as her eyelids drooped and her stare became vacant.

     She's asleep, the vet told us.

     But her eyes aren't totally closed, I protested.

     I petted her some more. There was no reaction. She was clearly unconscious. And so we paid the bill and arranged to have her ashes brought back to us. It would take about a week.

     B and I drove home in silence. She called her son, who now lives in South Carolina with two dogs of his own, along with a wife and two kids. He knew it was coming. We all knew it was coming. Still, it's hard to say goodbye to a dog.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Inside Stories

     Bloggers are writers, and a number of us have published books covering some aspect of our lives, our retirements, our prescriptions for happiness. The special benefit? These are inside stories from people who have actually lived the experience.

     I wrote my own book You Only Retire Once which came out ... yikes, it's almost four years ago now, in 2015. Kathy Gottberg has published several books, most recently 2017's Positive Aging: A SMART Living 365 Guide to Thriving and Wellbeing. And Laura Lee Carter has her 2016 memoir From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado.

     Bob Lowry offers an inside perspective on his blog Satisfying Retirement. He currently has three books focusing on different aspects of retirement. They are all short, useful guides that offer basic, common-sense advice on how to make the most of this stage of life. I'd recommend them to anyone who is thinking about retirement, just starting out in retirement, or who needs a refresher course in what they should be doing, both financially and otherwise, during these most promising years.

     More recently, in January of this year, Patricia West Doyle of the blog retirementtransition published Retirement Transition: An Innovation Approach (149 pgs.). In this book the author not only tells us what we should do, but she lays out a program to lead us through the process of how to actually do it.

     During her career Doyle worked in consumer product and brand innovation. So it shouldn't surprise us that she's taken a corporate-style look at retirement. But don't be put off by this. In fact, she barely mentions the financial side of life. She focuses more on helping us define who we will be in retirement, where we are going and what we will do.

     She offers a system that first, using "How-to Cool Tools," helps us figure out what our true interests are, what values we believe are important, and what truly motivates us (as opposed to being motivated by the needs of our boss, our children, our parents). I found it helpful, in reading the book, to stop and do her exercises and answer the questions. It helps us create a real vision for our retirement -- she urges us to think of this vision almost as a brand for ourselves -- instead of just some vague notion of our future lives.

     She makes an important point. Some people know what their passion is, and they can't wait for retirement to pursue it. But a lot of us struggle to figure out "what we always wanted to do." That's okay, she says. We don't have to have a singular passion to start a rock band or save the animals or sail the South Pacific. We just have to live life according to our values, use our skills and talents, and hopefully leave the world (meaning, for most of us, our friends and family) a little better place for our being here.

     I won't summarize the whole book for you. She goes on to look at various aspects of retirement and breaks them down into relevant questions and useful details that we can apply to our own lives in a practical way. The book is a lot more in-depth than the Lowry books, for people who are ready to do the work to analyze their lives and create their future.

     Finally, Barbara Hammond of the blog Zero to Sixty & Beyond offers us Daddy Du Jour, (174 pgs.), published last month, which is not a retirement book at all. It's a memoir.

     Hammond was born in Ohio in the early '50s and grew up in a dysfunctional  family. Her father was gone. Her mother was a bi-polar, alcoholic narcissist who married six times -- although (according to the mother) none of the break-ups were her fault.

     There are a lot of characters in the book, so it might help to take notes. But it is an honest, genuine look at a troubled childhood, and Hammond offers us some great anecdotes, sometimes in her engagingly sarcastic voice -- about some creepy and sometimes violent men, about a spanking she never got, going to a Southern Baptist church, taking a strange pill.

     Despite her chaotic youth, she eventually managed to meet an honest man . . . and there is a happy ending. Who could ask for more?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Fuzzies and Techies

     In general I resist dividing the world into two distinct and opposite parts -- the rich and poor, the black and white, even the male and female -- because for the most part it's simply not true. Most of the world does not live in rich or poor countries; they live in middle-income countries. Many people, perhaps even most people, are mixed race. And as we've learned in the past couple of decades, the behavior and instincts of men and women are more similar than we once thought, and overlap more than they differ.

     Nevertheless, I do believe in one distinction. The world is indeed divided into "fuzzy" and "techie." Fuzzy people study the humanities and social sciences and they read books and go to the theater. Techies pursue math and the physical sciences, and they love numbers and tinker with machines and other hard bits.

     Today in the land of blog we have both fuzzies and techies.

     On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, crunches numbers on the latest airline quality ratings. For 2018, she reports, Delta Airlines is No. 1, and JetBlue is No. 2. Delta improved on several metrics: involuntary denied boardings, mishandled bags and consumer complaints. Airlines whose scores declined in 2018 were Alaska, American and Frontier.

     As a side note: I just booked a flight on American, only because if you want to fly from Philadelphia out west, you pretty much have to go American. Wish me luck!

     Getting even more geeky, Jennifer on Unfold and Begin wrote a post for Wordpress bloggers who are dreading the changeover to the new Gutenberg platform. In Ack! I'm Using the New WP Editor Jennifer shares how she decided to turn off the Classic Editor plug-in and learn something new. Her entire post was written using the Gutenberg Editor and she learned as she went, much like the first time she ever wrote a blog post.

     And so, as a "fuzzy" myself, can anybody tell me why they use the more complicated WordPress instead of Google's simple, easy-to-use Blogger? I don't get it.

     Meanwhile, Meryl Baer reminds us that if flying and dealing with blogging mechanics can be numbing experiences, so can driving -- whether as a driver or passenger. So the experienced traveler who blogs at Six Decades and Counting says she sometimes passes time on the road by staring out the window. In A Skyscraper Catches My Eye she couldn't help but notice a new building soaring skyward in Philadelphia.

     Laura Lee Carter is going in the opposite direction. She just returned from a birthday bash "up north," and now she shares a few observations in A Trip Up North to the Land of Cities from one who has lived in cities, but now lives in the Colorado countryside.

     Carol Cassara reminds us that emotions are infinitely more important than infrastructure. One truth is that grief is universal. We all experience it, eventually, and how it manifests itself is different for everyone. Many who experience loss find it difficult territory and seek resources to help lend perspective to their feelings. And so on A Healing Spirit she offers a list of books that help guide you through grief.

     In Malibu Seafood Rebecca Olkowski with escaped to the beach this week to cleanse away her allergies. On a Thursday afternoon she had lunch at a seafood market in Malibu across the street from the Pacific ocean. Just one of the fun things you can do, she points out, when you're retired or working for yourself.

     Finally, to put it all in perspective, we have Kathy Gottberg who reminds us in Redefining Success and Happiness in the 21st Century. that we should never be afraid to scrutinize our habits and make changes when necessary. If we aren't mindful of our own thoughts, we too often become comfortably numb to the routines that make up our lives. Central to the thought is that we can't think of success as something that can be easily measured by who or what makes the most money, gets the most "likes" on Facebook, or is most popular.

     So what is true success. What makes us happy in retirement? It's not something that can be put into numbers, or ranked in a top 10 list. It's following our own path, whether it leads us to the city or the country, the mountains or the beach . . . down the road of fuzzies or techies, or perhaps a little bit of both.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Boring but Important

     Some things in life are no fun, but you just gotta do them. Going to the dentist. Getting a colonoscopy. Making the phone call that you dread. Paying taxes. (The deadline is Monday, April 15.)

     So today I'm talking about taxes, which in my opinion are the second most boring subject on earth, behind life insurance. But like life insurance, taxes may be boring, but they are important.

     Most of us have taxes withdrawn directly from our paycheck or Social Security benefit, so we never see the money. Somehow it seems less painful that way. And then if we get a refund ... why that's a bonus! (Even though, of course, it's not ... we've just been giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan for the past year).

     It's all in how you frame things. I like the way our town does our real-estate taxes. You receive a bill in March. Instead of saying it's due on April 30, and if you're late you get a penalty, it says it's due on June 30 -- but if you pay early, by April 30, you get a discount!

     It's the same thing. But it makes you feel better. Of course, in the fine print it says "liens will be filed after 12/31" which is telling us that we don't really own the property at all. We're renting it from the local government, and if we don't pay up they will take it away from us.

     For the most part I don't mind paying taxes. It's the price of living in a civilized society. We pay real-estate taxes to educate our children. We pay Social Security taxes to finance our old age. We pay income taxes to buy tanks and guns and ... help the poor and build up our infrastructure. According to some people, we need more federal taxes to pay off the political hacks in Wash ... pay off the debt, or to pay for more infrastructure, or pay for medical care or higher education.

     So there are a few types of taxes that have been in the news recently -- mostly proposals to raise taxes -- and I just want to point out a few consequences.

     The flat tax. This would make everyone pay the same percentage of their income -- say 20% -- in taxes. Yes, the rich would pay more. But this tax is not progressive, so the rich would not pay proportionally more. Most people agree this is not fair since as you go up the income scale you can afford to pay more ... and remember, people are only paying the increased amount on the higher income. So if Ms. Moneybags makes, say, $1 million a year, she still only pays 10% on her first $9,525 of taxable income. She only pays the higher 37% on the amount above $500,000.

     Actually, the flat seems to be a way to lower taxes, and collect less money for the government, because let's face it, if you want to raise money, you have to go after the people who actually have money. You can only squeeze so much out of the middle class.

     The value added tax, or VAT. In this scheme, which you may have heard about, taxes are not collected on income. They're collected when people buy something. It's like a national sales tax. This is essentially a flat tax -- as are all sales taxes -- and so in a sense it is regressive, in that the richer you are, the less tax you pay as a proportion of your income.

     Plus, anyone who has any savings would suffer an immediate cut in their purchasing power, since that money was already taxed as income, and now it will be taxed again when it's spent. In other words, it would penalize retirees who have saved up any money outside a traditional IRA.

     Capital gains tax. Currently, capital gains on investments are taxed at a lower rate than the income people earn from working. The lower rate also applies to the qualified dividends people receive from stocks and mutual funds. Some people want to even out these rates. And honestly, I think they have a good argument. Why should working for money be penalized compared to investing for money?

     But make no mistake. While this tax would penalize the wealthy, for sure, it would also penalize retirees. Anyone who has savings in an investment outside of a traditional IRA would pay a higher tax when they cash in their stock or mutual fund, or when they receive a quarterly dividend. Unfortunately, retired people are often lumped in with wealthy people -- because we're the ones who have saved and invested some money.

     The wealth tax. Presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed a tax of 2% a year on all wealth above $50 million, rising to 3% for fortunes over $1 billion. This is a new idea. One might wonder how to collect this tax -- how does the IRS value the real estate, the art, the farming or the business interests that people own? But, really, most of us probably don't mind this tax, since no matter how anyone counts it, we don't have anywhere near $50 million.

     A higher personal income tax rate.  Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is proposing a 70% income tax rate on income over $10 million a year. There's nothing novel about this. Taxes have been higher in the past. Again, most of us probably don't care, because we can't even imagine making $10 million in a year (or at all!) But you may want to look more carefully at her idea, since as long as a tax is graduated it implies a higher income tax on people with lower incomes as well.

     Which brings up a caveat. In 1983 when Social Security was reformed, an income tax was initiated on anyone receiving Social Security benefits if their income reached $25,000 as a single and $32,000 as a couple. Back in 1983 this was a reasonably decent income -- and so one could argue it was fair to start taxing away Social Security income over those amounts.

     But fast forward to today. Social Security still taxes any income over $25,000 as a single and $32,000 as a couple. But let's face it, that's not a lot of money anymore. If those limits were adjusted for inflation, they would today be more like $64,000 for singles and $82,000 for married couples. The 1983 reform was designed to tax beneficiaries who were pretty well off. Today the consequence of the "reform" is to hit retirees of very modest means. (By the way, 13 states, from Connecticut to Colorado, also impose their own income tax on Social Security benefits.)

     So beware those income levels. If they're not adjusted for inflation, what seems "wealthy" today may not seem so flush a few years from now.