Retirement Surprises: Most Good, Others Not So Much, Part III

Recently the Wall Street Journal polled their readers regarding their biggest retirement surprises. The responses were varied and expressed more joy than pain, and more satisfaction than frustration. In Parts I and II of this series I recounted a number of the good surprises. In the final post of the series I want to share some of the bad surprises.


Boomer Attitudes, top concerns as we approach our retirement
  • Most common among the bad surprises experienced by the retirees was that it was painful leaving work. And in fact, more so than expected. This idea was expressed by many and in many different ways. Several expressed missing being a part of a team at work. One expressed it this way. “It was very surprising to encounter the depth of the loss of not being part of a team doing important work.”
    Others expressed the fact that their self value and identity was entirely driven by their position. “I used to define myself by my title. I had flashy business cards, a company car, and a generous expense account. Without these, I didn’t know who I was. I felt naked.” I believe this woman from California describes beautifully what many of us felt upon leaving our careers behind.
  • One simply said that his biggest surprise was the challenge of figuring out “the Second Act.”
  • Some missed the pay aspect of work once they had retired. One in particular struck me. He filled his retired life with time with grandchildren, church activities, exercise, academic studies, reading, and walks on the beach. As perfect a picture as this is, he still really misses being paid for work.
    On this same subject, one indicated that finding a rewarding post-retirement occupation had been problematic. He expressed surprise that in spite of his very impressive resume and a somewhat aggressive search for an interesting position, there was no interest shown by the companies he approached. He assumed his age (70) was the main obstacle preventing at least some interviews.
  • Some responded that their biggest surprise in retirement was mortality. They went on to say that they had looked forward to many wonderful retirement years with their spouse. Unfortunately, however, one spouse or the other passed away far sooner than expected. One person’s advice as a result was: do not wait until retirement to enjoy life.  How sad and tragic that would be!
  • One person whose health surprisingly began to slip early in retirement advised as follows. Appreciate that every day you are probably as healthy as you will ever again be.
  • The bad surprise faced by many had to do with the cost of living. Many have been caught off guard and surprised. Different expense categories were cited. Some mentioned the cost of healthcare, more specifically the cost of medicare premiums for Part B, D, and F. Premiums in many cases are increasing by 20% or more annually. Some indicated that household expenses in general were quite a bit higher than expected.
    One respondent claimed that his living expenses in retirement were tracking at 100% of his pre-retirement expenses. For most this would be entirely unsustainable. He listed his expenses that were higher than expected: healthcare, travel, recreation, vehicle expenses, and fuel and energy. In this same vein, another individual suggested adding 10% to any expense budget you prepare because there will surely be expenses you underestimate.
  •  “Negative Dan” from Portland, Oregon reported that he has become a charter member of the over-the-hill club. He is now unattached to the business world, a retiree with a gold whatchamacallit signifying his long-term service. In his words, “sadly (he) spends his days striving to create the perception that he still has intrinsic value.” Hopefully there are only a scant few who share his view.

On a lighter note, Arthur believed that in retirement he would play golf all the time. But upon retirement he came to realize that he used to play golf to reduce the stress from work. But now in retirement he finds golf to be stressful in and of itself.

In conclusion, the content for these last three posts came from the Wall Street Journal of February 10, 2017 – “Readers’ Biggest Retirement Surprises.” Clearly for most the biggest surprises they experienced in retirement were positive ones. There are the wonderful gifts of friends and family, and better yet, the time to enjoy them. In addition there is time to focus on exercise and health, travel, and new activities or causes. For most, all of this make retirement a precious gift… even in trying times!


Baby Boomers Retirement: The Value of Time

These next tmark-ozawawo weeks I am going to be writing about two people whose stories I have come across over the last few days. The first one is particularly sad and should encourage you to really think about the value of time.

Mark Ozawa, 58, went from having flu-like symptoms this past July to losing his life from a very rare form of cancer just 116 days later. From every account he was just a very good man who was in the prime of his life. He was married for 31 happy years to Linda and had two beautiful daughters, Katie and Sara. For the last six years of his life, Mark was Executive Director of the Five Star Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort in St. Lucia, British West Indies. This is where I met Mark, as Suzanna and I have vacationed at this resort for the last 22 years.

In July when his fever, chills, and sweats persisted and local doctors noted some unusual blood test results, Mark and Linda returned to Denver, their former home, to be examined by the doctors at the University of Colorado Hospital. It took weeks of tests, biopsies, and consults by several different teams of doctors before the diagnosis could be determined. It was finally concluded that Mark suffered from the very rare cancer called peritoneal mesothelioma.

At this point (Labor Day), weeks of chemotherapy and other treatments and therapies began. But this very difficult journey for Mark was not to last much longer. Mid-last week doctors told Mark and his family that they had done everything possible for him. There is no cure for this rare, very aggressive cancer and his time was short. Indeed, his effort to live ended in the very early hours of October 29th.

Very, very sad; tragic to have such a wonderful, valuable life snuffed out so quickly and so early.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So what does this have to do with ‘retirement’? I look at everything through my retirement lens as I purpose to do my retirement well and attempt to help others to do the same. And I think there is much food for thought here:

  1. Time is very valuable, especially for Boomers, and is not to be wasted.  Every day we continue to work is one-day shorter our retirement will be.
  2. IMO decisions to continue working, or to return to work, due to financial concerns are usually bad decisions. A far better solution, IF POSSIBLE, is to come up with a plan to live off of whatever retirement income and savings we have.
  3. Many Baby Boomers are comfortable with their decision to work well into their retirement years. This is because of their uncertainty about how they will pass the time. They actually look at retirement with some dread. This is understandable, but because we cannot know how many healthy years we have, it is better to tackle the problem head on. This is the only way to maximize the quality and length of our retirement.
  4. Live for today. We are not promised tomorrow.dancing-in-the-rain
  5. And in the words of Linda Ozawa, Mark’s wife, “Experience something like this and what is important in life becomes crystal clear (can you say, family, friends, and love?). And the stuff we used to think was important becomes…..embarrassingly inane.”



Thought for the day: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning how to dance in the rain.”   – Anonymous


My Lemonade Retirement Report Card

I write this blog: Lemonade Retirement, with two purposes in mind. Number one is to talk about the financial challenges which the majority of Baby Boomers are facing, very difficult challenges, as they approach, or arrive at, retirement age. As some readers have commented, this topic can be quite depressing, so for the last several weeks I have written more on purpose number two.

The second purpose is to share my personal retirement journey. I really had no plan in place when I retired on April 9, 2015, other than a plan to be very intentional about my retirement. My goal is for these to be the best years of my life, and for the first time in my life to really “smell the roses”……. every day.

Somewhere between a B- and C+. That is the grade I would give for the retirement I have created for myself as of the seventeen-month mark.

Over the last four weeks, I have been talking about the keys to my satisfying “lemonade retirement”. Specifically, I talked about travel, family, friends, and reading. 2016 has been a great year for travel. An early trip to St. Lucia for two weeks allowed us to catch up with our St. Lucian friends. A June trip to Ovando, Montana for a week was to spend time with daughters Meredith and Alison and six of our grandchildren. July included a week at the beach (Fenwick Island, DE) with daughter Ashley, her husband Dave, and especially grandson Luke. And, of course, there was the wonderful road trip just completed  to Neebish Island on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to visit with our “new, old friends ” Steve and Anne.

Reading, as I explained a few weeks back, has also been an important part of my creating my “lemonade retirement”. I am currently in the middle of my twenty-eighth book, “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren.

While all of this is positive, it is not enough. It is incomplete. So I have work to do, answers to find. As part of the process I turned to a recent Pew research study titled “Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality”. It listed their findings as to what elements constitute a happy, satisfying retirement. They basically found that good health, good friends and financial security are the leading indicators of happiness in the retirement age population. Following are their findings:


  1.  In their words, a “good sized” nest egg provides a good start (you think?). But then they point out that while this makes one happier, after $500,000 extra happiness starts tapering off.
  2. Enough “assured income”. While a nest egg is nice, deep satisfaction comes from knowing there is a guaranteed income level coming in regardless. If social security income is adequate (which is rare), it could suffice to meet this need. Some people have pension income that meets or helps to meet this need. Others buy annuities. I would add, of course, that the key here is in one’s ability  to align their “assured income” with their spending.


  1.  Cultivate a  circle of friends. Those people who are satisfied with the number of friends they have are three times as likely to say they are “very happy” as those who did not have enough. Also, 70% believe that more time with family is one of the greatest benefits of retirement.
  2. Staying active and engaged. The happiest retirees have three or four core pursuits, which are activities or interests they are passionate about. This may or may not include working or volunteering. Interestingly, the study reports that the ideal amount of time to be dedicated to work or volunteering is 200 to 500 hours per year. But, they report, that if work is only for the purpose of income, the effect is the reverse, or negative.
  3. “This just in, seniors screw, too!” I cannot, unfortunately, take credit for that line. It was the title of an article in the Daily Beast a few years back. But the point is that recent research has found that retirees with an active sex life are more likely to enjoy a happy retirement.
  4. Maintaining good health is very obviously a key to a happy retirement. Thus, diet, exercise (particularly aerobic) and good, regular medical care should be points of emphasis. Health should be the last thing to be trifled with, but unfortunately, today the cost of healthcare causes many Boomers to delay or even eliminate care.
  5. People who attend religious services tend to be happier in retirement. Two thirds of adults 65 and older say religion is very important to them.

I like this checklist and think it provides a pretty good roadmap for creating a Lemonade Retirement! For me, the area of focus needs to be on #2 Staying Active and Engaged, as I feel that I need probably one more core pursuit. I’m just not sure what that is, but I am confident that it will become clear in the next year.

If you are retired, how are you doing and what grade would you give your retirement?


Five Reasons Why Financial Planning For Retirement Is A Futile Exercise!

At this age I wouldn’t think it would be asking too much to want to know little things like: are we financially prepared for our retirement journey? And how about, where will we be living in retirement and what will it cost? But actually, I’m not close to knowing the answers to these questions. Surprising? A guy who has worked with numbers all of his life, whose formal education was in accounting and cost analysis, and has been retired for thirteen months and hasn’t buttoned down this critical information?

Here is the problem.

10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age in this country every day and this is to continue up until 2029. 15% or maybe a few more are prepared financially for whatever comes their way throughout their retirement. They are the fortunate ones. But things are much more complicated for the rest. I would very much prefer to live a lifestyle in retirement that is similar to the one I have lived for the last thirty years or so. Although we have not lived extravagantly by any means, we have been comfortable. But it is impossible to know what retirement income and retirement assets would be required to maintain our lifestyle going forward. But actually we recognize that like so many, we may have to scale our lifestyle back by some significant percentage.

Why? The answer lies in five numbers all of which to varying degrees are extremely difficult to forecast.


Forecasting retirement income and asset balances may be the easiest of the five, but is still challenging. How much will retirement income and assets grow (nothing is growing now)? Will real estate be sold and/or purchased? Will new income sources come to fruition, either as part time or full time work or a business opportunity? Will any assets be reserved as an emergency fund?


TMaxine retirementhen comes the issue of life span. How can you know what it will cost to finance the rest of your lives if you do not know how long you will live? And obviously no one knows this answer.  Here is what we do know. Our generation is living longer than previous generations. I attended my 50th high school reunion in 2014. I was very pleasantly surprised at just how good and healthy so many of my classmates appear to be.

Those who study such things, and the financial planners who use such numbers, currently say the average life expectancy for a male is 85 and for a female is 87 years. That is terrific, but it’s just an average. Beating those averages, and certainly many will, comes with a significant financial cost. In our case, Suzanna’s mother lived nearly to 90. My mother, whose genes I seem to have, is coming up on 89 and rolling right along. So clearly, to be conservative, I would think a good financial plan for us should be based on outliving the averages (85 and 87) by eight to ten years. This would mean that we might live another twenty-five years.  Good news? Sure, but at a significant cost, and …. That brings us to the third number.


What will it cost us to live another fifteen, twenty or even twenty-five years? Come on! Who can begin to estimate the cost of living and the effects of inflation on goods and services that far out? Beyond five years who knows?

Look at it this way. Do you think prices will rise in the next fifteen to twenty years as much as they have in the last fifteen to twenty years? Why would one think otherwise?

And like it or not, government both at the federal and state levels will have a lot to say about our cost of living in the near and distant future. The American political system is tied up in knots at this point due to competing ideologies, unwillingness to compromise, and a “kick the can down the road” mentality that has prevailed for years. And this is not to mention the corruption, the greed, and the focus on the main goal of the political class: maintaining their positions.

The point here is that based upon the high cost of government, the deplorable financial condition of the country at this point and the growing demands the Baby Boomer generation will make upon the Social Security and Medicare systems from here on, clearly government policies and practices will have a significant negative impact on our cost of living. Part of this impact will likely come in the form of tax increases which may be inevitable at this point. This area scares the bejeebees out of me!


And speaking of scary, the cost of healthcare in this country is close to spiraling out of control. Recently Fidelity Benefits Consulting Group published a study which predicted that a couple going on Medicare today at age 65 will spend $245,000 for premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and prescriptions over the course of their lifetime. Their forecast is based on males living to 85 and females to 87.Maxine I say going to the Jim instead of the John

Again, my argument is: who can possibly forecast with a degree of accuracy what healthcare will cost cumulatively over a period of twenty to thirty years? Obviously living longer than 85 and 87 would increase Fidelity’s forecast. But in addition to that, as the huge Baby Boomer generation moves into their elderly years, the U.S. healthcare system will be overwhelmed. Baby Boomers will have to  bear their fair share of the costs which result. This could potentially far exceed Fidelity’s forecast, which currently breaks down to $500/month per person.


I read that more and more people plan to age in place, that is not to move into a senior living facility where they can move from independent living to assisted living to nursing home care, as needed. A plan to age in place may, or may not, be necessitated by one’s financial situation. In any event those aging in place may very possibly experience a medical situation or emergency which is totally outside of their budget and their insurance coverage. Such situations may seriously deplete, or even wipe out, their retirement assets.

Another type of emergency which may bring the same result is a special or emergency need of one’s child.

In conclusion, these five factors make developing a good, dependable, useful financial plan for retirement an extremely difficult proposition. There are simply too many unknowns in this equation! Next week I plan to talk further about this and how I am currently dealing with it.


Quote of the day:

Mark Cuban regarding the recent winning Powerball lottery ticket– “If you weren’t happy yesterday you won’t be happy tomorrow. It’s money. It’s not happiness. If you were happy yesterday, you are going to be a lot happier tomorrow. It’s money. Life gets easier when you don’t have to worry about the bills”.

Healthcare Lite Hits Baby Boomers

My last post “Retirement and Healthcare are linked for Baby Boomers” made two points. The high cost of healthcare in the U.S. is having, and will continue to have, a significant negative impact on the ability of large numbers of Baby Boomers to retire. In fact, the cost of the U.S. healthcare system is the highest in the world. The second point was that sadly though, the quality of care provided by the system is middling or worse when compared to other countries. And this point should be critically concerning to Baby Boomers who in the years ahead will become the number one population group needing to access the system for diagnoses and treatment.

Beyond the rankings and statistics cited in the earlier blog, I believe there is ample anecdotal evidence that we do indeed live in an era of what I call “Healthcare Lite”.

In about 2008 my primary care physician Dr. A. advised his patients that he was leaving the practice of medicine to join the faculty of The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. At that point I had been his patient for over twenty five years. Dr. A.,  a Hopkins-trained doctor, had provided me with outstanding care over all of that time. Every two years when I went to him for a complete physical, it was indeed complete and thorough. “Get undressed down to your under shorts and I will be back in a minute”.  He would examine me literally from head to toe, with the conclusion of the physical being the always popular digital rectal exam. Although not pleasant, since my father had prostate cancer, I was glad this was part of the exam. Next came the E.K.G. and, of course, complete bloodwork including urine and stool samples. The physical concluded with a five minute wrap up with Dr. A. From the start to finish it took 45 minutes or a little more and I never felt rushed. A couple of days later I would receive a phone call from Dr. A. to review the results of the blood work.

I have always believed in the importance of first rate healthcare. Not all doctors are good, let alone great, and I have always been aware that half of them graduated in the bottom half of their class!  As a result I went on a painstaking search for a new doctor, asking any number of friends and acquaintances if they had someone to highly recommend. Several doctors were not accepting new patients.

My search finally brought me to Dr. D.  I was adequately impressed with Dr. D., and I also had confidence in my friend’s judgement. But I was realistic in my expectations, not expecting to find another Dr. A. My physicals were definitely far less thorough. “Undress down to your underwear and I’ll be right back.”  A look into my mouth and ears, listen to my heart, and that was about it. All told at most twenty minutes, ten minutes social (the Baltimore Ravens) and ten minutes business. That plus again, the EKG and the same blood work with urine and stool samples. No digital rectal exam. My memory is clear on this. I remember thinking, “We are in the era of ‘Healthcare Lite’; thank you Lord, that I am very healthy”.  After being with Dr. D. for about five years I had a desire to make a change to a new primary care physician, as I hoped for a bit more than I was getting. So I began a new search.

This search took some time and eventually led me to Dr. E., a primary care physician in The Johns Hopkins health system. When I met him a year and a half ago for a get acquainted meeting, I immediately felt a high degree of confidence in him. Late last year, I went for my first complete physical from him, and my anticipation was high. I ended up being quite surprised. “Lie back on this table and just open your pants at the top”. What!? He felt my belly (sadly, soft). Beyond that he looked into my mouth and ears and flexed my legs, and that was the extent of it. He didn’t even listen to my heart (how could he, he didn’t have a stethoscope on him?). I guess the whole thing took about fifteen minutes, including the visit part. The blood work occurred, but there was no EKG, urine or stool sample. Oh yes, and obviously no digital rectal exam. Dr. E. left the examining room so fast, I had to ask the nurse if he as coming back; ‘no’ was the answer.

In the few minutes I did have with Dr. E. before the exam began we did have a nice conversation about all of the rules and regulations, the procedures, the documentation, the forms and the continuous changes which are part of dealing with Medicare, and to a lesser extent the other insurance companies as well. I asked him when the practice of medicine ceased to be fun, expecting him to say in the last ten to fifteen years. His answer was: with managed care. That’s more like thirty years.

When I consider the anecdotal evidence much is clear. While technology and new drugs may be advancing healthcare in the U.S., the actual practice of medicine certainly seems to be on a decline continuum. Soon perhaps there will be nothing physical about a physical, and this former staple of healthcare will just be replaced by blood work and a questionnaire.  And so this is not a critique of Dr. A. versus Dr. D. versus Dr. E., in my case. My conclusion is that you cannot be critical of the doctors for what has happened and what is sure to continue to happen. They are victims of the system as much as we the patients are. Their administration costs and time demands are through the roof, their reimbursement rates from the insurers are down, and they easily have a dozen other major issues crushing them. The old fashioned doctor/patient relationship and the practice of medicine as we formerly knew them are long since gone, squeezed out by a lack of time. And it figures to get worse, with Baby Boomers getting the brunt of it!