Tuesday, February 22, 2011
People used to work hard for most of their lives before stepping aside to enjoy the fruits of their labor in a seemingly short period of retirement. They gladly left others to fill the void their absence created – seeking the time to do what they wanted to do rather than what they had to do. Health insurance, an inexpensive benefit meant to prevent financial disaster caused by a serious health condition, was readily available at a reasonable cost upon retirement. Designed to provide a source of income that would “give back” the money workers put into it to augment the responsibilities families shared with their aging relatives, Social Security became the primary resource for many aging individuals. Employees fortunate enough to receive a pension while working often entered retirement with the thought of “living high” rather than of simply “getting by.” Others planned to fund their golden years using equity from their home. People focused more on “when” retirement was going to happen than “if” it could ever occur.
Today, things have changed. More workers are leaving the workforce than are entering it. Family is taking a diminished role in caring for its aging members, often relying upon facilities that can provide appropriate medical care rather than putting their life on hold to help a relative in need. Healthcare Insurance provides cradle to grave coverage for all conditions (or potential conditions – or lifestyle choices made to improve their perceived quality of life). Our social welfare system takes care of individuals in ways that family and/or churches once did – with the responsibility to finance these services resting upon a minority of the population to support an ever-increasing majority. Our safety net is no longer sustainable yet most solutions disqualify those that contributed most to its formation while providing for those that contributed least. People COGNITIVELY understand that saving early in life for retirement makes sense yet few young people have the PRACTICAL ABILITY to begin saving when they really should.
Are YOU planning (and saving) for retirement or are you expecting a system that faces bankruptcy to care for you? A recent survey found that the average retirement-aged American worker has savings of less than $50,000. Mortgages are upside-down for many that refinanced (or over-bought) their homes so anticipated equity is not available to help fund retirement. The cost of living continues to escalate – led by energy and healthcare. While one might be able to drive less, the cost of heating a home is unavoidable and it now costs nearly $800 per month to insure a single individual IF they are healthy enough to be medically underwritten for coverage (i.e., healthy enough that they will probably do not really need the insurance). Are you planning now to handle retirement expenses and healthcare costs on your own or are you waiting for the government to print more money to provide such programs?
What color is YOUR parachute? What are you relying upon to help cushion your landing should you choose to escape the regularity of your work world and venture into the unchartered waters of retirement? If we were to declare a “fiscal responsibility week,” would you join in to prepare for the future or sit passively on the sidelines waiting for life to happen? Make an open comment so that others might be able to learn what they can do to prepare for the future by learning from your planning today.
Monday, February 14, 2011
We often lose sight of where we are going because we focus on what we think we know. We make assumptions within relationships that tend to establish their depth and direction (whether they are personal, professional or parental). Some actions are nearly impossible to alter once set into motion so it might be wise to avoid forming opinions or setting sail upon a specific course without first thinking about what COULD BE rather than focusing only upon what we think IS or SHOULD BE.
Acting on available information without asking for clarification can often lead to disaster. Many years ago, my son found himself in a bit of trouble (after his first day of kindergarten). He had been sent to the principal’s office for “hitting another child with leaves” on his way to the school. My wife and he were discussing the issue as I came home. She could not understand why he had to go to the office for throwing leaves at someone, and he could not figure out why she kept asking him about the situation after he had clearly and concisely answered her specific questions. Her questions (and increasing frustration) focused upon the information she had available – that he had hit someone with leaves. My son was answering her questions without offering any more than asked – trying not to provide any more information than was requested. After listening for a couple of minutes to their exchange I looked at my son and asked him, “How big a stick were the leaves attached to?” Upon hearing the “right” question he brightened and made a circle with his fingers and said, “Oh, about this big, Dad…nobody asked me that!”
We often seek opinions meant only to validate our own thinking rather than trying to test and improve our thoughts. We assume that the information available to us is sufficient without seeking “the rest of the story.” We leap before we look – believing that any action is better than inaction – and find ourselves taking many wrong turns before arriving at our final destination. We could still much of life’s turbulence by digging deeper to understand more about what we think we know prior to acting – and by allowing the experience of others who already tested (and survived) our waters to guide our actions. Much can be accomplished through the collective reasoning of an invested group of friends!
Friday, February 4, 2011
OK…we have had winter for the snowmobilers, skiers and ice skaters. It was beautiful to see the earth covered with its blanket of pristine white snow, with a rare day of sunshine creating a blindingly stark contrast to our normal grey days of February. I said that I wanted one good storm before we moved on – and we had it! Let us move forward into spring and summer!
The groundhog (if he was smart) decided to stay underground rather than burrowing up through three feet of snow SO he did not see his shadow. I would guess that even the photographer’s floodlights could not penetrate the snow-covered surface. We can look forward to an early spring (which is it, winter is going to end in six weeks or spring is going to begin in six weeks – I could never figure out just what the groundhog had to do with anything!)
Birds are fluttering frantically around feeders. Do they not know that spring is just around the corner so they should not depend on us humans to feed them (since our storm has passed)? Cars seem to be nesting in mounds of snow piled up along the roadway. Do people not know that nesting is for the birds (now that spring is on the way) rather than for their cars?
Should we not begin to dream thoughts of summer now that we have had our winter storm? Is it too early to put the boat in the water? Can you build a sandcastle from snow or will the water freezing within its moat serve as a reminder we have once again rushed the seasons? Maybe I should go out to the storage barn to start the convertible! One never knows when winter will let go so we can drive through the countryside with the top down (without the heater on!).
Perhaps I will refuse to acknowledge the radio and its warnings of coming snow. After all, when have weather forecasters been right? What do they know about arctic cold fronts approaching our shores? Oh, that is right! We have no shores right now. Some foreign white substance seems to be blanketing our beautiful sandy beaches!
All kidding aside, how did YOU survive this month’s reminder that our state provides us with four beautiful seasons? Let me know what you like most (and least) about winter (now that we seem settled to have six more weeks of it!). It will give you something to do (between cleaning off the driveway and unburying the deck!).