It’s Summer, now what?

When we were younger, our summers, and holidays even, were defined by the school calendar.  However, even if we and our children are long out of school, this is still a good time to practice some solid money-saving tips that will more than offset the increased utility costs.

Let’s start by ensuring that we are maximizing our comfort.  Wear light colored cotton clothing and sheets.  Ensure your ceiling fans are set to the counter-clockwise setting, this works to cool the room during summer.  Try to run your clothes dryer and dishwasher at night so that less heat is generated during the daytime.  Be sure to turn down your water heater.  Also, block the sun at the hottest part of the day with blinds.

This is a good time of year to buy fresh produce and eat plenty of salads – you will enjoy the variation in your diet and by not cooking, will limit the additional heat in your home.  On a hot summer day, nothing is more refreshing than simple water and if you want to add some flavor, squeeze a bit of lemon or add a slice of cucumber.

If you are retired, then you already know that one great way to save money on travel is by taking advantage of last minute travel deals.  Subscribe to a number of discount travel sites and have your passport handy and be prepared for some exotic travel options at a moment’s notice and at a savings.

One of the best ways to save money over the summer is by taking advantage of the numerous free activities hosted by nearly all towns and cities.  Local community centers, universities, newspapers, websites would be great resources to find free and local events.  Some public libraries will even offer free classes or programs.  Not to mention the numerous opportunities for free online classes.

This is a great time of year to work in the garden and generally spend more time outdoors.  Just bringing lunch to the park is an adventure and can make any meal feel more special.



How ready is the US compared to other nations?

There is an interesting study released this week on global readiness for retirement and aging.  It compares 14 nations in a variety of specific categories.   According to Catherine Collinson, of Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, “We can do a lot better to improve our retirement outlook, but when compared to our peers around the world, we are actually doing quite well.”  While the US is in good shape compared to other nations, that is not the only item of note in this report.

The study looked at how much is saved, how much is needed, what are the different retirement goals, level of confidence in current trajectory, and understanding and following a “retirement plan,” it also shows another interesting link.  That those that are healthier are far more optimistic about their futures.  In some ways, this is not a surprise, as health-related expenses are the single biggest expense for many.  It would make sense that those that are free of chronic or other illnesses would feel more optimistic.  However, this goes slightly beyond that.

Those that are in better health are simply more optimism about their lives.  Beginning in Part 4, page 16  of the report, you can see the detailed correlation between being healthy and being prepared for retirement.  According to the report, “Workers who engage in healthy behaviors tend to be more ready for retirement compared to those who do not. Those who report any one of the following activities (e.g., eating a healthy diet or taking regular exercise) show higher ARRI (Aegon Retirement Readiness Index) scores than those who don’t.”  The study does not say the relationship is causal, but it would make sense that those that take care of their health through a variety of positive habits would have more options in retirement and would include retirement planning as one of their positive habits.

At a time when life expectancy continues to increase year by year, I expect that we will begin to see health issues become just as important as financial issues when talking about retirement preparedness.  In fact, one of the recommendations of the study involves developing a strategy to improve your health now if needed and to maintain a healthy lifestyle as part of your retirement goals.



How housing alternatives can combat isolation in seniors

We posted recently about what a mental and physical toll isolation takes on all of us, and particularly the senior population.  Many communities offer classes that cater to the interests of seniors, others have facilities and programs designated to improve their quality of life.  Many organizations offer rides to and from medical appointments, still others deliver food and other necessities.  We even wrote recently about a senior crisis help line, Friendship Line, the only 24 hour line devoted entirely to senior citizens.  The research has been clear and we are taking notice.

A unique and comprehensive way this is being addressed in some cases is through varied housing models.  In some cases, young people that cannot afford housing, are offered subsidized housing in senior communities in return for a particular amount of time assisting and engaging with the other senior residents.  This particular model seems to be gaining ground as many countries and facilities are trying this out.  Still others are experimenting with hosting preschools in senior centers, pairing up seniors with disadvantaged youth, or simply reaching out to seniors for help in the community.  While some residents may be unable or uninterested in the distraction, it is abundantly clear that the overwhelming majority find these programs a success.

Whether it is out of financial need or for physical support, we have seen a recent trend of multigenerational households.  This goes far beyond the sandwich generation that is providing support to their parents and still raising children, or to the grown children that move back home before they enter the real world.  This is about some families making the decision to live together and share family duties as a lifestyle.  According to Pew Research, multigenerational living was at a 12% low in 1980 and a current high of 60.6 million as of 2014.  It is clear that this trend shows no signs of letting up.

Senior isolation…

Loneliness is a surprising epidemic that affects millions of people. Studies have shown that about 1 in 5 report feelings of loneliness. It’s something that affects people of every race, age, and gender, although senior citizens seem to have it the worst.

Social contacts tend to decrease as we age for a variety of reasons, including retirement, the death of friends and family, or lack of mobility. Regardless of the causes of senior isolation, the consequences can be alarming and even harmful. Even perceived social isolation, just the feeling of being lonely, is a struggle for many older people. Fortunately, the past couple of decades have seen increasing research into the risks, causes, and prevention of loneliness in seniors.

Some of the risks are linked to poor mental performance and quicker cognitive decline, increased mortality rates, higher risk of elder abuse, a major risk factor for depression, decreased immunity from disease and increase of poor habits which carry their own risks, such as poor eating, lack of exercise, decreased trust of healthcare providers, etc.  If you are wondering about how high is the risk of isolation, some researchers have found it to be more deadly than obesity.  To be specific, lonely people have a 50% greater mortality rate than non-lonely people whereas obese people have an 18% greater mortality rate than the non-obese.  

There is no doubt that isolation in seniors can be mentally debilitating, especially once their support systems begin to shrink and it seems that there is no end in sight.  Given that, it is more critical than ever that we reach out to those seniors that do not have a seemingly strong support circle.



Are we too conservative with our money once we retire?

Despite the regular and frequent calls urging Americans to save more and to get better prepared for retirement, here is a study that found that retirees are overwhelmingly not spending enough money.  Not only that, but the studies find that many Americans continue saving AFTER retirement.  It begs the question – what are we saving for?  If we are saving in order to enjoy our retirement, then why do we find that Americans begin to cut spending by about 2.5 each year starting at 60, with this trend continuing for the next 10-15 years.

According to United Income, “Adults generally die with a similar amount of wealth regardless of what age they die. For example, the average retired adult who dies in their 60s leaves behind $296k in net wealth, $313k in their 70s, $315k in their 80s, and $238k in their 90s. We also find that older Americans have been leaving increasingly larger estates over time. Estate values grew by 130 percent between 2000-2002 and 2010-2012, although the growth in investable asset value size was just 20 percent. These data suggest that wealth preservation may be more important than income preservation for retirees – perhaps because financial optimism declines as we age.”  So, what does this tell us?  It shows us that we are increasingly more pessimistic about our financial future as we age, that the fear of the unknown has resulted in an entire generation that is not enjoying retirement, rather they continue to be worried about running out of money.

We know that retirees are hoarding cash out of fear, but what are they most afraid of?  According to Christopher Browning, it is not knowing how much they can spend and still maintain their quality of life.  While no one can predict your future health or other things that may come up, it seems to be suggested that we have a “one size fits all” mentality when it comes to saving for retirement.  We are regularly bombarded with the message that we are not saving enough, that Americans are being forced to work longer and longer just to make ends meet.  While that is true for many, it is not true for everyone.  The message for a 30 year old should be distinct from that given to a 70 year old.

We are beginning to see the financial markets address the hoarding mentality of prepared retirees.  Between reverse mortgages, longevity insurance for 80+, or other vehicles that help convert a retirement account into reliable cash payments, and additional medical insurance for catastrophic expenses or long term care, there are more and more options available to today’s retirees that will give them some peace of mind about their future while encouraging them to enjoy today and spend some of their money.


So, the House of Representatives just passed healthcare reform, now what?

On the 4th of May the House passed Obamacare “Repeal and Replace” by a narrow two vote margin.  What happens next?

We all know it goes to the Senate, but what exactly does that mean.  First, it will go through Senate Committee where they will have a chance to modify or accept the entire bill as presented.  However, we already know that the Senate is working on their own version, even on Thursday a number of Republican Senators met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to discuss what they would like to see included in their version.  It is highly unlikely that the Senate version will be the same as that passed by the House.

And, if Senate Republicans pass their own version of a health-care overhaul, it will have to be reconciled with the House version, creating complications. And if getting House conservatives and moderates to pass their initial measure was a challenge, it could be next to impossible to get enough of them to sign on to whatever the Senate decides to pass.

On top of that, “Senate budget rules require a CBO score that proves the legislation will not increase the deficit after 10 years.”  So, the Senate has the task of passing legislation that will be acceptable to a majority of the Senators that also may not increase the deficit in the long term.  Forget about the fact that the House will need to vote on any bill that differs from the version they only passed by two votes.

Bottom line, Obamacare Repeal and Replace is not a done deal.  We need to keep watching this over the coming weeks.

Why pets are good for us

Ask anyone, young or old, if they think that their pets contribute to their well-being and you will get a resounding YES!  Well, it looks like science has finally caught up with what we have known all along.  Pets make us healthier, happier, more active, less lonely and stressed, have more friends, the list can go on and on.  What we don’t need science to tell us is that we love our pets and that they contribute to our well-being.

There have been numerous studies recently that tout the benefits of having a pet.  Historically, we have looked at the benefits for chronic pain to terminal illness.  The recent spate of studies shows that research is finally starting to see the benefits for all of us in all stages of life.  There was a recent feature in the Veterinary Record cites the benefit of pet ownership for many aspects of childhood development, as well as childhood autism.


There was a recent survey from American Pet Products Association which concluded that 68% of American households have a pet with most of these households considering the pet part of their family.


Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says the recent  research does not just address families or children, but that there are numerous benefits to retirees who have pets.  In a recent interview with USA Today, he listed a number of documented benefits.  From lowering blood pressure to forcing retirees to be social and exercise to companionship to someone to give your day focus, these are all benefits that come from pet ownership.  For retirees or others living alone, a pet becomes someone to talk to, to care for, to think about and someone to greet you when you come home. 


“the amendment helps us get to consensus”

Paul Ryan admitted today that the new amendment is being received favorably, but wont say how close Republicans are to the 216 votes.

The amendment to the repeal and replace Obamacare bill, introduced by Tom MacArthur (R – NJ) on Monday has taken significant steps towards a majority vote.  Today has been a frenzy of activity, with an endorsement by the conservative Freedom Caucus.  There is even support among some Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer (D-NY.)  This has proven to be a challenge for the moderate Republicans, who do not want to be left out of this major legislation as the bill gets closer to a passing vote.

It appears that there is something in this amendment for everyone.  The Conservative Republicans are in support of language that would allow states to apply for waivers for people with pre-existing conditions.  The Democrats are in support of the White House’s agreement to continue to pay for the healthcare insurer subsidies, called cost-sharing reductions, which help to make up the cost differences for lower income people.

While no moderates have switched from No to Yes as of this writing, it is clear from the activity today that the work here is not done.

What is the status of healthcare reform?

After the recent failures of the GOP attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, it is clear that the future of healthcare reform is up in the air.  Here are a few of the issues that seem to be on the GOP short list for reform.  Getting the plan paid for seems to be the priority, rather than changing coverage.  Many popular provisions are not touched by any of the popular reform proposals, including allowing children up to 26 to remain covered by their parent’s insurance, support for Medicare expansion and preexisting coverage guarantees.

One of the issues is that the GOP wants to stop the state and federal subsidies for the lowest income plan members which will make some of the plans cost prohibitive to offer.  The insurers have only two months to decide if they will continue to provide a plan in the exchanges for 2018.  If they stay in, premiums are likely to rise considerably which will result in many people to drop out due to costs.   And if they don’t, then we will see states and localities having fewer and fewer options for their residents.

Another issue is the mandate.  The reform plans all include plans to loosen restrictions on waivers for the individual mandate.  Without the mandate many who feel that they don’t need insurance would simply opt out of coverage.  Again, causing fewer people to get coverage and thereby spreading the costs over a smaller pool of people.

Bottom line is that we need to figure out how to pay for healthcare coverage.  Even the CBO has provided estimates if the current health care law does not change that indicate that our deficit will increase to over 10 trillion within the next ten years.  So, while we would love to have quality low cost healthcare coverage, we clearly have not gotten there yet.


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