30 September 2008

Boomers on a Budget: Household Measures

There's nothing like a Wall Street meltdown to put the family budget in perspective. While a Boomer Budget could easily center on investment strategy, I'm going to assume that you are already losing enough sleep over that. I'm going to cover more mundane aspects of the household budget.

1 - Buy my large DietCoke with extra ice at Sonic only between 2pm and 4pm, when drinks are half price and therefore less than $1. I continue to tip with whatever coins are in my car (50¢ - $1, usually).

2 - Attend movies only during early-bird hours, worth a $2 discount in my town. When I go to Harkins, I carry in my "loyalty cup," through which a purchase of soda is a mere $1. (I have found myself staring at the Senior Discount lately. I'm shy a few years.)

3 - Learn to love whatever's on sale at the grocery store. Today, Kix cereal was on sale for $1.88 (as opposed to $3-something), so that was my choice instead of Rice Chex. (When I was a child, Kix was a rare treat. I expect to feel young while eating the cereal over the next several weeks.)

4 - Reduce reliance on brand names. In our household, this means letting Tom Bold do most of the shopping for staples. He moves through the grocery store quickly, focused on low prices and blind to advertising.

5 - Resist the urge to pay off the mortgage. (Well, keep making payments, please; we're all counting on that.) I'm referring to the boomer tendency to pay off the house as quickly as possible for psychological comfort. Our last mortage was by choice a 15-year commitment, and pay-off is running ahead of schedule. But the budget-conscious choice for the next couple of years is to slow payment to the actual amount due. That will make the most use of the tax deduction that the mortgage interest permits.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

29 September 2008

Boomers on a Budget: Lowering Expectations

Unrealistic expectation. Boomers of any age , but especially those on the leading edge*, have some adjustments to make in the coming lean years. That's because we thought we had already given up one luxury: retirement at age 55. Regardless of the statistics that assure that not so many people actually retire at age 55, boomers grew up with that thought in mind. People could retire at 55. It was within the realm of possibility.

But it wasn't: For most Americans, very early retirement was not a possibility. Even if a neighbor was in that happy number, we saw that person (almost always a man) "double-dipping" in a second career while drawing retirement from the military or some other "lifer" commitment; clearly, he still wasn't retired. Most Americans could not really retire at 55. We accepted that. But the damage was done: we were exposed to an idea that now makes delayed retirement in our 60s a very unhappy prospect. Whatever we expected to happen in the next 5 to 10 years is probably now not possible. The financial crisis promises lean years ahead, and that's the optimistic view.

Lowering expectations: Boomers will be budgeting and probably delaying retirement—or some aspect of it. For example, the year to sell the family home and use the proceeds for a retirement community may need to be selected very carefully. Most retirees will need to wait for the market to recover before attempting a sale. Even then, the house may not bring the profit once anticipated. Can you start imagining a different retirement?

Live like a New Yorker: I'm thinking about Manhattan, where people routinely pare belongings to the minimum in order to fit into small and shared housing. Where public transportation is the norm and private car is the anomaly. Where high costs of everything drive ingenuity and resourcefulness. Well, that's where the rest of America will turn: budgeting with ingenuity and resourcefulness.

On a personal note: The irony is not lost on me: just a few months ago, Tom and I made the decision to not move to New York due to the housing market and the many trade-offs we would have to make. We were not prepared to live like New Yorkers. Now, we're getting prepared...but we'll be living it in Texas. — Lida

*Boomers on the leading edge versus trailing edge:
Leading Edge = birth years 1946 to 1954
Trailing edge = birth years 1955 to 1964

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

28 September 2008

Financial Crisis: Seeking More Views

When I seek extra views beyond the most convenient NYTimes arriving in my email daily, I usually surf The Guardian (UK newspaper) online. Old tradition there: in the earliest years of our marriage, Tom Bold and I actually subscribed to the print version, along with the Christian Science Monitor. (No, neither of us exhibits that religion, and neither does the newspaper.)

For the current news story—the U.S. financial crisis—I surfed to another source: The Telegraph (UK). If The Guardian is liberal-centre (as the Brits would spell it), then The Telegraph is the mirror, conservative-centre. The centrist position is the modern trend but the paper's roots are in conservatism.

To share here, I settled on a commentary by Edmund Conway, the economics editor. The title is compelling, Financial Crisis: The next decade could be our very own Great Depression. Sometimes, it's easier to take in our own news with the perspective of global partners who face the same challenges. Conway self-identifies as a free-market guy, so that makes his commentary all the more interesting.

I am following two aspects of our U.S. crisis:

1) The American public predicts that a bail-out will continue (polls say 2/3 of Americans) but there's a backlash to the bail-out by a vocal minority complaining to members of Congress. The majority who expect and support a bail-out are also complaining, of course, and anyone up for re-election must deal with that.

2) Americans have a hard time imagining the future economic landscape, with or without a bail-out. We lack experience (limited to some 1980s pain), we recall the Great Depression as a remote family story, and we tend to imagine only our own immediate situation.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

27 September 2008

Finding Humor in Current Events

Every news organization knows the pull of a good story line but the goal must be to make audiences invest time in the story. Once introduced to the details, an audience returns for more not necessarily because there's any more news but because of the initial investment of time. If we go to the bother of learning names and factoids, we will then follow the story line to its bitter end. (That's probably what drove much of the coverage of the first O.J. Simpson trial.) The initial investment of time and attention cannot be predicted; some stories "take off" and others don't.

Current news stories (finance and politics, chiefly) dominating all channels have a strong story line called Our Future. We also find plenty of names and factoids to cement our investment in daily news updates. There are special challenges, though: try constructing a good story when you have to stop to define terms like derivatives. The greater challenge, on both sides of the news story, is to maintain calm and confidence.

My personal strategy is Humor ROI by Remote Control. That means:

Humor = I am placing a premium on humorous accounts of both finances and politics.

ROI = I seek a return (sanity) on my investment (time spent watching television).

Remote Control = I use the remote to flip across channels. Stewart, Colbert, and Letterman are my anchors. Their commentaries are augmented by the cable news shows, with care taken not to watch a news show in its entirety. Channel switching permits an entertaining sweep across the political spectrum.

This weekend will be a test in the power of our current lead story of the financial crisis. Almost always, the weekend provides respite from breaking news. Maybe not in this season.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

26 September 2008

Personal Technology: The Chair


Anyone keeping up with ergonomic research already knows that choice of chair ranks right up there with keyboard placement. I use 3 different chair styles for computing but the one pictured here is the best looking. And it's an award winner. It is the Cachet by Steelcase. It comes in various colors and has choice of wheels or none.

I discovered the chair in a Stanford classroom (during a conference). The speaker explained that the new high tech classrooms were outfitted with Cachet chairs, which proved popular with students. Another handy classroom feature was the ultra lightweight table that hung on the wall (with legs collapsed) when not in use. The most handy feature was the data projection software that allowed students on laptops to "push" their displays up to the main screen for everyone in the room to view.

I couldn't reproduce all those features back at my home institution, but I could start buying Cachet chairs for use by grad students in my office. I found sales via mail order, and I purchased 5 chairs over a year's time—only when the price dipped to $250. I bought the wheeled variety for the carpeted office. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm the chump using personal dollars in the workplace but when I retired I brought them home with me. And that's when I found out the most fun aspect of the Cachet: on a hard surface (see cork floor in photo), these chairs fly. Maybe that was the real source of their popularity with the students at Stanford.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

25 September 2008

Boomer Memory of Unemployment

There's a reason we're struggling with understanding the nation's need for an economic bail-out: it's been a long time since Americans experienced the type of extreme conditions that warrant such action. (It's been 75 years since the U.S. felt unemployment at 25%.)

Boomers have known inflation, stagflation, recession, boom, and bust. But for the most part, we don't understand the pressures currently on Wall Street and the economy. See chart above for the unemployment percentages boomers have known first-hand and those they've only heard about.

There is actually greater intelligence among us on the subject: some boomers in certain states remember unemployment percentages in the 1980s reaching the teens, higher than the national averages displayed above for the early '80s. But the typical boomer memory is limited to unemployment that wasn't much higher than today's. We don't share our parents' and grandparents' experience with sharp increases in joblessness.

On a personal note. I have seen a change in my investments and I have had to make an employment decision on the basis of housing costs. Daily, I am aware of the increases in gas and food costs. But I am certain I do not grasp the complexity of our financial crisis. Impending doom is still hard to get my hands around.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

24 September 2008

Salary Shock & Envy

When a friend married a tall building lawyer about 35 years ago, she told her parents what her husband's starting salary was. They were in shock. The salary bested the father's pay as a full professor at a state university. My friend bemoaned that she should have known better.

Today, older generations (that's us, baby boomers) continue to be stunned when they learn of their offspring's salary but that almost always reflects a difference in fields, a fact that often goes unnoticed. The teacher is not aware of common salaries of lawyers; a lawyer is not aware of common salaries of physicians; a physician is not aware of common salaries of consultants. The result is salary shock, akin to sticker shock.

While family members' reaction to news of salaries may remain in the shock category, coworkers' knowledge of each other's pay is more likely to generate salary envy. Awareness of other people's salaries is a well-known problematic workplace issue. Published pay scales do not necessarily bode well for collegiality and most employees take heart in the masking that emerges even when a scale exists. One can rationalize that Mr. A may have a high salary but he's been around for 30 years. And one can doubt that Ms. B is making the same because she's been on the job only 5 years. And one can simply wonder about Mr. C, whose age and tenure are well-kept secrets. Information about pay becomes fuzzy and forgotten and the workers typically like it that way.

In some workplaces, salaries are literally published every year—not just pay scales or salary ladders but actual salaries for the previous budget year. Who would do such a thing? My most recent full-time gig, a state university in Texas. The budget book was traditionally found in the campus library and more recently also distributed electronically to administrators (not to faculty). I never went to the library to visit it but that doesn't mean I didn't hear of the contents. A colleague made the annual trek and jotted notes from the big book. She would then phone me with the figures and I would listen. The first year, I actually wrote down the figures and paid a heavy price: I remembered them. In subsequent years, I intentionally did not record the information. I just let it wash over me and then let it drift from memory. Eventually, this colleague quit calling with the report. Was I still curious about campus salaries? Sure. Was I compelled to seek out the information? Nope. Being a little in the dark is sometimes very comfortable.

Another colleague at the same institution sought total darkness on the subject. Early in her career she had read the salary listings with intent interest and wrecked her sense of calm for months. In that day, it was the inequity of salaries between sexes that riled at least half the people reviewing the numbers. She made a conscious decision to ignore the published salaries. After a few years, even the curiosity dissipated. (The salary difference by sex is also diminished...but still exists.)

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

23 September 2008

Searching for Salaries

Calculating what you're worth in a job may not be possible but just finding out the general range of salaries of people already doing the work is do-able. These are the online resources I used to compare salaries for my most recent position and to help me evaluate some of the other opportunities I am now exploring.

1. General (but free) online calculator: SalaryExpert organizes data by geography and my test really did produce distinct answers for different locales (I used only the Broad Salary Range option).

2. More detailed (but still free): I found more focused data collection at PayScale and I especially like their "Confirm" options as they clarify the information entered. The interface also collects data according to number of hours per week, which is of high interest to baby boomers seeking a change in careers but not necessarily starting in a full-time position. At the end of data entry, look for the hyperlink for "No thanks...just show my salary report" if you don't want to create an account. (The account is free and anonymous; applause to PayScale for sharing the data without requiring that we become part of the database permanently.)

3. More complex (but still free): Department of Labor statistics are extensive for wage estimates. Where appropriate, estimates are broken down by hourly or annual salaries (looking at both medians and averages). I like to go through the State view, but the site allows just about any approach you can think of.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

22 September 2008

Employment: The Telecommuting Option

Like a lot of boomers in the want-to-retire phase, I am drawn to the image of the telecommute. Me—anywhere—logging in to work for conference and communication, and otherwise working solo at highest productivity and peace and quiet. I'm not trying to get out of work. I like work. But more and more I want it to be efficient and flexible. The telecommute has promise for those criteria.

Here's what I've learned so far about telecommuting:

1 - Web conferencing works. I have preferences (I like some video but not everyone has to be on camera) and a few strong opinions. Practice makes perfect; that's not a new concept. Everyone should be comfortable with several different platforms; that's a hard sell. Free online conferencing services are fine for a small number of participants.

2 - Hours must be flexible. The worker's efficiency goes up if the work can be scheduled in chunks. This is not just about the worker's peak performance time (early riser vs. midnight oil burner) but also the elimination of non-productive periods of traditional office workdays. As much as I appreciate the value of interpersonal communication among worker bees, I also know the amount of time that is wasted in many, many workplaces. Telecommuting has the potential for wiping out the time-waster activity. (I cannot promise it.)

3 - Some jobs are better suited to the telecommute than others. I'm working on this thesis: if the work involves submissions, telecommuters are the superior workers on the job. "Submissions" refers to an incoming product that must be reviewed (probably evaluated and maybe edited, too) and then either returned to the submitter or reported on to another entity. This style of work describes online education (in large part) and explains why instructors and students return for repeat semesters. The key is a well-defined process that is measurable. Not only is the telecommuter's progress measurable, but performance is, too.

The challenging part of the third point is understanding that if the telecommuter is the superior worker, then the resident worker isn't. More to explore there. Another day.

On a personal note: I am close to saying that I will only telecommute for the rest of my working years but I am cautious. Tom Bold predicts otherwise. What does he know about me that I am not recognizing? He has known me since 1970. Oh, my.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

21 September 2008

Apologetic Boomer's Lawn Care Tips


First, the apology. I must begin with my constant apology to real gardeners. I can only hope that my confessions help you to feel superior to me and thus reduce the level of offense you must feel.

Second, the underlying purpose. While most of my words will indicate a dislike for lawn gardening, it is important that I work in the yard. The activity reminds me to make the next house lawn-free. In our last home shopping we thought we would downsize but ended up with a house almost double the size and a yard triple the size. Only through continued pain will I learn the lesson and make this my last yard.

Third, the tips. My tips for other boomers who are tending their last yard:

1 - Use a mower that operates on battery power. It is lightweight compared to gas-powered machines and doesn't have the hassle of a cord that comes with electric mowers. Now, the real plus of the battery-powered machine is that it runs for only 40 minutes. That's my limit, too.

2 - Mow at different hours of the day. People who care actually track moisture content of the lawn and have reasons for cutting the grass at just the right time. My tip is much simpler: at different times of day, I find shade for every part of my lawn. I aim to be in it for most of my lawn work.

3 - When my enthusiasm for the work wanes, I remind myself that I could pay a gym for a similar amount of exercise. It also reminds of a story from a friend: "On one side of the patio door was my husband hoisting bundles of shingles up a ladder to the roof, and on the other side of the door was my son lifting weights in the air conditioned family room. Guess what I said?"

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

20 September 2008

Response to Financial News

I spent yesterday in Fort Worth. I went to a hearing on higher ed legislation (my primary lesson: hearings are for access and when no one signs up to speak in the afternoon session, then the hearing setting is just for reading newspapers).

The more interesting part of the day was a young woman's comments to me about our country's financial crisis. I didn't mean to probe but I did remark on something that I had heard on a talk show, that by November the American voters may conclude that they are picking up the tab. The woman was quick to respond, "I know that now. I can tell you what my husband and I did. We picked up the phone and changed our 401Ks from 15% to 5%. At least we'll have control over our own money."

OK. Got my attention. This is a couple in their mid 30s. I was impressed at their commitment to savings—well, up until this week. I was also surprised that they made an immediate decision about their finances based on the week's events. It's not what I would have suggested but I kept that to myself.

My own response to money management has turned to color scheme. (See my advisor's blog about this.) I won't be happy about investments for a while. But at least I'll have a pleasant palette for the report on them.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

19 September 2008

Personal Technology: Dual Monitors


Screen real estate. Business has known it for years: productivity goes up with dual monitors. This photo displays my two monitors connected to my desktop computer in my home office. The small one is 15" and the big one is 27" and I can drag browser and application windows across the divide. (A computer must have the right type of video card to support multiple monitors.)

Big text for boomers. The obvious first advantage of all that screen space is that I can increase the size of text and icons to giant if I want to. (Down side of enlargement: sometimes the visual is pixel-y, meaning that jagged edges dominate.)

Spread out spreadsheets. But the real advantage comes in being able to spread out one's work, just as if on a desk in the old days. My pattern is to place my email window in the smaller monitor, and then spread out Excel and Word on the larger monitor. Most of the time, those applications can sit side by side. Occasionally, an Excel spreadsheet runs long (meaning, wide with many columns) and overlap occurs. That's when the "windows" feature of the operating system does what it was built for. Stacked windows are easier to manage on large monitors because you can keep more of each window visible around the workspace edges.

Alt-tab through life. My favorite keyboard command is Alt plus Tab. That keeps you toggling between windows.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

18 September 2008

HIPAA: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act


COBRA, bridge with no breaks: COBRA bridges health insurance coverage from old group plan to new group plan, or from old group plan to new individual plan. It may be tempting to forego the bridge, especially if money is tight. Living with no insurance is an obvious risk in terms of immediate health care needs and it also can have long-term consequences for pre-existing conditions when the time comes to sign up for new coverage.

63 days as significant break: Boomers are old enough to remember the horror stories of people denied health coverage because of previous health problems. Our modern plans (nearly all) are covered by HIPAA as well as COBRA, and it's HIPAA that protects us from discriminatory policies or exclusions from coverage. Like most insurance rules we are familiar with, "30 days" has meaning for HIPAA but there's another time line that's important: "63 days." That span constitutes a significant break in coverage—if you go that long without health insurance, your protection from HIPAA is seriously compromised. If there's a gap between coverage (of any sort), the day count matters. So, if you reach the end of COBRA eligibility, don't allow 63 days to pass without replacing it with something, even if that's a short-term individual plan.

Taking precautions: If you use COBRA to the max and stay insured without any breaks, you'll have the best protection against pre-existing health exclusions. Hang onto all "certificates" that prove you have had coverage (insurance providers are required to send you such paperwork) and keep premiums paid. Those are the highlights but the details deserve attention, too. Find them at the Department of Labor's web page on HIPAA, COBRA, and health plan exclusions. (I have found this to be the single best web page for branching out to all these topics. But it is a long read.)

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

17 September 2008

Health Insurance: COBRA and Dependents

Member Only. Because I had no dependents on my benefits while working, my COBRA "election" is for Member Only. Just me. For the past seven years, Tom and I have maintained separate insurance coverage through our employers. But what if Tom needs/wants coverage with me while I am under COBRA coverage?

The Call to the State. This was my only reason for calling my State retirement office regarding COBRA. The paperwork was clear for folks electing coverage for existing dependents, but only mentioned "adding newly acquired dependents" in a general way. I still considered the 10-page packet highly readable and low in complexity; it just didn't answer my specific need about a dependent who might become "newly acquired."

Qualifying Events. Birthing or adopting a child is so much more obvious a case of newly acquired dependent. Getting married, too. But Tom Bold just might be my newly acquired dependent in the future. Will the end of his COBRA coverage be a qualifying event to join me in my COBRA? The State says yes, although the representative first said no and had to be prompted to go check with a supervisor.

At What Cost? At least right now and rounding the dollars for easier reading, the projected cost is for health coverage to increase from $365 (Member Only) to $786 (Member + Spouse). Dental coverage will increase from $23 to $43.

By What Means? To add Tom as a dependent, first a qualifying event must occur. In our case, that would mean his own coverage must end (meaning, end of his lay-off-instigated COBRA). I would have to notify my State office in writing and also provide proof of Tom's insurability. Then, of course, I would also have to send the additional premiums.

Projecting the Need. Because we did not plan 2008 as the Great Transition Year, we are learning about COBRA, private insurance, and retirement in general in a hurry. But I don't think we're unique. I think most boomers hit these transitions with the same level of ignorance that we have. It's not that the information isn't out there, it's that we have to reach our own "teachable moment" for the information to have meaning. So, even though I like planning and projecting, I don't fault myself for not projecting our current needs. I had to get to this point in life to feel the full impact of the information.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

16 September 2008

Health Insurance: COBRA Election Form

My State retirement system sent an intelligible 10 pages of text and forms for me to accomplish filing for COBRA. Essentially, this means that (post-retirement) I can extend my group health and dental plans for the next 18 months. Of course, I must pay the premiums: $365.48 for health, $22.52 for dental.

I say "of course," but not everyone has this requirement. My husband, in his layoff package, was granted the same 18 months of COBRA coverage, but with the first 9 months "free." The company paid the premiums. This type of support can be crucial for families during periods of unemployment; it may be more typical in large company lay-offs.

For both Tom and me, the COBRA coverage is literally extension: same plan, same co-pay, same methods. But Tom's is managed by a third party (a contracted company) and mine is managed by the State agency that oversees my retirement, too. Neither of us is yet qualified for Medicare, so COBRA is our primary protection for the nonce.

My 10-page package explained clearly that I must file paperwork in a 105-day "election period." Cost of the premiums starts on day 1 of eligibility. So, even though I could delay filing until November, I have to pay premiums from September. The self-protective system is to pay from the beginning (smallest checks to write) and I can imagine tense scenarios when retirees enter the system later and don't want to pay the previous months' premiums.

I also made a call to the State office (I'll detail it tomorrow), but it did not detract from the simplicity of the COBRA election form. I rate the current task a glorious 3. It is only that high due to the length.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

15 September 2008

Health Insurance: The Saga Begins


Transitions in employment and retirement bring lots of paperwork. Like most boomers, Tom Bold and I give health insurance paperwork top priority. That is introduction to the week. The topic: communications we are receiving about health insurance and COBRA coverage.

Title of a communication received by mail:
CERTIFICATE OF GROUP HEALTH PLAN COVERAGE

The content was not difficult. Three main concepts, paraphrased:

  • 1 - This paper proves that you had prior health insurance.
  • 2 - This could be important if your next plan excludes some medical conditions.
  • 3 - You may have to show it even if your next plan does not exclude anything.
In short, this is a paper I need to hang on to. I know that I'm going to use my COBRA option for a while, but this certificate may be needed after my COBRA coverage ends. The language and content were not problematic. But the presentation required close and repeated reading. So, the complexity of my first communication about my health insurance coverage ranks pretty high, considering it was a one-page letter.

My recommendations back to the State would be:

Readability tip #1. Concerning the title of the communication: never put that many words in ALL CAPS. Full capitalization slows reading by more than 10%. For boomers, I daresay the slow-down is even more. Unfortunately, my State retirement system starts out a lot of communications in ALL CAPS. I had to read the title of this communication several times, and that was after I realized that I had not read it at all when I opened the letter. (ALL CAPS does that to us. Sometimes we skip a line completely.)

Readability tip #2. Never typeset the crucial text of a communication in 8- or 9-point type. I cannot actually say what font the State used. It's that small. Adding to the problem of small text, the width of the text block ran as much as 121 keystrokes. The ideal length is 39 keystrokes. I had to carry the letter into bright light to focus on the very small type. And I had to read the crucial block of text several times in order to catch the full meaning because my eye could not track the line length.

Readability tip #3. Do not use a mono-spaced typeface like Courier. Proportional spacing for characters and sentences helps readers de-code the message. Mono-space typing went out with the typewriters that required it.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

14 September 2008

Internet Access in Travel

When I have the opportunity when traveling, I select hotels that offer free Internet. That's usually the budget motels, from Red Roof Inn to Hampton Inn to some Marriotts. I moan when I find a charge of $7 to $15 per day, typically at the hotels that are charging me much more for the room, anyway. OPM is a major factor: business travelers are spending "other people's money" and both they and their companies are more tolerant of the charges. Affordability is another factor: hotels add charges where they can to make a profit, and customers at higher end hotels are, frankly, more willing to pay extra charges.

All hotels are having to fund the Internet, of course. They are paying for T1 lines and we are accessing bandwidth on those lines. Over the years, more and more of us are logging on. Traffic is slower nowadays, but when it's free, we rarely complain.

About half of hotels offer wireless Internet access, which means that half are wired, tethering me and my laptop to an uncomfortable desk and chair. My work-around is to carry an airport and a CAT 6 cable; see photo above. First preference is to plug the Apple airport into an electrical outlet and the hotel's Internet cable into the airport. (Apple's product also services PCs, and there are other brands, too.) It takes a few minutes to sync, but the result is worth the wait: the airport creates a wireless network in the hotel room. If that doesn't work, I plug in my own cable, which is always longer than hotel issue and allows me to sit in a more comfortable spot. OK, in bed.

My past year's Internet accesses in travel:

Wi-fi Aruba
All-island wireless access: at my hotel, I purchased a $35/week card with a code for wi-fi anywhere on the island. I had to re-enter the code every time the laptop hibernated.

Extended Stay America - Princeton
$4.99/stay wireless. It required my daughter's assistance in set-up.

Metro Hotel - San Francisco
Free wireless, but it never worked. In early mornings I was able to work briefly courtesy of an unsecured network of a yoga studio in the neighborhood but the signal weakened with start of business day.

NYC-NJ Apartments, The Columbus building, Jersey City
Free wired, and it worked wirelessly perfectly with my own airport.

Carefree Resort & Villas, Carefree, Arizona
Part of a $20 daily service charge. Wireless access worked for both me and Tom simultaneously. On two laptops, that is.

Hyatt Place, Princeton
Free wireless, accessible by two computers simultaneously. Also the first hotel where I encountered a flat-screen LCD TV with an input for the computer.

New Yorker Hotel, Manhattan
Free wireless.

Moody Gardens, Galveston, Texas
Wireless with a charge that I don't recall but with great improvement in quality over previous years.

Hilton Hotels in New Orleans, San Francisco, and Texas
$9.95/day wireless.

Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco
Wireless. I have no memory of whether there was a charge or not. But that's the hotel that gave us free garage (instead of the usual $50/day charge) because we were parking a Prius.

Caribe Royale Resort, Orlando
$6.99/day wireless.

Chena Hot Springs, Alaska
Free wireless, but available only in the resort's laundry room. I was teaching online at the time and so I actually went daily for an hour or two. It was the warmest spot at the resort.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

13 September 2008

Beach Shoes: Boomer Woman Goes to Aruba


Which of these shoes is not like the others? Traveling to beaches means gathering the right equipment. And shoes. You get one guess as to which pair of shoes I had to borrow for last week's trip to Aruba. You get three guesses as to who provided me with said shoes.

Aruba is a hot island, out of hurricane territory. I went in the hottest month, at 93 degrees F, although that's only 10 degrees more than the rest of the year. It is low season for a bit longer, so the prices are good, at about $150/night. By resort standards, food is cheap, and so are taxis. Most tourists are couples or families, but I was comfortable traveling alone. The age range is broad, from young honeymooners to aging boomers, some of whom may have been on honeymoons, too, of course. I found myself longing for a rental car, and another week, too.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

12 September 2008

Personal Technology: The Mino


The Mino (by The Flip) is among the smallest video cameras you can pocket, literally. But it comes with a pouch and that's a more protective storage case than your pocket. I haven't used a home video camera for years (about 10). I've used them in my work in distance learning but those were expensive items that invariably involved a half-dozen people in a project. The lure of the Mino for my personal use was in its size, promised ease of use, and price.

  • My favorite feature: transfer from camera to computer is accomplished by literally plugging the camera into a USB slot. No cables. After insertion, the software to view and edit starts automatically.
  • My favorite color: isn't really white. But when I learned that the savings in choosing white was $35, well, I went for the 25% discount.

Sharing a short video is almost as easy as making one. The below video was created on the Mino this week in Aruba, transferred to my laptop, edited to get the length down to 34 seconds, and uploaded to this blog. Total time: 10 minutes. (I also converted the video to Flash using a user-friendly conversion utility. I prefer the look of the Flash file but that conversion increased file size by factor of 8, and the blog site doesn't accept SWF files, anyway.)

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

11 September 2008

Short & Long Term Retirement Solution

I've been tracking the strategies being recommended to boomers regarding their retirement monies and the #1 choice is work longer. Specifically, add 2 to 3 years to your career in order to increase savings and, especially important in the current economic conditions, to delay drawing from your 401K. If your intended retirement year happens to fall in bad times, previous projections of your retirement income may not hold up. It's a sequence risk, referring to the sequence of ups and downs in the market that can wreck your plans if you have to go through a catch-up phase at the wrong time. (And any time close to the retirement year is the wrong time.)

Further study took me to an executive summary on Social Security published by the Brookings Institution. Interestingly, the expert there also pointed to the work longer strategy, and he's talking about people who will retire decades from now. Specifically, the policy brief summary identifies mid-60s as the target age for requirement for the next generation. The brief also outlines the likeliest changes America will need to make in Social Security and retirement savings in the coming years. A reform package is possible with compromises by both conservatives and liberals. And a smart reform package will take a few lessons from other aging populations around the globe.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

10 September 2008

Longevity: Making Boomer Women's Worry More Concrete


In a previous blog I addressed the worry of a growing number of women boomers: longevity. Just to drive the point home (and explain my calendar above for 30 years from now), I'll share this online source for making your worry more concrete: Life Calculator at http://gosset.wharton.upenn.edu/mortality/second_version.html

The statisticians behind this calculator took a number of variables into account, including left- and right-handed-ness, appreciated by all us left-handers who are aware that statistically speaking we die earlier than right-handers. I recall learning of this handed-ness research as a young woman and feeling aghast that I would be shorted years of life. Over the years, the aghast-ness has dissipated, partly because I know the statistic may merely reflect a cohort effect (stats from the olden days being compared to modern times and essentially a different population) and partly because I figure I'll be ready to go a few years early.

To take a shorter questionnaire (with nearly the same result), just back up the URL to http://gosset.wharton.upenn.edu/mortality and to learn more about the academic responsible for this work, keep backing up the URL to http://gosset.wharton.upenn.edu.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

09 September 2008

Play Yard in lieu of Baby-proofing the House


Not all boomers have young children in their lives and goodness knows I have no grandchildren. But I do have occasional need for a safe place for young visitors. One in particular. We'll call her The Child Visitor.

The dome is dangerous. We have breakables everywhere and, inexplicably, artwork near the floor. (Actually there is explanation: geodesic domes have curved walls that are not conducive to hanging paintings.)

The Child Visitor must be safe or at least slowed down. The play yard does that. The photo above shows what are actually 2 play yards connected for a large space of 8' x 8' that permits adults to enter, too. Cost in 2006 was about $200. The pieces can be assembled in 5 minutes. We place the gate directly inside the front door of the house. The Child Visitor goes straight into the play yard and, of course, finds a different arrangement of toys or even a new toy each time she visits.

The floor of the play yard was not planned when I ordered the structure. I had set up the play yard for the first time and suddenly realized that while I was protecting the child from the house, I was not necessarily protecting the house from the child. So, I pulled out some mats and created an instant floor. (I have since seen a more long-term use of such inter-locking mats: a young friend in Manhattan has covered her entire apartment with them to protect both her toddler and the wood floors.)

As The Child Visitor has grown, she is not contained in the play yard, of course. But it continues to serve as her landing point upon arrival and it's a great place for her to snack. (My task is to keep it interesting so that she spends most of her visit in that space.) Since she has become a sturdy walker, we've added the dismantling of the play yard as her routine before leaving. She likes the activity and I'm hoping it will reinforce the structure as a characteristic of her visits.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

08 September 2008

Flex Work for Boomers


It's little wonder we boomers want flexible work schedules in our encore and retirement jobs—we've gotten used to flex options. More than a quarter of over-50 workers enjoy a high level of flexibility in their employment right now. For men, the figure is 28%; for women, 26%.

A little more than half have a moderate level of flexibility and this circumstance is equal between women and men. There are some workers, of course, who have few or no flex options: 20% of men, 22% of women.

The graphic above is an unofficial representation of the data. For the real chart (and link to the 2005 research), visit the web site of Boston College's Center on Aging & Work.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

07 September 2008

Understanding and Ignoring Home Equity


News of Fannie and Freddie. Weekend news is always the most interesting...if you hope to confine the damage of any announcement, you use the weekend schedule of Americans and their news outlets to good advantage. And that's what is happening with the news of government intervention to shore up both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The mortgage industry will be a bit more stable as the intervention proceeds but the overall result is much the same: housing in America is still in trouble.

For boomers actively buying or selling, the daily swing of events will be important. For boomers not in the housing market, well, we may just want to keep our heads in the sand as long as possible. That's because we are probably much happier not knowing the FMV (fair market value) of our homes today.

As we approach retirement many of us take comfort and even pride in our "home equity." Aside from providing opportunity for loans and lines of credit, home equity just plain makes us feel good. I've always got my equity in my house. We can always sell the house and live on that. And, my personal favorite, it's almost paid for.

But home equity is based on market value minus outstanding mortgage. (If you go shopping for a home equity loan, you factor in 80% to find out what the immediate cash value is.) Most of us walk around on auto-pilot with two figures in our head: what we paid for the home and the outstanding mortgage. That's not quite the same thing as market value minus outstanding mortgage.

If we have the benefit of time (not planning to sell the family home for 5 or 10 more years), we may be able to hold onto our auto-pilot figures and not calculate accurately. Even a net worth statement can keep us on auto-pilot. Only an appraisal will drive home the possibility that our home equity is less a part of our retirement plan than we thought.

On a personal note: If you happen to have a slightly different style of house, market value would have to include the possibility of a long wait for a sale. While geodesic domes are fun to live in and enjoy low energy bills, they do fall into that different category. And when economic times are tight, folks are not so charmed by different. ~ Lida

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

06 September 2008

Good PR from the Airlines

Recompense from American. I did not expect any favors after a long day on the DFW tarmac as the plane had clearly closed the doors, rolled out, and appeared ready for take-out. The delay of the next several hours just seemed like bad luck. That made American Airlines' email of this week all the more powerful.


"The delay of your flight on August 27 was an inconvenience to you (not to mention disruptive to your travel plans) and we apologize. At the same time, we'd like to offer a more tangible gesture of our concern. Accordingly, we've credited your AAdvantage® account with 3,000 bonus miles. This mileage adjustment will be visible in your account in just a few days."

Relying more and more on points. There was a time, just a year or so back, that I often made the choice of buying airline tickets with cash because I found good deals and "saving" my points seemed the better choice. Today, I rely more and more on points as the good deals dry up. This new-found appreciation for my points made the American apology with points all the more powerful! It's just plain old good PR.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

05 September 2008

Computer Size Across a Boomer's History

Personal technology. The Sociologist knows this blog includes mention of personal technology about once a week. She requested treatment of this topic: size of computers she has used.

Walking to work. Over a period of 35 years, The Sociologist (yes, social scientists use computers, too) has seen computers shrink. In her graduate school years, she walked to the computer. It was the sort that shuffled cards and, yes, it filled the entire room. Her access was in the 1970s. The computer of the 1980s was a desktop style and called a "personal computer." She still walked to it.

And then came portability: The 1990s gave us laptops and The Sociologist saw it not just in personal terms but in broader terms: "social mobility" had new meaning. She also recognized the lure of the technology as she jumped at the chance for use of a laptop by joining a pilot program at the university. As she recalls, "I would have done anything they asked."

And then came mobile computing: Today, The Sociologist computes on a cell phone. As long as she can pick up a signal, she can teach a class on the web, communicate with students via email, and even twitter.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

04 September 2008

Job Searching After Retirement

I'm reviewing a number of employment web sites that promise a focus on "seniors," retirees, and boomers in general. I'll detail more in future posts, but wanted to share this one not so much from the job angle as the information angle.

Retired Brains
http://www.retiredbrains.com/

I found myself reading the short informational pages. Yes, even the one on Arthritis Pain. But to stay focused on the work issue, check out Start Your Own Business for a nice set of web links.

On my searches of employment web sites so far, I'm finding few listings for telecommuting except for the typically spammy "work from home and earn $11,000/month" opportunities.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

03 September 2008

Insurance Gap: Retirement to Medicare

Complexity of reading material that the Bolds tackled this week to understand an option for health insurance. For more detail, see bottom of this entry.

Early retirement need for health insurance: For most of us, leaving employment means leaving affordable group health insurance and searching for a replacement policy to span the years to Medicare eligibility (age 65). With Americans favoring early retirement of 62 or even 55, that leaves a big gap in years for health coverage.

Continued employer insurance: The best deal has always been thought to extend coverage with the employer's group policy. So, we were pretty darn excited to receive news that Tom's employer, a large semiconductor company, would start offering "retiree insurance" for those not yet Medicare age. With a start date of October 1, Tom's prospect for affordable coverage looked bright. Even shining.

Groups change, premiums change: For Tom, the best deal may not come with this new offer. With numbers rounded up, his monthly premium would be $1000/month (with $500 annual deductible) or $800/month (with $3700 deductible). Cost for a spouse: additional $750/month.

Comparison shopping: The one plus from learning the figures is that Tom finally has a starting point for comparison shopping. He's still using COBRA from the employer, so there's a window of some months for comparison shopping and final decisions. Cost of understanding this baseline for comparison:
Reading time = 1+ hour
Complexity level = 4
(on scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being mind-boggling).

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.