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Don't Short Sell Life After Retirement

August 26th, 2014 at 12:45 pm

(I now blog weekly on frugal living, personal finance & earlier retirement at:

Very often, lack of money is not what keeps people from retiring. What keeps them on the job is that they are afraid that they will have nothing to do in retirement. That it will be boring. But I think that's nonsense.

Of course there is life after retirement!

Since I earlier retired some 14 years ago, most of the time I have not even had time to be bored. I've always had a new personal project in the works to get interested in. Or a trip to plan. Or a home improvement project to ramrod. Always there has been something. Usually more than one something.

I really think people who actually become bored in retirement, not knowing what to do with themselves, have sold themselves way short. They just won't sit down to look inside themselves to find the things they would like -- even love -- to do. They just won't give themselves a chance.

And that's a shame. Because they could be having a great time in retirement. Like I am.

# # #

Making Sure I Feel Retired

July 26th, 2014 at 08:19 am

Ahh, retirement. Kicking back on the porch with a book and a beverage, with nowhere you have to go and nothing you have to do. Well, it is not happening for me. I retired almost 2 years ago, and I am still waiting for that kicking back to kick in. Here is how I am handling that.

If I am going to have what I call a "free day", I have to schedule it. And then I have to impose it. Otherwise, I will just keep filling the day with chores, tasks and projects. On a day-to-day basis, I have to do a similar thing: I have to schedule free time blocks into my day or I am not going to give myself any. Thank heavens I have worked out a way to make sure I get my well earned free time!

Together, all my "work" demands could easily take over my retired life. And leave me no freer than I was when a job held me. That is where scheduling comes in for me -- to make sure that does not happen. The way I have worked it out (and it is not a coincidence), my weekly schedule includes a total of 35 task hours (five-and-a-half a day for 6 days plus a couple of unavoidable task hours on my free day). But more than double that number of waking hours are reserved for my recreation, relaxation and fun.

So I live by a weekly schedule and a check-off list of to-do's. Every Friday or Saturday, I sit down and plan the next week's schedule (after checking the extended weather forecast). Top priority is to designate a good weather day as my free day for the week, which is all mine and will for sure include a hike(1*). That done, I will note on the schedule sheet's left hand column all the tasks I should/could work on during the week. But here is the thing. That task time is limited each day to 2 time blocks: from 8:30am to 12:30pm (when any physical stuff gets done) and from 5:30pm to 7:00pm (when only paperwork gets done). The rest of every day is mine for recreation and fun.

I admit that living by a weekly schedule brings more regimentation into my retired lifestyle than I would prefer to have. But by having that structure, I make sure that I stay in control of the tasks I have to do and I also ensure that I have sufficient free time to do what I want. It is a deal with the devil that works for me.

The takeaway: Demands on your time are not all going to disappear when you retire. There are still going to be plenty of things you'll have to do that ideally you would rather not. But if you manage your tasks and your time, you can get things done and still feel nice and retired every day.

# # #

1* My Love Affair With Hiking:

Enough Time for Enough Money

July 12th, 2014 at 10:23 am

I do not want my investing work time to cut into my free-for-fun time any more than is absolutely necessary. And that means doing just enough work to generate $20,000 a year of investment income(1*). Having that as a benchmark has radically changed my attitude towards investing. It has also relieved my pressure-to-invest stress level. And it has freed up a good chunk of extra time for more fun stuff. Here is how and why.

My previous maximum-income investing attitude had become a problem. That is because I follow a dividends-focused investing strategy(2*) that does not factor in (or expect) stock price appreciation. All my income expectations are based on dividends, so to maximize that income I need to stay fully invested in dividend-paying stocks. But those stock positions get regularly and steadily sold off(3*) as the positions build up enough unplanned for gain.

Those stock sales throw off a bunch of cash back into my investment account which in the past has virtually screamed at me not to be left sitting as cash but to be reinvested as soon as possible. And that pressure to invest has been a problem because it requires that I stay on the investing job until I do find other stocks to buy with that cash.

Now I have shifted to an enough-income investing attitude. As long as the projected annual dividends from my existing stock positions stay above $20,000 that is enough. The cash in the investment account no longer exerts an urgent pressure on me to be put back into stocks to maximize dividend income. I do not HAVE to give priority to the work of applying my research-intensive investing strategy(4*). I can take my time. I can do that research and stock buying at my own pace and when I like. And that has changed that activity from being a pressure job demanding many hours a week to a relaxed and interesting hobby I do when it suits me.

This has dramatically reduced my weekly investing work time. Instead of laboring 16 hours a week (and sometimes more) to stay fully invested, I just have to put 4 hours a week into essential avoid-at-your-own-risk portfolio monitoring(5*). That is "enough time for enough money." That has given me an extra 12 hours a week to hike(6*), or blog(7*) or just play(8*). And that has reduced my stress and made my days more relaxed. All of which has left me a much happier camper.

The takeaway: Seeking to maximize income can materially increase stress and definitely reduces time available for rest and leisure. If one cannot define a specific life-enhancing use for the extra money, it could be preferable to forego the added income and thereby avoid the labor and stress of producing it. Instead, one should consider enhancing one's life by taking the increased time that would thereby become available and using it to have fun and pursue personally satisfying activities.

# # #

1* Enough Money From Enough Time:

2* Why I Only Buy Dividend Stocks:

3* What Makes Me Sell a Stock?:

4* My High Yield, High Risk Investing:

5* How I Stay On Top Of My Stocks:

6* My Love Affair With Hiking:

7* Why Share My Retirement Journey?:

8* My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:

Should I Still Work At Investing?

May 17th, 2014 at 09:47 am

Overseeing and managing my stock portfolio is just like having a part-time job.* To be sure, at $100 an hour** the pay is great. But the truth is I do not need that money*** and spending it does not come easy.**** So I have had to ask myself whether I should "quit" this part-time job and increase my time freedom even more.***** Here is how my thinking went.

My baseline living expenses would still be covered. Heck, at $18,000 a year****** my baseline living expenses get covered by my Social Security pension. And that $18,000 a year includes premiums for insurance to cover just about anything.******* So I do not need my investment part-time job to make ends meet.

I would still have extra money coming in. If I stopped putting time into managing my stocks, the portfolio would still generate a lot of dividends.******** In fact, if I did leave my stock portfolio on "autopilot" it would throw off about $32,000 a year without touching the principal. So I do not need my investment part-time job as a backup to Social Security or to have plenty of spending money in my pocket.

My stock portfolio would still be my ace in the hole. Besides the social security income and besides the stock dividends, I would still have my portfolio's principal value. At the presently accepted 4% so-called safe withdrawal rate, that principal value by itself would keep me solvent for 20-plus years. So I do not need my investment part-time job as a backup to my backup.

So why should I hang on to this part-time job?

There are 2 main reasons to stop. The first reason is that I would reclaim the 8 hours a week that the job eats up. The second -- and really the main reason -- is that I would eliminate the mental pressure that comes from always having cash from dividends and stock sales sitting in the account demanding to be reinvested. If I stopped my stock selling*********, the portfolio would remain fully invested and I would not have to constantly be looking for companies in which to invest. So I would have no reinvestment pressure and no time demand.

But there are other reasons NOT to stop. These reasons cannot be about money, because I have already decided that there is little point in more money. The reasons have to be about the doing. And it turns out I do have such reasons. Like finding the financial research and the learning about how companies operate interesting. Like finding the evaluation and decision-making that comes from that research mentally stimulating. Like finding that those profit-making sales actually feel like emotionally rewarding "scores" in some complex computer game.

So it is not just a job after all. Overseeing and managing my stock portfolio is -- almost -- a hobby. And I can turn it into an actual hobby by removing the pressure to reinvest the cash from sales and dividends. I know I can do that. So I will.

The takeaway: Work is not always just about making money. Sometimes the activity itself is part of the reward... even the main reward. A small adjustment may be all that is needed to make that work feel like it is not work. But we may have to look behind the surface to put all that together. So let's make sure we do look.

# # #

* My High Yield, High Risk Investing:

** Profiting From Working My Stocks:

*** My Six Lines of Financial Defense:

**** Making Sure I Spend That Money!:

***** Optimizing My Use of Time:

****** My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:

******* My Stash-Shielding Insurance:

******** Why I Only Buy Dividend Stocks:

********* What Makes Me Sell a Stock?:

Optimizing My Use of Time

May 12th, 2014 at 03:15 pm

We all have two core assets with which to carry out our lives: time and money. Both are limited. It stands to reason then that we can get more out of life by getting more out of our money -- and out of our time. By optimizing my spending*, I am continuously getting more and more out of my money. Doing so has made me financially independent sooner.** Now, being financially independent is allowing me to optimize my use of time so that I can get more and more out of the time I have. Here is how that works for me.

Financial freedom is time freedom. That is the biggie, of course. Not having to give up 40 hours a week to a job, plus another 5 to 10 hours a week to commute to that job, drastically expands how much time I have for me. In fact, on a weekly basis it almost doubles it from 55 to 105 available hours of personal time a week. And that brings with it a scheduling flexibility that is the key to optimizing my use of time.

Time freedom is scheduling freedom. A lot of people have to live with "Saturday slavery." Saturday is the day they can get the car's oil changed. The day they can take the pet to the vet. The day they can get their stuff taken care of. And because this is true for a whole lot of people, they all stand in line -- or sit in line -- and wait. But being financially free eliminates the need to wait and gives me all that waiting time back to use and enjoy. Simply by being able to sidestep Saturday slavery.

The same goes for the daily rush hours, as well as the Friday mega-long bank lines and the end-of-the-month jam-ups at places such as vehicle inspection stations. Having scheduling freedom means that I avoid all those waits. I get to put that time to better use.

Scheduling freedom is weather freedom. I always have good weather on my "days off" from assigned tasks. I never lose my hikes*** to rain. I never drive on icy roads, or in storms of any kind. Scheduling freedom allows me to shift my plans around any way that is needed to match my outside activities to good weather.

Time is money. And money is time. It turns out, then, that financial freedom results not just in more bang for my bucks but also more bang for my time. Optimizing the use of my time gives me more options on how to use that time. I can spend more time actually having fun. Or I can apply that time to save even more money by using it to do things like replacing the bathroom undersink pipes myself instead of paying a plumber to do it. By not having to wait in some line, the time I saved turns into more money.

OR I can use some of the extra cash in my discretionary fund**** to pay the plumber, get my pipes replaced faster, and go take another hike instead of messing around under the bathroom sink. The money I previously saved turns into more time.

It is ALL good. And it is all thanks to having reached financial freedom.

The takeaway: Reaching financial independence is not just about money. It is also about being able to give yourself the precious, priceless gift of TIME. Which means giving yourself the precious, priceless gift of LIFE. And that is worth working for... as if your life depended on it.

# # #

* Budgeting By Exception:

** My Financial Independence Key:

*** My Love Affair With Hiking:

**** A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:

200 Words A Day That (Hopefully) Matter

May 7th, 2014 at 10:55 am

One of my recent retired living pastimes has been the publication of my personal finance and retired living blog, Retired To Win. At its beginning, my blog was definitely just a nice, no-pressure part of my day. A want-to-do. But in the last month, I have seen Retired To Win morph into a semi-obligatory have-to-do, with created expectations of (1) posting a content-rich article every day, and (2) keeping that article "in front" of the SavingAdvice website via Forum postings linked back to the blog article. This now feels too much like a job. So I here is what I am doing to change things.

I want a blog so I can reach out*. I like to write. I like to get my ideas across. I like to deal with personal finance and investing topics. And I want to build a public body of work that is accessible to anyone and (hopefully) contributes valuable ideas that help people in their personal finance quests.

But I want a blog on my terms. No imposed publication quota or schedule. Not even self-imposed ones. And that is what has gone off course for me. I have taken on a self-imposed obligation to post a new article every day. And I have expanded that obligation to include the posting of Forum entries several times a day in an effort to keep a link to my blog work on the front page of the SavingAdvice website. Retired To Win has taken over my day.

So I am going back to how it was at the beginning. I used to enjoy a really nice "pre-start" to my day by doing a little blog writing over my first cup of coffee. By longhand, in pencil, on a yellow pad. I would set down 200 words and stop at the end of the next sentence. Each day, I would pick up the thread of the article where I left off the day before and do another 200 words until the article was completed. Whenever it got completed. My love of writing -- and need for self-expression -- made this ritual a positive launch of my day. And so am I making it again.

I will have a "free form" article posting schedule. My article posts will appear as I complete their drafting, editing and typing. At 200 or so new words a day, I should have at least one new article to post every week. Probably more. But even just one new posted article a week will meet my needs for publishing a blog. The body of work I want to build will accrue. And I will have my days back to live a financially independent retirement my way.

# # #

* Why Share My Retirement Journey?:

For Fun And (Maybe) Profit

May 1st, 2014 at 05:44 pm

When a person is approaching standard retirement, or is contemplating the possibility of financial independence and early retirement, there are two main questions that come to mind. One: do I really have enough money and will that money last? Two: what in blue blazes am I going to do with my time? This is so common and recognized that it has been written about numerous times. But it somehow seems different and special when it is you who are asking the questions and looking for answers.

I have been going through that uncertainty too. The money question I answered and stopped worrying about some time ago*. But the other question has been nagging me for the year I have been retired. Until now. Here is what I have learned in that year and the answer(s) I have come up with.

It is not enough just to stay busy. And, boy, have I been busy this past year. I sold two pieces of surplus real estate. I went around and around with the State of Virginia to finally get a fair settlement on another piece of property that the state's Department of Transportation partially eminent domained for a highway improvement project. I moved into a new house. I worked -- and am still working -- on getting the previous house ready for the market. And I spend some time every day managing my stock portfolio**. But it all feels like bits and pieces to me. Have-to-do's but not want-to-do's. Busyness that will settle down and not last. Not fun. Not satisfying. And you have to have something that really motivates you to keep wanting to get up in the morning when you no longer have to get up to go to work.

Hobbies and such are fine but they are not enough. I have my hiking***, my computer games****, my history reading***** and my movies. (Oh, and this blog!) But all these activities have been in the nature of pastimes. That word says it all. I am passing the time. Which is another way of saying that time is passing me by. I am having fun, yes, but I need more.

That is the allure of the second career or the startup business. Expert after expert tells us to have something to retire to. Take up that latent interest in painting, or photography, or writing, or whatever and pursue it as an encore career. Take your love for cooking, or baking or quilting or whatever and turn it into a retirement business. Whatever it is, the key is this: you do not need to do it for the money. You do it because you love it and it fills you up. If money comes from it great; but if not it does not matter. It is the doing that matters. Lots of retirees are finding that to be their answer. And -- I think -- that is my answer too.

So I am starting a part-time business based on hiking. Its core will be a monetized blog. Its business model will be membership benefits based. It will give focus and purpose to my hiking, my photography, and my writing. It will bring to bear all the business building skills I developed during my working career. It will overcome my resistance to spend my money****** by making its spending on equipment and on travel investments necessary for the operation of the business. It will push me to do even more hiking and more hiking trips. It will crank me up!

# # #

* My Six Lines of Financial Defense:

** How I Stay On Top Of My Stocks:

*** My Love Affair With Hiking:

**** My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:

***** Time Traveling With History Books:

****** Making Sure I Spend That Money!:

Packrating is Costing Me Plenty

April 30th, 2014 at 09:52 am

The office chair I replaced last year. The sofa we have no place for. The box of pants too big for me. The bin of extra cast iron skillets we are never going to use. And lots more. At last count, over 200 boxes and 31 pieces of furniture occupy our two-car garage and our 400-square-foot outbuilding. Here is what they are costing me -- and what I should do about it.

I cannot set up my workshop. That is what one half of the garage is supposed to be. But there is just no room. My table saws and workbenches are jammed into a corner and inaccessible. There isn't one clear working surface in the whole place. All those pieces of unwanted and unneeded furniture have taken over.

We cannot put our outbuilding to good use. It is a spacious 20 x 20 foot metal building with an overhead door. It could become part pottery studio, part astronomy station, part hiking hangout, part something else. But not until and unless we stop using it as storage for those 200-plus boxes.

We cannot make ourselves throw the stuff away. That office chair might sell for 20 bucks. Some of those pants still have their tags. Cast iron skillets go for $10 and up each at second-hand stores. Almost all of it could be worth some money. And even though we do not need the money -- and could even say we might never use the money* -- we cannot make ourselves throw or give the stuff away. It would be unfrugal, I say. It would be a big waste, she says. And so the stuff remains -- and we do not get to use our spaces as we would prefer.

Sell, donate, discard. The solution is obvious. But neither of us is putting in the time or effort to make it happen. Yet it has to be done if we are ever to reclaim our spaces. So I am going to apply my time planning (obsessive) habit** to the problem and chip away at "the pile" one box at a time, one furniture item at a time.

I am going public to make myself accountable. I am going to set up a page on my blog sidebar where I will keep a countdown list of the stuff and document my decluttering progress -- or lack of it -- on a weekly basis. And I will do a weekly forum post where I will make sure I keep this out in the open for other people to cheer me on or slap me upside the head if need be.

One way or another, I am going to lick this. I have to.

# # #

* Making Sure I Spend That Money!:

** Making Time For Fun:

What My Pets Really Cost Me

April 21st, 2014 at 05:11 am

We have had as many as 18 cats and 3 dogs at a time. Plus 4 parrots and a dozen geese. So I am no stranger to the expense of feeding and housing a large number of animal companions. But the financial cost of sharing our home with a bunch of furry and feathered creatures has never really bothered me. It is how these little guys tie me down that gets to me. Here is what I mean.

We did not set out to have a houseful of pets. The number just grew, one rescued stray at a time. And, once adopted, they were all ours to care about and care for. The expense of that either falls under the baseline budget* or spills over into the discretionary fund**. Thankfully, one way or another the money is there. And "the unexpecteds" have certainly called for it.

Like the time we moved from Florida to Maryland and rented a second separate airconditioned truck to move our menagerie 1000-plus miles. Like the time our over-complaining neighbors drove us to build an enclosed 225-square-foot deckroom to give our previously free-ranging cats a good place in which to be house cats without getting our house all peed up. Or like the extended period during which I ran a daily medication clinic for pets with diabetic, thyroid, respiratory and other chronic ailments. But I have always managed to take that type of thing in stride. Not so much the limits my furry and feathered friends impose on my travel freedom.

That is my real problem: constraints on our ability to plan and take trips. Not many pet sitters are willing to tackle 20-plus pets at a time -- including hard-to-handle parrots. Plus geriatric dogs that won't necessarily wait for the pet sitter to do their business. And geese that must be herded into a protective shed at dusk and let back out the next morning. IF a pet sitter can be found, it adds $50 to $60 a day to the cost of a trip. If a pet sitter cannot be found, it is worse because then we have a problem that money will not solve.

So it is a good thing that I was there to look after all these critters when my wife had to go, without advance warning, on a 3-week trip last Fall to care for ailing family. When I had to do the same thing a couple of months later, it was likewise a good thing that my wife was there to provide for our pets.

But this travel limitation is a real thorn in my side. I do not like the constraints it puts on my freedom to enjoy my financial independence. But I love the little poopyheads -- so I will just have to buck up, live with it and stop complaining.

# # #

* My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:

** A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:

Ditch Digging At 65: Frugal or Cheap?

April 18th, 2014 at 03:44 am

The 65-year old was me. The ditch was a 100-foot long, 15-inch deep, 2-foot wide trench for a French drain to be installed along the back of my house. Twenty bucks an hour is what it would have cost me to have a handyman do the digging. So the question to ask myself (and you) is whether I was nuts to dig the trench myself. Here is what you need to know to decide.

My wife and I worked on the trench together. I swung a pickax to break up the hard-clay ground and she shoveled out the dirt. We dug out the trench in a total of 10 hours over the course of 2 Saturdays. Needless to say, after each digging session we were used up for the day, the balance of which was spent going out for a "reward late lunch" followed by DVD movie watching on the couch. We were tired, but not so much as to be muscle sore the next day.

Altogether it took us 20 man/woman hours to dig out the trench. Figuring that a younger (and fitter?) handyman would have been at least 20% faster than we were, we could have hired out the work for a total cost of $400. So we saved $20 for each hour that my wife and I individually put into digging that ditch instead of putting that time into going out to have fun somewhere.

Could we actually afford the handyman? Yes. In addition to having a home improvement fund holding over $20,000 at the time, we had a net positive household cash flow after basic living expenses of $2500 per month.* So a lack of money was not the reason for all that DIY digging.

What was the reason? Responsible frugality? Overboard "scroogerism"? Not wanting to pay for something we could do ourselves with tools at hand and no special skills required? And should I be regretting "burning up" two Saturdays to do the digging -- or be glad to have that $400 still in our pockets to do something else?

What really bothers me is the loss of the 2 Saturdays. We swung that pick and that shovel for 5 hours each day -- swung them until we were too tired to dig any more or do anything else. So both days went to nothing but the trench digging. At $100 per man/woman day, I would buy back those days in a New York minute. Those 2 days were worth more than $100 each to me. Much more.

I would feel differently if I had been able to do something substantial "for me" with part of each of those days. If we had limited our trench digging to 2 hours a day, we would have had enough time (and energy!) left to go somewhere and do something. And we would have had $80 "found money" (4 man/woman digging hours for the day at $20 per hour) with which to do that something.

So that is the deal I am making with myself from now on. The time I spend each day on obligatory tasks and non-fun projects will be limited so as to allow enough time each day for some enjoyable/fulfilling activity**. I will not "tucker myself out" on the have-to-do's. I will see to it that I have enough energy left for a want-to-do. Just like everyone else, I live life -- and use it up -- one day at a time. From now on, I am making sure that each one of those days counts for me.

# # #

*My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:

**Making Time For Fun:

Frugal Fun: Hiking Civil War Trails

April 16th, 2014 at 04:33 am

I have to count myself lucky living in Virginia. This state is ground zero for the Civil War. That has made it super easy for me to find lots of places to get hiking exercise, enjoy nature and learn history all at the same time. Going to those places gets me out of the house. But doing civil war hiking "right" is a travel project I have to plan for. Here is what I do.

Each month (between April and November) I pick out a Civil War battlefield to explore. It could be a National Park like Antietam, a Virginia State Park like Staunton River, a county-level park like Cold Harbor, or even a privately preserved battlefield like First Day Chancellorsville. Once I have targeted a site, I pick out a motel for the one-to-two night trip. And then I get down to some serious research because I want to go prepared to really understand the ground I will be hiking.

First stop on the internet is the website for the park I will be going to. Second stop is the Civil War Trust website. Between those 2 websites and the links I will find on them, I will end up with a very respectable list of articles about the battle and -- most importantly -- battle maps and hiking trail guides. I will preview all this material a day or two before my trip, planning out which of the battlefield trails to do and in what order. And I will be set to go.

Upon arriving at the battlefield, my first stop will be the visitor center (or kiosk) if there is one. Often, a short film on the battle will be showing at set intervals. Or a narrated dynamic 3-dimensional battlefield map presentation will effectively show how the opposing forces moved and how the battle developed. And almost always there is a booklet to buy giving an in-depth account of the battle. It all contributes to the pre-hike mental immersion in the battle that I make part of my overall experience.

The rest of my first day at the battlefield I will spend getting a "preview" of the battle by driving around the site and walking some of the shorter trails. Then it is onward to the motel, where I will spend the evening undergoing that in-depth immersion by drilling into and crossreferencing all the battlefield maps and background information I have gathered together.

Doing that total immersion gets me psyched up for the next day's heavy duty hiking*. And gives me the knowledge I need to identify and prioritize which trails to be sure to do (because very often there are just too many more miles of trails than I have stamina to hike them).

The second (and sometimes the third) day of my Civil War excursion will be full-on hiking*. Clipboarded trail guide and battle map in hand, binocular and camera pouches on my belt, I will cover as many trails as I can. Trails where I walk the same ground that an advancing unit covered as it approached the enemy entrenchments. Trails that take me to key positions or high-ground vantage points from where I can visualize the ebb and flow of the conflict as the day of battle wore on. And there are always trail markers at significant spots, adding explanation and color to my first-hand re-experiencing of an armed engagement 150 years or so in the past.

It is all great fun to me. The hiking is good exercise. It is almost always over hills and through woods that put me in touch with nature. And it takes the history reading I have done about the battle and makes it vividly real and a lot more understandable.

And, of course, it is also frugal as all get out. With both national and state lifetime park passes, I pay no entrance fees. With the right combination of motel and bring-along supplies, my full travel cost for a 2-day, one-night outing is less than $100 (and maybe $160 total if I am doing an extra night). Loads of fun for little money. What else could I ask for?

# # #

*My Love Affair With Hiking:

Making Sure I Spend That Money!

April 8th, 2014 at 01:46 pm

I have set up my personal finances with a baseline budget* to cover my core needs and a Discretionary Fund** that acts as a money pot that collects all my income above what is needed to cover that baseline budget. Theoretically, any and all monies in that Discretionary Fund are available for fun spending. But my Discretionary Fund keeps growing because I have had a problem (a block?) with spending it. Here is the story and what I am doing about it.

Separate from my Discretionary Fund, I have TWO cash reserves***. One is equal to one year's baseline budget and the other is equal to my health insurance's out-of-pocket maximum (just in case). So my Discretionary Fund really is free and clear. But I obviously have not bought into that. So I have made a deal with myself to make it "okay" for me to spend substantial amounts on fun.

I find that I can emotionally accept earmarking half my Discretionary Fund for fun spending and holding the other half back in a sort of financial limbo. So this is what I am doing based on that realization. At the end of every month, I am taking the balance in my Discretionary Fund and dividing it by half to establish my "emotionally okay to spend" limit. Then I am dividing that figure by 3 to calculate how much I am giving myself permission to spend on fun each month for the next 3 months. And then I am committing to that spending right away by filling in my free time slots**** for those upcoming 3 months with specific planned and budgeted outings, trips and activities.

Is this working? Yes, as long as I follow the planning process. But if I fail to plan my fun out, the time fritters away and the money does not get spent. So this is a work in progress for me. And what I will do to make myself accountable for spending on having fun (which, I know, is weird) is going to be to put up a My Plan For Fun page on my blog and update it on a weekly basis to track what I have planned for fun and what fun I have actually had.

# # #

*My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:

**A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:

***Making Over My Reserves Plan:

****Making Time For Fun:

Making Time For Fun

April 8th, 2014 at 04:46 am

I am "retired to win" -- and in large part to me that means being retired to have fun and enjoy myself. I definitely have the money to spend on that*. And I should have the time to go spend the money. But up to now I have had a problem allowing myself the time to have fun. If I just go with the flow, I default to "productive" use of my time. Having fun gets pushed aside. But I have finally found a way to overcome that. And here it is.

It seems as if I have always lived by the daily planner and the to-do list. And I can see that being retired is not changing that. So, instead of fighting it, I am using that ingrained habit to make sure I do have fun -- instead of always reaching for the next chore that needs doing. I am scheduling time for fun.

I still plan my week day by day. But now I plan fun time into each day. Productive time is limited to the morning (8am to noon) and late afternoon (5 to 7pm). In between, I now have given myself a daily scheduled five-hour block for fun. And on my weekly planner, I plan ahead what I will do for fun during each of those five-hour blocks.

I have also extended the scheduled-fun-time idea so that I now have a designated fully free day each week, a 3-day getaway time block each month, and a week-long trip block every 3 months. Scheduling the free time this way "forces" me to make a plan for what to do, where to go, and how much of my discretionary fund** to spend.

Is this working? Yes, as long as I follow the planning process. If I fail to plan my fun out, the time fritters away and I fall back to the chore doing and paper shuffling. So this is a work in progress for me. And what I will do to make myself accountable for having fun (which, I know, is weird) is going to be to put up a My Plan For Fun page on my blog and update it on a weekly basis to track what I have planned for fun that week and what fun I have actually had.

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*A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:

**A $5000 No-Guilt Spending Spree!:

Index To All My Retirement Lifestyle Posts

April 6th, 2014 at 04:59 am

This index consists of a title link list to all my posts in this category. I will edit/update this post each time I publish a new post on a "Retirement Living My Way" topic. You will find it at the top of my sidebar. And I will set/update the order of that list so that it has as much thematic continuity as possible, regardless of when each post was published.

I hope this makes it easy for visitors to my blog to browse and access all my posts in an organized manner.

Index To All My Retirement Lifestyle Posts
(Updated August 28, 2014)

Why Share My Retirement Journey?:

Is There Life After Retirement?:

Is There Life After Retirement? (Pt 2):

Is There Life After Retirement? (Pt 3):

Making Sure I Feel Retired:

Optimizing My Use of Time:

Making Time For Fun:

Should I Still Work At Investing?:

Enough Time For Enough Money:

200 Words A Day That (Hopefully) Matter:

Making Sure I Spend That Money!:

For Fun And (Maybe) Profit:

A $5000 No-Guilt Spending Spree!:

My Books -- A Huge Frugality Exception:

Packrating Is Costing Me Plenty:

My Love Affair With Hiking:

Frugal Fun: Hiking Civil War Trails:

I Am A TrailWalker Now!:

Time Traveling With History Books:

My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:

Ditch Digging At 65 -- Frugal or Cheap?:

What My Pets Really Cost Me:

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Time Traveling With History Books

April 3rd, 2014 at 06:08 am

On any given day, you might find me sailing an early Viking ship along Sweden's Baltic coast. Or hunkering down behind a pile of rocks awaiting a Confederate charge at Little Round Top. Or inside a field tent in front of Orleans, listening to Joan of Arc detail how the French assault should proceed. Anything, anywhere, anytime is possible to me thanks to my library of history books.

Since June 2006, I have read a total of 110 history books. (Yes, I log them.) Biographies such as CharleMagne by Derek Wilson. Campaign accounts like Revolt in the Desert by T. E. Lawrence. And overviews of entire long-gone civilizations such as The Hittites by O.R. Gurney.

I have gotten to know individuals (whose personal impact was so strong that it reverberates through the ages) such as Leonidas of Sparta, Boudica of Britain and Alexander of Macedon. I have learned about peoples and countries I never knew existed such as Parthia and the Icenae. And I have "witnessed" from afar events that changed the course of history. The fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 AD. The Norman victory over the Saxons at the battle of Hastings in 1066 AD. The conclusive repulse of the Persian Empire by the Greeks at the battle of Platea in 479 BC. And so many other world-changing events.

All that and much more is easily accessible to me thanks to my collection of history books. All bought at bargain prices at flea markets, used bookstores and discount outlets. All carefully organized and displayed on my own built-in library shelves. An indulgence I can readily afford thanks to my very frugal spending on core living expenses*. And a very important part of my living experience in my financially free retirement.

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*My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:

I Am A TrailWalker Now!

March 19th, 2014 at 06:04 am

On my recent two-month snowbird trip, I did a lot of trail hiking in Florida State Forests and Parks. At one of those trailheads, I found a brochure on the Florida State TrailWalker Program**. Now, after hiking 10 of the trails on the program list, I am an official Florida Trail Walker -- jacket patch and all. It took a bit of driving around to get to the "right" forests, but I got it done. Here are the details.

From my snowbirding base near Palatka, on January 10th I went 30 miles south to hike Mud Springs Trail (1.7 miles) and John's Landing Trail (4.5 miles) in the Welaka State Forest. On January 15th, I drove north 20 miles to the Etoniah State Forest and hiked the 4.8 mile Longleaf Pine Trail.

A month later, I did a combination 80-mile trip to the Jacksonville area to hike the Adams Wilderness Trail (1.2 miles) in Cary State Forest, plus the Fire and Water Trail (1.0 miles) and Black Creek Trail (5.0 miles) in Jennings State Forest. The very next day, I hiked the 1.8 mile Up and Down Lake Trail at Duval Moore State Forest (which was just 3 miles from my home base).

Finally, on February 20th I drove 75 miles to the Withlacoochee area and hiked the Holly Hammock Trail (2.3 miles) at Ross Prairie State Forest, and the Tidewater (3.0 miles) and Black Prong (3.5 miles) trails in Goethe State Forest.

All in all, I covered 7 Florida State Forests, 10 trails and 28.8 hiking miles. But not "just" for the TrailWalker patch. Have I mentioned I LOVE hiking? ( http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/23/my-love-af...

**Florida TrailWalker Program: http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Fo...

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Florida Snowbirding the Affordable Way

March 17th, 2014 at 06:35 am

I just got back to Virginia from 2 months in Florida that only cost me $3967. That is $66 per blissful snow-free day, including 3000 miles of travel and staying at spacious lakeside homes equipped with everything I could have wanted. Even a bike and a rowboat! Here is how I made that happen.

I drove down from Virginia in my 1996 Dodge Dakota at an easy 250-mile-a-day pace, doing 2 Best Western motel nights each way. Booking those rooms 2 weeks ahead saved me 20%, so the 4 room nights cost me $316. For the 3000 miles of driving I did those 2 months, I spent a total of $513 on gasoline by always filling up at discount stations and using my 5% gasoline cashback ChaseCard.

I stayed one month each at 2 lakeside homes in North Central Florida. I had the run of fully equipped houses. Great big televisions and super sound systems to enjoy on rainy days. Decks over the water to lounge and enjoy beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Even a rowboat to explore the lake. By renting the houses by the month and booking one year ahead, my 60 days of housing in Florida cost me $3040 (about $50 a day) with all utilities, taxes and cleaning fees included. Thanks to fully equipped kitchens, I ate great just like I do at home so had no extra food costs for snowbirding (except for 3 times I ate out for a total of $49). And I spent $9 on odds and ends.

Aside from enjoying the snow-free weather, my main activity on sunny days was hiking the trails in Florida State Parks and Forests. I LOVE hiking (http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/23/my-love-af...). I did hikes on 32 of my 60 Florida days, covering and covering again 19 trails in 9 parks and forests. By buying a non-resident pass, this cost me just $40 in fees. When the weather was not so good, I watched marathons of cable movies and special shows. And I read.

All in all, I had an excellent time away from winter conditions. I did my regular work via the internet, I hiked my fanny off, I watched a lot of good movies and shows, and I read 2 great military history books. And I did not have to spend an arm and a leg to do it.

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Strategy Games: My Rainy Day Passion

January 7th, 2014 at 01:23 pm

One of my retirement living rules is to make sure I have fun every day. I limit my daily have-to-do's schedule so that I'll have a decently sized block of time (4 hours at least) left open for want-to-do activities. If the weather is good, my preferences are to go hiking, ride my bicycle, or take a country road drive surrounded by beautiful scenery. If I'm in the mood, I throw in a camera or a fishing rod and I am golden.

But what if the weather isn't so nice? Outdoor activities are not an option for me if it's raining or snowing, or if the ground is too wet, or if the ground or road is covered with snow. So what do I do then to have some fun?

In my case, I have 3 options: watch a DVD movie from the library or my collection, read one of my collected history books, or play one of my computer strategy war games. The movie watching will entertain me for a couple of hours. The reading can absorb me for a while longer. But the war gaming can so completely draw me in that I've been known to keep at it all night and still be playing when the sun comes up the next day.

What's up with that, you may ask. What's the big attraction? Well, playing a strategy war game commands my complete and intense concentration in an intricate, detailed, many-moving-parts planning process against an adversary (the game's artificial intelligence) that is doing the same thing to stop and best me. Hah! That sounds like hard work, doesn't it? But it's very interesting and exciting to me -- just my cup of tea.

I'm not talking about shoot-them-up games where you guide some individual character around the computer screen blasting away at anything that moves. I'm talking about grand-scope games where you guide and command whole armies and navies around vast operational theaters in concerted military campaigns that may take as long as a year of game days -- or even a lot longer.

Think of being in supreme command of all the actual Allied ground, sea and air forces on December 6, 1941 (War in the Pacific) and going forward from there for the next year to try and stop the Japanese juggernaut. Or put yourself in command of that juggernaut.

Think of being in command of the actual Army of Northern Virginia on July 1, 1863 as it approaches the sleepy Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg and starts encountering signs of federal troop movements (Civil War Generals). Or think of being in command of the actual Roman legions at Cannae in 216 B.C. as you face Carthage's infamous Hannibal and his forces (The Great Battles of Hannibal). Or let fantasy fly and think of being a 16-year-old newly ascended one-town Norwegian jarl in 800 A.D. as you embark on a years-long struggle to unite Norway into a single kingdom and then go on to unite Norway, Sweden and Denmark into a Scandinavian Empire (Vikings). To me, this is FUN STUFF!

Big picture war strategy -- that also demands life-or-death attention to numerous tactical details. This is a big part of the mental challenge I find in playing these games.

If I'm ordering a carrier air strike against an enemy airfield, I have to decide how many fighter planes to send as escorts for the dive bombers and how many to hold back to fly combat air patrol over my taskforce. Get it wrong and my air assault could be repulsed or my carrier could be bombed and sunk in a counterattack.

If I am assembling a longship fleet to raid English towns and abbeys, I've got to decide how many of my Viking warriors to take with me, how many to arm as archers and how many as swordsmen, and how much food to load onboard to feed those warriors and crew (at least until we can resupply by reaching and plundering an abbey). Mess up and we'll be crawling back home, possibly to find our own hometown has been attacked and sacked.

And on and on. Every scenario in every one of these games challenges my mind to consider a multiplicity of tactical variables, to solve many logistical problems, and to apply the best possible planning skills I can muster. Which can all, of course, completely blow up in my face due to the enemy's own counterplans, the fog of war and the fortunes of combat.

In the end, in spite of all the planning, I don't know how anything is going to turn out until it happens. And watching events unfold on the computer screen delivers one exciting jolt of adrenaline after another, with little spontaneous victory dances and slap-your-head bad-news reactions scattered all throughout. Like a big time football game. No. Much better than that because, after all, I'm the head coach aren't I?

How about you? What's your rainy day passion?

My Love Affair With Hiking

December 23rd, 2013 at 07:01 am

Yes, I really like hiking. Love it, actually. There is no other activity that does so much for me, or gives me as much.

Hiking is great for me physically. Traipsing along trails, up hills and over little creeks is good exercise. Works the muscles and burns the calories. And that's good.

Hiking is great for me spiritually. I'm getting all that exercise while enjoying the wonders of nature. And within just a few minutes of starting a hike, I'm already moving into a mind-clearing, peace-inducing zen-like mental state.

Hiking is great for me mentally. That zen-like state triggers a stream-of-consciousness flow of thoughts that proves super-valuable every time. With new ideas for blog topics. With refinements to my money management or my investing approaches. With possibilities for new places to travel. And out-of-the-blue revelations -- such as my most recent one that uncovered a "hidden desire" for stargazing and astronomy.

(All of which is, by the way, why I always carry on my hikes a pen and index card in my shirt pocket. Getting all that stuff written down keeps it from slipping back down my mental well.)

Hiking is also great for me experientially. Most weeks, I do my hiking along nature trails in county, state and national parks. But once a month I'll travel to a civil war battlefield park to do some heavy-duty historical hiking.

Those hikes are different. Instead of going into a zen-like trance, I go on a mentally focused time travel trip. With a clipboard holding battle maps and a mind holding a recently read detailed account of the engagement, I walk on the very paths along which infantry battle formations advanced. I crouch behind the remains of parapets where the defenders awaited those advancing formations. I stand on the exact high ground from which battle commanders viewed the field and issued their orders. And I imagine being there. What it looked like... sounded like... felt like. And I marvel at the courage and discipline of those soldiers, and at the clearheaded brilliance -- or blind stupidity -- of their leaders.

Yes, hiking. What a great thing to be able to do. And how wonderful to be master of my time so that I can do it whenever good weather beckons and the hiking spirit moves me.

Is there some activity that does that much for you? Want to tell us about it?

Sharing My Retirement Journey

December 13th, 2013 at 05:10 am

I want to share my financial independence (retirement?) journey through posts on this blog. How I got to financial independence. What I do with it. What I have learned (and continue to learn) that could help others reach and enjoy their financial independence. And in the process to learn even more from the feedback I hope to get.

Some of my posts will be about money management. About what I call frugality without sacrifice. About how I manage to lead a pretty nice basic lifestyle for less than $18,000 gross a year.

Some of my posts will be about my investment "adventures." About how my $400,000 stash yields me $28,000 to $32,000 a year in passive income. And about the risks that involves.

And some of my posts will be about what I do with my free time and my surplus money now that I have (or think I have) full control of my time and money to do something with it.

My core money management strategy is frugality without sacrifice — what I call playing the frugal game. Cutting the waste and getting more for my money every time I spend any of it. I know that sounds like a "duh" statement. But I’ve been amazed (and you might be too) at just how much money can fall through the cracks when one takes one's eye off the frugal spending ball.

My investment strategy is based on creating and maintaining a high yield stream of dividend and interest payments. That also means that my strategy is more high risk than a lot of people are willing to accept. But it works for me. And many of my posts will be about how and why that is so.

I put a good deal of my time into investing and money management so that I can have the financial freedom to do what I want. But actually taking the time to do fun things is something of a problem for me. If left to myself (so to speak) I have a strong tendency to either let my time go to doing more chores (since there's always more) or to plop down to watch a DVD movie. And that's not how I really want to spend what’s supposed to be my free fun time.

So I am continuing to develop scheduling and routine-setting tactics to "force" myself into actually using my time to hike, take trips, write these posts, do serious history reading, and develop some real hobby-interests. And I'll be writing posts about how that is working out.

In short, it is very important to me to feel that I am in control of my life, to have goals, and to actually accomplish them. When all of that comes together, I feel good about my life and about myself. I'll be writing these posts to help me stay on that course.

Along the way, I hope some of what I've learned and what I will continue to learn helps you in your quest for financial independence. And I'm pretty sure I too will learn a lot from your responses to my posts.

How are you doing with your journey to retirement or actually living it? Please post a comment and let us know.