Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My friend Pam's estate sale. It's about freedom


Editor's note:
Pam is among my best friends. When she lost her husband a few years ago, she wasn't sure where life would take her next. She's been working toward a new life for awhile. As part of that new life, she held an "estate" sale this past week where she sold practically everything she owns...furniture, kitchenware, outdoor equipment. You name it, she sold it. It's all part of downsizing to a much much smaller place. It's all about freedom. I'm am proud of her. Below is Pam's note to her friends about the sale and about her future. - Julia

Ladies of my life.  
It is morning, and I’m starting to feel human again…. After weeks of preparation, or maybe it was months…oh get real Pam, it was years.  It is done.   Half way through, I realized why people hire estate sale companies to do this. But you know me, frugal to the end,…I said, “I bought it, I stored it, I cleaned it, now I’m going to sell it.” But it took a crew of dedicated friends and family to help me pull it off. Jeni and I worked alternate Saturdays and some Sundays for over 3 months.  She was my Angel and Sale nazi,  knowing how to keep me focused.  I most often got a severe case of “Squirrel” and my attention span was in a hurricane of overwhelm and HOW we could ever get it ALL done.

 Without her I’d probably still be hacking away at it.  I am so blessed to have this girl/woman child that knows me so well and puts up with me and we still we laugh. The son, he just said burn it all or send to dump.  And they both came out of the same shoot…..
Throughout the last 2 weeks, I ran shifts, scheduling like a factory boss, then panicking, that I would not be able to find enough willing souls to help.  LynAnn put in some long hours with me, and the nice thing that comes of that is being able to visit while sorting.  I’ve heard from several friends, that my experience was a huge wakeup call as to what they also needed to do.  So my time will be coming when I can pay them back and help with their efforts. 

Last night when I was really and truly at the end of my thin rope, hunting for any kind of a box and  also realizing I left the tape roll I purchased earlier in the day which was now at the “SHOE” (our name for the 5th Wheel)  the tape that would allow me to reassemble several flattened boxes….needing to put that which remained, ready  for the truck from the Humane Society Thrift store which comes tomorrow and actually finishing the task, here comes Kay, with a home cooked dinner of roasted teriyaki pork loin, salad, sautéed green beans, garlic bread and OMG, Champagne!!!  It would have been  childish of me to throw myself on the floor and just start crying in gratitude, but I sure felt like it.   Lucky for us, I didn’t sell the kitchen table and chairs, so we dined outside on the porch amongst a cool breeze and a visit from friends Julie and Ken, to toast the end of this chapter.

6 more bags of Garbage collected, I would have had more garbage, but Joann sold my garbage bags right out from under me! Our cars full, we headed home in the dark, with plans for this afternoon to FINISH the project. 
I am happy with the sale profits, and the experience had many aspects that were enjoyable. I met neighbors I never knew, people who knew Dale and shared some good stories.  So many people asked me throughout the 3 days, “ Are you sad to give all this up?”  “Is it hard to give all this away?”…  and each and every time from my heart, I responded, “No, not all,  I am relieved to rehome all this, and move into a streamlined life of possessions”.

As we emptied the cupboards, closets, and staged the house with tables and racks (I’ll have to count how many we used) It began to look like my home had regurgitated itself….oh boy if that wasn’t a wake-up call.   As we sorted,  I was flooded with memories. The good, the sad, and the bad.  I said silent goodbye’s often to things that I no longer needed or wanted or had used and loved but no longer needed.  Gifting things made for a good feeling.  Making big tote bins for the Grandkids was also a help, as I had a place to share special memories and then they can keep or purge, but at least they knew the story of that particular item.  I will keep Samye’s in the shop, and she will find many treasures of her days with both Grampa and Gramma, she may be 60 before she grows up, but I will have done my part to let her know she was/is loved by both of us.

After all was prepped, I took a few minutes to walk through the house, barn, outbuildings, and thank it and all the possessions for their service to my heart and my life. I had found a prayer to Thank the house, and I read it with a happy heart,

Then Thursday Morning, and I was up at 5:00 am to place the signs and begin……
By 8:15 am on Thursday we had 40-50 vehicles parked on both sides of the street, all over the front yard, up the driveways as far as we’d allow, even at the empty house next door.   Jenica, was brilliant in devising a pattern, where no cars were parked in back but ours.  People were directed to walk down the driveway on the east side, and begin the process shopping the barn, outdoor items, items under the carports (of which I sold two) then leading to the backyard, and then into the house.  Final stop was the garage with more goodies and the checkout register (Again, Thank you Brian for your table’s, clothing racks and register)

 Auntie Jo, was a trooper and handled the checkout for all 3 days, as Jeni and I ran back and forth as the answer Guru’s.  We kept the Master bedroom locked and so we had a place for potty, food, and if you couldn’t figure out where to put something it got thrown in there. That first morning was a MOB, and we could have used more help than the 6 people we had, but it settled down and overall it all turned out just fine and we had a steady stream until close on Saturday at 5pm.
 
Another trip back out today to finish up the last of the boxing for the thrift shop.   Trying to contact the VA Hospital as I’m looking for an appropriate place to donate my big massage chair. No takers at the price I wanted, so a write off and comfort for someone hurting would be the better route.

I’ll never forget how dirty the house actually was as we cleared it out.  No wonder my allergies were awful, and it wasn’t just dog hair! 

We are going to re-home the cats to here at Birkenstock, next week when Brian comes home. They will have lots of room to explore and we are hoping that will go well.

Zoe has been a trooper, missing her daily walks, (as I) and her exercise has been in the form, of getting up and finding a new sleeping place after we tripped over her a million times a day.  During the sale, she generally laid on the back porch, waiting for someone to pet her, or step over her, but everyone loved the Zoe.

So that’s it’s. Now I have bins in the Shoe waiting to find a new home or possibly discarded, or sent to the special closet on the top floor of the Birk store. We’ll see.

Brian is in Chicago at a conference and while we wasn’t here to help with the majority of the sale, he did tons of prep work, and used his employees to transfer tables and racks, and move that which I was moving into the storage trailer, and that saved my back and his a lot of stress.   I was actually glad he was not here at the sale.  It felt like something that I/we as a family needed to do and process.  Now I’m ready for the next chapter.  After the house clean up, then next I’m working on selling Wild n’ Wooly (Pam's marketing company). .  

So that is it, just wanted you to know we made it through, and  now I’d better get on to the work that I’ve ignored most of last week.

With love and gratitude for you all, 

Pam

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Secrets to traveling with grandchildren -- no parents, snacks and an app or two

"Young children are wonderful tourists, if you gear the trip to their interests rather than yours," -  Deborah Jacobs, writing in Forbes magazine on Seven Tips for Traveling with Grandchildren, click here. 

BY JULIA ANDERSON
Grandparents traveling with grandchildren --- it’s a big and growing travel trend.
And why not?!! Baby boomer retirees over 60 are more active than prior generations. We have the time and resources along with a sense of worldly adventure that has us looking for shared experiences with our grandkids.

That’s especially true if we don’t get to spend much time around them or interact one-on-one. Traveling without the “middle layer” of parents as one travel writer described it, creates a strong bond between grandparents and their grandchildren.

When I got the green light this spring to take my 10-year-old grandson, Jason, to Disney World, I booked the tickets without hesitating. Our six days together was a great experience. As a great first trip together, it was perfect.

We had some adventures…Typhoon Lagoon’sShark Reef,” for instance.
We screamed together on the Rock n Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
We shared meals, looked for restrooms and hurried together to catch planes and buses
We held hands in the wave pool at Typhoon Lagoon where I got smacked in the eye by a body surfer. Only needed a small patch at the First Aid Station.
We raced together to get on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in the Magic Kingdom and got out just in time for the fireworks.

Our day at Epcot had Jason designing his own virtual ride and going on a Mission to Space with simulated gravitational pull. The water park day was great. So was Disney’s Hollywood Studios, home of the Tower of Terror. Not to be missed.
In all, I believe we were on 12 roller coaster rides of one kind or another among many other experiences. All fun. "This is Disney, after all," said a parent sitting next to me at the Magic Kingdom when I mentioned that I was nervous about the Tower of Terror.

If I had any goals for this trip, they were to have fun and get closer to my only grandchild. That all happened for sure. We had time over meals to talk. We talked about grandma’s travel budget that included how much we’d spend a day on food.  We discussed how he wanted to spend his personal money on gifts and souvenirs. We talked about food and making wise menu choices. We made funny jokes. We relaxed at the pool and read at night in our room at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

We tried not to overdo but that’s a challenge at Disney World when there’s just one more ride to get on before heading to the room on the shuttle.

In the midst of all this, we had time apart. The lodge pool and the water park were the easiest with life guards posted at regular intervals. I think he liked the independence that came with playing with other kids. One night he stayed in the room with his iPad while I went in search of a martini.

On our return flight we talked about travel tips for grandparents and grandchildren (age 10) traveling together. Here’s what we came up with:

Jason’s tips:
- Carry a small backpack with extra socks, water bottles few snacks. Granola bars and pretzels worked for us.

- Be prepared for bad weather. We were caught in a thunder storm and downpour at Typhoon Lagoon. The next night out our newly purchased rain ponchos kept us from getting soaked, again.

- Go to the bathroom before you get on the airplane. Go to the bathroom as often as possible.
Buy the smart phone app “Heads Up” to play while standing in ride waiting lines. We played with another family in line. It was fun.

- Always have something to read. The iPad Star Wars game came in handy.

- Bring Band-Aids and mole skin for any blistered toes from all the walking.

- If you’re going to be at a pool be sure to bring a face mask (they didn’t let me use the snorkel) and/or swim goggles.


- Have plastic bags for the wet clothes if they have to go in a suit case.

Grandma's tips:

- If your grandchild is under age…bring along signed travel documents from the parents and a photo ID from his school. My documents included emergency medical permission from his parents, travel permission and his birth certificate.

- Meet with the parents before departure to explain the trip. Talk about any rules regarding TV, food or spending money. And how you will stay in touch. If an iPad will be along, set out rules for how and when it is turned on.

- Set clear expectations about behavior…no talking back for instance.

- Bring along a favorite stuffed animal or pillow. Good for sleeping on planes.

- Plan for some time apart….in the pool or in a supervised play area. A video game room came in handy on our last morning while we waited for our bus to the airport.

- Take a lot of photos for a trip scrapbook. Memories are important.

- If you are going to Disney World be sure to download the Disney World app onto your iPhone and use the app to sign up in advance for Fast Passes to the most popular rides. We may be waiting two hours in line, if you don't use the FP system. It's slick.

Our trip to Disney World was a grand opportunity to better get to know my grandson. I found out about his interests, about how his brain works and what he likes to do. I learned that swimming is at the top of his list and that designing his own robotic virtual ride was something he enjoyed. The same for the race car at Fast Track in Epcot.

Would I go on another adventure with him? Absolutely. I think I have something to contribute to his life and he to mine.
By some standards this was a quick trip but nevertheless we bonded. No one goes on the Tower of Terror without bonding.

As a grandparent, I’m not alone in this adventure with my grandson. According to recent research, some 37 percent of all grandparents who travel have traveled with the grandchildren. Road Scholar offers 100 multigenerational tours. Smithsonian Journeys is another family travel site I intend to pursue adventure travel into my "golden years" and hope to bring my grandson along.. Everyone is handing out advice on how to do it right.

For more:
6 Essential Tips for Traveling with Grandchildren, click here. click here.
Documents Needed for Traveling with Grandchildren, click here
6 Tips for Traveling with Your Grandchildren, click here.
8 Tips for Playing with Grandchildren click here.
Intergenerational Adventures, Road Scholar click here.
Budget-friendly Vacation Ideas Grandchildren Love, click here.





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Monday, June 15, 2015

Dealing with the unexpected. 'You can give in or you can find meaning'

"While the experience of grief is profoundly personal, the bravery of those who have shared their own experiences has helped pull me through." -- Sheryl Sandberg on the unexpected death of her husband.

By Julia Anderson
We sat next to each other by accident at an outdoor barbecue. Our small talk quickly turned to the details of her life. She’d been on her own for four years after her husband's unexpected death.

“The first two years, I woke up every morning cussing his name for leaving... for leaving me with such a mess,” she said, tossing her head back. “I drank a lot of tequila. Made some mistakes.”

Now at 57, she's getting a handle on the challenges both financial and family. One step forward, sometimes two steps back, she seemed to be saying. Her husband was a building contractor. During good times he bought mixed use commercial real estate. The buildings are older with both retail and residential space.

“Everybody thinks I’m well off,” said the woman. “They have no idea how tough it’s been getting over losing him and figuring out my financial situation,” she said. “And I’ve got a son who is addicted…I know he’s stealing from me.”

For her, there’s a lot to talk about.

I said, “Call the police on your son the next time he steals from you. It would do him and you a favor.”
She nodded. “It’s just been so hard,” she said. “I’m alone so much that I go out to eat dinner just to talk to someone.”

Lately she hired a property management company to handle one of her commercial buildings to get rid of a derelict tenant. It didn’t happen.
“You pay people to help you out but then nothing gets done,” she said. “I’m selling two of the buildings just to get rid of the headaches.”

“What are you going to do with the cash,” I asked.

She paused. “A lot is already spent on stuff I’ve got to fix at my house…maybe set up a bank trust for the rest I guess," she said. I said, “Be sure to check out the bank’s management fees on that arrangement.”
She said, “I suppose so, everybody wants a piece.

Like many of us, she’s struggled to sort out things. Her husband had been in charge of their business life and income.

“People just don’t know how hard this all is,” she said.

Maybe she could talk to a financial planning expert, I said, who on a fee-only basis could help her put together a plan that would give her some long-term income.

Ask your friends who might be someone to talk with, I said. Make sure they won’t try to sell you something for a commission. Make sure this is strictly for their best advice and nothing more.

We talked about how hard it is to lose someone who you relied on, someone that you loved and shared a life with.
I told her that I thought she was on the right track, that things would be OK.

She asked my name and told me hers.

I doubt that I see this woman again but I wish her well. Grieving and trying to get a handle on finances at the same time is not easy. But several women who I know have gutted their way through it. I’ve seen them get back in the game and move forward emotionally and financially. One step at a time.

The facts are that 35 percent of marriages will end with the death of a spouse, usually the husband. Women will spend one-third of their adult lives financially on their own.

With the recent sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg wrote on her Facebook page that "you can give in or you can find meaning. May we all find meaning.

For more:
Sheryl Sandberg’s Post on Late Husband Set Off Meditations on Grief, click here.
Organizing your finances after your spouse has died, click here.
A shocking death, a Financial Lesson and Help for Others, click here.
Why Women Need Retirement Planning more than Men Do. click here.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bucket lists: If you need one, here's how

"It’s not the listing, it’s the doing that’s important. Why not make a list of one thing at a time.
 Do that and then go to the next one,”  ---  Al Bernstein, psychologist and book author.

"The Origins of 'Bucket List'  - WSJ - click here.

How to write a bucket list
- Give yourself time to reflect on your interests, not just destinations.
- Make a one-year goal list but also have a “sometime” list.
- Keep your lists short. It’s the doing that has meaning.
- Mix big and small goals.
- Keep your list financially and physically within reach.


BY JULIA ANDERSON
“That’s on my bucket list.”
Cynthia Anderson hears clients say that all the time.
“To be honest, people have always had lists of where they want to go, what they want to see,” Anderson, owner of USA River Cruises Inc., said. “But now, bucket lists are mentioned quite a bit. It’s certainly become a marketing tool for travel publications…I see it all the time.”
Anderson, who books river cruises both in the U.S. and abroad, is inspired by clients who say that “this is on my bucket list, now I’m going to do this.”
So is Nancy Parrott, vice president and general manager at Azumano Travel with offices in Portland, Ore. and Vancouver, Wash.
“There’s quite a variety of ideas on peoples’ lists,” Parrott said. “Someone may want to go on a safari in Uganda to look at gorillas. Someone else might want to visit Iceland.”
The idea of a list has become so popular that Azumano staff give presentations on how to create a bucket list, Parrott said.
A quick Internet search turns up dozens of Web sites devoted to bucket lists – how to write them, suggestions for what might go on your list. There’s even a Web site called bucketlist.org where you sign up to compare your list to other peoples’ lists and share comments on successes and failures. The site has 245,130 members who are tracking 3.36 million goals, sharing advice and keeping score.
It’s all about things people want to do or accomplish before they kick the bucket, just like the two characters played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in the 2007 movie, “The Bucket List,” which imbedded the concept in our minds.
While some bucket lists include personal goals related to weight-loss, running a marathon or earning an advanced college degree, most are travel- or event-related. With more baby boomers aging into retirement every day, people -- list in hand -- are out there seeing the world.
But are bucket lists really a good idea?
Vancouver psychologist Al Bernstein has his reservations.
“I wouldn’t put a list of 10 things together because between now and when I finish the list my ideas might change,” Bernstein said. “What I might want to do could change even next year.” It’s not the listing, it’s the doing that’s important, he said.
“Why not make a list of one thing at a time. Do that and then go to the next one,” he said.
On the other hand, Bernstein said that if having a list helps you get things done then making a list may be helpful -- if it’s short and you keep it simple.
List considerations
In addition to psychological issues related to bucket lists, there are financial considerations. Women especially may be tempted to spend money on short-term rewards such as a family vacation to the Baja or a trip to Disney World with the grandkids, say financial planning experts. But if the trip racks up expensive credit card debt and cuts into retirement savings, then a less expensive weekend outing at the beach may be a better option.
Recreation specialist Becky Anderson with the city of Vancouver (Wash.) Parks & Recreation Department says that there’s plenty to do and see in the Pacific Northwest. Her department arranges three or four day-trips and over-night tours a week for seniors, 50 and older year-round. Offerings include music events, gardening classes and museum visits. Some trips cost as little as $25 while more elaborate over-night travel such as an Amtrak round-trip to Leavenworth, Wash. at Christmas time might cost as much a $1,085, she said.
“Traveling, hiking, a beach trip, they all give people something to look forward to,” Anderson said. “We do a hot air balloon trip every year out of Newberg, Ore. Lots of people have that on their buck list.”
My guess is that every county in the U.S. has a similar service for seniors through parks and rec departments.
Baby boomers are stepping away from full-time work and setting out to travel before their knees give out. The travel service for seniors, Road Scholar, already is offering educational excursions to Cuba.  I know someone who just completed a river trip on the Amazon River. Next year, it will be a river cruise in Portugal and Spain.
 How to write a bucket list
So how best to develop your bucket list?  Experts say taking time to think about your interests is a good way to start.
“Let’s say you’ve always been interested in the history of the Titanic,” said Azumano’s Nancy Parrott. “What you may not know is that you can visit its resting place off the coast of Newfoundland by boat as part of a travel package.”
Here’s what Parrott and others suggest in making a bucket list:
- Keep it short.
- Make sure your list fits your physical and financial picture and your lifestyle.
- It’s an evolving process. You can add things to your list or take them off.
- Think outside the box by first considering your interests, not destinations.
- Don’t think of a bucket list as a competitive sport. It’s not about posting it to Facebook but accomplishing something that has meaning for you.

Psychologist Bernstein even objects to the term bucket list.
“These are things we most want to do before we die,” he said. “They are life goals. Saying they are on a bucket list cheapens the intention and the meaning.” A better way to approach it, he said, may be to stop writing your bucket list and start living it.
Helpful Web sites:
bucketlist.org
daringtolivefully.com
psychologytoday.com
getoffthecouch.co
womensadventuremagazine.com

Monday, May 4, 2015

Donor-advised charitable funds: Good for your heart with tax benefits

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”Mother Teresa, Roman Catholic religious sister who lived most of her life in India. (1910-1997)
BY JULIA ANDERSON
For tax benefit reasons and because we like to support good causes, Americans donate to charities. Over a year, my donation checks might go to my grandson’s elementary school foundation and to MercyCorps, the Portland-based international aid organization. I support a local historical society, an arts group or two and my alma mater. At the end of the year, I add up these donations and claim the total as a charitable tax deduction when I itemize my federal income tax return.
But suppose that this nickel and dime charitable giving isn’t enough for you. It may feel haphazard. And there are those dinner-hour phone calls from certain charities asking for more money. Or let's say your financial picture has changed because of big increase in annual income or because of an inheritance.
For the charity-minded, federal IRS regulations provide an attractive tax-management option: A donor-advised charitable fund or a DAF.
Using DAF rules, you can contribute cash, securities or other items to a donor-advised fund administered by an IRS qualified organization operated for religious, charitable, educational, scientific or literary purposes, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals. The real beauty of these funds comes from donating appreciated securities.
You get an immediate tax deduction for the total value of the stock that goes into the fund. The institution administering the fund gains full control of the stock donation and manages the account where it stays until you provide instructions for later distribution.
How donor-advised funds work:
Let’s say you inherit 50 shares of McDonald’s stock (worth about $4,750) from your grandmother, which she accumulated over 20 years of saving and investing. There’s no cost basis (how much she paid) for the stock. Instead of selling it and paying capital gains taxes on the sale, you can transfer the unsold stock into a donor-advised fund. Fund managers sell it and reinvest the cash according to your direction in one of several funds available within the fund program.
You get the upfront tax benefit in the form of a ($4,750) deduction in the current tax year, but you can accumulate money inside the fund provider for charitable distribution at your direction, later.
Vicki Fitzsimmons, a financial advisor with Edward Jones in Vancouver, Wash., says many of her clients like using donor-advised funds. “A donor-advised fund is a good alternative for smaller gifts and lets you contribute assets (cash, stocks or bonds) to a charity. And you can recommend how you want the assets distributed,” she said.
Many charitable organizations and large brokerage firms offer donor-advised funds within their investment programs: Foundations supporting universities, hospitals and community groups, for example. And it’s not just money or stocks that can go into these funds. Charitable funds may accept real estate or interest in a limited partnership. The National Philanthropic Trust offers a comparison chart of donor-advised funds and private foundations that looks at fees, gift valuations, administrative responsibilities. (click here).
A few facts about charitable giving in America:
- 95 percent of American households give to charity.
- The average annual household contribution was $2,974 in 2013.
- In 2013, the majority of charitable dollars went to religion (31 percent); education (16 percent) and human services (12 percent). See National Philanthropic Trust. According to the trust, there were 201,631 donor-advised fund accounts in 2012. Total contributions that year: $13.9 billion.
In 2013, contributions climbed to $17.2 billion, up 23 percent.
Next step: Making a donation
When you are ready, you can recommend a grant to a qualified 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of your choice.  (No, the money can’t go to your financially strapped granddaughter.) Donor-advised fund managers make your distributions, which can be anonymous. No fuss, no muss and no record keeping since you’ve already taken the tax deduction.
Donor-advised funds are not just for the wealthy. You can start making contributions with as little as $1,000. There are no payout rules. The minimum donation amount could be as little as $50.
Learn about donor-advised funds
Before you dive into a donor-advised fund, do your homework. Ask about minimum contribution requirements and fund balances. Check up on fund administrative fees, which typically are 1 percent or less a year. Some funds have tiered fee schedules based on fund account totals. Look at fund investment options and donor services. Some funds offer workshops for potential donors. For more consider these resources:
“The Art of Planned Giving by Douglas White. ($8.17 at Barnes & Noble.)
“An Analysis of Charitable Giving and Donor-Advised Funds,” by Molly Sherlock ($13.99, Amazon). Or visit these Web sites:
National Philanthropic Trust at www.npturst.org
Fidelity Charitable at www.fidelitycharitable.org
About Money at www.nonprofit.about.com
Oregon Community Foundation at www.oregoncf.org
Pros and cons of donor-advised funds, click here.
Vanguard Charitable, click here.
More pluses: With money in a donor advised fund you can save it up for a year when you don’t want to write checks out of your personal checking account but still want to maintain annual giving. And you can name a successor trustee for your account so the money doesn’t have to be immediately distributed if something happens to you. Fund managers will do due diligence to make sure your donation is going to a legitimate qualified charity.
So go ahead, write that check to the local food bank but consider building a donor-advised charitable fund that over time will grow (tax-free) for later distribution in a significant way.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Women and a secure retirement: Small businesses need savings plan options

"I see success as bringing some confidence back to the American people that despite our differences, we can find some way to move forward," - U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. (D-Wash.).

In Washington state where I live, a recent survey showed that approximately 462,000 residents ages 45-64 have less than $25,000 in savings. The survey also reported that the average monthly Social Security benefit for Washingtonians is $1,300. That’s $15,600 a year…not enough to live on.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) brought up these statistics in her talk at a recent White House Conference on Aging in Seattle. She also mentioned that 1.1 million residents in our state do not have access to retirement savings plans at work.
This led her to the point that women -- especially women -- “face systemic challenges” in planning a secure retirement. One in 10 older women are living in poverty. (2.9 million) women 65 and older).
This is the same statistic that I began writing about seven years ago when I was still working at the newspaper. In the years since, as more baby boomers age into their 60s, women and retirement has become a much discussed topic, along with equal pay for equal work, the minimum wage and paid sick leave. All of these workplace issues contribute to the fact that a higher percentage of older single women live in poverty than do single men.
To her credit, Sen. Murray, the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has repeatedly called for reforms and programs that would address this situation.
Her Healthy Families Act proposed in the Senate would for instance allow workers in businesses with at least 15 employees to earn up to 56 hours or seven days of job-protected paid sick leave each year. She’s also is promoting reauthorization of the Older Americans Act that would increase funding for Meals on Wheels, adult protection and caregiver support programs.
All these proposals are caught up in the over-arching discussion in the other Washington of how we pay for them. I get that. But in terms of poverty and women, the tsunami is hitting the shore. From my perspective, there’s been a lot of talk and political posturing but little has changed. Women have fewer opportunities to save for retirement and many aren’t.
New idea in Washington state
In Washington, a few legislators in the House of Representatives have come up with a new idea that might trigger more retirement savings by women. They call it the Washington Small Business Retirement Marketplace bill (HB 2109, SB 5826).  Here’s how it would work, according to an outline from the Seattle-based Economic Opportunity Institute.
The state will identify financial services firms willing to offer retirement plans and investments. The state would publish performance data on these plans and investments. The state would enforce agreements, including no cost for a business to participate and employee fees would be no greater than 1 percent of their account balance. The state will establish a Marketplace Web site for employers to learn about the firms and their products.
Financial services firms will offer retirement plans to employers with several basic investment options. The firms will manage the accounts and work with the businesses to complete reporting requirements.
Employers who participate may choose whether to offer any matching contribution to the employee retirement savings accounts.
The plans would be portable, voluntary and no risk to the state. In other words they would work just like 401(k) plans offered by larger employers.
Here’s why this is a good idea. In Washington, alone, some 1.1 million people DO NOT have access to a retirement plan, and 77.4 percent of workers employed by businesses with fewer than 100 employees lack access to one.
That’s not surprising since these plans require quarterly reporting, paper work and management. Small business owners are hassled enough.
So a state-sponsored “retirement fund marketplace” seems like a possible way to at least get at this issue. People who have a retirement plan at work are much more likely to use it than not. Any plan like this must come with some sort of education workshop or presentation that addresses women and financial literacy issues. Let's face it, we don't learn this stuff in high school.
Another factoid: More than 38 million Americans in working-age households do not own any retirement account assets, whether in a pension plan, an employer-sponsored 401(k) or an Individual Retirement Account. (click here)
The Institute calls the marketplace proposal “a commonsense approach.”
This is the first “new” idea that I’ve run across in my reporting on women and financial literacy and retirement planning. Of course, there already are critics. Andrew Remo, writing for the National Tax-deferred Savings Association, says small business owners in Washington can already create retirement savings plans, if they choose. This, he says, is needless government meddling. What he overlooks is the paperwork and hassle involved.
In her talk, Murray pointed out that the bills in the Washington House and Senate are bi-partisan. Lead sponsor is Washington state Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland). Bipartisan means broader support. There might be a chance of passage. Let’s hope so.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Is there inflation 'crabgrass' in your retirement planning? Deal with it.

"Inflation is the crabgrass in your savings," Robert Orben, (1927 - ) American comedy writer.

BY JULIA ANDERSON
Believe it or not, a little bit of inflation is a good thing. It means the economy is perking along. It means consumers like you and I have the confidence to buy stuff. It means that producers and retailers can expand their businesses, add workers and hand out pay raises. That’s because they believe they can cover higher operating costs and still earn a profit by improving efficiencies and by raising their prices.
Inflation is a natural part of a functioning capitalistic society. (Just ask the Federal Reserve Bank). For the past gazillion years the average annual U.S. inflation rate has been running at about 2 percent. That means that a “market basket” of consumer items as determined and measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics increases in cost by 2 cents per $1 every year.
Over time these small annual inflationary cost increases can take a serious bite out of your buying power, now and in retirement.
Let’s look at the Portland, Ore. metro area near my home. From 1987 through 2014, the annual inflation rate in Portland has been as high as 5.6 percent in 1990 and as low as 0.8 percent in 2002 and 0.1 percent in 2009. In 2014, Portland’s Consumer Price Index (inflation rate) rose an overall 2.3 percent.
Within that number, prices for specific items jump around.
Last year in the 12 months through December, food prices rose 2.8 percent while rental housing costs increased by 4.7 percent (mostly because of apartment rent increases). Energy costs dropped because of lower gasoline prices but those lower prices were mitigated the rising cost of electricity, which jumped 7.2 percent as utilities raised rates to cover the cost of new power projects in our region.
Inflation’s long-term impact
In Portland, a market basket of goods and services that cost about $100 in 1987 now costs $242! So over the long term, inflation eats away at our buying power. A great lament of our current economy is that wages in the past 10 years have not kept pace with the increasing cost of living. While prices for such items as food, energy and housing have been going up, employers have not been willing to raise employee pay. Now we are seeing more local and state governments take on the politically popular idea of raising minimum wages. (But I am getting off topic).
In reality, if you are NOT getting at least a 2 percent raise every year, you are losing ground to inflation. But even a 2 percent annual raise means only that you are treading water. If you haven’t received a raise in say, the past 10 years, you’ve lost about 20 percent of your purchasing power thanks to inflation and the rising cost of living.
Inflation in retirement
The same goes for those planning for retirement or who already are living in retirement. If your investments are not producing income of at least 2 percent a year, you are getting poorer. Thoughtful investors must take inflation into account as they figure out an ongoing retirement financial strategy. Like death and taxes, inflation is here to stay unless you live in Japan where prices have been in decline. Our Federal Reserve Banking System does NOT want that to happen. Deflation throws ice water on the economy ---consumers stop spending, producers stop growing and adding jobs.
Don’t ignore inflation, deal with it.
Tips from investment experts on managing inflation
- Balance investment safety with a reasonable return. The S&P 500 has provided a dividend yield averaging 1.92 percent a year for the past 30 years. Add on increases in share value and you’ve got nice asset growth over the long-term. Keep some cash in reserve so you don’t have to sell principle to groceries or a new car when stock markets are in decline.
- Consider Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities or TIPS bonds to guarantee a return that rises along with the inflation rate.
- Own real estate that over time increases in value. Your borrowed mortgage money gets cheaper as your home increases in market value, points out William Baldwin at Forbes.com.
- Consider buying individual blue-chip stocks with a good dividend of around 3 percent a year. Avoid high-paying dividend stocks…higher dividends mean higher risk.
- Delay Social Security and give yourself an 8 percent raise in benefits every year until age 70 ½. You get a bigger monthly retirement check, which is inflation-protected. Authors Larry Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller and Paul Solman have written "Get What's Yours: The Secrets of Maxing Out Your Social Security. You can download it for $10.49 to your Kindle or buy a hardcover for $11.99 special at Amazon.com. Click here.
For more:
"What is inflation and how does the Federal Reserve evaluate changes in the rate of inflation?" click here.
"Smart Equities for Creeping US Inflation," click here.
"Seven Ways to Beat Inflation," click here.
"How to Deal with Inflation Risk in Retirement, " click here.