Wednesday, February 22, 2012

When You Need Answers to Questions

Financial planning is an annoying but necessary activity that forces us all to face what we’d rather not think about—our mortality. Preparing for old age and for loved ones who survive us can be a downer. And it’s all so risky.

If financial planning feels to you like reading Chinese in Braille upside down on a Ferris Wheel while experiencing a migraine headache, you can find relief in Retirement Quest: Make Better Decisions by certified financial planner John Hauserman. His information-packed translation come right side up, on level ground, headache free, in plain English. While the ins and outs of planning for the future can be complex, this book should be accessible to most readers.

It’s all based on RAID: RECOGNIZE national media hype, AVOID common investor mistakes, IDENTIFY financial scams, and DISTINGUISH between sales pitches and actual investment advice. Answers to questions asked on the book jacket are at the heart of this 121-page volume: Where are you getting your financial advice? How do you know your interests are being safeguarded? How do you know your advisors are competent? How can you know they’re putting your interests first? With Hauserman’s advice, you can make better decisions by getting the unbiased advice you need so you can avoid costly mistakes.

Married couples should read Retirement Quest together, and the sooner the better; take notes and write down questions for your financial advisor. It isn’t too early to plan for the future and you’ll want to stay informed. In fact, as Hauserman says, you need to take charge of your own financial future rather than expecting the government to bail you out.

Probably most unusual for a financial planning book, Retirement Quest explains government systems and philosophies that don’t work historically and don’t protect citizens’ financial freedom or future. Social Security, our government mandated financial planning law, can no longer guarantee what it started out in 1935 to promise Americans—security when they retired. Life expectancy then was mid-60s for men and a few years longer for women. Even in the 1970’s, before global events changed things, a new car cost about $3,000 and gas was about 30¢ per gallon.

Because people live much longer now, we have to plan more creatively so we can live 30 or 40 years off retirement savings and investment programs—all this at a time when buying power is continually eroding. As the preface states: “Retirement Quest does not simply rehash the familiar old investment axioms found in so many of today’s volumes. Instead, it offers a holistic approach that explores the ways in which the financial services industry, politics, and modern media all too often combine to hamper rather than encourage our personal saving efforts. By improving our understanding of the overall process, we can avoid falling prey to the hazards and take steps to potentially provide for our own financial future and that of our children.”

In other words, you don’t have to learn Chinese at all, or get headaches. Hauserman also offers a free interactive planning map at his website. For the visual learners among us, maps help. For the aural learners, financial advisors can explain.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I won’t tweet—don’t ask me

If I don't check my FaceBook page a couple of times a day and keep it weeded, I end up with dozens of messages begging for attention, most of which are people saying, "Yeah, right," and "Me, too." It's fairly easy to flip through and discard the irrelevant or inconsequential ones, or quickly "like" something somebody said. But it still takes time.

On the other hand, sometimes I get into an interesting quip-fest that goes on and keeps me entertained maybe for days.

Don't get me wrong--I like having connections with friends and family between personal visits. I like getting acquainted with new people. I like the funny things they say or post, and the witty repartee that can develop. And it's great to be in a private group with my writer friends where we can communicate often.

Followers of my blog have no doubt observed the space between posts. It isn't that I have nothing to say. I'm one of the most verbal, opinionated people you'll ever meet. It's just that I'm so busy I don't take time to say everything that's on my mind.

I am unencumbered by housework and children and a career. When we retired we divided the household duties to our mutual satisfaction--I cook, he cleans. I'm very grateful for that because I find housework repetitive and frustrating; after all, it's never really done if you have to do it over again in a few days. I like being free to set my own goals, climb my own figurative mountains, and stop to smell the roses.

Maybe it's that I have such a hard time focusing when so many choices of ways to spend my time keep me in a continual state of indecision. Distractions, after all, are Satan's way of keeping us in the thick of thin things.

I know productive people I admire who keep up at least one blog, do FaceBook and Linked-In, and even Twitter. What I don't understand is how people can keep up with all the social networking that goes on and still have a life. Just asking, because I haven't found the secret.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Valentines Day

To my skeptical and somewhat cynical way of thinking, Valentines Day is much like Halloween--a ripoff driven by emotional blackmail--and I'm realistic enough to refuse to be manipulated. It's all about marketing and consumerism.

Valentines Day is apparently supposed to be a day when you express the depths of your love to your sweetie. That often comes in the form of flowers that are going to die in a few days, candy you're better off not consuming, and a greeting card that says what the greeting card designer wrote.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a hopeless romantic. I like the overt tokens of affection just as much as the next person, but expressions of real love in a real marriage are usually not accompanied by violins and moonlight. Sometimes it's a "How 'bout I scramble some eggs for breakfast?" or a "Come on, let's go to the fitness center."

It leaves me wondering why merchandisers think we're so short-sighted as to limit expressions of love to one day a year. Where do they think we've been the other 364 days of the year? Do they really think you take your sweetie for granted and then on February 14 erase it all with a few trinkets that say, "You know what I mean"?

My sweetie landed in the hospital Sunday morning with a kidney stone--now that's really romantic--and I sat with him all day as he went through pain and procedure and even delirium coming out of anesthesia. It wasn't fun, especially for him, when the plans for the day had to be abandoned to take care of a problem that wasn't going away on its own. It wasn't life-threatening; nevertheless, we realized it could have been much worse. Still, I thought of my mother watching my father die of an incurable disease--mesothelioma--and my grandmother calling the ambulance that February day in 1961 when my grandfather had a sudden and eventually fatal heart attack. These were life-altering moments for those women who had to go on alone.

No, flowers and candy and cards are not enough. Decide now to regret nothing. Time doesn't wait for you to get around to making a grand gesture that may ultimately be misunderstood. Say now all the things you mean to say, and put it in your own unique words. Here's what I've said to my sweetie:

You’re gone before I even realize
you were there. Softly, the gossamer touch
of your lips tells me so, but hit-and-run
kisses are only the lazy flap of
butterfly wings--I might forget before
our mouths can be together again. Give
me something genuine, sincere, a real
smackeroo, firmly planted, that leaves me
with the familiarity of you,
and the security of us. Don’t tease
my appetite for you, and then leave me
ravenous, wishing you would stay for just
one more sweet reminder of who we are.
Make me remember every time that
you, my best love, my only love, kissed me.

Talking in Your Sleep 
We sleep so differently, You and I--
      You with your right hand up to your face,
      I with my left hand a fist under my chin,
      You with your fidgeting feet,
      I with my tickling nose when pollen swoops in the open window,
      You with your indigo dreams of flying,
      I with my crimson dreams of climbing too high and falling, gravity’s victim again,
      You with your instant unconsciousness,
      I with my constant wakefulness,
      You with your no-nonsense morning routine,
      I with no place to go, lying there listening to you shave.
We sleep so differently, You and I, but we are for each other.
      Awake with different eyes we see alike the same way through.

If I Could Only Hold You Closer
Sometimes when we’re together
and I’m watching your face
and loving you beyond love
I marvel at how the years have
bonded us. We know without speaking
what half a smile
or a raised eyebrow means.
And yet holding hands, arm in arm,
cheek to cheek, even lips to lips
are fully insufficient.
Not even flesh to flesh entwined like vines
can bring us as close as I want to be
to you.