Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?

Never mind Joe DiMaggio, where has the Retirement Mensch been since last year?

Retirement is not easy!  Besides trying to figure out what’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner, someone is always trying to get you to volunteer for something. You’ve got a lot of free time, right? Or my email inbox is cluttered with offers that need to be considered.  It is a challenge to learn to say NO!

AARP wants me to volunteer to teach a safe driver’s class or mentor other retirees at income tax time.

My church wants me to deliver meals, or water the plants, or count the collection. I might make an exception for that.

A trade group wants me to boost membership in my spare time.

The Home Owner’s Association needs me on a committee that doesn’t exist, yet.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all need me to follow someone, tweet, or upgrade my account based on the daily volume of emails they send me.

Open Table wants me to reserve a table or two for dinner every week and every day Chow Hound sends a new recipe for me  to try.

World Market, Williams-Sonoma, and CVS want me to take advantage of new offerings, free shipping and discounts almost daily.  Sears has become new best friend when I revised my contact information with my email address.

Barnes & Noble doesn’t want me to miss out on new books, so they’re sending me reminders and coupons.   Amazon has reminders for me about what tools, music or household items I could buy based on past purchases.

So where has the Mensch been?  When not in a foxhole avoiding incoming missives and volunteer opportunities, the Mensch has been on the road. In no particular order, the following cities have been graced by the Mensch’s presence in 2013: Nashville, Orlando, Charleston, Cherokee, Pigeon Forge, Myrtle Beach, Atlantic City, Hendersonville, Virginia Beach, Eatontown, Staten Island, Atlanta, Augusta, Tinton Falls, and Lacey Township.

Retirement can be tiring or it can be a challenge, but it should never be boring.



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Cruising into Retirement

The Wall Street Journal publishes a Journal Report on retirement issues called NEXT: Planning & Living the New Retirement.  The latest issue had a front page account of the Martins,  a couple who “walked away from all they owned” to travel and live around the world.

The Martins have lived in London, Paris, Florence, and Buenos Aires among other places.  They travel on the cheap and live in fully furnished rented apartments for a month or two or three, and then move on to the next place.  I won’t rehash their story, “The Let’s-Sell- Our-House-And-See-the-World Retirement”, which you can find at WSJ, because I was with a couple this week whose retirement plan was “Let’s trade our house for a boat and travel around the U.S.”

I have known Ed and Benia (Ben-ya; her dad was expecting a boy) since college days.  In 2005 they sold their house in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, gave control of their assets to a financial planner, and bought the Sea Angel, an ocean-going sail boat.  Ed and Benia are both experienced sailors and Ed has his captain’s license.

The plan was simple: live on the boat and travel the intracoastal waterway on the East Coast.  Most December’s and January’s the Sea Angel was anchored in Key West.

They have adventured throughout the Caribbean visiting most of the islands in the West Indies, Mexico and Central America. Over the last two years they have been on the great adventure up the Hudson, the Erie Canal, the Great Lakes, Detroit River, Tennessee River and others south to Alabama where they entered the Gulf of Mexico and headed for Marathon, Florida to complete a 5000 mile sojourn.

I met them at the Charleston Maritime Center last week to get a glimpse of their new boat, Genteel, on their way south.  After seven years of tugging on ropes, hauling the keel and flipping the jib, they have traded the Sea Angel for a power boat of the ocean-going class: 48 feet stem to stern, 16 feet in the beam and twin diesel engines that produce a hull speed of 14 knots. (I don’t know what all that means but it is a beautiful boat that goes faster than the average bear.)

Their cruising retirement has had its share of adventures: rough seas, waiting weeks for repair parts in Guatemala, and challenging sandbars.  There has been more upside than downside with people they have met, places visited and bucket list accomplishments.

Retirement: different strokes for different folks.


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Pluto is Missing

Last night I heard the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (CSO), www.charlestonsymphony.org, in rehearsal for this weekend’s concert. The CSO program caught my eye when I read that Gustav Holst’s The Planets was the featured work.  It is one of my favorite pieces of modern classical music along with Bolero, Pictures at an Exhibition, and Rhapsody in Blue.

According to the program notes, Holst started his “series of mood pictures” about the planets in 1914 and completed it in 1918.  World War I kept it from being premiered until 1923.  There are seven movements in this work that runs fifty-one minutes:

  • Mars, the Bringer of War
  • Venus, the Bringer of Peace
  • Mercury, the Winged Messenger
  • Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity 
  • Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
  • Uranus, the Magician
  • Neptune, the Mystic. 

Did you notice that there are two planets missing?  No reason not to miss Earth.  Pluto was recently demoted so maybe Holst knew something astronomers didn’t before it was discovered in 1930.

The CSO plays at Sottile Theater in downtown Charleston.  Rehearsal tickets were price fixed at $25 for any seat in the house.  The turnout was small with everyone seated in the center section of the orchestra.  Rehearsal is quite the contrast to performance night.

The players were in casual dress: everything from jeans and running shoes to sweatshirts and baseball caps.  Their outfits did not affect their playing.  When Maestro Michael Rossi, in shirt sleeves and slacks, tapped the podium with his baton, the orchestra sat straight and assumed positions ready to play with all eyes on him.

After the applause for a Verdi overture, the first piece on the program,  Rossi turned back to the orchestra to point out some parts that needed improvement.  They rehearsed sections of the score several times until the maestro was satisfied.  Rehearsal “fun” was in full swing when the Chorus started a Brahms’ song for the second piece.

The Maestro stopped the Chorus about three minutes into the song asking the chorus to slow down the tempo.  He stopped the second attempt with a “that is not Brahms’ tempo”! On the third try, he frustratingly exclaimed, “Whatever tempo I give you, you sing the same thing, too fast.  Let’s try again.”

It turns out that Rossi was substituting for David Amado who was scheduled to conduct.  I guess one man’s Brahms is not another’s.   Fourth time was the charm.  Brahms’ Song of Destiny was lovely even though I didn’t understand a word of German.

Before Maestro Rossi  started The Planets, he explained how the work ends with the Neptune movement having a woman’s chorus offstage repeating their soliloquy in lower volumes until they fade away and the work ends.  They rehearsed this first. With each subsequent practice, Rossi kept moving the chorus further and further back into the wings until they achieved the sound he was looking for. It was almost comical.

When The Planets opened with Mars, the Bringer of War, it was like being at a Star Wars movie.  I think Holst is where John Williams got his ideas for his movie music.  The CSO played through the whole score without any interruptions.  The chorus faded away beautifully at the end and the show was over.

After the applause the Maestro invited the audience to stay for additional rehearsal.  I had my interplanetary experience and headed for the parking lot.

You can hear it all here: The Planets.






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One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four

Potatoes had Mrs. Mensch and me laughing out loud in the grocery store today.  Being retired can be strenuous if you are not careful, so you need to pace your days and schedule.

Today was a simple day. Out of bed by 8, coffee and English muffin for breakfast and on to Church for Mass and to water the plants.  A few phone calls, a brief chat with Tom Myers and coffee at the Single Smile Cafe where the wireless network is secure and free.

After lunch at home, Mrs. Mensch and I visited the Family YMCA in downtown Summerville for a tour.  Our membership there will be free as part of the supplemental health plan we have through AARP and United Health Care.  They call it “Silver Sneakers”.  The FYMCA is a great facility with workout rooms, lap pool, training rooms, and lockers with showers and sauna.

After the tour we visited short Central Avenue shops looking in the art gallery for something new for our kitchen wall.  No luck although we did see several stunning crepe myrtle trees that have the most unusual bark.  On the way home we stopped at The Pig, a term of endearment for the Piggly Wiggly grocery store to pick up a lottery ticket (hey, you never know) and some applesauce.  Here’s where the potatoes show up.

According to Mrs. Mensch’s rules, tonight’s dinner entrée, shake & bake pork chops, requires baked potato as a side dish.  The potatoes we have at home are not appropriate for baking so off we go to the produce aisle to find appropriate potatoes.

The Pig had a ten pound bag of Russett potatoes on sale for $2.99; almost $0.30 per pound.  Mrs. Mensch loved the price since the 5  pound bag right next to it was regularly priced at $2.99, that’s $0.60 per pound.  Here’s where the giggles started.

So now we had to have a big discussion about the price of potatoes.  How long would it take two people to eat 10 pounds of  potatoes?  How many potatoes would go bad and be wasted.  Mrs. Mensch contended that at $0.30 a pound, waste didn’t matter.

To raise the chuckle level, The Pig had loose baking potatoes priced at 2 for $1.39 or $0.70 for one. I checked: one potato weighed in at 10 ounces which comes out to $1.12 a pound.

At one time or another I had the 10 pound bag or the 5 pound bag in my hand. The debate raged on.  Too hysterical to carry on any more, we bought one potato, 70 cents: no waste, easy to carry, no fuss, no muss. Retirement can be a lot of laughs.

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Location, Location, Location

The mantra of real estate sales people has always been location. location, location. What matters when you buy a house is determined by a number of things.

There is the financial part: price/affordability, mortgage rates, real estate taxes, closing costs, insurance premiums.

There is the physical part. Buyers look at bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, backyards, garages, appliances, landscaping, lofts, attics, rooms over garages, fences.

There is the emotional part. Colors, paint, wallpaper, wood floors, ceramic tile, carpeting, moldings, closets, and lighting all make an emotional impression on buyers.

What physical, financial, or emotional parts of a house is the buyer willing to trade for the perfect location in regard to:

  • The grocery store.
  • Workplace/commute
  • The post office.
  • The church, synagogue or mosque.
  • The bank.
  • The hairdresser, barber, and manicurist.
  • The pharmacy.
  • The hardware store.
  • The box store.
  • The liquor store.
  • The gas station and car repair shop.
  • The doctor, dentist, optometrist, chiropractor, and hospital.
  • The pizza place, Chinese restaurant, fast food stores.

Location, location, and location are the three principles of home buying.

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Greetings from The Palmetto State

The Retirement Mensch has relocated from New Jersey to South Carolina where the living is easy, the humidity high and the taxes low. There are some big differences between South Carolina and New Jersey when it comes to taxes and expenses.

In New Jersey, there is no tax on clothing or apparel. Your shoes, socks, jeans, tee shirts, etc. all go through the check out line without being taxed. In New Jersey there is no tax on groceries. Your steaks, pickles, tomatoes, etc. are all tax-free, but non-food items like paper products, soap products, and light bulbs have 7% added on.  In South Carolina, everything that is in your grocery cart is taxed. Doesn’t matter if it is bacon, tomatoes or a swifter mop on the checkout belt, it is taxed at 6%.

South Carolina has a 6% personal property tax on automobiles, boats, motorcycles, etc. There is a “white” tax on appliances that is levied by the counties for environmental reasons. Both of those taxes are unheard of in New Jersey.

I know I said taxes are lower in South Carolina, I forgot to mention that there are more of them. But even with the nickel and diming of various taxes, there are big savings here.

As a retired Mensch, my health insurance is Medicare A and B along with AARP’s Supplemental Health Plan. In South Carolina, the premium for the supplemental plan is $100 less per month for Mrs. Mensch and me. That’s a savings of $1200 a year. I could buy $17000 of groceries and still be even with NJ.

If you are in Medicare you know that a Part D prescription plan is required. The Mensch’s Medco Medicare Prescription Plan has a higher premium in South Carolina than New Jersey: $36.80 versus $34.40. ( Medco’s highest monthly premium is $49.40 in Florida; the lowest is $30.70 in Arkansas.)

Compared to New Jersey, homeowner’s insurance is less in South Carolina but not by much with both states facing hurricane exposure. AARP has South Carolina ranked 41st in automobile insurance premiums and New Jersey is 22nd in 2010.  How much could it change in two years?

The big difference is property taxes. New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the country with little relief for retirees.  New York is actually higher but has better relief for seniors.  On comparably valued property, real estate taxes in South Carolina are about 30% of New Jersey with homestead and senior citizen relief that can bring it down to about 20%.  Average property taxes in New Jersey are about $7500. In South Carolina, it is about $2500.  One source has South Carolina as 44th in property taxes compared New Jersey’s #2.

As long as my disposable income matches the humidity, I’ll be a happy Retired Mensch.

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Somethings Are Meant to Be

A Simple Plan

The plan was simple.  I would meet my friend Jeff for coffee at Barnes & Noble on Wednesday evening after I returned from Summerville, SC.  I had an 11 o’clock flight out of Charleston to Charlotte and a 1 o’clock flight, 860, from Charlotte to Newark.  Mrs. Mensch would pick me up at 3:30 and there would be enough time to return home, grab dinner and meet Jeff at 7:30.

The Plan Changes

The plane from Charleston was one of those small regional jets and there were no empty seats.  As promised, we pulled way from the gate on time, rolled out to the tarmac for take off and then the pilot turned around and went back to the gate.

A panel light indicated a problem with the flaps and a mechanic had to be called.  The problem was fixed but to test the fix all passengers had to be off the plane, even the woman with crutches.  Back in the terminal I sent a text to Jeff postponing our meeting. No way was I going to make flight 860.

When we landed at 1:20, I found a voice mail on my cell phone. USAIR called to tell me that flight 860 had been delayed and would leave at 2:15.  I dragged my suitcase from terminal E to terminal B.  The gate agent confirmed my seat and I boarded.  I had the famous window seat next to an eight year old with his crying younger brother was behind me.

The Plan Changes

The plan continued to fall apart when flight 860 landed a little after 4 and Mrs. Mensch  could not meet me due to a prior engagement.  No problem, I could take the air-train to the airport train station and take New Jersey Transit back to Middletown.

Up the escalator at Terminal A to the air-train.  Air-train pass Terminals B, C and Parking and the last stop, the train station. Up the escalator to ticketing and Dunkin’ Donuts.  The machine spits out my ticket and it was down the escalator for track 5.  The schedule showed a 4:42 Coast Line train and it was now 4:35.  When the system works, it works.  The train arrived on time but the monitor showed the last stop as Matawan, two stops north of Middletown and a $30 cab ride to my house.  The next scheduled train for Middletown was after six.

Another change

The schedule showed a 5:17 New Jersey Coast Line train to Middletown from Newark’s Penn Station, which is only one stop north of the airport station. So, it was back up the escalator, cross over, escalator down to track 1 for the next train to Newark’s Penn Station.

Five minutes later, I’m in Newark’s Penn Station, down the stairs and back up the other side for track 2 waiting for the 5:17 with minutes to spare.  The system is working again.

“Hey, Jeff!”

Here comes Jeff on his commute home from New York City.  The 5:17 is his usual train.  We had our friendly chat after all and Jeff drove me home.  Apparently, it was meant to be.



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Thriving Beyond Midlife

My friend Gretchen (not her real name) was thriving beyond midlife.  A widow, she relocated a few years after her husband died to a warmer climate.  A nurse by training, she worked in hospice and started her own business.

The business was struggling for several years but last year things started to gel and the business was succeeding.  Her success was enough for her to plan her trip of lifetime, a bucket list item: a tour of the Holy Land.  I was with her in February when she excitedly described her upcoming trip to Israel.  I wrote a prayer on a piece of paper and asked her to put it in the Wailing Wall, a Jewish custom that is observed by tourists of all religions.

Having experienced death first hand from her hospice work, Gretchen was smart enough to have a health care directive, a living will and power of attorney as part of her financial plan.  She was also smart enough to transfer the risks of travel to an insurance company when she booked her trip to Israel.

On her first day in Tel Aviv, Gretchen was hospitalized with a deep brain aneurysm.  The surgeons stopped the bleed and relieved the pressure but the damage had been done.  She had extensive brain damage that left her in a coma and on a ventilator.

The Israeli hospital did not recognize her living will/health care directive when it was presented.  She was not an Israeli citizen and the documents were American.  A week after surgery, the travel insurance company arranged for her transport by medical jet back to the U.S. It took three days to make the arrangements, have the Israeli doctor agree that she could be transported and settle the bill before discharge.

In the meantime, her niece exercised her power of attorney and started to manage Gretchen’s personal and business finances.

It was a twenty-plus hour flight from Tel Aviv to the United States in small Lear jet.  Her niece and sister admitted her to the hospital presenting the records from Israel and the living will.  The following day the ventilator was removed in accordance with Gretchen’s written wishes.  She died within the hour.

One of her directives was for organ donation.  Gretchen will be around for a while, helping others to thrive.



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How Will You Live?

The last section of Thriving Beyond Midlife, How Will You Live?, concerns itself with thriving even while dealing with the declining personal resources and frailty that come with advanced age.

Researchers found that 30% of seniors over age 73 were most satisfied with the present time in their lives. These are the seniors who adapted to aging and frailty through selection, optimization and compensation.

Selection is choosing to do what you can; optimization is doing it as well as you can; compensation is finding alternate ways of getting it done.  The thirty percent are able to focus on the positive, ignore the pain, and be willing to change.  By thriving these thirty percent inspire their peers and alleviate the psychological and spiritual pain that often comes with old age and frailty.

Life cannot be controlled and it does not have to be controlling if you can learn to dance with life either as leader or follower.  MacBean’s and Simmons’ prescription for thriving is to express yourself and embrace others in the four domains of body, mind, heart and soul.

The thrivers are comfortable with their bodies no matter what their age.  They have learned to love their bodies by adjusting their attitudes and their exercises to compensate for the shape they are in.

The thrivers exercise their minds.  They have mental strength and flexibility.  They have goals.  They live in the present but do not ignore the future.  Thrivers know that a willingness to forgive keeps relationships alive and current and not stuck in the past of old hurts.  Thrivers have values that never change.

Thrivers with heart love their family, friends and community.  Thrivers have the  emotional agility to accept themselves as they are.  Thrivers know that the longer they live they will experience the deaths of family members and friends. Their emotional agility allows them to go on with life and make new friends while remembering the old.

Finally, thrivers are spiritual beings, not necessarily religious, but aware of the mystery of life.  Thrivers know that the spirit transcends death and are at peace with dying when the time comes.

Let me end this with a few lines from T. S. Eliot that are quoted in the book:

Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion…
In my end is the beginning.









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How Will You Pay For It?

Last week I wrote about one of my favorite reality books, Thriving Beyond Midlife by Craig MacBean and Henry Simmons. I described the “Where Will You Live?” section and promised to review part four, “How Will You Live?”.  I must digress however because Sunday’s Newark Star-Ledger had an advice column about retirement finances.  The author advised new asset allocations and legal documents such as a will, power of attorney and living will for the retired couple seeking advice.  Here’s what MacBean and Simmons have to say about “How Will You Pay For It?”.

To thrive beyond midlife, you need to anticipate and prepare for economic reality, that is, having enough money to satisfy your living needs and frailty care.  MacBean and Simmons pose four questions for their discussion:

  1. When you stop working what will you live on?
  2. How will you pay for acute medical care and chronic drug therapies?
  3. How will you pay for frailty care?
  4. What will happen to what you have and to anyone who depends on what you have when you die?

The answer to question 1 requires honest answers to a lot of questions.  The broad subject here is Retirement Income Planning. Financial professionals have always advised about the accumulation of funds for some far off retirement day.

There are a myriad of choices for retirement savings, from the sublime of a 401(k) plan to the ridiculous of the piggy bank; the reality is that savings is vital to thriving after midlife.  The second reality is how to take distributions from savings so that there is enough to live on and enough to answer questions 2 and 3.

To answer question 2, the authors point out that Medicare is there for acute illness rather than chronic conditions; and that Medicaid is designed for the indigent minority who have nothing and are frail.  They recommend supplementary health insurance to back up Medicare.

The authors suggest transferring the risk associated with frailty care to an insurance company by purchasing Long Term Care Insurance and devote a whole chapter to the subject.  Since 2006, when Thriving Beyond Midlife was published, several major insurance carriers who sold Long Term Care Insurance have withdrawn from the market.    With fewer carriers, retirees will have to look to their own resources for frailty care.  Start saving more or spending less.

The answer to question 4 revolves around estate planning.  Here is where you need the legal documents mentioned in the newspaper column and correct beneficiary designations for disposition of assets as you wish.

If you don’t have a will, the state has one for you.  It is the mandatory distribution of assets owned solely by a person at the time of death.  Distributions from retirement plans, insurance policies and even brokerage accounts are controlled by the beneficiary designation that is in the contract.

Many a widow has been disappointed and disturbed to learn that her husband’s ex-wife will receive his life insurance proceeds because he never changed beneficiary designation.  Post mortem estate planning rarely goes well.

So next time, I’ll take a look at “How Do You Live?”





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