The Subconscious Speaks

It’s been two weeks since I turned in my two months’ notice at work. I haven’t reached a point where I’ve second guessed my decision and wondered if I should try and work until I’m 70 in order to maximize the Social Security I can receive. I come down firmly in the camp that I should go for it while I still have the health to do it – whatever “it” turns out to be.

That said, I’ve found myself engaging in some interesting things lately … well, two. One concerns my waking state and the other concerns my dreams.

As far back as I can remember, if I’m going to have a dream that I would recognize as showing anxiety, it has always harkened back to my dancing days. I will either be onstage in the wrong costume or I’ll be late and trying to perform the wrong routine. In the past two weeks, I’ve had a couple of those dance dreams but they seem to have some other interesting components to them. In both cases, I was trying to lead the ensemble to the stage location and we couldn’t quite get there. All the other dancers were younger than I was and I was afraid they weren’t listening to me.

Okay, should we try to analyze them? I think I’m worried that my “legacy” will be forgotten by the younger generation taking over my duties and that I’ll be seen as useless. Sound about right? The reason I find this interesting is because in my waking Yin-Yang-Woven-Dreamcatcher-8_3.jpg.optimalstate, despite the dreams, I’m aware that people at work think I’ve made some significant contributions and that we need to get someone who can continue them as is. So I find it fascinating that my subconscious says otherwise. Perhaps I need a dream catcher over my bed – at least until my actual retirement.

Then there’s my waking state. I have found myself, illogically, stocking up on things like books on CD for my car, magazine subscriptions, cases of prescription cat food, sneakers for the gym, custom-fitted trash bags for my kitchen garbage can, my favorite cologne Screen-Shot-2015-11-05-at-9.57.43-AMand the oversize tees I sleep in. What’s up with that? I guess I know that when those run out, I’ll probably see them as extravagances that I shouldn’t be spending my Social Security money on, so the idea is that if I stock up now, it’ll be quite some time before I have to face the music.

Who knows what other illogical things I’ll come up with in the next six weeks in preparation for retirement? Time will tell

Night Before / Day After

Last night I could’ve easily taken half a bottle of Maalox and still needed more. Even though I’ve weighed all the pros and cons – at least a bazillion times – they ran on a continual loop in my mind. Should I retire? Should I not retire? Would everything work Scared womanout for me financially or would I be as destitute as it looked on paper? Would I find lots of new hobbies to keep me busy or find myself staring out the window every day? Could I find a part-time job if I needed one or would any of my writing aspirations pan out? Could I revamp my independent business so that it would make enough money to keep me comfortably afloat? Yes, this all led to lack of sleep.

This morning, I tweaked my resignation letter for the umpteenth time to get the tone just right, the language just right, the insinuations just right. And then I forwarded them to my work email, got dressed feeling like I was headed toward the guillotine and headed in to the office.

I pulled up an email, input four relevant individuals, said something inane and slightly lame, attached the resignation letter, paused – one, two, three – and then resolutely hit “Send.” I fully expected to lunge for the keyboard, trying to retrieve the email and replay that mental loop just one more time. Didn’t happen. I actually felt totally comfortable and, dare I say it, a bit elated and relieved. I knew I’d made the right decision a few minutes later when my first problem correspondence arrived in the in-box and it didn’t bother me like it usually does.

I eventually got nice replies from all four recipients. That’s not to say that once they’ve had to time to think about it, they may change their minds and decide to boot me right away. But the truth is – – I don’t care. I’m comfortable with that one, too. I suppose what I finally realized yesterday was that I was always going to be scared whether I retired today, 2 years from now or 10 years from now. I’m always going to have to scramble for extra money to supplement the Social Security. So if that’s the case, why not get out while I still have my health? That’s exactly what I’m doing and here’s how I felt today:

4127.excited

 

Do Shoes Indicate a Person’s Worth?

Male shoes nice

I once worked for a man who admitted that he judged everyone by their shoes and I found that ludicrous. Now that I’m contemplating retirement and the freedom to “dress down” permanently, I wonder if my worth will hit rock bottom? If I choose to go out in a worn pair of sneakers, am I less of a person? I suppose the best question should be, “Do I care what anyone thinks?”

Dirty sneakers

I believe the idea is that scuffed shoes mean you’re too lazy to take care of your things. I’m not sure that correlates to someone who would be a lazy employee. Maybe you’re just so damn busy living an interesting life that you haven’t found the time to buff them up or repair them. I realize I’m simplifying the issue but I dislike the premise and think he needs to find a different standard. Plus, the man that started me thinking about this many years ago was a good-looking, pompous ass that I detested because of his sense of entitlement. So, yes, I’m biased against any pronouncement he uttered. Let’s set that straight from the get-go.

The most interesting people I’ve ever met don’t follow the “standards.” And, I might ask, who exactly sets those societal standards? I personally have a hard time subscribing to this notion because, as you might well imagine, I’ve never had two cents worth of interest in having a different pair of shoes with every outfit. Like my car, they’re just things to get me from Point A to Point B without tearing up the soles of my feet. I know – heresy. But the truth is that if I could get by with wearing fluffy house slippers to work every day, I would.

I guess I’m trying inarticulately to say that the outer accoutrements don’t tell you much about the person inside. Maybe my scuffed shoes mean I’m living on social security and would rather eat than look chic. I understand that in a business environment, a conservative boss might not want me strolling in in something better suited for a night on the town, Wild shoes but I maintain that judging a person by the shoes they wear is an assumption of what they’re capable of and how smart they are and it shouldn’t be. Now you might say, “How smart can you be to show up at work in unsuitable attire?” Yes, I get it; there are unspoken standards in any workplace and there’s a comfortable middle ground that most people stick to, but my point is that the statement about being able to determine a person’s worth by the shoes they wear is not a standard for determining whether or not they can do the job you’ve hired them for. If I’m in accounting, my scuffed, beat up, out-of-date shoes don’t prevent me from adding and subtracting. Nor do they tell you that perhaps I paint like Picasso in my free time or I’ll soon be publishing a cookbook on French cuisine. Or maybe I just have a boatload of debt and can’t afford new shoes right now. You get the idea.

So here’s my question: Who does it say more about when a person is judged by his fashion sense? By this executive’s criteria, I’d have to come to the conclusion that Jesus and Gandhi were total losers.

imagesKQBS6871

 

The Dreaded Budget

Senior_Budget

This picture shows exactly how I feel about the budget I just drew up – about to be buried under it. You’d think I’d have tackled this subject a long time ago. You’d be wrong. It’s sort of like going to the doctor when you suspect you might have a problem but you feel pretty good. You put it off, telling yourself you couldn’t possibly have something wrong when you feel good. But deep down inside, you know the truth. It’s a not so simple matter of buckling down and facing it.

So I found an Excel spreadsheet that lets me input all my income once I retire, any savings and then list every expense. I was relentless, coming back to it several days in a row with all the little things I tend to forget – and, of course, they’re the ones that add a bazillion dollars to the total. I put in things like the trash bags I order because they fit the particular brand and shape of the garbage can in my kitchen; my weekend Starbucks coffees and treats; my annual car registration (easy to forget when you’re inputting monthly expenses); my company’s annual fee; the donation to Women For Women International; Sirius XM in my car so I can listen to CNN or Broadway showtunes as the mood strikes me; birthday gifts for family and friends; and family dinners.

I anticipated that my current expenses would probably exceed my Social Security income by about $500-$750. Much to my horror, my expenses exceed my income by $1,340. Although I had banked on (pun intended) expanding the scope of my outside company to bring in some extra income, I imagine it would take me years to be able to cover that differential. To tell the truth, it’s sort of horrifying.

Today, I sat and made a first-round attempt at figuring out what expenses I could live without and which ones could easily be cut back. Needless to say, “easily” was the operative word. I managed to see an extra savings of $200 a month. The whole thing would be laughable if not for the fact that it’s a looming reality.

Yes, I realize I can get a part-time job but that sort of defeats the purpose of retirement, doesn’t it? And there’s always that little matter of businesses being loathe to employ anyone over the age of about 40 (that might be a generous figure).

My only possible avenue is through my company, I think. I recently listened in on a webinar about the use of CBD in products. Since I’m a Registered Aromatherapist, the idea of creating CBD tinctures and lotions for my personal company is tantalizing. I discarded the idea about a year ago because of the fact that the DEA had declared CBD a Class I drug. However, word has it that the Farming Act of 2018, which excludes CBD from the list, just passed last month. If that’s true, I see a double benefit. I can use them for my own chronic health issues and perhaps the bridge some of the gap in my budget.

CBD seniors

Panama – Part III

Boquete

Keep in mind that this little Panamanian adventure was taken when I was 63 years old, traveling alone and in search of a retirement location that would be more affordable when living off nothing but social security. The goal was to cash out my 401K, use it to purchase a small cottage with a backyard suited for establishing a lush garden to revel in on a daily basis and yet still be close to decent medical care.

So I drove from David, Panama to Boquete, where the instructions were to turn left just past the bank  and before the town square as I was descending into the valley. Now really, how could that go wrong? However, as you can see from the photo above, you can’t miss the fact that you’re traveling down into a valley. And here was the town square:

boquete-town-square-3-7-2016-2-50-58-pm

I quickly found my host’s house and settled into the one-room casita in the backyard – right next to a babbling brook that attracted all sorts of birds throughout my stay. It was an idyllic setting: perfect temperatures in the day – t-shirts, sweat pants and sneakers – but cold enough at night to sleep with the window open and a blanket pulled up under my chin. The morning bird calls would wake me and I’d make a cup of coffee and sit outside the front door and watch the resident creatures come to life and dip in and out of the backyard.

Cottage

The first thing I noticed was that the town seemed to be more expats than locals and that most of them made little or no effort to talk to the locals (at least that I could see). I didn’t like that. My stay overlapped a three-day celebration on the founding on Boquete and there were “parades” daily. I use that term loosely because the first one was a constant stream of men on horseback, interspersed by pickup trucks with women freely pouring booze into plastic cups for anyone who walked up to them as they passed by. I watched one horse, made to lift his knees and prance down the street, foaming at the mouth and no none seemed to mind a bit. These same horses paraded around in a giant square for the better part of 5 hours. I sort of wished we’d made the rider prance around like that for hours with no water and see how much he liked it. And then there was the public drunkenness. When I returned to my casita, the owner asked about my day and when I told her the public drunkenness concerned me, she responded, “Well, there is that.” Hmmm. How safe would a lone foreigner be in the city with drunken men routinely tottering around the streets?

I took a tour of a coffee plantation, enjoyed that and booked a tour that only had three of us and a guide, walking uphill in the forest in a light drizzle for the better part of two hours. They may have seen this tour as “an easy uphill walk” but as a senior, there were times when I thought that if we didn’t stop for breath, I wouldn’t have any left.

I used my time in Boquete to walk some of the back streets to see what the houses looked like and how the locals lived. The houses were dilapidated but the locals were friendly. I also asked my host lots of questions. I thought maybe I could make herbal and essential oil products from my company, Scentsibility, and sell them but her response was, “Who’s going to buy them?” When I said “hopefully the locals,” she responded, “They grow herbs in their backyards and wouldn’t have the money to buy products.” She suggested I check out the weekly open market to check out the competition and so I did.

boquete-tuesday-market

I was mostly struck by the fact that this was the height of entertainment for the locals. There were no department stores, no big grocery stores, no library that I could see, and television programs in Spanish. I started to realize that although this would be wonderful for about a month, then what? I found the local doctor’s office and decided I’d need to head to David or even back to Panama City for health care and that would certainly not be convenient.

I talked about buying a small house and my host discouraged it. She (as well as all the expats I talked to) said I should definitely rent for six months to a year before settling there. That would mean I’d be depleting my funds for a purchase. She added further fuel to my thoughts by asking me who would buy my little cottage if I decided after a year or so to leave? The locals couldn’t afford it and the expats tended to band together in gated communities on the outskirts of town so they wouldn’t buy it.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Boquete, I realized that I probably would not want to settle there. So I flew back to Panama City for my last night’s stay in the country and was picked up by my trusty driver, Sinar (see Part I).

So it appears I’m back to square one – where to go and how to live on social security.

Fixer Upper?

house

Knowing I would have very limited funds once I retire, I dreamed up all kinds of scenarios in which I could plunk down my 401K and walk away rent-free. Then I would be able to live off my social security and not feel like I had to go back to a living style that was acceptable back in my college days when everything in life was a big adventure. Since I know I won’t have enough money to buy my dream home outright, I came up with the idea of purchasing a cottage in a foreign country at a ridiculously low price so I would have enough left over to develop a backyard hideaway garden.

I turned my attention to a show that would help me do that in a foreign country where the cost of living would stretch my retirement dollars far farther than I can do here at home. That was the basis for that first trip to Costa Rica and the one the following spring to Panama. Not having any idea of safe areas to check out or how to find a reputable realtor and being a fan of all the shows that appear to help you find a home, I sent an email to see if I qualified to get on it. Stupidly, I thought they actually found a reputable realtor for me and then I’d just have to make a decision based on the choices that were presented to me. What was I thinking? The response I got said, “I just wanted to get an update on your moving situation. Do you still have interest in being on the show? I ask because we are currently looking to cast people who are very close to closing on/renting a home or are already living in one.” He went on to say, “Furthermore, you would receive monetary compensation for appearing on the show ($1,500).” Say what? So the real incentive would’ve been $1,500 and the opportunity to see myself on television? I crossed that one off my list.

Then I turned my attention to domestic fixer upper shows, figuring maybe I could afford a cheap Craftsman that could be renovated within my budget to look like a new home and I’d still have some left over to plant that garden. I found tons of great bargains but then the problem was that I didn’t know what sort of neighborhood they were located in. Solution? I decided to take three days of PTO from work, fly to the city and have a realtor show me decent fixer upper areas. What could go wrong with that plan? Well, I’ll tell you. I found a realtor online and sent an email. She answered me by telling me what the average fixer upper in the city sold for which, of course, was contradictory to what I was finding online. I replied that I had found lots of affordable properties online and she didn’t bother to answer me again. I guess she wouldn’t have gotten as much as she was accustomed to by helping me out so I wasn’t worth her time.

Ok, I thought. I’ll rent a car, take a list of the neighborhoods with me and just start asking around in the hotel and restaurants. The only other issue is that I wasn’t really sure I wanted to live the city I was contemplating. As it turned out, one of my cats got violently ill the day before I was due to fly out and I ended up cancelling the trip to care for her. I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe in coincidences and decided that city wasn’t meant for me.

I have a co-worker who tells me I’m over thinking things and I just need to decide on a place and go. I might have done that in my twenties, figuring everything would turn out alright, but I’ve lived just long enough to know that the devil’s in the details and things don’t always work out well. And, if I can make them turn out better by doing some research and planning ahead of time, why wouldn’t I? I think it’s important for me to look at what the weather’s like most of the time wherever I go (I’ve lived in Vegas long enough to hate too much cold weather). Is the property in a safe area? Am I close to good medical care? Do I know anyone there? Is it a green part of the U.S where I can develop that dream garden? What’s the cost of living in that state? Can I afford to live off my social security? And, maybe a stupid concern but, what sorts of insects and bugs are there? How much rain will there be?

So the bottom line is that I’m still toying with ideas on how to accomplish my goals on very little money and getting nowhere fast.

 

Costa Rica Anyone?

Since I’ve lived in apartments for decades and won’t have a huge 401K saved up (savings is a whole other issue), it occurred to me that having rent (or even a mortgage), might drain what I’ve accumulated rather quickly. My thoughts turned to living in another country, one where the cost of living is considerably cheaper. I browsed through lots of issues of International Living magazine, and decided to start early and visit one country each year – Costa Rica, Panama and Belize.

The idea was to put my 401K down to buy a small cottage, but one with land for the garden retreat I covet, and then live off my social security. I have an aromatherapy company that I could put a lot more work into once I retire and pursue some writing goals but I certainly can’t count on that as a steady or even satisfying supplemental income. I have to look at retirement as being solely social security and 401K. Not good. I retired today, after the government takes out its 20% from the 401K, I will have a little over $100,000 and that’s it.

It’s also a little different looking for retirement destinations and homes when planning to buy as a single woman. I have to think a lot about location, not only for being close to healthcare but also for safety.

The next consideration is where to go once in the country when you don’t know anything about it – the weather, food, touristy or liveable, beautiful but isolated, travel methods, etc. For my first destination, Costa Rica, I relied heavily on International Living magazine and Frommer’s Easy Guide to Costa Rica. With limited funds available for the trip – I used my income tax return), clearly the amount of time I stayed was also limited. So the next question is: How do you decide where to go within the country and how do you get from Point A to Point B? Taxi, bus, car, fly? I booked a hotel near San Jose and a car and then got online in search of expats in Costa Rica who might respond and offer some tips. I found a couple relatively near where I would be staying and asked if I could buy them coffee and sit down for an hour or so to ask some questions. Without hesitation, they responded that, yes, they’d be willing to meet and I should have my driver follow the directions they gave me. My driver? I thought it was telling that it never even occurred to them that I might be driving so I decided to do more leg work about driving conditions. I decided to cancel the car and use an in-country company to hire drivers to get me from one location to the next. But that ruled out the trip to meet the expats.

I found that my hotel was not the optimum location for seeing the city so I hired a driver to take me around San Jose. I did some sightseeing and quickly decided I would not be retiring in San Jose. Then I had him drive me around an area that’s supposedly popular with expats and didn’t like it any better. So now what?

I booked a tour to see one of the volcanos, an artisan community and a coffee plantation and discovered that, although I’d figured it would be an interesting day but wouldn’t give me any information I’d need about retiring there, I was wrong. Driving through the local towns and the countryside, gave me a good idea of the types of homes that were common and a sort of “feeling” about the lay of the land and the sort of community where I might want to settle.

There are numerous beaches around  Costa Rica that most expats tend to flock to. Not me. I’m more a mountain, birds, butterflies, babbling creeks type of girl so I had my eye on the mountain areas. I loved Monteverde and its lush hillsides but ultimately figured it wouldn’t work for me. It’s a steep location and the older I get, the harder that would be and a local driver told me they have one pharmacy and one medical office but the nearest hospital was about a 2-hour drive down the mountain. If only I were 20 years younger. I’d jump at the chance to live there. But I’m not 20 years younger and I can’t afford to be blind to the consequences of my choices.

That apparently didn’t apply to my decision to zip line while there. I’ve always thought I might like to do that and so I took the plunge and booked a zip line tour. I was the only person signed up that morning (maybe that should’ve told me something?) and discovered that even though the little practice run at the bottom of the mountain was fun and thrilling, it was an entirely different picture when we took a tram up through the clouds to the top of the mountain where, I discovered, I would need to traverse 7 different lines to get back down to the bottom. Walking out on a platform above the cloud line where it’s completely silent and you can see some sort of village wwaaaaayyyyy down at the bottom is ever so slightly more intimidating than a practice run where you’re at treetop level. Nevertheless, I went for it and it was exhilarating.

I discovered that most of the Costa Ricans I met spoke pretty decent English and although I like the idea of a country with no army, when I asked one of my drivers what would happen if Costa Rica were ever attacked, he laughingly responded, “Hello America.”

So many things to consider: how long would it take to build a cottage if I just bought the land? How long to clear the land? Where are the optimal areas for nice breezes, mild “winters” (a term they don’t really use) and great temperatures? What sorts of insects might take over my home? How will my two cats acclimate? Do I need to learn to drive a stick shift? Am I in a safe area but not close enough to my neighbors that they can see what I’m having for breakfast?

I loved Costa Rica and had a wonderful 5 days but I didn’t want to make a rash decision and anyway, hadn’t thought to hire a realtor to show me around. I figured I’d need more than 5 days for that so might have to return. But that’s how you learn, right? Lots of things I accomplished but lots of things I didn’t.

The next year would be Panama. I’ll tackle that fiasco in the next blog post. In the meantime, I’m no closer to a decision about when or where to retire.