Saturday, August 27, 2016

Best Places to Retire ... 2016

     When my parents retired 30 years ago, they went to Florida like many of their friends. Florida was the most popular retirement destination, by far, back in the 1980s. Now in 2016, Florida is still the number one relocation destination for retirees. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

     And yet, while Florida is still number one, many Baby Boomers are electing to retire to the Carolinas, and of course a lot more people live on the West Coast, and so they are retiring to Arizona or Oregon or Washington.

     Then there are always a few outliers. I know two people who recently retired to Maine -- although one of them has a brother who lives in Fort Myers, and so he goes down to Florida to visit him for about six weeks in the winter.

Florida sunrise
     Of course, what many best-places-to-retire articles don't tell you is that most people actually retire in place. They don't go anywhere. They simply stay in their same house, in their same neighborhood, with their same friends and activities. Or else they downsize to smaller quarters, but still within a few miles of where they used to live -- again, with the same friends and same activities and familiar surroundings.

     So if the lists don't change that much, why am I writing this post? Because B and I are in the midst of relocating, and I am obsessed with the issue.

     We have sold our four-bedroom house and moved into a one bedroom condo for the time being. For the next year we will be traveling around looking for our retirement paradise. We have planned three trips so far, bringing us into the middle of November. And yet always, in the back of our minds, we have the notion that we may ultimately decide to settle right back where we came from -- in smaller quarters, perhaps only a few miles away from where we started out in New York.

Philadelphia hotel
     With all that as prelude, I ran across an infographic called Best Cities for a Happy and Happening Retirement on the Personal Income website, credited to Kiplinger. The recommended cities include a few in Florida, as well as several other cities in the Sunbelt. The list also cites Seattle, WA and Billings, MT . . .  and Philadelphia, PA. I've never seen Philadelphia mentioned as a top retirement destination before . . . although B and I have considered the area, mostly because she has some family living in nearby New Jersey and some other family living in Lancaster County, west of Philadelphia.

     Another Personal Income post takes us overseas to The World's Best Places to Retire in 2016. Among the recommendations are Saudi Arabia, the Czech Republic, Chile and Russia. Well, one of my grandmothers emigrated from the area now known as the Czech Republic (when it was under the Hapsburgs), and I can tell you, I'm not going back to Brno. And as for Russia? I don't think so.

     But I admit, I am less adventuresome than many people. In fact, a lot of Americans retire abroad, and there are plenty of sources, including writer and blogger Kathleen Peddicord, who cover all the issues involved in retiring overseas.

      The Forbes website also puts out an annual list. This year's The Best Places to Retire in 2016 features a map that also color-codes the states for their appeal to retirees. The list does not include Billings, or any other place in Montana. But it does mention Fargo, ND, for those who don't mind cold winters. It does not include a place in Maine, or any other destination in the Northeast . . . except, inexplicably, Pittsburgh, PA. Now, I myself don't know anything about Pittsburgh. But B went to college there for her freshman year, before she transferred to NYU. She tells me it's cold and rainy in Pittsburgh for most of the year, and about as far away as you can get from any other place you might ever want to go to.

     So Pittsburgh is crossed off the list, at least for us.

Phoenix overlook
     The Forbes list also includes Cape Coral, FL. I've been to Cape Coral . . . and I much prefer Naples. It includes Bluffton, SC, a cute little town between Savannah, GA and Hilton Head, SC. But I'd rather go to Charleston, a bigger, more sophisticated city where we have some friends and family.

     Meanwhile, one of my sisters lives on Phoenix, and she's always trying to get us to move out there. But we are inveterate East Coasters . . . besides our kids live on the East Coast, strung out between Brooklyn and South Carolina, and we want to be within shouting distance of them.

     And so, to echo the old saying . . . the beat goes on.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Why Is College So Expensive?

     It's back-to-school-time, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to bring up the sometimes-painful subject of college tuition -- an experience that, personally, gouged a significant chunk out of my retirement savings when I was writing those blood-chilling checks back in 2001 - 2008.

     I ran across this article featured on a blog done by a friend of mine, Jeremy Kisner, of Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix, AZ. The piece was written by Peter Bos, a summer intern at his firm and a sophomore at the University of Michigan. It's a well-reasoned analysis of the problem that at least shows this young man is getting a good education -- and provides some evidence that we are getting a decent return on our outsized investments in these institutions of higher learning.

Over the last 40 years, the cost of tuition has really skyrocketed, rising at an average yearly rate of 6% above inflation. This has led to tuition increases of 284% for public schools and 210% for private schools.

You know it’s bad when costs have increased at twice the rate of medical care, as seen below.

This substantial increase in tuition has led to an explosion of borrowing through college loan programs. Students and families are borrowing an average of $100 billion a year to pay for college, with total student debt outstanding now over $1.2 trillion. This is more than the aggregate amount of credit card debt or car loans.

The proportion of college students graduating with debt has increased to 59%, a record high. They owe an average of $35,000 upon graduation (up $4,000 in the last two years). Even the great recession did not temper the willingness to take on more student loans (see below).

The increase in debt per graduate means that:
  • Graduates are much less likely to pursue entrepreneurial ventures.
  • They are less willing to make risky investments, keeping their money in savings accounts rather than investing in stocks and bonds.
  • They are less likely to buy homes and more likely to rent (reflected in home ownership rates now at a 48-year low).
  • They begin saving for retirement much later.

Is College Worth It?

Many families are questioning whether college is worth the cost. Enrollment peaked in 2009 and has since been decreasing. Yet there is plenty of evidence that college is still worth the cost. 

College graduates make almost double the weekly wage with half the unemployment rate compared to high school graduates (see graphic below). However, many people have concluded that you have to be more selective about the type of degree and type of school you choose in order to make sure your investment in education will pay off.

Why Is College So Expensive?

The main reasons for the increase in tuition are the increase in spending on amenities to attract more desirable students, colleges hiring more teachers to decrease the student to faculty ratios, colleges wanting more control over financial aid and scholarships (usually to attract more competitive applicants), and colleges receiving less financial support from the states.

Tuition has increased as a percentage of total school revenue from 17% to 25%, whereas funding from the states has decreased from 32% to 23% over the past ten years. If the cost of tuition continues to increase at the current rate, by the year 2030 the typical tuition will rise from some $20,000 a year to $41,000 a year for public schools, and $44,000 to $91,000 a year for private schools.

Have you personally been affected by rising tuition? Do you think college is too expensive? Do you think it's worth the cost?

Finding the right college at a reasonable cost for your children or grandchildren may seem like an overwhelming task. But a whole cottage industry of college planning consultants has emerged to help prospective students. Check out college planning sites such as Stratagee or College Planning Consultants to learn more.

Also, take a look at a lendedu report which ranks U. S. colleges and universities in each state by the amount of debt the average student owes upon graduation. The site also offers tutorials on scholarships and other aspects of financial aid to help students finance their educational dreams, without going broke in the process

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Remember Her?

     She has something in common with Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Simon and Tina Fey. They have all been recipients of the Mark Twain Prize for American humor, awarded annually since 1998 at an event held at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC..

     That may seem odd, since she was born in Texas in 1933 to parents who were both alcoholics. Her parents divorced when she was a young child. She and her half-sister Chrissie went to live with their grandmother, Mabel Eudora White, in a small apartment in a less desirable section of Hollywood, CA.

     To entertain herself she invented an imaginary twin sister named Karen. She would try to fool other people by coming in the front door of the building, going to her room, changing clothes, then sneaking out of the apartment using the fire escape and coming back in the front door wearing the different outfit. She credited her grandmother with encouraging her imagination and her talents, but also confessed that she eventually became exhausted ... "and Karen mysteriously vanished."

     She went to Hollywood High School, working part time as an usherette in a local movie theater, and when she graduated in 1951 she received an anonymous envelope containing $50, which covered the bulk of her expenses for her first year at UCLA.

     She initially wanted to major in journalism, but soon switched to English and theater arts, with the goal of becoming a playwright. She had to take an acting course as part of the program. During her first performance, on impulse, she stretched out her words. The first line came out as, "I'm baaaaaaaack."

     She later recalled, "They laughed and it felt great. All of a sudden, after so much coldness and emptiness in my life, I knew the sensation of all that warmth wrapping around me. I had always been a quiet, shy, sad sort of girl and then everything changed for me. You spend the rest of your life hoping you'll hear a laugh that great again."

     She appeared in several university productions, receiving recognition for both her comedic and musical abilities. During her senior year, she put on a show with some other students at a party. Afterward, a man and his wife approached her and asked about her plans. She said she wanted to go to New York to try her luck in the theater. The couple then made an amazing offer. They gave her and her boyfriend $1000 each, with the stipulation that if they ever achieved success they would help other aspiring performers to follow their dreams.

     So she and her boyfriend Don Saroyan moved to New York and got married. The marriage fell apart after a few years; and her initial attempts in the theater were met with failure. She took part-time jobs as a hat-check girl and working at a movie theater. But she kept at it and eventually landed a few minor TV appearances, as well as some gigs in New York cabarets and night clubs.

     In 1957 she got a spot on an early TV quiz show called Pantomime Quiz. Then in 1959 she landed a part in the Broadway musical Once Upon a Mattress, a role which gained her a Tony Award nomination. That led to a job on the Garry Moore Show, where she appeared as a regular until 1962. Along the way she won an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program.

     You may be getting an idea of who she is by now. Woman. Humor. Variety show. In 1962 she headlined opposite her friend Julie Andrews in the TV special Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, directed by Joe Hamilton who became her second husband.

     She went on to appear in several more Broadway shows, then in a recurring role as a tough-talking corporal with Jim Nabors on Gomer Pyle. She also became friends with Lucille Ball and appeared on The Lucy Show.

     Lucille Ball offered to produce a CBS sitcom with her in the starring role, called Dear Agnes. She hesitated, wondering if she wanted to be trapped into playing someone named Agnes every week. Her stall worked, and she was soon offered an hour-long variety show called The Carol Burnett Show.

     The show debuted in 1967. It was an instant hit and lasted 11 years. With co-stars Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, and protege Vicki Lawrence, the show won dozens of Emmy and Golden Globe awards.

     Carol Burnett typically opened the show with a question-and-answer session with the audience. The show had great fun parodying movies and other TV shows; it featured musical numbers, comedy skits and guest appearances. Burnett closed the show with a tug on her left ear -- a signal to her grandmother that she was doing okay.

     After the show ended in 1978, there were four postscript shows, and then the best skits were edited into half-hour shows called Carol Burnett and Friends which were on the syndication market for years.

     Carol Burnett has also appeared in a number of movies, including Pete 'n' Tillie, The Front Page, The Four Seasons, and Annie. She has also been featured as a guest on TV shows as varied as The Muppet Show and Magnum, P.I., Desperate Housewives and Law & Order.

     Burnett had three children with second husband Joe Hamilton (her oldest Carrie Hamilton died of cancer at age 38). They divorced in 1984, and Burnett, now 83 years old, is currently married to 60-year-old drummer Brian Miller.

     Burnett has also fulfilled her dream of being a writer. In 1986 she published a memoir of her early life One More Time. She followed up with This Time Together, recalling her days in the entertainment industry, and In Such Good Company, centered on her variety show. In 2013 she did Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story, focusing on her daughter's struggle with drug addiction and then lung and brain cancer.

     She also co-wrote a play Hollywood Arms, with her daughter Carrie, loosely based on Burnett's early life in Hollywood. In 2002, the year Carrie died, the play was produced in both Chicago and on Broadway in New York.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Single Vs. Married

     As I mentioned in a recent post, I drove up to a folk music festival by myself the other weekend while B went to a baby shower for her niece. On the one hand, I liked the idea of going off by myself for a day. But then I felt awkward and a little out of place once I arrived at the venue and wandered around all by myself.

      There was a dance tent where a surprisingly large number of people were learning a folk line dance. I would likely have joined in if B was with me, but she wasn't. That's one reason why, by and large, I do not like to travel by myself -- and why I'm glad that I have a partner, that I'm not single.

     I will go to a diner or fast-food place by myself, but never a nice restaurant, or even a Chili's or Applebee's. I have been going to Florida for a few weeks in the winter for a number of years. I'd really rather have B go with me, but she's still working. And even though I spend a few days visiting my sister in Jacksonville and my friend in Ft. Myers, I still feel I miss out on things because I'm by myself, and I get lonely after about a week on my own. I go to the beach and watch the sunset, alone. It's kind of sad. Last year I took an airboat ride in the Everglades -- myself and three couples, two with kids. I felt kind of stupid.

     Of course, my problem may be that I lack the self-confidence, or self-possession, to appear in public on my own. I feel self-conscious, like people are feeling sorry for me because I have no friends to go out with. Or maybe I just do not command the social skills to insert myself into a crowd of strangers, meet new people and make new friends. Maybe it's just that I don't like my own company.

     I don't have a lot of experience being alone. I have never really lived by myself. I had a roommate when I moved to New York City after college, then was married for 29 years. After we got divorced I shared custody with my ex-wife, and my son was with me in my condo three days a  week -- and my daughter came home for college vacations as well. Also, my ex-wife lived around the corner, and we had an amicable relationship and did things together once or twice a week, especially when the kids were around.

     By the time my son went off to college, and my ex-wife moved away, I had a new girlfriend, and we soon moved in together -- and we've been together ever since, about ten years now.

     I've never had to make it on my own, make new friends. I've had the same friends for decades. We do things together, mostly as a group. But I've never in my life called up a friend and said, "Hey, I'm going to the beach. Wanna come with me?" Or, "Would you like to go to the movies tonight?"

     Is that why I feel awkward when I'm alone?

     My older sister, now married, was single for most of her life. She goes out to lunch with her own friends, without her husband, and goes walking on the beach, and attends the symphony with her single friends. Once or twice a year she'll go away for a weekend with her girlfriends.

     B also has her girlfriends. They go out to lunch, or occasionally to dinner or to go see a chick flick.

     I don't have any "single" friends, and I don't think I could handle being single very well. I don't have the coping skills. Is that because I've never been on my own? Or is it because I'm a man, and men don't make friends as easily?

     B and I go to a dancing class once a week. The class consists of four couples, along with one single man. I feel sympathy for him, because he's alone, although he seems to handle the situation quite well. But I could never be that guy.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Beaten by the Bureaucracy

     I've been a Democrat all my life, ever since I voted for George McGovern in 1972. I believe in equal rights, equal opportunity, equal justice. I believe the government has an important role in our lives, not just in regulating the economy, protecting the environment, providing infrastructure, but also in helping the poor and disadvantaged, and in making sure we all have basic modern services, including health care.

     But I must admit, sometimes it's hard to believe in the government. Like when you go to change your driver's license and car registration when you move to a new state.

     I understand the state needs to make sure you are who you say you are, and that you're not registering someone else's car. But seriously, in Connecticut at least, the bureaucracy requires a list of identifying documents as long as your arm. (I found this out by calling the DMV, negotiating my way through several queues and after about 15 minutes finally talking to a real person.) If it was half as difficult to register to vote as it is to register to drive, there would be a hue and cry across the country.

     I couldn't deal with all the required documents -- some I'd never heard of -- to register my car. So I started with my new license, which seemed easier. All I needed was my old driver's license, a passport, a birth certificate, my original Social Security card, and two pieces of mail to demonstrate I now live in Connecticut.

     Luckily, I got a passport a couple of years ago. But I do not have a Social Security card -- somehow I'd lost it since it was issued to me a half a century ago. I was told I could use a W-2 Form instead. But I'm retired. The last W-2 Form I received was in 2003.

     They finally admitted they would accept a 1099 Form. That's nice, but when I found my 1099s from last year I saw they did not have my full Social Security number -- they read xxx-xx-5555.

     What to do? I would have to apply for a new Social Security card. But wait! I unearthed one 1099 that showed my full Social Security number. Whew!

     So yesterday morning I drove over to my nearest DMV office, about 20 minutes away. There were cars waiting to turn into the parking lot. The lot was completely full, and people were waiting for cars to leave so they could get a spot. I inched my way into the parking lot; waited for a few minutes; crawled into the next lane, where another half dozen cars were lurking around waiting for a space.

     I thought I'd try street parking. So I drove around several blocks, only to find NO PARKING signs, and a large warning NO DMV PARKING. TOW AWAY ZONE in a nearby strip mall.

     I went back to the DMV parking lot. It was still overflowing, so I decided to go home and return toward the end of the day when, I thought, more people would be leaving and I could at least get a parking space.

     The DMV office closes its doors at 4 p.m. I got back at 3. There were still cars waiting to enter the lot. I trailed in behind an SUV, followed around to the second row, waited a few minutes until  -- I got lucky. Someone pulled out and I scooted into the space.

     I walked into the DMV office and found the Information line, where you go to get your number. There were about a dozen people in the line, with one person behind the counter. Each applicant was taking two or three minutes for their query. So about half an hour later, I got my number. A119.

     Take a seat. They'll call your number.

     Fortunately, I'd brought a book. And about 25 pages later, I heard my number called over the louspeaker. A119. I went to one counter, presented my documents, paid my fee, and was told to go wait by the windows until my name was called. I walked around to the windows, took a seat, and waited again.

     Three more lines, three more counters, three more document transfers. It took a little over two hours to get my license . . . not counting the time spent fighting for a space in the parking lot.

     So this is how the government works? Providing inadequate parking. Requiring people to wait in multiple lines. Taking two-plus hours to do a job that, without the wait, would clock in at about 10 minutes.

     It's enough to turn the most ardent government-supporting liberal into a right-wing conservative who yearns for a smaller government and argues for privatizing government services.

     One silver lining. The people working behind the counters were very patient, very nice, very accommodating. It's the higher-up government bureaucrats who have to take the blame for designing a poor system that treats everyone with equal contempt.

     And now I have to start the even-more-involved process of registering my car.

     But listen to this. B went over to the DMV this morning to change her license, arriving 20 minutes before the doors opened. She found parking, but there was already a line out the door. She eventually received a number. But that's as far as she got. She was rejected because her IDs did not match up exactly. One had her maiden name, one had her maiden name included with her married name, another just had the first initial of her maiden name. She may have to go to court get her documents all in order. "I feel like I'm in a Franz Kafka novel," she said.

     So wish us luck. But we'll remember, it was Kafka who wrote, "Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy."