Monthly Archives: September 2016

Declutter Your Life

Ringing in the new year always feels like a new beginning, the perfect time to shed those behaviors, habits and attitudes we no longer need or want.

This kind of decluttering takes many forms. A successful Realtor in her mid-60s remarked at a gathering I attended that once the sale she had in progress wrapped up, she thought she might retire. Asked what else she was ready to give up, Diana said, “Costco.”

Nothing against the store — it’s the bulk packaging she wanted to live without.

Maybe you are not ready to retire, and maybe you still like buying 40-ounce jars of mixed nuts, a six-month supply of toilet paper and body lotion sold by the liter. But as we get older, many of us do change our ways.


‘Ridding Myself of Self-Disdain’

“Around 50, we start to shift from externally-imposed pressure or guidelines to choices that are more internal, freer, unique to each of us,” said Leslie Davenport, a Northern California therapist in private practice for over two decades.

Davenport also noted that obsessions about body image tend to fade over the years. “At a younger age, what we eat may be dictated by a clothing size or a particular weight,” she said. “Older women tend to focus more on food that is enjoyable and feels healthy, and they let the dress size or number on the scale just be whatever it is.”

As we age, we often let go of the belief that circumstances or people are supposed to be a certain way.

— Leslie Davenport, therapist

Cheryl, 66, can relate to that. She had joined a gym in suburban St. Louis, and when asked about her goals, said she wanted to improve her balance, strength and stamina.

“Previously, the first thing out of my mouth would have been that I wanted to lose weight,” Cheryl said. “I am ridding myself of self-disdain and loathing.”


Embracing Free Advice When It Hits Home

Tuning in to our own wants and needs doesn’t mean we can’t still benefit from outside advice when it suits our larger purpose. Shannon, 55, is a freelance wardrobe worker in New York City theaters. Words from a boss just happened to be words Shannon needed to hear.

“A supervisor told our crew, ‘If you are using this job as your life, I suggest you go out the door and get one,’’’ Shannon said. “That statement changed my life.”

Shannon stopped thinking of work as a competition, and says she no longer cares whether she is in charge. “Now it’s much more fun to go to work, do the job well, be a helpful and productive part of a team — and then clock out at the end of the day,” she says.


Rekindling Relationships or Letting Them Go

Sometimes, as we consider more carefully what we want for ourselves, we find we are ready to give up long-held grudges.

“Maybe we’ve kept a family member or friend at arm’s length, but as we age, we often let go of the belief that circumstances or people are supposed to be a certain way,” Davenport said. “Letting go of rigidity in our beliefs can lead to a rekindling of relationships.”

Or, in some cases, the opposite occurs.

Half a dozen people interviewed for this article reported that aging has given them the courage to cut ties, ending one-sided friendships and relationships that bring them no joy.

Grandparenting experience will be a breeze

To march or not to march. That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous political fortune, or take arms against a sea of alt-troubles and by opposing dream of ending them…

Hmm. I confess this question gives me pause.

My hesitation owes nothing to ambivalence. Given my particular stew of passions, the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21 feels more an imperative than an option for me. (I realize there are women who have very different views than mine, and respect that.)

As a boomer, it’s downright uncomfortable to admit that sometimes the all-too-personal gets in the way of the oh-so-important-political.

The feeling I have about going is unfamiliar for someone who’s never considered attending — let alone waded into — a mass protest. As a member of the national press since age 21, I have observed the rules of my trade, which frowns on member participation in partisan events. Instead, volunteer work and my checkbook have been my outlets to quietly support issues and apolitical groups of importance to me.

But with my retirement from reporting for the news biz, my profession’s proscription — which I now realize was also a handy excuse — has fallen away. And here’s what I’ve found: Much as I fervently want to support this cause I care about, I no less fervently don’t want to go. As a boomer whose coming of age was informed by the idea that the personal is political, it’s downright uncomfortable to admit that sometimes the all-too-personal gets in the way of the oh-so-important-political.


A Million Reasons Not to Join the Protest March

In a nutshell: I hate crowds. Loathe them. Every year when I flick on the TV to watch the ball drop in Times Square, I cringe at the sight of the teeming masses, and welcome in the new year with the thought: Thank God I’m not there.

I’ve long hated the feeling of being hemmed in so much that during my office days, I favored a corner chair at the conference table. Without having to jostle for elbow room, I found that my voice could be heard just fine from the far end of the table. (Added bonus: I could slip out quietly, without detection.)

There’s also the standing factor. I’m all in for walking, all in for sitting. But standing for hours on end, being propelled forward in inch-long increments by an ever-thickening crowd? About as appealing as joining that Times Square logjam. Standing in the cold? Ditto.

Then, there’s the frustrating fact that I’m a directional dyslexic. You won’t find this diagnosis in your DSM or on WebMD, but I’m telling you, it’s a real disability. Almost 100 percent of the time when I walk out an unfamiliar exit, I turn the wrong way. I worry that during the trajectory of all that incremental inching, I may get pushed so far off course that I won’t be able to find my way back to Union Station in time for the departure of my bus. Not a biggy. But a cause for pause nonetheless.

And yet… While participating in a mass protest has never been on my Bucket List, this event speaks to me. Loudly. Almost like a command that’s saying, Stop putting your money where your mouth is. Get out there!

Strategies for Widows and Widowers

The rules for claiming Social Security benefits are incredibly complicated and that’s especially true for widows and widowers. Here’s some guidance:

If you are widowed, you might be eligible to claim Social Security widow’s or widower’s payments. That’s true even if you were divorced when your former spouse died, provided you were married for 10 years.

If you are at least Full Retirement Age (currently 66) when you file for Social Security, you get up to 100 percent of your spouse’s Social Security payment. (Earlier filing means reduced payments, down to 71.5 percent at age 60 — not 62 like regular Social Security.)

If you and your spouse are getting Social Security, you’re over 66 and one of you dies, the survivor gets the higher of the checks for the rest of their life.

Think of it this way. If you and your spouse are both getting Social Security, you’re over 66 and one of you dies, the survivor gets the higher of the Social Security checks for the rest of their life.

Caring for one or more kids? You could even get a 75 percent payment at any age, if you were married at the time of your spouse’s death (or divorced after a 10-year marriage), have limited earnings and are caring for the surviving child under age 16.

And remarriage after age 60 does not block your widow’s or widower’s payments. But remarriage before age 60 blocks payments for as long as the marriage lasts.


You Might be a ‘Dualie’

You can be “dually eligible” for widow’s or widower’s payments and your own Social Security. If so, you can take one benefit early, then switch to the other later. Even if you get reduced early payments on one benefit, the reduction does not carry over to the other.


Smart Claiming Strategies for Widows and Widowers

Here’s how to claim Social Security wisely if you’re a widow or a widower:

Contact the Social Security Administration to learn two numbers: your widow’s or widower’s payment at your Full Retirement Age and your own payment at 70. That’s when each benefit reaches its maximum. Then, the rule of thumb is to take the lower benefit first and the higher benefit second. It’s like a double-harvest — you reap the wheat now while the corn continues to grow.

Let me give you a few examples:

Paul and Ruth are retired and over 66. Paul gets $1,500 a month from Social Security; Ruth gets $2,000. If either one dies, the survivor will get the higher payment of $2,000 a month for life.

Here’s another example: Lisa was widowed at 56. Her earnings — and therefore her Social Security payments — were high; her husband’s were low. At 60, Lisa retired. She immediately started drawing a (reduced) widow’s payment, 71.5 percent of what she would get at Full Retirement Age. At 70, she’ll switch to her own (then maximum) Social Security, up to 132 percent of her Full Retirement Account payment for the rest of her life. There’s no carry-over reduction for taking her widow’s payments early. If Lisa remarries, her widow’s payments will continue because remarriage over 60 can be disregarded.

And one more: Carl was married to Mary for over 10 years, then divorced. Mary died five years later. Mary was a high earner; Carl is not. At 64, he retires and immediately starts his own (reduced) Social Security. At Full Retirement Age, he switches to (maximum) widower’s payments on Mary’s record. He gets 100 percent of what Mary would have gotten at her Full Retirement Age. There’s no reduction for taking his own payments early.

Marrying After 50

Marriage after age 50 is a wonderful thing, but it has some financial challenges, too. There is plenty to take into account, and plenty of money myths, if you plan to tie the knot in midlife — especially if your spouse-to-be has children from a first marriage.

Here are six common myths:


Myth No. 1: Prenups Are Only for the Rich and Famous

Actually, if you’ve been married before and have children from a previous relationship, a prenuptial agreement is essential to ensuring that property will pass to children from the prior marriage, says Christine M. Searle, certified internal auditor and owner of Searle Business Solutions in Arlington, Va.

And, she says, even if you’re getting married for the first time, chances are you’ve accumulated significant assets by this point in your life (and perhaps even some debt). So you’ll need to plan how to handle those if, sadly, this marriage doesn’t work out.

Estate planning is essential if you have children from an earlier marriage. Otherwise, your entire estate could pass to your new spouse.

Don’t think of a prenup as prearranging your divorce, Searle says, but more like writing your will. “If you don’t have certain things arranged,” she says, “the state gets to make decisions for you and that’s like dying without a will.”

After 50, the focus of a prenuptial agreement should be on protecting your children and grandchildren. “The context of a prenuptial should be how to do we provide together for our extended families,” says Carla Dearing, CEO of Sum 180.

For instance, in the United States, states can let a surviving spouse claim his or her “elective share” in place of what was left in the decedent’s will. A prenup allows your spouse to waive the elective share so you won’t need to fear your estate plan will be challenged by your surviving spouse, says Philadelphia divorce lawyer Linda A Kerns.

Similarly, many states automatically give spouses some rights to life insurance or retirement benefits, but a prenup would let your spouse give up their rights to them. Kerns says that if both spouses have substantial investments, they might want each of their own children to be the beneficiaries.


Myth No. 2: Never Discuss Estate Planning With Your Stepfamily

Estate planning is essential if you have children from an earlier marriage, Kerns says. Otherwise, your entire estate could pass to your new spouse and not to your own children.

Kerns recommends having frank conversations about your estate planning and prenup with your adult children and your new spouse. Grown kids are sometimes wary of their parent getting remarried because they are concerned about how it will affect their inheritance, Kerns notes.

If you have concerns about providing for a new spouse and children from a previous marriage, you can get creative with your estate planning, says Kelley C. Long, CPA, a Chicago financial planner with Financial Finesse. One of her clients created a formula for how much money he wanted his new wife to have when he died; the amount fluctuated based on their wealth and age. He also had regular meetings with his new spouse and his children to discuss how much each could expect to receive when he was gone.

Guide helps you look for love in all the right places

If there’s one thing Consumer Reports (CR) is known for, it’s being thorough. If there’s one thing it’s not known for, it’s romance. Until now.

That’s right, the nonprofit organization known for “providing unbiased product ratings and reviews since 1936” has decided to get into the love game.

After admitting that this is “new and fairly unusual territory for us” in a recent article titled “Match Me If You Can: Comparing and rating dating apps and sites for boomers,” the ratings giant went about the meticulous work of dispassionately reporting the results of a survey of about 115,000 subscribers in meticulous detail. Complete with those wonderful comparison charts. And a handy guide to dating lingo such as “Netflix and chill” (in case you didn’t know, it’s slang for coming over to have sex) and “Tinderella” (a “twist on Cinderella; popular with male Tinder users to describe the perfect match”) for newbies.

Your tech-support provider might not be able to fix your shattered smartphone but at least she won’t shatter your heart.

The Online Dating Survey Says …

What did the survey show? That online dating works. It has a 44 percent success rate. Also: online dating stinks. People hate it — with a passion.

Even the highest ranking site — the free OkCupid — received a reader score of 56, which basically translates to “meh.” (Runners up: Tinder, with a 52; Grindr, with a 52 and PlentyOfFish, with a 50.; all are also free.) Or as the story dispassionately puts it: Respondents “gave online dating sites the lowest satisfaction scores Consumer Reports has ever seen for services rendered — lower even than for tech-support providers.”


But is that really Tinder’s fault? Your tech-support provider might not be able to fix your shattered smartphone, but at least she won’t shatter your heart. As the story notes, a sweater can’t reject you or lie about its age or show up to dinner wearing a blaze-orange hunting vest.

In other words, being a dating app is hard because dating is hard. And definitely not for the feint of heart.


By the Numbers

Other numbers cited in the story are more encouraging:

  • 15 percent of American adults have used online dating sites and/or dating apps
  • Boomer enrollment in online dating sites/apps has doubled since 2013
  • People over 50 are one of the fastest growing segments in the online dating world
  • And this one bears repeating: 44 percent of those surveyed who tried online dating said it led to a serious relationship