Successful Retirement in NYC, 2 – Getting Around

February 10, 2015

New York, New York, a helluva town.
The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the ground.

Yes, we do ride in a hole in the ground and that works pretty well for the most part. The subway lines go up and down town in a fairly convenient way; but there are few underground cross-town options.

Buses go up and down town as well as across town but you need to stand outside to wait for them.  And, compared to subways going in the same direction, they are slower.

There are apps for your smartphone which will keep you apprised of routes, schedules, delays and even the imminent arrival of your bus or subway, but I still use a Streetwise Manhattan map to help plan my movements.

As a senior you can get a subway/bus pass that gets you 50% off.

Taxis are everywhere but I find most of them a bit cramped for my 6′ 4″ frame. A taxi alternative is Uber or other private car system. With Uber I can order up an SUV on my smartphone and track its arrival. Uber has my credit card so no money needs to change hands in the car. I have found the cars to be neat and the drivers professional. It can be a bit pricey: in a recent snowstorm I watched the estimated cost of my ride go from $17 to $25 to $38 in less than three minutes.

I have my car in the City but I would not use it other than to get back and forth to Connecticut or maybe a Target run to Mount Vernon for paper goods etc. Parking is terrible and many drivers are very aggressive. I have seen taxi drivers deliberately hit cars they didn’t think were moving fast enough.

The most interesting aspect of getting around has been walking. NYC is a very walk friendly. My wife and I frequently walk across Central Park to get from the upper west side to the museums on Fifth Avenue (we were at the Guggenheim today). My son suggested I get a Garmin wrist band to track my exercise and I have found I am walking 6 to 8 miles a day! This has been great at offsetting the caloric intake from NYC’s many fine restaurants.

Back to New York, New York: one of the most fun plays we have seen is On The Town with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Comden/Green. Highly recommended!


R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2015 R.K. Price


Second Wind in Retirement

June 11, 2014

I recently finished reading Second Wind by Dr. Bill Thomas, a geriatrician (a medical doctor specializing in aging). Dr. Thomas worked clinically with older patients for a number of years and became convinced that better avenues should be available to enable more meaningful lives for people as they age. Thus he co-created the Eden Alternative and The Green House Project as alternatives in eldercare.

In Second Wind (subtitled “Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper and More Connected Life”) Dr. Thomas posits a third stage of life called Elderhood, which chronologically and developmentally follows childhood and adulthood. Many sociologists, gerontologists, philosophers and others have reflected on the roles of elders in human society. Dr. Thomas makes a sharper distinction than most others by suggesting the elderhood needed today is pointedly different than adulthood and in fact requires a personal separation from adulthood in order to achieve its fulfillment.

While Second Wind references other cultures, geographical and historical, and their attitudes toward and treatment of elders, the book’s focus is on America and Baby Boomers.

Dr. Thomas takes the reader back fifty years and once there divides the boomer population into Squares, Activists and Hippies. Squares were the generally well-behaved traditionalists who inherited their values from their parents and grandparents. They worked hard, took responsibility and knew accomplished adulthood was their destiny.  Activists concurred that adulthood was inevitable but wanted to shake things up in areas like civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, social justice.  Hippies were the counterculturalists who tried to reject growing up and advancement into adulthood.

Squares were the dominant cohort. They won the culture wars and subsumed much of the Activists’ fervor. The Hippies were crushed.

The Squares victory led to what Dr. Thomas refers to as the “cult of adulthood” in which a person’s value is determined by his or her earning capability, productivity and effectiveness. Youthful vibrancy was highly valued and remains so today as contemporary adults pass their adult values on to their children.

As he examines aging boomers, Dr. Thomas again divides them into three groups. Denialists refuse to accept aging as inevitable and seek to remain forever young through diet, exercise, chemistry, surgery, transplants or whatever it takes. Realists understand and accept that age-related decline is inevitable and will take common sense steps to mitigate, moderate, delay and compensate for it. Enthusiasts not only understand and accept aging, they embrace it. In Dr. Thomas’s view, the Enthusiasts seek to outgrow adulthood and (as his book’s sub-title suggests) navigate to a slower, deeper, more connected life: Elderhood.

Dr. Thomas also developed a Second Wind Tour which visited 25 cities. I had the opportunity to be present at the Tour’s Hartford, Connecticut performance. This was not your typical book promotion event (although there were books for sale). This was more of an anti-ageism, slow down, reflect, connect, see the possibilities experience. There was music, singing and dancing. There was a showing of the Alive Inside film which explores the connections between music, identity and memory. It was a free four hour testament to the fact that Dr. Thomas wants to make a difference in people’s lives.

The Second Wind book does not provide a formula for dealing with aging, ageism or even becoming an Elder. It does however provide a well-constructed historical perspective on how we came to be where we are with respect to societal views on aging, and gives the reader (of any age) a lot to think about with respect to moving forward.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2014 R.K. Price

Financial Reviews and Planning in Retirement

December 26, 2013

Financial planning for retirement at times seemed like a simple (in theory) exercise in accumulating assets, determining the appropriate investment allocation for those assets given the expected retirement ages for me and my wife and managing down debt over time.

Once in retirement, I am now living the plan and it is important, I think, to pause from time to time and review how well the plan is working and what, if any, changes are called for. A review might be occasioned by an event (a death, change in health status, market decline), changed expectations (life expectancy, inflation outlook, anticipated behavior of politicians) or simply the passage of time from the last substantive review.

Before retiring, I took the financial plan I had constructed and reviewed it with a fee-for-service financial planner. He concluded it was a conservative, reasonable approach and I went forward with it. I was then, and remain, a fan of the investment approach described in John C. Bogle’s Common Sense on Mutual Funds.

Since retiring I have reviewed the plan on my own every couple of years and have not made any significant changes. This year, since I am a bit more than ten years into retirement, I decided to do a more thorough review and to have a professional planner take a look at it also. I devoted about ten-twelve hours to the review and looked at the plan from a variety of perspectives which I then reviewed with the professional. He generally endorsed it and gave me a few additional options to consider for the future. All time well spent.

While doing the review I found several tools to be quite helpful:

The T. Rowe Price Social Security Benefits Evaluator can help you determine your expected benefits and the optimal time and form for taking those benefits. You can find it here.

Wade Pfau is a Professor of Retirement Income at The American College. He publishes a blog called Wade Pfau’s Retirement Researcher Blog in which he discusses assert allocation, retirement fund withdrawal rates, annuities, bond ladder building among other topics. It is found here.

W. Van Harlow is Director of Research at the Putnam Institute and has done some interesting work on managing downside risk in asset allocation. You can find his paper here.

Nobel laureate William Sharpe has a helpful blog on Retirement Income Scenarios. It is found here.

Happy Planning!

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2013 R.K. Price

Humpty Dumpty in Retirement (Revisited)

September 24, 2013

Three years ago this week I published a blog post on Humpty Dumpty in Retirement in which I discussed the reasons why the risk of falling increases as we get older and what we can do about it. The content is still timely if you would like to review it by clicking on the above link or on the September 2010 Archives link to the right.

I was reminded of that post because today’s (September 23, 2013) Wall Street Journal (requires a subscription) has an article by Shirley S. Wang entitled From Athletes to the Elderly: The Science of Trips and Falls, in which she reviews some of the most recent research on how we maintain our balance. Ms Wang cites new insights from a number of research facilities around the globe, all of them quite interesting.

What I found most interesting from the perspective of a senior citizen, was this summation of the body’s three main systems which keep us in balance:

“The visual system takes in information from the outside world and transmits it to the brain. The proprioceptive system, which incorporates sensory systems throughout the body, tells us how the body’s parts are oriented relative to each other. And the vestibular system, located in the inner ear, focuses primarily on how the head is moving.”

As it turns out the vestibular system tends to decline in efficacy as we get older and most of us make up for that decline by relying more heavily on our visual system. Our visual system is slower than the vestibular system so if we begin to go out of balance we have less reaction time to correct the situation before we land on the floor.

Another interesting insight is that when faced with rough terrain to negotiate, walking with shorter steps and a wider stance may be more effective than simply walking more slowly.

All this is important for seniors because The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that falls are the leading cause of death and injury to people over the age of 65. For more suggestions on how to avoid falls, please see the Humpty Dumpty post referenced above.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2013 R.K. Price

Yoga in Retirement

August 28, 2013

“Yoga is for everyone.” –  Yogacharya B. K. S. Iyengar

I concur. (Full disclosure: I took up yoga at age 55, somewhat overweight, somewhat stiff, somewhat out of alignment and subsequent to two lower-back surgeries and thirty-some-odd years of corporate existence.  It’s been great for me; I’ve seen it help many others.)

What is yoga?  My definition would be “a practice directed at bringing mind and body into alignment and state of well-being.”   Other definitions might focus more on physical exercises, mental and spiritual peace, or something more philosophical.  If you would like to develop yourself in any of these areas, yoga can add real value.

Yoga exercises (asanas) will help you build flexibility, strength, balance.  They can also help reduce stress and improve your breathing.  If you want to also take it to a place more spiritual, that path is available.

While there are lots of books, videos and web sites with yoga guidance, I suggest the best way to begin is with a class.  Even if you have a room full of mirrors, you can’t really see everything your body is doing as you practice asanas.  An instructor can help guide you to a faster, more effective start and help you get the most out of your practice.  Once you get the lay of the land you can replace or supplement the classes with videos or books as you deem appropriate.  My own view is that the classes are a lot of fun and help challenge you try new things and take your practice to higher levels.

Check with your town, YM/YWCA, school system, senior center, hospitals etc re: the availability of classes.

Some other resources:

YOGA The Path to Holistic Health, Yogacharya B. K. S. Iyengar

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2013 R.K. Price

Successful Retirement and The Meaning of Life VII

November 1, 2012

This my final (at least for now) post on this subject.  I will attempt to pull together thousands of years of diverse thinking on the subject and distill what I think are the major themes that point toward the meaning of life.

I am not going to review my previous six posts on this subject here although I will reference some of their substance. I am also going to assume readers of this post have read the previous six posts. This post may be able to stand on its own but that is not one of my objectives in writing it.

Most of the theological, philosophical and scientific thinking we have reviewed has noted that in life we experience:

  • Good and Evil, with the Good being desirable and the Evil not desirable
  • Pleasure/Comfort and Pain/Suffering, with Pleasure/Comfort being desirable and Pain/Suffering not desirable

There is also a fairly consistent sense of striving or reaching toward:

  • the Good; away from Evil;
  • Pleasure/Comfort; away from Pain/Suffering;
  • achieving our potential;
  • achieving knowledge and wisdom;
  • having control over our lives;
  • being happy.

This striving is evident in the Eastern religions/philosophies that stress the accumulation of good karma to reach the point at which one can break free from the pull of earthly desires and the cycle of birth and rebirth and achieve enlightenment.

The striving is also evident in the Abrahamic religions and philosophical traditions in which our behaviors in this life are reflected in an afterlife of either happiness in association with a good God and other good souls, or an afterlife separated from the good filled with anguish that we did not use our time on earth as wisely as we might have.

Setting a religious focus aside, we have seen the striving occurs at both individual and collective (family, tribe, civic, societal, humankind) levels. While we may begin to seek out the meaning of life by looking at ourselves in the mirror, it doesn’t take a great deal of reflection to sort out that we need to look for the meaning of life in the lives of all sentient beings. We are all in this life experience together and in very real ways we depend on each other for food, shelter, clothing, security, love, intellectual stimulation and most of the other fundamental aspects of life. We cannot advance our own personal interests in a good way – in a way that makes us truly happy – without taking into consideration, and acting on, the advancement of the interests of others as well.

So what is it that makes us “happy”? In my youth, I was taught that the answer to the question “Who made you?” was “God made me.” The next question was “Why did God make you?” to which the approved answer was: “God made me to know, love and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” Now leaving aside the role of my parents in my creation and the question of whether or not I was to be allowed any happiness in this life, it is instructive to note that my anticipated state in the next life (assuming appropriate behavior in this life) was: Happiness. And this was not the “Smiley Face” or “Don’t worry, be happy!” kind of happiness; this would be an unbounded joy the likes of which could not even be imagined in this world.

Aristotle argued that the most desirable, and highest possible “good” is happiness. He noted happiness is not a means to something else; it is self-sufficient to make life satisfying. He also pointed out that while we may seek wealth, knowledge, fame, family, pleasure, power and the like thinking that, through their achievement, we will become happy, the human experience makes it clear that we can achieve any or all of these things and still feel there is something missing. We can still feel/be unhappy.

So what are the causes of unhappiness? Certainly lack of access to fundamentals of life such as food, water, clothing, shelter, safety, security and relationships can cause unhappiness and suffering and need to be addressed at the outset. But what causes unhappiness and suffering once those fundamentals have been dealt with? Buddha argued that it is our unhealthy desires and aversions that are the source of our suffering. In like manner, the Abrahamic religions point to the afflictive emotions of greed, anger, lust, gluttony, laziness, envy and pride as sources of unhappiness even among (and perhaps particularly among if we heed the Dao) the rich, powerful and privileged.

But if we assume the fundamentals of life have been addressed, how do we then achieve happiness? Recall that Aristotle believed that the answer could be found in “virtuous living” or living life as an excellent human being. His word for this was arete which many translate as “human excellence” with the connotation of always striving to achieve your highest potential. He saw virtue as a habit or capacity that we acquire by making good decisions – doing the right thing and viewing the wrong thing as unattractive. He taught we should do the right and virtuous thing even if it causes pain; and that we should avoid the wrong thing even if it offers us pleasure.

Aristotle describes many virtues as means  between extremes.  Four of his main virtues are:

Courage: the mean between rashness and cowardice.

Temperance: the mean between self-indulgence and asceticism.

Justice: everyone should get what he or she deserves.

Practical wisdom: making right judgments about what to do (not simply following rules).

Buddha thought we needed to live our lives in such a way that we can come to an understanding of the fundamental nature of reality. He taught we can do this by living a life of moderation and by following his Noble Eightfold Path:

  1. Right Views: we should keep ourselves free from prejudice, superstition and delusion and see correctly the true nature of life.
  2. Right Thoughts: we should turn away from the hypocrisies of this world and direct our minds toward truth, positive attitudes and actions.
  3. Right Speech: we should refrain from pointless and harmful talk and speak kindly and courteously to all.
  4. Right Conduct: we should assure our deeds are peaceable, benevolent, compassionate and pure.
  5. Right Livelihood: we should make our living in such a way as to entail no evil consequences and seek employment to which can give our complete enthusiasm and devotion.
  6. Right Effort: we should continually work to overcome ignorance and craving.
  7. Right Mindfulness: we should cherish good and pure thoughts.
  8. Right Meditation: we should reflect on the Oneness of all life (we are all in this together and we are all interdependent).

A brief note on mediation:

Meditation is a mental and physical course of action that a person uses to separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings in order to become fully aware. It is a way of taking control of the mind so that it becomes peaceful and focused, and the meditator becomes more aware.

The purpose of meditation is to stop the mind rushing about in an aimless (or even a purposeful) stream of thoughts. It should still and focus the mind. Anyone who has looked at a sunset or a beautiful painting and felt calm and inner joy, while their mind becomes clear and their perception sharpens, has had a taste of the realm of meditation.

Back to achieving happiness…

The Abrahamic religious and philosophical traditions, like Aristotle and the Buddha, also espouse virtuous thinking and behavior. Frequently mentioned (in inverse relation to the afflictive emotions) are: contentment (instead of greed), patience (instead of anger), chasteness (instead of lust), temperance (instead of gluttony), diligence (instead of laziness), compassion/charity (instead of envy), and humility (instead of pride). The message from these traditions: We need to restrain the afflictive emotions and cultivate virtue.

I think what the accumulated wisdom of all of these traditions is telling us is that happiness is not an outcome, but rather a way of thinking, a mind-set, an attitude, a contentment nourished by knowledge, wisdom and right behaviors. It is an inner peace that flows from our enlightened attitudes toward whatever life lays on our doorstep or plops in our lap and our (virtuous) actions in response.

It is in this sense that I suggest the meaning of life is to be found in striving to live a virtuous life (as described above) so that, as we assess our life’s progress from time to time, and as we look back on our life at the hour of our death, we can do so with contentment, happiness and even joy.

One additional question: do we need a God and/or religion to achieve happiness?

I think it can work either way. If belief in a God and a religious practice is helpful in achieving happiness, then that is a good thing. If the existence of a God is deemed unknowable or misguided, I think the same path to happiness is still available without reference to a deity.

On the subject of religion I will end with the following excerpt from Albert Einstein’s Credo of 1932:

The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavors in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2012 R.K. Price

Freedom in Retirement

March 31, 2012

Many people think of retirement as an idealized time of freedom to do what they want, to pursue favorite pastimes and investigate new ones. The pressures and structures of the workplace and daily schedules are left behind. We have freedom to enjoy ourselves as we wish.

The concept of having freedom and taking advantage of it probably seems easy to grasp. But consider another point of view from the Bhagavad-Gita.

The Bhagavad-Gita is an ancient Hindu text dating from about 2,000 years ago. It tells the story of a conversation between a Warrior Prince and his Charioteer in a battlefield prior to the commencement of fighting. The Prince is reluctant to fight because many of the fighters on both sides of the battlefield are his relatives. His Charioteer, who is actually the Lord God Krishna, gives him advice on his duty as a warrior.

Basically, Krishna tells the Warrior Prince that since he is a warrior and the essence of his duty as a warrior is to fight, that fight is what he must do. The Prince has a hard time with this because while he knows it is his duty to fight he doesn’t want to fight his relatives.

Krishna talks with the Prince about yoga. Not the yoga of the modern day yoga studio but yoga in its broadest meaning as discipline. Krishna discusses three types of yoga: karma yoga or the discipline of action; jnana yoga or the discipline of knowledge; and bhakti yoga or the discipline of devotion. The Warrior Prince’s place in the universe, his destiny, is that of a warrior and therefore he must fight; he mustn’t let such ephemeral things as the fact he would be fighting his relatives get in the way.

Krishna’s larger point in this allegorical tale is that we all struggle at times with what we should do and what we might want to do based on ephemeral wants and desires. But discipline is what truly makes us free. Freedom from discipline means we are being driven by temporary, external forces. True freedom comes from self-control and discipline in support of what is truly important in life and not allowing ephemeral wants and desires to dictate our actions.

Food for thought…

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2012 R.K. Price