Why not make money on your groceries?

First, Happy Bastille Day, here’s Raoul Dufy’s 1905 ‘July 14th at Le Havre’ (Fridart Foundation):

Dufy cropped

Why pay more if you don’t have to?

A friend of mine is travelling in Europe.  Before he left, we were discussing using credit cards while travelling. As it turns out, he has credit cards that charge foreign transaction fees.  Ouch, that’s pay to pay.  Not only that but the credit cards gave him zero cash back.   Let’s examine how to avoid that retirement (or pre-retirement) bad surprise and even turn it to our advantage.

As a retiree, you’ll want to stay within your budget and as a pre-retiree, who can still get raises, you’ll want to increase your retirement savings. Properly used, credit cards may be able to help with that by:
-paying you cash back when you make purchases
-not charging you foreign transaction fees when you travel
-providing other benefits like extended product warranties, travel emergency assistance, and your FICO score.

Not for credit card souvenir purchases – a gold marten head (Northern Italy, 1500’s) from the Musee de Cluny in Paris:

Early Famous Dave's.

Examine your credit

First, examine your credit.  Do you pay off your balance in full monthly?  Do you at least pay off all new charges in full monthly?  If yes, you’re a candidate for credit cards to pay you.  (If not, please Google techniques to pay off credit cards so you can avoid paying the bank before yourself.)

Check out your cards

Sign on to your card website(s) and look at your cards’ benefits. Are there fees that you are paying that you should not be – annual fee, foreign transaction fees?  Are you getting cash back for purchases?  If you’re paying fees or not getting cash back, it’s time to examine your cards, unless you really love the credit card issuer and want them to make more money.  Legitimately, you may have an affinity card (Friends of the Siamese Cat Foundation! spot cropped ) that has costs and they benefit – no problem as long as you have made an informed decision.

Does your card help you by providing:

  • cash back
  • no fees
  • product warranties
  • travel assistance
  • chip/chip and pin?

Look for card advantages

Cash back can be a big one. Capital One is 1.5% on everything.  Costco Visa gives 4% on gas, 3% on restaurants and travel (travel when purchased through their agency), 2% at Costco (makes that hotdog and pop $1.47 instead of $1.50!), and 1% on everything else.  Amazon Visa is 5% on Amazon purchases, 2% on gas, restaurants and drugstores, and 1% on everything else.  Discover has 1% on everything, but 5% on quarterly specials. USAA Visa has a chip/pin combo which can be helpful when traveling in Europe.

None of the above have foreign transaction fees.  Interesting fact, I ordered some delicious essential Waitrose sugar-free bitter lemon juice for Mrs. NoSurprisesRetirement from the British Corner Shop , used the wrong card and ended up with a foreign transaction fee. Ouch – that card is now gone.

The cards? You can’t handle the cards. (A play on An Officer and a Gentleman)

What can you handle? An extreme carder (is there such a word as carder?) would have:

  • Amazon card for 5% at Amazon and 2% at drugstores
  • Discover card for the 5% quarterly cash back special
  • Costco card for 4% on gas (anywhere!), 3% at restaurants, 2% at Costco
  • CapitalOne for 1.5% on anything not on the above
  • USAA for the chip/pin combo.

What’s in your wallet?

You’re probably not an extreme carder, so figure out what is most important to you and get cards that pay you for using them.  Even if you just had one paying you back 1% and not charging foreign transaction fees, that’s a win.  Remember, perfection is the enemy of the good.

Be careful

Even if you have cards with benefits, please do not get carried away. Stay within the budget, pay the balance off monthly, and enjoy that percent.

Actions you can take include:
-Review your budget and make sure you’re either not paying interest on credit cards every month or you have a plan to get to not paying interest.
-Examine your cards and see if you are getting benefits or paying fees that you don’t need to pay.
-Determine how much of a ‘carder’ you want to be and obtain cards to optimize your  percents back and no fees.  Cancel cards you will no longer use.
-Use the card website to check your FICO credit score monthly.

And if you have not seen the “Why you should read this blog…WIIFY” post, it’s here

Questions, comments, or suggestions for retirement surprise areas you want to know more about?
-Leave a comment
-Use ‘Contact’, above, to send an email.

Mid-year Check Point – Dollars & Sense

First, a picture of the best Ile Flottante in Paris, from Restaurant Georgette:

ile flottante

We travelled to Paris in the off-season, and before we left I checked Trip Advisor for the best Ile Flottante because that is Mrs. Nosurprisesretirement’s favorite French dessert. Ile Flottante is basically a delicious soft meringue (the ile or island) floating (French flotte – to float) on an even more delicious custard.

The overwhelming sentiment on Trip Advisor was for Georgette and they were right.  Take a walk from the Left Bank Sorbonne area across the Jardin du Luxembourg and you’re there.

Check Point One – Budgeting (Dollars)

Thinking back to our budgeting post,  ‘Oops, or New Year Fiscal Fitness’, we discussed using a spreadsheet for budgeting and tracking.  We ended up trying the ‘Personal Budget Planner – Extended’ and have been satisfied, especially because I did not have to develop the spreadsheet myself.

Positives:
-we have been tracking a very high percentage of expenditures, so the ‘actual’ portion of the budget v. actual tracking is accurate
-the budgeting experience was enlightening (a polite word for occasionally opposing and sometimes loud opinions) as we determined what to include and at what amount
-actual v. budget tracking is available for any given month.

Negatives:
-the comparison feature does not support a year to date comparison of spending to budget
-the available rows for budgeting may cause you to combine budget items on a single row (likely not a problem for most people, but I wanted a lot of individual tracking).

The tracking has been going well and I would recommend this spreadsheet.  In areas where we go over budget, we often learn we under-allocated at the budget level. Surprisingly, since we track ‘everything’, the ‘pocket money’ budget line is always almost 100% under budget!

So far it seems like our retirement budget could be appropriate and achievable, barring any bad surprises.

And now a picture of the finest Indian Taco in Phoenix from The Fry Bread House:

Indian taco

The Fry Bread house is a small but popular establishment in central Phoenix.  We can definitely recommend any of their fry-bread tacos (or ‘fry-bread sweets’ desserts!) and the rich and spicy green chile stew.

Check Point Two – Fitness (Sense)

In the ‘What Was I Thinking’ post I talked about exercise and flexibility.  On the plus side, I have been relatively active, especially with walking in the neighborhood since the weather got nicer.  I document my activity on a free phone app called Microsoft OneNote, so I actually know where I stand v. my goals.   On the minus side, I have not met my goal of 30 minutes 4 times per week as much as I wanted.

Here is ‘The Drummer’, (1989-90), B. Flanagan (Wales); Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC:

The Drummer

Note – not a great sun angle on the photo, because we were there in the off-season!  No crowds, so it was like a private sculpture garden on the Mall!  Also, it seems like all the museums in DC are free – excellent deal!

Funtirement!

Funtirement is my daughter’s name for when I take a Friday off for my own three-day weekend.  This week for Funtirement, I used the firm’s preventive care benefit and went to the clinic for a science experiment. It turned out well and it looks like I only need the ‘experiment’ every five years now.

Actions you can take include:

-Do your own mid-year checkpoint.  What’s going well and what could you improve? Remember, perfect is the enemy of the good.

And if you have not seen the “Why you should read this blog…WIIFY” post, it’s here.

Questions, comments, or suggestions for retirement surprise areas you want to know more about?
-Leave a comment
-Use ‘Contact’, above, to send an email.

 

Interesting question.

The question will come a little further down, let’s think about Memorial Day first.

Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day weekend in the US, commencing with Civil War remembrances of those who served and died for our country.  Many have served and died for our freedom and values since.  Take a moment and reflect and respect their sacrifice.  Many died in combat, many others as a result of combat; wounds visible and invisible.

We ask much of our defenders and they deliver.  We should first demand that our leadership use force only as a last resort, as the human cost is incalculable.

Off-season travel

Last month we were able to take an off-season trip to the Netherlands (note the link is an official Netherlands site in English; how polite and kind), Belgium, and France.  We were a little later this year than usual, early to mid-April, so the weather was warmer and there were more people.  I said more people but we did not really see crowds, except for the amazingly long line (1km?) to a ‘Fallout Boy’ concert at the Amsterdam ArenA on the way to our hotel.

Since we were a little more towards Spring than Winter, the hotel prices were a somewhat higher, but still within our retirement travel budget.  Restaurants were open and uncrowded.  The best part was that most of the museums and parks were like having private viewings.

We have been fortunate to travel to Europe a few times and have already seen the more popular tourist spots.  The ‘few times’ comes from a discussion we had some years back on how peoples’ motivation and ability to travel declines over time.  We made a conscious decision to make the most of our ‘now’ and attenuate our spending in other areas in favor of travel.  We try to mitigate the cost of travel by going off-season, shopping for the best air travel price, and using public transportation.  Typically, we’ll have breakfast in the hotel room, have a nice lunch at a restaurant, and sandwiches and desserts from a local supermarket in the room for dinner (usually an Albert Hein in NL and BE, Carrefour and Marks & Spencer in FR, Waitrose, Pret a Manger, and Marks & Spencer in GB). Bob and Sarah from the Success story! post gave us that tasty and money saving hint.

Many museums and attractions are free or can be discounted with city cards (Paris Pass, London Pass, Antwerp City Card).

The smaller museums we enjoyed this time included:
-Museum Our Lord in the Attic – Amsterdam
-Jewish Historical Museum – Amsterdam
-Rembrandt House – Amsterdam
-Maidens House Museum – Antwerp
-Museum de Reede – Antwerp
-Museum Eugeen Van Mieghem – Antwerp
-Ruebens House – Antwerp
-Cognacq-Jay Museum of 18th Century Art – Paris
-Zadkine Museum – Paris
-Andre Jacquemart – Paris

Every museum was uncrowded and in some we had the exhibits completely to ourselves. My personal favorite this time was the Zadkine.  I had never heard of Ossip Zadkine before, but in my opinion he was an amazing and gifted sculptor.  I definitely recommend the Zadkine a part of any visit you make to Paris.  The museum is run by the City of Paris and entry is free.  The Zadkine is also very time friendly as it is compact – 45 minutes would be a very long visit.

Here are a couple of my Zadkine favorites. First, one I don’t have the title for:

zadkine lyre

La Foret Humaine (1957-58):

la foret

We also got lucky and were able to get an Antwerp harbor tour.  They opened a week early because of the excellent weather and we just made the 2:00 boat.  Great harbor tour.

We navigated a construction zone to get there:

on the way to the boat

The tour was great – plenty of giant industrial stuff:

on the boat

And the way back had its challenges:

finding our way back

The interesting question

I was reading a practicing financial advisor’s article in a financial planning magazine and ran across an interesting question; “Is your goal to be the richest person in the graveyard?”

Minor surprise here – I ran out of space, so we will (re)visit the interesting question in the next post.  In the meantime, see the actions you can take, below.

Actions you can take include:

-Consider how you might answer the question, “Is your goal to be the richest person in the graveyard?”

And if you have not seen the “Why you should read this blog…WIIFY” post, it’s here 

Questions, comments, or suggestions for retirement surprise areas you want to know more about?
-Leave a comment
-Use ‘Contact’, above, to send an email.

What was I thinking?

The other day I said to myself, “When I retire, I’ll spend more time on exercise and flexibility.”  What was I thinking?  If you want your best retirement, why would you not make the investment in your health well in advance.  (I know I’m probably not telling you anything you have not heard before here…).  In my case, and I am not a model for physical fitness, I am gradually upping my exercise goal from 30 minutes four times per week to 1 hour four times per week.  I already do strength and cardio and I will add in flexibility.  This will also go into my Retirement Activity Plan (RAP)!  Reviewer’s note – Mrs. NoSurprisesRetirement notes that a) the road to hell is paved with good intentions and b) not everyone will be able to keep this schedule.  She’s not wrong.  I’ll let you know how I do.

One part of my goal for being in better shape is to support the more or less standard flow of retirement; go-go, slow-go, no-go. The other part is to help me keep living, working, and travelling now.

Speaking of travel, here’s a picture of me, morphed with the other 13,500 or so visitors to the Kunsthal Rotterdam that participated in the digital image exhibit a couple of years ago. (Off season, literally had the place to ourselves!) In modern art museums you can frequently become part of the art.

Rotter - modern IMG_0279-cropped

Go-Go, Slow-Go, No-Go

Michael Kitces, the financial planner, in his blog , notes, “Michael Stein, author of “The Prosperous Retirement” first popularized the concept of a three-phase retirement: the Go-Go years, the Slow-Go years, and the No-Go years.  The approach was relatively straightforward: early retirement is represented by the “Go-Go” years and is characterized by an active phase, that may include a continuation of a lifestyle similar to pre-retirement, but with more time for spending and “extra” activities like travel; the  “Slow-Go” years are when health and energy begin to decline a bit, resulting in some spending reductions as the budget for activities like travel or even just eating out begin to decline; and the “No-Go” years are characterized by an almost total shutdown of activity-related spending, as consumption decreases to just the core expenditures necessary to maintain the household itself.”

My takeaway from the above is:
-understand the phases
-understand what your budget can support (a trip up North v. an 83 day around the world cruise or something in the middle)
-think about not only your cash budget, but your energy requirements in each phase and see what your personal ‘energy budget’ will support.

There is some argument about the timing and applicability of the three phases, but it seems like a useful model.  (Old saying, “All models are wrong, some models are useful.”). We have planned for go-go years until about 71, then the budget supports slow-go and no-go until ‘end of retirement…’

I know we watched the in-laws move through the three phases, some faster than others. Re-reading this before I posted it reminded me of the favorite saying of another friend, “Don’t postpone joy.” Genes, luck, and your version of the supreme deity will have a big say in the timing of each of our phases. We’ll likely return to look at the phases more in detail in later posts.  In the meantime, think about your RAP and what you’ll do in the go-go years.

Do as I do?

In the Free Stuff post post I mentioned taking classes from providers such as  FutureLearn and edX . I signed up for FutureLearn , but it’s for the past, the Cold War.  I enrolled in “From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War.” taught by a professor from the U of London and a PhD from the RAF Museum.

Actions you can take include:
-Check yourself – are you doing what you can to be in your best shape for retirement?
-Take a look at the free education resources, including YouTube.  An esteemed consultant once taught me, “We reserve the right to get smarter.”

And if you have not seen the “Why you should read this blog…WIIFY” post, it’s here.

Questions, comments, or suggestions for retirement surprise areas you want to know more about?
-Leave a comment
-Use ‘Contact’, above, to send an email.

Singin’ in the rain, or travel in the off season.

Dave and I

Here’s a picture of me posing with Dave, aka David of David and Goliath.  Dave is Michelangelo’s ‘David’ in Firenze (Florence) Italy.

Me and dave - cropped-2

There are a couple of things you can’t see in the picture.  First, it’s a very famous statue, but there is not a huge crowd and second, I’m wearing what I refer to as my formal fleece.  The lack of crowd and the fleece indicate that we’re travelling during the off (or off-to-shoulder) season. This post, we’ll talk travel.  Since statistics say many retirees want to travel, this post may help mitigate some surprises on the price of travel.

Off season travel

My formal fleece is the black polar-fleece jacket I use for sightseeing and as a (poor) substitute blazer when dining on vacation, because Mrs. No Surprises Retirement and I usually take our major sightseeing trips in the off season (or really close to the off season). Rick Steves suggests that in Europe shoulder season is April to mid-June and off-season is November through March.  As you might guess, this means that the weather is not always warm and sunny, so we pack for cool and potential rain. Overall, we’ve been lucky with the weather and it was only really cold and wet once and we were prepared for it.

Pluses

The pluses to the off-season include savings from lower air fares and lower hotel prices. There is little competition for trains, ferries, restaurants, or attractions. Walking down streets there are no tourist crowds, mostly locals with just a few tourists.

The best part of the deal for us is the lack of crowds.  We were almost alone on Omaha beach, reflecting on the sacrifice of the Allies and the French Resistance on D-Day. We have found that the museums we visit almost feel like we have private reservations, because there are so few people visiting. In major cities and major attractions (Louvre, British Museum), you’ll still find crowds in the off and shoulder season, but they will be smaller than high season and they will include a lot of school groups. Note that British children wear those fluorescent construction vests when out in school groups.

A plus for us is the weather. Cooler weather (40’s-60’s) is much more conducive for us to tour than the hotter summer season.

Minuses

On the minus side is the weather and access.  Weather in the shoulder season is somewhat unpredictable.  It can be comfortable one day (50 and sunny) and the next day less so (35, wind, and rain).  Layers, umbrellas, and rain jackets are lifesavers.  Access in the shoulder season can be a problem for some venues that simply can’t afford to be open year-round.  If one of those is your special favorite, perhaps shoulder season won’t work for you.  Also, at least in Europe, you will be at higher latitudes which means that daylight will be much more limited than during the high season.  We’ve experienced sunrise at 8:30 AM and sunset at 4:30, so you have to be comfortable navigating streets in twilight. (It’s safe, you just can’t see things as well.)

If you are empty nesters like we are and you like to travel on your own, we recommend the off (or near off) season for the price and the lack of crowds.  Also, you may want to Google ‘european school holidays’ before scheduling your trip to determine if you’ll be in the midst of a mid-term school break which can make attractions crowded and hotel prices increase.

Pick one, be first

Remember the picture of Dave and I, above.  That was part of Mrs. No Surprises Retirement ‘pick one, be first’ philosophy. Pick the most important attraction of that day’s itinerary and be the first ones there when it opens.  That prevents Mr. No Surprises Retirement from getting too much sleep. When you’re the first ones into one of the more important venues, you’ll have 15-30 minutes to really enjoy the major exhibits before the crowds start to clog things up.  That’s why we had breakfast as soon as the hotel breakfast room opened and were walking several blocks to the Accademia in Firenze (Florence) to be there at 8:00, 15 minutes before opening, to see the David unobstructed.

Actions you can take include:

-Think about the pros and cons of off (and near off) season travel and see if the pros make travel in retirement more affordable/achievable for you.

And if you have not seen the “Why you should read this blog…WIIFY” post, it’s here.

Questions, comments, or suggestions for retirement surprise areas you want to know more about?
-Leave a comment
-Use ‘Contact’, above, to send an email.