Thursday, December 20, 2018

Don’t Blame Yourself

I tried.  I really tried.

I did the best I could with what I was given:  A job, lots of bills, and just myself and my wits to depend on.  That’s pretty much the bulk of it.  I put as much money into investments as I could, with the idea that I could have been putting it somewhere else - like, oh I don’t know, prostitutes, drugs, expensive cars, or clothes.
I don’t crave sex, use drugs, drive expensive cars, or wear fancy clothes.  It’s a character flaw, I guess.

The thing I could never figure out is how people who earn the same salary as I can have shore homes or live in a better place than I.  I always figured it’s because they are more comfortable in debt than me.

So, this retirement thing is coming up, and coincidentally the stock market is tanking and the country is at full employment. Great timing.  I have less money than I had a year ago, and it’s going to be harder to find another job.
Yeah, right - I’m going to have to find another job. It’s not like I’m 80 years old with a fortune saved and can afford to put my feet up and watch the world go by ...
...unless I want to, I guess.

Two financial advisors told me that “you’re in good shape,” and I can afford to live off my meager (by my estimation) savings, Social Security, and my shitty pension.  I guess I should believe them, but my financial paranoia makes it difficult for me to believe that I can get by on what I have managed to save over the last 30 years.

I had planned on working another 5 years - so that I could get to the magic age of 65 and then put my feet up and enjoy the last 20-or-so years of my life.  The retirement offer came out of left field and I was put in the unenviable position of deciding that the risk of working another four years was less than the “bird in the hand” of taking what was given to me and leaving with a fistful of money.  Money that I wouldn’t leave with if I kept working.  It’s a long story, but trust me that it’s true. I would fear for my career if I decided to stay.

The worst thing of all of this is that, as timing would have it, the stock market is in what they call “a bear market” and my retirement fund has lost about twenty percent of its value over the last eight weeks - or roughly the time between when I was told about the retirement plan and — now.

So, I am scrambling.  I was planning on having another five years, but instead, I have perhaps six months.  I have moved money into conservative investments.  It pains me to give up investing, but since my financial future depends on it, pumping the brakes is the equivalent of security - so I pump.

Fresh money is going into cash.  Bonds are appealing. I am suddenly risk averse. The safety of dividends, fixed income, and bond yields are suddenly important.

The sad part is that there is no place to hide now. Other than inside my own mind.



Sunday, December 16, 2018

Oh, What Now?

That’s a good question.  (I often ask myself questions)

The market is up 2% one day and down 2% another day - but mostly, it’s down.  Way more than 2%. Over the last six months, the S&P 500 is down from 2600 to 2300 - which is a 15% decline.  Most “experts” say that 2019 will be difficult for the stock market, since earnings will be tough to match and “The Fed” and China tensions will weigh on the index, making investors nervous.

If I was 25, I would be as happy as a pig in slop.  Markets are down, and I still have 40 years to invest.  I’d be giving up lifestyle enhancements to invest in this market.  Buy low, sell high and all.

However, I’m a year away from retirement, and my perspective has suddenly changed from someone who has five years left to one who has less than a year left and cannot risk losing his nest egg over a big market downturn.  So ...

If you have more than ten years before you will be tapping your investments, it’s full steam ahead.  Go forward with Square (SQ) and the others I have written about here and appreciate the downturn as a buying opportunity.  However, if you have less time left, consider ...

Bonds.  Geez.

BNDX is a worldwide bond ETF that has a five-star Morningstar rating, pays out 2.22% yield and a skinny 0.11% expense ratio.  That’s pretty cheap for international bond exposure.

BLV is a long-term bond ETR that invests in longer term US Treasuries and pays a 4% yield. It’s on Schwab’s Select List.

AOK is a nice conservative allocation stock/bond mix ETF if you are still transferring from stocks to bonds.

MINT is a short maturity bond fund that has a four-star Morningstar rating and pays a 2.4% yield.

MUB is a public works ETF that invests in municipal bonds in the United States.  If you believe that the national infrastructure initiative will happen, this might be the place to be.  It pays a 2.4% yield and is Federal tax free.

So - there you go.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A New York State of Mind

Is it possible to like something and hate something?  New York City is that kind of place for me.  I anticipate my visits, but generally hate the experience.  Yesterday, I spent about 12 hours there.  I only go if I have to, and yesterday I had to.  I take the train because, if I had to drive, there would be nothing left of me but a greasy spot.  If the train doesn’t stop where I have to go, I can walk.  So far, it hasn’t been worth the taxi fare or Uber fee to keep me from walking - even as far as from Penn Station to Carnagie Hall. This year’s trip was similar.

I bought a matinee ticket to Mike Birbiglia’s show "The New One" in midtown and Marc Maron’s show at the Beacon Theater later that night.  I made it to both shows from the train station on foot, going over 22,000 steps on my Garmin.  Both shows were great.  Two talented monologists and funny to boot. But, that isn’t my point.

I live near Philadelphia, and regularly (and voluntarily) visit, even if it’s just to walk around, have a meal and goof around.  It’s a wonderful city, and I always enjoy my time there.  New York? Well ...

I’m not sure how people perceive me. I don’t know what they see when they look at me. In New York, I’m pretty sure there is RUBE on my forehead that appears under the light of the city, like a black light makes semen appear on bed sheets.  I get approached by every charity, scam artist, and otherwise beggar looking for something that is in my pocket. Others walk by, and they single me out. I have to toughen-up and tell them to leave me alone.  I also need to stop carrying cash when I go there, so I can have a valid reason for telling them to "piss off."  It’s a work in progress.

Toward the end of my twelfth hour in the city, I had begun to adopt this attitude, and I figure that it would take a couple of weeks for me to refine it to the point that I was like other New Yorkers.  I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but it’s a necessary defense mechanism for being there.  I’ll remember that the next time I go.

Pedestrians are bold.  I watch traffic lights and those red or white hands that say "Walk"or "Don’t Walk" because my attitude is, "Please don’t hit me."  New Yorkers attitude is, "Hit me, bitch!"  I can’t work that way.  They just walk, regardless of traffic or the color of the light, and it’s an amazing study in human behavior that the drivers do not have the same attitude as the pedestrians.  I suppose it’s because the drivers have more to lose? They stop, and I guess the pedestrians know it - and they just walk.

Getting around is easy, though. The streets are all numbered by Avenue and Street, so if something is at 49th Street and 6th Avenue, and you’re going to 53rd Street and 8th Avenue, you automatically know that it’s four blocks up and two blocks over.  There is almost too much going on.  It’s all jammed-into the Borough of Manhattan, as though it’s necessary to fill every space with ... something.  I wonder how any business develops an identity when they are all crammed into this space. Hordes of people make it difficult to establish eye contact, and the sheer volume and crush of people create a sense of anxiety that I suppose they learn to live with.  For a visitor, it’s almost overwhelming.  I tend to get in and get out as quickly as possible.

The problem, really - is the people. They walk around with their noses in their cell phones, like lots of other people.  However, there are WAY more people on the streets of New York City than there are in any usual situation. I have become better at the "heads up" warning for them. I can’t imagine that they have such a high position in life that they have to be constantly connected.  I have no idea what they are doing, but it’s obviously more important to them than watching where they ar going.

Which is the other thing. They bump into you. Sometimes bluntly, other times it’s just a brush of the arm.  Either way, there is never an apology or an "excuse me."  It seems to be normal, and they seldom move away.  Again, the Rube is supposed to avoid them. I’m working on that, too.

There is a lot of car horn blowing, as if blowing a horn makes traffic disappear. I’ve seen it, and it doesn’t.  All it does is create that city noise.  It gets to where you hardly notice it.  Traffic is constant, whether it’s 3:00pm or 1:00am, it’s there. After all, it’s the City that Doesn’t Sleep.

But, I think it could use a nap.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Election Day

There is an election coming up on Tuesday. Surely, you’ve heard or seen.  Since I’ve been alive for many decades and have seen elections come and go, the process is similar every time:

VOTE FOR ME. THE OTHER GUY SUCKS. HE (SHE) TAKES MONEY FROM BIG BUSINESS AND DOESN’T CARE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR PROBLEMS.

Meanwhile, Election Day after Election Day goes by and ... do things ever get better?  No, not really.  They keep taxing and spending, and when they cut taxes (so they say) we wonder where the cuts are and how much we really get.  That’s the illusion - making us believe we are getting something when we are really getting nothing. It’s politics 101.

So, here we are in 2018 - with another mid-term election that “they” say is the most important in recent times. OK then, show me.  Show me that the person I vote for will actually make things easier for me, because I pay your salary and all.

Ronald Reagan said he would “take government off our backs,” but he was so old and senile that I don’t think he realized what the fuck was going on.  Government is more on our backs than ever.

Go ahead and vote. It’s your right, and kind of a privilege. But, don’t expect anything to get better for YOU because you aren’t voting for YOU - you are voting for THEM.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

So, Now What?

"Nail in my hand, from my creator.
You gave me life now, 
Show me how to live."
 - the late great Chris Cornell

The thing that most big companies don't understand is - OK, we gave you this - now, what?

And, it isn't as if I don't work for a "big company" because I do not - but that doesn't influence the way the people in charge view themselves. Big? Yeah - OK. Us? Maybe not so much.

They have a department called Human Resources, but they often lack the Human part.  The Resources are there, but who is in charge?

So --- I am faced with the third most important decision of my life tomorrow, and I have virtually no one to lean on to say whether or not I am making the right decision.

As it has always been.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

OK, So Here’s the Thing

My company - out of left field - has offered an early retirement package to old-timers like myself.  They didn’t say it outright (because they cannot) but it appears that there is no future for those of us over 60.  The world has moved onto Millenials and their ilk who are content to earn a few bucks and move on.  People like me want to make a career out of our job and count on full employment until age 65.  Well, that’s out the window.

As you probably do not know, I turned 61 last week.  As such, I’m a year away from claiming Social Security benefits and at least three years away from retiring securely.  As many of you know, I have been investing in growth stocks believing that I have some time left. Well then -  that has changed.

WIth the company’s notice last week, I suddenly find that I am less than two years away from being “out of work.”  I have been working since I was 17 years old, and the prospect of being unemployed at 62 is not at all appealing to me. Wondering if any women could use a middle-aged giggo. I’m open for the job, and figure it’s easy money - but that is by the way.

I am literally losing sleep over their announcement and the subsequent market downturn, which seems to be well-timed. [What did they know, and when did they know it?]. It leaves me with several questions:

  • Do they really want me to retire, or is it just a mass email and it’s up to us?
  • Are we being forced out?
  • Is this a one-time deal” (Probably)
  • If I say “no,” will I be let go without any of the proposed benefits?
  • Can I survive on my savings and my pension?

All of these are crystal ball questions, and since I do not have one, I am left with my own senses, which have now always served me well.  

The gypsy in me says, “Yeah, go ahead” and fuck the job.  Sure. 

The sensible part of me says, “You still have a 93-year-old mother to care for, and you’re responsible for part of her income.”  That’s the bigger part.  I can’t be a total dick and just leave her on her own without my help.

These are not easy decisions.

If I had it left to me, I’d sell this condo and move to Alabama - where living is cheap and life is easy.  But it’s not left to me.

It almost never is.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Road Worrier (Part Three)

I don’t travel much. In fact, I don’t often leave the house - so traveling is a luxury that I do reluctantly and usually at someone else’s expense.  However, once I commit to it, I’m enthusiastic about seeing new places and learning about them.  Lately, my advanced age has led me to being curious as to what life is like [here] and talking to locals, picking their brains and finding out if the place is as nice as it seems.

Coming from New Jersey, almost anyplace I go is both different and interesting.  Perhaps people from other parts of the world feel like that about New Jersey, but if they spoke to residents, they’d discover what a crap-hole New Jersey is.  For example:

When I go someplace, I work the conversation around what it’s like to live there, because I’m curious about whether it’s as nice as it seems.

I ask about the cost of living, and what it’s like to be there on a day-to-day basis.  My new example comes from my latest visit to Alabama.  I went on Zillow and found two homes in a nearby neighborhood.  Three-bedroom ranchers, new kitchen, garage, and a nice sized lot. $77,000 and ... property taxes were $250 a year.  I tell people that the average property tax in New Jersey is $8,600. When their head explodes, I also inform them that we have a State lottery, State income tax, State sales tax, casino gambling, and the highest car insurance rates in the United States.  I wonder where all the money goes, and they just shake their heads and commiserate. 

In that vein, I realize that, on my future retirement fixed income, any place ANY PLACE would be better to live than New Jersey.  Granted, living in Arizona would be a little more expensive than living in Alabama (which is probably the cheapest in the country) but the overall experience would be worth it - and still cheaper than New Jersey.

The advantage of living in New Jersey is that it’s better to go ANY PLACE than here. At one point, I wondered, “Where would I shop?” But the advent of Amazon, online shopping, and the general ability to get anything delivered makes the convenience of nearby shopping a moot point. I have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Ebay, and mobile payment of my bills - so what do I need with shopping centers and banks?

It is difficult to get an accurate opinion of a place by being there for a week, and I try to temper my enthusiasm with the idea that I’d probably get sick of some tiny part of living there once I was a resident for a while, but that’s probably true of any place I’d go.  But then again, if I never left the house, would it matter where I was?

NEXT: Where will I go?