Retirement Planning

Introduction

Many authors (Michael Kitces and Wade Pfau among others) consider retirement planning to be among the most difficult problems to solve. Their reasons are many but mainly it has to do with the myriad of unknown (and some essentially unknowable) quantities. Among these are lifestyle and the associated costs, health and associated health care costs, life expectancy, inflation, safe withdrawal rates, and future rates of return. These variables are all just related to the costs of retirement and have not addressed the “plan” that was followed in order to get to retirement — that is, how and when was the funding of that retirement gathered: after tax vs. pre-tax, risk analysis, and return on investments.

What I intend to do here is to assemble some of my observations that will, hopefully, help the reader to understand some of the problems, and show some assumptions that will ameliorate some of the difficulties. The ultimate goal is to allow you, the reader, to set your own goals and enjoy a nice retirement without having to depend on a community of financial planners (FPs) for whom I have more than a bit of disdain.

We will start by establishing the primary retirement goals and establish some planning guidelines/assumptions (lifetimes, returns on investments, inflation, the 4% rule). Then, look at how much income will be needed in retirement. The amount of income needed in retirement is intimately related to how much you make today and how much you save today. Once you know how much you plan to spend in retirement, then we can establish how that income will come to be from various sources: social security, pensions, savings, work etc. And, of course that income in retirement must exist after taxes – and so we will discuss taxes while working and in retirement.

One of the major problems associated with retirement – especially early retirement is how to fund health care. This almost intractable problem has almost innumerable variables: costs, personal considerations, government programs, and employer options. I have really given short shrift to health care. The reason is I don’t understand it – haven’t had to deal with it, and it is changing so rapidly that I cannot (nee will not) attempt to keep up.

It is my belief that retirement planning, and actually retiring is significantly easier than FPs would have us believe. I base this belief on the fact that 10,000 baby boomers a day are currently retiring. According to essentially all of the literature, these people are unprepared for retirement. The fact that they do it doesn’t seem to bother the FP community at large. They continue to produce articles, books, videos, and interviews that espouse their view that these people are unprepared – and yet boomers continue to retire.

My feeling, one that I hope to present here, is that the outrageous savings demands that are put forth by the FP community are arbitrary and well beyond the means or the needs of most average people.

Financial planners

I mentioned that I have disdain for the whole community of FPs. Why? Mostly because they have sold the American public a lie: specifically, that they need to save huge amounts of money to fund their retirement. The basis for these claims lies in the assumption that you will need 80-100% of your pre-retirement income in order to retire comfortably.

The 80-100% rule is absurd.

If you think carefully about what this means you discover the source of this rule and its fallacy.

First lets assume that we will work with a dual income couple, filing “Married Filing Jointly (MFJ), paying FICA (7.65%), State (5%) and local (2.5%) taxes and using 2017 tax rates.

A couple making 75K each (150K total) might face a total tax bill as high as 47K (MFJ – non itemizing): 11.5K FICA, 4K local, 7.5K state, and 24.5K to the feds. This leaves them with 70% of their salary after taxes. The assumption from here is that you need the same income, after taxes, in retirement that you had before retiring. Therefore you need 80-100% of your pre-retirement gross income (GI) in retirement. It is simple, easy to understand — and wrong.

Here is the basic problem – If while you are working you spend everything you earn after taxes, you sure don’t need a financial manager. Any kind of retirement plan, or even a simple savings account is beyond your means. If you spend it you don’t save it.

If you do save it – say 15% for this couple (this is just an initial guess) in a 401k, then they might be spending only 55% of their 150K income. In addition, a couple making that kind of income may well be saving in after tax accounts an additional 10-15% of their income.

There are other factors that can decrease this percentage even further: mortgages and college loans are a couple of the biggest corrections — assuming that the prudent couple has planned so that these things disappear at or near the time of retirement. We’ll discuss some of these matters further into this document but it is easy to see that retirement planning for this couple may revolve around replacing as little as 40% of their income; a far cry from 80-100%.

Taxes will have an impact on your retirement income also, but… Retirement income is generally treated significantly differently – read much better — than working income. We’ll discuss the differences below.

The bottom line is that retirement may not cost near what the FP community has led us to believe. Why? I believe Darrow Kirkpatrick put it best. “Financial advisers can have serious conflicts of interest when it comes to computing your retirement “number.” Unfortunately, the profession has strong incentives for being overly conservative, and lots of cover for doing so. For starters, the most prevalent compensation model for advisers is still a percent of assets under management. And guess what happens when you retire? Yes, you start spending those assets that your adviser is collecting fees from, and their income goes down. Secondly, liability for the adviser is more clearly connected to you running out of money than you having too much money in retirement. There is little risk to an adviser in you working five or 10 years longer and dying with a few extra million on hand. (And your kids will love them for it.) However, if you run low during retirement due to professional advice you received, there will be hell, and possibly lawyers, to pay.”

Primary Retirement Goal

The primary goal of any retirement plan should contain the following two ideas.

  1. (PRGA) It should have a probability of success greater than 95%; preferably ~99%.
  2. (PRGB) It should have sufficient income in retirement to maintain the lifestyle that you enjoyed prior to retirement.

These two seemingly simple statements (PRGA and PRGB) have many implications that we will discuss further below. As to PRGB, there is nothing that prevents a retiree from wanting to improve his lifestyle while in retirement vs. working; having more free time can allow for a lot of new or expanded (and possibly expensive) activities. It is just meant to set a floor to your retirement – if you do not have sufficient income to maintain the lifestyle you are used to, you are likely to be very unhappy in retirement.

Planning Horizon

One thing that everyone should understand is that there is a distinct possibility that you will live to 90 plus years old. That’s right, male or female there is a 5-15% probability that you will be alive at 95. While those probabilities may seem high, the lifetime of a couple (when the second death will occur) is astonishing. There is a 25% chance that one of a couple of 65 year-olds will live to be 95.

It is statistics like this with which you must deal in order to satisfy PRGA. If you only consider an average lifespan you are basically planning to fail half the time. In order to guarantee PRGA (>95% chance of success) you must plan for a lifetime that can occur with a frequency of as low as 5%. To wit, plan on a 30-35-year retirement. Anything less and there is a significant chance that one of you (for a couple) will be living in poverty for the last few years of life.

If you have a 5% chance of financial ruin in year 30 of retirement, and a 5% chance of living 30 years in retirement, then you will only fail when both remote possibilities come true. If you have planned for each of these your plan will be successful 99+ % of the time.

To get an accurate estimate of your own personal planning horizon I suggest http://www.longevityillustrator.org/Profile?m=1 . This tool will personalize the lifetime probabilities for your situation. It will (likely) clearly show that to guarantee PRGA you should be planning on a long lifetime.

Inflation and Rates of Return

Two of the variables that many planners throw around unnecessarily are inflation and rates of return. At first glance they each seem to be important, unrelated, and highly variable. However, I have done the spreadsheet analysis of various scenarios using fixed and variable inflation rates and discovered an interesting fact. The inflation rate is not an important variable if you use real rates of return (https://shawnpheneghan.wordpress.com/2018/02/11/eliminating-inflation-in-retirement-planning/). A real rate of return (RR) is a rate of return above inflation. Basically ignoring inflation and working in present day constant dollars. It is simple to understand and produces accurate savings growth predictions. Predicted future dollars have essentially the same purchasing power as today.

If you are invested in stocks or fixed return bonds the RR can vary as inflation increases or decreases or as the market goes up or down. However, Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) yield a RR. Currently that return is about 1% for 30-year bonds.

For planning purposes I use a 2% RR for savings before retirement. This should be an easily achievable real ROI while working. There is no serious need to be overly conservative while saving for retirement as you not only have a long time horizon for savings, but you still possess a wonderful resource: YOU. If you are saving for retirement, then you are working. Earning a salary etc. You have your job and skill set as a resource to help get over market downturns.

However, PRGA dictates retirement income should be guaranteed for a long time and you have given up yourself as a major resource to fund your lifestyle. To this end, I always use RR of guaranteed instruments and currently that rate for 30 year TIPS is 1%. At a minimum, this 1% RR can be used as a goalpost – something that you may beat, but do not want to miss. A gauge if you will that can be used to measure your returns against.

Clearly investing in equity markets have (in the past), can (in the present), and probably will (in the future) produce better returns. There is nothing wrong with making a better RR in your retirement account than 1%, I just don’t feel that a prudent plan should include these outsized gains. I personally knew several people that retired in 2000-2001 after the market surges of the late 90s on the assumption that they would continue to beat the then current TIPS returns of 2-3%. They didn’t and their retirement dreams went up in smoke.

Sequence of Return Risk

One of the biggest risks, IMO, in retirement is Sequence of Returns (SOR) risk. SOR problems come from average up markets that might experience a few down years. The earlier in your retirement these down years occur – the more devastating the effect on your retirement plan.

As mentioned above, many people retired in 2000 – and watched the market tank for a few years. It has since come back. We will use these people as an example for our study of SOR risk.

The SP500 in Jan 2000 stood at 1450. In January 2017 it stood at 2700. That is an average gain (not including dividends) of 3.7%/yr. CPI-U over that period has risen from 169 to 243 – an average increase of 2.1%/yr. Clearly, the average return of the markets has beaten inflation by more than 1%. And yet, people that were in the markets and retired in 2000 were most disappointed.

What happened? The markets dropped from 1450 to 850 in January of 2003. Assuming you started with 100K and withdrew 5K/yr. (inflation adjusted) to fund your retirement, you watched your savings balance drop from 100K to 47K. Your 5K withdrawals represent a much larger percentage of capital withdrawal as the markets dropped.

The markets began to recover – reaching 1420 in January of 2007 (nearly back to the original 1450) but your balance recovered to only 52K. The next sell off nearly annihilated your savings. In January 2009 its balance was so low. 22K, that it would not recover. By 2017 your plan would fail. These trends are listed in Table 2.

Table 2. Savings balance invested in the SP500 using a $5000/yr. (inflation adjusted) withdrawal (dividends not considered)

SP500 Date cpi withdrawal Balance
1450 Jan-00 168.8   100000
1160 Jan-01 175.1 4500 75500
1150 Jan-02 177.1 4668 70181
850 Jan-03 181.7 4721 47152
1120 Jan-04 185.2 4844 57286
1180 Jan-05 190.7 4937 55417
1300 Jan-06 198.3 5084 55969
1420 Jan-07 202.4 5286 55849
1322 Jan-08 211.1 5396 46599
800 Jan-09 211.1 5628 22571
1170 Jan-10 216.7 5629 27382
1325 Jan-11 220.2 5777 25233
1410 Jan-12 226.7 5871 20980
1570 Jan-13 230.3 6042 17319
1872 Jan-14 233.9 6139 14511
2070 Jan-15 233.7 6236 9810
2060 Jan-16 236.9 6230 3533
2700 Jan-17 242.8 6316 -1686

As a point of comparison, TIPS could be purchased in 2000 that guaranteed a RR of 1.6% (this was easily doable in 2000). After 17 years withdrawing identical amounts and earning inflation plus 1.6%, an initial 100K investment would have a balance of 66K.

This, in a nutshell, is SOR risk. Sure, the markets have beaten 1%RR, but the volatility, and specifically the early years of low RR, reduced your savings significantly. You could never recover sufficiently to fund the remainder of your retirement. Avoiding SOR risk – or at least investing so that it will not ruin your plan is critical.

Top Down Planning – How much do you Spend

When it comes to the question of “How much do I need in retirement?” it is tempting to fall back on easy answers or “expert” opinions.” See above for my feelings about FPs – the “experts” and their quality estimates. And yet, this is probably the most critical factor to determine in retirement planning. How much you need in retirement impacts how much you need to save while working, what kind of return you need to achieve and how you will invest in retirement.

It makes perfect sense to me that the day after I quit working essentially the same bills will show up in the mailbox, I will still want to go on my summer vacation, take the wife out to eat on occasion, go to the theatre, and pay the plumber when necessary. Life won’t change all that fast so what I was spending last year while working is what I will want to spend next year while retired. So, to meet PRGB you should want to ensure that your after tax retirement income (ATRI) meets or exceeds your current SPENDING (Capitalized because this is a critical number in retirement calculations. It will occur frequently in this discussion).

I am a fan of simplicity. I think the easiest way to answer the question “What is SPENDING?” is to take a top down approach. That is, start with your income (a figure with which most people are familiar), and then subtract known amounts that do not contribute to your daily living activities. The idea is to determine how much you spend for the lifestyle you are living today. You start by subtracting large known amounts (taxes and savings) and fine-tune this estimate by subtracting other costs that will not continue into retirement (e.g. a home mortgage). I would not recommend trying to put too fine a point on the calculation.

The advantages to this top down approach are: A. The numbers are known and B. the estimate is actually a maximum. This means that the calculation can be done accurately (and simply), and the answer will overestimate how much you need (underestimating SPENDING can be disastrous).

Taxes and Retirement Savings

Taxes (FICA, Federal, local and state) and savings (401k, IRA, after tax) are probably the largest expenditures that do not contribute to your lifestyle. Subtracting these generally well known amounts from GI gives a zeroth order approximation to answer the question “How much do I spend now?”. The reality of the situation is you only spend what is left from your paycheck. You don’t spend the money you send to the governor or the IRS. You don’t spend the money you put into your retirement accounts or even into your after tax investment accounts. Therefore, what is left, after subtracting these reasonably easily knowable amounts, is what you spend while working – aka SPENDING.

Generally speaking (for anyone actually saving for retirement) this estimate will be 60% of GI or less. I have run this analysis for several people and have found SPENDING to be in the range of 45 -55% of GI.

Mortgages and other costs

Something I refer to as imputed income (or imputed savings) is not really income, but reflective of something that you no longer need to purchase. The idea is that if you did purchase it you would need ATRI to do so. The most significant item that qualifies – and is surely in nearly everyone’s retirement plan is housing. Yes, in retirement you need housing. Many folks have paid off their mortgage and own their primary residence outright and some even own a vacation home.

Clearly you can get by on less income if you don’t have to pay for housing. With a national average home price of nearly 200K and interest rates at 5% this is 10 – 12 thousand dollars that was needed in yearly income while working and buying a home that is not needed in retirement. Yes there are many variables here: tax rates, interest rate, balance, location, housing choice, opportunity cost – what you would get in an investment account rather than investing in housing etc. The bottom line is that buying a home while working is either an investment that pays off (as imputed income) in retirement or it is a cost of living while working that does not carry over into retirement (imputed savings).

It is, I believe, easier to consider the mortgage you pay while working (if it is planned to disappear in retirement) as a deduction to SPENDING. That is, it is a cost while working that will not continue into retirement. Then, in keeping with PRGB, this amount is not needed in ATRI. Accounting for mortgage payments can easily reduce the fraction of GI that is actual SPENDING by an additional 10-20%.

There may be other costs that do not continue into retirement that can also reduce SPENDING: Union Dues, Commuting Costs, Student Loans, and College Tuition. I do not suggest that the calculation of SPENDING be finessed too much. However, some of these other costs can be significant. Many people are considering retirement even while they are paying tuition for their children; some are even still paying off student loans that are significant drains on cash flow. Commuting costs can be real, but if you are not willing to decrease the number of automobiles that you own, insure, maintain and operate there is probably little to be gained there.

The bottom line on SPENDING is that a simple top down calculation can easily show that you may be happy in retirement with as little as a third of your pre-retirement GI. Peter Hodes (a friend) did this calculation and, in fact, determined that he only needed 35% of his GI. Doubting this, he did a bottom up calculation (a much more difficult calculation to perform accurately). Having kept reasonably meticulous records for several years he was able to determine that the top down calculation was very close to his bottom up calculation.

Healthcare

As mentioned earlier, healthcare is clearly the most complicated and indecipherable part of an early retirement plan. Once you have reached age 66, the costs can be determined (Medicare parts B and D or Part C and possibly a medigap policy). But before age 65 – who knows. Who paid how much before retirement and who will pay how much after retirement?

I have basically punted on healthcare in early retirement. Courtesy of the US Governments involvement in Vietnam in the late 60s and early 70s, and a conscription that was the law of the land, I am eligible for VA care. This provided health care for my early retirement.

You will have to determine how much insurance you want, what the cost will be, how much you are paying now, and then fit the difference into your plan. The bottom line is that healthcare can increase SPENDING by 10-12K/year until you are eligible for medicare.

After eligibility, costs do not disappear. Part B is currently 134/month. Part C supplement may be 45/month. For a couple, that works out to about 4000 a year. There may also be copays and deductibles. Of course there might have been some costs before retirement including insurance payments, copays and deductibles. There may be little change in cost or costs could go up several thousand.

As a first order cut add to SPENDING $4,000 less what you spend for insurance and copays today.

Well, hopefully, now you understand why I gave up.

Feedback

Now comes the really interesting observation. The more you save (whether in retirement accounts, imputed savings, or after tax accounts) the less you spend. The less you spend, the less you need to fund in retirement. So as you step up your savings rate you hone in on your retirement goal in two ways. 1. You are increasing your savings faster and 2. You are decreasing the amount needed in order to fund your retirement because you are decreasing SPENDING.

Therefore if you are setting up a plan, be sure to have a feed back mechanism that allows your goal to change based on how much you save. This is one of the major mistakes many people make. They assume that they spend 70% of their income today and need to replace that with ATRI. To save a sufficient amount to replace that 70% after taxes, FPs assume they need to have income from retirement accounts that replaces about 85% of GI.

Without going into details the savings plan to achieve that 70% goal may require that the couple save 15-20% of their salary. But, if they are saving 20% of their salary, they need replace only 50% of their salary. This would result in a lower savings goal and obviously a lower savings rate. Feedback is important.

Conclusion: Establishing Your Retirement Goal

The first step in retirement planning is to determine what you are spending to maintain the lifestyle you are living today. Using a top down approach can calculate this number reasonably accurately, giving an upper estimate. Knowing what I have called SPENDING is crucial to establishing a savings plan and making retirement decisions (see PRGB). Feedback is important as SPENDING decreases as savings increases.

It is highly likely that you spend significantly less than your GI. Fractional spending might be on the order of a third to a half of your GI. This makes saving for retirement significantly easier than the FP community declares. Anecdotally, I and my wife Kathleen are living very happily with a better lifestyle, and have been for 18 years, on 40% of what we earned while working.

Finally, once you have a good understanding of SPENDING then you have established your goal. Specifically, you will want to ensure that ATRI is equal to or greater than SPENDING. That is what guarantees PRGB.

Funding Retirement

Now that you have established a goal (or at least the mechanism for determining the goal) for retirement income it is possible to begin understanding how to achieve the necessary savings that will fund that goal. There are several major sources of “income” that can be used to fund a retirement: Social Security (SS), retirement savings, after tax savings, pensions (not considered here) and lifestyle changes (imputed income).

One of the most important for many people will be Social Security. SS income is tax advantaged, guaranteed, and inflation indexed. It is hard to beat that combination. So, it is important to understand how much to expect from SS. There is much debate as to whether SS is a good program or not (see https://shawnpheneghan.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/is-the-return-on-ss-taxes-negative/) but it is the law of the land and you are likely to be a beneficiary of its retirement program. It is likely to be a major part of many retirement plans and it is therefore crucial to understand the benefits.

The second source of income comes from savings – whether from retirement accounts or after tax, Roth or traditional IRA, 401k etc. Many people consider that their savings must make up for the total shortfall between SPENDING and SS retirement benefits (SSRB).

I personally like to consider a third source: Imputed income from lifestyle savings.

Social Security

Social Security is in reality an annuity program that provides inflation-indexed payments to the beneficiary – and often it is a two-life policy, supplying benefits to the surviving spouse as well as possible benefits to current spouses, ex spouses and children. At a minimum SS payments are at least half what your spouse gets while he (or she) is alive and increases to the full amount for the surviving spouse.

Estimating your SS benefit

Simply, your SS benefit depends on two factors: Your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME) and your age when you claim your SS benefit relative to your full retirement age (FRA).

For those that are interested, I give reference to and explanation of how to calculate AIME and your primary insurance amount (PIA). For many it may be best to use the calculator at https://secure.ssa.gov/acu/ACU_KBA/main.jsp?URL=/apps8z/ARPI/main.jsp?locale=en&LVL=4 . However, I have been told that this is not always straightforward when estimating SSRB in the future for an early retirement today. Regardless, obtaining an accurate estimate is critical as SSRB is likely to be half or more of your retirement income.

I think it is important to understand the mechanics of the SSRB calculation as working even just one additional quarter may have an out-sized effect on your PIA, See, https://www.kitces.com/blog/social-security-fica-self-employment-taxes-return-on-investment-roi-irr/. Knowing whether one more year of work will replace a “zero” in your highest 35 years, or whether the increase in PIA will be 15% of the increased AIME or 32% of the increased AIME may play a part in your decision to work/retire.

Your AIME is a complicated formula that indexes your yearly incomes using the national average wage index (NAWI) to determine your indexed yearly income. The NAWI is the ratio of the national average wage to the average wage for the year the income was earned. SS can easily supply a list of the NAWI used for a given retirement year at https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/awifactors.html .

Once the NAWI has been determined, then your yearly income is multiplied by the NAWI and the 35 highest years are used to calculate your AIME (sum of the highest 35 years divided by 420). Then from AIME, SS determines your primary insurance amount (PIA).

For an individual who first becomes eligible for old-age insurance benefits or disability insurance benefits in 2018, his PIA will be the sum of:

(a) 90 percent of the first $895 (firsts bend point) of his average indexed monthly earnings, plus

(b) 32 percent of his average indexed monthly earnings over $895 and through $5,397 (second bend point), plus

(c) 15 percent of his/her average indexed monthly earnings over $5,397 (up to the maximum AIME subject to SS benefit withholding.

The bend points change yearly.

Then, finally, The PIA is adjusted lower for retiring before FRA and increased for delaying beyond FRA. If you claim SSRB at age 62, you receive something less than 75% of your Full Retirement Age (FRA) benefit. Waiting until age 70 supplies you with nearly 32% more than FRA benefits. The exact numbers are currently in flux as the FRA is changing from age 66 to age 67.

The current values for bend points and FRA and total description is available at https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/piaformula.html .

When to claim SSRB

First, note that there is a distinct possibility that SSRB will be curtailed around year 2033. This can have a significant impact on the calculations, especially for people younger than 62. I am not going to consider the myriad possibilities of varying FRA and possible declines in SS payments in 2033 or 2034 etc. However, for those that have an FRA of 66, Wade Pfau has a nice description of the “return” expected by delaying SS claiming decision in Forbes – https://www.forbes.com/sites/wadepfau/2014/04/01/delaying-social-security-what-an-investment/?ss=personalfinance#27b0044c761a

In the referenced article Mr. Pfau clearly shows that the return on waiting starts off negative (if you die between age 62 and 70 it is negative 100%) but by age 80 begins to show a positive real return that increases with longevity. In keeping with PRGA, you should consider that you will live to age 90-95 and get a real return from SS for delaying your claiming decision until age 70 of nearly 6%.

It should be easy enough to replicate Mr. Pfau’s work with your FRA, and different SS curtailment scenarios as the situation becomes more clear.

Delaying receipt of SSRB can easily be shown to be a good “investment”. It is a very cheap form of longevity insurance. Where would you be able to get a guaranteed RR of 5-6% today? Note well, this discussion has so far only discussed the dollar value of delaying claiming. There are other considerations than just dollars. And, You do need to have funds available to spend to delay 5-8 years.

I delayed claiming for a couple of reasons: A. I was eligible to claim a spousal benefit at age 66. B. Delaying my SS retirement benefit until age 70 will garner my spouse a significant increase in her SS benefit if, as is likely, she outlives me. I wish to make it as easy for her as possible.

It is possible that neither of my reasons is applicable to your situation. Also, you must decide if longevity insurance is something you need. If you will have sufficient annuity and SSRB available at age 90 given you claim at 62 then consider claiming early.

That leaves only the question of whether you want to claim early and have a lot of flexibility (vacationing/investing) or get a nice guaranteed return and claim later.

There is no question that delaying benefits is a monetary winner given the recipient lives until age 85 or so (and of course maintaining PRGA requires you at least plan to live beyond 85). But, there are other considerations than just maximizing the bucks.

Among those other considerations are: Your health and the likelihood of a long life. Will your spouse outlive you and need extra income. Are you interested in maintaining a significant legacy? Or maybe you just want to buy a boat.

How much income does SS replace

The percentage of GI that SS replaces (https://shawnpheneghan.wordpress.com/2019/05/15/how-much-income-does-social-security-replace/) varies from more than 100% for very low single income married couples to about 30% for a single individual that earns near the SS salary cap ($120,000 per year). The replacement percentage continues to drop for higher income workers as income above the salary cap is neither taxed by SS nor used in the AIME calculation.

For average married two income families with a total household income of $55,000/yr. that are kind of the rule in America these days, the replacement percentage is around 55% of GI. Table 1 shows the expected SS income at FRA for various households’ incomes and the income replacement percentage versus GI or GI after taxes.

Table 1. Income, SSRB, and SS replacement percentages for various incomes

income social security SS replacement of GI
his hers total after tax total his hers total total after tax  
10,000 10,000 9,235 9,000 4,500 13,500 135% 146%  
20,000 20,000 18,470 12,560 6,280 18,839 94% 102%  
20,000 10,000 30,000 26,735 12,560 9,000 21,560 72% 81%  
20,000 20,000 40,000 34,878 12,560 12,560 25,119 63% 72%  
40,000 40,000 34,878 18,960 9,480 28,439 71% 82%  
40,000 20,000 60,000 50,348 18,960 12,560 31,519 53% 63%  
60,000 60,000 50,348 25,360 12,680 38,039 63% 76%  
60,000 30,000 90,000 73,553 25,360 15,760 41,119 46% 56%  
60,000 60,000 120,000 94,038 25,360 25,360 50,719 42% 54%  
90,000 45,000 135,000 104,140 30,545 20,560 51,105 38% 49%  
90,000 45,000 135,000 104,140 30,545 20,560 51,105 38% 49%  

After tax total income is calculated assuming 7.65% FICA and standard federal tax deductions MFJ return. No state or local income taxes are considered.

Summary of Social Security Benefits

SSRB are generally a really good deal for most Americans. With an average household income in the US making just under $50,000, you can easily see from Table 1 that a married couple can expect that SS will replace 2/3rds or more of your after tax working income (and, obviously even more of ATRI). It is probably for this reason that so many people are actually retiring successfully today. Even for upper middle class folks (those making upwards of 100K/yr.) SS will likely replace half of your after tax income – and surely more than half of SPENDING.

Since SSRB are likely to be a major fraction of funding towards achieving your ATRI goal, it is critical that you: understand how SS works, when is best to claim your benefit, how much you (and your survivors) will get, and how important it is to you and the entire retirement community.

Saving for Retirement Roth vs Traditional IRA (or 401k)

So, now we get around to saving for retirement. Once you know how much ATRI is needed, and you know how much will be replaced by SSRB, you will need to replace the shortfall from retirement accounts or after tax savings.

There seems to always be questions raised concerning whether it is better to pay taxes now and invest in a Roth IRA or invest in a traditional IRA (or 401k type) and pay the taxes later. It can be easily shown (https://shawnpheneghan.wordpress.com/2016/12/24/retirement-savings-tax-deferred-or-tax-free/) that if tax rates didn’t change – it wouldn’t matter. Michael Kitces clearly points this out in https://www.kitces.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/To-Roth-Or-Not-To-Roth-BAM-Alliance-Jun-28-2017-Handouts.pdf on slide 7 page 4. To quote what he refers to as the tax equivalency principle “A certain amount of pre-tax income results in the same amount of after-tax wealth in the end, regardless of which account type it goes to, whenever tax rates remain the same”.

Taxes are not likely to remain the same in retirement as when working. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Taxable income will likely be considerably less than total income resulting in lower taxes.
  2. Unearned income is generally taxed more favorably than earned income.
  3. Elderly get larger personal deductions.
  4. Savings are generally taken at the highest marginal tax rates.
  5. SS income is tax advantaged.
  6. Tax rates continue to fall despite the overwhelming agreement among economists that rates need to rise.

In addition to the clear possible savings by funding retirement plans pre-tax, there is the flexibility of withdrawals that allows the taxes to be paid at a time of your convenience. For instance if you decide to retire early and fund part of your retirement with after tax savings and part from your traditional IRA, you may avoid taxes on the withdrawal completely. Another example is rolling over much of your savings in the year that you have a disaster claim – or huge medical bills. It happens.

Bottom line, pay the taxes later – always better. Michael Kitces, Dirk Cotton, Wade Pfau and other financial writers agree – as do most FPs.

Safe Withdrawal Rates and Annuities

In keeping with the safe and guaranteed return that ensures PRGA I suggest following the 4% rule. Please note that the 4% rule is for planning – not living. This basically says that you can draw down your savings by 4% every year in constant dollars and expect your retirement accounts to last throughout your lifetime. To guarantee a monthly income of $100 requires 300 (12/0.04) times that amount in savings; about $30,000. Funding a retirement for thirty years or so can be expensive.

It is a fairly easy exercise to set up a spreadsheet that starts with 100 dollars that increases by inflation plus 1% every year and decreases by 4 dollars (increased by inflation every year). Starting with inflation set at 0% it shows that this simple “portfolio” would last for 30 years. Interestingly, (as stated above in Inflation and Rates of Returns) maintaining the real rate of return at 1% and increasing inflation to 4% shows that the portfolio has a 32-year lifetime. That is: A. It essentially satisfies PRGA and B. As contended above the inflation rate has little effect on the outcome so long as one works with real returns.

Many people find it simpler and easier to fund an annuity. Annuities can currently be purchased for 65-year-old males that “return” about 6% per annum. First note that this “return” is not a return on investment (ROI) but the yearly income you get as a fraction of the annuity purchase price. That is, if you give the annuity company $100,000 they will give you $6,000/yr, essentially guaranteed for your lifetime.

That $6,000 is not inflation indexed. It is more realistic for planning purposes to assume that the “real” value of that $6,000 is actually $4,000. That coincides with the 4% rule above. The remaining $2,000 should be reinvested to help ameliorate the effects of inflation in later years.

Variable rate Annuities can also help create inflation indexed annuity income. However, I think in keeping with PRGA that basic levels of income should be covered by fixed returns. If a third of the total annuity is invested in variable units that can earn ROI that increases its payout by 3 times inflation then the total annuity will produce inflation-protected income – at minimal risk. With inflation currently running in the neighborhood of 1-2% it is not too difficult to select a variable annuity investment that will beat inflation by a factor of three.

This introduction to annuities is far too brief to adequately address the cost, benefits, and options available. Interestingly just as I was writing this (7 Nov 2017) Dirk Cotton gave a nice description of some of the annuity world – he does it better than I do so … http://www.theretirementcafe.com/2017/11/income-annuities-immediate-and-deferred.html .

Taxes in Retirement

As mentioned previously, taxes in retirement are significantly different from taxes while working. There is no FICA to pay. Many localities do not tax unearned income; Social Security (SS) benefits are tax advantaged not only at the federal level but for many states as well. Finally, there is no need to maintain your residence in a high tax area – follow the lead of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and declare residence in Texas (or Wyoming or Nevada) and avoid state and local income taxes altogether (see https://shawnpheneghan.wordpress.com/2020/12/31/where-do-i-live/).

I will present here a couple of simple examples to demonstrate the dramatic tax differences between working couples and retired couples. In each example, I assume that 10% of salary is saved in tax advantaged 401k type retirement plans, and there are state (3%) and local taxes (2.5%) much like I experienced while working in Ohio. These are just examples based on 2017 tax rates and standard deductions.

Example 1. A couple making about 75K (50K for him and 25K for her)

While working this couple would pay: FICA of $5700; Local and state taxes of about $4000; and Federal taxes of $6000 – assuming that they used the standard deductions. The total tax bill for this working couple is nearly $16,000 — nearly 20% goes to taxes.

In retirement after saving diligently and producing 14K of taxable retirement income to go with their 36K of SSRB they would discover that they have essentially no tax liability. That’s it. No federal tax on 14K of taxable income. No local tax on unearned income, and no FICA because they have no salary income. Without having looked carefully, the state of Ohio would certainly not get very much if anything as Ohio exempts SSRB from taxation.

Example 2 A couple making 150K (75K each)

They might have a tax liability of nearly 40K (27%) while working – and yet after retiring and earning 43K of taxable retirement benefits (to go along with their 57K of SSRB) would have a federal tax liability of less than $7000 (7%). Their ATRI and SPENDING would be nearly identical at 94K. Again their state and local tax liabilities should be negligible.

The Tax Torpedo

One of the favorite topics for FPs to talk about is the SS tax torpedo. Why? Because it can in some cases put ordinary folks into a marginal 46% tax bracket, and can be at least somewhat avoided with careful planning.

There are people in the 25% income tax bracket that will have an additional 85 cents added to their taxable income (as more of their SSRB becomes taxable). The combination works out to a 46% marginal tax. There is a baby torpedo at lower incomes that raises the nominal 15% tax bracket to 22.5%. Many people will find themselves in this bracket.

Understanding the tax torpedo

The tax torpedo exists because the government has given tax breaks on SS income to lower income folks and removes this break as income increase. At low incomes, Social Security Income is completely tax-free. But as income increases from other sources (Dividends, Interest, and taxable retirement account withdrawals), the tax-free status is phased out. Until the tax break is fully “recovered”, the marginal rate can be excessive.

To determine the amount of SSRB subject to income tax you need to calculate a provisional or Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) that comprises your taxable income, your tax-free income from municipal bonds and half of your SS benefit. Then there are two thresholds for determining how much of your SS benefit becomes taxable as you income increases.

For couples with MAGI below 32K (25K for singles), no SS benefit is taxable. For each dollar above MAGI of 32K and below 44K a half a dollar of SS benefit is taxable up to half of your total SS benefit.

Once MAGI exceeds 44K (34K for singles) each additional dollar of MAGI adds $0.85 of SSRB to taxable income – up to 85% of total SS benefit.

Avoiding the tax torpedo

If you read through the above you probably have figured out that the tax torpedo is complicated – the reason why FPs love it. There are reasonable ways to avoid/ameliorate the tax torpedo effects. Professional FPs may have an advantage in this type of planning. The key to avoiding the torpedo is understanding that Roth IRA distributions are exempt from MAGI calculations and only 50% of the SSRB contribute to the calculation. So, clearly moving savings into Roth IRAs and increasing SSRB relative to taxable retirement incomes helps to minimize the effect.

Delaying claiming SSRB: If you delay SSRB you increase the amount you get from SS. But, of course, along the way you must live on something and that generally means drawing down retirement savings. This allows future earnings to be more heavily weighted by SSRB – which, as mentioned above, are advantaged. Those years before claiming SS allow time for Roth conversions.

Lumping taxable income in alternate years: In one year you hit the max for SSRB to be taxed and then roll over additional funds from a traditional to a Roth IRA. The additional funds are taxed at the marginal rate and do not trigger additional torpedo taxes as there is no more SS benefit to tax. Then in the following year take withdrawals just sufficient to hit the lower threshold.

Lifestyle changes: Imputed income in retirement.

Imputed income is savings that you achieve in retirement that were not available while working. These lifestyle changes decrease the amount of income needed in retirement without necessarily adversely impacting your retirement. For those that have not planned well, lifestyle changes that do impact your retirement will be forced upon them. In retirement, there can be many significant lifestyle changes.

Many retirees find that in retirement things that they did while working suddenly cost less or are non-existent. Why? Well partly because places like to give us old folks a price break. But also because we get to chose our times more carefully. For example:

  1. Without the constraints of working I no longer have to take a vacation during spring break. Skiing is just as much fun (and maybe better) the next week and the prices have dropped considerably.
  2. Camping in national Parks, National Forests, and BLM rec lands is half priced and you can go on weekdays when it is less crowded.
  3. You no longer need to attend theatre on weekends or evenings. Matinees are often cheaper.
  4. Golfing is cheaper on weekdays
  5. Senior dining specials
  6. Taking advantaged of last minute airfare/travel specials that working would have precluded.
  7. Traveling mid week when hotel rates are lower.
  8. Eliminating one or more automobiles
  9. Downsizing your home
  10. Finally paying off the mortgage or student loans

In retirement hobbies may have a significant impact on your quality of life – even while not actually producing income. Many of these hobbies/activities are just a bit too time consuming to really pursue while working, but in retirement time is aplenty. Many of these save significant sums of money and actually improve your life, for example:

  1. I personally found that cooking as a hobby more than adequately replaces dining out.
  2. Gardening is one of retirees favorite past times and gives better, fresher and cheaper food than the supermarket.
  3. Home/auto repair saves lots of money.
  4. Walking instead of working out at the gym.
  5. Reading instead of going out to shows.
  6. Write an article about retirement.

Finally setting a savings goal

Finally, remember, as you adjust your savings rate to achieve a certain income goal that the income goal will decrease/increase as savings increase/decrease. That is the feedback discussed above. Adjust SPENDING to account for any significant lifestyle changes – difficult to assess but there may be significant knowable adjustments. Subtract pensions and social security and what remains is the ATRI you need to generate from your retirement savings.

You will probably need more than 25 times this annual amount in savings to guarantee PRGA and PRGB. That is using the 4% rule and you will need to generate more to account for taxes – low though they may be they are unlikely to be zero. Again, feedback in your planning will be necessary, as taxes in retirement will change with the savings plan. But with careful analysis, a final necessary savings figure can be determined.

For many folks with SPENDING at 70% of GI (saving very little for retirement) and SS replacing 55% of GI, ATRI will need to be about 15% of GI. Using the 4% rule would indicate that savings should be in the neighborhood of 4 times your annual salary — a not particularly onerous savings goal and a far cry from the 20 times annual income recommended by FPs. And of course, when savings are increased the ATRI needed will decrease and the subsequent result for savings necessary will decrease.

Retirement Investing

It is clear that getting a real 1% return will secure your retirement for about 30 years if you follow the 4% rule. However, following that rule can make for an expensive retirement and it is not easy to fund guaranteed investments that will yield a real 1%. Diversifying into equities or corporate bonds can easily beat the 1% real return but come with risks.

Losses in retirement can be devastating to a retirement plan. While working, you have a huge asset that does not show on the balance sheet – your ability to work. Retire early and if things head south you can always go back to work – may not be optimal but it is always doable. The largest risk (my opinion) that retirees (especially early retirees) face SOR risk.

It is precisely for these reasons that I think retirees should fund their basic needs with guaranteed returns: annuities, government bond ladders, certificates of deposit (CD) etc. Once an adequate income is guaranteed then, and only then, should a retiree consider equity exposure.

Certificates of Deposit

CDs can be an important part of building a bond ladder — particularly for years 1-5. A quick google search (March 2018) can easily show that returns from 1% to nearly 3% can be achieved using 1-5 year CDs.These yields are comparable to or slightly better than similar duration treasuries.

CDs are easy to purchase – whether from the bank directly or in a brokerage account. They are generally guaranteed by the Federal deposit Insurance Corporation. CDs don’t fluctuate in value – you can always cash them in for face value plus interest earned (less penalty).

CDs are also quite flexible. Yes, you will have to take a small hit to exercise the flexibility, but cashing a CD early generally costs 3-6 months of interest only. So, buying a  5-year, 2.8% CD (one of the highest available as of March 2018) and redeeming it after three years (with a 6 month penalty) would be essentially the same as purchasing a 3-year, 2.35% CD, which is only slightly worse than the best available 3-year CD  (2.55%). So, the fact is there is really not much of a penalty.

CD advantages over treasuries: A. Ease of purchase, B. protection of capital, C. possibly higher yields.

Bonds

Bonds can be purchased individually. Government bonds can be bought at TreasuryDirect.com for no fee. The nice part of owning individual bonds is known and guaranteed return. However, without significant effort (buying and selling and paying the appropriate fees) Bond Ladders are probably the most expensive way to fund a retirement. However, they also offer the least risk and the greatest flexibility.

If you want to fund retirement savings or a retirement with guaranteed bonds (good for guaranteeing PRGA and PRGB) then the question of course is which ones and how.

There are basically four types of US Government Issue bonds: Savings bonds in I and EE varieties, Treasury Bonds, and TIPS. They each have specific disadvantages and/or advantages. There are also municipal bonds and of course bond funds. I own three different types TIPS, EEs and I-Bonds.

EE savings bonds

You can purchase up to $10,000 of these bonds each year for you and your wife. The basic interest rate that they pay is minimal; currently 0.1%. However, if you hold these bonds for 20 years they are guaranteed to double in value, which is equivalent to 3.5% per year. There is a minimal holding period (1 year) and 3-month interest penalty if cashed in prior to 5 years.

EE advantages over treasuries: A. they pay better if held for 20 years. B. There are no tax implications until these are redeemed. And C. They never lose value – if interest rates rise you can redeem them at purchase price plus accrued interest. There is no decrease due to rising interest rates that might be experienced with Treasuries.

I-bonds

These bonds pay a fixed rate (usually small and currently 0.1%) plus a variable rate that is based on the latest inflation figures. The interest rate adjusts every six months. Again there is a minimal holding period (1 year) and 3-month interest penalty if cashed in prior to 5 years. There are no tax implications until these are redeemed.

I-bond advantages/disadvantages vs. TIPS: A. They never lose value due to deflation or rising interest rates. B. Taxes are not paid until the bonds are redeemed. But C. they may pay significantly less nominal/fixed interest rates than TIPS

Treasuries

Treasuries are available with maturity dates from one month to thirty years and yields that currently vary from 1% to 3%. These bonds sell on the open markets and are not redeemable until maturity. So, if interest rates have risen and you need the money you will sell at a loss. Conversely you could sell at a gain but interest rates cannot drop much from present levels.

Treasury advantages over EE-bonds: You can invest in shorter maturity instruments – that may have significantly better yield (over the shorter lifetime) than EEs sold short of original maturity..

TIPS

These inflation-protected securities are sold with maturities from 5 to 30 years and pay a nominal interest rate (currently ranging from 0.1% to 0.9%). The inflation protection increases the value of the bond as inflation is positive. The amount of interest you receive depends on the current value of the bond. You will owe taxes on the payments in the year in which you receive the payments. You will also owe taxes on the increased value of the bond in the year that it increases – but you will not receive that increased value until maturity. As with other treasuries you can sell them on the open markets at a loss or gain.

TIPS advantages/disadvantages vs I-bonds: A. TIPS pay better nominal interest rates. But B. TIPS can lose value with deflation and C. You may owe taxes on money not received.

Municipal Bonds

Munies generally pay tax-free interest and thus are of interest to many high income individuals. For most people they have little benefit, are subject to default, and are added into MAGI and can result in additional SSRB being taxable – thereby removing some of the tax free benefit of owning them.

I know little of their total characteristics and will make no judgment of their suitability for anyone’s portfolio. There are none in mine.

Bond Funds

Rather than buying individual bonds and “laddering” them yourself, you can invest in a bond fund. Bond funds come in a variety of forms: government, municipal, corporate, high risk or low risk, long duration or short duration, leveraged or not etc.

Many funds buy long term bonds and then sell them as they reach short maturity. This can (and generally does) increase the return of the bond fund vs. individual ownership. On the other hand, bond funds can (and do) lose value – particularly leveraged bond funds.

Bond Funds can make it easier, and give a better return at minimal additional risk.

Annuities

Annuities probably give you the highest guaranteed return. Note however, that there is a small (very small) chance of default. The higher return does not come from higher risk but rather from “Mortality Credits”. Basically, some individuals will experience a short lifetime after purchasing an annuity while others will live forever (OK not really forever). The long-lived ones will take home higher monthly payments at the expense of the short-lived ones.

Finally, one other good thing about annuities, they will protect you from yourself late in life. For many of us, the time will come when we are not really able to fully comprehend and control our finances. If at a younger age you purchased a lifetime annuity, you will be hard pressed to give away your nest egg. In essence you have already given it to the insurance company. Sure, someone can come along and take the rent money today – but next month another tranch of money shows up. It makes you a much less valuable target and guarantees monthly income regardless of your faculties.

This is an important point that many advisors don’t seem to recognize (at least they don’t mention it often). Annuities can protect you from yourself. I have recent experience with people that have lost their financial abilities and I am sure that while the occurrence may not be common, it can and does happen. Having sufficient annuity income (retirement plans, SS, insurance, single premium annuity, etc.) is very important to at least consider.

Michael Kitces gives a good description of Mortality Credits and why they can beat bond ladders at https://www.kitces.com/blog/understanding-the-role-of-mortality-credits-why-immediate-annuities-beat-bond-ladders-for-retirement-income/ . David Blanchett discusses how annuities help alleviate fear and improve retirement spending in https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2021/06/29/why-annuities-work-like-a-license-to-spend-in-retirement/ .

The downside to annuities – you give you give up complete control of your capital to the insurance company. If you change your plans or experience a significant loss (market, health, or natural disaster) you will not have capital to bail you out. That is not always the worst thing (giving up control), but it is real.

Conclusion

Retirement is neither simple nor easy. Early retirement has an especially difficult set of circumstances and probabilities with which to contend. However, retirement is not the unwieldy, complex and overwhelming problem that the FP community would have us believe. Boomers are retiring in record numbers – many of them happily without near the savings “needed” according to the “experts”.

The income needed in retirement is significantly less than your needs while working. It is critical to understand where your money goes while working in order to determine how much you will need in retirement. Doing a careful calculation to determine how much you spend today (SPENDING) to maintain your lifestyle is critical to determining A. how much you will want tomorrow in retirement and B. how much you will have to save to generate that income in retirement.

Estimating your SSRB accurately is also critical as this is likely to be half or more of your ATRI.

Taxes in retirement will, for many people and most average income folks, be negligible, as compared to those paid while working.

Use the 4% rule to determine how much savings you need and expect to invest in retirement. The 4% rule basically assumes that investments will make a mere 1% real rate of return. Additional savings can be used to “improve” the RR. Even with these conservative assumptions, the amount needed to fund retirement is nowhere near as high as many FPs contend.

Don’t forget to always use feedback when determining how much you need to save in order to reach your goal. Any additional savings made while working will decrease your SPENDING and savings goal. This decrease can be significant.

Update

This article was put together in 2018, but several things have changed since then. Donald Trump is no longer president but his tax cuts are still with us. There has been no plan to improve the lifetime of the Social Security Trust Fund. And, one can no longer get a 1% real return with TIPS or I-bonds. With TIPS, the RR is a bit negative – even at 30 years. And, with I-bonds the real return is zero. In addition, CDs offer neglible, if any, RR.

The end result of this “zero interest” environment is that you probably will find that you must consider the markets in order to achieve a 1%RR. Of course, You can plan on no RR, but you will need more money to achieve real retirement goals.

Disclaimer

I am not a FP professional of any type. The opinions expressed here concerning the FPs in general are mine. I successfully retired at 48 on well under 20x my salary in savings – that hardly means that you can.

While my advice is free, and I would like to think well justified, it most certainly could be wrong. Again, just because it worked for me does not mean it will work for you. Only you can decide if/when/how to plan and finally retire. The cost of any mistakes made in planning or retiring will be borne by you, not me. So – be careful. Read, learn, study, ask questions.

Finally, LEARN. Remember, your fidelity guy, me, and even uncle Eddy are not the guys that are going to suffer from the (possibly) bad advice that you might act on. You, alone, are responsible. I am always happy to share my thoughts, and even the mechanics of how I did it. Times are different now and the appropriate solutions may not be the same.
 
Good luck, and let me know if I can assist (or share an opinion) on anything.

FP                Financial Planner

MFJ              Married Filing Jointly

FICA             Federal Income Contribution Act (Social Security and Medicare taxes)

PRGA           Primary Retirement Goal A — ensure a 95% probability of success

PRGB           Primary Retirement Goal B — maintain you pre-retirement lifestyle

TIPS             Treasury Inflation Protected Securities

ATRI             After Tax Retirement Income

SPENDING  What you are spending today, before retirement, to live

IRA                Individual Retirement Account

SS                  Social Security

ROI               Return on Investment

MAGI           Modified Adjusted Gross Income

FRA              Full Retirement Age

AIME           Average Indexed Monthly Income

GI                 Gross Income

SOR              Sequence of Return

SSRB             Social Security Retirement Benefits

RR Real rate of Return

The Pro Fun Tours – twenty Utah Summers

How it began

In the spring of 1995 Kathleen (my wife) and I started our second honeymoon visiting Zion National Park. We arrived at Zion just as a storm had cleared and were amazed by the pour overs, runoffs, and waterfalls. The colors of the rocks, freshly washed by the rainfall, were stunning. We continued that honeymoon skiing at Brianhead, UT. Brianhead is at 9000 feet but given its southerly location there is no guarantee of especially cold weather in the middle of March. In 1995 the weather turned very warm. Tiring of skiing on slush in the afternoon we decided to head across the plateaus and visit Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon is but an hour away from Brianhead. We traveled through the Red Canyon recreation area, into the National Park and hiked into Tower Bridge. The views, the trees and the hoodoos, bathed in feet of snow made for an amazing walk. The trip through Red Canyon, and its own amazing colors and hoodoos showed us that it could have been a destination of its own. The combination of rock, color, snow, sky, hundred mile views, falls, canyons, and beautiful weather convinced us that we needed to return to Southern Utah. There must be a reason for an area to have four national parks within a few hours drive of each other – and it was dawning on us what those reasons were. We managed to hold out until June of that spring. We flew back to Las Vegas and spent a week or so hiking and camping. We planned to spend time at Snow Canyon State Park, backpack into the Kolob Section of Zion NP, camp and hike in Bryce Canyon NP, and finally visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for an overnight backpack trip. We never made it to Bryce – but instead camped and hiked in Red Canyon (the road in Bryce Canyon was under construction). Two vacations in a span of three months just whet the appetite. By the end of summer 1995, we were beginning to plan to visit the plateau country of southern Utah (and Northern Arizona) for an extended (three month) summer vacation. That once in a lifetime vacation happened in the summer of 1996. It was dubbed the Pro Fun Tour by Kathy’s brother Marty. At the time there was no numbering system for them as we really thought that this would be a one off.

Notes on organization and description

This description is meant more as a personal remembrance aid than stand alone document. As such many of the comments, names etc may seem a bit cryptic. I have opted not to give long descriptions of people and places.

The Pro Fun Tour (PFT)

The first (and obviously the only at that time) pro fund tour (PFT) commenced in early June from Dayton, OH. With camp gear and backpacking gear loaded into an old Toyota minivan we left for the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Many people questioned how much time would be spent in Texas, or New Mexico etc. Sure, all these states have great things to visit, but!! the purpose of this trip was to get to plateau country to start our vacation. To that end we spent 4 days driving, staying in cheap roadside hotels and arrived at the grand canyon midday on 6 June.

Highlights of PFT (#1)

Clearly, the plan for PFT suggested that rafting the Grand Canyon would be the highlight of the trip. Hiking into and rafting out of the canyon was surely a major highlight and would have been the highlight but for …We purchased the Ranch in early August.

Colleen’s fly-in. In July, Collen flew into Bryce Canyon Airport. We spent a few days hiking and camping at Red Canyon.We had purchased the Ranch, but had not yet closed.

Brother’s visit. Brother came out in August. We backpacked into the Uintas and visited Las Vegas – where Brother and Linda were married.

Capitol Reef NP Capitol Reef was my favorite national park – we visited a couple of times. Camping is in the middle of an old orchard (apricots) on a maintained lawn. The Fremont River runs next to the camp. While it is hot during the day, it is most pleasant at night.

Calf Creek Recreation Area Another of my favorites in the PFT was Calf creek. There is a 130 foot water fall at the end of a 3 mile trail. It provides excellent swimming. The creek continues to flow though the campground. Nearly all of the sites are on the river.

Finally, upon our return to Dayton, I explained to my boss that I had probably worked my last summer. As I had purchased a summer “home”, I intended to visit southern Utah for more than just a couple of weeks every summer. Thus PFT was converted into PFT1: there would indeed be a PFT2 – and beyond.

PFT2 1997

Settling into the “Ranch” (as our Utah home came to be known) we discovered that it comprised several distinct areas:

  • The hacienda – our 1963 silver streak trailer
  • The guest house, a 10′ x 16′ shed,
  • The savanna – a wonderful cut out under an old growth spruce tree the pond,
  • a small spring fed pond next to the savanna
  • The veranda – a deck built from railroad ties, plywood and rolled asphalt,
  • The RV park – a parking spot for an RV replete with water, electric and septic hookups
  • The rose garden,
  • The utility shack and pantry,

All this was located on a beautiful meadow lot that had been planted with many spruce trees. At an altitude of 8000 feet, summers are generally very pleasant with cool nights and warm days. There was also a second lot that had its own septic and pilings already installed for cabin construction.

We made a space for on outdoor shower. The shower was a pair of plastic bags designed for camping that were filled and left on the roof of the utility house to warm. Shower water was gathered in a large plastic basin to be removed and deposited on the spruce trees. When the rains come to the plateau country – as they do every summer, solar showers don’t work so well. We took several trips to Lake Powell where showers were available. However, we quickly learned that this was pretty much a ripoff. Entry to the recreation area was five bucks, camping was 12 bucks, and showers were two bucks each. Total: 21 Bucks. We started going to the Virgin River Hotel and Casino in Mesquite Nevada. Rooms were $16.99 plus tax (total: <20 bucks). Unlimited showers, swimming pools, air conditioning, and someone else cleaned and prepped the room. Go Figger.

Highlights

The Heneghans visited – nearly all of them. This was the last time Ruth Heneghan would ever see all of her children at one time again. It was quite the reunion with only Brother Tom’s daughter Sara in absentia. The Munches (Mike, Alex, Art, and Marilyn) visited. We visited Great Basin NP with Brother for his honeymoon. We climbed Mt. Wheeler. There was no Backpack trip.

PFT3 1998

During PFT2 and PFT3 we rented cars in Las Vegas. These vehicles needed to be returned every month. Consequently, we visited Las Vegas with regularity until… We couldn’t get a rental as reserved because they were sold out. We had to get a new car from a different agency and all that was available was a large sedan. We decided the hassle, inability to get the car of choice and generally having small inadequate vehicles (that was what we could afford) was too much – and so opted to buy a car to keep locally. Hence Caliente (a 1990 Ford Explorer) became part of the legend of the Ranch.

Highlights

We bought a 1990 Ford explorer – Caliente. Met Doc and Charley Covert who let us store Caliente in their airplane hanger at Cedar City Airport. Took a summer trip to the coast of California: San Diego, Malibu, Morro Bay, Hearst Castle. We planned to return the next summer to travel the Big Sur coast. Backpacked the Golden Trout wilderness with Tom and Linda. On this trip I was nearly trampled in the middle of the night by a horse and rider – the second time such a thing happened to me (the other was on the JMT). Bicycled/hiked to Powell Point. Rafted the Grand Canyon upper portion with Brother. Finished our record breaking hike across the Grand Canyon(see https://shawnpheneghan.wordpress.com/2021/01/06/great-adventures/)

PFT4 1999

Highlights

Visited the Big Sur region of the California coast. Starting at Morro Bay and traveling north to Pfeiffer Big Sur SP. Lost Caliente to a Bay Laurel Tree in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Caliente was taken to a junkyard and parked next to the batmobile. Backpacked into the Golden Trout for just a couple of days. Joined our first wine club: Creston Vineyards.

PFT5 2000

Doc purchased a Jeep Cherokee that he wished to “share” with us. At the time we thought that it was a good idea as now we had only half a car to own, insure, maintain etc. The truck was white and nicknamed “Blanca”. As in other summers there was a variety of biking day trips and weekend camping trips.

Highlights

The Munches (Art, Marilyn, Alex and Mike) visited the mountain July 1 and we left for Las Vegas to spend time at the Polo Club on the fourth of July. The Heneghan’s (Ruth and Thomas) visited mid July. Shawn and Kathy backpacked in the Ruby Mountains – we were joined for the first part of the trip by Colleen and Andy. And, of course, there was the stay at dalmatian sheets – a residence hotel in Elko. Dalmatian sheets were on the beds – go figger.

PFT6 2001

Highlights

Bus to Cedar from Vegas and met Pacific Guzman, a supposed pool hustler. Rafting Moab to Lake Powell. Hiking in the doll house. Seeing the confluence of the Green and Colorado river. Morro bay, Hearst Castle, wine tasting with Bro and Linda. Backpacking in Mineral King w/Brother and Linda. This is the only time that I was a better hiker than brother.

PFT7 2002

The hot dry summer. First summer we cataloged bird sightings.

Highlights

We visited Colleen in the Inyo White Mountains and Shawn climbed White Peak. Kathy stayed in camp recovering from a hysterectomy. Backpacked Yellowstone NP. Visited Antelope Island on the way north.

PFT8 2003

Started late as we stayed in Dayton to see Legally Blond – big mistake

JM (Joe Mountainman) is born. JM came to life on a bike ride from the top of boulder Highway at Pleasant creek to Capitol Reef NP. As the road petered out and it appeared that I might never make it to the park, I took heart in the fact that A. I had water. B. I had food. And C. Kathy knew where I was. I did finally find the road, and made it to the campground where Kathy awaited anxiously, about 10 minutes before the 8 hour deadline I had imposed.

Highlights

Met Dinah and Jerry Hafen – and their kids Tracey and Kelly. Backpacked Yellowstone – Again. Climbed Deseret Peak

PFT9 2004

Year that Blanca died.

Highlights

Buy Tatanka – a 2004 Toyota Tacoma. Host Stacey and Pete and Colleen for July 4. Canoe the Green River

PFT10 2005

First summer after huge snow. Highway 9 was closed due to landslide and so we came through Zion. Had to shovel snow to get into the pantry. Because spring was late – due to the huge snowfall, we got to see a full season of flowers starting with the star lilies. Also, the runoff of the Escalante was huge. Did some real nice hikes on Boulder Mountain with the Hodes.

Highlights

Watching the arrival of star lilies. The veranda moved due to the snow load and broke the septic hookup. Hodes visit in early June – got the plumbing fixed just in time. Hike on boulder mountain – Best hike in Kathy’s whole life: Elk cow and calf (Norman, a baby elk. was seen up close and personal and a pheasant hen and chicks. Cedar Breaks was buried in snow. The highway was not even open until late June. Backpacked Golden Trout with Tom – no Linda. Climbed Kern Peak. Visited Death Valley after huge night of rain in the Sierra – only time it rained at night in the Sierras during all the summers I spent there.

PFT11 2006

There was nothing special to mark PFT11 – save for some really adventurous wilderness bike rides. Even the flight out was uneventful – as noted in the log “de nada – arrived LAS”. We ordered a campshell for Tetanka. The Hodes visited once again. Spent significant time at Capital Reef, Boulder Mountain, and Calf Creek. This was also the year of the epic Casto Canyon bike ride. We (Kathy and I) were caught in hailstorm in Casto canyon. Made my first attempt to ride across the Kolob Plateau with Andy. We started for Muddy Creek but ended up in the Virgin River and finally east Zion. Also did Navajo Lake to east Zion with Andy. Brother joined us in Tahoe for a backpack trip into the Hoover Wilderness.

Highlights

Bought a camp shell for tetanka. Bought new bikes as the old Nishiki’s were worn out. Epic Casto canyon bike. Washing bikes in the Sevier. Sulfur creek hikes. Kolob Plateau bike rides. Hodes visit – again/ Traveled the Loneliest Highway, stayed in South Lake Tahoe and backpacked Buckeye Creek into Hoover and North Yosemite.

PFT12 2007

This Year we were particularly busy hosting friends, backpacking and exploring Boulder Mountain. It started early with a Hodes visit which included visits to Great Basin NP, Capital Reef NP, Grand Staircase Escalante NM and Bryce Canyon NP. Later, Colleen and JT flew into Wayne County and hiked/backpacked/fished on Boulder Mountain. We took another trip across Nevada – this time from Caliente to Hawthorne – all on dirt roads. Discovered Kingston Creek, had a great time camping in Eureka, and found Hawthorne to be a very pleasant community. No one joined us for our backpack trip up Buckeye Creek into Rancheria.

Highlights

Hodes visit. Traveled and hiked several places. Camped at Great Basin NP, Single Tree, Calf Creek, and Red canyon. Colleen and JT flew into Wayne County. Backpacked Boulder Mountain and hiked Sulfur creek. Took a beautiful road trip across Nevada and backpacked Buckeye creek into rancheria. Got new roof on the guesthouse. Finally found the muddy creek turnoff to Mt. Carmel – wasn’t worth it.

PFT13 2008

This is the first year that I gave nature walks for the Forest Service. We also returned in October to enjoy the fall colors – but discovered that the Ranch was a bit cold that time of year. Took a trip to Colorado to backpack the Wenimuche Wilderness. Spent several day in and around Silverton, CO. Camped in Sunflower field. Colleen visited with Michael and we hiked Willis Creek, drove the Skutumpah Rd., and biked to east Zion.

highlights

Seeing a condor, visiting Silverton CO, and fall colors on the mountain

PFT14 2009

2009 would be a very important year in our lives. First there was Kathy’s health issues which precluded our New York anniversary trip. We did go on our summer PFT but…This would be the last PFT to start from Dayton Ohio. We finished late. Despite our original plans to remain at the Ranch until late October – we moved to Hawthorne in early October and then to Las Vegas for Halloween. Dayton for Thanksgiving (to pack up and move), and returned to Hawthorne for December before traveling to Morocco for New Years. The Hodes visited and once again headed off to Boulder Mountain, Capital Reef and the Grand Staircase. Colleen flew into Escalante. We hiked the Escalante River for a ways and discovered the 100 hands wall. We also hosted Manny and Sandy Hellman from Tucson. This is a couple that we originally met in Thailand and spent some time on Lake Powell with them. Finally, Aaron and Vera Wester and their daughter visited for a few days. We had hiked with them in Dayton and with the Sierra club for several years before they moved away. We traveled across Nevada a couple times this summer. Mostly in search of a new home. Given Kathy’s health issues, I didn’t believe that we would be backpacking this year so we did some driving trips around western California with our trips to Hawthorne where we did in fact buy a home. We also visited JT in Pine Mountain Lake. Finally, at the end of the summer we did in fact take a small backpack trip into the Purunuweap (aka “The Barracks”) area near Zion. We spent three nights: one was windy, one was rainy and the last was frozen. Having had enough fun we packed up went home to the Ranch, packed up there, and headed to Hawthorne to pack and move. Our new life was about to begin.

Highlights

We were visited by the Hodes, the Hellmans and the Westers. Backpacked Purunuweap. Bought a home in Hawthorne. We visited JT in Pine Mountain Lake.

PFT15 2010

This is the first year that we started out the year in the west. We didn’t have to fly, didn’t have to plan months ahead, and could in fact be a bit spontaneous. We Lost Bob (our cat) that spring, so we had no Kitties to worry about – whether we would have left them at home (as we used to do in Dayton) or taken them with us. Winter had been unusually wet, and spring came late. Still, we left for the Ranch shortly after Memorial day. There was a lot of snow all around. Cedar Breaks didn’t open until 5 June. Everett Hollow had lots of waterfalls. I don’t think we had any visitors that year and our annual backpack trip was taken from Hawthorne, not the Ranch. We hiked into the Glen Aulin Area of Yosemite. I began to suspect that our days of long backpack trips were ending. This was a three nighter. This was generally a quiet summer. Kathy showed little interest in bike riding. I continued giving flower walks for the forest service. With no visitors to spur us on, and Kathy becoming more of a homebody we rested a lot. We did a lot of day trips with the Osterhout kids and met several new residents of the Swains Creek community: Mark and Mindy, Doug and Angela (renters), Linda and Susan and their dog JAG. We took one trip – to Lake Powell. We had planned to go boating with Manny and Sandy, but… weather considerations precluded that trip.There is no log of this summers events – because there were not enough events to log.

Highlights

Dognuts. Blacquer was gifted to us by the Osterhouts.

PFT 16 2011

PFT 16 started off differently. We left the Winter Palace (as the Hawthorne home came to be called) to spend a bit of springtime in Canyonlands NP with Sid Carlson and a group of friends from around the country. After enjoying some quality time in Canyonlands we stopped by the Ranch on the way back to Hawthorne. Figured that we could get it open, visit with friends, and get out of dodge after one day. Needless to say, it didn’t work out that well. We arrived at the Ranch on 9 May to discover that there was no electric. Thunderstorms hit the area that night and we awoke the next morning to snow. The roads became impassable; 4 wheel drives were getting stuck in the mud. We were stuck, without electricity until 13 May. That kind of event gives a whole new meaning to the term “emergency wine”. We returned to the Ranch again on 1 June – hauling Blacquer with us. We finally got to use our X-country skis at Cedar Breaks this year. The Hodes decided that they needed another western vacation. We met them in LV and traveled through Death Valley NP, visited the Bristlecone Pine forest on white mountain, and camped out at Lundy Canyon – one of the few campgrounds open due to snow in the sierras. We hit the Winter Palace for a couple days before returning to Las Vegas for the Hodes Departure. Brother (and Caryn) visited and we took a nice vacay to Capital Reef. JM continued to work for the forest service and Colleen, JT and Kris visited for Duck Creek Days. We did some maintenance on the Hacienda and the guest house (flooring and painting), But, generally it was another quiet summer. Again there is no Log as there were not enough activities to bother logging.

Highlights

Seeing Sid.

Flowers of the Ranch – listing of flowers identified on the ranch property

Star Lily. Groundsel; Uintah and Meadow, Penstemon; Markagunt and mat dwarf, Yarrow, Buttercup, Cinquefoil; Sticky, Shrubby, Pretty, Bluebell/Harebell, Fendler Sandwort, Nootka Rose, Red Wax Currant, Primrose, Salsify, Strawberry, Pretty Jacob’s Ladder, Common Silverweed, Skyrocket, Purple Thistle, Morning Glory, Sage, Oregon Fleabane, Showy Daisy, Aster, Paintbrush, Kentrophyte, Sego Lily, Dog Violet, Northern Buckwheat

Pro Fun Tour 17 2012

This was the year of the Shingle Fire (see https://shawnpheneghan.wordpress.com/2021/08/01/fires-and-evacuations/). We got back to Utah after the fire just in time to meet brother for a Yellowstone road trip. Met up at Antelope Island . Came back through Flaming Gorge. We took a 6 day backpack trip out of Virginia Lakes into Glen Aulin. This, it would turn out, would be our last backpacking trip..

Pro Fun Tour 18 2013

This year we started day hiking with Charlie and Linda, Lisa and Eric, and Chuck and Julie. The first hike was to Red Cave. It was their desire to do this hike that got us our invite – I knew the way. We did quite a few hikes with the group and I managed a few solo bike rides. I continued to lead nature walks for the forest service every Saturday. Kelly and Dagan got Married on June 8. Visited Parowan Gap for the Summer Solstice. Colleen and Michael visited – took a great bike ride through Casto and Red Canyon. Michael gave plane rides out of swain’s creek runway. Michael crashed his plane at BCN. Bad way to end a vacation. Attempted to take a backpack trip – had to change plans due to the Rim Fire. Went in to sunrise, spent one night, hiked out and came home – never to backpack again.

Pro Fun Tour 19 2014

We arrived 3 June departed 17 August. I continued to do nature walks for the forest service, we continued to have pizza Fridays (or Sundays or …) and we continued hiking with the Cedar Mountain Hiking club. Hikes were generally weekly but sometimes twice a week. Add in a few bike rides and visitors and we were generally pretty busy. Colleen and Michael flew in, and Clarence and Brianne visited. This is the year that we began to realize that things at the Ranch needed to change. The Hacienda was getting very old and we weren’t getting any younger. We bought the lot just west of the Ranch and began the paperwork to conjoin the lots with the intention of building a cabin basically on the old boundary line.

Highlights

Purchase lot 189. Found the headwaters of the East Fork Asay creek. Hosted Clarence and Brianne. Got lost on High Mountain hike.

Pro Fun Tour 20 2015

PFT 20 would be the last. The summer of 2015 would have several events that essentially ruined our summer, and eventually destroyed the Ranch. Shortly after our arrival at the Ranch, we learned of a tornado that had hit, and possibly destroyed, our Hawthorne home – the Winter Palace. I developed a serious kidney infection that really put a damper on my hiking/biking ability. The Swain’s creek homeowners association decided to harass us for the presence of the Hacienda – ignoring over 20 years of precedence, the legal doctrine of grandfathering, and common sense. While I continued to lead flower walks for the forest service and we continued to have pizza Friday’s, there was precious little hiking or biking. Between a Las Vegas Trip, emergency trips to Cedar City, debilitating drug regimens, HOA meetings, trips across the desert to Hawthorne, and general worries – it was becoming clear that this was a ruined summer. Jack and Gayle – friends from Oregon visited Swain’s creek once again. The Osterhout’s had another child. Dinah and Jerry essentially never made it to the mountain, and none of the regulars visited. We left the mountain in August with the cloud of the HOA over us, but the assurance that we would be OK. That assurance turned out to be worthless, as we were informed in late September that our Hacienda was in variance of HOA conditions and need to be removed. I put it online and sold it in one day.

The End of PFTs

We returned to the Ranch one last time as Beck took the hacienda away, had one last champagne party, and packed all that we could into the truck and left for Hawthorne. We listed the lots for sale – and the conjoining process finished at nearly the same time. And so ended our pro fun tours after 20 years on Cedar Mountain. Just the thought of how it ended still brings tears to my eyes. I still cannot believe how badly we were treated. But.. we moved on to new adventures

Conclusion

Kathy and I really enjoyed our summers in Utah. The following are some of things we did.

National Parks Visited

Grand Canyon – North and South Rim; Canyonlands – The Needles and the maze; Arches; Bryce Canyon; Zion; Great Basin; Yosemite; Sequoia; Yellowstone; Death Valley

Other National Areas

Cedar Breaks NM, Grand Staircase – Escalante NM, Natural Bridges NM, Rainbow Bridge NM, Vermillion Cliffs NM, Lake Mead NRA, Glen Canyon NRA, Flaming Gorge NRA, Santa Monica Mountains NRA, Golden Trout Wilderness, South Sierra Wilderness, John Muir Wilderness, Hoover Wilderness, Ashdown Gorge Wilderness, Aqua Tibia Wilderness, Inyo Mountains Wilderness,

State Parks visited

Utah – Anasazi, Antelope Island, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Dead Horse Point, Edge of the cedars, Petrified Forest, Goblin Valley, Goosenecks of the San Juan, Jordan River, Kodachrome Basin, Newspaper Rock, Valley of the Gods, Snow Canyon,

Nevada – Berlin Icthyosaur, Buckland Station, Cathedral Gorge, Cave Lake, Dayton, Echo Canyon, Fort Churchhill, Kershaw-Ryan, Valley of Fire, Spring Valley

California – Too numerous to list

Adventures

Mountain Biking- All around the Markagunt (home of Duck creek and Cedar Breaks NM) and Paunsagunt (home to Bryce Canyon NP and Red Canyon Recreation area) Plateaus. There was of course a classic trip up to Powell Point. and several bike trips in Eastern Nevada. I also Biked across the Kolob Plateau (home to Zion NP) and from Boulder Mountain into Capitol Reef NP.

Backpacking- In the Uintas, Boulder Mt. and the Barracks (in UT); Weinemuche Wilderness (In CO), Golden Trout and Hoover Wildernesses (CA) , and Yosemite NP (in CA); and Yellowstone NP.

We camped and car traveled through the California Coast and Eastern California, throughout Nevada and Utah especially of course around Lake Powell. Got to visit lots of National Parks and Forests. Bagged a few peaks (White Peak, Powell Point, Kern Peak and Mt. Holly). And, of course, spent considerable time visiting Las Vegas, NV.

The bottom line is we had a wonderful 20 summers in Utah.

Health, Wealth and Time

There are many retirement articles that focus exclusively on Wealth (creation and spending). Obviously important to the ideas of Wealth is the importance of Time. Specifically, how long it takes to create Wealth and how long it takes to spend it. It seems that an individual’s health is either ignored or assumed.

I have always maintained that people need three things to truly enjoy life: Time, Health and Wealth. Unfortunately:
In your youth you have Time and (generally) Health. Most young folks are not wealthy.
As you embark on building a career and starting a family, You find that you have your Health and at least some modicum of Wealth. But Time is essentially entirely devoted to work and family.
Late in life when the family is grown, the career is successfully behind you, you find that you have have significant Wealth and lots of free Time, but often your Health has taken a hit.
The goal in life is to somehow beat this trap. And that is why people want to retire early: To increase your free Time at an age when you have sufficient Wealth and have not yet lost your Health.

Bad Speaking

Disclaimer notice

I have thought long and hard whether to publish this (or not). Some of the thoughts are pet peeves and are really not a major problem. However, some of the thoughts are major public speaking problems. Their use makes listening hard and tends to diminish the credibility of the speaker.

While many readers will take some offense at the “nitpicking” many others will recognize the need for better communication skills.

Introduction

I didn’t realize it at the time, but public speaking was an important part of my education – not a big part, but an important part. It was a part of the core general education requirements at San Diego State University (where I received my undergraduate degree). It was a research group requirement that we give a public presentation regularly during graduate school. And, finally it was a part of the introduction requirements at the Center for Naval Analysis; my first professional job.

Today it seems that speaking is not emphasized. It certainly seems to be not important. The following are some of the general “misspeaks” that are heard regularly. These are heard not just during casual conversations but often from talk show guests on stations like NPR, during professional presentations, or even political rallies.

Umm

This is probably the most common problem. Many people say “Umm” regularly when answering questions or giving a presentation. Some have raised its use to an art form. The original purpose of such nonsense was merely to gain time to formulate an answer while continuing to control the conversation. Over time it has really just became an annoying habit.

Yeah So, So yeah, Well, Well So, So Well

There are a myriad of preliminary thoughtless responses. These are a few. These seem to be the most popular answers – whatever the question. There are really a couple of major problems with these responses.

Yes No

In answer to a question, the speaker often says “Yes, No”. It is at best confusing.

May I ask or Can I ask?

This question is most often associated with telephone calls. The receptionist is attempting to ask the callers Identity. “Can I ask who is calling?” Of course you can in fact you have asked “Who is calling” but the answer to the question asked is “Yes”.

Such nonsense is often followed by “May I ask who is calling?” The correct answer is still “Yes”. At least in this case the receptionist has asked you for permission to ask who you are but that is probably not what was intended.

The questions arise from a desire to be deferential or polite. The attempt is a failure. Try this one – “Who is calling” or “Who is calling, please?”. As I discussed in https://shawnpheneghan.wordpress.com/2018/12/19/heneghans-rules/ remember to follow the Three Rules of Inquiry: 1. Ask the right question. 2. Ask the right person. And 3. Ask politely. Don’t let “Ask Politely” cause you to ask the wrong question.

Like to

Airline flight attendants regularly say they would “Like to” welcome you to Chicago (or wherever). What is left unsaid is “Welcome to Chicago”. Perhaps they can’t because the plane landed in St. Louis. I really don’t care what you’d “like to” do – just do it. Don’t ask permission (may I), or inquire if you have the ability (can I) just do it.

You Know

Seriously, if I really “knew” you wouldn’t have to tell me. Some people are so prolific at saying “you know” that they actually say it two or three times in a row. It seems that this bad habit has no value – historically or currently. It is just a bad habit.

And

Many people just don’t know how to end a sentence. They just put an “and” or “but” or some other conjunction at the end and begin another thought.

They Say

“They” refers to the ubiquitous, but unknown, third person. If you don’t know who “They” are, they are probably lying. Former president Donald Trump was famous for using the unnamed third person as the source for his dubious claims. “I’ve heard”, “It’s been said”, and “There are reports” each claim unnamed third persons for the story.

Like

Valley speak – ‘Nuff said.

Vital vs Vibrant.

How many times have you heard some politician talk about the need for a vital downtown. Or, to put it another way “we need a necessary downtown”. It makes no sense. What is meant, of course, is we need a vibrant downtown – much more sensible statement.

Rating the Question

Telling a person, before answering the question, that “that is a great question” is disingenuous. Not only is it a great question, but I can answer it. If you appreciate, or were hoping for the question, say so. But, rating questions is inappropriate.

Conclusion

Remember, mean what you say and say what you mean. Some people have taken “misspeak” to an art form. Sentences are packed full of “You know”s and “Umm”s. Casual responses ( “Yeah, so”) and improperly phrased questions (May I ask who is calling?) diminish the speakers credibility.

Using unnamed third persons (“They say”) is just a way to state possible (probable) untruths and have the unnamed party take responsibility.

Speaking in run on sentences is just annoying. Using the wrong word or valley speak is just plain ignorant.

Some of these are “pet peeves” (this whole article will be perceived by some as a “pet peeve”) but others seriously diminish the conversation. It is really not that hard to remove these bad habits from most daily conversations. They should be removed from any public presentations.

Thoughts on

Introduction

Last updated on 27 April 2022.

Below are just some random thoughts on topics of interest. There is no rhyme nor reason for why they appear (or disappear). This article will be updated irregularly. Some parts disappearing and new sections appearing as they become important or interesting. There will be no regular schedule for updating.

Invasions: The Good and The Bad

It was about 40 Years ago when the US decided that we were not going to the Olympics in Moscow. Why? Because the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan in late 1979. They continued a war against the “insurgents” for just over a decade – finally withdrawing in early 1989. Clearly the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan was bad.

Twenty-four years later (2003) the US invaded Afghanistan, We remained in country for nearly 2 decades (fighting the same “insurgents”) before finally leaving in 2021. Clearly this was a good invasion.

George Bush (the first) invaded Iraq in 1990. The invasion and subsequent war was short but sweet. His son George Bush (the second) invaded Iraq again in March of 2003. The subsequent war and occupation lasted nearly a decade (again those damned “insurgents” were there). Obviously, these were “good” invasion, wars, and occupations.

On 23 Feb Russia (the Soviet Union is no more) invaded Ukraine. How successfully and for how long is not yet determined but… this is clearly an example of a “bad” invasion.

What can be concluded from these examples? If you invade your neighbors – Bad. If you invade countries on another continent – Good. At least I thought this until Rand Paul decided that invading your neighbors is good (or at least defensible).

Baby Boomers

We (I am a boomer) did a fine job. We have borrowed 30 Trillion bucks, failed to have national health insurance, have withdrawn from social security at a rate that will deplete the taxes in short order, failed to address real concerns about global warming, have left behind a failing infrastructure, have tacitly endorsed gerrymandering, etc. In short we have really screwed those behind us – currently essentially everyone else. But… at least we got ours.

I don’t even have children and I seem to care more about what we leave behind than most boomers.

Fires in the American West

Last summer I was evacuated twice: from two different fires; of tow different types; in two different states (https://shawnpheneghan.wordpress.com/2021/08/01/fires-and-evacuations/). Fires are dangerous and evacuations are serious matters; not fun.

Recently there has been a large wildfire that burned out of control in Colorado (https://www.yahoo.com/gma/thousands-families-asked-evacuate-amid-213500380.html). It burned more homes than the pair of fires from which I was evacuated.

One thing about living in the American West is that wildfires have been with us since the beginning. Western mining towns often had tremendous fires that essentially destroyed them and San Diego had a huge fire several years ago. And, while forest fires have gotten worse, they have been a part of the natural scene forever.

Fires like the one in Hawthorne, NV, or Boulder County, CO or in the Toiyabe National Forest, here in the west particularly, remind us that we still live at the mercy of nature.

Inflation

When I was a child, Baby boomers were just hitting their “age of consumption”. What I mean is, as a group, they needed and wanted and therefore consumed huge fractions of society’s output. The result was inflation.

Boomers needed (or wanted) education, transportation, housing, food, recreation – and the prices went up.

As boomers hit their middle ages, saving for retirement became very important – and the Market responded. It went up. Inflation decreased.

Now Boomers have hit retirement and do nothing but consume and sure enough inflation is back.

I suspect it will not be transitory.

Recessions and Republican Presidents

I was born in 1951. Since then there have been 11 recessions. Interestingly enough, ten of these recessions started while a Republican was president.

According the the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER – the arbiter of when recessions start/end) Recessions began in 1953, 1957 and 1960 under Eisenhower, 1969 and 1973 Under Nixon, 1980 under Carter, 1981 under Reagan, 1990 under Bush I, 2001 and 2007 under Bush II, and 2020 under Trump. Just an observation

It may be coincidence, but I suspect that the Rs tendency to hold back spending when the D’s have the presidency is as much responsible as anything. Unfortunately when the Rs have the levers of power, spending restraint is not high on the list. Cutting taxes is high but spending restraint is only for the Ds.

Don’t believe me – read https://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/U.S._economic_performance_under_Democratic_and_Republican_presidents