A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma: My Retirement Finances and the Difference Between a Cocktail and a Pour

Source: Norman Rockwell Museum

Bylaw 1.7(a)(4-3) of this blog’s charter states: “A topical post relevant to retirement must be published at least once a year”

Ah, yes. It’s that time of year again, Campers. This is when the striped-pants boys who monitor the Obligations Desk at this blog’s HQ snicker and wink at one another. As if I needed another reason to not raise salaries. Regardless, it is our annual requirement to look under the hood of your humble blogger’s retirement vehicle and find out how my attempt to avoid doing anything consequential is going.

The post-pandemic economy continues to bedevil even the so-called experts. A year ago at this time, market pundits were looking at the full range of cascading issues raining down– specifically supply chain woes, persistent inflation, and rising interest rates. Quite a few of them predicted a resulting recession practically every other week. It didn’t happened. What did happen is that nearly all of us — little ‘ol me included — saw our nest eggs lose up to 20% of their value. It was stressful to watch. It remains stressful.

Of course, the smarter and better angels amongst us ignore all of the daily financial carnage and simply carry on with life. Stick to your plan, focus only on what you can control.

Not me. I torture myself.

Last year I suffered through many a 3:00am wake-up anxiety, followed by a late afternoon moment of checking the final numbers at the market’s closing bell. The evening’s “happy” hour consisted of either a celebratory mixed cocktail; or more often a disheartened one-ounce whiskey pour, with my hand gripping a glass tightly as I hurled insults to an imaginary Jerome Powell sitting across from me.

This is a convenient moment to clarify that no matter how the final Wall Street numbers turn out each day, a beverage with the moniker of “cocktail” is an up day, whereas a mere “pour” constitutes losses. There were a lot of pours in 2022.

Source: wineandwhiskeydecanter.com

Now it’s a new year and pundits are yet again predicting a recession. To be sure, there are plenty of reasons to think it can still happen: (1) My drinking pal Mr. Powell’s interest rate hikes have indirectly resulted in (so far) three bank failures — admittedly in part because Congress agreed a few years earlier to permit banking institutions to behave as if they were mature adults, and that in turn allowed them to make misguided decisions without any parental oversight. Also (2) Congress and the President are currently playing a game of chicken with the nation’s debt, and if nothing is done about it by next month, it could lead to a default of the nation’s treasury.

Sorry, have I lost you in the weeds? Don’t worry it gets simpler soon because I’m about to discuss coffee. Coffee is always easier to understand than economics.

Nevertheless, 2023 has so far allowed me to sleep through the nights again. This market is showing a modicum of resilience. Bulls who had been hibernating for all of 2022, actually made an appearance this past March and most of April. For the year, my nest egg is up around six percent. That’s not a shout-it-from-the-rooftops figure, but given last year’s hemorrhage I’ll take it. I’ve also noticed that bonds are behaving as they’re supposed to behave. That is, they’ve been moving up/down relative to how stocks perform. So I’m having slightly more cocktails so far this year.

No matter how one’s savings are faring, though, it’s still the actual day-to-day living expenses that remain paramount. On that score, I admit to expanding rather than contracting. Because of the market downturn last year, we decided to finance the kitchen renovation via a home equity loan rather than taking a lump sum withdrawal to pay it off. So we currently have monthly payments for that obligation. We also have some minor home improvement projects on tap for this year: new toilet, painting of guest bathroom and adjacent hallway, and new carpeting for the bedrooms and that same hallway. In addition, I’m chagrined to admit that we added a fourth streaming channel to our nightly mix of offerings: HBO Max ($9.99/mo).

Oops. You’ll probably read about us someday in one of those AARP Magazine profiles where they have a household budget expert analyze how a certain couple should spend more judiciously.

Guilty as charged

And then there’s the coffee outlays. Starting in lockdown, when we made covert visits to nearby baristas and never admitted it to others for fear of shaming and shunning, Gorgeous developed an addiction for one particular local chain called The Kookaburra. Its beach location is her personal favorite because they have an outside deck with tables and chairs, and on nice days it’s a particularly lovely place to sit. But with all due respect to my blogging colleague, Kate, who fervently delights in her daily coffee routine, and furthermore asks for no judgment on that score, thank you very much, this is somewhat of a stressful, consumptive habit for us. Each day my lovely bride thinks up creative new ways to have us drive past a Kookaburra location for her favorite flat white or half-sweetened P.C.

Well known financial advice writer Suze Orman famously said about such extravagances, “You are peeing $1 million down the drain as you are drinking that coffee.” I think about that each time I am talked into taking the barista detour. By the way, click here to read Ms. Orman’s views on peeing away your money by buying coffee. I offer the link as a public service because believe me, you do NOT want to try finding it in a search engine.

A dear friend of mine is just weeks away from taking the retirement plunge (Hi, H!). She has financial concerns, and via email and phone calls I’ve shared with her some of my successes and not-so successful post-retirement moves. I keep telling her that she’s going to love everything about the world she’s about to enter. I wish her all the cocktails, pours, and lattes she desires. This better angel is also here to remind her that it’s best to ignore those closing bell numbers each day. Stick to your plan and focus on what you can control. Everything else is just noise.

Until next time…

27 thoughts on “A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma: My Retirement Finances and the Difference Between a Cocktail and a Pour

  1. Quite an entertaining read, Marty. Now, regarding your lovely bride’s habit – my own personal favorite finance guy – Clark Howard – would call the coffee habit a “lifestyle choice.” As such, no money is being wasted. That’s in the bylaws, too. Ah, to enjoy a beverage, fresh air, the scenery, family and conversation – what better lifestyle choice could there be? As my dad said many times, “You can’t take it with you when you go!” Clark Howard is my guy. Suzie O is noise to me. Now where was that beach Kookaburra?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All true, Betty! The moments are there for us to take and enjoy the best we can. The specific Kookaburra location at the beach here is St. Augustine Beach located in St. Augustine Beach. That’s a little confusing, I know! You have to cross over the bridge to the outer barrier island (i.e. off of Coastal Highway A1A). It’s our go-to beach here, among many from which to choose!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Aw Marty, you always make me laugh! When I was a sprout, I used to take vitamin supplements. Expensive ones. On a visit to my GI doc he told me to stop taking anything but a multi-vitamin and maybe calcium. Everything else just gave you expensive pee! I’ve saved a ton of money with that advice which I immediately plowed into my coffee addiction. You gotta pee so it’s better to make it interesting! Gorgeous deserves small pleasure (assuming you are not buying her rubies and diamonds) and with a name like Kookaburra how can you not stop?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was so worried that you’d take offense, Kate. Glad you caught the spirit of what I was saying. Your blog is something I Always refer back to, at least mentally. πŸ˜‰. Peeing is important, I agree. Oh, Lordy, the hits this post is going to get now. lol.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I knew it was time for this post! My husband and I discuss what we made or what we lost each day with a sense of humor because without it I’d need tissues. I always enjoy learning something, and now I know the difference between a cocktail and a pour. Thank you. πŸ™‚ As for coffee, we received a Keurig for Christmas, and have enjoyed every cup of coffee since then. I’m sure Dunkin Donuts is missing us, but they don’t offer the scenery you get with your coffee. Just enjoy the experience because that is what it is. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The daily swings are definitely out of our control, eh Judy? It’s all a ride, sometimes good, too often unfortunately bad, but nevertheless not anything we can switch on/off. We’ve had at least three Keurig’s and for some reason they never stick around. Friends or family have ended up with each of them. πŸ˜†

      Liked by 1 person

  4. LOL. Stick to what you can control is definitely the best advice, Marty! As my husband often reminds me, β€œIt (the market) goes up, it goes down.” And you’re also right when you tell your friend she’s going to love everything about retirement!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like to keep an eye on my money (OK, OK…I review the figures every week and enter them into a spreadsheet like the big ol’ nerd that I am). This has hardened me to the vagaries of the markets, believe it or not. A couple of months ago I was down 100K, this week I am only down 26K. Woohoo! Where’s the bubbly (domestic, not imported…yet)?
    You’ve got the right attitude. If going out for coffee brings you joy, then that is money well spent and definitely not wasted. It’s the simple things, right? Take that, Suze Orman.

    Deb

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha, take that, Suze Orman! Truth be told, I actually don’t care for much of what she writes about — but that quote about coffee and peeing was too good to pass up. πŸ˜€ I wanted to mention bubbly too, but decided not to run the risk of appearing with everything being about alcohol, which good grief it is decidedly not. My cookie intake is far, far worse! πŸ˜† My biggest thing to break was actually logging into my accounts and reviewing everything on a daily basis. A good friend of mine cured me of that habit. So I only do it on the weekend now, and like you I also log it into a spreadsheet. I’m not sure why actually, but spreadsheets weirdly give me comfort. Thanks, Deb!

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  6. LOL. Coffee is one of those things I gave up years ago. Have never missed it.
    I turn on CNN every morning to peek at the stocks. They’re mostly down lately, so THANKS FOR RUINING MY EFFING DAY! When they’re up, I just figure they’ll take a dump before the end of the day. Sigh.
    I used to relish every word Clark Howard said, but I haven’t seen him in years! Where is he? I thought he left whatever channel he was on.
    Oh, and get this. Yesterday a truck ran over my sons’ motorcycle. He was quick enough to jump off before the truck took him under. If it isn’t one thing…it’s 10 or 5!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good lord, Laurel! I’m glad your son is okay! Whew! This is the second mention of Clark Howard — I’ve never heard of him (oops). I follow Jill Schlesinger (CBS News, “Jill on Money” podcast) who I think is pretty good. But, yeah, you can pull your hair out with the ups and downs. Keep your son away from that motorcycle for a while!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yeah, coffee cafes are usually real expensive. I went to one yesterday near a college campus in Philadelphia. I ordered an iced tea. It’s the kind of thing that in the not-too-distant-past cost maybe one dollar. Yesterday it was three dollars. And this was for the small size.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. We recently had one of *those* meetings with our financial planners and I came away rolling my eyes. Overpriced coffee? Yep, it’s out there. Should I get a cup? Maybe… or maybe not. From what I can tell it’s all a gamble, often presented in beautiful bar charts, so I’m going to drink what I want while I can. In my case I’ll have a latte, please. And later, a pour. Maybe two.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The electric utility here recently raised their rates, so I can’t say I’ll leave the light on for you, Ally. But the liquor shelf await your arrival always. We (amicably) parted ways with our financial guy. I started to write about it in this post, but realized I was headed down a rabbit hole from which I’d never find an exit. So I steered clear of it. Suffice to say we need to find one who won’t make our eyes roll either. That’s not going to be fun.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Love, love, love the Norman Rockwell print. I visited the museum decades ago with my now ex, and struggled to decide which I loved best.

    As for the coffee, Himself has fixed the coffee takeaway problem by providing barista quality coffee at home. The fact that there’s no space on our counter tops is quite a different problem… and I’m sure that – overall – that indulgence is costing more than it’s saving. I’m not even attempting to do the maths… because he’s happy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always enjoyed the Rockwells too, Debs. His paintings are quintessentially American and represent the best of what we used to at least portrayed to the world.

      We’ve gone through about every stage in our kitchen with coffee gadgets also. I’m still fond of the electric percolator, though I think Gorgeous is less excited with how much work it is to clean after every use. For the moment we’re using a simple drip machine. But I’m never quite sure when the coffee zen will reappear and our countertops will also become overpopulated. 😳

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  10. Hi Marty,
    I enjoyed reading this, and can relate to a lot of it.
    I am not yet retired. I just 57, and have now decided that I don’t want to work full time a day past 60. We shall see if I can make that happen.. or perhaps even sooner.
    Gorgeous looks happy and gorgeous with her coffee! Some small luxuries makes life better.
    Blessings to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Ana. I retired early, at age 55. The main reason was that in addition to a savings that I knew I wouldn’t start touching till I was 62, I was able to take health insurance benefits into immediate retirement from my old job. That gave me some breathing room. But still, we’ve had to make some tough choices. Covid has ironically helped preserve much of the nest egg, though. I agree — coffee dates are important!

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    1. “Entertaining” being the most important word choice. At first blush when I saw this as a notification on my phone earlier, I thought you wrote “educational.” The whole car ride home from the grocery store I thought to myself, “Oh lord, I have truly failed!” I’m glad I re-read it properly on my laptop! πŸ˜†

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