Sunday, July 14, 2013

Do You Qualify for Extra Senior Services or Benefits?

One of the reasons I like living in a retirement community is because they do such a good job of keeping residents informed about issues that could affect us.  Many of the mailers that are sent to us report on programs or events for seniors that I would know nothing about if I lived in a typical residential neighborhood.  This week we received notice of a new Benefits Checkup website that has been created by the National Council on Aging.  Anyone with access to a computer can easily find out if they qualify for additional benefits or special services.  Many seniors suffer needlessly simply because they do not know how to access the programs that could help them.

Even if you are a Baby Boomer who has not yet retired, you may be interested in using this website to see if you can discover any programs that could provide assistance to your parents or other elderly members of your family.

What Senior Citizen Benefits Might be Available?

Wouldn't it be a nice surprise to discover that you may qualify for some additional help as you age?  Here are examples of the types of services or discounts that various government agencies and nonprofit organizations may be able to provide:

Medicare and Medi-Cal
Veterans' benefits
Employment Services
Nutritional Assistance
Home-delivered meals
Prescription drug assistance
Housing assistance
In-home care

The National Council on Aging Benefits Checkup

Thanks to the National Council on Aging, you can do a general benefits checkup using just one website to see which types of assistance you may be eligible to receive.  You will still have to contact the different agencies separately to apply for the actual benefits.  However, you can use this one website to discover specific agencies or organizations that are most likely to provide you with the services you need.  Here is the website:

What Information You Need to Provide the Benefits Checkup Website

In order for the website to be able to help you locate senior support services, you will need to be prepared to provide certain information.  Before you log on, make sure you have the following facts available:

Your state of residence and zip code
Whether you live in a home, apartment or mobile home
How long you have lived at your current residence
Your status as a Veteran
Your spouse's status as a Veteran
Whether or not you or your spouse ever worked for:
     A State Government
     The Federal Government
     A local government agency
     The Railroads
Names of all the prescription medications you currently take
The current income for yourself, your spouse and all members of your household
Your assets, including the value of your property, stocks, savings account, etc.
Your estimated expenses, including:
     Mortgage or rent payments
     Out of pocket medical expenses

They estimate that it will take most people at least 20 minutes to complete the benefits checkup.

After you have input all this information, the website will provide you with a list of all the programs that you may wish to contact for assistance.  Most of them will have their own application process.  However, by using the National Council on Aging checklist, you may discover several programs that you never even knew existed.

If you are interested in learning more about special programs for seniors, use this link to find a number of Amazon books about senior benefits.

If you are interested in more helpful retirement information from this blog, check out the index articles below.  Each one contains an introduction to that topic plus links to a number of related articles:

Gifts, Travel and Family Relationships

Great Places for Boomers to Retire Overseas

Great Places to Retire in the United States

Health and Medical Topics for Baby Boomers

Money and Financial Planning for Retirement

You are reading from the blog:

Photo of computer courtesy of

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Starting Over in New Retirement Destinations

Many Baby Boomers already have a vague idea of where they would like to live after retirement, whether that means Florida, South Carolina, Southern California, Arizona, some other region of the U.S., or even another country.  However, if you are within ten years of retirement, have you actually taken steps to narrow things down to a few specific retirement destinations where you would like to live?  After all, simply saying Florida or Ecuador is not very specific if you really want a smooth transition to retirement.  You are going to have to put some effort into picking a specific location and then making the transition happen.

Choosing the Best Retirement Destinations

Long before you are ready to move into a retirement home, you have to begin to search for the right community that will work best for you.  This is true whether you are looking at places within the United States or in a foreign country.  Here are some steps you should take:

Years before you expect to move, you should begin to take trips to various retirement destinations.  Be open.  For example, if you think you want to retire in Florida, take some vacations there.  However, you should also spend some time in nearby areas such as Georgia, South Carolina and along the coast of Alabama. Take into consideration issues such as how far you would be living from family members, such as grandchildren or elderly parents.  Compare the distant retirement destinations with a few retirement communities that are located in the same region where you currently live.  Since there are now retirement communities located throughout the United States, there is no reason why you should have to move far away from your loved ones unless you really want to.  This is the time to explore all you options, so enjoy it.

When you go on vacation, try to rent a place to stay that is in or near the retirement communities you are considering.  If you contact some of the newer communities in advance, many of them have special programs that allow you to spend a weekend in their community, take a tour and use some of the amenities.  If this is not an option, call a Realtor in the area and ask if they would show you some of the available homes in the neighborhood during your vacation trip.  Both of these are excellent ways to see which communities might work for you.

In addition to visiting during your annual vacation, I suggest you tour your favorite retirement destinations in the off season.  Go to Arizona or South Florida in mid-summer.  If you are considering retiring in Seattle, Pennsylvania or rural Michigan, go in the middle of winter.  You want to know the worst.

Read up on a variety of retirement locations.  There are many that you may not have heard about.  In addition, there may be negatives about certain areas that the property managers and Realtors will not tell you.  Read the articles in this blog (see the index articles at the end of this article to find links to dozens of articles about specific retirement destinations), and do research on other websites, as well.  You want to be fully informed.

Make a budget for your housing and stick to it.  Don't be persuaded to overspend.  It will only make you regret your housing decision.

How to Make the Transition to Retirement Easy

Even before you make the move, you need to begin to get ready for the change.  The first thing you may need to do is downsize your belongings.  This is a great time to give your children some of your possessions that they would like to have and you no longer need.  In addition, if you are storing things to give your children someday in the future, now is the time!  Three of our four daughters have items that came from our previous, larger homes.  When we go visit our kids, I jokingly tell them that I am "visiting our furniture."  It's important to accept that you are really giving these things away.  Do not get distressed if your old items are not treated with the same care you once gave them.  These items are gifts.  Let them go.

Once you have downsized your belongings, you are ready to actually prepare for your move.  Once you are within a year or so of making the change, put your current home up for sale, particularly if you find yourself in a "hot" real estate market.  That may not be the case in another year, so take advantage of strong real estate markets, when you can.

 If you sell your home sooner than planned, and you are still a few months away from retirement, you can rent a small apartment or home temporarily.  Many apartment complexes will let you rent month-to-month if you know you are going to be there less than six months.

Once you are ready to move to your retirement destination, if you are still uncertain whether it is right for you, lease a home in your chosen community for a year.  After that you will be better prepared to commit yourself.

Starting Over In a New Location

After you have moved and gotten settled, you cannot simply sit at home.  If you do, your new location will eventually stop seeming like your dream retirement.  In Laguna Woods Village, where we currently live in Southern California, there are dozens of activities going on all day long, every day of the year.  No one could possibly participate in a tenth of the activities offered.  However, I know that there are people here who are lonely and never participate in anything.  You will have to make the first move by getting out of the house and becoming active in your new community.  That is the only way to meet new people, which is important at any age.

Get involved.  Join a club, church or sports league. 

Sign up for a class, whether you want to learn bridge, photography or art.  Many community colleges, and even some four-year colleges, offer special Emeritus classes for seniors.  I take several free exercise classes through the local community college, and they are great for me both physically and socially.  The same community college also offers a wide variety of free classes in art, computer applications, history and other interesting subjects, both academic and non-academic.  Have fun learning new things!

Go to the gym or the swimming pool in your community.  Nearly every retirement community has both.

Make an effort to find friends.  Reach out to others.  Many of your new neighbors will also be transplants from other parts of the country, so they may be open to new friendships, too.

Expect some moments of homesickness.  Fortunately, today it is easy to stay in touch.  Call the people you miss and occasionally Skype with them.  In addition, periodic visits back to the old neighborhood can help keep the homesickness at bay.

If you are nervous or worried about meeting new people, you may be interested in this direct link to Amazon books about how adults can make new friends.  With very little effort, you'll soon be much happier in your new home.

If you are interested in learning more about some of the interesting retirement communities that are available, as well as getting other types of retirement information, click on the index articles below.  Each one contains an introduction and links to a number of helpful articles.

Gifts, Travel and Family Relationships

Great Places for Boomers to Retire Overseas

Great Places to Retire in the United States

Health and Medical Topics for Baby Boomers

Money and Financial Planning for Retirement

You are reading from the blog:

Photo of suburban home courtesy of

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sun City Shadow Hills in Indio, California

Many people who are planning their retirement are hesitant to consider California because they believe it is too expensive to retire there.  However, there are a number of affordable over-55 retirement communities that are attractive and have a wide variety of amenities, especially in the desert towns around Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley.  One of these is Sun City Shadow Hills in Indio, California.

Sun City Shadow Hills was listed in Where to Retire magazine, in their July/August 2013 issue, as one of the 50 best master-planned communities in the U.S.  This list was culled from ALL master planned communities in the United States, not just those designed for people over the age of 55.

Shadow Hills Amenities

This beautiful desert retirement community was developed by Del Webb and has a wide variety of the amenities that many retirees are requesting.

Golfers will love:

18 hole putting course
18 hole Par-3 course that is about 3,000 yards long
18 hole Championship golf course that is 6,773 yard long

Golfers and non-golfers alike will enjoy:

A 35,000 square foot main clubhouse
A second clubhouse, called the Santa Rosa
The amphitheatre
The Performing Arts and Ballroom facilities
Billiards and table games
Fitness centers at the clubhouses
Hobby, card and game rooms
Tennis and Bocce Courts
Both Indoor and outdoors pools and jacuzzies

In addition, the staff and volunteers in the community organize special events and trips to other locations in Southern California, including the San Diego zoo, area casinos and the wine country.

The nearby Coachella Valley communities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Desert Hot Springs, La Quinta, Indian Wells and Indio all offer a wide variety of special events, activities and attractions of their own, including art galleries, art museums, world class tennis facilities, restaurants, shops, movie theaters and a variety of festivals, including a spectacular hot air balloon festival.  The towns have wide, palm lined boulevards that take you past the entrances to beautiful resorts and planned communities.  Street sculptures, like the one pictured in the above photo, are sprinkled throughout the various desert communities.  There is no reason to be bored while you live in Sun City Shadow Hills!

Cost of Living

There are a wide variety of home prices in this wonderful community, ranging from about $200,000 for a 1,321 square foot home to approximately $455,000 for a larger 2,955 square foot single family home.  With 10 different home designs, buyers have plenty of choices in both design and price.

The monthly homeowner's fee in 2013 was $237.

Property taxes run approximately 1.4 percent of the value of your property.  This means that if you purchase a $300,000 home, your property taxes will run approximately $4,200 a year, or perhaps slightly more if there are special assessments or parcel taxes that have been added on.

Conveniently Located

Residents of this area not only enjoy the amenities of their own community and the rest of the Coachella Valley, but they are also less than a two hour drive to the coastal communities of Los Angeles and Orange County.  In addition, a roughly two hour drive in another direction can take residents up into the mountain communities of Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead.  There are an enormous variety of climates and activities available to active seniors who want to have a convenient location to call home.


The only complaints I have ever heard about this community is the summer desert heat and the periodic wind and dust storms that erupt from time to time.  In both cases, the residents have two choices.  They can either confine their outdoor activities to early morning and late evening, or they can rent a place to stay near the coast during a portion of the summer.

I have had friends who have chosen both options, and they have managed to get through those hot, dry, windy summer days with little difficulty.  However, for people who really hate the idea of a dry desert climate, this community may be less appealing.

More Information

If you would like to read more about the Coachella Valley, you may want to read a few books about the area.   You can use this direct link to books about Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley to see the choices that are currently available. 

Contact Information for Sun City Shadow Hills

If you would like to get more information specifically about Shadow Hills or plan a visit, here is their website and contact information:

On the website you can also make arrangements to schedule a two-night visit for only $99, including a tour of the community and participation in an activity.

Sun City Shadow Hills
81-346 Corte Compras
Indio, CA  92203

Toll Free number:  (800) 420-5059

For those of you who are looking for more retirement planning ideas, or want to get information about other places to retire, click on the index articles listed below.  Each one as a short introduction as well as links to a wide variety of other articles on that topic.

Gifts, Travel and Family Relationships

Great Places for Boomers to Retire Overseas

Great Places to Retire in the United States

Health and Medical Topics for Baby Boomers

Money and Financial Planning for Retirement

You are reading from the article:

Photo of modern sculpture in Palm Desert, California is courtesy of

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Are Cruise Ships Safe for Your Next Vacation?

One of the preferred vacation venues for many Baby Boomers, as well as people in other age groups, is to travel by cruise ship.  It is incredibly convenient to travel between locations without the necessity of changing hotels or dealing with rental cars in unfamiliar locations.  In addition, it is nice not to have to worry about where to eat, where to find a hair salon, how to arrange for sight-seeing tours or any of the other concerns that can come up when we are traveling on our own.

However, the cruise industry has also received a lot of bad publicity in the past few years, causing concerns about cruise ship safety to receive international attention.  Perhaps the best known event was the tragic accident when the Costa Concordia hit rocks and sank off the coast of Italy in January, 2012, killing 32 people.  Less dramatic events have included people falling (or being pushed) overboard, on-board fires, flu outbreaks, loss of power, overflowing toilets, bad weather and similar problems and disasters.  These events have led many travelers to wonder if the risk is worth the reward.

Are Cruise Ships Safe?

Fortunately, despite the headlines, cruise ships actually have an excellent safety record.  According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), more than 17 million people a year take cruises, virtually all of them without a problem.

Still, crimes do happen.  In 2012, the Coast Guard reported that they investigated 15 crimes on cruise ships.   Eleven of those investigations involved sexual assaults, with crew members being suspected in six of those cases.  In addition, a number of cruise ship crimes are not investigated by members of the Coast Guard, but by Bahamian authorities, because many ships are registered in that country.  Problems occur with ships registered in other countries, as well.  One analysis by researchers of all the cruise ship crimes reported worldwide for 2008 indicated that there were 151 reports of unwanted sexual contact or touching, with 56 of those cases involving a crew member ... either as the victim or the aggressor.  This appears to be the most common type of crime to occur on a cruise ship.

While any level of crime is unacceptable, when you consider the small number of crimes compared to the 17 million people traveling on these ships, the fact is that crime rates are significantly lower on sea than on land.   However, in order to improve our knowledge of criminal activity on board ships, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia sent letters in May, 2013 to three of the major cruise lines, Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, demanding that they do a better job of reporting crime statistics.  Senate hearings are expected to eventually be held on this topic, although they haven't been scheduled as of this writing.

How to Increase Your Cruise Ship Safety

Of course, no matter how low the crime rate is, most of us would prefer to not be the victim of a crime during our vacation.  Fortunately, there are actions you can take in order to increase your personal safety and enhance your vacation fun.  After all, nothing can ruin a cruise faster than falling victim to a crime, being injured, or having similar vacation hassles.  By taking a few precautions, you can increase the likelihood that you will avoid many emergencies and be able to survive the few situations that you cannot avoid.  Here are a few actions that are highly recommended:

Participate in the onboard safety drill.  The crew members will let you know where your lifeboat is located and may have you try on your life jacket.  Don't skip this activity.  While it is unlikely that you will ever need either your lifeboat or life jacket, you definitely want to know where they are before an emergency!

Try on your life jacket and make sure you have enough life jackets in your cabin, in the correct sizes, for everyone in your cabin.  If your kids or grandchildren are with you, make sure they have jackets that are the right size for them, too.

Be aware of fire hazards.  When my husband and I took our children on a cruise to the Bahamas about 15 years ago, we were watching a magic show in the theater when a fire started in an area behind the stage.  Everyone calmly evacuated the theater, which was then closed for the remainder of the cruise.  However, if the fire had spread or people had panicked, this event could have turned into a disaster.  Fire is a serious concern for cruise ships.  According to reports, fires have been started by people who threw their cigarette butts over the side, only to have them get sucked back into the ship.  Consequently, it is important that you only smoke in designated areas and dispose of your butts correctly,  In addition, don't light candles in your cabin!

Register your name with the U.S. Department of State's free Traveler Enrollment Program.  This will help if you are in a foreign port and you need assistance in an emergency. 

Check the U.S. Department of State's website for travel warnings about any foreign countries you may be visiting on your cruise.  You should take these travel warnings into consideration in planning your trip.  We once went to Puerto Vallarta when the local citizens were rioting over the death of a teenage boy who had been killed by the police.  We also visited Jamaica during a time of so much political instability that guests had been killed in our luxury resort just a few days before our arrival.  In neither case did we have any idea that these things were going on before we arrived.  I would advise other travelers to be a little more responsible than we were and check the State Department's website before planning a trip to any foreign country, whether going by sea or by air.

Give thoughtful attention to your shore excursions.  If you take a group excursion that has been arranged by your cruise company, you are unlikely to have any problems.  However, if you decide to rent a car and go exploring on your own in an unfamiliar country, you need to do some serious investigating in advance to make sure you know where you are going and that you will be in a relatively safe area.  You also want to make sure you allow ample time to get back to your cruise ship before it sets sail, again.  They won't wait for you!

Do not take valuables on your cruise.  I have heard of a number of cases of people who had belongings stolen while they were on a cruise ship.  Just because you are on vacation does not mean that you can let down your guard.  You need to practice the same personal safety precautions that you would anywhere else.

Be aware of the risk of sexual assaults.  Women should be cautious about about being approached by strange men.  Despite the old television show, the "Love Boat," onboard romances do not always turn out well.  In addition, do not leave children alone in cabins.  There have been a few incidents reported of crew members letting themselves into cabins and molesting unsupervised children.  Overall, however, incidents of sexual assault do appear to be on the decline.  In 2010, there was 28 cases reported to the FBI.  In 2011, there were 13.  In 2012, only one case had been reported by mid-year.  Modern cruise ships have security cameras and sophisticated security departments, which have increased their safety.  Still, it is wise for women and children to be a little extra cautious and avoid being left alone in deserted areas of the ship, especially at night.

Exercise good judgement and limit your alcohol consumption while on vacation.  Some people feel that a cruise is their opportunity to really let loose.  However, many accidents, injuries and incidences of sexual assault have occurred when the victim was drunk.  Simply by keeping your alcohol consumption at a reasonable level, you can do a lot to reduce the likelihood that something bad will happen on your cruise.

Don't forget your personal hygiene while you are on vacation.  There have been outbreaks of the flu and other communicable diseases on many ships.  On the cruise we took to Alaska a few years ago, there were hand sanitizing stations located at the entrance to every food establishment and ship personnel stood nearby and encouraged the guests to use the sanitizers.  You may also want to pack hand sanitizers or sanitizing wipes in your luggage, to reduce your exposure to harmful bacteria.

Take typical weather conditions into consideration.  August and September are the most likely months for hurricanes to pop up in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.  Unless you are very adventurous, you may want to take that knowledge into consideration when planning your cruise.

Buy travel insurance.  If you encounter serious problems on your cruise, your travel insurance plan may be able to assist you in arranging a medical evacuation or a security evacuation in the event of a natural disaster.  They also provide coverage for trip cancellations, travel delays, lost luggage and other common travel problems.  This is one way to make it easier for you to deal with any problems that do come up on your dream summer cruise.

Bottom line:  Overall, cruising is one of the safest forms of vacation travel available and, by taking a few reasonable precautions, you can sharply reduce the likelihood that you will have any problem at all.

If you love to cruise, you may also be interested in checking out this direct link to cruise vacation information on

More Retirement Information:

If you are recently retired or planning to retire soon, you may be interested in looking through the index articles below.  Click on one and you will find a brief introduction and links to more articles on that topic.

Gifts, Travel and Family Relationships

Great Places for Boomers to Retire Overseas

Great Places to Retire in the United States

Health and Medical Topics for Baby Boomers

Money and Financial Planning for Retirement


You are reading from the blog:

Photo of cruise ship courtesy of