My (Former) Piece of the Rock

Seventy-one years ago my parents took out a mini-sized endowment policy on mini-me. I have never seen the point of insuring kids since they are an expense, not an income source but hey – my parents must have seen it differently. Life was more precarious for kids in the 1940s and maybe they needed burial money just in case.

Be that as it may, I survived my teen years and the policy came due in 1967. My mother took the proceeds, prepaid a $5000 whole life policy for 3 years and I took it over as a working stiff in 1970. After 48 years I still have it. The policy was with Prudential but they have long since left the Canadian market and now I am with London Life – the Freedom 55 people. But I digress.

So what has 50+ years of experience with a whole life policy taught me about life insurance finance? Let’s see:

  • Prudential has won the bet (or have I?) Really all an insurance policy can be is a bet on the wheel of life. The insurance guys bet you’ll live, you bet you won’t. I guess from a financial point of view Prudential and now London Life won. They didn’t have to pay, they still haven’t. And they have had 50 years of returns from the money I paid in – minus the dividends of course. I’m grateful for the result though.
  • I am not seriously out of pocket. The premium on the policy has been a level $80 per year and for as long as I can remember I have used the yearly dividend to pay it. At this point, the policy increases in cash value more than any amount I pay. The insurance salesman would say “It pays for itself.” I guess so.
  • By now the risks for the Life Insurance Company are minimal. The cash value of the policy is more than 90% of the face value and with unused dividends, the nominal face value is actually higher than it was in 1967. It won’t cost London Life anything to pay off in the event of my demise. This “feature” of whole life is to be expected – that is how they keep the premium level all those years.
  • All it’s cost me is inflation. The amount of the cash value today is more than I actually paid in over the years. This neglects inflation of course. And you can’t ignore inflation. Back in 1967 $80 was close to a week’s salary and $5000 was a year’s salary. Today you get a decent meal for $80 and $5000 might pay for a nice Transatlantic cruise. I haven’t worked it out, but I assume I paid more in the past for less today. I am still here to write about it though.
  • Was it worth having this policy? On balance I’d say no. This particular policy would never have done anything to pay expenses had I died as a young father. I had term insurance for that. Today it doesn’t cost me anything and I suppose it can pay some estate taxes. I thought about canceling it soon after my working life started but the insurance guy convinced me not to. Not that he had any conflict of interest or anything. I did decide back then to deduct the dividend as part of the payment. Basically, I look at the policy today as a kitten that followed me home. It’s fun to go back and look at the old paperwork and see how my life was in 1967. Occupation: Student. Work activity: Studying. Pretty stimulating, eh?

Your Future Self

I read a Globe and Mail Article today about how tough it will be to refinance one’s debt this year (Visa bills and lines of credit folded into a new mortgage) because the real estate values in places like Toronto and Vancouver are declining. That (and the new stress test one has to pass at 2% higher than the going mortgage rate) have put a crimp in a lot of people’s style.

It just further verifies the belief that Maria and I lived in a different galaxy long ago when we first bought a home. That was back in the bronze age when we still had pennies and paper one dollar bills.

Granted we were still a long way from retirement and we were working in places that had a pension plan. Pensions were seen as desirable benefits back then – not something the board of directors could use to screw the employees later in life. That said we didn’t pay as much attention to retirement planning as we did in paying the mortgage off. 15% interest rates will do that for you.

Even though we had climbed the real estate ladder a bit in the interim, we worked at it and after 10 years we were free and clear. We still had plenty of time to save after that – we even retired early although Freedom 55 wasn’t quite in our playbook. At least it wasn’t for me.

But I can never get my head around this refinance thing – even given the high prices for real estate and the low interest rates we’ve had for a decade now. The article said that a lot of refinancers take an additional 30 year period to pay the dam’ money back. If we had done something like that back in the 80s we’d have had at least 5 years of retirement in mortgage debt. Isn’t the whole point of the exercise to retire mortgage free?

I’ve always believed that borrowing is really just taking money from your future self. On a day when the spiritual side of me teaches that my future self is a lot closer to dust and ashes than anything else, it still doesn’t make sense to be borrowing money from it. Even if “it” is something that you are likely to find under the sofa.

Saving This Blog

Wow, what a PITA this is. For many years I stored my image files on a site called Photobucket. For around $30 a year I could link/embed an image to any forum post or blog post. Apparently, this was too much for Photobucket to bear. Last year they announced it would cost $500 a year for so-called 3rd party linking. Now they have had a change of heart. I can do it for only $100 a year.

Of course, I can store and embed any image on my blog site for the cost of hosting it. So I will. Adios Photobucket. But to save my blog I have to upload all the images from 350 odd posts and edit each post to replace the Photobucket link with one that’ll work in future. I was able to download a copy of my Photobucket collection so at least the images are in one place on my PC.

I have to get this done in a couple of months before my Photobucket links go dark. I’m sure it’ll be worth it in the long run, but forgive me if I think Photobucket is a bunch of greedy you-know-whats.

An Old Fashioned Winter?

This is how it looked in Almonte this time last year after a 30 cm snowfall. Although we have had an average snowfall this year and some brutal cold, we have also had some mild spells so the snowpack is considerably shallower this year. I don’t think we have had a major snow dump either – 15 to 20 cm is the most at any one time.

Of course we have half the winter left to go and we are getting some more snow as I write this. That said we appear to be dodging another bullet as a Texas low tracks well south of us and socks it to the New York & Pennsylvania border towns. Let them have it, I say.

So is this one of those old fashioned winters like we brag about having as kids? I’d postulate not at this point but you never know. Living in the Valley always has the possibility of big winter ugly turning up. I can remember in 2008 when we had a 30 cm and then a 54 cm snowfall in a few days. Please God…no.

 

Revolution #9

Doesn’t seem that long ago that Obama was being inaugurated for his first term, the world was in economic turmoil, and we were off to Montfort hospital to see our new grandson. Sarah and Dave named him after his great grandfathers and so Edward Vincent McLean became “Teddy.” He still is going with it, although “Ted” is creeping in as another nickname.

As he gets to his 9th birthday, Teddy is thriving under his mother’s home school program. He loves math and reading – dinosaurs are his specialty along with Star Wars Lego. He’s getting taller and taller but he’s still rapier thin – even though he can polish off 7 pieces of pizza in one sitting.

Teddy has a devastating wit – he loves puns and bad riddles. He has a jokebook collection that would put Henny Youngman to shame. His laugh is still the most infectious of all the grandkids. And who the heck is Captain Underpants?

He’s a kind and sensitive kid with deep emotional motivation. He is also an eternal optimist – one way he differs from cynical Grandpa. In other ways he’s almost an uncanny mirror image of myself ca. 1955. He wears his heart on his sleeve, whether he’s missing his dear old feline pal Gunther or sad to see Nonna and Grandpa leave for home.

Just mention his upcoming holiday cruise with his family and grandparents and he cheers right up. He’s thinking of the Celebrity kids club you see – not to mention those sausages at the breakfast buffet and pizza the rest of the time. Oh maybe toss in a bit of pasta as well. He’ll never go hungry.

We’ll be down tomorrow to help him celebrate and I’m sure he’ll find some time in between his Laser Tag birthday party and opening up his presents to give us a big hug. That’s the Teddy way. Number 9…Number 9…

 

Optical Optimum

Well my cataract surgery has now reached a happy ending (at least for now.) Everything healed up nicely, I have a stable eyeglass prescription and today I am back with glasses after a couple of months getting by without them. The replacement lenses very slightly undercorrected my distance prescription so that had to be fixed. Also I have some astigmatism which has been corrected. I need additional power to be able to read small print, so even if I had gone with the most expensive implant (Toric to correct astigmatism) I would still have needed reading glasses. So the slight upcharge I paid to get the aspheric and high contrast  monofocal Tecnis lenses turned out to be my best solution.

I don’t mind glasses, since I have worn progressive lenses for years and I am already used to the prescription after a couple of hours with it. The improvement in my vision – while certainly not as dramatic as noted after the cataracts were gone – is quite remarkable. Now I can read road signs clearly and I don’t have to get close to the TV in order to read the finer print. With the reading prescription I can read the smallest print on the eye chart. It’s been years since I’ve seen this well – distance, intermediate, up close.

The frames above – Stepper titanium – were relatively inexpensive but light and strong. My color is more navy than gun metal grey but you get the idea. I have Transitions photochromic lenses so I have built-in sunglasses if needed.

I don’t think I’ve undergone anything medical that has increased the quality of my life as much as getting my vision back. If you are in need of cataract removal don’t be afraid to put yourself in the hands of a good surgeon and optometrist. Your odds are excellent to have a better outlook.

 

 

The Tanks

For most of our married life we had to replace our luggage every few years – either because of wear and tear on the fabric, or broken handles / ripped zippers thanks to baggage handling technology.Even a set of hard sided luggage succumbed to the inevitable bumps and bruises of travel.

All that changed around 2004 when we purchased the tanks – a four piece set of nested luggage made by Roots. Here you see the 27 inch Pullman case with a 25 inch bag inside and inside that a 21 inch carry-on. These bags have been industrial strength. No gorilla-like baggage guy or grind it out carousel has made a dent in their tough nylon and heavy rubber piping. They are great value for money unless you want to use them for serious travel. There is also a tiny tote which Maria wants to keep for overnight car trips and that is fine.

It’s that very heavy indestructibility that has led to their undoing. We long ago ceased using the largest case because even before you actually pack it, it has the needle quivering on the scale at Air Canada. It’s a classic heavyweight bag and nobody in the airport wants to see it, let alone handle it. The 25 incher is barely usable. On our last trip we took the 21 incher as a carry-on and wherever we went the folks at the airline desk wanted us to check it anyway.

There is an additional problem with the wheels on the cases which are purely one directional (don’t spin or handle in a lineup very easily.) Not the best for checking in or wheeling through an airport.

We have a couple of lighter weight 25 inchers we used recently but at Christmas Dave and Sarah solved our problem with a new matched set of lightweight strong Swiss Army luggage. This will give us a larger bag for a change and with the carry-on we should be able to pack for a 2 week cruise and stay well within weight and number guidelines as far as our luggage is concerned.

And the tanks – too heavy for travel but too good to throw away, they are going to a friend of Sarah’s for basement storage of old clothes. They’ll be bullet proof and should last until the 22nd Century if past performance is any clue to future results.

Figuring It All Out?

As another Winter Solstice approaches so does my 13th anniversary of retirement. I calculate that in the 21st century I have spent only 25% of my time gainfully employed (23.5% if you add in the year 2000 – which technically is in the 20th century.) But who’s counting?

And just as it is with any other stage of life – childhood, education, career(s), marriage, parenthood – retirement doesn’t begin with knowing everything about it. Even if you are experienced in the other facets of life, you have to learn a new way of living. There is a lot of angst about retirement in the Boomer generation today because most don’t know what retirement means in any practical sense.

I am in the leading edge of the Boomer generation maybe even a pre-Boomer technically. So I’ve had a bit of time to learn some things. Retirement still changes as the days, months, years pass. But after 13 years I have figured a few things out. All of it? Not bloody likely, mate. Here’s what I feel confident about:

I grow old. I grow old… I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

I am now well past the status of “early retiree” – a time when I was lucky to get the seniors’ discount at Ponderosa or Sizzler. My “normal retirement” date occurred in 2011. I must begin collapsing my RRSP as of 2017 (and pay the taxes.) Even those busy seniors who serve coffee or flip burgers while wearing Timmy’s or Mickey Dee uniforms are arguably younger than I am. The breathless articles in the Financial Post about post retirement age careers generally mark the age of 70 as a time to consider hanging up your skates. I am there now, baby. In spades.

Go-Go. Go Slow. No Go.

Those are apparently the three stages of retirement living. And it’s true the first decade or so had a lot of travel involved. A number of bucket list destinations came off – Russian palaces, Greek islands, the Parthenon, Titanic Quarter, Istanbul, Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia, Hawaii. Most of these were cruise trips. We have done a number of Transatlantic crossings and one Transpacific one.

Now we may be getting into the Go Slow stage. No trips this year and we have only one planned in 2018 – a Caribbean jaunt with our grandchildren. Some days it just doesn’t seem worth the hassle to pack and travel by air.  That said, I suspect the No Go stage will be a bit in the future assuming our health holds up.

It’s Not All About the Money

As mentioned previously, there seems to be a lot of pre-retirement angst in the media these days. Most of it revolves around finances – or lack thereof. There does not seem to be much press given to planning a rich retirement in non-monetary ways – yet our experience shows this to be very important.

We have lots of knowledge now in keeping our minds active. Maria volunteers at a thrift store a couple of days a week. I worked as a volunteer part-time production guy and technical officer at a small coffee roastery in town for a couple of years after retiring. Then I learned about Linux, computer repair and networking and I now serve as the neighborhood go to guy on IT. I suppose I could make some money at it but I don’t want to compete with the locals who do it for a living and probably need the money more than I do. A bottle of wine here and there is reward enough for keeping my mind in gear.

It’s Somewhat About the Money

Expenses go on in retirement – you still have to maintain your home, and as you get older you start paying for chores you did yourself when younger – yard maintenance, snow clearing.

In our case we don’t have dental insurance any longer. There are expenses for nice hearing aids and if you want more than the basics for say cataract surgery you will pay for it. We are fortunate enough that these expenses are not beyond our means. In the long run we should be OK if we need to move into a nice seniors’ home. It’s something we have planned for and we can do it when we need to.

My Work Life and Experience Becomes More Distant (and Irrelevant)

Unilever sold another brand category and factory recently – one that occupied about ten years of my working life. All the other factories and offices I worked in over 35 years have been closed – one plant completely demolished and replaced by a warehouse. Products I developed or improved have been divested or discontinued. Even the activity of food science itself is largely confined today to small entrepreneurial firms, government or academia. The multinationals have repatriated everything to the US or Europe – even India and China. It’s a different world – and frankly I’m glad I don’t have to fit into it any more.

And on that depressing note I’ll close, go have a Scotch and celebrate my 13th anniversary of “early retirement” tomorrow.

 

 

Reflections in a Plastic Eye

Well it’s done. Final score: acrylic implants 2, cataracts 0.

The second surgery seemed to go better and faster than the first – although the first was pretty slick itself. Recovery is better when you have one blurry and one really good eye – as opposed to one blurry and one really bad eye. I was seeing really well by the second day. Some further notes:

  • I’ll still need glasses for reading and some correction of long distance vision – but that is OK. My choice of monofocal Tecnis lenses was predicated on getting the best contrast and night vision possible. The fancier toric and multifocal lenses might eliminate glasses for most tasks, but are much more expensive and might give reduced contrast, even some halos and glare around car lights at night.
    Even then I’d still likely need reading glasses. So why not go for the best result even if at the end some specs will be needed? That was my thinking at least.
  • It’ll take a month or so until my lenses settle in enough to get a stable prescription so until then I’ll get by without glasses. I can see pretty well without them now – much better than with my old prescription which had to correct for the cataracts as much as they could.
  • I’m still into the eye drops and will be till the end of the month. A small inconvenience considering my visual upgrades.
  • The major improvement aside from clear vision is the vibrancy of colors. I already shared on Facebook how much better Mr. Oates the cat looks. When I was in Costco earlier this week I was checking out the new 4K TVs and they looked fabulous. Then I came home and my 2009 era Samsung HDTV also looks fabulous. Go figure.
  • Most of the problems with blurry vision at first I believe are attributable to the fact that your eye is dilated for a couple of days after the operation. Sort of like a camera – you can’t focus well over the depth of field unless you stop down.
  • Another reason to avoid the fancy-schmancy lens implants is that you have to go into Ottawa to get them done. The simpler surgeries are carried out in the small town ambiance of Smiths Falls. it’s an easier drive, the staff there are fantastic and it’s a lot easier to schedule surgery there. I got both eyes done in six weeks after first meeting with the surgeon. Right now they are booking for March in Ottawa.
  • I was checked out by the surgeon the day after the surgery and now return to the capable hands of my Almonte optometrist for the final checkup and assessment for eyeglasses. The weather was great for travel to Smiths Falls and Ottawa but you never know. It’s good to be home.

Options in Cataract Surgery

This post doesn’t have an appealing title and will be a curious mixture of economics and technical data, so I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t read it. However anyone who might be contemplating cataract surgery in future might find my experience helpful so here goes.

First of all, getting a cataract removed and a lens implanted is a lot like buying a car. You can go for basic transportation or you can start piling on the options. Every buyer is different and what I find of value another purchaser may not.

The very basic operation is covered by OHIP (my local government Medicare.) The options you pay for out of pocket. The majority of folks just go with the basics and that does the job. Lets get into details on the options.

To begin with I have a slightly more complicated lens situation (slight astigmatism – focal length is different in a different axis.) This is reflected in my normal eyeglass prescription. More about this later.

There are two parts to cataract surgery – pre-op eye measurements and the operation and implant.

Pre-Op Measurement

This is necessary because the eye surgeon needs to match the appropriate implant lens to your eye. The size of your eye and the curvature of your cornea is important. OHIP pays for an ultrasound measurement. There is a more accurate laser measurement that costs about $200 extra. The surgeon recommended this and so I went ahead and paid for it. This was the first option and in my mind a no-brainer if you can afford it.

The Implant

I had three choices of lens implant:

  1. Standard (generic) – this is paid in full by OHIP and in most cases works fine. You are going to need to wear eyeglasses for final correction in my case and the standard lens is a spherical one – some aberration can reduce contrast in night driving situations. I felt I could afford a bit better.
  2. Tecnis Monofocal Aspherical (about $250 extra for the set.) This gives improved contrast, is most similar to the “natural” lens it replaces and is better for night driving. You are still going to need eyeglasses to get pinpoint focus – due to my astigmatism.
  3. Tecnis Toric (about $1400 extra for the set.) This is the latest and greatest in implant optics and would in theory correct for both distance vision and astigmatism. Folks who go this way can get out of eyeglasses for most activities.

Now $1400 may seem like a lot but hey, I paid quite a bit more than that for hearing aids a year or so ago. Would it be worth it to eliminate glasses?

As it turns out I would (at my advanced age) still have to wear glasses for reading fine print. So the Toric lenses would not be guaranteed to get me out of them entirely.

Not needing glasses for anything but reading is a hassle as far as I am concerned. You either need a granny chain with the spectacles, or you go with zero prescription in the top and reading prescription in the bottom of a set of progressive lenses and wear them all the time. Besides that, after 30 years I sort of like wearing glasses.

And the clincher for me is that the best visual acuity does not come with the Toric lenses anyway. The aspherical Tecnis with an eyeglasses prescription will correct my vision right back to 20/20. I can live with that.

For some people who aren’t as worried about night driving the Toric lens might be the way to go. But I felt that I would get the best value and the best distance vision with the Tecnis Monofocal. So that was my choice.

And I think it’s worked out for me. I can already see much more clearly with my “bionic” eye and in fact have eliminated a pair of glasses I needed to see the computer screen. I won’t have a final eyeglass prescription until I get the second eye fixed but based on my first evaluation at the optometrist things are looking pretty good.

Your financial and life situation may be different from mine, but I feel I did well with the moderate upgrade in lenses and continuing on with eyeglasses where needed. Now you know the rest of the story.

 

 

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