Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New Platinum Link - ReBootYou

It is both encouraging and discouraging that there are so many boomer blogs and websites. It's encouraging because you know there are needs out there and people are trying to fill them. But then it can be discouraging because there are so many "fluffy" blogs and websites, many of them loaded down with ads, filled with 60s reminiscences or anti-aging beauty tips. Now I have nothing against this sort of thing per se. It's just that I don't think that anybody on their deathbed is ever going to say, "I wish I had reminisced more," or "I wish I had found a better anti-aging cream."

Lest I seem too callous, let me remind you that last week, I recommended the irememberjfk site to you, and about a month ago linked you to a 60s video retrospective. I like that stuff, really I do. But I don't want to get "stuck in the past" as I get older, as so many older folks do. I want to keep pursuing my passions and checking things off my "bucket list."

So when I find someone who is like-minded, such as when I first read Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life, I get excited and start passing out the 5 star book recommendations and pointing you to their websites. And it happened again yesterday.

Through a rather circuitous set of links and comments, I came across a great new website/blog, Rebootyou. And I use the term "new" advisedly. Because in addition to being very sympatico with my "pursuing your passion" ideals, this site is almost exactly the same age as Platinum Years. Rebootyou founder Lee Callaway began blogging last September, and other than a couple of test blogs in early 2007, I began Platinum Years in earnest with the article, "Let's Roll" on my 61st birthday last November. So I consider him to have a small head start. But hey, he's in his early 70s, so I'll spot him the two months.

Anyway, don't be surprised to see some Rebootyou articles referenced here soon, or perhaps even a guest article or two. Check out Rebootyou and you'll see why. And while you're there, read the "Rebooter Stories" for a healthy dose of inspiration.

Follow our progress, both here at Platinum Years where we try to "Help You Get the Best out of the Rest of Your Life," and at Rebootyou, where they help you in "Getting On With the Next Phase of Your Life."

Rebootyou is already listed as a Platinum Link on our website. What are you waiting for? Go there! - Bob

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Platinum Links Posted
... and Why I Have a Website

As promised during last week's review of PC Magazine's top ten boomer websites, I have completely revamped and expanded the Platinum Links page on our website. It was long overdue and therefore a pretty big project, but it's done - or at least done enough to post... Is anything on a website ever really done? ... but I digress.

For you newcomers, let me explain the relationship between this blog and the website. This blog, like most blogs, is sort of a stream of consciousness flow of writing. Many articles represent fleeting thoughts that stand alone. But sometimes, you get on a topic, you think about it, you write an article, then maybe a part two. You get some comments, you write some more. Then when you have thoroughly beaten a topic to death, um, I mean, covered it exhaustively, it sits there in chronological pieces on your blog.

But if you really have covered a topic to a conclusion, you may want to massage it into something coherent for posterity. That, to me, is what the web site is for. Blogs are good at many things, but they are not great at organizing information. Websites are, or at least can be better organized.

So that's what i did today. I organized the links I've been cranking out into something more coherent. It was a lot of work... but you're worth it. :-) Bob

P.S. In the process, I found a great new blog/website, very similar to Platinum Years, which I'll tell you about tomorrow.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

“Retirement is Not Biblical”

“Retirement is not biblical”

So said my Pastor and friend at Sunday service this morning. Actually, I must confess that he got that from me. He and I have discussed it several times over the years in terms of our own lives and futures. I don’t think it’s even controversial biblically. No one ever retired in biblical days, and God seemed to delight in calling people to great tasks at advanced ages – Moses and Abraham spring to mind immediately.

The context of this morning’s comment was in reference to a 79 year old mutual friend and mentor named Dow Robinson, with whom we just had contact. Dow maintains a schedule of teaching, learning and mentoring that could only be described as “whirlwind.” I’m not sure I could keep up with him, even though he is 18 years my senior. I remember the last time I was with him, I was relating my plans to start Platinum Years, and told the story of platinum wife Melanie always coming home from her job conducting sightseeing tours and telling me “we have fifteen good years left.” I was a little reluctant to use that particular story as he is more than fifteen years older than I am. But Dow looked at me and said, “I like to think I’ve still got fifteen good years left too.”

Can you think of a better attitude for someone about to celebrate an 80th birthday? And he lives his life with such energy and enthusiasm that I wouldn’t put it past him!

Anyway, back to “retirement.” You regular readers know by now that I don’t advocate staying in your humdrum job forever. Quite the contrary. It’s really about what you do next. That’s why “Life 2.0” won the recent contest for the word to replace the “R” word. And “Encore,” the title of one of our recommended books and platinum links, works just as well, too. And I just ordered a new book with the enticing title, “Don’t Retire, Rewire,” which has gotten good reviews elsewhere. It’s also probably why Retired Brains, a second career assistance website, is among the top ten boomer web sites.

Recently I got into a “comment exchange” with a gentleman who was taking some ill informed positions on social security payback on one of the major news websites. I called him on a couple of factual errors, and his response was to note that I am still working while he, on the other hand, was fully retired and leading a life of leisure. I was able to resist the temptation to start a “flame war” with the guy by pointing out the fact that yes, Warren Buffett and I are still working, and loving what we do. But clearly, he is in the generation that believes that full retirement is the culmination of the American dream.

So here’s my wish for all of us boomers:

  • May your “good years” number freeze right where it is until you’re 80 or beyond, and


  • May you have so much on your "Things To Do Before I Die" list that you'll need that many good years to accomplish it all.


And here’s a song for you, from Imeem.com, the free streaming music site. It’s the Platinum Years theme song, “Forever Young,” which I introduced as a Christmas blessing a few months ago, and expresses my sentiments almost exactly. – Bob

P.S. By the way, I am very thankful that, although retirement is not a biblical idea, VACATIONS ARE, in the concept of Sabbath and sabbaticals. Whew!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Final Reviews of Top Ten Boomer Web Sites

Tonight I'll cover the last three of PC Magazine's top ten boomer web sites. I probably shouldn't have let myself cherry pick the list earlier in the week, because tonight I was left with the sites that interested me the least. But I slogged through, so that you, dear reader, won't have to.

Well, that's not exactly true, because the jury is still out on several of these sites. It's hard to tell in a quick visit, but one, and maybe two, of tonight's sites piqued my interest.

Let me start with an easy one. Easy for me anyway, because BoomerGirl is obviously a site for women. I looked around for a while, but in all honesty, I am incapable of evaluating it. There's lots of stuff there. I'll show it to the Platinum wife when she gets home from her current business trip, but she's not much for web sites and blogs (except of course for mine :-) So ladies, go for it. And let me know if you think it's worth recommending and why. One of you can be my first guest blogger.

The second site was more interesting. "Retirement Living TV" really is a website for a cable/satellite TV channel. I should have realized by the url, rl.tv. I believe that's the first time I've been to a site in the .tv domain... but I digress. There is a lot of interesting material on the site, but rl.tv necessarily has to cater to those who are already retires, so sometimes I got the feeling that I often get when I visit the AARP website. I feel like some young whippersnapper who is trying to relate to Mom and Dad's stuff. There just aren't enough retired boomers in the population yet, compared to the 70, 80, and 90-somethings. So sites like rl.tv are in transition. Yes, there's plenty of good stuff, but you may have to turn a blind eye to some "seniors" ads and articles.

Finally, we complete our top ten boomer web site reviews with BOOMj, which turned out to be a lot like BoomerTowne, which I reviewed earlier this week. Very similar, in fact, right down to the BOOMj points given for signing up, visiting amd participating there. However, at BOOMj, their points seem sto only be usable as discounts at the BOOMj Store, whereas at BoomerTowne, the points translate into discounts at stores like BestBuy or into generally usable VISA Gift Cards. After a quick visit to the BOOMj store, I think you may NEED some discounts to equal, say, an Amazon.com or EBay price. But as I say, they're easy to earn. This must be the (marketing department) approved way to get a social networking site going.

BOOMj has a more* modern looking interface, but I haven't dug much below the surface at this point. So I invite you to dig in there with me, and send me your comments. Or befriend me there. My user name there is bobmcd67, same as at BoomerTowne.

I will update you from time to time if I come to any conclusions. And this weekend, I plan to update the "Platinum Links" section at www.platinumyears.net, and here as well. - Bob

* P.S. As I was just about to "publish" this article, I went to BoomerTowne to confirm what I said about their gift cards, and lo and behold, they have updated their interface. So scratch the word "more" from the above. Both interfaces look great.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tonight's Reviews:
"Retired Brains" and "Boomer 411"

Tonight I visited two more sites in our continuing review of PC Magazine's top ten boomer websites I'll take the easiest first.

"Retired Brains" is a very helpful site - provided you are looking for another job. My impression is that this site is much more for people who NEED to keep working or want to avoid idleness, as opposed to say a site like www.encore.org, that is more geared to helping you give back to your community or pursue a passion. The expressed mission of "Retired Brains" is "Helping Older Workers Find Jobs." There are also links to general information about government programs, health issues, retirement planning, etc., that you may want to check out, but I won't be recommending it except for people who are actually in the job market.

Tonight's other site is "Boomer411," whose expressed goal is to "help people access Trusted and Relevant content related to baby boomers quickly." And they do a great job at meeting that goal. Think of "Boomer411" as a boomer-specific search engine. It has a clean main page with links to recent articles of interest to boomers, and a cool intelligent search engine. When you enter a search term or phrase, you get results down the middle, and you also get suggested refinements to your search down the left hand side. Try it!

Boomer411 is definitely a valuable resource, and will be added as a "platinum link."

I'm still also having fun playing with the games and features at BoomerTowne. If any of you have joined, add me as a friend. My user name there is "bobmcd67."

That's it for tonight. Two more tomorrow. - Bob

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Review of "TeeBeeDee" and "I Remember JFK"

As promised, we're checking out the top ten boomer web sites this week. I already gave two thumbs up to BoomerTowne. Eons and AARP are already on my list. So tonight, I visited two new sites, "TeeBeeDee" (www.tbd.com) and "I Remember JFK" (www.irememberjfk.com)

TeeBeeDee, as they call themselves, stands for the letters TBD, as in "To Be Determined," which is an apt description of the rest of our lives. The description at PC Magazine led me to believe that it was more about finding a new career, something like www.encore.org, but it comes across as a pure social networking site.

To be sure, there are forums where you can discuss second careers, but this is one of about thirty discussion groups.

"I Remember JFK" is actually a blog, although the line between blog and website is pretty blurred by now. And I really didn't expect to like it, because there are so many "reminiscence blogs" written by boomers, but I can see why this one has risen to the top. I found myself connecting to the articles. They are very engaging and easy to relate to.

So I think I'll leave it there for now. I plan to check back to both of these sites and explore further. Meanwhile, Feel free to comment with your experiences. - Bob

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Top Boomer Websites...
Let's Check These Out Together

Are you ready for some serious surfing? PC Magazine has just come out with a list of the top ten web sites for boomers. Actually, "just" is a relative word. It was actually about three weeks ago... I don't know how I missed it.

One of them, the AARP site, is already a "Platinum web site," and another, www.eons.com, is already a "Platinum Link" on our own website, www.platinumyears.net.

So what about the other eight? I have only gotten to check out one of them, BoomerTowne, which is a social networking, news, game, and resource site. It was number one on PC Magazine's list, and that's as far as I've gotten, since it mesmerized me for over two hours with games, jokes, news, articles, etc. In that respect, it is similar to eons.com, but BoomerTowne's menu choices and its "Main Street" layout seem easier. And BoomerTowne has something eons doesn't have.

For as long as you're navigating around BoomerTowne, you're earning points which, unlike other point-earning sites, can actually earn worthwhile prizes (many sites just allow points that earn entries into sweepstakes and such). Almost everything you do there earns points, even clicking on a link, rating a joke or submitting a question. In a couple of hours last night, I earned about 500 points. Now it takes 12,500 points to earn a $25 gift card, so don't expect instant riches :-) I figure that point total is worth about a buck, but the games are fun, many of the articles and links are interesting, and they even have some recognizable experts to whom you can submit questions. For example, their financial expert is Terry Savage, nationally syndicated Chicago Sun-Times personal finance columnist and a regular commentator on CNN, CNBC, PBS and NBC.

So BoomerTowne gets a thumbs up here, and I'll be checking out the rest as a project for this week. So by the end of the week, we should have a significantly heftier list of "Platinum Links." And if you want to join the fun and weigh in with your favorites, here's the link to the PC Magazine article. But you'd better allocate a couple of hours when you do. Judging by BoomerTowne, these sites are hard to pry yourself away from. :-) Bob

Friday, April 18, 2008

Top Ten Boomer Myths Exposed (Part 2)

As promised yesterday, we continue the countdown of common myths about the Baby Boomer generation that were exposed in the AARP's Third Quarterly Boomer Report released on April 15th at www.aarp.org. The report, “How Well Do You Know Boomers? Counting Down the Top 10 Boomer Myths,” identified and investigated the top myths associated with Boomers in order to separate fact from fiction. My comments are in italics:

Myth #5 - Boomers are all wealthy

Collectively Boomers are the wealthiest generation in history, but only 9% are truly affluent (defined as having pre-tax incomes of $150,000 or more if working, or $100,000 or more if retired). In fact, one quarter of Boomers have no savings or investments at all. (It is for the other 91% that I created the Platinum Years Network... "Life planning for the rest of us.")

Myth #4 - Boomers are winding down with age

Actually, they are quite active, as the typical Boomer regularly participates in an average of 10 activities and the participation extends beyond going to church or gardening. They are traveling (60 million took at least one trip last year), attending live sporting events (22 million) and bicycling (11 million), among other activities. (We're not dead yet - Not by a long shot :-)

Myth #3 - Boomers are technologically challenged

Contrary to many assumptions, Boomers were in the workforce during the evolution of computers, e-mail and the Internet, and were the first to understand the value of technology. In fact, 82% of Boomers use the internet and their online activities extend beyond email to instant messaging, downloading music or movies, financial transactions and online gaming. (Some of us even have blogs :-)

Myth #2 – Boomers are the "Me Generation"

Boomers have typically been portrayed with the self-centered label the "Me Generation," but from their actions in later adulthood, this report reveals that a label of "We Generation" is more accurate. They are caring for others and caring for the world, with 70% saying they have a responsibility to make the world a better place. (I think this label comes from the stereotype that our parents indulged us as kids... remember that Baby and Child Care book by Dr. Benjamin Spock that a lot of our parents used? Personally, I didn't feel too indulged when I was working multiple jobs and going to night school.)

Myth #1 - Boomers are all the same

The media often portray the members of the baby boom generation as a monolith – 77 million people thinking, acting, behaving and buying all in the same way. Nothing could be further from the truth. More life events occur between the ages of 50-65 than in any other time in a person’s life, with the typical Boomer experiencing an average of two major life events around career, family, finance or health each year. These life events can have a major impact on attitudes, life goals and consumer behavior. It is a mistake to think of this cohort as all alike, and it is not all about age. Recognizing the differences among Boomers and understanding the truths behind the myths can help marketers craft products, strategies and messages that will resonate with this generation.

(So all generalizations are false, including these... but seriously, one problem with the term boomer, as I mentioned yesterday, is that somebody decided it should cover a twenty year band in age. Probably if we restricted it to true post war babies over a 5-10 year period, we'd look a lot more homogeneous.)

Hope you enjoyed this exercise. If you want more, you can access the whole report at https://www.focalyst.com/Sites/Focalyst/Content/KnowledgeCenter/ - Bob

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Top Ten Boomer Myths Exposed

A number of common myths about the Baby Boomer generation were exposed in the third Quarterly Boomer Report released on April 15th at www.aarp.org. The report, “How Well Do You Know Boomers? Counting Down the Top 10 Boomer Myths,” identified and investigated the top myths associated with Boomers in order to separate fact from fiction.

“Boomers are redefining age and changing the way business is done” said Howard Byck, VP Corporate Development for AARP Services. “Contrary to many common assumptions, Boomers are making retirement obsolete, are very savvy about advertising, and are experimenting with new products.”

The report revealed ten myths to be untrue. Let's take #6-10 today (with my comments in italics):

Myth #10 - Boomers are retiring early

"Contrary to much of the attention given to the first Boomers turning 62 this year and being eligible to take Social Security benefits early. In reality very few Boomers are planning to stop working entirely when they reach retirement age – only 11%." (I have blogged on this extensively and encourage my fellow boomers on this point all the time. We must resist this temptation for our own good. Any time I need encouragement, I visit www.encore.org.)

Myth #9 - Boomers are downsizing their homes

"Despite the image of older consumers "winding down" as the years progress, and simplifying their lives and homes, only 6% of Boomers are planning to be living in a smaller residence five years from now." (The Platinum wife and I have had this discussion several times and decided to renovate our house and live here for at leat another 10-15 years. The only time I get tempted is when I visit a condo dweller and see the workers mowing and doing maintenance :-)

Myth #8 - Most Boomers are married empty nesters

"Most are actually not Empty Nesters. The study reveals that only about one in four Boomers fit the profile of married with adult children who have left home. 37% of Boomers still have children under 18 in the home, and a third are single." (I'm skeptical. Not that I desbelieve the statistic, but I don't think it's useful. The "children at home" statistic is almost surely the result of the wide 20 year band that technically defines a boomer. Obviously, the 42-52 crowd overwhelmingly has the kids and the 52-62 crowd has the empty nest, married or single.)

Myth #7 – You can capture Boomers with mainstream advertising

"Boomers are paying attention to advertising, but they do not always like what they see. 66% say that ads have gotten more crude in recent years and another 67% say they are less likely to purchase a product if they find the advertising offensive. It is important to recognize that same message may not resonate with Boomers in the same way as it will with a younger consumer."

Myth #6 - Boomers are brand loyal and will not switch

"Commonly thought to be set in their ways, Boomers are just as likely as younger cohorts to experiment with new products. They are actually paying attention to advertising for new products and 61% of Boomers agree that 'in today’s marketplace, it doesn’t pay to be loyal to one brand.'”

(These myths, #6 and #7, are a critical reason why you often scratch your head at some of today's, um, strange advertising. It's geared to the typical 20 and 30-something, who is viewed by Madison Avenue as much more willing to be influenced by advertising, whereas boomers are viewed as more rigid. I guess that's a sign of maturity, but we are NOT "set in our ways" according to this.)

We'll take a look at the top five tomorrow. - Bob

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Let's Move Election Day to April 15th!

I just filed my taxes... I was pretty early this year for me... 7:30 PM at the Providence, RI post office.

I've made it something of a tradition to go there on April 15th. I used to go later, around 11 PM, to see the live TV remotes, enjoy coffee from the free Dunkin Donuts coffee wagon, check out who's protesting what, etc. One year they had a three piece band, and on a few occasions, the postal employees would wear Uncle Sam costumes.

Lately though, it's been much more mundane. Maybe somebody was offended by the party atmosphere. It's so somber now.

Which led me to an idea. Let's get some taxpayer value out of this somber-ness. Let's move Election Day from November to the middle of April, maybe even April 15th. I'll bet we'd end up with a much leaner and meaner government. What do you think? :-) Bob

Friday, April 11, 2008

I Think Warren Buffett Would Like this Situation

Wednesday I blogged on the virtues of “benign neglect,” which is my cute way of saying that we should take a long term view of our investments. I used Warren Buffett as an example and closed with some appropriate quotes from him about investing for the long term. Now by definition, good long term opportunities don’t pop up every day, but one did so just this morning so I wanted to share it with you. I have to emphasize, in keeping with my general policy and disclaimer, that this is just an example to illustrate my point, and not an offer or a recommendation to purchase.

Just this morning, General Electric announced poor quarterly numbers, and lowered its guidance for fiscal 2008 by a few cents per share. The poor performance was partly the result of some subprime exposure, but according to CEO Jeff Immelt, “We could have done better in several areas.” The stock is being pounded today, especially because as recently as a month ago, Immelt was quite optimistic. Remember a point I’ve made in the past, “It’s Expectations that Bring Disappointment.”

So I have to ask myself, “What Would Warren (Buffett) Do?” Or what should any long term investor do? In my last article, I noted how poorly I’ve done over the years when I attempted to trade on news. That’s not entirely true. I did poorly when I attempted to beat the crowd, buying a stock on good news or selling it on bad news. This reflects the simple reality that by the time you and I hear about something, it’s already fully reflected in the price. This is the essence of what is known as the “Efficient Market Theory.”

But I HAVE done well when I have traded in the OPPOSITE direction of the news. Specifically, when I have used bad news as a buying opportunity to buy a good stock…. Just like Warren Buffett. So when a news item pops up like today’s news on GE, I like to look at it, and if it’s likely to be a short term blip in an otherwise steady uptrend, I’m a buyer. GE looks like it might be such a situation, with a modest P/E ratio, a 3.5% yield (which looks pretty good in today’s interest rate market), and a record of increasing dividends every year for 30 years.

And even if your research comes to a dead end, a lot of times the trail leads to other good situations. Already, in looking up GE, I’ve come across some interesting stuff, like this great blogger on dividends, and a list of 50 S&P “Dividend Aristocrats,” all of which have had dividend increases annually for over 25 years.

Did you notice that Warren Buffett offered to back $800 billion in municipal bonds through his reinsurance company in the midst of the subprime meltdown in January? This offer, which was not accepted, confirms that Warren is a buyer in today's fearful markets, which brings to mind one of the Buffett axioms we quoted on Wednesday:

"We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy
and to be greedy only when others are fearful."
It’s time to get greedy, I guess. - Bob

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Your Best Investment Posture? Benign Neglect

Many years ago, probably some time in the 1970s, I read one of those “How I Made a Million in the Market” books that changed the way I look at the stock market, very much for the better. To tell you the truth, the book wasn’t even very good, but its overall premise was compelling. It contained a lesson that is even more important today than it was 30 years ago.

It seems that the author, who had never done very well in the stock market, was a journalist who was sent to Indonesia on assignment for an extended period of time. As a result, he had very limited access to investment information, and could only communicate with his broker by cable on a quarterly basis. This forced him to take a macro, big picture view of economic conditions and, in the end, made him a much better investor, and eventually a millionaire.

For years, my business partner and I have joked about the truth behind this scenario, calling this market posture “benign neglect.” And I believe that this is the important lesson to be learned from this otherwise forgettable book --- Do not get too close to the market!

In the Internet Age, this lesson is more important today than ever. Because sitting right where you are, reading this blog article, you have more investment information available at your fingertips than ANYONE had in the 1970s and 1980s. To even come close to the amount of information available to you would have cost thousands of dollars per month.

Right now, my mind is reeling with stories of times when I tried to take advantage of some news item that was “fresh off the tape.” Not many of them are success stories. But it was not easy to train myself to take the longer term view. And my clients don’t exactly make it easy, especially those who watch CNBC for hours on end. Remember, CNBC has to fill hour after hour of programming every day. Of course they’re going to focus on “what’s moving” and why. And they have to interview the pundits and CEOs as well. The CEO interviews are actually the best, since most companies wisely have a policy that “we don’t comment on the price of our stock.” So they stick to business prospects. But they too have very strong pulls on them to perform "right now," even at the expense of long term growth.

As far as the market pundits go, I have seen many come and go who have tried to predict the ups and downs of the market. Some get lucky for a while (see my article on this, "No One Can Predict the Stock Market ... Including Me), but then the law of averages catches up with them. But there is one man whose track record stands head and shoulders above them all, and who has had the staying power to become, the richest man in the world, at least until he started giving his money away. Of course I’m talking about Warren Buffett, the famous “Oracle of Omaha,” whose investment company, Berkshire Hathaway, has had a most extraordinary long term record.

A $10,000 investment into Berkshire Hathaway when Buffett took control in 1965 would be worth over $50 million today. By comparison, $10,000 in the S&P 500 would have grown to only $500,000. How’s that for a LONG TERM track record? Index fund holders, are you paying attention? Do you think this is a man worth listening to?

So how has he done it? Maybe you can tell from these quotable Warren Buffett quotes. I may elaborate on these at some point, but for today, I’m just going to close with these quotes, which speak for themselves:

"I never attempt to make money on the stock market. I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years."

"If a business does well, the stock eventually follows."

"It's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price."

"Time is the friend of the wonderful company, the enemy of the mediocre."

"Look at market fluctuations as your friend rather than your enemy; profit from folly rather than participate in it."

"We believe that according the name 'investors' to institutions that trade actively is like calling someone who repeatedly engages in one-night stands a 'romantic.'"

"We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful."

"Only buy something that you'd be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years."

"Our favorite holding period is forever."

Sunday, April 6, 2008

New Platinum Link - WiseBread

A lot of blogs have blogrolls, links to blogs they read. Those can get really long, making it hard to check them all out. I don't think I’ve ever gotten through a whole blogroll, despite my good intentions. It’s just too easy to start “chasing rabbits,” but then again, that’s the fun of it. So I decided a while back that I won't blogroll individual blogs, though I often mention their specific articles, with links to that specific blog.

But you may notice over there ( --> ) in the right column that I do have a blogroll, called “Platinum Blogs,” with four links in it. What gives? Well, these are all blog compilations of various types.

The first is the blog carnival. I currently link to just one of these, the Carnival of Personal Finance, which includes about 80 articles per week, including articles from here about half the time. I have been looking around for other carnivals that may be worthwhile to get involved with.

Then there is the MultiContributor Blog, An example of this is InsureBlog. One blog… four authors… takes the pressure off. This looks very enticing to me when I’m in a dry period and staring at a blank screen.

Finally, there is the Blog Network. Individual bloggers band together. They still have their original blog, but there is also a blog for the network that features articles from each of the members. I have linked to the Money Blog Network for a while now. They are all excellent blogs.

But I never paid much attention to the fact that one of the Money Blog Network blogs, WiseBread, is itself a multicontributor blog, with a dozen authors contributing between 3 and 13 articles each in the last 30 days. And good ones, too. So I feel it is worth a link in its own right. Which it now has. ( ---> )

Actually, my vision for The Platinum Years Network follows both the multicontributor and network model. That is in fact why I included “Network” when I named this blog. 'Cause I know you’ll eventually get tired of reading just my stuff. No really, I know it seems impossible to comprehend, but it could happen …

Seriously, though, I like the crosspollination that occurs also. One member writes something that provokes another to expand or disagree. Great stuff. For example, one of the WiseBread authors just wrote an interesting article on how to get DVD rentals for free from RedBox, via coupon sharing (Don’t worry, the company approves). Which prompted one of the others to write a response trumpet the advantages of getting DVDs from your local library. Not a real deep example, but the latest one I noticed.

So go ahead. Make my day. Crosspollinate me. - Bob

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Go Ahead... Search My Blog!

Every so often, I get the urge to leave Blogger and move on to greener pastures. I wish it was easier to categorize blog articles, for example, as it is with some of the other hosts. The majority of the blogs I read regularly, in fact, seem to use other hosts.

But there are workarounds for most of Blogger’s deficiencies. And it does have some redeeming qualities, not the least of which is that it’s free. And Blogger continues to improve, even in the few months since I began blogging in earnest. I wonder if this has anything to do with the takeover by Google.

But there is one apparent advantage that may also be related to the Google connection. It is very easy to search a Blogger blog. I was only vaguely aware of this benefit until recently. It was up there in the Navigation bar, but who really looks at navigation bars? Then one day, I was trying to find one of my own articles where I used a certain phrase, and it wasn’t at all obvious from the title. So I typed the phrase into the “Search My Blog” box, and lo and behold, there it was. This is quite handy, even within Platinum Years, because I am astonished to say that this is my 105th article. Who knew that I could prattle on and on about so many topics that I know so little about :-)

I don’t know why this little search feature amazed me because I search the whole internet all the time. But it did, and now I use the blog search feature all the time, and not just on my blog, but on my regularly visited Blogger blogs, like GRACEFul Retirement and Insureblog. Has Grace ever written on social security? Just search on it. Was it Hank Stern who wrote that article on annuities? Find out in a snap.

I’m like a kid with a new toy, the same as I felt when I discovered the “Find on this Page” feature of Internet Explorer … Never heard of that? Just hit Control-F. Right now... Go ahead... I'll wait.

Oh and here’s one more trick with search. When you link to a specific article in Blogger, it’s not easy to get back to the “beginning” (the most recent article) in that blog. You can go up to the address bar and remove the reference to the specific file, leaving just the blog’s name. But another easy way is to just enter the word “a” or “the” into the search box, something every article would have. Yep there they all are.

So I think I’ll stay with Blogger, at least for now. And maybe I’ll work on that “categories” workaround. Maybe, but not tonight. - Bob

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Free Market Proposal for Medical Reform
– Part 2

“Perfect competition assumes standardized products and services, free entry and exit, and complete information.”

The above partial definition of perfect competition surely doesn’t fit the medical field very well. But there are some aspects of medicine that do fit the definition, and others that could be made to fit better. And that is the topic for today.

As I was thinking about this topic, I asked myself, “Why don’t I shop for medical goods and services like I do for other kinds of goods and services. There are basically two reasons. The first is that prices are practically invisible to me. The second is that even when they ARE visible, they often don’t effect how much I pay out of pocket. So here are my proposals. They are fairly simple steps that would improve competition. And they wouldn’t cost very much either.

First, providers of medical goods and services should be required to post prices. For services, some standardization of categories would be required. My dentist would post his charge for a cleaning, filling, root canal, etc. Same with clinics, labs, etc. How much for a common blood test, or a physical exam… you get the idea. In each field, the most common services could be determined and prices for these would have to be easily obtainable by the public, via postings on premises, but also web sites, both individually and corporately, through medical associations, insurance companies, HMOs, etc. for all of their participating members. Pharmacies would have to post the prices of their top 50 or 100 sellers.

The above proposal allows for two of the advantages of competition – standardization and complete information, both of which are necessary to make truly informed purchases. Sometimes you might decide to go with the “premium product.” For example, a relatively painless dental hygienist is worth more than “Nurse Ratchet,” and you could make an informed decision about whether the added pain was worth the gain (I’m only partly kidding here. I’ve had a “Nurse Ratchet”-type work on me, and I once had gum surgery from a Dr. Paine – I kid you not). But many medical goods and services are quite mundane and standardized. And the more standardized a product really is, the more price sensitive I become. I certainly would be price sensitive about prescriptions, since you are generally getting an identical product from one pharmacy to the next.

Obviously, the above proposal only makes sense in conjunction with my second proposal – Allow for the consumer to participate in any savings that are achieved. This might require a departure from the common “dollar amount” copayments to the more traditional percent copayment. Or insurance companies could set “allowed amounts” for standard services with the insured paying the difference. Insurance companies would be required to post their allowed amounts in the same manner and for the same goods and services as medical providers.

Insurance companies already set “allowable charges” but for a different reason. I don’t know if the original intent was for people to pay the difference, but my experience has been that excess amounts over allowable charges are normally written off. Which is fine for people who are insured, but can become a huge penalty for the uninsured, as they are expected either to pay the full amount. When the platinum wife and I went to the same dentist, her $90 cleaning was written off down to the allowed amount of $65, while yours truly, then uninsured, was expected to pay the $90. I did not appreciate that, and although I probably could have asked them to accept the $65 for me as well, I shouldn’t have to bargain with my dentist like we’re at some yard sale.

But if he had posted prices and a set policy for such matters, that would be fine. I could pay or not pay. It’s a free country, right? With free markets and competition, right? Right? - Bob

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Free Market Proposal for Medical Reform
– Part 1

In my last article, “Prescription Follies,” I concluded that we all should probably pay more attention to medical costs, as we are destined to be consuming more and more of the ”product” over the rest of our lives. I don’t see this as being in conflict with my policy of not boring friends and relatives with talks of our aches and pains. It’s just being a smart consumer.

And it’s not easy being a smart consumer of medical services. Not that there isn’t a lot of information out there, especially for internet-savvy types like you and me. But most of the information is about medical problems and the products available to remedy them. There is very little information about costs.

I should emphasize here that I’m writing this articleas a fellow consumer of medical services. I am surely no expert in medical matters... but I know a thing or two about economics and free markets. And I am a big believer in competition. Generally, the purer the competition is, the better and fairer the deal is for the consumer. And on the other side of the coin, as a free market becomes more monopolistic and regulated, the natural economic benefits of Adam Smith’s “unseen hand” of market forces become short-circuited to a greater and greater extent.

So where are the benefits of competition in the medical field? You see them here and there, but for the most part, “the system” works against it. You can see competition among drug companies and medical equipment makers to get to the market first with new cures and treatments. Which may explain why America is still a leader in medical innovation.

But on the cost side, there is very little free market activity, and the prospects are not good for an increase. It seems like it will be just a matter of time before some kind of Universal Medical Insurance Coverage will be enacted. But as these matters are debated, let’s see if we can avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water, by which I mean making Universal Health Care Coverage a short hop to government run Nationalized Health Care, which in my view would ultimately ruin the best health care system in the world. My nightmare scenario includes lengthy waiting times for all sorts of medical procedures, doctors leaving their practices, medical schools having trouble attracting quality students, etc. Nothing in my experience with government leads me to believe that putting a government agency in charge of health care would improve health care.

But change is coming. So how can we influence its nature so that it will be an improvement? When I think about this question, to me the question becomes, “How can we preserve (and maybe even introduce) some semblance of competition in the medical marketplace? I already have some ideas germinating on this subject, but let me close for today with a definition of “perfect competition” from the University of Michigan website:

“An idealized market structure in which there are large numbers of both buyers and sellers, all of them small, so that they act as price takers. Perfect competition also assumes homogeneous products, free entry and exit, and complete information.”
What is there in that definition that can be preserved or introduced in our medical system? If you have any thoughts, please email me. I’ll share mine over the next few days. - Bob