Family income splitting: you can’t please everyone but a good start

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The master family income splitting strategist with his family (Facebook)

There’s some good coverage of Thursday’s family income splitting in Friday’s national newspapers. The general thrust seems to be that Stephen Harper has shrewdly made his modified family income splitting and enhanced Universal Child Care Benefit into a broadly based re-election platform for 2015. National Post columnist John Ivison (@IvisonJ on Twitter) sums it up aptly in his front-page story here.

Get married!

In the FP, Garry Marr (@DustyWallet on Twitter) quotes financial planner Ted Rechtshaffen to the effect single people need to settle down and get married if they really want to benefit from the Conservatives’ “Family Tax Cut.” The rest of us — singles and single parents, couples who have already raised children and who are now over the age of 18, and even dual-income parents whose jobs put them in the same tax bracket — will just have to get by without the extra tax relief, apart from those who will benefit from the extra childcare benefits ($160/month for kids under six, or a new benefit of $60/month for kids aged 6 to 17). Garry’s piece is here.

More than one way to skin the income-splitting cat

On the FP Comment page, tax expert Jack Mintz (of the University of Calgary), writes here that the package is a “good start” in that it removes some inequities and helps all families with kids. He notes that even before this, the Canadian tax system had elements of family taxation: the GST credit and child tax benefit are income-tested benefits based on family rather than individual income. As noted in Thursday’s blog, there’s pension splitting for retirees with disparate sources of pension income. There’s spousal RRSPs and of course high-income business owners often have sophisticated income splitting opportunities, not only with spouses but sometimes with children.

G&M: take what we can get with a motley crew of tax deductions

Over at the Globe and Mail, here, Rob Carrick aptly sums it up as we should take what we can get. And the Globe’s editorialists describe the measures as a “motley crew” of targeted deductions, here.

And what do I think? You can refer to my MoneySense blog yesterday. At one level, it’s slightly annoying to have raised a child all those years without much tax relief. As she is over 18 now, we’re out of luck even though she’s currently at home between her travel and work stints. Even if the move were made retroactive (which it won’t be), like most higher-income dual-income families, the $2,000 cap would limit any tax savings. We and others approaching retirement may be able to console ourselves with the fact pension income splitting is on the horizon.

You can sympathize with the legions of Canadians who don’t get a break this time around — those without children, single people who don’t have anyone with whom they can split income, dual-income earners with children but who are both in the same tax bracket — but hey, ultimately this is all about politics, as John Ivison reminds us. Governments have always encouraged us to have children because ultimately that’s the future, not to mention the source of future tax revenues.

In any case, those who feel strongly about the issue either way, should remember an election is looming in 2015. Those happy to be bribed with their own money can re-elect the Conservatives. Those who want the measures repealed can vote for the Liberals and Justin Trudeau. And NDP supporters will have to wait until Thomas Mulcair has figured out what this all means.

Happy Halloween.

Here comes income splitting

office binder taxes house family dollar symbolAs predicted in the morning papers, the Conservative government has formally announced its long-promised introduction of family income splitting. A $4.6 billion-a-year package of tax measures was unveiled Thursday afternoon in Toronto. As of 4 pm Thursday, here is the latest report from the Globe & Mail.

As expected, there was also an enhancement to the universal child-care benefit. The previous $100/per month for each child under six is being raised to $160/month. And parents with children between 6 and 17 will receive $60/month for each child of that age, effective January 1, 2015. However, the existing Child Tax Credit is being eliminated.

Also as anticipated, couples with children under 18 will be able to split income for tax purposes by transferring up to $50,000 of income from the higher-income earner to the lower-income partner, effective for the 2014 tax year now in progress. As speculated in the morning papers, the original proposal has been slightly watered down to impose a maximum (annual) benefit of $2,000: a sop to critics who carped that otherwise high-income earners would unduly benefit from family income splitting.

Pension splitting foreshadowed this

The precursor to family income splitting was pension income splitting, which provides a considerable tax break to retirees when one couple has a large employer pension and the other spouse does not. Introduced in the 2007 budget, pension income splitting already operates in a similar fashion to how family income splitting would work. Pension splitting is implemented when couples prepare their annual tax bill each spring.

During the 2011 election, the Conservatives floated a promise aimed at families with children up to 18 years of age; it would permit the higher-earning parent to transfer up to $50,000 a year of income to the lower-earning spouse. In effect, this would reduce tax levied at the highest marginal tax rate for the higher earner, while the lower-earning spouse would be taxed at their likely lower tax rate.  Seen as a family unit, the net tax paid by such couples would be potentially thousands of dollars less.

The classic example is to compare a one-income family where the sole breadwinner earns $100,000 a year and is taxed accordingly, versus a family where both spouses earn a more modest $50,000 a year and are taxed relatively less. A 2011 research paper from C.D. Howe Institute said the tax savings could run as high as $6,400 a year for some high-income families earning at least $125,000 a year. It said 40% of the benefits of family income splitting would go to those high-income families.

Many families — and singles — would gain nothing

While it’s nice that seniors and families with children can gain from income splitting, in between are many Canadians who would not benefit from the measure. CD Howe found 85% of households would gain nothing. That would include families where both spouses are in the same tax bracket and of course single parents who have no spouse with whom income could be split for tax purposes.

Looming election issue

I’m all for anything that boosts the financial independence of heavily taxed Canadians. Part of me thinks that all taxpayers should be treated equally, rather than singling out seniors and parents. On the other hand, there would be a high cost to the federal treasury if income splitting were applicable across the board. Because it potentially affects so many of us, family income splitting is bound to become a major political issue the next time we go to the polls. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has said he would repeal family income splitting if he were to be elected next year. The NDP is sitting on the fence on the issue, saying it wishes to study the measure before deciding on its position.

When I posted a link this morning on my Linked In account, Allen Scantland — an accountant in Metcalfe, Ont. who is running for city council  – said “the arguments against income splitting in my mind are baseless, derogatory and wrongly associated with old notions of who earns money in the family.” Scantland said relatively few families have a primary earner making more than $100,000. Most make less and have to make tough choices on childcare, homes and where to work. “Almost all families spend their money together and should be able to level their taxes by income splitting. It is a social good.”

Tickets still available for Saturday retirement event

On a related note, the MoneySense retirement event is on Saturday morning. Last I checked, tickets were still available. Details can be found at MoneySense’s website here. marketfoolery

Also, if you listen to Motley Fool’s podcasts, I was a guest of Chris Hill on Thursday’s edition of MarketFoolery. The 14-min clip can be found at iTunes here. We talk about how Canada’s stock market resembles Australia’s, the fact Canada is concentrated in just three sectors, longevity, retirement versus Financial Independence, and even a prediction I made in 1983 about cell phones.

 

Retirees: don’t plan to be a financial burden on the kids

Daughter with elderly parents.Here’s my latest blog for MoneySense, bearing the title Money in Retirement: Don’t Rely on the Kids.

A recent TD Wealth survey on providing care to aging parents struck a cord on a couple of levels, at least for me. For those who missed it (it came out the day of the Ottawa shootings last week) TD found two thirds of Canadians between the ages of 40 and 60 expect they will have to provide care for their aging parents at some point. One in five already provide financial help to their parents or expect they will have to in due course. TD went on to say many Canadian “pre-retirees” also want to avoid putting their own children in the same situation. (You know the stoical stance of the self-reliant elder who “doesn’t want to be a burden” on their children).

No plans to burden the kids when it’s our turn

That struck me as quite ironic. As the parent of a 23-year old who alternates between travel, freelance promotion jobs and short stints at home, the last thing we’re planning for is depending on her for financial support in our old age. Of course, all four of the grandparents in our family have passed away, so we tend to look at this intergenerational dynamic in a different way than TD’s intended audience: those still working and whose parents are still alive.

Indirect costs can still arise

Social worker Gary Direnfeld, billed in TD’s material as a family relationship expert, is quoted as saying it’s “understandable” that people approaching retirement age will be reluctant to have to ask their grown children for financial support once they do retire. But they need to recognize this possibility may arise and at least have a frank conversation with their children about it. Even if the kids don’t end up providing direct financial support, Direnfeld says they may end up bearing indirect costs like retrofitting a house or apartment so their parents can “age in place.” And if it’s necessary to step in and provide care-giving for a parent or inlaw, at least one of the children (or their spouse) may have to take leave from their jobs to do so, meaning a loss of earnings. The alternative is to keep working but to pay a third party to care for the old folks, which is another way finances will be impacted for the grown children.

It’s hard to argue with the common sense dispensed by TD Wealth senior vice president Dave Kelly: that pre-retirees should maximize their retirement savings during their peak earning years, so as to be less of a financial burden on their kids once they retire. I’d go further: if you feel that strongly, why limit retirement saving to one’s peak earning years? Make it a priority as soon as you enter the workforce, take advantage of the time value of money (especially in TFSAs) and your fears of being a burden on the kids should be dissipated.

Decumulate first from non-registered funds

The second thing I noted about TD’s release is the focus on a theme I’ve been writing a fair bit about lately: that of decumulation. As I noted in my column in the magazine recently, more and more baby boomers are moving from the mode of wealth accumulation to that of decumulation, or drawing down on their savings. I argued only a minority of financial advisers have also made this shift but Kelly’s comments suggest this sea change is becoming top of mind with wealth managers. He says pre-retirees need to consider withdrawing money first from their non-tax-sheltered investments, as opposed to tax-deferred vehicles like RRSPs or RRIFs.

“While money in an RSP can be converted into a RIF at any time, once it’s converted there is a minimum annual withdrawal based on either the age of the fund holder or spouse,” Kelly says in the release, “If your spouse is younger than you, your minimum withdrawal would be lower than if it were based on your age, but you have to elect whose age to use before your first RIF withdrawal, and once you choose, you can’t change your decision.”

 

 

Give and ye shall receive — reflections on U2′s iTunes giveaway

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Apple’s Tim Cook and U2′s Bono

This post is only distantly connected to this blog’s normal theme of financial independence, although on reflection it may have bearing on the rock group U2′s financial independence.

Like many iTunes users, I was at first annoyed when a free copy of U2′s latest album appeared magically on my iPhone. I’d bought a few U2 albums on vinyl and cassette in the early days but was underwhelmed by my CD of Rattle & Hum, and pretty much stopped buying them or listening to U2 for the last decade or so.

I am, however, an enthusiastic fan of what I’d term “Melodic Rock,” which is why the subplot of Findependence Day revolves around vinyl music and its (arguable) cultural renaissance.  I tend to be a serial monogamist when it comes to bands. I’m the opposite of a “Shuffle” person or listeners who are happy to listen to the radio or whatever random songs that new applications like Songza throw at them.

I’m a musical serial monogamist

I tend to listen to one group at a time and play them to death for roughly two months, then latch on to a new group or rediscover an old one I hadn’t really focused on before. In the spring of this year, I went through this cycle with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, then Ian Tyson and then in late summer The Killers. If I like the music, I’ll burn all my old CDs onto iTunes, and purchase older albums if I missed them when they came out.

Just as my time with the Killers was about to expire, along came the free download of U2′s Songs of Innocence. I hadn’t ordered it, hadn’t given much thought to U2 at all lately but hey, a bargain is a bargain. I gave it a listen and it sounded okay, listened again and quite liked it. Sure as shooting the old pattern kicked in and the Killers had been supplanted not by some newer group like the Shins (which I’ve sampled) but U2, which for me had ceased to exist since the late 1980s.

Wondering what else they might have done that I’d have liked, I read the iTunes reviews of all the U2 albums that were new to me. Since many of them cost only about $5.99, I bought two more: Achtung Baby and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. If they continue to please, no doubt I’ll round out the entire collection before tiring of the group around — let’s see — Christmas.

I remember reading on the web a recent interview with Bono, in which the singer professed to being somewhat baffled by the uproar over what was essentially a gift to music lovers. I know plenty of people went to elaborate lengths to find a way to purge the album, unlistened, from their devices. If you’re one of them and have happened upon this blog, do yourself a favour and at least listen to the opening track or try the cut Sleep like a baby tonight.

Okay, now how do I seque to the topic of financial independence here? The obvious lesson in my case is that it cost U2 virtually nothing to give me the free download but it has since made $12 from me that it might not otherwise have earned. Before I’m done, they’ll probably make another $50, and of course they may get a few more sales from the modest publicity this blog provides. But that’s nothing compared to the many other free copies of the album that went to iTunes users: even if only one in a hundred reacts as I did, the group stands to make a mint on its back catalog on iTunes or other distribution outlets.  So this seems to be at least one good example of the spiritual proposition that “give and ye shall receive.”

Other examples where freebies generate sales

I can think of one other similar example involving Greek yogurt. One day in the grocery store, someone offered a sample of Oikos “Honey on the Bottom” Greek Yogurt. It was delicious and I’ve been a customer ever since.

A third example, closer to the U2 iTunes one, is the current rage of publishing low-cost and practically free e-books. In fact, there is an entire e-book out there that outlines a strategy of issuing almost-free ebooks or giving away totally free ebooks for short periods of time: Crush it with Kindle (which itself costs just $2.65). In the next week or so,  using these principles, I will be releasing a Kindle-only ebook called A Novel Approach to Financial Independence. It will probably cost $2.99. I’ll devote a whole blog to it when the time comes early in November.

But right now, I have to get back to listening to U2.

 

  Should your retirement date be a surprise?

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Kevin Press, Sun Life Financial

Sun Life Financial assistant vice-president Kevin Press has penned a retirement planning article carrying a provocative headline: “Your retirement date will probably be a surprise.”

Published at www.brighterlife.ca, Press cited the most recent survey of Sun Life’s Canadian Unretirement Index and its startling finding that only 31% (fewer than a third) of Canadian retirees said they stopped work on the date they had actually planned. This attracted a fair bit of social media commentary, including my own predictable quip attributed to deceased Beatle John Lennon in his final album: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Employers set the date a quarter of the time

At one level, the inimicable Press is of course correct. The precise date of retirement isn’t always a variable under one’s complete personal control. In these days of corporate cost-cutting, there’s little guarantee that one’s employment in a particular firm will last to the exact and convenient day of your projected retirement. One in four said they left their jobs because an employer decided that was the way it was going to be. The decision was forced by the employer for 10% of those surveyed, while another 15% took their employers up on their offers of early retirement.

Health is another major factor

But even if they love you and are willing to throw frequent raises and bonuses your way, your health may not cooperate. Sun Life found a whopping 29% reported their work lives ended prematurely because of “personal health or medical reasons.” Another 2% left not because of their own health but because of the deteriorating health of a loved one for which they had to care. Adding 14% more who experienced unexpectedly early retirement for other “unspecified” reasons, that’s 69% who did not finish their career as they had originally planned or expected.

This is all interesting data but should not be viewed as a particularly disturbing trend. Retirement planning is as much an art as an exact science and any financial planner will tell you that, even if employers and health are in your favor, there are many variables that will change the exact finish line. Stock markets will vary, as will interest rates, currencies and other factors. Even the related concept I call “Findependence Day” I have described as a moving target: if markets go on a tear the last few years before your planned departure from the workplace, your liberation from work may happen a few years earlier than it might otherwise have been. If markets languish in an extended bear market, you’ll probably decide to hang in there a few extra years, again assuming robust health and a willing employer.

Freedom 66?

In fact, a Sun Life ebook authored by Kevin Press quantified this in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Based on the traditional retirement age of 65, Sun Life surveyed Canadians as to what they thought they’d be doing at age 66. In 2008, 51% thought they’d be retired by that age, and in 2009, 55% thought so. This plummeted to just 28% in 2010 and has hovered between 27% and 30% in the subsequent years to 2013.

At the same time, the percentage who thought they’d still be working full time at 66 rose from just 16% in 2008 to 27% in 2013. Two thirds of those expecting to be working past 65 said they‘ll do so because they “need to” financially. By 2010, the average age at which Canadians expected to retire had jumped from 64 (in 2009) to 68 by 2010 and 69 in 2011. As confidence has returned, this average expected retirement age has since fallen back to 66.

Press’s e-book can be found here, and includes links to several calculators that should make your rough retirement date less of a surprise.

The downside of rising longevity — dementia

Senior man looking after sick wifeHere is my latest MoneySense blog, billed as the “Financial Implications of Dementia.”

For convenience and one-stop shopping purposes, I’m publishing a version here with a different set of photos:

The downside of rising longevity

 

One of the themes I’ve been exploring lately has been longevity – the notion that most of us can expect to live longer than our parents and grandparents. That assumes a lot of things, such as adopting healthy lifestyles, being blessed with good genes and not engaging in harmful behaviours. And of course, as the current Ebola scare reminds us, there’s no shortage of external circumstances that can render moot the idea of extended personal longevity.

But let’s be optimistic. If financial planners reckon on a lifespan of 90 or 95 years for the average client, let’s assume we at least reach our 90s. The unfortunate aspect of this is that while our good habits and advances in medical science may stave off such unwelcome events as heart disease or cancer, it also means there is a greater chance of succumbing to dementia. As RBC Dominion Securities investment adviser Nathan Mechanic told me many years ago, Alzheimer’s can have a devastating effect on family finances.

Dementia portrayed in essays and novels

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Novelist Jonathan Franzen

On my recent trip to Turkey, I happened to read some books that touched independently on the theme of the scourge of Alzheimer’s. One was an essay by novelist Jonathan Franzen entitled “My Father’s Brain,” contained in his collection, How to Be Alone. In it, Franzen chronicled the slow and painful loss of his father Earl to Alzheimer’s. He depicted it as a series of deaths of various capabilities: memory, mobility etc., wherein the actual physical death of the whole body was merely the final installment of a drama that unfolded over several years.

On a similar theme is Still Alice, a novelized treatment of Alzheimer’s written by neuroscientist Lisa Genova. Written in 2007, it portrays the onset of early Alzheimer’s at age 50 of cognitive psychology professor Alice Howland. It was turned into a film of the same name in 2014. For those who enjoy medical thrillers. Genova has been described as “the Michael Crichton of brain science.”

100 tips to stave off dementia’s onset

100thingsI also read an e-book I’d recommend to anyone interested in this topic, or who may already have gone through the experience with a parent or other loved family member. It’s called 100 Simple Things you can do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss, by Jean Carper. The book was published in 2010 and the author dedicated it to her mother, Natella, who made it to 95 without dementia but spent a “final year with probable vascular dementia.”

I’d guess many baby boomers will be in a similar situation by the end of their long lives: 90 or 95 years of relatively strong mental health, followed by a year or two of this type of loss of mental acuity. So what are the 100 tips we can act on to minimize our chances of being afflicted with dementia? Here are some of the main ones that left an impression on me. Number one is to “Get Smart About Alcohol.” It stands to reason that excess drinking cannot be a good thing for our brain cells, although Carper concedes the benefits of modest (a glass or two) of red wine on occasion. And rest assured, chocolate lovers, you may be able to safely indulge in similarly modest consumption of dark chocolate, but less so milk or white chocolate. And yes, it’s okay to “say yes to coffee” and we don’t need to be afraid of caffeine.

Carper also recommends drinking apple juice or “juices of all kinds,” eating berries every day, eating curry, nuts, olive oil, spinach, tea, vinegar, fish and various other good foods. She recommends the Mediterranean Diet. And yes, exercise is a fine thing even if it’s just fast-paced walking. Sleep is important and meditation is helpful. It helps to be married and have a large social circle. Avoid red meat, avoid inactivity, beware the dangers of fast foods, control bad cholesterol and avoid environmental toxins.

If you have an interesting job, don’t be too quick to retire: work is an excellent way to keep your brain active. Alternatively, web surfers will be pleased to learn “Googling” is good for the brain, as are video games. So is learning another language. Build strong muscles, take multivitamins, and take regular nature hikes. The author even suggests “considering” medical marijuana, assuming it doesn’t entail breaking the law. But “forget about smoking” cigarettes and cut down on sugar.

Much of this is common sense and you may have heard some of these tips before. But if you can tick off more than half these items, my bet is you will have made a great start in delaying the onset of this affliction for yourself or anyone you love.

The Road to Global Prosperity

globalprosperitybookMuch has been written about globalization, often with a negative slant. It’s refreshing to have a more upbeat take on the topic. As the title of Michael Mandelbaum’s latest book underlines, the most likely though not inevitable outcome of Globalization is global prosperity, meaning economic growth for most of the nations involved.

Mandelbaum is one of America’s leading authorities on international affairs and many of his 13 earlier books also tackled global macroeconomics.  The Road to Global Prosperity is divided into four parts, with intriguing sectional titles like The Roof, The Gates, the River and the BRICs. The latter is the familiar acronym for Brazil, Russia, India and China, the four leaders of Emerging (or arguably Emerged) Markets.

Roof, Gates, River

The Roof is a reference to “Protection” and the role the United States has played in providing a measure of security to the global economy. The Gates refers to global trade, free markets and protectionism or efforts to eliminate it in order to grow the global pie for all nations. The River is money and national currencies.

Mandelbaum reviews the causes of the 2008 financial meltdown, the troubles facing Europe and the Euro, and the reduced growth of even the four BRIC nations in the aftermath of 2008; and yet he remains optimistic about the future prospects for the  global economy. Despite the obvious challenges in the Middle East, China, Russia and other global hot spots, he nevertheless says “there are powerful reasons to believe that globalization will continue to make the world richer.”

Globalization is irreversible and positive

Michael Mandelbaum

Michael Mandelbaum

Warts and all, globalization is “both irreversible and a positive force for the United States and the world.” Technology and the Internet are bringing nations together (though he doesn’t use the term global village) and national leaders are increasingly aware that maintaining political power will depend on giving the electorate prosperity. As a result, he expects war to be muted and countries will try to cooperate more, with their economies growing as the connections to other nations and trading partners increase.

In short, it’s an optimistic view and one that is a welcome alternative to the depressing tidbits of daily news spewing out of all corners of the globe and into the 24/7 news cycle. Not that there aren’t tremendous vexing challenges ahead. The short concluding chapter is titled Fault Lines, and Mandelbaum makes no bones about the fact the global economy ultimately depends on the fortunes of his own country: “The public good of security will be provided to the world by the United States or it will not be provided at all.”

In particular, in order to keep productive economic activity going in the Middle East and East Asia, the U.S. will have to keep in check North Korea and Iran. If it fails, “the world will be a less stable, less prosperous place.”

He closes by reminding us that Globalization “will surely continue on its upward path; but for the billions of people on board, the ride will just as surely be a bumpy one.”

 

Lifestyle Rebalancing

Pretty scary markets the last few weeks! Here’s my latest MoneySense blog, entitled A different kind of rebalancing. It looks at the topic of rebalancing not just from an asset class perspective but also from a lifestyle point of view. Mind you, it was written in the summer and recounted what I was doing in the spring when markets were still moving to ever-higher records.

Right now? Not so much!

The web as the great equalizer in graphic design

99designsimageI recently created a logo for a new web-based business I’m developing and found the whole process fascinating. Thanks to a suggestion from Liz Harding at Knightsbridge, I launched a one-week contest at 99Designs. My cost was just $299 and true to the company’s name, I received well over 99 design suggestions from designers all over the world. You can see the one I chose at the bottom of this post.

While you’re going through the process, you can’t tell where the designers are located geographically. In one case, I knew I was dealing with a French person, probably from France. In the end, the designer I selected turned out to be from Indonesia.

Global contest results in cornucopia of design ideas

Which is fascinating by itself. Think about the old days. If you wanted to create a logo for a business card or letterhead, you’d probably have ended up with the friend of a friend, or got a referral from a friend in an advertising agency locally. Odds are you would have dealt with the person face to face. Probably, though, your design would have been limited to the particular talents and capabilities of the person that came into your orbit through your personal network.

With 99designs, you end up with a wealth of design ideas drawn from talented artists and graphic designers anywhere in the world, which means you probably end up with a nicer design and one that is competitively priced. 99design even lets you create polls so you can get feedback on the designs you’re strongly considering, and the site makes it easy to spread the word on the poll(s) through the major social media.

Winning logo design for Jon’s new business cards

Those who follow me on Twitter, Linked In, Facebook or Google Plus may already have participated in one of those polls though I’m not clear whether they will also be able to see the final design I picked. I’m still tweaking the new company name and website but am happy to show the image on the right.

I’ve certainly noticed other references to 99Design on Twitter so it’s clear this trend is catching on.

Once you select the winning designer, there is a hand-off process that takes a day or two, where you’re put in touch with the designer, you make some final tweaks and then you’re sent the design in an electronic format you can use. This transfers the copyright on the design to you and when this is agreed on at both ends, 99design releases the funds to the designer. It also tries to upwell you on using that designer or others to apply the design on your web business, letterhead and numerous other possible applications for it, including using it on your social media.

 

 

Extended Vacation as Mini-Retirement or Rehearsal for Retirement?

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Ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey. Photo by Helen Chevreau.

Half way through a three-week vacation in Turkey, I’ve been experimenting with the idea of integrating a little work with the travel. As my daughter has noted after a long summer of independent travel, everyone has SmartPhones these days and it’s not hard to find places with wireless: all hotels and most good restaurants have them, and many other places as well.

Roaming charges from North American telecom suppliers are prohibitive so we do what the student travelers do and leave the devices permanently in Airplane mode. That means enforced SmartPhone vacations from email and social media during times between wireless access but hey, it’s a vacation too, right?  And anyway, who wants to be connected all the time?

Endless Summer

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They’re still swimming in Bodrum. Photo by Jonathan Chevreau.

In blogs earlier this summer (a summer that for me has extended through a lovely September in Toronto and now an even sunnier continued summer in Turkey), I described Tim Ferris’s idea of mini-retirements, described more fully in his best-selling book, The Four-Hour Workweek.

For me, the longest vacation I’ve had until now was two weeks long: my honeymoon in 1989, and two subsequent fortnights (as the British call them) in Europe and Scandinavia. So three weeks is a record but I can see how those of us from colder climates might eventually want to arrange their “Findependence” to include stints of eight or ten weeks in a row nicely timed to avoid January, February and the first half of March. (the depths of winter in Canada and the northern United States).

I’ve referred before to the American folksinger Phil Ochs and his (I believe) last album, entitled Rehearsals for Retirement. I won’t rehash my usual distinction here between traditional Retirement and Financial Independence but suffice it to say that a longer-than-the-normal two-week vacation can be considered either a Mini-Retirement or a Rehearsal for Retirement (or both?).

You can “work” during Mini-Retirements

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When in Turkey …. Turkish baths. Photo by Jonathan Chevreau.

Since my notion of Findependence sees a continued role for work and creativity well into one’s 60s and 70s, a Mini-Retirement or Retirement Rehearsal simply means travel along the lines this Turkey trip has gone but more so.

As you can see by reading these words, I felt moved to write this blog while still abroad, if only because I need to have some words to surround the photos that accompany it. I’ve been posting such photos to my Twitter and Facebook feeds all along but not without the context a longer blog can provide.

As was the case when I was blogging from home this summer, I’m composing the first draft of this on my laptop outside. As I sit on the second-floor balcony of the Su Hotel in Bodrum, Turkey, the sun is hitting my feet but the rest of me is in shade. Below and in front of me I can see a long lap pool that at night is lit up in my favorite shades of blue and green. Even at mid-day you can still hear the odd rooster crowing, though nothing like they do around dawn. Later, during a final edit and with lunch beckoning with the family, I’m sipping a glass of local red wine.

The longer the Mini-Retirement, the more work may play a role

 

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Underground caves of Cappadoccia. Photo J. Chevreau

Thus far, this vacation has resembled the one-week and two-week versions: nice accommodation, meals out, guided tours etc. Not what I’d term guerrilla frugality! In the future, if and when we attempt a ten-week stay somewhere like France or Italy to get away from winter, I can see ratcheting down expenses considerably from these levels. Probably, we would rent a house or villa for several weeks, shop for groceries and wine locally, and prepare our own food in our temporary home, just as we would do at home in Long Branch, Ontario. We would have full Internet access and all the gadgets that accompanied us on this shorter vacation: Kindles, iPhones, Blackberries, iPads and laptop computers.

Even during this Turkey trip – wireless permitting – I’ve surprised myself by staying on top of the news as much as I have and similarly monitoring and posting to various social media. The quantity is no doubt much reduced, perhaps to the relief of all concerned. But this trip has confirmed in my own mind that it is indeed possible to combine business and travel to some extent, even if the pleasure/work ratio is slanted heavily to the Pleasure side. For the curious, we do have a family member who is keeping the home fires burning: that means the cat is getting fed and orders for the Findependence Day book are being fulfilled with no delay. The cloud accounting software I described some weeks ago can be accessed remotely, as can our bank accounts and discount brokerage accounts.

While I’ve only made a stab here of testing the idea, I suspect that the longer the mini-retirement (or extended vacation) and the more you settle in one particular spot, the more “work” would play a role — defining “work” as something that creates invoices or at least moves forward long-term creative projects that might one day bring in revenue.

In short, the rhythms of life continue. In many respects, it’s the best of all worlds and I look forward to trying an extended “Mini Retirement” as early as January of 2016 (plus of course shorter vacations in the meantime).

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