Getting to Know Seattle: Too Expensive to Live Here

A second friend has just told me that she and her longtime partner are leaving Seattle because it’s too expensive to live here. K. owns her condo and her partner contributes to expenses, but rising condo fees and unpredictable assessments have made staying there untenable. They are moving to Walla Walla, a college town about four hours southeast of Seattle. Walla Walla is much less expensive, the pace of living is slower, and as a college town, there are a lot of cultural and educational events to make life interesting.

My former hometown of Rochester, NY, was struggling to revitalize a pretty dead downtown after the demise of Kodak and the loss of most of Xerox, Gannett, Bausch and Lomb, French’s Mustard to other iconic companies. Seattle is at the opposite extreme, struggling to control the bad effects of rapid growth: constant traffic, rising prices, and a surge in homelessness.

This wonderful city can’t become a place where only the young, the rich, and the tech-savvy can afford to live.

Conscious Aging: Giving Money to Adult Kids, Part 2

The last part of the conversation with Ada’s lunch group, a piece that I didn’t address, is whether you should talk with your adult family members about gifting, or just tell them what you are going to do.

I think money is a fascinating topic, and I don’t know why anyone would choose not to talk among family members about how resources are distributed. Like all other aspects of life, our experience of money is highly individual. Some of us use money as a measure of self worth — and society tends to do that too. Some of us profess not to care about money, yet we resent not being paid well enough for the work we do. Some of us are by nature frugal. My late husband Jerry had an LLBean blue blazer that he loved. When he got a moth hole in the sleeve, he darkened the lining with blue ink and insisted that the jacket was fine. When he wasn’t looking, the jacket went to the Good Will. Some of us are spendthrift; money flows through our fingers. The notion that providing for ourselves in retirement takes decades of patient saving and investing is a discipline too hard to bear.

The important point is “talk among” — not dictate. We can’t dictate the choices of other adults, even those who are family.

For me, money has multiple symbolic as well as practical meanings. But in the simplest sense, it’s a piece of the puzzle — an essential piece at that. My dear friend Minga is coming to terms with living with dialysis. Having choices is important to her. She wanted the choice of being able to go home after each treatment, even though it involved a 90 minute chiva ride into the interior. She has to do the hard physical work of getting from the hospital to the bus terminal to the actual vehicle that will take her home, after a full day of grueling dialysis. She has to get a family member to accompany her. The missing piece was money — taxi fare from hospital to bus terminal, and chiva fare to Rio Hato, which is $3 per person. In many ways that’s the easiest piece, and I was happy to give it to her.

What is money to you? That’s a really great place to start a family conversation about money. I recommend it.

Conscious Aging: Giving Money to Adult Kids

Friend and regular reader Ada suggested this as a topic for a blog post, or several.

Had lunch with a group of women, all in their seventies, the other day.  Got into a conversation about gift giving to older children.  All of us have children in their late forties and early fifties.  One woman talked about the fact that she sends each child and his/her spouse a check for $100 on their birthdays.  All gave at least $1000 at Christmas.  The “children” allhave good jobs and are financially secure – some better off than the parent.  We discussed such things as:  should one just continue;  should it depend on financial circumstances of parent and or child (one friend has two children who are very well off, but a son who is in a profession that has lower salaries, works hard but could probably use the $100);  should one return to giving presents that one can touch/hold;  should one discuss it with the children or just tell them.”

This is a topic of longtime interest to me, so here goes. Thanks to Ada for suggesting the topic.

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Anyone who faces unresolved feelings about giving to adult kids might find my first book, How Much is Enough?, a useful resource. The book came out in 2002 and remarkably to me, it’s still available on Amazon.

The book suggests that we all have “money stories”, often un-articulated, which underlie financial decisions like giving to adult offspring. Bringing a money story to the conscious level, then sharing your story with those closest to you, seems to make hard financial decisions easier. The decisions can be recognized as coming from somewhere.

To deal directly with the questions that arose during the lunchtime discussion:

I generally believe that financial independence is a key component of contentment in older age, so parents who are less well off giving to adult kids who are financially successful doesn’t make much sense — unless “well off” is relative and everyone is rich, just that the kids are richer. But I don’t believe, and wouldn’t advise, parents to put themselves at a financial disadvantage in order to make gifts to adult kids. We’re not obligated to give an allowance to our offspring forever. Kids do grow up.

The second issue is a bit harder: how do you deal with the fact that kids make different career choices and so may have highly unequal assets as they move through adulthood?  Should you give equally, regardless of financial need? Should you give more to the one who needs it the most? Should you give more to the ones who are more successful, on the grounds that they will make better use of it? Should you support the adult son or daughter who can’t handle money and spends unwisely — or refuse to reinforce bad decision making?

There’s no right answer here, and your sense of ease with wherever you wind up goes back to your own money story. I’m firmly in the “equal” camp, going back to my childhood experience where my mother played favorites and was constantly threatening to cut one of us out of her will over some imagined or real transgression. Mind, she didn’t have much money to leave. But the symbolism of playing favorites among the three of us was clear. My estate plan divides everything equally between Sara and Matt. In my annual giving to them, I do the same thing — even though Matt has a family of four and Sara and Ben are two.

Equal is easy to explain — and I’m a big fan of explaining and answering whatever questions your kids may have about your motivations. But there are reasons to give more to one kid, or leave more. I once worked professionally with a woman who had an adult daughter and two adult sons. Her daughter had been stalwart in caring for her mother in every way; the sons not so much, even though they were far better off financially. The woman wanted to leave the bulk of her estate to her daughter, with much smaller amounts to each of her sons. Once we’d worked through her feelings about how her sons might react and what the implications were for the three siblings, I supported her decision — and encouraged her to write a letter to be placed with her will describing her thinking. She didn’t feel that she could talk to the kids while she was alive, but she agreed with me that they should know why she divided the assets the way that she did.

This is a long post — I’ll continue tomorrow with the matters raised by Ada’s lunch group. Please send me a comment if there’s another issue along these lines that you’d like to hear about.

The Move: Latest Update

Ben and Sara’s mortgage approval just came through — a bit laggardly, as mortgage underwriters are being very picky these days. Trump’s trash talking Amazon stock, which made Sara’s stock options bounce around, didn’t help. But we’re now full steam ahead, with closing and their move out and my move in to happen within the next week.

My sister-in-law Amy is an astrologer by profession, and she reminds me that as a Taurus, I’m very much in need of routine and internal order. She’s right. I knew that rushing to move out of my apartment and not getting into Sara’s until April 16 would upset that internal order. I’m focusing on soothing behavior in the meantime, which has helped. And now that things are clearly falling into place, I’m beginning to settle down and get excited about what lies ahead.

Carson’s Dining Room Table

Feeling sympathy for anyone in the Trumpist orbit is hard, but does anyone else think Ben Carson threw his wife Candy under the bus over the purchase of the 31K dining room set for his office?

Trump promised to bring the best and brightest into his administration. Instead we have users, leakers, con artists, grifters like Don the Con himself — and guys like Ben Carson who know nothing, see nothing, about the abuse of taxpayer funds in furnishing his office. The nepotism part I get; Carson is merely following Trump’s example by having Carson son and wife doing work at HUD. But picking the dining room set and blaming the resulting kerfluffle on your wife? Small, Ben. Really small.

Things Still Hot in Panama

Well, the weather is hot — but then it always is. I’m talking about the contretemps at Trump Tower in Panama City, which shows no signs of abating.

The title of the New York Times article is “Thugs, Leeches, and Shouting at Trump  Hotel in Panama.” If you’re not a Trump fan, don’t you love it? 🙂

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/03/world/americas/donald-trump-panama-hotel-orestes-fintiklis.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Triumph of the SUV’s

Remember when an SUV — sport utility vehicle — was for sporty people who wanted a car that could carry their gear and go on rough roads to get them to sporty places?

People who wanted a luxury ride wouldn’t be caught dead in an SUV.

Now Jaguar has an SUV, base price 42K. To my astonishment, even Maserati has an SUV: the Levante, for which you’ll pay between 75K and 80K.

I used to think it was silly to see a Land Rover in the parking lot at the grocery store, since a Land Rover is what you’d take to drive across Africa. Now I’m going to be on the lookout for that gorgeous Maserati SUV anywhere and everywhere. I’d say the vibe isn’t exactly Seattle — more like Naples, Florida. But my next door neighbor in the parking garage where I live was a Porsche Macaan, so anything is possible.

Are You Jubilant About the Booming Economy?

Wall Street likes the Trump administration’s tax cuts and anti-regulatory fervor. And Wall Street could care less about the culture wars or Trump’s vulgarity and corruption, as long as he doesn’t ignite a trade war or, even worse for the global economy, bomb Iran or North Korea.

While some Americans are on a sugar high about what appears to be a booming economy, economists are looking at the risks. I didn’t pick the right one. After reading this opinion piece by Robert J. Samuelson in the Washington Post, did you?

Here’s today’s quiz: What poses the greatest threat to the U.S. economy? (a) federal budget deficits; (b) China; (c) trade deficits; (d) ineffective schools; (e) the Internet; (f) none of the above.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-most-threatens-the-economy-you-might-be-surprised/2018/02/21/0d802e8c-172f-11e8-92c9-376b4fe57ff7_story.html?utm_term=.195e4690dc2b&wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1

The correct answer is (e) the Internet — the technological wonder of the age.

True, all the other threats are real. Runaway budget deficits could raise interest rates. China could overtake the United States in some high-technology industries. Inadequate schools could mean scarcities of skilled workers. All these developments could slightly slow economic growth or raise unemployment.

By contrast, the Internet — if turned against us through hacking and cyberattacks — could conceivably shut down most of the economy. It represents a “potential threat to all Americans using any information and communications technologies” — that is, almost everyone.”

Since all of my assets are merely numbers on a computer screen, that makes me very nervous indeed.

Cutting Social Security and Medicare

Paul Ryan is hell bent on shredding the social safety net created by the New Deal, including deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare, out of an adolescent attachment to the writing of Ayn Rand. According to Rand, and Ryan, everyone is responsible for himself/herself, and taxing other people to provide for the common good or to give poor seniors a baseline of publicly funded benefits is immoral.

Here’s why Ryan’s fixation is a terrible idea. The Atlantic article is entitled “This Is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like”. Women are disproportionately affected by poverty in old age. Women have historically earned less, and therefore been able to save less.

Remember that Ryan and the Republicans who control Congress were all in on tax cuts for the wealthy. They’re all in on cutting benefits for the elderly poor as well. The mean-spiritedness of it repels me. But then, I don’t vote Republican.

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2018/02/pensions-safety-net-california/553970/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=atlantic-daily-newsletter&utm_content=20180222&silverid=MzEwMTU3NTQ2MjQwS0

The Famous LL Bean Guarantee

LL Bean is an east coast thing; their flagship store is in Freeport Maine, open 24/7. I’ve been to the store on the way to mid-coast Maine to visit my sister and brother-in-law, and if you love the outdoors, it’s a great place to browse. My family has owned a lot of LLBean gear and clothing over the years, from backpacks to snow pants to snow shoes to hiking poles to bike gear to warm winter boots and a lot of other things. The store is famous for their lifetime guarantee, that they’ll replace anything that fails, no matter how long you’ve had it, no questions asked.

I have an LLBean raincoat that has to be 20 years old. I love the coat: it’s long and keeps a sheeting rain off your pants, it has a hood, and with the zip out liner and roomy design, an added sweater underneath makes the coat a year-round wear. Just recently, I noticed that the waterproofing factor was pretty well gone. Now, waterproofing technology is IN the fabric. Back, then, waterproofing was ON the fabric — and subject, with time and the elements, to wearing away. I thought briefly about asking Bean to replace the coat, and then I said to myself, “Nah. The lifetime guarantee is for product failure, not longtime wear and tear. ” I ordered and paid for a new one, and donated the old.

Apparently I’m in the minority. Far too many customers were returning gear worn to the nubs and asking for a free replacement — sometimes asking replacement for an item bought so long ago it wasn’t demonstrably a Bean product at all. But given the company policy, the replacement was forthcoming.

No more. From now on, a replacement for product failure will happen during the first year, and then you have to have documentation that you actually bought the product at Bean.

I think it’s fair, and I’m surprised that they could keep the lifetime guarantee as long as they have.