Posted by: luisabaldwin | July 11, 2010

Hey, can’t you see we’re hungry?, Boquete, Panama

AND HOW I SPEND MY TIME IN RETIREMENT

GOOD MORNING PANAMA!  It is 66.2 degrees in Boquete, 65 percent humidity, and we have been blessed with 110 inches of rain 4500 feet up Volcan Baru so far this year.  I guess we can safely say it’s green – very green in Boquete.

Harold and Maude - our pet falcons

Please join us in welcoming to the fold our new pets, Harold, Maude, and Harold, Jr.  These beautiful falcons are very busy training us to provide them with easy food and are quickly bankrupting us, especially our new arrival Harold, Jr. who could eat all day long.

The symphony goes like this.  You walk out onto the veranda to greet the dawn with your first cup of Boquete coffee and there’s the immediate fly-by.  “Hey, look at me.  I’m here.”  When that doesn’t work they try and try again.  I’m convinced they’ve developed a lookout system.  Maude perches by the bedroom, and sounds the alarm when we awake.  “Hey Harold, they’re up!”  Then Harold sits by the kitchen window, and squawks when coffee is made.  “Oh boy, we’re next!” and some one peers in through the sliding glass doors because they know that the source of their food is that kitchen.

So much for the peaceful soft pink and quiet sunrise.  When the fly-by tactic doesn’t work the falcon call to arms starts. First, the head bends towards the sky neck stretched out to the limit of its musculature.  Then a slow and utterly miserable cry emits from its beak. “Hey, don’t you see us?  We’re ready and we’re starving!”  There goes your peaceful dawn greeting.  Now, you have to get up and go to the kitchen to see what you can scrape up.  God forbid you should run out of eggs.  Harold and Maude have made it quite clear that eggs are top on the list.  They’re also really interested in those crackers.  Hmmm…I guess the love of junk food extends to the animal world.  They like crackers better than meat.  And here I thought their preferred diet was meat.

But they’re especially fond of eggs.  Each morning we cut a nice big hole in the top of an egg and lay it down in the garden.  Not a second goes by before they swoop down on it and drink like there’s no tomorrow.

We’re actually really happy that they are satisfied with chicken eggs because we have a whole flock of exquisite green Mealy Amazon Parrots up in these trees and the falcons have been stealing eggs from their nests.  These parrots are actually quite common in Panama but I never grow tired of the magnificent group flight patterns where about fifty of them will fly together.  Their feathers are almost iridescent green and glisten in the sun as they gracefully bank around in the air currents.  Hillside Haven has its own flock and they’re making their presence known these days.

Many of you are asking what I am doing with my time in Panama.  How you spend your time in retirement is a really important and relevant question that I’m pleased to hear you are thinking about.  Most don’t.  Retirement is a little like life itself.  Happy people are productive people who find fascination and relevance in the activities that they choose. There are so many choices in Boquete for activities that it’s a little overwhelming.  This American x-pat community is really well organized.  First of all, there is a charity for just about everything.  Buenos Vecinos (food for the needy), dog and cat spaying clinic, Hospice, Rotary International, Lions International, and the Handicap Foundation to name just a few.

Then there are the clubs and they’re just about for everything too.  There simply are too many to name. There is a rather large alternative health services community here so there is no lack of seminars and health related activities to attend.  It’s easier to make friends when you live abroad, much easier.  As one woman who sat around a dinner table told me, “I don’t know why, but I can’t believe the difference between here and the U.S. as it relates to making friends.  It is so easy to make really good friends here”.  Then there are the athletic pursuits available, bird watching hikes, horseback riding, river rafting, tennis, golf, etc.  Boquete is a very social community.  Many invitations arrive and frequently.  Finally, there’s the business of life to attend to.

It’s a little more challenging in a third world country than stateside, although improvements are really becoming apparent.  David (45 minute drive down the volcano) now offers a huge grocery store, the Price Club equivalent, the Target equivalent, the Home Depot equivalent.  The Latins are very good at picking up business ideas by looking around.

So getting things done is actually a bit easier than it was five years ago.

The busier you are in retirement, the better.  Unhappy retirement marriages are the ones that spend 24/7 with each other doing nothing but watching TV.  The unhappy retired individuals are the ones who gather together in cafes during the day to drink their lives away.

In my case, I’ve ended being really busy with what is relevant to me.  This website that I offer (I think of it as community service) doesn’t come for free and a lot of thought, trips, interviews, photography, and writing activities revolve around the postings.  As a hobby, I have my macro photography of flowers.  I love to jump inside the flower.  You never know what awaits you until you enlarge it.  Another hobby has earned me the reputation of the Barefoot Boquetena.  Yes, I love to cook!  And Boquete loves my cooking!

I have been going to school almost full-time.  Call it an immersion course, if you will.  I’ve been learning about how 401K and mutual fund retirement plans are structured so that nobody has been able to make any money in them for the last ten years. Oh, I can hear the commentary right now.  “But my statement has been going up since last year so how can you say that?”  Well, go back to the year before that and you’ll see why.  You gave up most of its value when the market tanked.  Of course, it also tanked during the dot.com bust and the 9/11 tragedy.  So you’re just making up for what you lost!  Mutual funds are loaded with up to eighteen fees that, well yes, at this point we can believe it, don’t show up on your statement and they’re significant. There are also various other very important factors that the average 401K consumer is unaware of.  Please allow me to refer you to the 60 Minutes show entitled, “The 401K Fallout” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8C1ZUrYhC0 if you don’t believe me.  I’ve been learning about the institutions we blindly turn our hard-earned retirement money over to and how they are structured and why our brokers will never make us any money or tell us the truth.  The truth of the matter is that they are looking after their own futures, not yours. When is the last time your broker called you up to tell you that he thought a stock he had sold you was overbought and getting ready to go into correction?  To be truthful with you, it’s a wonder any of this hard-working generation has any retirement money at all.  I guess we can safely say our generation has been fleeced – big time.

I spend part of my day (as I have since I was in my twenties) studying macroeconomics.  For it all boils down to macroeconomics.

If any of us have learned anything from these last two terrible years it’s that when the global economy is mismanaged things get very difficult for everybody.  Things have changed dramatically and no longer are economic events and policy US-centric.  It’s globalist institutions and groups who are now setting economic policy.

Another goodly portion of my days is spent on a web-site and in class learning how to technically trade like your broker does.  It turned out to be a much more complicated endeavor than I had thought it would be but I’m learning a great deal.

Go figure, I guess the Internet isn’t that bad after all.  I can live in Panama, go to school in Florida where I can hear my professor talk, see the black-board, and ask questions in real time.

I decided to undertake this endeavor because I came to learn through experience that, unless you’re sitting on a million dollars, your broker isn’t going to give you the time of day.  You see, his pay isn’t structured on how well he does for you.  His pay is structured on how many dollars he can bring and retain in the firm he represents. And boy, some of these operators are really unscrupulous and smooth manipulators devoid of morals, ethics, and values.   Unless you have a million dollars, your broker won’t do anything for you.  Additionally, gone are the days of buy, hold, and forget.  Welcome to the days when you wonder if your cash (and I mean money) is going to be safe and worth anything tomorrow.  By far, the biggest question I get is what am I to do with my money? There’s a lot of fear roaming the landscape these days.   Today, you have to be savvy, nimble, extremely time-sensitive and very smart to hold onto your hard-earned retirement money. The only way to do that is to be a better steward of your own funds.

Now I know this isn’t for everyone.  Most people get to this stage in their lives and figure they’ve already worked hard and earned their retirements.  They don’t want to think about it anymore and put it all into an annuity or  tax-free municipal bonds.  To those people who chose the annuity, I would suggest you go back to your fine print.  Check it out.  Because in there you will find a cap on the up-side of about 5-7%. What does that mean you ask?  Well, that means that in the last run up, you were not able to enjoy the 60% appreciation of your assets!  You only got 5-7%!  And to those who chose municipal bonds please be careful.  Although munis only have a 2% historical default rate, things are different now.  33 states are flirting with sovereign default, credit default swaps have invaded this market and made the muni-bonds vulnerable.   Finally, don’t believe those low inflation numbers. According to Shadowstats.com (where I go for the real numbers), the real inflation number is 5.8%. I would suggest to you that the days of stash and forget are indeed gone forever.  We will always have to be responsible for our funds going forward.   Therefore, we might as well know what we’re doing so we can make the best of it.

OK, in an effort to avoid the onslaught of e-mails I know I’m going to get, I will tell you what I am focusing on.  I don’t know if this is right – it’s simply the product of my own research.  So here goes:

Emerging Markets – China – Brazil – gold – silver- copper – coal – oils – metals and mining – semiconductors – banking – S&P – IWM.

Please understand that I am not a broker and can’t advise you. These are just the areas I’m focusing on.   There are many more.  Also, there’s a lot to understand about market directions, entry points, exit points, and maintenance.  Feel penned in?  Well don’t.  There is a solution to every dilemma in life – well, that is, except taxes and death!  All solutions require a little effort but that’s good.  It keeps us on our toes, involved with life, and builds inner fortitude.  The main point that I want to get across is that there is no reason to worry about your cash being safe if you would just decide to look into all of this.  There are plenty of good investments and a bull market going on somewhere in this big world of ours.  The Internet has changed everything about how we conduct our business.  It has made us independent and knowledgeable about so much more in life.  We’ve become expert travel agents, bankers, news hounds, etc.  Why not use it when it comes to your hard earned savings?

Retirement is the same here in Panama as it is anywhere.  People both go nuts and complain that there isn’t enough to do or they get productive and busy.  It’s the productive people who are leading happy and fulfilled retirement lives.  Like anywhere else, the choices are endless.  I guess the best place to start, and I know it may sound simplistic, is by asking the question, “What makes me happy?”  For me, in part, knowledge makes me happy.  I like to understand the world around me, even if it isn’t pretty.  Like work, it’s a good thing to match your activities up with at least some of your interests.  The best time to think about these important questions is before you retire.  Usually we go into retirement thinking (well no, really freaking out) about money and asking ourselves, will we have enough?  But there’s a whole other level of retirement which is equally as important as having enough.  And it has to do with emotional adjustment and fulfillment.  Plan carefully for happiness.  Prioritize for happiness and you won’t regret it.

Photography by:
Luisa Baldwin
© All rights reserved

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Responses

  1. gorgeous photos…..keep ’em coming and I will keep coming back for more! What all are you cooking? And are you making any money or still in the learning stage?

  2. Hi Rondi,

    Thank you for the photographic compliment! The latest batch are from the Hillside Haven gardens. Cooking, ah yes. Well at the last cocktail party I gave, I served a BLT appetizer, fried ravioli, grilled NY strip steak with a beer and molasses steak sauce, pesto cheese blossoms, spicy cocktail nuts, caramelized onion and feta in puff pastry, roasted shrimp cocktail, and bruschetta of tomato, mozzarella, and fresh basil. How’s that for a feast? I think they only come for the food! I’ll call you soon.


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