A First Anniversary, Another First Anniversary and A Sixth Anniversary

Summer has now become a season of anniversaries for me. Between last month and next month, I will have three anniversaries.

Last month was the first anniversary of my investing directly in individual stocks. I’ve been investing in the stock market for over 20 years but until last year it was either through my deferred compensation program at work or through an IRA. All those investments were in mutual funds.

After retiring, I no longer had any “compensation” to defer or put into an IRA. And with interest rates so low, any money in a savings account beyond an amount adequate for an immediate emergency is losing value.

So I decided to begin investing in individual stocks. Instead of working for my previous employer, I could use some of my free time to work for myself by devoting a few hours a week to research individual stocks.

I’m not interested in “day trading” through frequent buying and selling of stocks. My focus is on a quarterly income stream from dividend paying stocks. With even long term CD rates under three percent, a stock with an “interest rate” (dividend yield) of five percent or better puts me way ahead. Whether the stock price increases of decreases is irrelevant as long as the dividend is stable or, better yet, increases.

As with anything new, there’s a “learning curve” to become familiar with the “lay of the land” and develop some focus. After about three months, I decided to focus first on healthcare. As my baby boomer generation retires, it’s somewhat of a “no brainer” that health care should do well.

I also focused on “traditional” stable investments such as utilities (electric and telecommunications companies).  Telecommunications seems to be especially attractive.

I have a “pay by the minute” TracFone (using a “bottom of the line” $20 phone) and spend just $200 a year for 3,000 minutes, which is all I need since all I do is make a few calls. I know lots of folks have high priced “smartphone” plans. If you’re one of them, and use ATT, I thank you for your support!

My favorite investments are those based on “vice” and “gaming.”  There really is a VICE fund (VICEX) which invests only in gaming, tobacco, alcohol and defense stocks.  That’s where my IRA is. And there is a nice profit in “bets, butts, booze, and bombs.” An 18% increase in the last year; 52% in the last two years, and 118% in the last five years (which is over 20% a year.)

I managed to sniff out a “gaming only” fund last year and invested in that. The one year increase in that fund is 19.8%.  If “the house” is always going to make a profit over the long term, then it makes sense to put my money with the house by investing in a gaming fund.  (The fund I’m in is Market Vectors Gaming, an exchange traded fund (ETF).

After a year, the value of my portfolio has increased over 16%. But the real “value” is that I’m receiving about $250 a month in dividends from 11 stocks. Those dividends cover most of my monthly grocery cost, which is my second highest monthly expense (after health insurance) since the house is paid for.

I’m only about 65% complete in moving most of my savings into stocks so that monthly dividend amount will increase. Friday, the DJIA closed 123 points down. That “dip” is good news for me because with the stock market so high I’ve had difficulty finding “value” priced stocks with at least five percent dividend yield.  (I like Friday stock market dips because then I have the whole weekend to research potential stocks without the pressure of the market opening the next day.)

So my first stock market anniversary is a good one…

Last Thursday was the first anniversary of my retirement. And I highly recommend retirement to all!

My high school senior yearbook quote was not an idealistic “world peace” pronouncement like every beauty pageant contestant proclaims. A lot of my 98 classmates quoted Shakespeare (To thine own self be true…) or used other “noble” thoughts. Not me…

No, I was looking life square in the eyes when I got down to basics with: “Every man is, or hopes to be, and idler.” And that’s what I am now.

I enjoyed every one of my jobs, especially my last one (which is why I stayed in it for 20 years) but I don’t miss working for one nanosecond. I wondered at first about whether I’d miss the “action” but after a year I don’t. As for the camaraderie, I can get together with former co-workers for lunch or drinks but since I’m no longer part of the work group it’s “different” now. My former co-workers continue to have experiences I no longer have and that is the “glue” that bonds a work group.

What I find…interesting…is that 44 years after graduating high school I’m still very close to that group. Our interaction is mostly through Facebook, where almost all my 200 “friends” are from high school, and through reunions. I didn’t even hang out with most of those 200, many of whom were not even in the halls with me but were either in junior high or even elementary school.

Our bond is the shared experience of living in Manila and attending that school, an experience which anyone who does not share it cannot imagine or appreciate. At a reunion, I can talk with someone I don’t know about spending summers in Baguio, Filipino foods we miss, etc. It’s a very special “family.”

Since I lived in Manila from birth until I was 18, that experience is very central in my life. It’s been said that “you can’t go home again” but all my high school friends agree that we are “home” at a reunion and it doesn’t matter whether they are “lifers” like me (13 years at the school, including Kindergarten) or were there just a few years. We are all psychological / emotional relatives and that is, I think, a stronger bond than being accidental blood relatives. Rather than being “dead”, the past is very much alive for us.

Young folks don’t want to grow old and when I was in my 20s and 30’s I wasn’t too keen about it either. There’s a saying that “youth is wasted on the young” and most older folks understand that. I’d never want to be in my 20’s again but I’d have no problem staying 62 forever.

Here’s a “truth” that I learned the hard way when I was 18: growing old is a privilege not everyone will have. This blog is named after a high school classmate who died from bone cancer a few months before graduation. Our class renovated and renamed our senior lounge “Spencer Court” in his memory. A number of other high school classmates and friends did not have the privilege of growing old. I think we all know folks who never had the privilege of growing old.

And I almost didn’t have that privelege…twice. I almost died from a virus when I was less than a year old. And in second or third grade, I almost drowned in a swimming pool when I stuck my arm in an uncovered water supply pipe in the deep end and it got sucked in. (With all that adrenaline flowing, I managed to yank it back out by pushing back with my feet against the wall just as my air ran out because otherwise I’d have drowned since there was no lifeguard or anyone around to help me.)

So it’s no surprise that “do it now” has been a philosophy in my life from a very young age. Folks who say they don’t “gamble” are gambling that if they put something off until “tomorrow” that they will see tomorrow or that they can still do it then. Your life can change in the blink of an eye because of an accident, a diagnosis of life threatening illness, etc.

For Susie and I, the most important thing to do “today” has been to travel. And travel we did! Three weeks in Southeast Asia; three weeks in Italy; three weeks in Spain; a week in London; and every major national park in the west.

We especially enjoyed “driving” trips out west. We’ve driven the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California from Eureka (north) to the end of Big Sur.

We spent three weeks driving a loop from Seattle over the northern Cascades to Glacier and then Yellowstone / Grand Tetons and back to Seattle from the south. Three weeks for the “Grand Circle” of a half-dozen national parks in southern Utah (Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, etc.), the Four Corners area (including Mesa Verde) and northern Arizona, including the Grand Canyon. Three weeks in New Mexico covering south to Tucson and the Mexican border at Nogales as well as north to Santa Fe and Taos and west to Gallup and the Zuni reservation near the Arizona state line for dirt cheap beautiful Zuni jewelry.

First San Francisco and then Las Vegas became our second homes. We’ve been to the Bay City over half a dozen times. And we’ve been to Vegas over 25 times since the late 80’s but that’s a blog in its own right.

That focus on traveling “today” (four weeks of vacation a year, spread out over two or three trips) was brought home when Susie was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in 2005 when she was 55.  (Stage 4  is metastasized and there is little chance of survival.) The overall 5-year survival rate for Stage 3 colon cancer is 65%. The good news from the surgeon after he removed 14 inches of her colon, along with about as many lymph nodes, was that the biopsy showed cancer in only three of the lymph nodes, through which cancer spreads,  and anything under five improved survival rate so her survival  probability was better than 65%.

Eight months after diagnosis, after she had largely recovered from surgery, radiation and chemo that left her looking like a concentration camp survivor, we took a seven day cruise.  And a year after that, when she was fully recovered, we spent three weeks in Spain.  In 2010, with no sign of cancer for five years, based on blood tests looking for a colon cancer marker and an annual colonoscopy, she was released from monitoring.

Although we made it to the beginning of old age, to some extent we very fortunate.  So whatever it is you want to do, you owe it to yourself to do it now. Don’t wait for a retirement you may never have and being in the position of saying: “I shoulda…”

Finally, next month is the sixth anniversary of this blog. I’m a bit surprised I’m still at it. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep finding topics to write about. And while there have been some periods where I was scrambling to find a topic, more often than not I have a number of posts in draft or “idea” stage. Presently, I have four topics in one of those two categories.

I think limiting myself to one post a week helps. And since I was on the staff of my college newspaper, including Editor-in-Chief my senior year, I am not unaccustomed to deadlines.

Also, I like writing. It is a creative effor and I think everyone needs one of those. Of course, if I enjoyed cooking, I could eat my creativity… Hopefully, I’ll not have to eat any of my words! ;)

See you next week!