Monday, June 28, 2010

Pension Funds And Texas Retired Teachers

  The website for Texas Retired Teachers Association had some good news last week.  The TRS fund has increased by $30 billion dollars to $96.6 billion. In 2008 the fund had been down to only $67 billion ,after the financial meltdown of  2008. This represented a 35 % increase. For those of you who have not seen the report, the TRTA had several conclusions including :

                        These investment gains are among the best in the country

                        The TRS fund may be in a stronger fund than just about any other fund in the country

                        The gains have still not made the pension fund actuarially sound

                        The Texas Legislature must find a way to make the system more actuarially sound.

                                Some Not So Good News

   The TRTA site also reported that the New York Times was reporting that the TRS fund had 14 million shares invested in BP. Of course as most of you are probably well aware these are not exactly happy times for BP and their stock shares have taken a corresponding hit. The good news within the bad news was that supposedly this represented only one tenth of one percent of the TRS  fund. One more reason to hope the oil leak in the Gulf is soon just a distant memory.

                                Other State Pension Funds

       A  USA Today  article reports that, according to a study By the Manhattan Institute the pension funds of the 50 states are underfunded by $950 billion.  The report says the average state teacher funds are funded only at about 54 %.  More good news;TRS is doing much better than the average. Still, you may be sure that these funding concerns will be used by those who are opposed to any cost of living adjustment. Another interesting ( or maybe disturbing) part of the USA  article was that the study proposed converting state pension funds from a defined benefits plan as now constituted, that is pensions are based on number of years of service and salary   and member the contributions are invested by a state pension fund, to a defined contribution system, much like 403 B’s in which each teacher would be responsible for investing their own money and their retirement would be based on the outcome of their investments. . The Texas Retired Teachers Association has been vehemently opposed to changing to a defined contribution  system .

So DEAR HEARTS AND GENTLE  I would be “pleased as punch” if you would leave your always thoughtful comments.

 Are you worried about TRS investments or do you have trust?

What do you think of the BP investments?

Do you think moving to a defined contribution system from our current system would be wise?

 I look forward to your comments.  

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Numbers

             One of my favorite Americans ,Benjamin Franklin, stressed the bountiful benefits of being  healthy, wealthy and wise. I think most of us would agree that remaining healthy is a goal we desire for ourselves and those we love ,whatever their stage in life.  Certainly most of us who are retired know that keeping up our health is a key factor to maintaining a happy and productive retirement. There are three  numbers that we absolutely need to know to maintain our health. Those three numbers are :

Blood Pressure


Blood Sugar

                      First a caveat: I am not nor have I ever been a doctor. Again I was  just a ‘little ole history teacher“. But I’ve done a lot of research and this is the result of that research into the “numbers”

                                                High Blood Pressure

                   The chances of developing high blood pressure increase with age and estimates are that over half of all Americans over 65 have high blood pressure! So what can you do about it? Well, you can’t do much if you don’t know you have it, so get that physical you’ve been putting off. What are the numbers? Well, blood pressure is given in two numbers. The upper number is called systolic and the lower number is diastolic. The top number is measured when our heart  is pumping  life giving nutrients to our beautiful bodies and the second number is when our heart is taking a well deserved  rest. According to the American Heart Association your heart is said to be normal when the number is below 120, pre high blood pressure  between 120 and 139 and  when above 139  you have high blood pressure. Because our blood pressure varies, the pressure needs to be  taken more than once to reach a definite conclusion.


               And what “Great Caesar’s Ghost” is cholesterol? According to our friends  at the American Heart Association, it is a fat waxy substance (yuck) that is naturally found in our body and is even helpful, but the problem arises when our diet causes us to have too much of this good thing. To much  cholesterol can lead to plaque blocking the blood flow to our brains and heart and result in heart attacks or strokes. So what are the desirable numbers? Total cholesterol numbers below 200 are considered desirable, those between 200 and 239 are  considered borderline and those above 240 are considered high. However as in high blood pressure there are two numbers we need to know: HDL and LDL. Low density or LDL is the bad guy that causes the plaque mentioned earlier. An LDL total should be below 100 to be really optimal but when the number gets above 160 your LDL needs attention High density or HDL proteins are the “good guys”. you want this number to be high. Because HDL helps remove the bad LDL. An HDL number above 40 for men and above 50 for women is thought to provide some protection against heart disease and stroke

                                 blood sugar

                     The third number we need to be aware of is blood sugar. The blood sugar level you need to know is actually one type of sugar called glucose. The body needs glucose for energy, but once again too much of a good thing can lead to something bad like type 2 diabetes, as well as damage kidneys, eyes and the heart. Doctors will usually suggest you fast before the blood sugar test ( just use this as an excuse to have a big breakfast after the test) to increase the accuracy of the test. Normal blood sugar measurements are considered to be less than 100, pre-diabetes between 100-125 and diabetes is diagnosed  when the number gets above 126.

                                So What Now

                     Knowing and managing these numbers can play an essential role in having a happy energetic and productive retirement. You say you don’t know your numbers; then what are you sitting there for ,get up and make that doctor’s appointment.

Bad news department: The chances of  developing bad numbers on all three go up with age

Good news department: these numbers can be managed with medication, if necessary, but often with just a change of lifestyle and the same changes can lead to better numbers for all three:  those lifestyle changes are a healthy diet , exercise for 20-30 minutes four or five  times a week, don’t smoke, keep stress under control and keep up those relationships with friends and families.

Now dear hearts and gentle people I would love to have your comments  below on:

1. Do you have a good story about how you and/or someone you know has turned bad numbers into good numbers.

2. What steps do you take to keep those numbers under control.

Thanks for reading

Friday, June 25, 2010

Are You In The Retirement Box?

                             What in the “heck” do you mean by the “retirement box”  Well I actually took that term from the renowned career counselor, Richard Bolles What Color Is Your Parachute? 2010: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. Mr. Bolles  says that we usually allow ourselves to be placed in three boxes : the education box, the work box and the retirement box.

                                        The education box

 We usually find ourselves locked firmly in the education box until the age of about six.( even longer for today’s pre-kinder kids!). “Up in the morning and off to school, the teacher is teaching the golden rule. O.K. I couldn’t escape the “nostalgia box”. Does anyone remember that song? All right back to the education box. Of course, during our high school and college years we might escape into the work box temporarily, but  usually we are expected to go  to school and study. When we finish our schooling, whenever that might be , then “poof” out of the education box and jump right into the work box.

                                             The Work Box

Welcome to the wonderful world of work. Most of us can remember that first pay check, mine was $3,900 in 1968, and then we settle into our work box and forget the education box we now have managed to escape. Though many of us worked in jobs such as teaching, that required us to occasionally update our education, we did so only because this was a requirement to remain in the  work box and not because we chose the education for the pure joy of learning. After about 30.-40 years ( Wow that seems like a long time when  put in that way) we decide to retire, so we submit a letter and “ lo and behold” the education box opens and we step into the retirement box.

                                              The Retirement Box

According to Richard Boilles, this third box was supposed to be  spent in leisure, which traditionally might mean just sitting on one’s front porch until one died. No thought was expected to be given to returning, even temporaraily to those other two boxes we  escaped from, the education and work boxes.

                                               Breaking free of all the boxes

Today we have a more promising paradigm . Instead of one box for each stage of life more and more of us are mixing education, work and leisure at each stage of our lives. Here ,dear hearts and gentle people, is what I would love to hear your comments on:

1. If you’re in the retirement stage, do you escape the  retirement box by engaging in work and/or  education. Keep in mind, “work” could be something you volunteer to do. Of course there is nothing wrong with just enjoying your leisure!

2. If your in the work box, how do you escape ,at least occasionally, into the world of leisure and  education.

Look forward to your comments below.        

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Retired Texas Teacher Blog-A Welcome

   Thanks for landing on my blog. Like the airlines say I know you could have chosen a lot of other blogs. O.K. enough of these airline analogies. What is this blog all about?

  Well the name tells a lot. This is my blog, but I certainly can't have a blog without you. So this is really our Texas retired teacher blog. I don't think Blogger would mind if we change this ; just between us.

    Second this is about retired teachers in the state of Texas, so we'll look at some issues that effect Texas retired teachers, like the cost of living adjustment. ( This retired teacher blog, of course, includes retired administrators. Your input is much valued.) We'll also just discuss some issues that effect  retirees in general such as maintaining our health, traveling, hobbies, and the good and bad of retirement. Of course I also hope we'll have some visitors who are just thinking about retirement or maybe only dreaming about it. After all, all of us retirees were once just dreaming and thinking about retirement.

    Third, I can't help adding a little nostalgia topic now and then. Elvis Ike and Marylin may even make an occasional appearance. I will tell you that my next two topics will be:

                                  The Retirement Box

                                  Those All Important Health numbers

       I'm told that all first blogs should be mercifully short, so, dear hearts and gentle people, ( Anyone remember that song?) I'll close for now. Please comment below and especially share ideas to make this post an enlightening and enjoyable experience for us all.