Friday, October 21, 2011

The pensions of Texas legislators and the pensions of retired Texas teachers

                 The Face book page of the Texas Retired teachers Association www.face -Association/126989714019649 recently posted an article from USA Today describing how state legislators pass laws to give themselves lucrative pensions. In the case of the Texas Legislature, the House and Senate passed a law tieing their pensions to the salary of state judges, and then in the intervening years raised judges salaries from $42,000 to $125000, and thus  have now guaranteed themselves a retirement pension of $125,000 per year. By way of contrast the average retired Texas teacher receives a pension of  $ 30,000.

              This obviously reflects poorly on the legislatures' sense of equity and openness. Perhaps the old joke is true that" no man's life or property is safe as long as the Texas Legislature is in session". Should something be done to correct this accumulative abuse of power? Absolutely! Would this make us feel better? Probably! However this would do little to improve the problems of retired teachers in areas where  laws could ameliorate those problems. Instead we need to insure we have clear goals , and strategies  to reach those goals, in order to persuade the public and the legislature to favor our cause.


         1. Cost of Living Adjustment. As most of us are well aware retired Texas Teachers have not received a cost of living adjustment since 2001. Although, fortunately, the inflation rate has been low the past couple of years, the inflation rate has still averaged three% for the decade, meaning a teacher who retired in 2001 with an annuity of $ 30,000 now has the equivalency of $20,000 in spending power. Ten more years without a COLA and the same inflation rate would leave the same retiree with $ 10,000 in spending power. I, therefore, believe that a COLA is the most pressing problem facing retirees. However there are others that the legislature needs to adjust such as:

          2. TRS Care. The TRS Care program for retirees is currently serving 212,000 retirees, their spouses and their beneficiaries. Unfortunately the program is funded on a pay as you go basis meaning each  session of the legislature must declare the funding is available for the next biennium. The fund is currently due to run out of funds by 2014. Some form of permanent funding must be created  quickly. These two problems must be addressed at the state level but some others must be addressed at the national level, such as:

      3. WEP and the Offset  The U.S. Congress passed two laws referred to by the acronyms WEP and the offset. One of these laws limits the amount of Social Security a TRS retiree can draw by up to two-thirds, while the other prevents the spouse of the retiree from drawing any of his/her social security.

   4. Paying TRS Care premium pretax. One of the benefits enjoyed by many workers including those still employed by school districts is the premiums for health care are paid pretax ; a benefit not currently enjoyed by TRS annuitants. To illustrate, a current TRS retiree might be receiving a pension of $35,000 and paying $4,500 a month in TRS Care premiums. Under current laws the TRS annuitant must pay taxes on all $35,000. If Congress were to change the tax laws to give TRS retirees the pretax befit of most employees, the retiree in the previous example would only have to pay taxes on $30,500 of their pension, rather than on the entire $35,000. This would be a nice bit of relief for most retirees.

  5. You may be aware that Medicare has frozen their premiums the past two years because social security recipients did not receive a cost of living adjustment. Guess who did get an increase in their medicare premiums. Well, yours truly for one. When I called Medicare to inquire about my increase I was told that Congress only exempted Social Security recipients. I explained that in Texas teachers did not have a social security option and not only did we miss a cost of living  adjustment in 2010, like social security recipients, but Texas teacher retirees had not had a cost of living adjustment since 2001! After some weak attempt at sympathy I was told that nothing could be done because Congess' action only dealt with Social security; so my medicare premiums are now$110 rather than $ 96. So we are basically punished for not being part of a system we were not allowed to join.

 6. In a future blog I will suggest some strategies I believe will help reach some of these goals.

             Your Turn.  

   Please give your thoughts on the goals mentioned. Which of the goals do you consider most important ?Are there other goals you think we should push for that were not mentioned?

             How To Comment:

   Just scroll to the bottom of this page; click on comments and a box will open for your comments. Thanks in advance for your participation.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Retired Teachers: Finding a Way to Use All That New Time

          Some of you may remember the old Hank Williams song If You Got The Money Honey I Got The Time. Well in retirement we may or may not have the money but we do have some new found time. How could we use that new found time? Well we could tell our spouse what to do but the only  use of time that would provide is the time building the dog house we would soon be living in. A more productive pursuit might be to find a hobby, voluntary  activity or part-time work. The purpose of this blog is to provide some ideas concerning hobbies or part-time work using a career personality survey called the Self Directed Search.

                                                     What Is The Self Directed Search

                One man deserves credit for the Self Directed Search: Dr. John Holland. Dr. Holland is a professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins University and one of the nations preeminent career counselors. He developed the theory of the Self Directed Search while working as a classification specialist with the U.S. Army. Dr. Holland concluded that there are six basic personality types and six work environments and that by matching the personality with the work environment , one could help career searchers and those searching for college majors choose a satisfying career. The tests and surveys based on these personality types( Dr. Holland called them codes) have become the widest career counseling tools in the world. So what are these six types? Glad you asked; here they are:






    Realistic:  Realistics are people who prefer what they consider the real world, the world they can see hear, smell , touch and feel. They like to work outdoors or with their hands. They usually like sports and are often quite good at them. Their favorite T. V. shows might include Extreme House Makeover and any sports shows.

   Possible hobbies and jobs for Realistics:
   gardening, landscaping, woodworking, golf, tennis work at Home Depot or Lowes, teach a physical skill.

 Investigative: Investigative types usually like math and science and enjoy solving problems. Favorite T. V shows CSI; House

  Webb designing, math and science tutor, work in electronic stores like Best Buy and Frys , detective

 Artistic: Artistic types not surprisingly , are creative and like music the visual arts or writing. Favorite T.V shows: Glee, American Idol

 Possible hobbies or jobs: square dancing or Latin dancing, writing classes, learn to play a musical instrument, freelance writing, dance or art teacher, photography

Social: Social types enjoy working with people and also excel usually at mentoring and teaching. They are also good team players. Favorite T. V. shows: Dr. PHIL, Oprah

Possible jobs and hobbies. teaching,tutoring, any retail work that is service related, church worker, volunteering in hospital

 Enterprising: Enterprising types like to be in responsible positions, are good decision makers, and are action oriented. They also are often good at speaking to groups. Favorite T.V.shows: Donald Trumps Apprentice

 Possible jobs and hobbies: Toastmasters , sales, speak to groups about jobs, start their own business announce sporting events for school

Conventional: Conventional types like to use organizational or clerical skills. They are usually very good at detail work and math. Favorite T. V. show: Numbers

Possible jobs or hobbies: Helping others with income tax or budgeting, cooking, working in bank, helping people organize

                          Your TURN

1. Which of the Holland personality types are you and does it fit with any of your work history or hobbies?

2. How do you spend or plan to spend your extra time in retirement?

3. Any other comment you wish to make as long as it's not a personal attack or overly political.

4. To comment, just click on "comments" below and a screen will appear for your comments

Friday, April 22, 2011

Seven Questions And Hopefully Some Answers For Retired Texas Teachers

               If you’re new to this teacher retirement thing, this is meant as a primer for those who are just taking those baby steps into the world of retirement.  I will present this in a question and answer format  ( the Socratic method though I make no claims to be a Socrates) with the questions based on questions I  myself had when I retired in 2005 and questions I have been asked by more recent retirees.  If you have a question I don’t ask please go to the comments page at the bottom of this blog and ask your question. O K  here goes:

                                 1. Where Should I Start
                                     If you’ve already decided to join our group of  happy retirees the best place to start is by visiting the  TRS website. . There , if you haven’t already done so you can order the packet you need to fill out to make your retirement official. The TRS website also has calculators for determining your retirement annuity( TRS refers to your monthly payment as an annuity) and you can also find out where TRS is holding meeting  for retirees. I found these meetings most useful and reassuring and  I believe most of you will also.

                            2. What Is A Standard Annuity And What Are My Options

                                       The standard annuity is quite simply the maximum annuity you can receive. The standard annuity is calculated by : first the average of your five highest  salaries , second multiply your years of service by 2.3 and, third multiply your second figure by your average salary and you have your annual annuity. In addition to the standard annuity there is the joint and survivors annuity. These options  allows the retiree’s spouse or beneficiary , in return for a reduced standard annuity, to receive a percentage of the retirees annuity if the retiree predeceases the beneficiary. Under option 1 the beneficiary would receive 100 percent of the annuity, under option five 75 percent and under option 2, 50 percent. This is a critical decision and the employee and his/her spouse needs to think this over carefully. The amount of the reduction from the standard annuity depends on an actuarial calculation. You will need to contact TRS to get the exact amount; hey, sorry, I measured in history, not math.

                     3. What About Health Insurance?

                                     You could of course try to go with out health insurance just as you could choose to sleep over night in a rattlesnake den  but neither would be a wise choice! If you are a “seasoned” citizen and have reached the age of 65 you will need to apply for Medicare. If you are eligible or receiving social security, Medicare will contact you; however if you are only with TRS you will need to contact Medicare at  least three months before you turn 65 to sign up. If you are retiring before 65 you will probably want to sign up for the health insurance option for retired teachers: TRS Care. You can also sign up your spouse for TRS Care if she is no longer working. TRS Care has two options with different deductibles and premiums; make certain you reflect carefully on these options as TRS  will not allow changes When you turn 65 ,TRS Care will become your secondary policy and will pay most of what Medicare does not pay. Also if your spouse is still working you could find out the cost of the coverage for you and compare this to your Medicare and TRS Care options.

                          4. Can I Work In The Public Schools After Retirement?

                                     The short answer is yes.  However the state legislature passed a law in 2001 that limited the amount of work a retiree can work in a public school or college  to 50 percent of what is considered full time for that month. For example in the public schools, a retiree may teach for a half  day or two weeks of a month. Adjunct professors at a community college could teach two classes in the spring and fall semester since five classes are considered a full load and one semester in the summer since two classes are considered a full load. So what happens if you exceed this limit?  You will receive a nice little letters from TRS saying you must return your annuity for that month; I know because I once received one of those “ nice little letters”. There is no limit on the amount a retiree can work in a private school and no limit on substituting, except your desire to go fishing that day.
                     5. What About My 403 B

       If you have a 403 B plan at work, which allowed you to invest tax free, and hopefully was matched by your district, (sometimes referred to as an annuity) you will need to decide what to do with your investment. Your first step should probably be to visit with your plan administrator to check on your options; usually these include rolling over to an IRA or keeping your investment with your districts plan. If the thought of investing is about as appealing as translating ancient hieroglyphics ,you might want to consider finding a financial advisor or better yet educating yourself. Allow me to make one suggestion: there is a wonderful website called that has a lot of guys and gals who are very knowledgeable about investments. Best of all they will answer your questions with great insight and the only cost is the time needed to sign onto the internet.

                 6. Are There Any Organizations For Retirees

        I’m really glad you asked that question! We have a wonderful organization called Texas Retired  Teachers Association. www.trta.orgAustin and Washington. You will also be able to avail yourself of many discounts such as dental insurance and you will have an opportunity to meet a lot of nice folks in your local chapter.

        7. What Will I Do With My New Spare Time?

         This is not a trivial question and merits serious thoughts; however I think I have thrown enough words at you so I’m going to make that the subject of my next blog. Yes this is a shameless enticement to keep reading my blog.

         Your Turn

        I  would be very happy to have your comments on:

1. Any elaborations or corrections you might have

2. Any questions you might have not brought up in this post.

3. Any other comments you might have.

   How To Comment

  1. Scroll to the bottom of this page

 2. Click on Comments

 3. A box will appear for your comments.

4. After your comments click “publish”

5. My complete Thanks in advance for your comments.

6. Please return to the blog because I will always reply to your comments.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sucessful Retirees Need Three Kinds Of Health

                      Be healthy. A television anchor I once listened to used this simple but sagacious                         sign off to his program. Health is a condition we should all strive for but for retirees health is an even bigger factor as age increases the chances of  health problems and a short-circuiting of  retirement’s pleasures. There are three types of health essential to any retirement: physical, financial, and mental/spiritual.

                                         Physical Health

                        Are you feeling ill? Well, if you are, hopefully that’s  not because you’re reading this blog, and ,of course hopefully you’re not feeling ill at all, but absence of illness at the moment does not, unfortunately, mean one is healthy. As I pointed out in another blog;; in order to be healthy one has to know at least three numbers. The first number is blood pressure and you want to keep the top number below 140 and the bottom number below 90. For maximum health we should try to keep the top number below 120. The second number is cholesterol. The key numbers here are 240 and 200. If your cholesterol level reaches 240 you are considered to have high cholesterol, and below 200 is considered best for maximum health. The third number is blood sugar. The trenchant number here is 100. Normal blood sugar is considered below 100 and a number between 101 and 125 is considered pre diabetes . So what can we do about these “darn” numbers?

                      Well we could just sit in the front yard with a glass of ice tea and contemplate those numbers. Though I myself enjoy occasionally drinking ice tea, sitting in the yard and contemplating; that alone is not likely to lower any of those numbers. The answer is basically pretty simple: eat right  get the proper exercise and keep our stress level under control. So what does that mean “eat right’ ; well it means about what our Mom told us all those years ago “eat your fruits and vegetables”. Nutritionists who study such things tell us we should eat between 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. I know, I know, that’s easier said than done but we could at least try to eat some fruits and vegetables a day . Of course eating right also means less sugar, salt and fat, so a daily lunch of a Big Mac, French fries, and a large coke is probably not so great an idea though ,since I’m a great believer in “good ole Aristotle’s” idea of moderation, I think an occasional splurge is probably not too sinful.

                     Exercise is another must, which means put that glass of ice tea down and do something . The exercise you choose should be something you enjoy so you’ll make it a habit. That might include riding your bike, swimming, running or walking. Though I myself am a long time jogger( over 50 years now) as I get older I become more convinced of the simple advantages of walking. One great way to motivate ourselves is to buy a pedometer, which is under 5 dollars and will add up your number of steps each day. Take 9,000 steps and you’ll have those numbers heading in the direction you want.

                                                       Financial Health

                       So just what is financial health? Financial health for retirees means we have enough resources to live comfortably, meaning we can choose whether our vacation will be a cruise  to the Caribbean or a flight to  Disney World rather to choose between food or medical care. Those who write on finances often say retirement funds should come from social security, a private pension if available from your work and investments. For retiring Texas teachers that means our TRS annuities, 403 b investments and social security for those eligible for it. If you are considering retirement but aren’t sure yet, my advise is to set up an appointment with TRS in Austin and make sure  exactly how much you will receive from you TRS pension. This will allow you to know exactly how much you will need to take in the future from you 403 B , savings and part time work, if necessary, or desired.

                       In addition to your annuity, investing your money wisely is another necessity for financial health. Let me repeat again I am most assuredly no financial advisor but I do have a suggestion. Learn as much as you can about investing even if you later decide to hire a financial advisor. I have a further unsolicited piece of advise ; my greatest teacher on investing is a website called ,a group of successful investors who follow the philosophy of the founder of Vanguard, John Bogle. That philosophy includes asset allocation  investing in low cost index funds and avoiding attempts to beat the market. Visit the site, read for yourself and I think you’ll find yourself much better informed even if you don’t accept the Bogleheads advice on the best route to reach financial health.

                                                          Mental/Spiritual Health

                            Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness but the ability to adapt to life’s ups and downs, find some balance in our life and managing our emotions. One of the advantages for we retirees is that we have lived a long time and have had a lot of practice at all those skills. Speaking of managing emotions, we are really talking about what the writer Daniel Goleman calls emotional intelligence, the ability to understand our emotions ( Am I feeling gluttonous or do I really need that second piece of cheesecake) and managing those emotions so they help us meet our goals whether physical, financial or mental health.

Mans Search For Meaning. Many of us find that meaning best through religion, but there are other ways of reaching spiritual health including volunteering in such activities as Habitat For Humanity or Wounded Warriors, or some passionate hobby whether gardening or golf , or best a combination of all these.

                                                   Your Turn

                                  You are now invited, heck I’ll even beg you to join in on the conversation and leave a comment below.

                            1. How do you handle the three types of health

                            2.  Do you have another type of health  other than those mentioned that you would like to comment on.

                            3. Any comment, suggestion even criticism ( Be nice though) you would like to leave                  

                                        How To Leave Your Comments

                       1. Scroll to the bottom of this page and click on comments

                       2.  A new page will appear for your comments
                            Click on Publish your comment

Friday, February 18, 2011

Retired Texas Teachers Get A Tax Increase

            Last month President Obama and the leaders of Congress proudly announced they had “ saved Americans from  a tax increase” Surprise! Surprise! Apparently the President and Congress should have said” We have saved everyone but the retired Texas teachers from getting a tax increase”. That’s what we found out recently when our new annuity checks had been reduced by $50.

            According to the Texas Retired Teacher Association ( the reason for the annuity reduction was that “though the Bush era tax cuts were extended” some of the “ tax brackets were extended”. In other words out taxes were increased! Another factor mentioned was that the program called “Making Work Pay” was allowed to expire. In other words our taxes were increased!

                                                   Can This Be Changed

               The TRTA suggests that we should write our Congressman and “ let them know that the tax increase is making a bad situation worse” given that there has been no cost of living increase for10 years for teacher retirees in Texas. ( notice TRTA is asking you to write your Congressman in  Washington, not your state legislator as the tax increase is a national action not on the state level).  While the chances that Congress will give retired teachers back the tax loss are slim and none and slim just left town, the TRTA suggestion is undoubtedly  still worthwhile just to plant in our Congressman’s mind the problems we face as Texas retired teachers ,especially with no cost of living adjustment . I do have one other suggestion though, and that is we ask our Congressman to vote to pass the proposed legislation that would tax us only on the income after  our health insurance is deducted. In other words if a retiree has an annuity of 3000 dollars a month and pays 300 dollars a month in TRS premiums the retiree would be taxed each month on 2700 dollars rather than the full $3000.  This would at least offset the new tax increase. I have more discussion of this in my earlier blog The Texas Legislature And TRS Hold That Line.

                                                                        Your Turn

                    My blog is shorter than usual today, mercifully so some might say. LOL! I would be greatly pleased to hear from you on the following and anything else you would like to comment on

                  1. Has your annuity been decreased? If you would like to tell us, by how much?

                  2. Do you have any other suggestions to alleviate this problem this problem?

                  3. Any other comments you would care to make.

                                                                                  How To Comment

                                1.Scroll to the bottom and click on ‘‘comments”

                                2. A new page will come up with a block for you to write your comments.

                                3.  Click on “publish your comments“

                                                                         Thanks For Visiting


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Seven Questions And Answers About Medicare And TRS Care

                            Texas teachers were ‘‘ present at the creation” of Medicare. President Lyndon Johnson who, signed the Medicare bill into law  in 1965 ,was a Texan and a former Texas teacher. Another bit of historical info is that the first Medicare card was given to  former president Harry Truman who was present at the signing ceremony and had been a committed supporter of the idea of health insurance for the elderly. The purpose of Medicare was to provide health insurance to the elderly( senior citizens was not yet widely used ,so we were still just ‘‘the elderly”)  Most  retired Texas teachers will, at least at some point in their lives, be a beneficiary of Medicare; so the purpose of  today’s bog is to look at some questions tra retirees might have about Medicare and it’s relationship to TRS Care, and hopefully provide some answers.

                               1. W hat Are Medicare Part A B C And D ? The bill signed into law in 1965 created Medicare part A and then Medicare part B; the two together are sometimes called “original Medicare”. Medicare part A is called hospital insurance and covers inpatient hospital care,  inpatient care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care and some home health care. Long term custodial care or nursing home care were not provided  for in the original  Medicare nor or they covered today. Medicare part B is called medical insurance and covers doctor’s bills , outpatient care, and some home health care. Notice that doctor’s bills are paid separately  in part A and B , so if you go into a hospital your care in the hospital , nurse care, tests, food etc., will be paid by part A while any doctor visits while you are there may be paid by Part B. Part C is often referred to as Medicare Advantage and though paid for by Medicare is administered by private insurance companies , usually as HMO’S or PPO’S. Medicare Part D IS The Medicare prescription plan enacted in the 2003 Medicare Reform Act. This program is again paid for by Medicare but administered by private companies. TRS Care already has a prescription drug program  administered by Caremark and advises their retirees on Medicare that they are usually better off staying with the TRS prescription drug plan.  

                          2. Should Someone With TRS As His Primary Medical  Insurance Enroll In Medicare?  Absolutely. W hen a retiree reaches 65, TRS assumes that the retiree has Medicare and pays accordingly. So for example if you go in the hospital or to a doctor TRS will assume that Medicare is paying 80 per cent of your expenses and TRS will pay the other 20 per cent minus the deductible. A person with a total doctor bill of $ 40,000  but who had not applied for Medicare when she became eligible  would find TRS assumed Medicare had paid 80 percent and would pay only $8000 leaving the retiree to pay the other $32,000!

                      3. How Do I Apply For Medicare?  If you are already on Social Security you will be contacted 90 days before your 65th birthday. However if you are not on social security ,but only on TRS , you will need to contact Medicare or Social Security yourself  to enroll. I found this out the hard way as I am not on social security but only retired on TRS. I waited to hear from Medicare and finally 30 days before my 65th birthday I called Medicare and found out that I was the one responsible for calling and enrolling. ( Another lesson I learned from my call was that the folks at Medicare are very nice, but  you should have something to read, perhaps Gone With The Wind ,because you will wait a long time on the line)  So unless you enjoy trying last minute heroics, I suggest calling Medicare at least 90 days before your 65th birthday. Medicare will then send you the appropriate enrollment forms.    

                    4. Is Medicare Free?  The Noble Prize winning economist Milton Friedman wrote a book called There’s’ No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. This is certainly true of  Medicare. Start off with the fact that Medicare will pay only 80 percent of your total medical bill. In addition Medicare has premiums ;  most  Medicare recipients will not pay a premium for part A because they have paid into the system for their 40 quarters, but the premium for part B is currently $110.50. Medicare part A has a deductible of  $1,100
and Medicare part B has a deductible of $155 per year. Oh well, who expected a free lunch anyway?

                 5. What About Medigap? Medigap policies are private insurance policies that pay most or all of the amount not paid by Medicare. Since Medicare only pays 80 percent and medical bills today can quickly run to $ 50,000 or more, most retirees could quickly fine their savings vanished “ without a trace” . So though Medigap policies can be expensive they are certainly worth the expense if you have a large medical bill, an eventuality none of us can be sure we can avoid.  If you choose a private Medicare part C  plan mentioned above  you will not need a Medigap policy.

              6. Is TRS a Medigap Policy? Although TRS does not consider themselves a Medigap policy they act much like one as they pay most of the 20 per cent Medicare does not pay. I have found TRS to be a good secondary plan, though fortunately I have not yet had any serious medical bills.

             7. Should I Get A Medigap  Advantage PlanTRS Care. Many Medicare Advantage plans provide dental and vision coverage which traditional medicare does not. None the less, if you are on Medicare and your spouse is still using  TRS Care as the primary insurance: beware! This is true in my personal case. I could actually get some better options price wise by using a Medicare Advantage plan. However when I called TRS the person I talked with said that since my wife was eligible for TRS Care only because  she was my spouse, that if I chose a Medicare Advantage plan I would no longer be on TRS Care and therefore my wife would no longer be eligible.                                              

                                            Your Turn

                                 I thank you for reading this far. Now I would appreciate your thoughts. If you have any Medicare TRS questions you would like to discuss or if you would like to add anything or correct any of my answers please feel more than free to do so.

                                       How To Comment

                                     To comment, just scroll to the bottom of this page, find the orange “comment’’, click and then a new screen will appear with a square for your comments. Thanks in advance.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Retiring Abroad: Some Thoughts From Experience

             White sanded beaches.  Exotic, friendly neighbors. A low cost of living. If all of these pictures occasionally dance into your daydreams, then retiring abroad might be something for you to consider. Since I am , as the title of this blog would suggest, retired ,and also living abroad, I’ll spend today’s blog relating some thoughts on the pros and cons of retiring abroad.

                                          Be Informed
                   Just the facts mam. Some of you may remember that request from Sgt Joe Friday on the old Dragnet television series. Knowing the facts is essential if you are going to make a wise choice on whether to retire abroad and where to retire if you decide to do so. Fortunately the internet gives today’s researcher an incalculable resource for investigating retiring abroad. Of course not all information is equally valuable or accurate, so as always on the internet, remember “caveat emptor”. However, I will mention some of the sites I have found to be most credible.

                   One of those valuable sites is http://www.retire-abroad,org. This site contains a plethora of articles from expatriates from the U.S. and other countries, discussing their experiences. Another valuable website is The information here is oriented toward senior citizens retiring abroad, but also gives links to many other retirement abroad forums. Since I am personally living in the Philippines I will mention a couple of websites and forums that are Philippines specific, but provide insight about expatriate life that can be generalized for other countries, especially developing countries. The first such site is This is a web magazine run by an American who lives in Mindanao in the Philippines and is well organized and balanced. A second Philippine oriented site is This was not a misprint, the only difference in the domain title of the two sites is the ing. This is the oldest of the sites and gives useful information, though occasionally views life in the tropics through rose colored lens.


                      Life in a warm tropical climate probably sounds awfully appealing to any of you shivering in sub freezing temperature. I have to admit that knowing I’ll be nice and warm, makes getting out of
bed each morning here in the Philippines much easier . On the other hand as the day wears on and the heat and humidity take their inexorable toll,  I start thinking some cool weather would not be so insufferable.  (Notice I wrote “cool” not “cold’’).  If you like the four seasons you need to keep in mind that in the warm  balmy tropics you only have two seasons, rainy and dry and both are warm. Deciding what type of climate you prefer is a key question in determining where and if you want to leave the  climate in the U.S. you are currently accustomed to.    


                              Cost Of Living

                     I enjoy playing a game occasionally where I ask my friends and acquaintances “ if you had unlimited resources and could retire and live anywhere in the world, where would that anywhere be?  ( My choices are San Diego and Hawaii but I’m open to new options) Well, in the real world most of us don’t have unlimited resources so we have to take into account the cost of living. There are some countries where a person can retire on a social security,  or a  military pension alone and not work at all , at least for a salary. These countries are usually in the developing world and three countries that are often mentioned are  Panama , the Philippines and Thailand. I know some Americans who are living in the Philippines or Thailand with their families for as little as 1,200 U.S. dollars. My own opinion is that if you live in the provinces or small towns you could probably do fine on 2000  U.S. dollars, but if you lived in the cities such as Manila, Bangkok, or Panama City you would need about 2,500 U.S. dollars. This would also depend on lifestyle choices  such as how many American foods do you feel you couldn’t live without ( they are more expensive because they have to by imported) and  how often you feel the need to travel back to the U,S, to visit family and friends. Airfare from a Pacific area country could cost as much as 1,200 U.S. dollars while flying from Mexico or Panama City would of course be much less expensive.


                  I have found one of the more  surprising  and stressful factors in living outside of the United States  for me is the frustration of not understanding what is being said around me. I find this limit’s the  experience of living abroad because I can’t communicate with as many people and they also are not comfortable in communicating with me in English.  ( I actually have learned a lot of Bisayan words, the language spoken in the part of the Philippines where I reside , but the combination of my age, the idiomatic expressions of   any language, and my  trained in Texas tongue, keeping up with conversations is a huge obstacle)  and so my advice is to try and learn the language of the country you would like to retire in ; my own personal belief is that some people have a natural skill at learning language like some people can naturally hit a jump shot) or retire to a country that has a low cost of living and speaks English. Belize comes to mind.

                     Summing Up



Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Texas Legislature and Teacher Retirement: Hold That Line?

                     Hold that line. Most of us in the teaching profession have heard that old cheer, which basically means to keep your loss of yardage to a minimum. Given the current financial turmoil in the state budget, maybe “hold that line” should become our lead cheer. Let me explain.

                                 The Budget Shortfall

                 Most of you are aware that the state of Texas Gone to Texas: A History of the Lone Star State currently faces a looming budget deficit of between 20 and 27 billion dollars. State law forbids the state from running a budget deficit and, unlike the U.S. government ,Texas can’t just print money so  cuts across the state budget are almost inevitable. So how does that affect retired teachers?

               A recent update on the TRTA website quotes Carl Eiland as saying that the state will probably cut the state’s contribution to the TRS fund from to the minimum amount; 6 percent from the current 6.6 per cent. This would mean the TRS fund would be further away from being fully funded and reduce the chances of retirees getting a cost of living (COLA)  in the near future. So I believe our number one objective in the current state legislature  should be convincing the state legislature to keep their contribution to at least the current state contribution of 6.6 per cent. In other words “hold that line”.

            Another piece of bad news in the TRTA update linked above, is that the state may reduce the contribution to the TRS Care fund from 1 percent to .05 percent. This will almost certainly mean a premium increase for those who are either relying on TRS Care as their main  health insurance and those who , like myself, are on Medicare and have TRS Care as our supplemental insurance. A premium increase in combination with a continued absence of a COLA would be a double whammy. So my second priority would be to persuade the legislature to keep the state contribution to TRS Care to the current 1 percent. In other words “ hold that line”.

                                    Federal Priorities

             The need to “hold that line” on the state level might give us more of a chance to advance the ball on some Federal legislation that could be helpful to retired Texas teachers. One helpful step world be for the Congress to allow TRS Annuitants to be taxed on their income after health insurance premiums are withheld. Many of you probably remember that you were taxed only on the amount of your salary after medical insurance, TRS withdrawals and other exceptions, while working full time. Current Federal law does not allow the same advantages for TRS retirees. TRTA has long pushed for legislation that would allow this tax advantage for retirees. As an example of how this would be advantageous , if a retiree was drawing a monthly pension of $ 3000 and paying $450 for TRS Care , he/she is currently taxed on the entire $3000, but under the change mentioned above a retiree would be taxed only on the amount after TRS Care premiums are withdrawn, or, in other words, the $3000 minus the $450. The taxable income would now be $2550 rather than $3000; a modest but still helpful benefit.  

          Another change in Federal law that would be helpful for many TRS  retirees would be to r remove the “off set” provision on social security. This has been a long term fight but probably one still worth fighting, especially since advances at the state level will be most difficult.

                                              Summing Up

     1, The chances of getting  a COLA, given the states budget problems are probably slim and none and slim just left town. So should we completely give up on the COLA this session? No, we should continue to educate the legislature about the need for a permanent COLA, and make sure they are aware that retirees have received no cost of living adjustment since 2001 ;but we should lower our expectations and also realize that we can’t just always  only ask’ what can our state do for us” (  Hard to believe it’s been 50 years since JFK made that statement in his inaugural address)

    2. We should instead make our main goal this session to hold onto what we already have by convincing the Legislature to keep the state contribution to the TRS fund at 6.6 percent and the TRS Care contribution at I percent . Again “ Hold that line”.

   3. So what can we do? Support our major voice by joining TRTA if you haven’t already done so and keeping yourself and your legislators informed.

                                           YOUR TURN

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