Thursday, July 24, 2014

Two Thoughts

Financial planning can mean a lot of different things, and it can be as in depth or light as you want it to be. There are some people who budget every dollar and others who don’t worry about money until the sh*t hits the fan.

Two recent planning events made me sit up and want to share. First, the super in my building became ill. We found him in the basement passed out and completely incoherent. An ambulance came and took him to St. Luke’s–Roosevelt. Our super has a complicated family, and I’m not going to get into that, but we did not have an emergency contact for him. When I went to visit him and check on his status, the hospital said it didn’t have a telephone number of a family member to call and consult. Since I was not family, the hospital could not share any information with me. Our super was essentially in a coma, and no one could make a medical decision for him. That is a very scary thing. If you don’t have a healthcare proxy, someone to make decisions for you if you cannot, choose one and get it in writing as soon as possible.

The other event spurred a thought more than actual advice. I met a couple from Michigan shopping for a second home in New Hampshire. “Isn’t it cold enough in Michigan?” was my immediate response, but the answer is much simpler. New Hampshire does not have a state income tax, and Michigan does. This couple, who are two years away from retiring, were figuring out a way to have more money in retirement. Many times we think about saving more or being more aggressive in our investments, but the devil can lie in the details: reducing expenses can be easier than saving more. 

I am not advocating that we all leave New York, Michigan, or California and head to New Hampshire, Wyoming, or Florida, but I’m offering food for thought when planning for retirement.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why I Ride

Each August for the past seven years, I have ridden the Pan-Mass Challenge. If you are not familiar with the Pan-Mass, it is a 192-mile bike ride from Sturbridge, Massachusetts, to the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown. It is a two-day challenge that raises money and awareness for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

This is the 35th year of the Pan-Mass, and collectively, its riders have raised more than a half-billion dollars for Dana-Farber. Yes, I repeat, well over a half-billion dollars. Each year the Pan-Mass is the largest contributor to Dana-Farber. For the people of Massachusetts and the rest of the country, Dana-Farber is a very important place if you have cancer.

As we ride along back roads and through small towns, hundreds of people come out to encourage us and say, “Thank You.” They hold up signs reading, “Thank You for Saving My Life,” or “Thank You, I’m Cancer Free for Three Years.” Unfortunately, not every sign is happy or uplifting—there are plenty of photographs to remind us of children and adults who have not been as fortunate.

About this time every year, with about two weeks to go before the ride, I say to myself, “I don’t think I’ll be able to finish this year. I haven’t trained enough. I drink too much wine and snack too much. I’m just not in shape.”  
Last week, while riding in New Jersey, I saw another rider with a Pan-Mass jersey on. I whined to her about how I am just not that into it this year and not motivated. With a smile she said, “You know why you ride,” and then proceeded to tell me that she had been diagnosed with cancer two years ago.

It clicked, as it probably does each year—we ride to save lives and to help those who need support. Every dollar we raise goes to research or treatment. We ride to support clinical trials and experimental treatments or maybe to help a family member of someone facing cancer who really needs someone to talk to.
If you have not watched Stuart Scott’s speech from the other night at the Espy awards, here is the link,, warning: It will make you cry—but that’s okay. Scott is an ESPN announcer who has been battling cancer for seven years. He continues to work, travel, and challenge his body in an insane fashion. Like the now famous “Never give up, never ever give up” speech by Jim Valvano, Scott’s speech will leave you breathless. To those affected with cancer, he says, “Live, and when you are too tired, rest and let someone else take care of you.”

We often talk about those who have cancer as victims. They are unfortunate, but they are not victims. Victims feel alone. Someone, or a family, who is battling cancer should never feel alone. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be healthy have the ability to help. We can comfort, be a friend, or do something as simple as ride a bike and in the process raise a lot of money.

So, yes, thank you to the woman I met last week out on the bike path, I do know why I ride. Live!