The Clock Samaritan

It’s been a while since we “sprang forward,” but everywhere you still find clocks that are running on standard time. They aren’t “smart” clocks that are linked to the internet; no, they’re dumb, stand-alone units in wayward places. These poor, ignored clocks, like the clock on the microwave at the coffee station on my floor, are running an hour behind because no one is responsible for adjusting their settings. They’ve been cast onto the grim, littered curb of the information superhighway.

Pity the neglected clocks of America that, through no fault of their own, are doomed to fail in performing their sole and essential purpose — to give accurate time! So this year I’m adopting every orphan clock I see, and doing whatever is necessary to reset their time to return them to total time-telling accuracy. Call me the Clock Samaritan, or the Time Fairy, but it’s time someone makes a stand.

Won’t you help?

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Old, And In Debt

One of the most basic rules of retirement planning is that retirees should be debt free.  The idea, of course, is that when you are living on a fixed income, you don’t want a significant portion of that fixed income to go to paying old debt — and paying interest on that old debt.

4-tips-to-manage-your-debt-1600x700Increasingly, however, older Americans are breaking that very basic rule.  It’s part of a growing and worrying trend of accumulating credit card debt, and delinquency, by Americans.

According to the Federal Reserve Board, at the end of 2018 Americans had amassed $870 billion in credit card debt, which is a new record.  That debt was created on more than 480 million credit cards in circulation.  Credit card debt is the fourth largest form of consumer debt, trailing mortgage, student loan, and auto debt, but is the fastest growing category of debt.

And what is especially concerning is that older Americans are holding more credit card debt than ever.   The New York Federal Reserve Bank says 18 percent of all credit card debt is held by people between 60 and 69, and an additional 12 percent is held by people over 70.  Even worse, according to the American Banker article linked above, “by age group, older Americans are seeing their credit card debt transition into the delinquency category at an increasing pace. In particular, those in their 50s have seen the most rapid change and could be considered the most vulnerable should a change occur in their employment.”

Americans already aren’t all that great at saving for their retirements.  If people are heading into the “Golden Years” saddled with lots of old credit card debt, it’s just going to make the problem worse.  When Grandma and Grandpa need to use the Social Security checks to pay off their credit cards, they’re not going to have much of a retirement — or even any retirement at all.

Water Is The New Coffee

We’ve got a nice water fountain on our floor at the office. I like to drink cold water and the fountain is only a few steps from my office, so I visit it regularly. The water bubbles out ice cold and really hits the spot.

Recently, though, I’ve noticed that the fountain water has fallen decidedly out of favor. One day I was enjoying a few hearty, quenching gulps when one of the people who work on the floor looked at me aghast, and asked how I could drink from the fountain. “It tastes good,” I responded as I wiped the water from my lips with the back of my hand. “It doesn’t taste as good as my water,” she replied.

And last week I got onto the elevator with one of our attorneys who was lugging an empty half-gallon jug. “What’s with the jug?” I asked. He responded that he is trying to drink a half-gallon of water every two days and goes to our kitchen to fill up on some special filtered water. When I asked about fountain water, he said: “I don’t drink that stuff. The kitchen water is vastly superior.”

I think water is the new coffee. No one (except me) wants to drink the office coffee; they’d rather go to Starbuck’s or Cafe Brioso and shell out a few bucks rather than drink the free stuff. Now they’re snobbishly turning their nose up at our free water, too.

I guess my “water palate” is just not sufficiently educated. It it’s cold and wet and doesn’t have a funny or metallic taste, that’s good enough for me.

The Last Cookie Code

Yesterday someone left a deli tray of several dozen cookies by the coffee station on our floor. Within a few minutes the first cookie locusts had descended, the office grapevine communications network had sent out word far and wide that cookies were on the fifth floor, and after an hour or so all but one cookie was gone.

But that one cookie was a holdout. It sat, alone, on the black plastic tray for hours. It made it past lunchtime and endured well into the afternoon. Finally, as the end of the workday neared, some ravenous soul who could bear it no longer gobbled it down, and the last cookie vanished from our sight.

There’s a curious code of honor that prevails when cookies, brownies, or other baked goods or sweets are left near an office coffee station.  When the plate of goodies is full, workers have no hesitation about taking one, or two, or even three of the items — hopefully, without anyone else seeing that they are doing so.  But when the plate gets down to the last cookie, a different rule prevails.  There is tremendous hesitation about taking the last cookie and leaving an empty plate behind.  Perhaps it is the pain of a possible guilty conscience, or a feeling of goodwill toward co-workers who might not have had a cookie already and might want one in the future.  But the last cookie code acts to restrain the final act of gluttony.  In some cases, people who can’t resist will actually break the last cookie in half, or into quarters, and only take a piece so that there is at least some fraction still on the plate.  By leaving the remains of a broken cookie, their conscience is clear.

The code of the last cookie is strongest early in the day, when it first becomes apparent that there is only one cookie left.  As the workday wears on, rationalizations erode the force of the last cookie code.  After all, it’s 3 p.m., and nobody else has taken it.  If someone had wanted it, they would have eaten it by now.  It would be unfortunate to let perfectly good food go to waste, too.  And why should the cleaning crew get stuck with more work?

So the last cookie gets taken, the plastic deli tray gets quickly pitched, and the coffee station counter is once again clean.  Although the last cookie code has had its impact, the last cookie is now gone, and all’s right with the world.

“Discordant Retirement”

After you turn 60, you start getting a lot more retirement-related communications — just like you begin to notice that you’re getting a lot more spam mailings and internet ads about things like cheaper prescription drugs and various devices that help the enfeebled perform daily chores.  And it all starts, really, when you get that AARP application in the mail that is the official acknowledgement that you are old.

istock_000021521956largeMost of the retirement materials you receive are just a variation on the kind of stuff you’ve probably received for years, that talk up some great investment opportunity that is so bullet-proof you’d be a fool not to put your money in, or promise to take great care of your savings and lead you to the retirement of your dreams.  For me, those kind of “cold call” communications get moused into the trashcan.  But sometimes you see something that’s actually interesting — like this piece on “discordant retirement.”

What’s “discordant retirement,” you say?  That’s the name retirement planners have given to married couples that effectively retire at different times — where the wife keeps working after the husband stops, or vice versa.  It’s a cultural phenomenon of sorts, because it’s obviously a reflection of the prevalence of two wage-earner couples, rather than the ’50s sitcom model of working husband and wife on the home front, where the husband’s eventual retirement would be the decisive, unilaterally defining retirement event.

And it’s also interesting in that it illustrates something else about the concept of working:  people react differently to it.  Some people tire of working and decide that once they’ve reached a certain financial point they just won’t take it anymore, while others find work empowering, or important to their self image, or a significant part of their social life that they just aren’t quite ready to give up.  The article notes that “retirement” isn’t always easily defined, and often a “retired” person has just decided to do something else, like work for a charitable entity.  There are many reasons to “retire” — however you define that notion — and an equal number of reasons to keep working, and everyone is going to approach the issue somewhat differently.  In a sense, the notion of discordant retirement shows just how far we’ve come, with each half of a couple making their own individual decisions about when and how they want to retire.

After reading the article I thought about couples we know and how many of them are illustrations of “discordant retirement.”  So, what are potential “discordant retirees” supposed to do?  Well, obviously, it’s something that couples need to talk about, just as any successful married couples need to talk through and reach agreement on many issues in their lives.  And discordant retirement offers opportunities, and challenges, as couples try to figure out when and how to pull the trigger on things like Social Security payments, Medicare coverage, and other consequential retirement-related decisions.

“Discordant retirement” sounds bad, like it’s a cause for bickering — and perhaps, for some couples, it is.  But it’s actually the result of people exercising their basic individual freedoms and working through their desires and needs in the context of a partnership.  The retirement planners need to come up with a better name for it.

A Test Run Would Be Nice

Recently we went out for brunch at a nice restaurant in the Short North.  Our meal was perfectly enjoyable, but my dish was a bit messier than a mere napkin could manage, so I went to the restroom to wash my hands.

The restroom is one of those with a rectangular paper towel dispenser — the kind where you are to remove the paper towels from a slot in the bottom that is supposed to allow the towels to be taken out one at a time.  I washed my hands and went to get a towel, but found that the dispenser had been left so crammed with paper towels that it was impossible to remove one.  Due to the sheer weight of the towels that had been packed into the dispensing space, I couldn’t get my hands into the slot. My efforts to extract a towel had me desperately clawing away at the towel opening, trying to remove a whole towel, but the cheap paper towels were immediately ripped to shreds.  I never did obtain a complete towel, and had to make do with tiny towel fragments instead.  The whole experience left me a frustrated, wet-handed patron who was cursing the paper towel manufacturers of the world — and whoever decided to overfill the towel dispenser.  It didn’t exactly give me warm and fuzzy feelings about the restaurant, either.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me lately; overfilled towel dispensers have unfortunately become commonplace.  I suppose the bathroom attendants of America figure that if they overfill the towel dispenser, they’ll have to fill it less often.  But bathroom attendants, hear me!  Have pity on the hand-washers!  Doesn’t anybody do a test run anymore, to see if a device is actually working as intended?  Is it too much to ask that an establishment have a towel dispenser that actually allows a patron to wash their hands — and then properly dry them?

 

Tipping, Up In The Air

Next week I’ll be taking my first flight ever on Frontier Airlines.  It’s branded as a low-cost airline that differs from other carriers in that it charges you separate fees for things like your carry-on bag and basic in-flight drink and snack options.  Frontier presents its approach as allowing it to keep base fares low and giving travelers “options that allow you to customize your flight to match both your wants and your wallet.”

flight-crewNow I’ve learned that Frontier differs from other airlines in another, more interesting way:  it’s the only airline that encourages travelers to tip its flight attendants.  Beginning January 1, 2019, individual Frontier flight attendants can accept tips, and if a traveler purchases in-flight food or beverages, they get a prompt from the Frontier payment system notifying them that they have the option to leave a tip — just like you get in many restaurants.  In the article linked above, Frontier explains:  “We appreciate the great work of our flight attendants and know that our customers do as well, so [the payment system] gives passengers the option to tip.”

The union that represents Frontier flight attendants, the Association of Flight Attendants International, isn’t happy about Frontier’s tipping policy and says that the airline should be paying flight attendants more instead.  The union and Frontier have been trying to negotiate a new contract, and one union official has said that “[m]anagement moved forward with a tipping option for passengers in hopes it would dissuade flight attendants from standing together for a fair contract — and in an effort to shift additional costs to passengers.”

I’m not quite sure how I come out on the issue of tipping flight attendants.  Obviously, their job involves a lot more than donning a little apron and serving drinks and snacks, so there’s a bit of a disconnect between the tipping option — apparently presented only when food or drink is ordered — and the actual contours of the flight attendant’s job.  At the same time, many airlines are nickel-and-diming passengers with fees, so perhaps tip income for flight attendants is the wave of the future.  And I’m all for airlines adopting different models — like Frontier’s low-cost approach — as they compete for passengers, and letting the passengers themselves decide which approach they like best.

I’m thinking my flight on Frontier next week is going to be a bit of an adventure.