Cablemas and the Rules

Cablemas is our local cable provider.  We currently have internet and a land line phone with them.  The bill is in the name of the owner of the house, an owner who has not lived here for three years. We are the second set of renters since they moved back to the states.  Mind you, this is not unusual, the electricity, water and everything else is also in their name.

We decided to add a television package, so I went to the Cablemas office.  Once there I was told that to add or change any services the account needed to be in my name.  No problem, I said (somewhat naively), lets change it.  No, not that easy, you see in order to change it I needed a communication from the current account holder authorizing the change.  I came home, emailed the owner and he sent me a scanned note authorizing the change.  Cool, I’ll go back the next day, change the account to my name and add TV to our package.  Well,…….

The nice woman took the note to the back office.  She came back about five minutes later and said no, that would not do.  They needed a form letter filled out and signed by both the current account holder and by me.  In addition, they needed a copy of the photo page of the current account holders passport and a copy of my residency card.  I said it seemed a bit difficult to change the name on an account.  She gestured in the direction of the managers’s offices and said:  “It is political.”  I told her I would see her next week with the required documents. :).  After shuffling papers she found a copy of the form letter for me.  I’ll sign it, send a scanned copy to our landlord.  He’ll sign it, scan it and send it back.  Then I will give it another whirl.  Maybe this time what I provide will suffice.

 

 

Quick, Free Medical Consultation

Last week Kathy developed an earache.  She said it felt a bit like swimmer’s ear.   We are in the pool everyday, so that makes sense.  We also have not yet settled on physicians here in Mérida, but needed one now.  Enter Farmacias del Ahorro, and their free doctor consultation program.

We went to the one near the sports complex where we do our walking.  I talked with the attendant at the counter who referred me to the physician consultation waiting room.  After a few minutes the Doctor saw Kathy, took some basic information and asked her what was bothering her.  My basic Spanish and his little bit of English were sufficient for communication.  After examining her years, nose and throat he prescribed an ear drop solution that included an antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and a topical analgesic.

Three and a half days later the ears are much improved.  I think this will work for simple stuff, but now we need to get about the business of finding regular doctors.

 

Almost 7 months in

We have been here for almost seven months now, having arrived on January 30, 2014.  Here is a little report:

Housing

We moved into this longer-term rental back on May 1st.  It is a two story, 3 bedroom, 3 bath house.  It has ceiling fans in every room and a mini-split air conditioner in each room.  More about that when I discuss the climate.

Climate

It is stinking hot :).  The average high temperature this time of year is in the mid-90′s and we are coming on to the highest humidity time of the year, aka the rainy season.  We are slowly acclimating to the weather and are becoming accustomed to sweating profusely at the slightest exertion.  Fans help a lot.  We have AC, but we do not use it much.  In the last week, for example, we ran it for a couple of hours in the study one afternoon.  We think if we used it much we would become prisoners of the indoors and we do not want that to happen.

Day trips

These are happening, but not as often as we thought they might.  I have blogged about a couple of them.  The next one will be, I think, to Sisal, a Gulf Coast town.  The coast, with its nice sea breezes, is a good choice this time of year.  We also plan to go to Dzibilchaltun

 before too long.  With its museum, Temple of the Seven Dolls, cenote and restaurant it sounds interesting.

Visitors

We have had some company, and more is on the way.  This September our adoptive grandson, Jorden, will be here for quite a while, spending a couple of weeks with us, three weeks at an intensive language school, a couple of weeks doing volunteer work and then some time with the rest of his family on el lado Caribeño, the Caribbean side of the penisula.

Two friends from California will be here for Hanal Pixan, the Maya day of the dead.  Syl is Mexican and her husband John is from Georgia, so I guess it made sense for them to meet in California :).  We have been guests at their home, in a delightful part of California’s wine country, and we look forward to hosting them.

We will have other guests at USA Thanksgiving time, friends from Oregon who we met via a travel forum focused on Playa del Carmen.  After some time here in Mérida, we are going to visit Isla Holbox with them for a few days, which will include Kathy’s 60th birthday.  It will be our first trip to Holbox, but Jeff and Julie spend some time there last year.

Buying Stuff

Shopping is working out very well, for the most part.  Food shopping is no problem, what between Superama, Costco, the local (Santiago) mercado, the Chen Bech mercado where I buy fish, and the weekly Saturday Slow Food Market.  There is an adequate supply and variety of good everyday wine at between $6 and $12 US a bottle. Furniture, well….

We have been looking for a couple of chest of drawers, without a lot of luck.  Many homes here seem to have built-in shelves.  Kathy has some sketches and next week we are going to ask for bids from several furniture builders and see what we come up with.

Overall

We are happy here.  It is warm and we are in the pool everyday – near the start of the day for coffee.  Kathy is doing her pool exercise regime as I type this and I typically spend an hour or so every afternoon in the shady part of the pool.  If any of you gentle readers are consider a move to the tropics, I would suggest assigning a high priority to a swimming pool.

Kathy went to a two week intensive Spanish class, but has done little language learning since then, though we incorporate some into our daily lives.  She is picking up on more and more of the language and plans to return to classes Real Soon Now.

That is it for now.

Day trip to Celestun

A couple of weeks ago we took a day trip to Celestun, on the Gulf coast.  We had been there before, during our first trip to Merida in November, 2006.  On that trip we took the bus there and then took a boat up the estuary to see the flamingos:

DSCN3731That day there was a bus waiting when we got off the boat, so we headed back to Mérida without seeing much more.

On this trip we spend a little time on the beach, eating tasty garlic shrimp at La Playita.  For the record, the difference between the large camaorn a mojo de ajo and the small one is the size of the shrimp, not the size of the serving.  We recommend the large.

On the way there we went through Hunucmá.  It is a nice drive.  On the way back we took the bypass which is quite a bit quicker.  Here are some photos of our day:

Lunch time viewP1080454Kids on the beachP1080455The old man (me)  and the Sea
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The leaning tower of Celestun
P1080467
The pier and the leaning tower – nice beach there

P1080466

 

Investing During Retirement – What I Do.

Having heard no nays, here it comes.

I think it is important for people, if they are investors, to have goals.  My goal is to generate a reliable and increasing income stream from financially strong companies that have a history of increasing their dividends each year.  I am a dividend growth investor.

There, that is the easy part.  Now, what do I mean by that?  I look for companies that pay at least 150% of the average dividend for S&P 500 companies.  That is about 2% now, so I am looking for a dividend yield of about 3% or higher at the time I purchase the stock.  By financially strong I generally look at the Morningstar credit rating or the S&P bond rating.  I want companies rated at least BBB+, and most of the companies I hold are higher than that.  That is not all I look at, of course, but I am going to avoid the details of the additional research I do when making a decision about whether to invest in a particular company.

What level of dividend growth am I look for?  It depends, in part, on the type of company.  For most companies I am looking for a multi-year average annual dividend increase of at least 5%, and most of the companies I own have higher dividend increase rates.  For regulated utilities, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and telecommunication companies (like Verizon or AT&T, for example), that typically pay higher dividends, I will accept a lower rate.   For the record, I do not own shares in Verizon or AT&T.

I guess the next question might be, why do I invest in this way?  Well, the answer is multi-part.  First, some context:  Kathy and I have enough income from our pensions and Social Security to meet our monthly budget. I view that as the fixed income part of our retirement portfolios – what some people might get from bonds or annuities.  We do get annual cost of living increases with these sources, though those are limited to a maximum of 2% in the case of one of our pensions and 1.5% for the other two.

We have some money in IRA accounts, funds that were rollovers from the defined contribution portion of our hybrid pension plans in Oregon, 401K plans, and from contributions we made to the accounts in years when we could afford to.  This is where the dividend growth investing happens.  The income generated by these accounts increased by about 11% last year.

The increase came from a combination of dividend increases announced by the companies we hold stock in, and by reinvesting the dividends back into the shares of the companies that paid them.  By reinvesting (buying more shares with the dividends), we have slightly more shares the next time when the companies pay a dividend, which creates a small increase in the dividend payment. The reinvestment is set up to happen automatically with our brokerage firm, and there are no transaction fees associated with the re-investments.

The plan is to continue reinvesting the dividends for as long as possible, hopefully until I have to start taking the required minimum distributions from the IRA in another 8 years, though we could start taking some of the dividends as cash before then if we need or want to.

Our plan is also to avoid being in the position where we have to sell shares in the companies we own in order to generate income – in other words for the dividend income and our pensions/Social Security to adequately fund our needs.  We could certainly choose to sell some stock, but we want that to be a choice.

We currently own shares in 36 companies.  We do not invest in mutual funds or exchange-traded funds.

Where do we get our ideas?  I subscribe to Morningstar’s DividendInvestor newsletter, a service called F.A.S.T. Graphs and participate in a couple of dividend growth discussion groups.

Are there other ways to invest?  Heck yes – and they may well be better suited to many investors or retirees.  Over two decades of personal experience with investing, this is the route I have taken, and it seems to fit our personal circumstances.  I am not recommending this path or any other particular path to anyone.  I am attempting to describe what I do.

It is a fun and so far profitable hobby that ties in well with my past as a research analyst in a whole different field.  Oh, and make sure to read the previous blog post with the disclaimers :).

Finally, I have had a number of mentors and teachers along the way.  The list would be fairly long and the names would not have meaning to most of you, but if I decide to write more about this area of my life, I am sure I will write about the history of how I got here and the people who were important in this part of my path.

Hobby: Investment stuff

A reader commented on an off-handed remark I made about managing the Smith Family Hedge Fund with this:

I’m a lurker from the northwest, have been enjoying reading about your plans and the implementation of them. I encourage you to write about your Smith Family Hedge Fund activities; I’d be very interested in your perspectives. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

With that little bit of encouragement, and it does not take much, I will soon launch into a description of what and how I proceed in this avocation, but first some important disclaimers:

1)  Nothing here constitutes investment advice.  I am neither competent nor licensed to give that.

1a)  Everyone, myself included, is responsible for their own investment decisions.  It does not matter whether you follow the advice of a highly paid adviser, a hot stock tip by an anonymous poster on some internet forum, advice from your brother-in-law or shoeshine girl (or some random dude who writes about his hobby on a retirement blog) – you and you alone are responsible for your decisions.

2)  I may use some company names to illustrate specific points, but that does not mean I am giving a positive or negative recommendation on those companies.

3)  These activities are something I do for fun, but it is serious stuff.  My background as a research analyst is certainly helpful.  What I do is ill-suited to people who do not have the time or inclination to engage is the level of study and work that I do – about 10-20 hours during most weeks.

4)  There are some good resources for folks who do want to learn more and who may be interested in becoming self-directed investors, but many people may also be well served by using a registered financial adviser, investing in index funds or one of the relatively new “retirement date” funds.  I also have no advice on any of those.  I will provide information and web links to some of the resources I use.

If we can kind of agree on those disclaimers and points, I will put some stuff out there in the not too distant future.

Five months in

We moved on January 30. This is an interim progress report of sorts.  We talked a lot about what we thought we would do once we moved to Mérida, so this first section will be comparing that with reality.

Daily activities

We planned to spend time on healthful activities – walking and exercise, buying and preparing healthy foods.  It took a while to get going on the first one.  Kathy is legally blind, which makes walking in the urban environment a bit challenging, given the uneven nature of city sidewalks here.  Then we found the Estadio Salvador Alvarado. We are there at least five mornings a week, walking three to five kilometers.  Mission accomplished.  We also purchased a used elliptical trainer that Kathy just got finished using.  Here is a photo of the walking track at the Sports Center

Alvarado Walk

We are doing a pretty good job of buying and cooking good food.  There will be more food posts later with details about that.

I have semi-jokingly said that I would manage the Smith Family Hedge Fund, and I do spend some time in investment research, reading, and activities.  It is a good fit, given my career as a research analyst in postsecondary education.  I may write a more detailed post about that later.

Housing and climate

We have moved into a longer term rental and are delighted with it.  It is a three bedroom, three bathroom house with a side and back patio and a swimming pool.  I am glad we decided a pool would be a requirement for living in this tropical environment.  We use it daily during this season, starting with morning coffee.  Kathy does water aerobics in it and I enjoy an occasional cooling dip during the day and in the evening.

The pool and the house, with its good ventilation, are making it a bit easier to acclimate to Mérida’s weather.  The temperatures and humidity this time of year are elevated.  We get by with fans and spending time out in the shaded back patio during the day.  The house has mini-split air conditioners in each room, and I have been running the one in our bedroom and in the adjoining study at night, set on 80-84 degrees (27-30 celsius).  After only five months here, it is difficult to say with certainty that we will acclimate successfully, but we have become accustomed to sweating :).  Others have and I am confident we will be able to also.

Day trips and vacations

We bought our car in early May, and have started doing the day trips we planned on before we retired. We talked of trying to do a weekly day trip around the closer to Mérida parts of the Yucatán peninsula, and we have done two.  I have blogged about our trips to Motul and Izamal and will continue to bring short travelogue-y blogs about those.  We initially talked about a 3-4 day trip once a quarter or so.  So far we went on a longer trip when friends from the States were here in March, and a two night trip to Tulum in May.  June saw a unplanned two week trip to the states, and currently we have nothing along these lines planned until a 5 night trip to the Caribbean side of the peninsula in November.

We are planning a major trip to Spain and Portugal for late Spring, 2015, starting by way of a wine tasting trip to California to see old friends.  We’ll see how those plans go.  Kathy wants to see Barcelona and the Alhambra before her retinal disease progresses much further and, having grown up in Brazil, I insisted we spend time in Portugal if we got as close as Spain.

That is about it for now.  I cannot say there have been any major surprises or shocks, no big disappointments or downers.  Life is proceeding well so.  We are enjoying retired life in the Yucatán.