Saturday, April 21, 2012

Retirement Tools — Senior Spreadsheets

A recent Facebook exposé features a young man who keeps a spreadsheet on women he meets thru He rates their appearance and other qualities, and comments on the dates. The guy told one of his matches about the sheet and—no doubt feigning serious interest—she asked to see it. He sent it to her and she posted it on Facebook. You can imagine how things went from there.

I understand the kerfuffle over his stupidity in sharing the document, but the fact that he has it makes perfect sense to me. I consider myself the queen of spreadsheets. There isn’t a job that can’t be made easier thru using one. At least half the aliases (shortcuts, to PCers) on my desktop are Excel files and they’re revisited almost daily. As part of my retirement planning, I created several spreadsheets to help smooth the way.

Some of you think I must be obsessive-compulsive to be waxing poetic about this tool. Or else that I’m getting nerdier in my retirement cocoon. Not so. That is to say, I may be getting nerdier, but that has nothing to do with my obsession. Spreadsheets are all around us, but most of us take them for granted.

Consider the spice cabinet that used to be on my kitchen wall. (My stager took it down when the house went on the market.) There’s a spreadsheet on its door. The column headings are meal categories and the rows are herbs and spices. Where they intersect shows what spice goes with a given meal. Under Fish-Game-Poultry, you’ll find that caraway works well in tuna casserole, whereas cinnamon goes with boiled fish. Neither of which do I fancy, but good to know if ever I have to gum my food.

Not convinced? Look at one of your vitamin bottles. Unless it’s a supplement sold only thru TV ads that air in the dead of night, it has a label with a three-column spreadsheet. The first is the vitamin name, the second is the amount per tablet and the third is the percent of daily requirement (RDA).

Spreadsheets are great for organizing large amounts of information into easy-to-read charts. But their real strength is in performing repetitive calculations. Some sheets come already populated with formulas and you just plug in the data.

I prefer to create my own, like my daily journal. It has categories for every expense and it keeps track of the average per month. This data in turn is fed into my retirement planning spreadsheet. It helps me figure out whether I can afford to buy more wine.

I also have a sheet that tells me a fair price for my house. I update that regularly, since the housing market still seems to be going down the toilet. It gives me prices per square foot and also as a percent of the assessed value. The trends are not encouraging. This spreadsheet generates the amount I’ll have available to put into a condo in Vermont. Naturally, that means I have a similar sheet on what condos are going for up there. None of this helps me sell the house, but it sure keeps me busy.

I’ve also been kept busy creating spreadsheets for seniors and retirees. A particularly useful one helps those who are colorblind or sartorially challenged put together outfits that won’t get them into trouble with the fashion police. Wondering if you should wear that checked jacket with those plaid pants? If there’s no “X” in the cell where the row and column intersect (and there won’t be), don’t do it!

Then there’s the game of Clue chart. If your memory is no longer up to Clue’s challenge, use this to keep track of what cards others are holding. The players’ names go down the left. The potential culprits, locations and weapons go across the top. When you figure out who has Colonel Mustard, put a check in that square by the player’s name. Eventually, you’ll have just one empty square for each clue. If you feel this is cheating, just think of it as leveling the memory playing field.

There are so many other uses for spreadsheets, like keeping track of how many calories are burned by each minute of each type of exercise you do. Not into exercise? I’m sure you’ll think of something worth charting, but be sure to keep yours to yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want my wine consumption chart plastered on Facebook. What if I want to run for president of our condo association when we downsize? Which, if it finally happens, will raise the question: what should I do with all my spreadsheets? I haven’t got a clue, and I doubt Miss Scarlett does, either.

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