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A Dirty Business

Jeffrey K. Actor

Jeff was a professor at a major medical school in Houston for more than 25 years, serving as an academic researcher with interests in how immune responses function to fight pathogenic diseases. Jeff’s retirement goals are to write short science fiction stories, volunteer in the community and spend time in his garden.

    A Dirty Business

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Apr 12, 2024

    I’M SLOWLY LEARNING not to let frugality prevent me from doing the things I love.
    One of my favorite pastimes is cooking outdoors during the heat of the summer. Nothing pairs better with steelhead trout than a homegrown, freshly picked Hungarian hot wax pepper, softened by the grill’s intense heat. The aroma of the pepper’s lightly scorched skin, complete with grill marks, is enough to make any mouth water. Simply pick the largest, throw it directly on the burner and wait patiently for the magic to occur.

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    If Not Now, When?

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Apr 5, 2024

    WE WERE DINING WITH close friends when the conversation turned to foreign travel. Stories were recounted of ventures to exotic and faraway lands filled with inspiring people, unique cultures and historic sites.
    My wife and I were humbled by the sheer number of trips our friends had taken. We were shy to admit that our international travel bucket was relatively empty, and we had embarrassingly few stories to share.
    This wasn’t a matter of keeping up with the Joneses.

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    I Had the Dream

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Mar 29, 2024

    I RECENTLY SHIFTED from part-time work to complete retirement. I closed my laboratory, published my final research findings, and handed over my teaching duties to a bright-eyed, newly minted assistant professor.
    After I cut the career cord, my retired friends cautioned me that I’d likely experience a multifaceted, work-related dream, similar to those described by Andrew Forsythe in a recent article. They just didn’t tell me it might be a nightmare.
    Sure enough, a few nights after retiring,

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    Farewell to Forever

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Mar 6, 2024

    WHEN I WAS YOUNG, I felt immortal. We all did. It’s natural and likely hardwired into our brains. Such feelings of immortality have an evolutionary advantage, encouraging us to take the risks necessary to succeed.
    When I planned for retirement, the notion of immortality was front and center. I consider myself in excellent health. I eat right. I’m not overweight. I stay active. I have a close circle of friends and an active social community from which to draw strength.

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    Inns and Outs

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Feb 27, 2024

    MOST READERS HAVE likely graduated from the vacations of their youth, where they saved a few dollars by sleeping on a friend’s hand-me-down couch. Still, some of my fondest travel memories were shaped by such frugal accommodation.
    I once traveled cross-country on a summer camp trip with 48 other teens, touring the greater U.S. in a converted Greyhound bus. It was an eye-opener, visiting such heralded landmarks as the Statue of Liberty and the St.

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    In the Doghouse

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Feb 14, 2024

    MY WIFE CONSTANTLY reminds me that I promised to get her a dog when we purchased our first home. Problem is, it turns out that I’m allergic to most animals with fur, so that promise fell through. Indeed, all too often, the only animal in the doghouse is me.
    Many moons ago, as a cash-strapped student working toward my PhD thesis, I purchased plastic roses as a Valentine’s Day gift for my fiancée. The salesperson sold me on the fact that they’d never die and always retain that beautiful bright red color.

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    Keeping It Together

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Jan 19, 2024

    WHEN I MENTION THE word “bands” to my friends, most think of the Rolling Stones or Grateful Dead. Among fellow financial nerds, the word can prompt a discussion of rebalancing strategies. What about me? I think about my billfold, which has been to more places and countries than I have.
    Many years ago, I spent a week away from home attending a scientific conference. By the meeting’s conclusion, I was exhausted. I had a history of returning from longer trips bearing token gifts for my twins.

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    Blowing the Dough

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Jan 5, 2024

    MY WIFE RECENTLY traveled to Connecticut for a week to help with loose ends following her brother-in-law’s unexpected heart surgery. I was left to fend for myself, with only three hard-boiled eggs, two ounces of nearly expired low-fat milk, half a jar of gourmet salsa and a moldy cucumber to keep me company.
    Boredom quickly set in. For some inexplicable reason, I had an uncontrollable urge to spend money. The first activity that entered my forebrain was visiting a casino.

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    House Keeping

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Dec 14, 2023

    I’M THE OWNER OF one-sixth of a house in Sarasota County, Florida. There was no cost to me to acquire it. I also don’t have to make payments for property taxes, maintenance, the mortgage or the homeowners’ association. And, no, I haven’t had a change of heart about investing in rental real estate and, no, the property isn’t part of some passive micro-investment syndication scheme.
    Rather, my mother signed a life estate deed, also known as a quitclaim deed,

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    Withdrawal Symptoms

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Nov 30, 2023

    I SHIFTED TO WORKING part-time more than a year ago. It was a way to ease into retirement and give me time to explore new activities. My reduced work hours were also a way to experience life without the singular job focus that had defined my working years and, indeed, my identity.
    My new part-time status was, of course, accompanied by a markedly shrunken paycheck. That allowed my wife and me to see what it was like to be without the guaranteed and steady income we’d relied upon for nearly three decades.

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    A Glass Act

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Nov 24, 2023

    MY WIFE RECENTLY GOT the chance to showcase her artistic talents at a cultural festival in Kansas City, Kansas. Lori’s craft is stained glass, and this was the first time she’d displayed her creations in public.
    She began working with glass five years ago, shortly after she retired. We’ve discussed the possibility of turning her hobby into a business. She’s dreamed of selling her artwork so she could at least cover the cost of her craft.

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    To Be or Not to 403(b)

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Nov 16, 2023

    I BEGAN MY CAREER at a small startup biotech company, only to realize the place had too much office politics, plus not enough credit was given for new discoveries. That was at odds with what I wanted, which was to be a research scientist focused on the basic principles underlying diseases.
    Fortunately, I was offered a tenure-track academic position at a large medical school in Houston. I never looked back. Indeed, I consider myself one of the fortunate few who woke early each and every day to pursue their life’s passion.

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    My Best-Laid Plans

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Nov 11, 2023

    I HAD MY SIGHTS SET on retiring at age 59. Not exactly FIRE—financial independence-retire early—but certainly a bit earlier than my peers, close friends and family. I wanted to seek new challenges after spending more than 25 years in academic research. Our financial plan was solid. My wife and I calculated we’d have more than enough retirement income.
    But my plans were upended, first by the COVID-19 pandemic and then by two life-threatening health issues.

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    Frugality Has a Cost

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Nov 7, 2023

    I LIKE TO THINK OF myself as frugal, not cheap. The difference between these two is admittedly subtle—and, indeed, my wife insists that I straddle the line between them.
    That brings me to my lifelong do-it-yourself approach to all things home-related. I abhor paying for services that I can do myself. But sometimes, I wish I were a little less frugal.
    When we first moved to Texas, I tried saving money by doing my own yard work.

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    Manpower in Action

    Jeffrey K. Actor  |  Oct 23, 2023

    NO ONE SCHEDULES when the car battery is going to die.
    Monday morning arrives after a full weekend. Bleary-eyed, I roll out of bed, make a steaming cup of coffee, and pull up the latest HumbleDollar articles on my iPad. My wife rushes past, gives me a quick peck on the cheek, and leaves to drive to her study group.
    And then I hear the groan. Alas, the car won’t start. No power,

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