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LOOKING FORWARD TO RETIREMENT
Just as there are some people who become engaged within three hours of meeting and live happily ever after, there are others who without any apparent planning enjoy a totally fulfilled retirement, clearly relishing everything it has to offer.
But for most of us life does not work like that. Important events require some preparation if we are to make the most of them, and arguably this is more true of retirement than of any other stage.
A majority of people retiring today are fitter, more skilled and better off financially than any previous generation. Also, thanks to increased longevity, a great many of us can realistically look forward to 25 years or more of active life ahead. As a result, planning the future has become even more critically important. The Good non-Retirement Guide is not designed to offer you a ready-made philosophy or a few rose-tinted blueprints on the theme ‘Life Begins in Middle Age’. Its sole aim is to set you thinking along constructive lines, to indicate what is possible, to advise on the best sources of information and to help you avoid the pitfalls that can trap the unwary.
Key concerns are likely to be the question of money and how you will occupy your time. Others may well include where you live, how best to keep fit, the effect of your retirement on close personal relationships, and perhaps new responsibilities such as the care of elderly parents.
You do not need to be an accountant to know that once you stop earning your income will drop. However, if you complete a Budget Planner you may be pleasantly surprised to find that the difference is far less than you had feared. On the plus side, you will be saving on travel and other work-related expenses as well as enjoying a welcome reduction in tax.
As with all questions affecting retirement, it is sensible if possible to plan ahead. Assess your likely savings including the lump sum from your pension and any insurance policies you may have. Then draw up a plan as to how you can maximise their value. Should you invest your money in a building society, ISA, unit trust, stocks and shares or government securities? Does it make sense to buy an annuity?
What are the tax angles for someone in your position? Should you consider consulting a good accountant, stockbroker or other professional adviser?
Your retirement income may well depend on whether you start a new career, especially if – as has happened to many thousands of people – you were made redundant with no immediate job prospects on offer. While we are not pretending that starting afresh is easy, a great many men and women do in fact find rewarding work, including some who are well into their 60s. While some individuals turn their talents to something entirely new, others go freelance or become consultants in their existing area of expertise.
An increasing number of people are taking the heady step of starting their own business. This is not a decision to be entered into lightly. The risks are legion and most budding entrepreneurs find that they have never worked as hard in their lives. In the early days at least, being your own boss means sacrificing your social life, forgoing a salary and traipsing out in the rain to post your own letters. Moreover, if you are married, then unless your partner is solidly behind you there are liable to be domestic tensions – especially if you run the business from home. Against this, many who take the plunge derive enormous satisfaction from building up a family enterprise.
A worthwhile alternative to becoming a business tycoon is to devote your energies to voluntary work. There are literally scores of opportunities for retired people to make a valuable contribution within their own community. You might visit the elderly in their own homes, drive patients to hospital, run a holiday playscheme, help out in your Citizens Advice Bureau or become a Samaritan. Other ideas which might appeal are conservation work or playing a more active role in politics by joining your local party association.
A prime requirement, whether you are thinking of paid or unpaid work, or for that matter simply planning to devote more time to your hobbies, is to remain fit and healthy. Good health is the most valuable possession we have. Without it, energy is lacking, activities are restricted and the fun goes out of life. No amount of money can compensate for being bed-ridden or a semi-invalid.
While anyone can be unfortunate enough to be struck down by an unexpected illness, your future good health is largely in your own hands. The reason why the 70s are so often dogged by aches and pains is that sufficient care has not been taken during the 50s and 60s.
As well as all the obvious advice about not smoking, becoming too fat or drinking to excess, there is the important question of exercise. While you could of course do press-ups and go for walks, you will probably have a much better time if you join the new keep-fit brigade.
There are opportunities around the country for almost every kind of sport, with 50-plus beginners especially welcome. Additionally, dancing, yoga, keep-fit-to-music and relaxation classes are readily available through most local authorities as well as being offered by the many specialist bodies.
The only problem is likely to be fitting everything in. The choice of organised leisure pursuits is little short of staggering. If you have ever wanted to learn about computers, take a degree, join a choir, become proficient in a craft, play competitive Scrabble, start coin collecting or become a beekeeper, you will find an organisation that caters for your enthusiasm.
The type of activities you enjoy could be an important consideration in choosing where you will live. Because we are conditioned to thinking of retirement as a time for settling into a new home, many people up sticks without perhaps giving enough thought to such essentials as proximity to family and friends and whether a different area would provide the same scope for pursuing their interests.
A fairly common mistake is for people to retire to a place where they once spent an idyllic holiday, perhaps 15 or 20 years previously, with only a minimum of further investigation. Resorts that are glorious in mid-summer can be bleak and damp in winter as well as pretty dull when the tourist season is over. Equally, many people sell their house and move somewhere smaller without taking account of the fact that when they are spending more time at home they may actually want more space, rather than less. This is particularly true of anyone planning to work from home or who has a hobby such as carpentry which requires a separate workroom.
While moving may be the right solution, especially if you want to realise some capital to boost your retirement income, there are plenty of ways of adapting a house to make it more convenient and labour-saving. Likewise, you may be able to cut the running costs, for example with insulation, taking in a lodger or creating a granny flat.
On the subject of granny flats, if you are caring for elderly parents there may come a time when a little bit of outside help could make all the difference. The range of organisations that can provide you with back-up is far more extensive than is generally realised. For single women especially, who may feel that they have to give up a career, knowing what facilities are available could prove a veritable godsend.
While there may be pressure if a parent, however much loved, requires an undue amount of attention, a more commonplace problem is the effect of retirement on a couple’s relationship. Many husbands are puzzled, and sometimes hurt, by their wife’s attitude to the event. For years she has been complaining ‘I never see anything of you darling’ and ‘Why can’t you spend a little more time with the family? – so naturally he expects her to be delighted to have him at home. But according to some husbands, the enthusiasm may seem less than whole-hearted. As one recently retired 62-year-old put it: ‘I had hardly had a chance to enjoy a couple of days pottering in the garden for the first time in years, when my wife was nagging me to go out and find something to do. She was the one who wanted me to take early retirement. Now she is wishing that I was back at work’.
The reverse situation can also apply, especially if the wife had a high-powered career. Although in general the evidence suggests that it is usually the man’s retirement that provokes most friction, this may change as more of today’s working wives turn 60 and find themselves facing the same need to make difficult adjustments.
Either way, the point is that after years of seeing relatively little of each other, retirement suddenly creates the possibility of much more togetherness. Put in blunt terms, many wives grumble that having a husband at home during the day means an extra meal to cook and inevitable disruption to their normal routine. And while this may not apply in an ‘equal opportunity’ marriage, where the domestic jobs are shared equally between husband and wife, in a majority of households women still do the lion’s share of the cooking and cleaning. So, if he stays in bed longer in the morning, the chores will be finished later, which can be an irritation. But an even greater cause for resentment is that she may feel guilty about meeting her friends or pursuing her usual weekday activities unless her partner is also busy.
If she is still at work, the situation can be even more fraught as, apart from the extra housework, she may find her loyalties uncomfortably divided. Furthermore, quite irrationally, some retired husbands begin to harbour dire suspicions about their wives’ working colleagues, imagining romantic entanglements that had never crossed their mind before.
Sometimes too, retired people subconsciously label themselves as ‘old’ and start denying themselves and their partner the pleasure of a happily fulfilled sex life. It is difficult to know whether this is more ludicrous or tragic. As studies in many parts of the world show, the sexual satisfaction of both partners continues in a high proportion of cases long after the age of 70 and often well into the 80s. Moreover, according to recent medical research, an active sex life in middle age can positively help to promote good health and longer life expectancy.
Usually, problems that coincide with retirement can be overcome fairly simply by willingness to discuss them frankly and to work out a solution that suits both partners. The situation is very much easier today than even 10 years ago, when male/female roles were far more stereotyped and many couples felt that they had to conform to a set pattern for the sake of convention.
Many non- marrieds equally find that adjusting to retirement is not always that easy. Relatives may impose new pressures once you are no longer at work. Likewise, close friendships sometimes alter when one friend retires – and not the other. Additionally, many single people admit that they had not realised before how much they relied on their job for companionship and sometimes, even for part of their weekend social life.
This extract was taken from ‘The Good non Retirement Guide 2006’ by Rosemary Brown, by kind permission of Kogan Page.