Je Ne Regrette Rien – Yet

I’m a bit late with my blog post this week: pressure of work. I must admit, I now doff my hat in admiration to the regular posters who have held down a job while maintaining their blogs. When I was “retired” blogging was a task I looked forward to, with all the time in the world to write a post. I now find it’s quite a commitment to fit in with the working life, as it’s often very easy to find something easier to do at the end of the working day than sit down and write!

One of the things I “struggle” with, however, is that I’m a morning person. I’m generally up and about by the back of six and my routine is: shave (get that over with), make some breakfast, read The Times on my iPad, check the BBC, Facebook and maybe do any bank transactions that need doing. Following that, I write up my daily journal (or diary, as it seems increasingly unfashionable to call it.) And that’s if I don’t head to the gym: if I do, my routine is shave, head to gym, have post-workout coffee while writing up my diary.

You can see that my daily jotting in my journal is a fixture, and it often gets in the way of blogging. Sometimes I write a few paragraphs, sometimes I write the equivalent of a page of A4, but I very seldom miss it. I’d be surprised if I ever miss two days win any month. I’ve kept this routine going since March 1994 and I almost cannot imagine my life without including this aspect of it.

And what a tonic it is. Recently I’ve been reading back through my experiences of “early retirement” as I lived it day to day last year. From this it’s easy to confirm that my year out broke into four distinct phases:

Quarter One: sheer euphoria, loving every day of freedom and worrying not one whit about finances or anything else. Several headhunters call with prospective leads and possible interviews, but I’m not ready for that because I’m just not sure I’ll be going back to work. Ever.

Quarter Two: I begin to look for constructive ways to fill my day, joining some Voluntary groups, proactively picking up with my old work colleagues and friends and speaking to headhunters about what might be out there. I start to think about maybe doing something for myself, starting my own business and looking at franchising.

Quarter Three – increasingly I’m writing about boredom and a lack of fulfilment in the days and beginning to wonder why, with almost nine months unemployment, I haven’t had even one interview with any company for any work whatsoever. A possible franchise I was looking at falls through due to the required six figure investment and ten year tie-in, but I was seriously considering it by this time.

Quarter Four – I begin to look for work in earnest, calling headhunters, networking, searching Linkedin on a daily basis, making direct approaches to local firms and generally putting my shoulder to the wheel in an effort to return to work. Because, by this time, the endless days were beginning to drive me a bit nuts! As my diary tells me they were.

Then, across those four quarters, there was the financial situation. I’m going to write soon about the reality of financial de-accumulation after a lifetime of saving and investing. I’ve already had half a dozen attempts at this, but so far I haven’t quite captured what it felt like. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy.

I’m not yet regretting my decision to return to full time employment in what is turning out to be quite a demanding role. Perhaps my recent trawl through of last year’s entries reflects the growing pressure of work – did I make the right decision? If I only read the entries from those first three months I’d have to conclude that I was mad to rejoin the fray of employment and management, but when I read the turmoil of the final three months – when I wanted to get back to work and found it much more difficult than I expected – it puts my mind at rest. I wasn’t ready for retirement and, overall, the 365 entires I made last year build a convincing picture for me that I’ve made the right decision.

The American Way

If you’ve ever been to America and driven on the highways, it soon strikes you that there seems to be no lane discipline anywhere in evidence. There’s no fast lane, no slow lane. Everyone seems to do as they please, overtaking and undertaking and varying their speed accordingly. It feels like a rubbish and dangerous way to drive, and I used to tell myself that it was a reflection of the sloppy, carefree attitude to life that many American’s lazily adhere to.

I recently read of an alternate view that appealed to me though. Have you ever noticed on our motorways that the fast lane tends to be hogged by the Beamers, Mercs, Jags and Audi’s? The flash motors that tell you to know your place? Get out of the way and let the important people past. Working men, symbolised by trucks and white vans, are allowed in two lanes only, causing the vans to permanently sit on your arse in the middle lane at 80mph. Pensioners, as useless and annoying as children, and with the poorest level of status, toddle along in the slow lane and shouldn’t even be allowed on.

Our motorways reflect our obsession with hierarchy and status, devolving from our old class system where you play the game to the rules. Know your place and stay in it.  

On American roads, on the other hand, everyone is equal. Everyone has the chance of going as fast or slow as they choose. Everyone gets a bite at the apple, big or small, fast or slow. You’re in it together on the highway, and you have the same chance as everyone else of getting ahead. This reflects the ideals of the American Way.

It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? I sometimes ask myself why the FIRE blogs we tend to refer to and enjoy sprang up in America? I’m thinking of course of Early Retirement Extreme and Mr Money Moustache. Initially, they seem to be a rejection of the American Dream, don’t they? These guys have dropped out, albeit in a seemingly constructive way. They don’t want to strive for monetary success, they don’t measure themselves by bling and material gain, they reject the consumer society that America, more than any other country, has built.

True enough. But they’re very much still infused with the “anyone can do it” mentality. ERE and MMM often focus on how the little guy can make it to early retirement too. It’s not the sole preserve and right of the rich and richer still. In fact, they’re almost evangelical about this: you, yes you, lowly engineering cubicle guy working for The Man, you can get out of this rut in ten years if you apply yourself. Here’s how.

We (in the UK FIRE community) seem to like this refreshing, positive approach that stresses that you can do it too. Although we’re pretty interested in saving and investing, it often seems to be for its own sake – no doubt many of us have enough in the bank to go out and put the deposit on a new Porsche, but we’re not that type of people are we? We have a different goal in mind, which is more about having financial control over our lives. Buying a Porsche would just symbolise the complete reverse of that ethic.

In Britain though, I often feel that when it comes to things like savings, investments and pensions, taking control of our own lives is way down the agenda for most people. When it comes to pensions, I bet the majority of people are focused on one main element: what is the State going to provide? In a way, I feel we’re more conditioned to think this way for a variety of reasons, including the “knowing our place” one that means that places and concepts like The City, stockbroking and merchant banking are just not environments for “people like us”.

I’d love to turn all this on its head and see everyone in Britain help tip the old establishment model into the bin. I invested money in Zopa in the hope that it might upset the (financial) status quo in the long run more than any other reason. I suspect that many members of the FIRE community do likewise, but I’m afraid we’re just not “normal”, are we? Not in the financial sense anyway. How many of your friends take an interest in finance? One in ten? One in twenty? Are you frightened to ask? After all, it’s really not polite to discuss our financial circumstances in public, is it? We can leave that to those vulgar Americans, Chinese, Indians and the rest of the rabble.

Mind you, if that’s the case, how come London is classed with Wall Street as the financial centre of the Universe? When I think about it, I begin to suspect that we British are, in reality, obsessed with money more than any other nation, possibly because it’s tied in with our idea about class and social standing. But we can’t talk publicly about these subjects because to do so just wouldn’t be British, would it?

And you can say the same thing about Sex.

And Death.

Damn, I knew I didn’t have the title of my blog nailed down. It’s just struck me – “Sex, Class, Money, Death – the Four Unmentionables of the British Middle Class Apocalypse.” That’s what it should have been.

Gym and Tonics

“So what’s the biggest change since you’ve returned to work?”, I’m asked. That’s easy. It’s the physical one. The title of my blog was meant to reflect upon themes that should interest mostly middle aged men and women. Any read of the national daily newspapers would tend to back this up (although maybe I should have included “Celebrities” to be accurate). I didn’t rank them in importance, more by order of potential interest, and I felt my experience of early retirement might re-order them in my own mind.

But, now I’ve returned to work, the earliest indication of change is mostly related to the subject of Health. Being retired, I was aware that I was spending a lot more time in the gym compared to when I was working, usually at least an hour a day and at least five days a week.  I wasn’t committed to any particular programme or regime, but tried to focus on things that would improve my aerobic capacity – the treadmill or rowing machine – or physical strength – free weights – and flexibility – stretching or yoga routines (based on an excellent Ryan Giggs DVD, in case you’re interested). And I’d swim quite a bit as a good all rounder.

The gym was a major part of my daily routine, and I generally enjoyed going at about eight in the morning, walking or biking past the lines of cars transporting people to work which reminded me of how lucky I was not to be doing likewise. I actually snipped a quote from Mr Money Moustache that I’d read as an  inspiration and reminder that I was leading the good life:

As a retiree, I have a special place in my heart for Monday mornings, because that’s when I would have had to go back to work if it weren’t for the joy of early retirement.  Despite the option of complete leisure, I woke up at 5:30 this morning because the sky was starting to brighten and I was too excited about the new day to let any of it go to waste.

I’m writing to you right now, but later on I’ll be building stuff, riding bikes, meeting with people and teaching kids. Later on as bedtime approaches I might fiddle around in the music room, read a book or listen to a podcast. It’s my idea of the perfect life: self-directed activities in pursuit of knowledge, self-improvement and even getting a chance to help others if you’re lucky.

This was the great thing about it. Going to the gym really felt like a choice because I had the ultimate flexibility to change the routine – a late evening sauna and swim was every bit as enjoyable when I decided to do that, for example. Or, on a rainy afternoon, putting in some time on the treadmill while I listened to a podcast or watched something on iplayer felt like a constructive way to put in an hour or so.

It wasn’t just the gym though. With time on my hands, I’d walk and cycle way more than I ever had. Two or three times a week I’d meet up with my DOH for lunch or coffee and I’d either walk or bike the three miles into town to do so. Seriously, Monday to Friday in the working week, who can fit in a three mile walk? I certainly can’t any longer. My Fitbit already attests to this fact – last year, 10,000 steps a day was a breeze. Back to work, and already the 3,500 days are back on the dashboard.

WIth the bike sitting in the garage I’m now back in the car everyday for a half hour commute to and from work. I’m lucky, I have a lovely drive through splendid Yorkshire scenery to work, but that’s an hour a day in the motor that takes five hours out my week that it didn’t used to. That’s not the killer though, and it’s not the main thing that’s brought my body to moan and groan each morning as I get out of bed. No. The main culprit and contributor to my new sedentary lifestyle is the desk, the chair and the PC screen. I can hardly bare to acknowledge that I might now be sitting six hours a day at a computer! Thirty hours a week! My God, that’s an outrage. Is it any wonder that I’m physically struggling with it? In my retirement days, I never spent even two hours sitting on my backside, unless it was in the evening with a good book and a glass of red.

I’m now trying to compensate by making my gym visits almost compulsory and at least that makes me feel a bit more “worthy” when I’ve managed to complete a session! It is hard though. Do I really have to get out of bed at six in the morning to go for a swim before the office? Do I really have to swing the car into the Bannatyne’s carpark on an evening when I’d much rather be heading home to unwind after a hard day at the office? That’s the change in the question: “Do I have to go to the gym?” instead of “What time do I fancy going to the gym if I don’t go this morning”?

Still, there’s a lot to be said for “self discipline” and I find that structuring your interests around the working day can actually help you get things done. And, having done my run at the back of six this morning before heading into the office, I’m really looking forward to settling in with a good book and a glass of red tonight. I’m certain I will feel as if I deserve it.

Where Can We Live But Days?

There’s a poem by Philip Larkin that I used to reflect upon often during my early retirement days (Entitled, as luck would have it, “Days”!)

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

I used to muse over this in my mind when the days turned colder and I’d find myself on a Tuesday afternoon, standing at the radiator in my kitchen watching a sleety rain patter against the windows. I’d have already been to the gym that day, walking there and back wrapped up against the cold. The freezer would be bulging with dishes I’d cooked up to fill previous hours, and the Monday shop in Lidl had already been done. I’d not be in the mood to read books. I pretty much have never watched much telly, so I certainly wasn’t going to sit down in front of Loose Women. I’d be alone in the house and conscious that my wife would soon be coming in from work and looking for her “me time” – the last thing she’d be looking for would be my hangdog company. I’d slurp my tenth cup of tea in the day and try to resist the temptation to have another biscuit. What to do with the rest of the day? And what if the rest of the week was going to be similar?

I can already sense some readers swooning with the thought of having a day like this. Or more than one. Really? “Be careful what you wish for”, is what I say, and I’ve been there and got the T-shirt. My old dad used to tell me not to wish retirement on because “It will be there soon enough”. I used to think that what he meant was that “old age”, being 65, left you wondering where the time had flown to, but I was starting to wonder? Was he bored with it? His big hobbies were the garden and the golf, not exactly British winter pursuits. Were his retirement days stretching out? Was he finding them a bit repetitive? Was he missing his work? I was young and just starting out on the employment ladder and I looked on his comments in the same way as when he told me “School days were the happiest days of your life”. Yeah, right Pop. If retirement was all I thought it was cracked up to be, then he must mean something else. Perhaps it was going too quick for him, or maybe it was ushering the Grim Reaper in a bit too quickly. But surely he couldn’t be bored?

You can’t associate boredom with retirement, can you? It’s not allowed. “Only boring bastards would get bored with retirement”, as one of my mates said, when I told him I was having trouble filling my days. I agreed, and fretted about my inability to find something fulfilling to fulfil myself with. If it wasn’t Philip Larkin haranguing me in my mind, it was Bruce Springsteen:

Stay on the streets of this town
and they’ll be carving you up alright
They say you gotta stay hungry
hey baby I’m just about starving tonight
I’m dying for some action
I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book…..

I’m not really sure what The Boss was referring to when “Dancing in the Dark” but some retirement days it felt like this summed up how I was feeling. I wanted some “action” too, you know, but for me (given I was beginning to suspect I was really beginning to annoy my working wife) this would be a project, an objective that was set outside of myself. Something that involved other people, working with them, persuading them, cajoling them, or even doing what they were asking me to. Taking direction, following a leader. The kind of challenges my work used to supply on a daily basis.

Setting goals and objectives for yourself is all very well, as is having hobbies, pastimes and all the hours in the day to pursue them. Ermine waxed lyrically, as ever, over this subject on his blog this week, and posted examples of how you might fill your day in retirement. Yes, okay, but once you’ve considered all of them, and more, and found you’re just not in the mood or in the position to tackle any of them, what else are you going to do? Read another book? Go another walk? Build a radio set? Surf more FIRE websites telling you to follow your dreams? Well, what if your dreams merely taunt you about your inability to take steps toward them? For a time, I thought my dream job would be to be a writer. Seemingly it’s a lot of people’s fantasy job. There’s a cure for it: take a week off work; sit at your desk at a time of your choosing and write. Oh, and “Just write anything!” as the books and blogs advise. See how long it takes you to (1) become seriously bored (2) run out of things to write about (3) find yourself weeping at the sheer crap you’re producing (4) if you think it’s quite good, wonder how you can commercialise what you have written and then wonder if that’s not, like, a job? (5) Get up every day and repeat the process.

Listlessness affects everyone, and there’s something about having every day to fill – that’s every day – that seems to make you more prone to it. I seriously underestimated how little I could achieve between the hours of seven in the morning and eleven at night and often wondered where they’d gone and what I’d done with them? I knew I wasn’t alone. In his book “Fit, Fifty and Fired Up”, Nigel Marsh wrote:

I knew all too well the dangers of sitting at home with not enough to do. It’s easy to become soft and directionless without a focus – a “park bencher” as one of my friends calls it. You can even find yourself reading junk mail or writing To-Do lists comprising of things like “Clean teeth”. I remember an occasion during a previous hiatus from work when I’d only one thing to do in the day – buy pork chops for dinner. As I ran to the butcher in my pyjamas at 5pm before he closed, I was thinking “I haven’t got time for all these jobs! I mean I’ve got to clean my teeth and then there’s the pork chops!”

Well, Nigel wrote a few books about his experiences and hats off to him for that. But, make no mistake, writing a book must be one of the hardest things you can do – unless you find that it’s one of the easiest. I suspect there’s not much of a middle ground. If it’s the former, I suspect you might want to be paid for it and…wait… isn’t that a priest or a doctor, in a long coat, running over a field toward me?

The Returned

In order to maintain integrity on my blog, I feel I have to admit this….I’ve returned to work!

Hopefully this won’t come as too big a shock to people who have been following what I’ve been posting. If you’ve read a few of my ruminations on retiring you’ll no doubt be aware that I plunged into “early retirement” after I exited the workplace aged fifty one, with enough funds invested to see me through four years until the first of my pensions kicked in. You’ll also be aware that before long I was struggling a bit with the retirement lifestyle, and finding the change from a full on, full time working week to a zero hour one quite difficult to handle. I just couldn’t shake the notion that I was too “young” to put my feet up, that I should be working and that I should be out there earning money. I might not have “needed” the latter, but it never quite felt that way. I would argue that unless you have millions in the bank you’ll never be  a hundred percent comfortable with your financial future. Even then, you might still fret about some monetary catastrophe ruining your best laid plans.

It wasn’t all about the fretting over money though. I felt that the working life had brought more to me than just a wage. I’d reflect that surely I wasn’t alone in this? I mean, why does Paul McCartney keep writing songs and releasing them? He doesn’t need the money and he doesn’t need to expose his compositions to potentially critical and public disdain. He could live forever on his back catalogue, but he keeps producing.  I can only think that he feels that writing songs is his job and, as such, he wants paid for it, just like everyone else does.

Work is such a big part of your life and I imagine it can be  almost intolerable if you find yourself in a role or company that you literally can’t stand. I was concerned that I was heading that way in my previous job, although it was more the lifestyle that I had sickened of, working long hours in the office to head back to a hotel room instead of home. That wasn’t the balance I was looking for and the money increasingly failed to compensate for my time.

It becomes a slightly different proposition when you can effectively choose to work or not. Having to go to work can be a miserable proposition, but having the ability to choose to leave it, or return to it, gives it more appeal.

That’s why I’m never going to knock anyone who has the goal to retire early, because it’s having the ability to choose to do it that’s the important thing. I’ve written here before that I think people who are focused on FIRE might struggle with retirement unless they can construct fulfilling goals and objectives to achieve once their financial ones have been realised. “Retirement” is pretty much just a concept anyway.  I used to get frustrated reading Early Retirement Extreme and Mr Money Moustache because, in my view, both were “working”. Jacob was writing his book and curating his blog and Mr Moustache was taking on construction projects. Neither were doing these things for nothing, although they probably could have.

So what is “retirement”? We might just be arguing over words and conceptual definitions here, but I was very clear in my own mind that, for me, “retirement” would mean pure and simply that I would not work for money again. Voluntary work, therefore, could be part of a retirement plan, but not any type of endeavour that paid. No matter how much you enjoy leisurely building dolls houses as a hobby, if the plan is to sell them at craft fairs then, as far as I’m concerned, that’s “work”.

It’s not all about money though. Writing this blog wouldn’t be work, I felt, because I was choosing to do it. I wouldn’t advertise on it and I would write for it when I chose to. To be effective (productive) however, I felt I did need to commit to a regular publishing schedule and, quite quickly, this began to feel like “work” too, and I found myself beginning to wonder how and if I could generate some income from it. If I “have” to do it, can’t I gain something for it? If I’m producing the content, shouldn’t I be charging for it? Seemingly people who are into e-publishing think that the majority of bloggers are nuts – why create all that content and then give it away for free?

So I’ve returned to full time, paid employment. I’m still thinking about retirement, but my experience has put a different perspective on my plans. In fact, I’m thinking that maybe I should be planning to work in some way, shape or form until I’m either mentally or physically unable to do it! It’s likely that this will be part time (and it’s likely that I’ll want it to be part time too) so I need to make plans. That’s what I failed to do last time ‘round. I’d only planned the financial part of early retirement, not the rest of what to do with my time. Hopefully I won’t be repeating that mistake going forward!

I’m not sure what I will do with this blog. I don’t feel that I can write much more about “early retirement” when I’m back working and there’s only so much I feel I can add to what I’ve already written about the “challenges” of it. But I’ve enjoyed writing it, receiving the feedback in the Comments, and am still interested in some of the “work life balance” questions we all face. More importantly, I’ve just renewed my annual WordPress subscription, so I want to get some value from it! So I intend to keep posting, and see where it takes me.

Health Thoughts from Abroad

Technology, pah! A slight problem with my WordPress payments, combined with being on holiday, has prevented me from posting for a week or two. Has anything been happening while I’ve been away?

I was “across the pond” in America, on my annual jaunt to the land milk and honey, which seems to be suffering from a souring of the former and a lack of the latter. It’s good to go away, but it’s always nice to come back too, even if it’s to a Britain that is undergoing a transformation that America might be going through itself soon. Melanie Phillips in The Times is clearly thinking along those lines, and she wrote an excellent Opinion column on the American interest in Brexit this week. Clearly she moves in different circles to that which I do while on holiday – it appears she was fielding questions about geopolitics while I was only regularly responding to the query “Would you like a large fries with that sir?”

Much as I enjoy holidaying in America, I can categorically state I will never retire there, or anywhere else abroad. I doubt I’ll even spend the winter months in any of the P(I)GS (Portugal, Greece, Spain – I’m omitting Ireland as beyond consideration.) I never fancied living in France, and Germany isn’t for me either. If I was heading anywhere for the winter, it would be the Southern States of the good ole US of A, providing President Trump will still let me in. I daydream of happily being a British Snowbird in Miami, and often find that in my mind I’m going to Carolina. Just as long as I don’t get ill – or get shot – while I’m out there. It sometimes feels there’s an equal chance of both.

The thought of falling ill in America must be quite terrifying as you must surely wonder whether or not your insurance policy will cover whatever it is that ails you? Your health is something that you find yourself thinking about a lot more as you head into the retirement years. Fortunately we didn’t have to avail ourselves of any medical services while we were in America, but a friend of ours who suffers from epilepsy made the mistake of forgetting some of her prescription pills on a recent trip to Florida. To cut a long story short, she finally managed to obtain a week’s supply – seven single tablets – for which she was charged $700. Her shock at the cost was only matched by the American medical staff when she told them “But I get these free in Britain!”

This month we’ve heard of two couples we know who “retired abroad” but have decided to return to Britain. I haven’t yet had the chance to talk to them to discover why they’re coming back, but I’m quite interested in finding out. It could be for the NHS, it could be that they’re concerned about us “Brexiting”, it could be that they’re finding Britain offers good value for money these days on a number of fronts, from pension tax breaks to the price of consumer goods. Whatever the reason(s) I suspect that the thought of healthcare might be one of the factors taken into consideration.

I don’t know of anyone who’s successfully emigrated to the US, possibly because it’s actually quite hard to get in there but, as you grow older, the thought of what healthcare you might eventually need to access starts to loom larger in your plans. In America, that just has to be a big worry.

It seems I’ll be reliant on the NHS as a pensioner. For almost thirty years, the various companies I worked for paid into a variety of private health schemes which, as an employee, I was able to access. Fortunately I seldom had to, but that facility literally stopped the same day that I stopped employment. My track record of good health and “my” long history of contributions into private healthcare will count for nothing if I choose to seek out another private policy.

It’s the NHS for me then, just as it is (and will be) for millions and millions and millions of others. But what’s the alternative? Or rather, what alternative do I have that doesn’t cost a mint and acknowledges the money I’ve already paid into the private system and the lack of claims I’ve made on that system so far? When it comes to health in retirement, it seems to me that the private sector is playing in a game where it’s “Heads they win, tails they don’t lose”. Meanwhile the majority of us, who are undoubtedly going to need the NHS at some point in our retirement years, are left reliant on a system that can hardly find a coin to play.

They Think It’s All Over

This week I was a bit torn over my blog post. I feel as if I should discuss Brexit in the context of what it means to Financial Independence and Retiring Early but, after long reflection I decided that, on balance, and in the long run, what it all adds up to is Sod All. As the French would have it – although we won’t be having them – “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”.

To be fair though, my actions probably speak louder than my words, and I’ll admit that I shifted a fair amount of my money over the weekend out of a Eurostoxx Index fund and into gold. This is a fine example of me putting my money where my mouth isn’t, but I honestly think that Continental Europe has a bigger economic problem with Britain being out of their financial equations. I’ve done absolutely no research on this whatsoever of course, but then I don’t study form when I pick horses either. Will gold go up and European stocks go down? Well, that depends. But I do feel a wee bit more comfortable having finally shifted some of my investments into the gold market as I have been considering doing so for quite a while. As ever, the relief of making a decision and taking action is almost justification in itself.

(As I write, England have just gone down 2-1 to Iceland in the Euro Finals. I have to chuckle at the metaphorical nature of it: a bunch of prima donnas, disconnected and inured from the communities they are supposed to serve, frightened to put a shift in (and having no plan of attack anyway) while being vastly overpaid for what they do – if that’s not a synopsis of a screed of the British and European political classes, I don’t know what is.)

I suppose there are other considerations that Brexit raises questions over going forward. What now for my retirement dream of sunshine in the Costa del Sol? Well, that’s easy, because I never had one. I was always of the opinion that anyone buying property abroad without the intention of living in it permanently must need their head examined, and I’m sure there’s a lot of ex-pat Brits in Europe now examining their heads as they hold it in their hands following last Thursday.

Okay, what about the future for our youth? Has it been blighted by Brexit? My gut response is that I’m not convinced that freedom of movement in Europe for British youth is all that big a deal, really. It’s not as if the door is going to be closed permanently upon them and, if they have the talent, I’m sure they will find work wherever they choose. It’s more the future of European youth I’d be concerned about if they find it more difficult to come and work here. The last company I worked for saw our London office like the United Nations, full of bright young things from France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Holland, to name a few (mind you, now that I come to think of it, no Germans). I reckon I could quickly count fifteen or twenty Europeans working in my old organisation versus the English people I knew who’d gone to work in Europe, who numbered, ehrm, one – and she came back after six months of suffering sexism, racism and intellectual snobbery in Paris. On the other hand, I did know of two British youngsters working in New Zealand, one in Australia and one in the States. They didn’t seem to be keen on coming back anytime soon either.

Although I’m a bleeding heart liberal Internationalist with left wing tendencies, I’m really not sure about the freedom of movement in labour. It seems to me that the rich West is effortlessly draining the brightest and best talent from developing countries that are in desperate need of this class of people to help them flourish. I saw first hand the benefits of immigration in my work on a number of fronts, and it seemed to be a selfish virtuous circle – because of our multi-cultural workforce, we attracted more of the same, we facilitated their arrival and helped them settling in, found them accommodation, and appreciated and benefited from the energy, ambition and the enthusiasm that they brought – the qualities that had led them to consider working abroad in the first place. It does seem a shame that we now have probably undermined that – but a shame for whom?

Of course, there are other aspects of immigration that Ermine has outlined in his latest post in reference to the working poor which I tend to side with but, living in Yorkshire, I hardly dare tread in that direction for fear of being classed the kind of pig-ignorant Northern Blackshirt that caused Brexit in the first place.

That’s my tuppence worth for now though. Quite frankly, I’m becoming thoroughly sick of the whole thing and I’m hazarding a guess that you just might be too.


 

P.S. As anyone, Brexit or Remainer, knows, the whole world has already been classified in the first ten series of The Simpsons. For light relief, here they’ve managed to sum up some of the games I’ve watched so far in the Euro 2016 Finals.

 

Linked Out

Two things I read this week prompted me to pen this post – the first was reading about Winnie’s potential redundancy on her Quietly Saving blog, the second about the slagging off social media gave Linkedin when it was announced Microsoft was buying them. “Linkedin is Facebook for ugly people”, was one tweet that made me smile. Sathnam Sanghera writing in The Times had a pithy quote ready too: “Facebook makes you hate people you know, Twitter makes you like people you don’t know and LinkedIn makes you hate yourself”, he quipped.

Obviously I wish Winnie well, not the least because she’ll probably be using LinkedIn over the next few weeks! I’ve been through the mill of something similar to redundancy, although If I’m honest, I was bulleted at my work. At the same time, however, I was totally guilty of putting the gun in my employer’s hands and pleading with them to shoot me (and pay me the insurance). All the same, I was suddenly no longer employed, even if I was telling myself, “So what, I’m retired!”

Ah, if only life were so simple as to let me retire in peace. For me, after a length of time (about two months) I came to the realisation that the retirement life wasn’t sitting all that comfortably with me and I started thinking about returning to work. This meant, amongst other things, that I needed to use the services of LinkedIn.

Previously, when I’d been employed, I felt LinkedIn was exactly the same as what many people think – it’s just a Facebook for business. It was a potential distraction for nosey people and idle boasters who’d clearly not much to do with their time. But, like Facebook, you kind of had to keep an eye on it because there was some good stuff out there – I might have totally missed a great night out at an old work reunion if I hadn’t had a LinkedIn account, for example. Like Facebook, I was half-interested in what the service offered and could take it or leave it.

Once unemployed, however, LinkedIn became something that I felt I had to get along with, like it or not. Everyone I spoke to told me so. When I chatted to headhunters, it was inevitably the first question out of their mouths. “Have you updated your Linkedin profile?” Several offered to beef up or fine tune my paltry entry; one told me to change my picture (the cheeky bastard); some told me it was essential that I post something on the “wall” every day, if only to remind everyone I was still alive – a recipe that can only ensure that you become one of the drones posting business cliches or articles you hope may make you sound intelligent to people who barely know you. Like it ever could. Worse, however, you suddenly find out that people you do know are actually doing this and – even more depressing – the worst offenders tend to be those looking for work! Especially self-employed “consultants”, a job direction that I thought I might be taking on myself at some point.

Pretty quickly I found I was dreading clicking into my LinkedIn account. I felt like it was judging me when I saw how well almost everyone else was doing in actively networking, “linking” up with new and old friends, acquaintances and companies with gay abandon. Meanwhile I felt I was lurking quietly at the back of the room, slating the process while kind of wishing I was more a part of it.

What was it with me? Was I too old for this kind of facile activity? Did I resent the position I found myself in and therefore resented LinkedIn as part of an uneasy process? Why did I feel a bitter bile rise in my throat as I read yet another “Be all you can be”, posting from some schmuck I barely knew? Was I one of the management dinosaurs that I used to see at work where some senior people could barely use e-mail and were terrified of the unknown (e.g.Twitter)? Why couldn’t I recognise this thing as the asset in the job hunt that everyone told me it was?

I don’t have the answer, to be honest, but I stopped using it. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter – they’re not real life, are they, and you can so easily get by without any of them. Job hunting, on the other hand, really is real life, and one thing I have found to be true (or at least I think to be true) is that if you want to find a job then you really, really have to look for one. Ten minutes on LinkedIn won’t cut it. Neither will a ten minute call to an old colleague count as your networking for the day. Penning one “speculative” letter a day to a prospective employer won’t enhance your prospects either.

So what will? I think that all you can do is find a strategy that sits comfortably with you and work it: spend pretty much all day on Linkedin if it suits you, or all day phoning colleagues, or all day writing and sending speculative letters. Or all day using a mixture of every job hunting tool you can find. That way, I bet you won’t be out of work for long.

Don’t Panic!

Oh, it’s so annoying to watch the stock market tanking and being unable to take advantage of it even a little bit. In my working days, with a hefty lump of my salary being sunk into the markets on a monthly basis (“pound cost averaging”, don’tcha know?) I could watch the FTSE and feel good either way it went. If it was heading up, yahoo, I was checking my funds’ growth almost every day. On the slide, I didn’t quite check so much, but told myself that my monthly deposit would buy me more units for growth in the long run.

Of course, “In the long run, we’re all deid”, and you can’t take it with you. Retirement then, becomes the time that you put the investment brakes on, tally up, and start to spend the units accumulated so far. Or at least that’s how it is for me. At the moment, I’ve nothing coming in and everything going out. The bucket is leaking from the bottom and I’m pouring nothing in at the top. And by God it’s scary when the markets start to turn against you and the bucket not only leaks, it shrinks. All the planning to calculate and decide what your annual budget is to live nicely this year, only to discover that the pot funding it has suddenly reduced by a breathtaking amount (for me, that’s anything above about five grand, by the way.) “It’ll come back”, you tell yourself. But when? And will it?

I’ve talked before about the shock of going from a relatively intense working life to the complete opposite in retirement and how it’s quite a difficult change to come to terms with. It’s the same with saving and investing. I made regular monthly investments into the markets for over twenty years. Once my income stopped, so did my deposits. Overnight, I changed from being a committed saver to becoming an enforced spender. I don’t even want to discuss the monthly swing I’ve experienced between having a salary coming in to cover the expenses going out. Suffice to say it’s a lot, and every month at the moment I’m finding the well is running dry faster than I thought it would. In my head, I know the markets will bounce back (at least I think I know) but I still watch the numbers with more trepidation than I’ve ever done. The voice of Corporal Jones resonates in my head, “Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring! Don’t Panic!!” (It’s just occurred to me that Mr Mainwaring was a banker! Spooky, eh?)

What to do then? Simple. Get a frigging job. Stem the financial bleeding. I don’t like lying in my bed at three in the morning worrying about money. I didn’t like lying in my bed at three in the morning worrying about work either, but at least then once I’d stuffed my face with a hearty breakfast I could head out into the world and earn some coin. I could actively try and do something about the situation I faced. Now I just fret. I don’t like this retirement passivity one bit. What am I doing about this lack of income? Hoovering? Cooking dinner? Reading books? Going for a walk and breathing the fresh air? What, while the air is acrid with the smoke of burning markets?! Not good enough, I’m afraid.

I’ve jotted on this blog before that unless you’ve millions in the bank, you’ll never really stop worrying about money. I also know, however, that even multi-millionaires fret over losing it all and maybe it’s one of the reasons why many of them are still working long after many people would think that such people have amassed enough to never have to work again. Of course, loads of folk work for more than just money and I’d certainly have included myself in that camp. But it’s almost impossible to separate the two worlds of work and money, in the same way that you mix different ingredients to make a cake but can’t then un-mix them. Especially if you’ve already an interest in building your reserves, as most of us here do, because the fastest way of increasing your income is to work. This fact becomes underlined in bold when the markets start to go against you.

What we all want is certainty, but we’re terminally uncertain that this state will ever arrive. This time it’s the fear of Brexit that’s pushed the market under 6,000 points. Last week it had gone up to 6,300 and I thought about converting some of my investments into cash until the Brexit turbulence was over. And then I heard a financial analyst maintain on TV that the market had already priced in all the uncertainty, so don’t worry. When will I ever learn that the smartest analyst out there is Betfair, and even they can get it wrong? Nevertheless, this was enough to remind me that my investment strategy nine times out of ten is “Do Nothing”, so maybe the guy did me a favour after all, because he made me pause for thought and thus I left my investments sitting as they are. Markets, do your worst, while I try to think of some other strategy that will enable me to take advantage of the uncertainty instead of it taking advantage of me.

 

Me Versus the Millenials

I came across a comment in the Sunday papers this week that made my jaw slacken a little: “The liability of final salary retirement schemes for NHS staff, police, teachers and other state workers rose by £190 billion to £1.5 trillion in the 12 months to March last year, according to official data”. Yikes!.

When you consider that statement above, you come to an inescapable conclusion: we just cannot afford to retire in the way many of us had expected to. And certainly not when you apply the dwindling money available to the increase in years it might have to be spread across.

On the pages of this blog, I lightheartedly discuss my dilemma, “Retire early or work: work or retire early?”, and usually comment about what a nice problem it is to have. But increasingly I feel that my generation might be one of the first and last to face it because, as a society, there’s no way we can fund forty years of retirement. It’s just impossible. It might actually be impossible for me too, a thought that often undermines my own contentment and nudges me toward thinking that, really, earning a bit more money while I still can might not be too bad an idea.

To an extent, we already know we have a big pensions problem – the state pension age is stretching out further and further while the collapse of BHS and Tata steel are seen to be exacerbated by horrendous pension deficits.  This makes me chew my nails over the stability of my own private Defined Benefit pension scheme while my wife, who worked for a time in the NHS, wonders if she’ll be allowed to pick up her NHS pension at 60? I personally know policemen, firemen and doctors who are keeping rather quiet about the fantastic public sector deals they have that will see them quit their jobs “fully vested” on the pension front at fifty five. I think they’re almost scared to mention it in case someone in Government realises the magnitude of the problems we face, and whips it out from under them. Now, I’m not about to enter the pensions debate on either side about the private versus the public sector, partly because through my public sector Darling Other Half, I’ll hopefully benefit from both. I’ll state that for the moment I seem to be one of the lucky ones, and leave it at that.

In this blog, the financial underpinning of my early retirement is a given, and I’m very conscious of it even if I choose not to expose the detail of it in public. The choices that I have were enabled by the personal workaholic and tight-wad decades that came before retirement, where I worked and saved, worked and saved and worked and saved, until I’d had enough of that lifestyle.  Plenty of bloggers are focused on those aspects of working and saving and funding early retirement, so I tend to focus on the non-financial ups and downs of this kind of life, where fifty years of playing golf suddenly doesn’t seem to be the perfect existence I once imagined it might be (and certainly not when the first ten of them are playing golf either on your own or with the “real” pensioners of the generation ahead of me.)

So I often muse about the working life with the undercurrent sentiment being that I think I need to go back to work, despite the fact that, financially, I don’t really “need” to. Frankly, I feel I’m too young to retire in my fifties. I know I’m not alone in this. The aforementioned policemen, firemen and doctors of my acquaintance are thinking the same way – what other jobs can they land once they crystalise their pension? A bit of consultancy three days a week, maybe? A bit of private practice at the hours of their choosing? A bit of standby employment when needed? And a general annoyance that, with “everyone” thinking the same way (whilst ageist employers are generally not) those options may be more limited than they could be.

The fact is, the old model of how we saw life panning out – education, work, retirement – is a busted flush. It’s just not fit for purpose any more. I’ve recently read that the young already know this and are carving out different options for themselves between the ages of 18 and 30 which, like the advent of the “teenager” in the fifties, is becoming a distinct life stage. Well, I’m thinking that I’m at the other end of it, trying to carve out options for a life in the years between 55 and 70. I’m just not ready for full time retirement, but neither do I want to return to the working life I had – the sixty plus hour working week, the time away from home, the politics of career building, the status anxiety of earning a crust. The options that the 18-30s are adopting are probably the ones I’m going to have to look at: self-employment, learning new skills, taking interim roles, part-time work, six month contracts, maintaining networks and asking for roles that might not yet have become conventional ways of working. Flexibility on what you do, how you do it (and what you might be paid for it) will be key.

This trend might be increasingly self-evident, but it strikes me that I’m choosing to seek this option out. Millions won’t have that choice – quite simply they will NEED to find work between the ages of 55 and 70. I think that many of the roles that might be available for the 55 to 70 year olds are going to be those sought out by the 18 to 30 year olds, and it’s going to be “interesting” to see which age groups settle into which roles and how our society is going to have to change to accommodate it.