The Talk

I’ve read a couple of financial bloggers promoting the idea that you sit with your spouse and have “The Talk” when a new financial direction is being embarked upon. Usually, however, this concerns the financial side of reducing debt or perhaps working together to a joint end objective for (early) retirement that could require some significant belt tightening. It’s seen as important that couples share roughly similar spend and save priorities or, if they don’t, that they communicate and understand what is financially expected of each other. Which is extremely sensible advice. If you haven’t told your partner that your dream of the future is jacking in the job, selling the house, moving to a caravan and living off lentils and beans for the next fifty years while reading books and taking nature walks, well, you might be in for a bumpy ride when you try to do it. Especially if your other half spends a lot of time reading “Hello” magazine and buying shoes and handbags (even if they’re a woman.)

So far, so much common sense you’d think, although generally I’d guess that one half of a partnership will take more interest in the household finances, savings and budget than the other. This won’t be too much of a hassle as long as things are financially stable and, even if they’re not, it’s always a good idea to have clear communication and understanding on money matters between one another.

However, there’s another part of “The Talk” that needs to take place reference FIRE and that concerns the last two letters of the acronym: Retiring Early. I don’t think I’ve read many blogs where you have “The Talk” with your significant other about what you do in retirement together. For a start, there seems to be an assumption that a couple’s retirement will happen simultaneously, whether it’s early or not. Next, the vision is that a retired couple will be so comfortable with one another that they’ll just carry on as they have for the previous decades that they’ve spent together. Okay, there may be an initial adjustment period as they have to come to terms with having each other around all day, but that will pass as joint pastimes are discovered. At the same time, a mutual independence is also encouraged. You can’t live in one another’s pockets, but there could an opportunity for spur of the moment holidays, impromptu city breaks and a chance to rediscover one another now that the kids have grown and the office no longer calls. It’s a geriatric Mills and Boon. Or, in other words, a work of fiction loosely based on real life.

Fair enough, and good luck to you if that’s how joint retired life turns out. But what if you don’t retire together and one of you continues to work? I’ve read blogs for Early Retirees that try to address how you individually answer the perennial small talk question of “What do you do for a living?” once you’ve quit the world of work. You have quite a few options here and fortunately you can speak for yourself. But what is your partner to say about you? Especially if they haven’t retired and are still working? Have you discussed this subject together? What will your response be if you overhear your other half talking about you “lazing around”, “putting on your pipe and slippers” or “knitting cardigans”, while they continue to bring home the bacon? Did you note a tone of pity in their voice as they try to explain why you couldn’t sustain the pace of the working life any longer? Were you really so unhappy in your job that you just couldn’t take it any more? Or were you fired? Made redundant?

After all, who’s in the position these days to just voluntarily give up work and income? I bet you know very few who are even planning to do it, never mind taking concrete steps toward it. Will anyone really believe that you’ve got that option? (Will your partner even believe it?!) And, if it’s true for you, how come it’s not true for your other half?

People love a bit of unsubstantiated gossip and, if you’re a British male, you’d rather stick needles into your testicles than discuss your financial situation with good friends. Explaining your exact situation with credibility and good grace could be challenging. Why haven’t you both retired together? Is it for financial reasons? Social? Psychological? Psycho-sexual? (don’t worry, you’ll never be asked these questions directly. Rest assured though, those questions are being asked.) You can try to explain until you’re blue in the face that your partner really likes their work, but nobody is going to believe this. Not when “never needs to work again” seems to be an option for only one of you in the relationship.

You may surmise from these ruminations that I’m speaking from bitter experience here, and you’d be half right. Certainly, in my head I often wonder what people are thinking about my singular Early Retirement and therefore that’s my “experience”. Fortunately, however, it’s not been all that “bitter” because retiring early was never the dream of my Darling Other Half. While there’s no way that she’s skipping in to work every day, she’s not quite ready to throw the towel in yet (possibly because she’s in a rewarding job on a part time basis). Or that’s what she’s telling me anyway. Heretofore, her comments such as “Why don’t you just go and marry Mr Money Moustache?” let me know that she well knew where my ambitions lay.

So, for the moment, we’re both happy enough with our respective situations, but we do acknowledge that this could change at any time for either of us: she might come in tomorrow and announce “That’s it, I’ve had enough of this, I’m giving up work”, whereas I might come in and announce “That’s it, I’ve had enough of this, I’m going back to work”. Either way, hopefully we’ll be discussing our thinking with one another before we take such a big step into the future. Because although retirement might feel like a step you’re ultimately taking for yourself, it seldom is.


Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot…

The headline of a recent article in The Sunday Times had me rolling my eyes, “Anxiety drives over-50s to Drink”. Here we go, I thought, another nanny state directive to tell us to stop enjoying ourselves. But then my eyes popped when I saw the top “Reasons for Drinking More in the Over 50s” because, top of the list with 40% of the vote, was “Retirement”.

Now, nowhere in the article did it state if people were drinking more in retirement because they enjoyed it and felt they now had the relaxation time to do it. “No work in the morning, think I’ll just finish that bottle of red”, is something I’ve caught myself thinking on the odd Wednesday night. Or Tuesday. Or Thursday. Neither did the article state that 40% of respondents had increased their drinking solely to deal with the stress and pressure of retirement, although the final quote from an alcohol support group stated that, as a society, we have “an inability to support those who are experiencing radical changes to their way of life”.

This statement did ring a bell with me. Retirement is a “radical change to a way of life”, but it’s one that I’ve tended to view as a positive end goal. I was certainly in the camp that was drinking in celebration of the fact that I’d arrived at retirement relatively early. However, this statement did remind me that in my local pub, at least three elderly retirees have confided in me that they found it extremely difficult to adjust to their retirement. “Thank God for my model railway”, one stated, “I’d be dead otherwise”. I laughed, because I thought he was joking… and then quickly gulped my pint when I realised he wasn’t.

He served to hammer a point home all the same. It’s fairly obvious that you need to have post retirement goals and ambitions, hobbies and pastimes, to fill the hours that work used to. This appears to be a “no brainer” but it’s very easy to tell yourself that you’ll build that plan once you’ve the time to do it. And, of course, you’ll have plenty of “time to do it” once you’ve retired. Therefore it goes onto the back burner and there’s a good chance it will stay there until Day One of your actual retirement.

Now, clearly drinking isn’t meant to be primarily a pastime (although I have a friend who works with recovering alcoholics who tells me that one of the biggest regrets of ex-drinkers is the amount of time that they devoted to drinking that they’ll never get back.) One of the biggest bridges you may have to cross in early retirement, however, could be a social one. While you may have crossed the ER finishing line, you might not have many friends in the same position (unless you happen to have a lot of older friends.) Even then, you might not find that they are of the same frame of mind. A couple of my good friends could probably retire tomorrow if they wanted to, but it’s the last thing they fancy doing right now. Part of the reason for that is that they really enjoy the social side of their workplace – in fact, at the weekend, one confided in me that he’d actually quit work tomorrow if it wasn’t for the enjoyment he got from chewing the fat with his colleagues. He felt that the fact that their job was actually quite hard going and stressful helped them bond together to get through it.

You will find yourself with time on your hands and time on your own in retirement. That’s fine if, like me, you quite enjoy a bit of your own company. On the other hand, I also know I really enjoy the company of other people too, so I’ve made a big effort to stay in touch with friends and family on a much more regular basis than I used to. In fact, I actually diarise phone calls going forward in Google Calendar to remind me to stay in touch. I would admit that sometimes this feels a bit over the top and somewhat contrived, but I’ve also often been pleasantly surprised when Google nudges me with a reminder to give an old friend or colleague a call (and I actually go and do it!) Despite the fact that I often find it quite hard to pick up the ‘phone, I always feel better and have my spirits lifted when I’ve made a successful effort to speak to someone I haven’t heard from in a while. I don’t make the mistake of expecting a return call from them, however. I accept that making an effort to stay in touch is something that’s important to me, and that it could well be a one-sided sentiment – but my actual experience is that I get a lot more return calls now on a social basis than I ever did before. 

So, to return to the point of my opening paragraph, if there’s many better things in life than sharing a few drinks with good friends, I’d like to know what they are – and maybe that’s why you find yourself drinking more in retirement!

Adrressing Dressing

When it comes to budgeting I bet there’s one element missing from a man’s budget that many women would never omit: personal upkeep. You know, clothes, hairdressing, personal grooming, stuff like that.

I certainly have never maintained a personal budget for such frippery. Not only does buying clothes not excite me, saving money to buy clothes doesn’t excite me either. Buying clothes is a necessary hassle, a bit like shaving except I don’t have to face doing it on a daily basis (and the only reason I haven’t grown a beard is I suspect there’s an upkeep to that too once you’re over the itching stage.)

I do think I thought a bit about clothing when I was younger, but middle age soon put paid to that. Work meant a suit Monday to Friday and anything outside of that was bought for comfort and utility, nothing else. Appearance? Who gave a toss? I’d better things to think about.

As I’m growing older though, I’m beginning to think a bit more about the mental approach to ageing, and I’ve found recently that clothing might be an important part of that. In one of the magazine supplements at the weekend, I skimmed an article written by a fifty-something woman going about how good she and her friends looked for their age. She put this partly down to the sheer number of skin treatments, health care, diet advice, hair extensions, fashionable and affordable clothing and so on available to women these days. While making this point, she remarked that while her friends looked fantastic, their husbands (when they still had them) in comparison looked, frankly, like shit. Stooped, balding, fighting a losing battle against their middle aged spread and dressed like a sack of tatties, many of them looked as if they were out on the town with their daughters.

That barbed comment got me thinking. Men do take pride in some things relative to appearance. Their cars, for a start.Their gadgets. Their prowess at five-a-side footie, or how good their new bike looks. All of these relate to self-esteem and I can see that. But, for some reason, I don’t think many blokes spare much thought about their clothes outside of the utilitarian aspects of them. If they did, the majority would go nowhere near lycra for a start.

In our defence, we don’t get much training or direction in this aspect of our lives. At work, we either wear a suit to the office or the appropriate gear for the job we do. We really don’t have to think about what we wear much at all. Outside of work, the same applies. A pair of jeans or chinos, a casual shirt and jacket. Sorted. And we don’t have one massive pressure to contend with – what other men think. We all know that women dress primarily to impress other women but men dress for themselves.

Or do they? Whenever I occasionally browse men’s magazines like GQ and Esquire, it never ceases to amaze me at how many pages are devoted to men’s fashion. Who even looks at this guff, I wonder? In my life, I can number on one hand the conversations I’ve had with friends about clothes. I don’t think I’ve read many thoughts from Mr Money Moustache on the subject either, although I do remember Jacob Fisker once going on about paying decent money for quality footwear (referencing hiking boots that he fancied would last him about twenty years or something.) I do understand that side of the coin – we’re always thinking about “value for money”, and fashion often seems to be diametrically opposed to that concept. But splashing the cash for a decent, warm winter jacket or hiking boots, well, that makes sense, doesn’t it?

Is this important though? “No”, would normally be my unthinking response to this subject, but once I do start thinking about it I’m not so sure. Clothes and how you dress play a significant part in our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. As I set these thoughts down, I realise that in my employed days when I worked from home, I’d generally get up, wash, shave and dress casually for the day ahead. I didn’t lounge around unshaven and unwashed in my pyjamas. I don’t think I could have focused on work sitting in a dressing gown at two in the afternoon. I once read that if you have an important phone call to place to someone, you should stand up to make it. It’s a psychological trick, but it works. Clothes are, in a way, a psychological trick too.

What’s this got to do with retirement then? Well, one of the things about retirement that is talked about – especially for men – is the potential drop in self-esteem and lack of purpose that might come along when employment falls away. The psychological approach to retiring and the latter decades of life is an important aspect of it. Perhaps men should think more about their outward appearance more as they grow older, as well as their internal mental and physical health. I’m not saying here that “dressing younger” is the answer, as there’s surely nothing more tragic than men and women who choose this route and get it wrong. To be honest though, other than starting to think about dress sense, I have to say that I’m not sure I have much, if anything, more to say about it. This is because if there’s a surfeit of information for women on the subject there is virtually nothing for blokes. As for blokes over fifty, there’s almost less than nothing. Once we’ve stopped going to work and going out on the town, how should we dress for our age? I’ve no idea. “Whatever’s comfortable” is how I still approach the subject, thinking as long as I bodyswerve slip-on shoes and elasticated trousers I’ll probably be okay. But perhaps I should start looking at clothes and appearance in a different way, through the prism of them helping to create a positive retirement persona that’s different to what went and (hopefully) worked before. And, while I think about it, I’ll just reach for my pipe and settle into my slippers.

Golden Years

I often refer to myself as having “retired early” but, if I’m honest, my age isn’t really living up to the concept as envisioned by the FIRE community. I was fifty two when I “retired” through circumstances that were forced upon me by my company at the time – effectively I was made redundant. At this point I realised I probably didn’t have to go back to work if I didn’t want to, largely due to the combination of a severance payment, my many years of saving and investing and the fact that I could cash my first pension at fifty five. I had to cover three year’s worth of living expenses, but I felt that I could do this providing I could get my head around the concept of starting early on a “deaccumulation” of my own funds. Or, in other words, starting to spend the money that I’d previously saved.

But, aged fifty two,  was that really “early” retirement? After all, it wasn’t so long ago that people could cash in their pensions at fifty, so by that yardstick I wasn’t an early retiree at all. Compared to the state pension age of sixty seven I was well ahead of the game, but by other measures what I had achieved could be placed in a different perspective. In some areas of the West of Scotland, for example, which is where I was born and brought up, life expectancy for men can be fifty four. You don’t even want to begin thinking about your life span on those terms, but once you’re over fifty questions over just how long you could and should expect to enjoy your pension start to recur in your mind with increasing regularity.

Once you’re in your fifties, you are stuck between the forked stick of realism and denial. You’re in your fifth decade. If that’s middle aged, then it’s at the far end of the scale. On the other hand, psychologically, you just can’t accept the fact that the years have gone by. You’ll swear blind that you  just don’t feel any different than you did thirty years ago and thus,by extension, you must easily have another thirty years left on this mortal coil.

It’s funny how your perceptions and preconceptions about age change over the years. I distinctly remember being eighteen and seeing a poster in a disco advertising an “Over Twenty-Fives” night. I was disgusted that such elderly swingers were even allowed out. I was fed up of the oldies (people in their forties, like my parents) telling me that the years would flash past in the blink of an eye when I spent languid days at Uni or torpid hours working in bars over the summer holidays. I’d no idea that those oldies were actually understating the case.

Everyone over forty will recognise the years speeding by and it only accelerates from there. Recently, the biggest shock for me on hearing David Bowie had died was the realisation that the album “Let’s Dance” was released over thirty years ago. Thirty years! If I apply that time frame in reverse from my birth date of 1963, I’m back in the Weimar Republic, witnessing the rise of Hitler and only four years out of the Great Depression. How scary is that?

There’s no doubt now that fifty is the watershed age that forty was for our parents. For our generation, fifty is when “life begins”, but even that is up for debate. I would admit that thirty is relatively young, forty is early middle age and fifty, well, for me it was just another birthday. I certainly didn’t feel all that different from when I turned forty, although I had to acknowledge that my thirtieth birthday was beginning to seem quite a long time ago. My body isn’t quite in the same state of denial, unfortunately, and it is now quite annoying (and frankly perturbing) to find how difficult it is getting down the stairs first thing in the morning. This is despite the fact that according to many measures I’m pretty fit “for a man of my age”.

I may not yet be singing the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and perhaps my “early retirement” wasn’t quite as “early” as it could have been. Fair enough, I’m more than comfortable with that and recognise that I’m in a massively privileged position to even have the debate with myself. I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable with how the years are speeding by though,  and how impossible it seems to slow them down. All I can do is accept this fact of life and know that I’m not alone in experiencing it – as evidenced by this series of photographs in Reflections on the Past that say much more in pictures than anything that I can put into words.