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.

 

The Shock of the Old

I’m reading an entertaining book at the moment, the autobiography of Dr Oliver Sacks. He’s led a rather colourful and rich life, and about halfway through it he casually mentions “I’m writing this now at eighty years old….” Which took me a bit by surprise because his “voice” in the book is that of a man half that age, or younger.

The other week I posted about the potential “Golden Years” of retirement and how time seems to rush you towards them. That’s maybe not an issue when you’re quietly planning to have the money, the health and the fitness levels to enjoy the time, but an opinion piece by David Aaronivitch in The Times gave another side of the story. He related how he was worried about the lack of GP’s within the NHS because, in his fifties, he needed to see his own doctor three times a month. This was increasingly difficult because of the pressure of people wanting to make a similar appointment. Projecting forward, in the years to come he could only see that he would need to see his doctor even more frequently, but would that be possible? (although in twenty years they might be seeing a computer generated hologram instead of Dr Findlay.)

Now I’m lucky in that I don’t visit my GP three times a year, but when I do I notice that the surgery is bursting at the seams with pensioners. It’s difficult not to look around the Waiting Room and feel a bit overwhelmed – this is what is coming to you. Maybe not today, maybe not in the next ten years even, or twenty, but eventually, no matter how often you’re down the gym, Old Age is going to take its toll. Unless, of course, you drop dead on the treadmill (which would serve you right.)

What can we do about it? Perhaps we could start by discussing the situation more. “Old age is not for wimps”, said Mrs Bush, but we need to brace ourselves and face our fears. Then we might be able to plan some sort of strategy to deal with them. After all, we’re moving into a new era when so many more people will be living into their eighties and nineties that society will have to find answers to some of the challenges this will bring.

I feel there is already a growing debate about pensions as, typically, the focus on money takes precedence in our society. Hot on its heels, and very much related to cash, is the growing burden of the elderly on the NHS. Occasionally you see a documentary about care homes but you have to brace yourself for an hour or so of misery and looking at the downsides. However this would still be upbeat compared to a BBC documentary I tried to watch on loneliness, which was almost too sad to sit through.

I sometimes feel that the media spin on the elderly is pretty negative. One of the positive things about the American election, I think, is that both Hillary and Donald are pushing seventy – whatever you may think of them (and I’m sure it can’t be much) surely they’re a great advert for what old age might look like? Full of energy, mental stimulation and motivation. At this age you might expect the question to be asked more often – are they really fit for the job? Of course, the answer to that is “No”, but the positive thing is it’s not their age that is the determinant factor.

Another positive area that I comfort myself with is that my generation are growing old with (hopefully) a grasp on technology that can support them in their older years. I often think of how the lives of my elderly relatives would be transformed if they could just get their heads around the internet – I think they’d love to know how to use Facebook properly, or master supermarket home shopping or find the best way to use the adjustable typeface of a Kindle or ipad. There are some terrific online “Meals on Wheels” services, transport options, instructive videos on Youtube, podcasts, music services, topical forums….you could go on and on and on, and I really hope my generation do. It’s just a shame that I see so many of the generation before me intimidated instead of intrigued by computing technology (and I have tried, and tried, to help my own folks in this area with pretty much zero success.)

I also hope that technology can help tackle what I feel is the biggest scourge of old age, namely isolation and loneliness. I’m hoping that the combination of Uber type services and driverless cars will make transport an easy option for everyone in society, and that it will become easier for the elderly to get out and about on their own. Virtual networks are fine, but they can’t really touch physical social networks, and it would be a dismal society if the former replaced the latter. Again, I know from experience, that the loss of the ability to use a car can be a major blow to an elderly person and can massively shrink their horizon. Of course they get free bus passes, but is anyone less qualified to use a bus than the majority of people over seventy five?

I often think that it has been fantastic to live through the dawning of the Internet and Information age, but it’s more our attitudes that need to change than our technologies. After all, before we had the Internet we had telephones to get in touch, we had buses and taxis to hand, we wrote letters instead of e-mailing and we had the TV and radio before Youtube and podcasts. The Internet is fantastic but it’s maybe not as transformational as people like to think – or maybe as people are allowing it to be.  I like to imagine that two hundred years from now, this era will be seen to have driven more change than the Agricultural and Industrial age, and that it will have happened on a global stage in a positive way. But, from a more selfish point of view, I’d like to transform my own attitude toward ageing and actively seek out more positive approaches to it. The internet might help me to do this, but I know in my own mind that it’s me and not technology that will have to do the real work.