I chanced across a TV documentary last night about retirement entitled “Work ‘Til You Drop” which, unsurprisingly, piqued my interest. I’d admit, I’m pretty bored with my own views on the subject and often think I’m stuck in a privileged bubble where my biggest worry is protecting my wealth instead of accumulating more. I’m well aware that not everyone is in such a position and that within the FIRE community we’re all at least looking at the same hymn sheet if not actually singing from it.
The programme covered quite a bit of ground, I felt, and tried to give a positive spin on some alternatives to hanging up your boots and trying to live on the State pension. There was an old bloke still working in Asda at the rather incredible age of 92 – an outlier for the majority of human beings, I’d have thought, and not too relevant to the lives of most pensioners. The cynic in me thought that Asda probably role him out as their flag waver every time they’re asked about their policy toward employing older workers while conveniently not mentioning that he’s given the responsible job of collecting trolleys and stacking shelves. When I saw a similar clip of B&Q I did ask myself if this is the best we can do with the aged – checkout person or shelf-stacker?
The programme showed two other notable alternatives – a female entrepreneur who’d started a cosmetic business at 65 and an unemployed hairdresser in her fifties who just couldn’t get back into the workplace and was living on £73 a week social security. My sympathy sat firmly with the latter – this, I felt, was an absolute reality for the majority of people. Yes, yes, yes, I know we’re all movers and shakers in the FIRE community, all self-starters and self-sufficient, but unemployment in your fifties without a means of income is a terrifying and almost hopeless prospect for most unskilled or semi-skilled people. Even for skilled people, losing your job in your fifties is a different world from experiencing the same in your forties. Anyone who isn’t worried about this prospect is either in denial that it will happen to them or is luxuriating in the knowledge that they’re financially cushioned if it does.
Clearly the best course is to prepare for the troublesome employment years that begin at fifty and ends, potentially, when the State pension kicks in. Writing that, it strikes me that not a lot is written on that subject when it’s such a scary reality for so many people. Thinking about it, it happened to both my parents, but they both had workplace pensions that they were able to draw upon at 60, and thus only had about five years to cover with the “pin money” jobs they managed to find. (Plus they picked up their state pensions many years before today’s trigger point of 67 years.) I can only guess that most people have to assume that somehow they’ll survive if they lose their job in their fifties and can’t find another – worse things happen at sea and life goes on. Yes, it does and it does, but is that the best you can hope for?
I used to worry about losing my job in my fifties quite a bit, and it was quite a driver behind the saving and investing that I did in my thirties and forties. In my line of work – sales and marketing – being over fifty isn’t a massive selling point and I was well aware of it. When it actually happened to me I was financially prepared for it, and I cannot imagine the horror of the situation if I’d not been.
I also thought I’d be prepared in other ways to get back into the workplace – my skills, experience, attitude and application – but it just wasn’t that easy, which is why I sympathised with the unemployed hairdresser in the programme more than the entrepreneur. In my experience, behind many entrepreneurs there often sits a boatload of cash that can cushion the early days and be put at risk. I certainly thought of risking some of my retirement pot to start out on my own, but ye Gods, it seemed a much bigger risk in reality than it did when it sat in my dreams! In the end, I never had to test myself on whether or not I really did have that entrepreneurial streak that I always imagined was there and, on the whole, I think I’m quite glad about that.
I really hope, as the programme inferred, that the workplace is changing when it comes to employing more elderly people and, if I’m honest, I hope I continue to be one of them! One thing does seem to be certain though, there’s going to be plenty of applicants for those jobs if and when they come around.