My son started work this time last year and, on his first day, I gave him the best advice for that event that I could: “Remember to sign up for the company pension!”
Of course, he didn’t need that advice because he’d have been automatically enrolled these days and would have had to register to come out of his company pension scheme, as opposed to physically signing up to joining it as I once had to. Doing so was one of the most important financial decisions of my life, not that I was aware of it at the time. I’d be lying now if I said I could remember signing on the bottom line that took me into the company Defined Benefit scheme, I’m just ever so glad I did. I don’t think I ever missed the money either, not even thinking about the subject until about ten years later when I started to become interested in investing for the future. Even then, I took the pension scheme for granted. After all, surely everyone was enrolled in some sort of scheme?
I read in the paper this morning, however:
A 25-year-old starting work in the private sector would have to put almost a third of their salary into a workplace pension to match the retirement benefits of a colleague embarking on a career in the public sector, according to a report by the Taxpayers’ Alliance, the low-tax campaigners.
Never mind the public vs private sector debate (if you can). What shocked me was that a twenty five year old would need to invest a third of their salary to get a decent equivalent of a “defined benefit” pension on retirement. It just highlights what a loss to the average employee the demise of those DB schemes has been. Not that they’ll probably notice, or miss, something that they never had. But it certainly makes me think that your fresh faced employee joining the workplace today has a tougher financial future ahead than I ever did. To be honest, if I had been told that signing up to the company pension scheme that I joined in the Eighties would cost me a third of my salary, I doubt I’d have joined. But my contribution was nowhere near that.
A few other things that have gone since those heady Thatcherite days when I joined the working population: firstly, the company car I was given was a total perk, hardly cost anything on tax and was way, way better than having to buy your own car. That’s not the case now – I opted out the last company car scheme I was offered due to the tax burden on it.
Secondly, my starting salary of £7k a year meant I could get a mortgage of £23k, enough to buy a small flat in my home town and get on the property ladder with a ten percent deposit. That’s almost laughable these days and has me wondering if I’ve got my facts right – but I know I have.
Thirdly, if I wanted something like a new TV for my flat, I had to sign up to a Hire Purchase agreement or save up the money. I was about three years into employment before I signed up for an Access Mastercard (Your Flexible Friend) which changed how just about everyone thought about getting into debt. Something that was almost shameful to my parent’s generation became almost fashionable and cool – paying for dinner with a credit card let you almost imagine you were Gordon Gekko from “Wall Street”, or Bud Fox at least. Surely that slinky mobile ‘phone wasn’t far away either?
I smile at those recollections now, but many of my early financial decisions I made happened without me thinking too much about them. Generally speaking, however, the basic things I assumed in those days were both sensible and achievable – pensions were a good thing, you should try to get on the property ladder early and you should be wary of debt. And, generally speaking, those rules are still sensible today. It just seems that for my son’s generation, they’re a lot less achievable.