Naturally clients worry about having enough money for retirement.
But there’s more to it than that. To arrive at retirement financially prepared is one thing.
But there’s a need also to arrive at that point having prepared mentally and, you could almost say, philosophically.
Andy is in his mid-50s and has been at work almost 40 years.
In one sense, he’s cracked working life: 40 years means a lot of shortcuts learned, the right words to say, the right things to do, when not to do anything. And Andy is well paid for this.
But the truth is, he finds it all rather boring. At the moment, he’s finding it particularly hard because he feels as if he’s, in effect, serving an 18-month notice period before he retires.
He’s also worried. Worried that his cash reserves may not stretch to cover what could easily be a 30-year retirement. Based in the south of England, my clients typically live longer than the average; Andy could face a retirement as long as his working life. So he keeps toiling.
But is that what he’s really worried about? Is money the reason he’s still working?
No. What he’s really worried about is being kept motivated, being interested in something, feeling valued, and having a purpose. He feels he’s lost all this in his current role and he doesn’t want to feel like that in retirement either. This is the worry eating away at him.
But as we know, the prospect of retirement doesn’t need to be so fraught with uncertainty.
Now meet Bill and Claire
They have a ‘countdown to retirement’ calendar in their kitchen. Each month they’ve marked the time left until they retire. The countdown is a tangible reminder of their big financial plan.
It’s an event worth celebrating when they reach the end of the month and turn over to see that number getting smaller and smaller. It’s a plan worth sharing with friends and a commitment to themselves.
They have 40 months to go but have a positive attitude to their transition to being work-free in 2025.
They’re not any more financially secure than Andy; they simply see it in a different way.
They’re actively planning for a new future, knowing that they too have enough money not to have to work ever again, so they’re not thinking about work, but about what will replace it. Golf lessons and tennis tournaments at their local club, lunches with friends and weekends away.
They realise that there’s more than money to retirement; for them it’s this all-important need to feel they are part of something and to have a purpose.
How do we get Andy to see this?
Retirement for many entails a leap of faith after decades of routine. You’re not simply at work Friday, doing your job, and retired Monday, dancing for joy. Retirement is a major transition.
But rather than retirement being a cliff edge, I try an encourage clients to see what they love about their current life and use those aspects as a basis for retirement.
For Bill and Claire, they know it’s feeling connected and being sociable that gives them purpose.
For Andy it used to make him feel good to be useful in his job. To get regular feedback, to be involved in group projects – to be told he’s done a job well.
Now that we’ve worked together and explored that in more depth, he’s recognised that the satisfaction he got in his job can also be the source of contentment for him in retirement. So he’s made the decision to explore volunteering in his local community and managing the gardens at his local park.
The difference is now he knows it’s not for the extra money he might get. He’s remembered what used to make him feel good about his career, and about himself; that things have drifted, but that they needn’t keep drifting that way in retirement and forever more. Knowing this has given him a sense of freedom – the freedom he thought the additional money would give him.
We only have 4,000 weeks
If you break down the average lifespan, it’s about 4,000 weeks – give or take. That’s the central premise behind Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It by Oliver Burkeman, which has some interesting lessons on making good use of what we have.
Burkeman says: “Your experience of being alive consists of nothing other than the sum of everything to which you pay attention”.
At the end of your life, looking back, whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment is simply what your life will have been. It’s within our power to shape what that looks like. Is it “I must have £1 million by the time I retire”. Or is it “I need to feel rewarded for the things I do.”
Many of our clients are in the privileged position of having ‘enough’ which can make it harder for them to focus on the meaning behind their money. But introducing the rather arresting thought that we all might only have 4,000 weeks can help them to focus on the life they really want from the money they have.