What’s in your retirement oasis?
Don’t leave your retirement plans until the last minute, it’s a major life change and it requires careful planning. Michele Morrison outlines some of the issues
For anyone who feels trapped in routine drudgery or high-stress jobs, the prospect of retirement offers an oasis of peace, freedom and opportunity. But the oasis can vanish like a mirage without some forward planning, particularly in the areas of finance, time, location, health, and spiritual growth.
Your financial situation will determine when you can afford to retire. Given the declining demographics, the state pension may not provide enough to live on, so whatever your age, if you are working, it is wise to consider an additional pension plan.
It is difficult, of course, to forecast your future financial requirements but, in broad terms, consider the lifestyle ambitions you have for your retirement. You may be happy to live modestly, but bear in mind that you will not be in control of all of your circumstances.
You may have raised a brood of KIPPERS (Kids In Parents' Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings), or example, or your children – or parents, given increasing longevity – may live far away, so that travel may not be an indulgence, but rather the only way to maintain vital relationships.
So take an honest look at your current outgoings, make appropriate adjustments (could you give up the car, for instance?) and project an annual income. Then work towards enabling that.
The idea of accruing a pension pot may seem to clash with God's call to trust him, Jehovah Jireh, to provide. Jesus taught, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19).
But surely it's a matter of balance – continuing to give generously while saving – and attitude – seeing pension plans not as treasures but as investments which will enable us to serve Jesus in a new way in our later years, if health allows, or help provide for our needs and care if it fails.
The apostle Paul himself, a man of great faith, did not expect others – or God – to provide everything for him, but "worked night and day" so that he would not be a burden (2 Thessalonians 3:8). It's not money, but the love of it, after all, that is the root of all evil.
So, be practical. Finances are easiest managed well in advance
Not everyone longs for retirement. Those who get real satisfaction from their work, and those who define themselves by it, may dread its approach, fearing loss of identity, worth, and purpose. Whether or not you welcome it, the transition will be eased by having a few plans in place so the daily diary is not suddenly a blank page. These might fall into two main categories: service and leisure.
Certainly there are many opportunities for service when you have time to give. In the US (where my parents live) a workforce of elderly volunteers do reception and caring duties in hospitals. My mum, at age 83, is a guide at the local rancho, and my dad still produces a biannual newsletter for 400 former colleagues. Church pastoral care can be incredibly rewarding, as can other services to your church or Christian organisations.
Balance your service with leisure pursuits. Any new hobbies or interests you might want to explore? Learning exercises your brain. Take up a new language, perhaps; improve your computer skills or learn to throw a pot. Or perhaps you'd like to devote more time to a lifelong hobby such as painting, gardening, or amateur dramatics.
You may be looking forward to endless cups of cappuccino at the garden centre, but take care not to drift into a sense of aimlessness (though the Gospel can certainly be gossiped over a cappuccino). The possibilities are many, and often retirees find they are so busy they don't know how they used to fit in work!
Not everyone fully retires, of course, and you may wish to consider another career. The Age Discrimination Act has made it easier to continue working after 65, so if you would enjoy the challenge of a new job, or the added financial boost, or if you've enough energy and ideas to start your own business, go for it! If you Google Retirement Opportunities you will find not only jobs (eg TEFL training in the Czech Republic), but also some pre-retirement courses which may help you identify goals.
Should you remain in your home, or downsize? Financial considerations may form part of your thinking here (council tax, heating bills), but there are other issues.
Is your big garden a drudge or a joy? Are you on a bus route? Is health care nearby? If your family lives a distance away, you may want to have enough space to entice them to come and visit (or you may not!)
If you move to be nearer your children, remember that they may move on. Unless you are naturally extrovert, getting involved and meeting people may require more effort or confidence than you can muster.
Should you move to a hot country? Think ahead about the effects of global warming, healthcare provision, and separation from friends and family. There is something to be said for remaining in the same area. We love eavesdropping on the shared reminiscences of some of our elderly friends, who have lived all their lives in the same town.
How are you going to maintain fitness and health? Make plans to continue to combat the ageing process through aerobic exercise (jogging or walking), to maintain good balance and agility through badminton or Pilates, to retain mental acuity through regular Suduko or crossword puzzles, and to keep your body functioning well through healthy eating.
We heard of a 77-year-old man who took up marathon running when he retired, and we know octogenarians who ski. Include some sort of eating and exercise régime in your life to avoid sliding into a lazy indolence which stiffens the joints and befuddles the mind.
Your spiritual growth
As Christians we never retire. Are there new challenges you want to take up – perhaps short-term mission abroad, or at home? The apostle Paul, in his late 50s, was planning to go to the virgin territory of Spain to spread the Gospel (Romans 15:23-24), and Moses, at age 80, was called to go to Pharaoh. Be open to what God may have in store for you!
Just as you make financial provision for retirement, so should you make spiritual provision. Memorise Scripture, build up a prayer habit and establish a close relationship with God. This is the treasure Jesus praised. When all else in your life is changing, you will be glad of a familiar spiritual routine and you will be able to draw on stored up treasures.
Life is a precious gift from God, and every age has its challenges and its joys. It is good to have goals, hopes and dreams for those 'golden years', so that your retirement oasis provides refreshment and fulfilment.
Why women must plan for retirement
According to The Pension Handbook, produced by Which last year, women have a special need to plan for retirement.
The current state system was introduced at a time when most women married, brought up families and looked to their husbands to provide for them financially, but times have changed.
An increase in co habitation and divorce means that whilst women are still bringing up families, they are not always being supported by a husband.
Changes in 1978 introduced some protection for people, regardless of their marital status, while they are off work caring for children or other dependents. This is called home responsibilities protection (HRP), but currently only 30% of women retire with a full state pension.
The advice now is for women to plan their own pension provision and to start as early as possible.
* What you can do: Try and build up pension savings in your own name and think carefully about the effect taking a break from work or moving to part time work to bring up a family will have on your pension.
* What your husband can do: He should consider how decisions made about his pension will affect you. For example, he could nominate you to receive any death-in-service lump sum, pay extra to increase a survivors pension or pay into a pension scheme in your name.
For more information about pensions, including working out how much money you might require as a retirement income, plugging the pension gaps, contracting out and investment options, read The Pension Handbook, a Which? essential guide, (ISBN 978 1844900251 £9.99). Copies are available in all good bookshops or you can order a copy on 01903 828557 or online at www.which.co.uk/books