Paul Catmur: Dont plan for retirement, plan for life


Towards the end of my career I found I wasn’t enjoying it anymore.

It had become a bit of a drudge.

Instead of being an exciting rollercoaster of triumphs and (more frequently) disasters, advertising had turned into a stream of tedious, unsolvable tasks that I felt like hiding under the desk to avoid. Of course, the only thing that had really changed was me.

After decades of trying (with mixed degrees of success) to turn every obstacle into an opportunity, I couldn’t seem to find the energy and enthusiasm to keep doing it anymore. I believe this is what they call being “burnt out”. So I stopped going to work and instead spent my days doing pretty much whatever I liked. I believe this is called being retired.

I was fortunate to be in a financial position to do this, largely because I’d been reasonably rewarded for my efforts over the years, but also helped by two important factors:

• I hadn’t had any children. I had missed out on the joy of bringing new life into the world while simultaneously having large parts of my salary and time siphoned into their wellbeing. I’m told that for most people this is a sacrifice worth making but I’ll just have to take their word for it.

• Property investment. I sold my house in the UK and brought the proceeds down to New Zealand. At the time, London house prices had been shooting up, New Zealand house prices were stagnant, and the pound got me around three and a half dollars. Of all the decisions I’ve made in my life, this was by far the most financially advantageous yet was entirely down to luck.

Take this stapler from my cold, dead hands

There are those who love work and keep going well past their sell-by-date: Rupert Murdoch, Logan Roy, and certain New Zealand politicians, for example. I’m afraid I don’t understand this attitude. What’s wrong with lie-ins, watching obscure sports, and doing lots of whatever it is you always wanted to do but never had time?

This reticence to leave the workplace doesn’t seem to be about the money, I suspect it’s more the terror of the unknown that lurks beyond work. I dare say people stay in marriages for a similar reason.

Ye olde days

Half a century ago it was common for people to think about retirement before they even started work. When jobs were for life it made sense to choose one that came with a good exit plan. Yes, you might end up spending decades in total and abject misery, but if you were still alive at pension time you could afford a potato a day and maybe a small cabbage on Sundays.

Jobs for life fell out of fashion and were replaced by the random opportunity of being fired at any time of day or night, at which point choosing a job based on its pension became pointless. LV, the UK pensions company, found that the average worker now has nine jobs in their lifetime, as well as one distinct career change, so don’t fret too much if you think you may have landed in the wrong job. Just do something about it.

When to start thinking about retirement

Talk to an investment advisor and they’ll probably recommend that you start investing for retirement (generally with them) before you leave school. I’m wisely forbidden from giving anyone financial advice, but hopefully I’m allowed to make a suggestion for investing in your life and not just your pension.

While putting money towards a house is almost always a good idea, I really don’t think it’s smart to squirrel all your spare cash away under the bed until you’re too old to spend it. Instead, you should think about splurging on a bit of fun while you still have the energy. By fun I don’t mean drinking yourself into oblivion seven nights a week, rather that you partake in those slightly unnerving experiences that you’ll remember forever.

Die with Zero

In my life, I have had many jobs spread across four different countries with all manner of slightly scary situations in between, generally self-inflicted. The best memories often come from the worst times, but I’m glad I got them out of the way as I’m currently at an age where jumping out of a plane, being tear-gassed in Bolivia, climbing the mast of a square rigger, or wandering innocently down the wrong street in Montevideo has lost much of its appeal.

Therefore I would suggest extending the idea of fiscal responsibility to include spending your money on creating memories while you still have the energy to do it. Get the most out of all of your years, not just the extra ones tacked on at the end of your career. Don’t leave your bucket list too late. You may find it’s rusted through.

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