The editors wisely changed the title of my October 2012 Last Word (Lexpert) to The un-retirement plan. I had proposed Sandwiched between the entitled or Dying in harness, neither one of which works as well. Here it is, in its unedited, badly punctuated glory for you. What can I say? I love the ellipsis. It’s the queen of punctuation marks. And yes, she’s a woman.
The financial planner waggles her eyebrows and disapproves. I’m not saving enough for retirement. My tax planning ain’t great, and I am not maximizing my TFSAs. About all she can approve of is my lack of debt, but even with that, she’s less than thrilled. She uses the word “leverage.” I could leverage, she starts to tell me…
And I tell her to sock it. I’ve got a retirement plan, don’t you worry your baby boomer head about it, ma’am. Although “life plan” is probably more accurate. See, I’ve learned a great deal watching your generation slave away in pursuit of Freedom 55… um… Freedom 65… um… 67… um… 70-some… Me, I’m not delusional. I’m not going to retire. I’m going to die in harness. By choice.
For sure, by choice. The secret to happiness, you know, is to find virtue in necessity. There won’t be anything like a pension left when I get old and decrepit—the boomers will have milked it all away; the federal government will ensure that of the speck that’s left over, my share will be so miniscule as to be insignificant (and they will do so no matter how brilliant the brain trust at the CPPIB will be with its investment over the next three decades; no delusions here). And my RRSPs, TFSAs, mutual funds, bonds, real estate investments (ha) and what-not? Well. There was a generation who put all its eggs in that particular diversified basket, wasn’t there? The generation that worked hard, so hard, all so that it could enjoy a life of leisure in retirement. Touring the continent in a mega-RV. Wintering in the house in Northern California, Mexico or (oh, yes) Tuscancy. Greece! Playing golf six days a week; chilling by the pool on day seven… and doing the occasional board or charitable work to demonstrate that they were indeed still, in some measure, contributing members of society.
Some of them made it. Got that life, that pay-off. Three divorces and two heart attacks later, in some cases, but, whatever, they got it. Power to them.
The rest of ‘em? Well, if you’re not one of them, you know a bunch of them. Pouring over financial statements. Scheduling more-or-less-acrimonious telephone calls with planners and brokers. What can we recover? What can we save? What have I really lost? What is it that I am now supposed to retire on?
They’re panicked, individually and as a generation, the boomers who were counting on a certain work-free lifestyle in retirement. They’re panicked and rethinking their retirement plans; flocking back to the workplace. Starting the game of saving and investing all over again.
And complaining, again, that the rest of us just don’t have their work ethic.
And we don’t, do we. I freely admit it. I don’t work nearly as hard as my parents’ generation did. But see, I know that I will have to work longer. Forever, in fact. I’ll need to be making coin in my sixties and seventies, and frankly, I hope death overtakes me relatively early in my eighties so that the non-productive, non-working time of my life is pretty short—cause no, I’m not saving for it. Why? How many financial crises may take place between now and my 65th birthday? My 85th birthday? How many times might I watch my nest eggs trampled?
Maybe just once—but once is enough. And if you think there’s any chance the answer to the above question is “never”—well. Who am I to dispel your delusions. Enjoy.
So. The plan: work. Not too hard, because it’s going to be a long, long run. Do work I love… and change things when I stop loving it, because it’s going to be a long, long run. Take lots of time to do non-work things I love, with my kids, for my community, for the world, and just for myself—this week, this year, not when I’m old and creaky and “retired” and potentially broke.
Save for the future? That’s an idea that’s a hard sell right now, as I watch the boomers who did look at everything they no longer have. Work hard now for a life of leisure later? That life of leisure’s not guaranteed. And—and here’s the difference between my generation and the boomers—there’s nothing writ down anywhere that says I’m entitled to a life of leisure in my golden years. That’s a fairy tale the boomers created and then bought into with a vengeance.
And look where it got them.
Marzena Czarnecka is feeling pensive, reflective and unentitled in the hard-workin’ city of Calgary.