Now that we have your attention, perhaps you could advise us what to do about our modest portfolio of shares, the value of which, in line with the rest of the Australian share market, is down 20% from April last year. Retirees tend to be more jittery about share market gyrations than your high-earning 30-somethings who have another 30 or so years to remedy the situation.
She Who Has Been Telling Me To Sell Since April says the solution is to report the diminished value of the portfolio to Centrelink and our part-pension will part-compensate. In response, I wait for the market to bounce back. Methinks the cat is dead.
“Now is the time to buy more of the same shares cheaply and lower our unit cost average,” I opine. (“Idiot” I hear someone say from the other side of the hedge, where we are doing our own trimming due to a lack of cash to hire a robust young person).
Veteran Queensland property developer Archie Douglas gave me some unsolicited advice at my “going away party” at a Brisbane hotel, circa 2005. Friends from my place of employment and city business people who had a grudging respect for me came along for drinks. I was 56 and had opted out of the mainstream media in pursuit of a calmer life, more music and more independence. We had some drinks, there was finger food and I got up on stage and played a half-dozen songs.
Time to smell the roses
Archie, who was 60-something then, backed me into a corner and told me about the dangers of letting the R-word creep into my consciousness. He urged me to never stop working, in one form or another. If I was fed up with what I was doing, step back, have a rest, then jump back into something less stressful and more suited to my temperament.
So advised, I set up one of those consultancies, you know, Bob Wilson and Associates Who Cannot Be Named. The first two years went really well; we got more work than we actually wanted, so in the third year downsized a bit. Just in time for the Global Financial Crisis. Timing, Bob.
Archie’s been good at jumping into something else. He and his brother Gordon, who founded PRD Realty (now Colliers International), started Halcyon, a property development company which creates over-50s communities on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Brisbane’s fast-spreading northern suburbs.
Although he’s chairman, Archie doesn’t have to go into work (unless he wants to). “I have the time to do the things I want to do,” he said, while agreeing with me that the notion of retirement had changed, probably for the better.
The closet songwriter emerges
When I first ‘came out’ as a singer-songwriter at my 50th birthday, a few of my business acquaintances were perplexed.
“It must be good to have a hobby,” said one.
“There’s no money in it, is there?” asked another.
“Do you get royalties?” asked another.
Seventeen years later, I can answer all of those questions. Yes, it’s great to have a hobby and work at it as part of your day job, to wrap it inside your consulting business and make it official. Is there money in making music? A better question might be “how do you value making music?”
Blood pressure’s spot on, cholesterol not bad at all for a man who could afford to lose a few kilos, no heart problems, no diabetes, no outbursts of nuttiness as long as I take my ‘nutty pills’. Time has become my currency.
Not that the world in general needs to know, but I earned more in royalties than CD sales in 2014. That’s not to say CD sales have been that bad, I’ve been lucky to have songs included on compilation CDs with national and international distribution. A few people even cover my songs. It’s what you’d call an emotionally charged, passive investment.
Eighty is the new 65
There is a growing anti-retirement chorus, notably from former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett. Some politicians have been urging older people to ‘stay in harness’ as a means of pushing the retirement age out to 70 or beyond, thus deferring the evil day when the state lurches into unsustainable deficit.
The discussion about retirement and whether it is an irrelevant concept has a lot to say about the collective perception of work and the value of work. Whose contribution to the good of the community is more valuable − someone who earns $100k+ advising corporate clients on communicating with their public, or the busker who puts a smile on people’s faces and mows lawns when he needs to pay the rent?
I was steered into this subject via a couple of people I know who ‘pulled the pin’ after working full-time into their early 70s. My advice to older people who want/need to keep working past 65 is to negotiate a four-day week; a rest day, a weekend, and they’ll pay less tax. It should go without saying that people who are still working and earning at 70 are (a) good at their job and (b) either have obligations to their clients that go well past earning an income, or (c) want to stave off the inevitable day when they will have to go home to an empty house, or to a distant partner who has become used to a day-time routine without the other half of the relationship.
Over the past decade I have come to perceive retirement as leaving your paid employment in search of alternatives, which is what Archie was advocating. The main risks for someone leaving the job they have been doing routinely for the past 25-35 years are the loss of social networks with workmates and acquaintances, the loss of a daily routine and the risk to your primary relationship which can happen when the previously absent partner is underfoot, 24/7.
And a word from Citizen Jeff
Jeff Kennett, who visited much rapid change upon Melbourne and Victoria in just seven years, has strong opinions about retirement.
“Retirement equates to death,” he opined in the Herald Sun in 2011. “One of the great lessons of ageing and witnessing ageing is the impact that retirement has on so many people, particularly men.
It can be deathly. I shall never retire.”
Many men are not properly prepared for retirement, he wrote. “You can only fish or play golf so many times a week.”
Kennett observed that as people advanced into retirement they often became less interesting. Their interests narrow as their interaction with work colleagues lessens, along with their interest in current affairs.
Kennett, chairman of the depression initiative BeyondBlue since 2000, is right insomuch that many men, particularly those who have held senior positions in government or private enterprise, feel lost when their networks are severed. The struggle with relevancy can be acute for people who have held positions of power and/or were held in high public esteem. They become the “Paul Who?” of a sarcastic song I wrote about the cult of celebrity.
When I left the orthodox workforce, people urged me to “keep up your contacts – stay in touch”. But as the years slid by it became apparent I did not have much in common with people still locked into high-stress careers and office politics.
Archie, we have smelt the roses and they smell just fine.