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So, there’s this couple who come to see us.  He’s a middle manager in a large company and she’s a teaching assistant.  Their two daughters have long flown the nest and they have a comfortable lifestyle.  Not extravagant, comfortable.

His job is stressful, and he doesn’t find it as rewarding as he did when he was younger.  A large company that has seen change after change after change.  His love for his work has diminished over the years.  He wants out but wants to know if it’s possible.

When they come in, he talks a lot about his pensions.  He’s done most of the financial planning in their lives and feels it’s his responsibility to make sure he and his wife are secure in their retirement.  He brings all his pension statements in and gets right down to talking about the numbers.

He’s a smart guy and has a good handle on pensions but, for him, it’s only about the money.  Nothing else.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice chap and has lots of interests but he’s approaching his retirement like it’s a project at work.  He was so focused on the financial side of retirement that he didn’t really think about the bigger picture.

Once he’s got everything off his chest about pensions, drawdown, tax-free cash, annuities, annual allowance (you know, the stuff we’re all interested in!) I ask his wife how she feels about retirement.  What does SHE want from retirement?  How does SHE see it?

A funny thing happened.  It became clear that she saw things very differently from her husband.  She loves her job.  Helping children to develop was something she found utterly fulfilling.  Yes, she too had many interests outside of work, but her work was still very important to her.  Their expressions resembled those of the couple below:

This created an honest and open discussion between them (I stayed out of it, I learned that lesson years ago!) and, probably for the first time, they expressed how they really felt about the future.  How they imagined it would look.  What things they might do together (and separately).  As the conversation developed, a lot of emotion came out.

The point I’m trying to make is that retirement is sooooo much more than the money.  In fact, life in general is sooooo much more than the money.  Finding happiness takes work and understanding yourself and what makes you tick is a key part of that.  In many respects, talking about the money can get in the way of that.

After a couple of meetings (and some homework I’d set them), they started to put some tentative plans in place.  Clearly, she wasn’t ready for retirement, but her imagination began to open up and she started thinking about life after work.  She was great at setting out the things she felt she wanted to do when she was retired, and this excited her.

From his point of view, it was noticeable that he’d started shifting his focus from the money and was beginning to think ‘bigger picture’.  He too became excited about the possibilities retirement could offer.  Much of what they thought about would be things they would do together but not everything (one of the secrets of a happy marriage?).

It was only after this process that we did get around to looking at the money.  Of course, there’s little point in having dreams unless the dosh is there to pay for them.  I told you at the start they they’re not extravagant, and we considered what they would need as a regular income to maintain a great lifestyle as well as any one-off expenses for some ‘dream stuff’.  In their case, spending 3 months in New Zealand was high on the list.

He ended up deciding to work for another 2 years but he’ll probably be more enthusiastic about this because his efforts will have a direct impact on all the great things he wants to do after he stops.  She’s going to carry on working for those 2 years but might reduce her hours after that to create a ‘soft landing’ in to retirement, so to speak.

Are they happier?  Probably.  Are they more secure in their minds?  Probably.  Do they have a plan of action?  Absolutely!  The money side of their retirement was the easy part.  Getting them to a place where they could really understand what was important to them was the challenge and this is so often the case.

I know this all sounds a bit ‘touchy-feely’ and a bit ‘zen’ but, at the end of the day, we’re human beings and we operate on a fuel far greater than money.  Retirement, with the right planning can be invigorating, exciting, fulfilling.  Or, it can just be about making sure enough comes in to make ends meet.  What it looks like is up to you…

Until next time!…