I had a friend who happened to be a Catholic Priest. Referencing me in a story once, he was asked by one of his parishioners what sort of person I was. The Priest thought about it for a while. ‘Jo has good intentions’, he said pausing before continuing, ‘But with a fuck you attitude’.
I bring it up because it is quite a succinct description of who I am. And also because often people think I’m being unnecessarily difficult and combative when I actually have generally altruistic motives. Well… let’s say 90% of the time. Sometimes I am just genuinely being difficult.
Which brings me to Debbie Millman. Who is amazing. You should totally Google her. I mention her because she has this exercise that she suggests everyone do. It involves writing an essay from your future self in ten years time. In this essay you describe your day to your present tense self from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. What does your day look like in ten years time?
It’s really hard.
Is this still you in ten years time? Describing your exact same day you’ve just had to yourself. Only you’re ten years older.
While I still haven’t written my essay, it has gotten me thinking about a lot of things, amongst them, retirement. And what it actually means to me. I realise I take extreme umbrage at a great many things. A quick survey of my staff within throwing distance suggests that I find at least fifty percent of life upsetting. Retirement is definitely one of those things …
My heading for this blog post was going to be, ‘Saving for retirement’. But considering how I feel about the topic. That doesn’t seem right.
I should mention that I have nothing against the word ‘for’. As a preposition it is totally functional and relatively useful. ‘Saving’ is also fine, as a stand-alone concept. I think everyone should try it at least once. (When you’re a teenager) But ‘retirement’ is awful. Grouped together these words form the basis of everything that is wrong with the world. Okay, there are some exceptions. Like… Parktown prawns and short people. That’s on god. And debating why such things should exist is to question the divine. Which opens up a whole other kettle of fish.
I’m pretty sure saving for retirement is mostly bad. Possibly borderline irresponsible. First let me qualify this unpopular notion with a paragraph. Possibly more than one depending on how worked up I get.
First off having cash, investments etc when you choose to retire is really nice. But so is a cup of tea. And having more cash when you retire is obviously better than having less cash. But if you really want to retire and sit around… and… while away your time before your inevitable foamy, gurgling death in hospice… you need a metric fuck tonne of cash when you retire. Like literally.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Actually, wait… why do you want to retire anyway? Basically this means you’ve bought the programme. They sold you the kool-aid. And you drank deep. You’re on step eight of your ten-step life! Next stop… smelling like an old person and death. Some people like to imagine step nine is travel and boat cruises… but its not. It’s a weird musty smell… and having suspicious looking growths zapped off your wrinkly, sun damaged skin by a dermatologist and pencilling funerals into your diary every weekend as your friends and family kick off.
Sounds awesome, I can’t wait. Basically I have to save and invest for my whole life in anticipation of this event. Seems totally reasonable way to spend your time. How many happy retirees do you know that are getting after it! You know… living the dream. Bet you, you don’t know any. Maybe less than a handful if move in impressive circles. Would you swap your life currently for their life? They have money after all.
Lets try a different tack. Imagine a line. On the one end you have people, who have worked their whole life in their corporate cubicle and at sixty five slip into retirement. And then on the other end of the line you have this…
Imagine someone who is 30 and wants to retire when he’s 45. A mustachian disciple so to speak. I suggest checking out his blog. He’s got some good ideas. The ones we don’t disagree on I mean.
So we have to start somewhere. So lets start with science. Because science is awesome. And finance is just okay. We’re using out dated models and concepts that were struck in the fifties. Expected life span. You see we all have just one lap. Lets say its four hundred meters… only half way through the race someone has changed it to 800mtrs.
My expected death is age 78. Statistically speaking. I’ve just turned 38. It feels ancient. Some days I wonder how people who are 48 get out of bed in the morning without painkillers.
Only my life expectancy is probably not 78. It’s probably closer to 100. Mind you for the proletariat its still 78. Actually probably less. But being a 1%’er I’ll probably be in a position to afford the miracles of science that are coming. The nano-machines. The new organs (with modifications). The rejuvenation clinics. The implants that tell me three days in advance that I’m going to have a heart attack (just enough time to pop down to Sandton clinic and have flawless robotic surgery and a flat white). My 10 month old daughter will likely live to be 120… maybe longer. And for her children death maybe something that only happens to poor or unlucky people.
Imagine at 45 you’re going to have live like… 60 years off your retirement funds. I’m making an assumption that you’re healthy. And don’t get shot in the face. (an annoying possibility living in South Africa). Or get annihilated driving your scooter say… If ever there was a life reducing way to spend your time…
That’s a really long time to be running down your funds.
I’m not even contemplating a post Trumpian dystopian future where we trade cigarettes and blowjobs for potatoes and spam.
You might imagine my rant is against investing and pro-Epicurism. And that there’s no point. Lets work forever and blow our money on Kanonkop, Romeo Y Juilete and and an ever burgeoning collection of stuff to fill our storage unit in Muldersdrift
My issue is more about how we look at our lives. We get these social norms and this corporate nonsense pumped down our throats as soon as we’re born. This is your life!
- Get born. 2. Go to school. 3. Get a degree. 4. Get a job. 5. Work nine am to five pm 6. Buy a house you can’t afford. 7. Buy a car you don’t need. 8. Breed. 9. Retire. 10. Die. Return to coda.
Instead of retirement shouldn’t we be punting a concept of designing our lives better. At the moment the way we use our money doesn’t make sense. We kill ourselves to hoard our money away for a period in our lives where we can’t really make full use of it anymore.
It’s a terrible burden we’ve all taken on where we actively try (and very often succeed) to defer our lives…
Money (and by association our investments) should be the scaffolding we use to build our lives, not some weird fucked up end game.
I used to believe in the whole retirement fairy tale. I mean its worked for my old man. He sits around. Reading. Pottering around in his workshop. Irritating his offspring. Bickering with my mother. Watching hours of news every single night. Slowly drawing down his annuity… trickling down to zero or close to that… waiting for the litigation and eventual family feuds when his children will murder each other for the scraps of his estate.
I don’t want to retire, but neither do I want work a nine to five job for the rest of my life. But why are those our only two options?
We imagine free-form days as the ultimate reward after a long hard slog through life. But in reality nothing frightens me more. Also I’ll be too old to make the trek to Everest base camp then. Too old to do half the stuff I imagine.
So what are my options?
I need to rethink how I approach my life. I need to organise my finances and my investments and my time so that I can do stuff now. I need an income stream that will last me until I’m venerable and crusty. And since I’ve decided to procreate perhaps forge some sort of legacy.
I’m not saying it’ll be easy. But I think my life depends on it.