TOM UTLEY: I’ve long dreamed of a blissful retirement. But with 10 weeks to go, now I’m terrified I’ll die of boredom
For me, as for countless others, it’s the most blissful moment of every week. We stir from our slumber, squint bleary-eyed at the alarm clock — and steel ourselves, groaning, to get ready for another day on the treadmill of work.
Then all of a sudden we realise it’s Saturday! No work today! And a wave of euphoria sweeps over us.
We won’t have to trudge down to the station, to listen to recorded apologies for late and cancelled trains. For a whole weekend, most of us won’t have to take orders from bosses who may be young enough to be our children.
Moreover, we’ll be free to wear what we like, see the people whose company we enjoy and generally please ourselves, without having to keep an eye on the clock all the time.
Tom Utley is to retire from his job in 10 weeks after 43 years as a working member of society
The odd working Sunday aside, in my case I can usually look forward to a whole weekend’s freedom from having to fret about making senile mistakes that could land me in hot water with the Press regulator.
I know this will sound hideously ungrateful, since I’m lucky enough to have a job envied by thousands. But as I mentioned on this page eight years ago, when I still had 100 months to go, I’ve never much enjoyed work — and like 76 per cent of men (though apparently only 36 per cent of women), I long to retire.
Indeed, for at least a decade I’ve had my sights eagerly fixed on November 29, 2018 — the day I will turn 65 and become entitled to swap my pen for a pension.
At long last, I’ve told myself repeatedly over the years, I’ll be free to accept party invitations (my non-columnar duties at the Mail keep me chained to my desk until 9 or 10 in the evening, most days of the week).
What’s more, I’ll be able to linger over lunch at the pub for as long as I like, and go away on holiday for weeks on end. Over the 43 years of my working life, my longest break so far was two weeks and three days, which didn’t seem nearly long enough.
Nor will I have to endure any longer the agony of racking my crumbling brain to remember the name of the wretched Education Secretary, or whoever else I may be required to write about.
When I started in this trade, I could name every minister in every department. Now I have to look most of them up, often two or three times in a single week.
And yet . . . and yet . . . As I draw ever closer to the light at the end of my tunnel, forebodings have set in.
With only ten weeks left to go, will retirement really be as I’ve imagined it — every day like a Saturday until I’m gathered by my Maker? Or will reality fail dismally to live up to the dream?
It’s a question put into sharp focus by this week’s reports of a movement that began life in America, but now claims more than 100,000 followers worldwide. Called the Financial Independence, Retire Early (Fire) formula, its adherents believe that with an awful lot of careful management, even modest earners can give up work for good in their 40s.
What you have to do, apparently, is deny yourself every conceivable pleasure in life — no fancy wine or eating out, no online shopping, cable TV, takeaway coffees, pricey cars, holidays or presents for the children (and definitely no smoking) — while resisting the temptation to spend a single penny for five days in every seven.
Even on those two days when spending is permitted, this must be strictly on essentials, with no retail therapy allowed.
You then have to make shrewd investments with all the money you save — 50 per cent of your salary if you want to retire after 19 years of work, 75 per cent if you’re planning to quit after seven or eight.
I have two observations. One is that to me it sounds downright impossible, with the cost of living as high as it is, for anyone but the seriously rich to save half their earnings. Indeed, how could even the most miserly and ascetic of Scrooges have so much left over from a modest income, after paying for the bare essentials of housing, clothes and food?
My second reaction is that even if the Fire system actually works (a mighty big if) the sacrifices required sound like hell on Earth.
But then Barney Whiter — a married father of three from Farnham, Surrey, who gave up his accountancy job at 43, absolutely swears by it. ‘I am biased, but I think it’s the best thing since sliced bread,’ he says, though he adds: ‘You need to have the mentality of a marathon runner or triathlete and be able to delay gratification.’
My big problem there is that, the joy of giving up work aside, there seems to be no gratification involved, delayed or otherwise. Indeed, followers of Fire have to carry on living frugally for as long as they live, drawing a maximum of 4 per cent of their savings each year until they drop.
In my mind’s eye, I see them doomed to 50 years of retirement, spent staring out of the window of comfortless, cut-priced homes, unable to afford to go out and with nothing to sustain them but an unchanging diet of baked beans on toast. They must be mad.
But what chills me most of all is that this image is not far removed from the reality opening up to me if I down tools on November 29. All right, I knew I’d be considerably poorer than I am now. But I reckoned that after paying into a succession of employers’ occupational pension funds for 43 years, I’d have enough to live in tolerable comfort for as long as a chain-smoker like me might hope to live.
After retirement his pension will pay only a fifth of the money he makes as a full-time worker
There might even be something left over for my widow (whose own total pension, after many years as a stay-at-home mum, will amount to a princely £12 a year).
That was until recently, when the fund managers of my five pension pots began bombarding me with letters spelling out the miserable truth. Even when you include the state pension, I can look forward to a total retirement income of something like a fifth of my present (admittedly generous) salary.
Now, I’m a man of modest needs, with a low-maintenance wife. And for many years when our four sons were growing up, we grew very used to being desperately strapped for cash — not least, because we sent two of the boys to fee-paying schools.
But after 12 years of being spoilt by the Mail, I rather dread going back to the days of worrying constantly about money, when a leak in the roof or a burned-out clutch in the car meant financial catastrophe.
Then there are other objections to retirement. How, for example, will it affect the balance of our marriage? Up to now, Mrs U has been more or less prepared to put up with the many irritations I cause her.
But for how much longer, if I’m under her feet all day long, and no longer bringing home the bacon, while she carries on with her part-time job?
And what if I die of boredom? I’ve tried kidding myself that I might try my hand at writing fiction. But I fear I wouldn’t write a word without a sub-editor hanging over me with a murderous scowl, demanding: ‘Where’s your effing copy?’
As for party invitations, to book launches and suchlike, of course they’ll dry up the minute I stop writing and become free to accept them.
I also remember the wisdom of a comment on MailOnline, when I last wrote of my longing to retire. We all are defined by our occupations, the anonymous sage said. But when we retire, we become just another old geezer — invisible and unnoticed, except to be mocked and patronised by the young.
So now I just don’t know. I’m as determined as ever to give up the day job that keeps me at work half the night. But if readers and my employers will put up with me a little longer, perhaps I’ll keep wittering away on this page until I’m further into my dotage.
After all, Saturdays wouldn’t be nearly such bliss, if they weren’t a relief from the agonies of work.
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