From prodigal daughter to retirement planner

bank-note.jjpg

Shoved to the bottom of the boot camp list: get my finances in order. 

No argument, this is high priority. This hypothesis has been repeatedly researched and proven: to be happy, people do need money. Not heaps, but sufficient. In fact, when you Google any such phrase as "retirement planning" or "happy retirement", all results are about money money money. You know and I know that money doth not a happy retirement make, but clearly it helps.

So a few months ago my sergeant major locked me in a room with a financial advisor. A nice, intelligent, friendly, experienced, helpful, trustworthy financial advisor called John, which is a nice, friendly, trustworthy sort of a name. John discussed my situation and gave me some forms, which I took home and threw into a corner.

Wah wah wah! Don’t make me think about money!

I don’t want to think about money. In my experience, sums have a habit of working out OK. When I earned $2,000 per year, that was sufficient. When teachers’ salaries rose to the princely sum of $8,000 per year, that was sufficient. In the years when I earned virtually nothing, virtually nothing was also sufficient, because the IRD would kindly give me a tax refund, which would generally be sufficient for a while.

Sufficient: the concept is beautiful. 

I love this well polished fairy tale, which comes straight from my inner Smugilla. 

Financial autonomy in la-la land

Even living in a caravan, I felt happy to be in charge of my own finances. Long ago, I left a paid job for a precarious writing career — took a terrifying leap off a cliff into financial fog — and I wallowed in it, panic attacks and all. Nobody made me do it.

Mind you, when I say “in charge”, I do not mean I had control of my finances. However, we had a comfortable arrangement, my money and I. We agreed not to bother each other but to get on with our separate lives. I managed by living in the wop wops and frequenting op shops. God knows how my money managed, popping in and out of pockets. I didn’t want to know. 

Poverty by choice is not poverty

Chosen poverty is a world apart from enforced poverty, especially as I had a profession to fall back on in tough times. Chosen poverty gives a sense of satisfaction and pride. I wouldn’t dream of comparing that fey life style with a genuine poverty trap, because I had the euphoria of creative satisfaction, and because (to labour the point) I somehow always had sufficient money. 

In my fifties I slipped out of a poet’s garret and back into the real world. Yet my money habits persisted. To this day I maintain a vague, inconsistent, optimistic attitude of wilful ignorance. 

The sergeant major advocates retirement planning

Thanks to my mother’s example, I have always intuitively tailored my wants to fit the money available.  A movie? Sure. Bunch of daffodils? Go on, lash out. Mysteriously, my income has covered my outgoings for decades. Whatever I want, I get. I’m frugal in some ways, extravagant in others, and frankly, I enjoy both.

That’s Smugilla talking. 

What folly. What arrogance. It has to stop, says the sergeant major.

He insists that I plan for retirement. He claims that in my 80s I will have less opportunity (and inclination) to earn money when the need strikes. What nonsense! And he says I can anticipate some nasty expenses, for example for health.

I can’t see it myself, can you? But for the sake of peace I have finally succumbed to his nagging. 

The financial plan, coming ready or not

I do admit, grudgingly, that it might be a Good Thing to track my spending and possibly even start a budget. 

I do see that just leaving money in the bank at 1.25 per cent interest might be a bit silly — not convinced, mind you.

So next week a team of wild horses will drag me kicking and screaming into town to receive my personal financial plan.

I’ll probably hurl it into a corner for a few months before I read it.