Retirement is a time when we would or should play it safe. Are we doing enough to ensure that we manage all potential risks is a big question. The environment and circumstances are changing all the time. So, it’s a good idea to take a reality check from time to time. The author here provides an interesting perspective. Team RetyrSmart.
As retirement rules change, check out the issues of concern
Travels during the year-end break helps me meet many people. This week’s story is about three seniors I met. The problem with those of us nudging the age 60 mark is that we don’t need much provocation to start worrying about our retirement. Here are some of the observations and lessons swirling in my head.
Patil Mama is 92. He lives in his village and walks in his fields every day. He enjoys his food, keeps his routine, and sleeps under the stars every night. Shakuntala Mami is 76 and lives by herself in a rented house. She is immersed in spiritual and religious pursuits and spends her time teaching shlokas. Bawa is 68 and lives with his doting wife and son. He is unable to to walk or hold himself straight and his condition is deteriorating.
First, all three draw pensions from the government. A tidy sum that appreciates every year from dearness allowance, and gets reset when pay commission recommendations are implemented. Even Mami, who draws a widow’s pension, says she has enough. So many of us now work for the private sector. Those who work for the government now have the NPS. The annuity markets pay too little and the era of guaranteed returns is gone.
When it is time for our retirement, we will have to use finer techniques to draw upon the corpus, without depleting it. Simply depositing the money in a bank and earning interest may not be enough. How do we make the corpus grow while using it?
Second, they all lead simple and frugal lives. They are not holding back because they have retired, but it is just that their lifestyles have been very simple. They do not care much for the luxuries that we take for granted. They don’t need expensive gadgets or clothes; they eat simple food; they are happy to travel by public transport. It is their simple habits that make their pensions adequate, leaving behind a small saving at the end of the month.
We on the other hand, have converted into a society of consumers. We love material things; we can’t stop buying and replacing stuff. We also have begun to feel quite entitled to luxuries. Would those of us who are on the verge of retirement, be willing to give up the luxuries our corporate lives have afforded us? We may still need the car; we may have the time but still choose to fly; and we may not turn the air conditioner off just because we have retired. A spending creep has taken over while we haven’t noticed.
Third, the quality of the seniors’ lives is determined primarily by their relationships and their health. Mama is still the patriarch who the village respects. No decisions in the household or farm are taken without his approval. He presides over most family functions and relatives routinely come by to meet him and seek blessings. Mama is a beneficiary of the fast-fading patriarchal order. Mami is loved for being the dynamic and fearless lady who lives by herself. Her neighbours and friends dote on her. Bawa, however, is a lonely man. He speaks little, is mostly by himself, and his wife worries if he is depressed.
We are a generation that did not grow roots. We went where the jobs took us, made friends along the way, and hope for a retirement where we will make more new friends in the retirement villa we have bought. We revel at our social skills and feel confident that we won’t be lonely. Will a place filled just with the oldies be a happy one? We hope so!
Fourth, the qualitative difference in their lives, and the joy in everyday existence is driven primarily by a strong sense of purpose. Mama is keenly following the efforts of his son to create orchards. The conversion of jowar, chilly and bajra fields into guava, sapota and coconut orchards excites him at every step. He has been following the process and keenly learning even at this age.
Mami is learning new shlokas and hymns each day, so she can teach more people. She does not charge a fee but looks forward to hearing the stories of the women and children who come to her to learn. The buzz and interaction keeps her spirit high. She recently took a batch of North Karnataka women to Kumbakonam for a temple festival, and they can’t stop talking about how much they enjoyed it.
Bawa is a sad man who does not practice medicine that he learned, or acupuncture and yoga that he mastered. He is not even motivated to improve his own condition with exercise or activity. He has been gripped with fear after an accidental fall a few years ago, and is unwilling to take help for his condition. He spends his time listening to music, sitting in his chair, and brooding over things he won’t talk about. Without purpose, so much of life is lost.
Fifth, Mama hardly complains of health issues. He rests when tired, and is otherwise active. Mami keeps good health and has her routines of daily walk and exercise. Both of them love good food. Mama is fortunate to have his daughter-in-law cook what he likes. Mami is active enough to make her own food. Bawa sadly, is unwilling to see the doctor to get diagnosed and treated and has all but lost his mobility and independence.
Many of us have begun obsessing about health–scared by stories of lifestyle diseases afflicting the middle aged. We may have to double our efforts at staying fit. We will have to remain in charge of our limbs and our body, and do whatever we can to stay active. We may also need a plan for our health and care when we age, for we may not have the luxury of a doting family hovering over us.
While friends tell me lovely new age stories of how the newly retired travel the world, meet friends, eat out, and have a lot of fun, I remain concerned about the safety nets of pension, family, habits and health, not being present below our feet. Bawa’s deterioration sets alarms bells ringing in my head. I wonder if we are truly well prepared..