These words certainly got me thinking when they came out of the mouth of my twenty five year old son late last week – So when does OLD become ELDERLY? It is becoming obvious to me that there are three stages of ageing – the first stage is when you feel young, and this is because you are actually young. The third stage is when you feel old, and this is because you are actually quite old. But the middle phase is where you feel young, but everyone else thinks you are old – and this stage seems to be lasting longer and longer, sometimes into our seventies. With the official retirement age at 65, we are automatically classified as ‘elderly’ when we reach this milestone, but as someone who is not too far away from it, the last thing I feel like is elderly. Forty is the new thirty – sixty is the new fifty – people are living longer and keeping much better health in their later years than ever before.

New Zealand has the highest rate in the OECD of people over 65 continuing in employment – the official ‘retirement age’ is barely even a guideline any more. Forty percent of 65 to 69 year olds are in full time employment – but is this necessity – or from choice? Unfortunately many people decide to retire without thinking through the consequences – both how it will affect their lifestyle, and the financial ramifications of losing a complete income.

Anyone retiring today needs to be more self-sufficient than retirees of the past – gone are the days when the government pension was sufficient to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. Our average life expectancy keeps going up – in 1900 you could expect to live until you reached forty eight. Since then, life expectancy at birth has risen about three months with each passing year, and today’s newborns can expected to live for a very long time – by the end of the century, our life expectancy will be 100 years.This means you need to budget for living on your savings and a government pension that although is ‘inflation adjusted,’ is actually decreasing in real value – and you need to plan to do this for at least twenty years, and probably a lot longer.

Some employers have a mandatory policy of retirement at 65 – but if this is the case forced retirement can often open up opportunities for a secondary career. This might just be the right time for a major career change – with the added financial security of a government pension helping to top up a dwindling bank balance the options of working part time, or on a lower salary in less stressful work, can suddenly become an attractive possibility.

While the financial ramifications of going from a regular salary to a government pension are hard enough to cope with, the change in lifestyle is just as monumental and often not planned for. By the time we reach retirement age our children have left home and hopefully we have made the adjustment to being empty nesters – with the added stresses of retirement some can view the years ahead as the loneliest and least rewarding of their lives. Suddenly having an extra eight hours a day to fill can be daunting, and when the expected daily routine of golf and gardening loses its attraction, the idea of an encore career and the chance to try something new can revitalise and energise.

With possibly twenty or thirty years of retirement you can transform yourself into whatever or whoever you want to be, and change careers as many times as you did during your working life. You could just cruise for a while, being content just to enjoy the idea of not having a boss to answer to. You might find a new meaning and purpose in life, return to work part time, volunteer at something that calls to you – whatever you choose to do in retirement is right – just make sure that you actually do something!

‘It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.’ Andy Rooney

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