My big dream of a fancy retirement started when I shared a tin of tuna with my cat

It’s never too early to start dreaming of a happy retirement, and then to start planning and saving for it. 

By Rochelle Barrish

When it comes to my future retirement, I am haunted by a vivid image — penniless retirees eating dog food. I read about it in a newspaper article, and it saddened me.

I was 26, and retirement was something I thought of only once in a while, when my eye fell on the pension part of my salary slip.

I thought about it too, on those sunny days when I drove past the beautiful St James retirement hotel, on my way to long lunches in Kalk Bay. I would fantasise about living there.

It would be the base from where I would set off on the Queen Mary 2, cruising around Norwegian fjords and the Caribbean, dancing with handsy old men, and making the most of the buffets.

But that article hit close to home for another reason. On the night before pay day, I had shared a tin of tuna with my cat.

There was always a day or two between her food running out and my salary coming in.

On that day or two, we’d share whatever was left in the cupboard or fridge. Sharing food with my cat was not that big a leap from eating dog food, right?

I used to hate it when my older colleagues told me to start saving for retirement.

Nowadays, I am that “oldie”, giving the same advice to the kids I work with, as their eyes roll back in their heads.

What happened to carefree me, who had delusions of living it up in retirement? That tin of tuna and my 40s, that’s what.

Once I had opened the last of my presents after my 40th bash and felt vaguely human again, I was served all sorts of retirement-planning ads on Facebook.

And like the annoying voice-of-reason he is, my financial guy called to check if I was ready to get serious about my retirement.

Of course I am, I replied, ready when you are. Two hours before our meeting, I was scrambling around the house, digging in the nonsense drawers, looking for my statements.

To say our meeting was sobering sounds like a cliché, but I saw my fabulous life in my late 60s at the St James retirement hotel disintegrate into maybe a wendy house in my son’s backyard in my 80s (if his partner will put up with high-maintenance-me). There’s just no way I can retire before I’m 75. And the only cruising I would be able to do would be in my jalopy, taking me to the local Seniors’ Luncheon on Mother’s Day or just before Christmas.

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I could see the lavender soap and tissues I would get in appreciation for “everything your generation did”. Uurgh!

Decisions had to be made. But first, I had to be on-brand and look for shortcuts.

I took a look at the pensioners on my maternal side. Aunty Shanks is the oldest survivor at 71, and the rest are looking good. There’s one severe case of arthritis, one moderate case, and the rest? In fairly good health. Broke, but in good health.

On my father’s side, there was cancer and heart disease. I’m living with heart disease, and look exactly like my dad, so I thought an early exit was pre-ordained. Yay, no saving needed!

Except my dad is 66 and as strong as a horse. So is his dad at 88. Looks like the men thrive and the women don’t survive.

My gender was a major flaw in my plan.

Back to the drawing board I went, and once my husband heard my hare-brained idea of planning to exit before retirement, he joined forces with the financial guy and became just as annoying.

They had a list of demands. Thanks to all the American TV I watch, I know enough not to negotiate with terrorists. I decided the meeting venue would be my lawn.

If I’m going to be bullied, I may as well endure it while lounging under sunny skies with a G&T in hand.

I am supposedly saving more towards my retirement now, according to my own private Pravin and Tito. But all I see is my desperately sad wine rack, more home-cooked meals, spreading my grocery-shopping over several retailersand-buying-in-bulk, and my lingering resentment.

In their defence, I have seen some lovely results. Even though I still won’t live at the St James retirement hotel on my current retirement trajectory, I will at least be able to play tennis on their court once a week.

If I play my volleys right, I might just find a handsy old man at the St James to shack up with. As for the Norwegian fjords and the Caribbean, well, there’s always YouTube and Netflix.

As I read somewhere, managing your own expectations is a sign of maturity.

  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.
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