In our Living in Retirement blog, a recent retiree chronicles the ups and downs of her real-life retirement journey.
On Saturday night eight of us met for dinner at the home of my long-time colleague. All of us are in our late fifties or early sixties. Two have retired and one will be retiring shortly. We live in the Greater Toronto Area; three are or were college professors and one is a nurse. The rest are accomplished professionals in their field.
It’s not difficult to guess what the first topic of conversation was. You guessed it: property values. Two couples recently moved from their detached homes to condos. They are pleased with their choices. As for Mr. Wonderful and me, we are now fully ensconced in our new townhouse in Oakville, enjoying the luxury of ample space after two years of being packed into my condo of 895 square feet.
Each couple is trying to maintain the standard of living we expected to have after working for more than 35 years. We downsize, pay taxes, and put our kids through university. We hope that the financial decisions we make will serve us well as our incomes scale down during retirement. If our luck holds, there will not be another economic crisis as severe as the one in 2008. We pray that we will remain healthy so we can reap the rewards of a comfortable retirement.
The second topic of discussion is more difficult to guess. It comes later in the evening, after we’ve consumed our Grey Goose and soda with a twist of lemon. Tongues are loosened. Openly we worry about our kids and our obligations to them. All of us had children late in life. Our children are attending university.
Although we’ve done a decent job planning and providing for ourselves during retirement, we are vexed by the new burden of grown children either living at home or continuing to be financially dependent on us. We don’t understand how they turned out to be so different from the way we were.
We’re not certain how they will learn to cope with the financial obligations of adulthood or how they will manage to launch their careers in an ever-increasingly unforgiving and competitive world. They are oddly unprepared for the harsh realities we know they will face upon graduation. The school of hard knocks is not part of their vocabulary.
When we were young adults, all we wanted was to be free. Most of us left the family home before we reached twenty years of age. We struck out on our own. We managed. I did, leaving my folks who desperately wished for me to remain at home with them. My dream was to be as independent of my parents as I possibly could.
For the most part, I succeeded. Three jobs in the summer before leaving for university put me in a good position. Since then I’ve been employed for my entire adult life. It never occurred to me to be otherwise.
But conditions are vastly different today than they were forty years ago. Tuition was $550 in 1971 when I attended my first year of university. Today it’s ten times that figure. The cost to live in university residence and take meals is about $11,000 today. My yearly room and board at residence was $1,500.
Our children face multiple obstacles. Jobs are harder to come by. In my neighbourhood, women in their sixties and older - not students - are behind the counter at Tim Horton’s. Older women without pensions need the income. They are reliable and show up for work on time.
Working for independence does not appear to be as attractive to our kids as it was for us. Fewer students these days seem to be graduating in four years from university, as we did. The five-year – or even six-year – Bachelor’s Degree is certainly becoming common among the children of my friends and relatives. My daughter will graduate with a degree in theatre and film. Another friend’s son will graduate with a degree in jazz.
In a certain way, their chosen fields of endeavour make sense. I’m a writer. The distinguished photographer and the award-winning filmmaker at the dinner table on Saturday night, not surprisingly, have budding artists for children. We encouraged our kids to express themselves, to be creative. Maybe too creative.
As we scrape and save for retirement, continue to work part time, worry over the astronomical price of housing, condo fees, land transfer taxes, health insurance, car repairs, the gruelling traffic driving in and out of Toronto, our children appear to be incomprehensively blasé about the future.
That the average price of a detached house in Toronto or Vancouver is hovering at $1-million or more does not engender fear in their young hearts. They do not discuss property values when they meet for diner. After all, they can always live with us.
Follow Joyce Wayne on Twitter: @JoyceWayne1951