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In Tales from the Golden Age, retirees talk about their spending, savings and whether life after work is what they expected.
John Tak, 68, West Vancouver
I retired a couple of years ago, at age 66, after a career working in sectors such as international trade, specialty chemicals and, toward the end, clean technology. I thought it would be an easy decision to retire. However, the closer it got, the harder it was to wrap my head around not having any employment income. Then, the pandemic came along and shut things down, which gave me time to reflect more on my life and how I wanted to spend my time.
Because I was a consultant in my final working years, I didn’t tell any of my clients I was retiring. I just stopped putting my hand up for projects and gradually slowed down. Maybe I was worried I might change my mind about retiring, but I haven’t.
Retirement felt a bit strange at first, going from a structured work environment with different demands and pressures on you every day to not having any of that. It meant I needed to put pressure on myself to do things. It was a challenge at first, but I’ve become used to making a schedule of fun activities like getting together with friends, doing yoga, cycling, hiking, and doing home maintenance and repairs. I also volunteer on a couple of boards – the Foresight Cleantech Accelerator Centre and the Canada-Japan Society of British Columbia. I think having a bit of a schedule is important in retirement; otherwise, you can lose your energy and motivation.
I also feel fortunate to have retired with my wife Heather, who is four years younger than me. We like to garden and travel together and get along very well. We’ve always been in sync on how to deal with our children, finances, and politics.
Financially, we have been very good at saving and investing. Our mortgage is paid off, and we have an investment portfolio that we’re confident can sustain us into our mid-90s while taking into consideration market fluctuations. It means we haven’t been too worried about higher inflation or the market drop over the past year.
We built that investment portfolio by making a few disciplined financial decisions. For instance, we interviewed several advisors before choosing someone who was the best fit for us and our financial goals. We also focused on the fees we were paying, including avoiding investing in high-fee mutual funds and negotiating the advisory fees periodically. Also, we never tried to time the markets. We invested regularly and stayed invested during market ups and downs.
We have the enviable challenge today of shifting from the accumulation stage of life to the decumulation stage. We’ve been programmed to save, not spend and certainly not to spend when we don’t have employment income. But we’re getting out of that headspace and appreciate we can afford to buy a new car, travel, and help out our kids. Our next travel destination is Japan, where we lived for almost 10 years earlier in our careers.
While retirement has been good so far, it’s a little different than I imagined. We spend most of our lives thinking about and planning for retirement. Then, when it comes, there’s a realization that it’s just another phase of life and not some always-happy dream world. There are still both good and bad days. It made me appreciate the importance of living for today instead of thinking the future will be better.
As told to Brenda Bouw
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Are you a Canadian retiree interested in discussing what life is like now that you’ve stopped working? The Globe is looking for people to participate in its Tales from the Golden Age feature, which examines the personal and financial realities of retirement. If you’re interested in being interviewed for this feature, and agree to use your full name and have a photo taken, please e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org Please include a few details about how you saved and invested for retirement and what your life is like now.
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