The existential choices one has to make before and during retirement.
Remember when the old folk became part of the extended family: loved and respected “counsellors” who still led the prayer at supper time? Then came Dr Spock to replace parenting advice, and today we have the internet which needs only a few touches on the keyboard to tell you everything and much more than the BBC (born before computers) generation could ever tell you. So while our children have made us redundant as counsellors, they in turn are being displaced by the “Google generation”.
Today both sides of the generation groups seem to prefer “independence” for the elderly or reliance on some or other communal compound or institution. So one of the most important decisions one has to make before or early on in retirement is where to stay. Equally important is whether it is a final move or simply a bridge between an active and passive life. There are many options and they affect a number of financial and existential issues that may be in conflict.
It makes sense to hold on to one’s home for as long as possible, but most will ultimately be confronted with the need to move. Selling one’s home brings with it a sense of loss of control and conversely renting gives one a sense of being under someone else’s control. But these are perceptions more than reality. Owning a home too big for an ageing couple could be as constrictive to one’s choices as having a landlord.
I divested from fixed property partly for financial reasons, but also for mobility and other existential needs. My terminally ill wife needed frail care so I moved to a village with frail care facilities. It was a mistake for a number of reasons. Frail care is not always what it is made out to be and there is a fine line between that and hospitalisation – a line perhaps too readily crossed by frail care staff. One should seriously consider home care nursing as an option. It need not cost much more than permanent frail care, especially if covered by medical aid, and there’s considerable comfort for someone surrounded by familiar faces in familiar surroundings.
This of course, raises the perplexing issue of medical cover. My premium has increased three-fold in as many years and no doubt many retirees have experienced something similar. Even those with company subsidies have added substantially to average retirement living costs.
I don’t have an answer on dealing with matters medical. It’s a highly personal circumstance, but a common fate that most face is downgrading their cover to basic, or reverting to cheaper hospital plans. I put away a certain amount every month for “other” medical expenses. It seldom covers what I need.
Insurance by its very nature relies on the fear and insecurity of the insured. Premiums are more the price of peace of mind than to cover real events. If only we were made of sterner stuff and had the financial discipline in our younger days to establish our own “contingency funds”! And perhaps the key to some serenity lies in having that courage. Once you have done what you can afford, the rest must be placed in the hands of benevolent gods.
Regarding accommodation, I opted for an occupational rights facility as opposed to a free hold unit. Big mistake, especially if it turns out not to be your last move! It means that you get back a portion (normally 80%) of what you paid for your unit investment, not what they sell it for and you cannot rent it out, sublet or have more than the registered occupants. What they also don’t tell you is that if you move you must still pay for most of the wear and tear, damage or alterations that you have done, over and above the 20% they swallow. In four years, the levies increased by 300% to a level that could rent a reasonably sized home in a small town. Residents have no “corporate body” type say in running the village, and some of the administrators treated residents like dementia patients.
I could write a book about that experience – but I can’t make up my mind whether it should be comedy or tragedy. Retirement villages have a number of obvious benefits such as security and “lock-up-and-go”. What they cannot provide for though, is the behaviour of the residents, many of whom find it difficult to adjust from secluded suburban living to a more intimate environment and frankly become difficult and crabby Prima Donnas. A friend or neighbour today is gone tomorrow, either because of the grim reaper or some dispute which more often than not was the result of not fully understanding boundaries of courtesy in visiting or sharing communal facilities. One also need not be reminded of one’s own mortality weekly or monthly.
But there are many other options of communal living within a frail care environment. It is a personal choice that requires a lot of diligent thought and above all, a keen knowledge of oneself. In retrospect, I believe this option is best achieved by selecting a retirement village in a smaller town still within an hour or two of major medical facilities, where the units are much cheaper, frail care also modestly priced, and where people have a warmth and sense of camaraderie that you simply don’t find in the big cities.
One can also rent these units and in most cases the levies, either included in the rent or paid separately, enable access to communal benefits such as temporary frail care, meals and entertainment facilities.
It is often said that one should not move away from an environment where one has a support base of family and friends. But one can, albeit with some effort, establish that base in any area. Staying purely for family reasons is a very personal and emotional decision that very often leads to disappointment. Also that base is not as permanent as one may expect.
A popular option is moving to the coast. If you do, it will most likely not be your last move, and you should consider renting a coastal property before buying one. Living close to the sea needs a lot of house-cleaning and maintenance, and one is also invariably separated from family and friends and proper medical facilities.
It’s amazing how often people who live and work at the coast, move to an inland town or city on retirement and vice versa. The same goes for moving to a rural setting like I did. My rent here is about half of the levies I paid in the retirement village in Johannesburg. While rented farm houses are mostly extremely cheap, they are also difficult to obtain close to town. But one can easily find reasonably sized homes for between R3000 to R4000 pm in town – even cheaper in some of the less popular but still attractive towns in the area.
Plot living and achieving a measure of self-sufficiency is tough and one’s declining abilities and energy very soon result in an abandonment of pet projects. Also the mobility I sought in selling my own home has been constrained by other factors such as security and the need for house- and pet-sitters when we are away.
Interestingly, and we all know this, even paradise becomes mundane and you quickly stop noticing your idyllic surroundings. But I know with equal certainty that if I moved, I would just as quickly mourn the loss of those surroundings. The real trick is when you leave one environment then, like Vegas, what happened there should stay there.
It is equally so with retirement itself. It should never be simply about escaping one phase of one’s life. Rather it is about starting and adjusting to a new one, and leaving all the previous baggage behind.
But this is an emotional issue, exceeding by far the financial and existential issues of retirement. It will be my next subject.