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Retirement advice should come with an age restriction

And the term ‘golden years’ banned.

All parents reading this will relate to the following: you are watching a movie on TV with your ten-year old when suddenly there is an unexpected scene with either (a) sex, (b) violence or (c) horror which appears on your screen.

If you have trained your progeny well they will, on your command, either cover their eyes for (a) or ears and eyes for (b) and (c).

This formula will continue until they are old enough, in your estimation, to see those previously-banned scenes on the screen. But it doesn’t matter how old your children become, most parents still are not comfortable with watching (a) with their kids, while (b) and (c) seems to be OK with time.

What got me thinking about age restrictions today? The issue of retirement planning and the advice about this subject so often dished out in the media.

I have read with great interest the well-crafted series of articles on investments and retirement planning by young journalists, including a few at Moneyweb.

When these young journalists refer to the “golden years” of retirement, or discuss the possibility of retiring before the age of 60, you know what is missing: real life experiences in the real world.

Think about it: would you take golf lessons from someone who has never played golf, or see a sex therapist who is still a virgin? That’s why I say: don’t take retirement planning advice from anyone under the age of 60.

First, I think the term “Golden Years” was thought out by the marketing departments of our life insurance companies many decades ago to sell a dream: invest with us for your golden years, blah blah blah….

Usually these words would be accompanied by the picture of a good-looking but slightly greying couple – either drinking wine with the sun going down behind them, or strolling down a tree-lined boulevard in some exotic city – the underlying message being that they have enough money to travel the world at leisure. I rate those kind of adverts on the same level as the ones for “losing 10kg in two weeks” or “grow back your hair in a month”.

My request to young journalists is to stop using that hollowed-out expression of the “golden years”.

Retirement, unless you are very wealthy, very healthy and have a very bad memory, is not going to be golden.

And to even think that people can even consider going on retirement in their 50s in this day of increased longevity is just ludicrous. There is a term called “longevity shock” which most of you will hear more often in the future.

Real life experience

Here’s what normally happens in real life to people setting out in life planning for those “golden years”:

  • Sh*t happens. It happens in many ways. You get married, you get divorced, you split your assets. You pay alimony. Sometimes twice. You didn’t plan it that way but it happens.
  • You lose your job and you whip out your pension fund and pay the tax to stay afloat in order to pay off your debts. The end result is you start all over again with your pension fund.
  • You get into debt and cannot get out of it. What happens? You cancel your unit trust/endowment /ETF debit order, pull out the cash and  don’t start it again.
  • You get scammed. Think of the billions of rands lost to property syndicates such as Sharemax, Picvest, Bluezone and others in the past couple of years.
  • You go bankrupt through either too much debt or the start-up company you got involved in doesn’t make it past year one, or two or three…. Once again, you didn’t plan to go bankrupt.
  • You go to jail. This is most probably one of the most under-reported contributing factors that can destroy any chances of a decent retirement. Very few people who end up in jail manage to make it back into the mainstream economy in order to rebuild their lives or have a chance of a decent retirement.
  • You sign surety for other people’s debts and they abscond, leaving you in the lurch.
  • You make bad investments and it takes years to recover, and in some cases never at all.


I can go on and on and so can most people over the age of 60, who read this column.

Retirement for most people is not going to be “golden”, and it is not going to happen in your fifties or increasingly in your sixties.

For most – about 95-98% of the population — it’s going to be a battle to ensure that whatever capital they build up during their lifetime will last them for the rest of their natural lives, which could well extend into their eighties, nineties or beyond.

My experience is that most people would like to extend their working lives for as long as possible. My receptionist turns 80 one of these days – a casualty from one or more of the scenarios outlined above – and she is not even thinking about retirement.

I also often advise people who are forced to retire to go and find another job, another source of income, even if it means a period of retraining to obtain some scarce skills to be a bookkeeper (always a good bet) or a compliance officer for a financial services company (a growth industry right now).

Come to think of it, most of my clients are either working and/or consulting in their retirement; the only “gold” they are seeing is the money they are making while working.

I think society as a whole, and the media in particular, needs a rethink about this retirement thing. By all means give good advice and urge people to save and plan for something called financial independence, but stop selling the impossible dream.

And the next time you see an ad on TV urging you to plan for your Golden Years, close your eyes and cover your ears.

*Magnus Heystek is investment strategist at Brenthurst Wealth. He can be contacted at magnus@brenthurstwealth.co.za for ideas and suggestions.

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