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Retire with no pension and no savings: retirement income and frugal living.

Updated on October 7, 2014
Artwork Courtesy of Alistair Parker
Artwork Courtesy of Alistair Parker | Source

Work to Live

 The secret to a long and happy life is work. The moment you stop working you stop living. I never thought I would say something like that, but reflecting on experience has taught me a few lessons as retirement age approaches.

I could cite the opposite sentiment. Why work when you can retire and take it easy. I know plenty of people who started work a few years before me who are retiring early on final salary pensions. When I asked my old mate Roy if he would go back to work, he looked at me as if I was an idiot, "not me mate, I'm having a great time".

Guy's like Roy who retired with a lump sum, mortgage paid off, no kids at home and enough income to not have to work, are a dying breed (but not anytime soon if you are reading this Roy). He worked for more than forty years in the same industry (Health Service), the classic Baby Boomer job for life. He deserves his retirement because he earned it. He determinedly stuck with a job that was 'just a job'. He didn't hate his work, but he didn't love it either. Roy was the classic case of 'work to live'.

After seven years in the same job as Roy, I knew I was going to have to wait for Roy to retire before I got a promotion. I also couldn't stand the idea of working in the same place doing the same thing for the next thirty eight years. So I foolishly converted my Health Service pension contributions into a private pension that will return about £400 a year when I'm sixty-five. In eleven years I won't even be able to buy Roy a beer for that.

But I took my chances and went my own way in a varied and not always successful series of careers. Now at fifty three it's a bit late to think about saving for retirement. But that's okay because now I've discovered a view of the future that Roy never had.

Retirement: It's nice to get out of the rat race, but you have to learn to get along with less cheese.

— Gene Perret

Live to Work

It's taken me thirty-six years of working to finally find a job that I love - writing and film making. I've had some really bad jobs, but that's another hub. They say there is no substitute for experience and all that time has been spent accumulating a personal bank deposit of memories, stories, experiences, tragedies, comedies that I can dip into anytime I want with no withdrawal penalty. A life spent job hopping has turned into a store of firewood that will fuel my writing fire for the duration. I might be new to Hubbing but I can see that if I persevere, eventually I'll have a fund of writing that will be my pension.

Of course writing isn't for everyone, but that's not the point. The point is... do something you love... then retirement will be out of the question. It doesn't matter if it takes half a lifetime to work out what that something is. Just as there is a someone for everyone, there is also a something. It could be knitting lifesize dinosaurs or teaching Swaheli to Baby Boomers. If you love it do it... it's never too late to start.

In my mid thirties I was doing an MBA with the Open University (another misgiuded career choice) when I met an octagenarian student on the same course. He had retired as a Director of the giant British retailer Marks and Spenser many years earlier. I asked him "How come you want to do this course?", tactfully leaving out the 'at your age' subtext. "I just want to see what you young fellows are up to". Eighty years old but determined not to be left out of the loop!

Work into your Eighties

Working into your Eighties

I did a video trailer for 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist', to be staged by the Liverpool Everyman Theatre. The Director, Christopher Morahan, is well into his eighties and still going strong. He was directing TV shows before I was born and was Head of Drama at the BBC when I was in school. I asked him if retirement was something he'd ever considered, "Oh good lord no", was the reply, like I'd asked him the dumbest question ever.

Sir David Attenborough the TV presenter is eighty five and still making award winning programmes with undiminished vitality.

My theory, and it's not - work in the entertainment business if you want a long life, is that we are defined by our work. We derive our sense of identity from our jobs. It doesn't seem to matter if you are the President or the Paper Boy, there is a strong but undeniable link between loving your work and health and vitality.

Longevity vs Retirement Age

Age at Retirement
Average age at death

Lies, damn lies and statistics

These people may be the exception to the norm, in fact a study of retired Boeing employees by Dr Ephrem Siao Chung Cheng suggested that the earlier you retire the longer you live. Which suggests the either Boeing is a tough place to work and people were much happier out of there or it could confirm that people's loss of identity associated with their job severely affects life expectancy.

This study is contradicted by another published in the British Medical Journal in 2005 stating that retiring at fifty-five significantly increased risk of death compared with those retiring at sixty-five. So who do you believe? Most people surviving to receive the Queen's telegram (100) are busy, happy people. I prefer the evidence of my own eyes.

Of course all this debate is because we live so much longer now. Only a century ago the 'Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' would be lucky to see fifty.

Lifestyle, culture and finances have a big influence on whether you will be able to work past your sell by date, as does the country you live in. Good if you live in Macau who are top of the longevity league with 84.33 years, no need for a pension in Swaziland where you are lucky to make 32. The UK and the USA come in 37th and 47th places respectively, distinctly average. (Source -

Life Expectancy Top 10 by Country

84.33 years
82.67 years
82.07 years
81.89 years
San Marino:
81.88 years
Hong Kong:
81.77 years
81.53 years
81.16 years
80.87 years
80.74 years
80.74 years

Die with your boots on

If you can keep the health and vitality thing going along with doing the work you love then you just might be lucky enough to die with your boots on - leaning on your spade admiring the tomatoes in your market garden. And if you are of a green disposition they might just dig you in with the potatoes.

There must be some mileage in my theory of continued working, the British Government have just announced plans to remove legislation which allows employers to forcibly retire employees when they hit sixty-five. They also have plans to push the state pension age up from sixty-five (men) to sixty-six, and by the time I get there the goal posts will no doubt have moved futher. The French government also want to increase the retirement age - which caused riots. A fifty something female TV presenter successfully won her case against the BBC for ageism in the workplace. So the global thinking is definitely directed towards power to the pensioners - their campaign slogan is 'What do we want? We can't remember'. Sorry, that's a bit ageist, but if you are going to work till you drop then you'll need a sense of humour.

And that brings me to the big question... what do you do if you can't work because of illness or just sheer old age?

The nomadic Indian's used to leave their old people behind when they became too much of a burden. If leaving Grandma to the wolves is too much of a hardline solution to an ever ageing population problem then what are the options?

Options for a Retirement with no pension

The No Money Options -

(a) Family - traditionally the family would look after the old and infirm and for some of the lucky ones that is still an option (I hope you are reading this kids!).

(b) A trip to a Swiss clinic - very sad and probably only for the desperate.

(c) Sitting out on a mountain top and waiting for the last dawn - I quite like this one (kids, if you don't fancy (a) then check out the top of Snowdon if I haven't been around for a while - they have a train to the top!)

Liquidise your assets -

(a) Reverse mortgages or Equity loans- if you own your own home then you can release the equity with these schemes - but read the small print first.

(b) Rent a room - you might even get a sympathetic lodger to do your shopping and take out the trash (not you!).

Income in your sleep -

(a) Write a hit song, especially a Christmas hit, then sit back and wait for the sound of the big fat royalty cheque hitting the front doormat to wake you from your semi permanent afternoon nap.

(b) As mentioned above - become a successful Hubber and dream of an income to pay the nursing home bills.

(c) Build a business then sell it for so much money you'll never even need to think about anything more than the sun warming your beer while you doze on the beach.

But if you are like most of the wage slaves - continue buying a lottery ticket every week and keep your fingers crossed for your retirement.

Retire like Bill Gates

Retirement Poll

What would you prefer in your dotage?

See results


This hub was a prizewinner in the Personal Finance Hubpages competition.

Thanks for reading and remember to rate and/or recommend to your network.



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