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What I wish I'd known about finances


I’ve always had a very Micawberish attitude to money and finances, in the sense that I’ve always thought ‘something will turn up’. To be fair, something has always turned up, but I haven’t ever planned for my future financially, at least in the traditional sense of job, pension, retirement.

When I got my first ‘proper’ job, at the tender age of 42, I was a single parent of four daughters and really couldn’t afford to pay into the company pension scheme. That might have been a mistake because it was the Local Government Pension Scheme, widely recognised as one of the best around. However, it wasn’t through ignorance or inertia that I made that decision. I would only have had 18 years of contributions and I calculated that it would net me a very small pension and I needed the money there and then for my children. I have always kept my National Insurance Contributions up to date though, and so now get a full State Pension plus some add-ons. It’s not a fortune, but I can live on it.

A lucky Baby Boomer

I am one of the lucky Baby Boomers who could retire at 60. When I took voluntary redundancy, I decided to retrain as a personal fitness trainer, specialising in older people. As an older person myself, I reasoned, I would have clients flocking to me and thus would make my fortune. What I hadn’t banked on was that Micawber was still very much with me and I learned that I always worked to live, not the other way round. Having a pension I could live on removed the absolute need to earn a living and I found that my time was much more valuable to me than money. The consequence of this is that I haven’t earned a single penny as a self-employed personal trainer.

Doing what I love

Although I don’t actually earn any money from it, fitness is a subject that really interests me. I firmly believe that keeping active is the secret to a long and healthy old age. No point in having all the time in the world if you haven’t got the health to enjoy it. Plus you can live more cheaply if you are fit and active. Consequently I have e-clients on Twitter and I run a fitness class for U3A (University of the Third Age) once a week. I also seem to be the ‘go to’ person for Radio Manchester if anything fitness related is in the news. My apotheosis was being on Woman’s Hour and doing a small training session with Jenni Murray. Could life get any better?

However, saying that I didn’t plan at all is being a bit disingenuous. I have always been fairly clued-up about finances. I knew exactly what type of mortgage I wanted and changed over the years from endowment to repayment, before the endowment shortfall scandal came to light. I knew I wanted to retire as soon as my State Pension kicked in, so made sure that my debts were paid off. I was also able to pay off my mortgage. It’s amazing how little you can live on if you don’t have rent or a mortgage to pay.

Modest requirements

I have pretty modest requirements. Being a single parent of four children meant that I could never afford holidays abroad, so I haven’t ever developed the travel habit. I’m thinking about going to France this year, but there are ways to do it cheaply and I have recently joined HelpX, a site that lists farms and other projects looking for volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation. Why should the youngsters have all the fun? The Youth Hostel Association has volunteering opportunities too. Then there is house-sitting where you pay for travel, but not the accommodation, in return for looking after pets. ‘Groundling’ (the 17th Century term for standing-room only) tickets at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre cost just £5. One of the advantages of staying fit is that you can take advantage of cheap deals that need a bit of stamina and fitness.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m scratching about for a living; I’m just very good at living on a low income. Retirement may mean you haven’t much money, but you do have lots of time to research the good deals. My bus pass is one of my most treasured possessions. I’d be sunk without that. Again, you need a certain level of fitness to use public transport.

I have known people who want to retire but are afraid of the financial consequences. To these people I have always said the same thing. If you want to retire, just do it. You may not have as much money as you have had when you were working, but take a chance. Hopefully we will all live to a ripe old age, but nothing is certain and slogging away to have a standard of living you may not live to enjoy doesn’t seem sensible to me.

So, back to the question: what do I wish I’d known about my finances? Well, if I could go back and meet a younger me I think I would make the following points:

  • Keep yourself fit because no amount of money can compensate for good health;
  • Living with ill health costs more than being well;
  • Not working costs less than working;
  • Pay off all your debts and your mortgage;

And finally:

  • Don’t be afraid of the future because ‘something will turn up’.

What do you wish you’d known about finances when planning for retirement? Share your stories and tips with other readers in the comments below.

This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.


It is so refreshing to hear from someone who hasn't got a fabuously worked out financial and to show what's possible
I sometimes think that if I had been the type of person who had planned everything meticulously I would never have found the right time to retire because I would always have been trying to increase my pension 'just a bit more'. However, having no pension pot meant that I could retire as soon as I was able to claim the state pension because my pension was never going to increase.

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