Finally! Your work done, your kids raised, your responsibilities fulfilled, “Now I can live!” you think, turning a bold face towards the “sunset years” – retirement, “second life” and all that. Sunset? Sunrise!
Hear a cautionary tale or two before you go off the deep end and drown, warns Josei Seven (Dec 8).
Visiting her mother in the country, “Ryoko Kato” (all names in this story are pseudonyms) was shocked to find the halls and living room crammed full of boxes.
“They keep coming!”
“What keeps coming?”
Health foods. Health supplements. The mother had retired at 70 and, with time on her hands, took an interest in such things. She ordered one, then another, then saw that if she ordered in bulk she’d get bargains, or points. She ordered more and the more she spent the more she saved; the more she saved the more she spent. She signed year-long contracts without reading the fine print and before she knew it, had gone through 500,000 yen of her savings.
Living retired is very different from living employed. Two differences stand out: pension aside there’s no money coming in, and time, suddenly, is an ocean.
With life spans stretching into the second century, retirement can take up half a lifetime. The financial challenge that poses came to be known as “the 20 million yen problem” after the government’s Financial Services Agency issued a report in 2019 naming that sum as what an average elderly couple would need, in addition to pensions, to sustain a 30-year retirement.
What do you do if, like most people, you haven’t got that kind of money?
You walk on egg shells. You keep very careful accounts, eschew superfluities, trim necessities, and think twice, better thrice, before undertaking anything you’re unfamiliar with – like cooking, which, says Josei Seven, though innocent enough and apparently economical, will cost the novice more than it will save. You end up buying ingredients you don’t need, or too many perishables at one time, forgetting that they rot. Food thrown away is not money saved, it’s money thrown away.
The kids are gone, the house is empty, so why maintain such a large property? Why not sell and move into a small condominium in the center of town, near the train station and shopping facilities?
It’s a great idea until you consider – which few do until it’s too late – that property taxes in such locations are much higher than back in the old suburb. So much for the economy of compact living.
Or maybe sell and move to the country, where the cost of living is cheap? Many do, among them “Yoko Mori,” 62, who found too late that the cost of living is anything but cheap. “After we retired,” she tells the magazine, “we sold the house and settled into a beautiful country place where we’d loved to vacation.” But the vacationer’s beauty is the resident’s nuisance; a vacationer’s quiet is a resident’s boredom. Bugs swarm, new friendships take time, there’s nothing to do, the city with its conveniences and distractions is far away – “and the only food that’s actually cheap,” Mori winds up sourly, “is local produce” – with no nearby supermarket offering budget-stretching bargains.
Another clever idea: move in with one of the children. Of course you wouldn’t force yourself on a son or daughter, but if the son or daughter is sincerely open to the idea of a two- or three-generation household – why not? You’ll save money, you’ll have company, the grandchildren will dote on you and you on them.
Why is real life so different from imagined life? Because our spectacles are rose-tinted, and there’s no such thing as being old enough to know better. Sometimes it works, of course. But the generation gap at this end of the life spectrum can be wider and deeper than at the other end, where teenage swagger confronts midlife weariness. At 80 your children are 50; at 90, 60. They have their own problems: economic and psychological. Facing old age themselves, they may see their future selves in you and recoil. It’s not your fault, but not theirs either. And at the purely practical level, Josei Seven points out, those living with family rank lower on the priority list of resource-strained care facilities, should care become necessary.
Maybe retirement is not the answer. Is there an alternative? Keep working. Past your employer’s retirement age? How? By stepping down a rung or two (or three) of the career ladder. Less prestige, less pay, subordination to people younger than you, maybe even former subordinates. Such was the choice faced by “Megumi Yoshida’s” husband – who said no. He’d done his part, met his obligations, had been a good worker and a solid earner. Now he’d earned his rest and owed no one any apologies – certainly not his wife, who is not happy to have him home all day long and says so. It’s not only that. Finances grow tighter year by year. The cost of living is up, the pensions don’t cover it and may cover less and less as the system buckles under the strain of a rapidly aging population.
It is possible, no doubt, to make the last phase of life the best phase. Possible, yes. Easy, no.© Japan Today