Even when retired, my mother and grandmother would put off doing the things they really wanted to. They always used to say, “I’ll do it when I’ve finished the housework”, but they never got round to it. I vowed not to be the same as them.
Instead, after years of working in social care, once my daughter started university I sold my house and bought a 5½-acre field off the beaten track in Devon and created a business there. I saw it as my eventual escape route. My aim is to live a very long and very healthy off-grid retirement.
If I could have left work at 60, I would have, but the pension age being extended to 67 has done me no favours. So I’ll continue my day job [as fundraising manager at Plymouth Music Zone] until then – by which time my retirement plan should be in great shape.
Ecology is my passion and I studied plant biology and environmental anthropology as a mature student. It’s long been my dream to put my passion to good use. So far I’ve built a straw bale barn on the land and got funding to plant 2,500 mixed trees to reduce the run-off into the river Dart.
I live in a tiny rented flat and am putting my heart and soul into nurturing the woodland. Not only will this give me a purpose when I retire at 67, it will also feed my daughter and grandchildren in the future.
The business I’ve co-launched, Common Flora, is a regenerative agriculture forestry social enterprise project, growing high-value plants for sale. We have two tenants who grow plants that produce natural medicines and colourings for printing on upholstery, as well as veterinary and horticultural products. We also run community sessions with neurodiverse young people so they can learn about the natural world.
For now, I’m working on it in the evenings and at weekends, and when I get my state pension at 67 my business will be ready for me to step into. I’ll probably be buried here, and my retirement will be about trees and growing and social stuff with people, not housework and coffee mornings.
Things to consider before you retire
⇢ Prepare early
Giving yourself time to prepare for the idea of retirement is a helpful way of feeling more in control of it – whether that’s about financial plans or your lifestyle. “While the idea of switching off the alarm and staying in bed till noon might sound like fun for the first few months, creating helpful new routines right from the outset will set you up for long-term success,” says Stuart Lewis.
⇢ Keep looking forward
“What do you want to look back on in 10 years’ time and have achieved?” says Faye Watts, coach at Audrey Online, the platform that supports midlifers through restarts. “This could be taking on a new project, exploring more of the world, spending more time with friends and family or learning how to paint. Think about what gives you a sense of purpose and create a plan to help you get there.”
⇢ Start saving now
Incredibly, people often don’t bother to join company pension schemes. “But if your company offers one and you have a few years to go, join it and benefit from the contribution your employers will make to your pension. Pay money into an ISA and benefit from the tax breaks. Even small amounts over time add up to big amounts,” says Watson.
⇢ Be savvy
“If you abdicate responsibility for your financial wellbeing to someone else, you run the risk of having a poorer outcome – so make sure you’re armed with the facts,” says Watson. “With one in two marriages ending in divorce, a lot of women have poorer pension accrual due to taking time off to raise a family, working part-time and doing lesser paid jobs. The idea that ‘it will be OK’ is not a good plan.”
⇢ Plan for sociability
“As with any time of transition, some relationships can fade while new ones are forged. Investing in your social life ahead of retirement can help make it feel less daunting and set you up for a thriving social life away from the workplace,” says Lewis.
⇢ Face your finances
You can’t retire on fresh air, says Diane Watson. “Start thinking well in advance what retirement looks like, what age you’ll be and what you need financially to get there. You want to have choices rather than be in a position where you have to keep working even if you don’t want to.” Cash-flow modelling with a financial advisor really helps you see ahead and gives you the jolt you need to make necessary changes.
⇢ Get real
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your financial needs will shrink hugely once you retire. Watson says: “Children may no longer be dependents, but big expenses like weddings and grandchildren’s various needs soon stack up. If you have more than one property, unless you rent them out, they provide you with no financial benefit. And if you rent your home, that amount won’t change unless you downsize. Write it down, so you have a realistic view of your cash needs.”