Lies. All lies.

Many financial decisions are harder than they need to be

Many people are not good with financial decisions. Some believe it is because they have never been any good at maths. But I blame the parents 🙂

December 1972

Like you, my parents had lied to me for years. The end to my parents well meaning lies came in December 1972. I had passed my 11+ and joined Farnworth Grammar School in the September. By the end of my first term, Father Christmas had become a character of ridicule. My illusion had been shattered. That fat old jolly man in a red suit, dropping down our chimney with the black & white portable TV I had asked for; he didn’t really exist. I should have known really – the chimney had been blocked up years ago.

I was with my parents in Bolton when they bought me “Gilbert O’Sullivan – Back to Front” from Woolworths. I couldn’t listen to his No.1 hit, “Clare”, when I got home as the album was being sent to Father Christmas. Other worldly wise kids at school had told me that “Sent to Father Christmas” was in fact code for “It will be in your parent’s wardrobe”. I peeped, they were right, Father Christmas was no more.

The Age of Innocence

When we are born we are not aware of the concept of cash. Everything is free. Free food, free nappies, free NHS orange concentrate. I know it’s hard to imagine now, but there was indeed a time before we knew money existed. Almost from the time we learn to talk we start to make demands. I want, I want, I want. Our parents try to negotiate for years. Picture the scene.

Howard drops his bike and runs into the house at the sound of the ice-cream van.

Howard (Age 4) I want a lolly please.
Mum You had one yesterday.

Howard (Age 4) I want a lolly please.
Mum No. It’s bad for your teeth.

Howard (Age 4) I want a lolly please.
Mum It will spoil your tea. (We never referred to the evening meal as dinner. Dinner was lunch, complete with dinner-ladies. Duh. Obvious)

Many of these answers seemed to make sense to me to begin with, but when we are young we just keep asking. But my Mum wasn’t trying to ensure my weight stayed down, that I didn’t need any fillings or that I would eat my greens. The fact was lollies cost money and she knew I didn’t know what money was. The lolly was going to cost money that she didn’t want to spend.

Eventually I grew up a bit, I was allowed to go to the ice-cream van on my own with a few pennies from Mum’s purse. I knew Zoom lollies cost 3d. I just kept on asking for things and in exasperation all reason was exhausted and the cryptic answers started to appear. All these answers were initially complete nonsense to me. What was money and where did it come from?

Here’s what I already knew because my Mum had told me.

  • She wasn’t made of money.
  • Money didn’t grow on trees.
  • For some reason it came in on Thursday evenings in a brown envelope.

When I asked for something much more expensive, then that was different. A black & white portable TV? Better send a letter to Father Christmas.

The Age of Pain

I know many of you were lied to also. We should set up a regression therapy group together. Actually I hope you are reminiscing and chuckling about your first experience of money. I don’t think I know of anybody with a positive first impression of money. Money appeared on the radar when we were told by our parents that they couldn’t afford to buy us something. It was a painful experience. Let’s look at how money was described back then.

  • Money is the root of all evil
  • Money can’t buy you happiness

All very negative and with no motivation to try to earn some money.

Now the Science Part

Many of the things we learn’t when we were young we never forget. Our parents were busy hard-wiring us during our formative years. Years where money was at best kept secret and at worse the subject of constant lies.

Our primitive unconscious brain is fully complete by around age 7. It’s the fight, flight or freeze part which is there to keep us safe. Seen a Tiger? That’s easy. Run! Big kid steals your dinner money? Bit harder. Probably not run, let’s fight. Freeze and he will do it again and again.

Now as we grow up we can more or less forget about large game cats in the North West and about Stephen Murphy, but our primitive brain never switches off. It’s there to keep us safe so it will never rest. The dangers just change as we age. Dangers today often come with a £ sign in front of them. Financial fight, flight or freeze decisions need to be made. The decision today could be; What level of income can I draw from my pension without it running out? -or- Should I invest in the dangerous stock market because I can’t earn any interest in the bank?

We try to think our problems through, but we think this is a maths problem and we remember we were never any good at maths. Often we receive too much information and the decision is not clear cut. Our conscious brain gives up trying and our unconscious brain kicks in. The very same unconscious brain that was complete by age 7 when money didn’t even exist in our lives. We need help to sort all of this out.

The Solution

I’m here to offer continuing help to my clients. Understanding why it is hard to make these decisions is the start. There is no magical one size fits all solution though. We are all hard-wired, we can’t just re-write that bit of programming installed by our parents all those years ago. I don’t care what age you are, in my experience difficult financial decisions never get any easier. We need to understand that our brain is working against us to keep us “safe”. It’s not usually about the maths.

That was then and this is now

I thought I would share this with you for no other reason than to make you smile. I know a lot of you remember me from back in 1994; it was a kind client called Ruth who reclaimed this from the bin and sent it to me.

This dates back to Spring 1994, however just look at the subject matter.

  • State Pension age for ladies rising up to 65 – there is currently a consultation to lift it to 67
  • Look at your tax year end pension planning before it is too late – still applicable today

Frequently asked questions.

Q: Is that a soft Deirdre Barlow type perm?
A: No. My hair is still curly thankfully.

Q: Is that thing on your top lip a smudge on the photo?
A: No. I liked to call it a moustache. It had taken 33 years to grow by then so I wasn’t going to shave it off.

My Retirement

I’m in the futures business

All of our futures. Every day I help clients plan for a better future for themselves and for their families. For some that is looking to a time when they can stop working. For the already retired, to ensure their post working period is a time when they and their life savings continue to thrive.

Now that job carries a lot of responsibility and a requirement to continue to work myself. As I reach 53, more and more clients are asking me just what my plans are.

Rest assured, I won’t be retiring anytime in the near future. Maybe I will never retire at all.

I’ve shown you mine – now show me yours!

I ask clients to tell me their plans every day. Well here are mine. After almost 28 years in the retirement business it would be wrong to say I haven’t considered a life after work. When I set out at Abbey Life, my personal pension had a nominated retirement age of 50. Before I had reached my own half century, the earliest benefits could be taken from a pension leapt to 55. As we speak the current pension freedoms bill is passing through Parliament with the suggestion that the earliest benefits can be withdrawn moves to 10 years prior to state retirement age. For me that is 67 and so no pension withdrawals prior to 57! A further 4 years to go before I can access my pension life savings!

As many of you know Lesley and I have two daughters who are both at university. The cost is not inconsiderable, which we continue to fund from income. The earliest that expenditure will finish, allowing for a follow on year to see them established in their careers, would also take me to 57.

However all of the above may be arbitrary. Does anybody work for 40 years and then suddenly retire anymore? May be I never need to formally retire?

How would the perfect retirement look to me?

I have blogged about working away from the office before, but if I still want to be working when I am 70, I know I won’t be coming into the office everyday.

In October Lesley and I went on a journey from Athens to Mumbai. I was away from the office for 18 working days. Apart from the 5 hour flight to Athens and the 8 hour return flight from Mumbai, I was connected by 4G or wifi everyday the markets were open. I answered client emails within the usual 24 hours, I gave Melissa & Lucas directions at the office and I kept up to date with world affairs.

We handled the overdue stock-market correction, buying low with the cash we had been hoarding since 6850 points had been reached at the end of February. Now to some I know, that wouldn’t sound like a holiday if I had to attend to work every weekday. But;

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. – Confucius

and I do love what I do.

Perfect retirement for me would be about 50% of the time in the office to see clients and 50% of the time out of the office. A client of mine, Ken, told me one of his goals was to go “around the world in 80 years”. He wanted to join together all of the cruises he had done with new cruises, so he could then claim to have been on a world cruise by the time he was 80. Absolutely brilliant! I have stolen his idea. So here is my work/life balance for the next 12 months. Maybe for the rest of my life.

Office > Florida > Office > Panama Canal Cruise > Office > Atlantic Crossing > Office

By the time I reach 55, Lesley and I will be able to say we have cruised from Alaska to India. I make that about half of the world covered. (The easier half I admit).

When we set out to build a technologically advanced, well-connected business, we had no idea that it would allow us to control that business from anywhere in the world. We are in the futures business and hopefully will remain in it forever. Retirement couldn’t be any better than the life we lead now.

Fellow

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I’m a Fellow now. I was always a fellow as per Definition 1. above – but now I’m one as per definition 3. above. A Fellow of the Personal Financial Society.

Nothing at all to do with,

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is a 2001 epic fantasy film directed by Peter Jackson based on the first volume of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Never mind it still trumps over 95% of my profession even though I don’t get to carry a sword.