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Planning for Retirement: How Life Events Can Unravel The Best Laid Plans.

Pat Price - West Midlands, England

Planning for Retirement is something other people do. I've never been one for planning too much.

The trouble with plans is they have a habit of unraveling. Most of my life has been spent reacting to situations that were neither expected nor planned for.

The only thing I can remember wanting to be when I was young was to be married and have children - which I did - and for many years I was very happy and content with my lot. That was my plan for life, but unfortunately it unraveled with a "life event."

The first "life event" was divorce, after 15 years of marriage and two children. My reaction was to get a job, any job, just to earn some money. After a few years of secretarial work, I decided I needed to up my game in order to up my earning power.

planning for RetirementAs a PA to a Personnel Manager I was offered the opportunity to study and qualify whilst working, to become a Human Resources Professional. It wasn't anything I'd planned, but it was an opportunity that I decided to take. I was well into my 40's before I became fully qualified. I then proceeded to climb up the corporate ladder to become a Training and Development Manager within the Construction Industry in a large corporation.

As a single mum there was never too much money left over at the end of the month. Consequently, my sum total of planning for retirement was to join the final salary pension scheme at work, and then trying not to think about it too much! After all, 65 was a long way off.

So there I was quietly enjoying life again, at the peak of my career with a good job, a final salary pension scheme. I was looking forward to a nice retirement at 65. Well, that was the plan.

What could possibly go wrong?

Redundancy was the next "life event" - at 55 years old. Not a good time of life to lose your job, as well as the expected pension pot on retirement. However, we baby-boomers are not to be beaten. I had good skills and a network of contacts so I seized the opportunity to become self-employed.

This I loved, working for myself on a wide variety of contracts for both private clients and organizations. It seemed to be an ideal way to carry on my plan of working for as long as I wanted to. I could reduce my hours gradually whenever I wanted to.

I suppose that was my retirement plan.

My vague retirement plan unraveled quite quickly and quite unexpectedly when my father died, just a few months after he and my mum moved 120 miles to be closer to us. This left my mum living somewhere new with few friends and totally reliant on me - as my sister lives on a Greek island.

18 months after my father died my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Suddenly, I was faced with caring for mum and looking after all of her affairs, while trying to work.

Eventually, I was working less and less – while having to spend more and more time caring for mum. Money became an issue and I had to make the decision to draw from both my state and company pension much sooner than I had planned. As a result it was considerably less than I expected it to be.

Mum was ill for six years before she died. By the end of that "life event" I suddenly realized I had retired by default.

No party, no colleagues wishing me farewell and no presents.

I had simply drifted into retirement as a result of my caring responsibilities.

Within a few months of unexpectedly having all of this time on my hands, I came to the conclusion that I wasn't ready for retirement. I didn't enjoy not having a purpose in life. Mum had been my purpose for six years. On the other hand it was not a good time to try and get back into my previous work, we were in the middle of a recession and very few companies were recruiting or interested in my particular area of training and development.

I realized that I was simply entering a new phase of my life, rather than the dreaded "retirement" word. I would do something completely different, but what? Again, I had no plan - just a few vague ideas floating about in my head. I could sell up and go travelling round the world. That seems to be a popular retirement dream. The trouble is I'm a bit of a home bird. I like my creature comforts. I like travelling, but I also enjoy being at home, and pottering in the garden.

I started to explore the internet looking for business ideas. The only experience I had of the internet previously was using it for research and sending and receiving e-mails. But I was on a mission. The more I learnt the bigger the ideas became.

I started to explore the idea of building a website for “baby boomers about to retire”. After all, in my job as Training and Development Manager I had run retirement courses for many years. Whilst caring for my parents I had to deal with the many problems related to old age, and the challenges that it brings. It created an opportunity to develop a business from what I'd learnt.

I've seen many friends who, like me, reach retirement age with no intention of retiring. They are simply changing down a gear, spending more time on leisure activities but still making a contribution to life in some way.

That's what I want for my retirement lifestyle.

It will be interesting to see how the "baby boomer" generation reacts to "retirement" compared to our parent's generation. We are the sandwich generation. Some of us still have dependent children living at home, thanks to second marriages, whilst having to care for aging parents. We also have much higher expectations for how we would like our retirement years to be.

A lot of baby-boomers have found that their retirement financial planning has unraveled as a result of the global economic downturn. Will our dream for retirement match the reality of lower retirement incomes? My reaction has been to find something that can subsidize my pension income without taking up too much of my time, so that I can enjoy more leisure activities. It's given me back my purpose and I love the fact that I'm still learning new skills.

So, I guess I finally have a "retirement plan."

Find out more about Pat Price at baby boomers about to retire.

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