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There are three phases of retirement, according to a financial planner I met this week. Firstly, the “Saga phase”, when you’re sprightly enough to travel the world, take endless cruises and do the things you’ve always wanted. Next, the “Aga phase”, when you want to slow down a bit, sit next to the fire and maybe take up knitting. And lastly, the “gaga phase” when your faculties dim and the care home beckons.
Spend too freely in the Saga years, and you risk running out of money in the gaga ones. Alternatively, if you end up being the richest person in the graveyard, you could have deprived yourself (and your heirs) for the dubious pleasure of paying more inheritance tax.
Finding a balance is the chief task of the financial planner. While a financial adviser will guide you towards products (be they pensions, investments or insurance) planners want to talk about your financial purpose.
To get the conversation started, dozens of UK firms are giving away free one-hour taster sessions in honour of Financial Planning Week (May 8-12) worth up to £500 (go to cisi.org/fpweek to sign up).
Is this just a client recruitment exercise, where you’re pressed to engage the services of some form of financial personal trainer? Or could it change your life for the better?
There was only one way to find out. I claimed my free hour a week early so I could write about the experience (which I am still reeling from). It has made me see our family finances from a totally different angle and — although I detest the word — I found it quite empowering.
I picked the nearest firm to the FT office, as I wanted a face-to-face meeting, but Skype appointments are also possible.
First, I had to fill in a questionnaire. I thought this would take 10 minutes, but the questions were such pencil chewers it took me over an hour.
Try them out for yourself. What is your relationship with money? What do you want your money to do for you? How do you go about generating wealth? What’s important to you in your life, and what are your goals?
My boiled-down replies were that I wanted to make the most of my money via prudent, well-informed investment decisions and prioritising saving over spending. I strongly associate money with security, but I’m not a slave to it — I’d rather have an interesting job than an interesting salary.
I also put “wealth” in third place after health and happiness, and would rather splurge on holidays that I’ll remember than “stuff” I’ll forget. However, my goal is to buy a freehold house (I currently live in a leasehold flat). And at some point before I die, I want to write a murder mystery novel (well, doesn’t everyone).
I also provided the lowdown on my salary, pension, property holdings, savings and investments, so I felt slightly vulnerable when I arrived at my free appointment with Lee Westley, financial planning director at 1825 (formerly known as Baigrie Davies).
The first session is known as the discovery meeting, he said. Most clients are already “on the flight path to retirement” by the time they consider seeing a financial planner and essentially want to know if they’ve saved enough to retire.
So couldn’t a mathematical equation replace the list of soul-searching questions? The role of a financial planner is to help you pin down what you want out of life, and then play around with the moving parts to see how you could afford this. Armed with this information, you’d then work out which products (or further financial advice) you’d need.
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For example, Mr Westley once met a City chap earning half a million a year. He was sending his children to top private schools, and had installed a swimming pool at great expense. Yet he never got to enjoy it with them.
He might have amassed loads of money to fund his “Saga phase” — but could he afford to take a less demanding job and spend more time with his family?
Then there was the woman nearing the “Aga phase” who lamented she couldn’t visit her son in Australia as she was too frail to fly. She could afford to travel in comfort in first class, but feared running out of money for future care home fees. In this instance, he was able to reassure her that she had enough to buy the care home.
So, based on my current saving and spending habits, when might I run out of money? Truth, a scary sounding piece of cash flow modelling software, suggested I’d be OK until around the age of 82 (don’t worry, he said, at the age of 40 you still have a lot of human capital left to expend). As well as trying to save or earn more, I could also consider working for longer (though not as long as Prince Philip), spend less in the “Saga phase” or give less to my heirs while I’m still alive (like every parent he’s ever met, I’d love to help our children buy a property).
Other (richer) people could model the impact of selling their business, buy-to-let empire or country bolthole later in life to top up their coffers — but you would need to pay for several sessions to get to this point. Be warned — seeing your life reduced to a spreadsheet with a net worth figure is quite a shock.
“This is all about completing your incomplete thoughts,” says Mr Westley. Having been forced to think about the bigger picture, I’m now taking steps to find out how we could get there. This will involve formalising our property plans — and you never know, I may even write a synopsis for that book.