Hard Truths About Retirement
Everyone paints such a rosy picture of retirement. There are no deadlines to meet, no bosses to please, no more long days and late nights—but who knew that retirement comes with its own set of problems too? Here are some candid truths about retirement, as shared by an actual retiree: 60-year-old Mr Chan Siow Boon.
Mr Chan (left) and Mrs Chan (right)
Losing meaning without work
Getting used to not having work was tough for Mr Chan. For most of his life, he worked at the Japanese manufacturing company Shimano, where he started out as a humble machinist and gradually rose through the ranks to become a manager. It wasn’t easy, but being tasked to solve harder and harder problems gave him a lot of satisfaction, especially when it meant that his supervisor trusted and valued him. So even when he had to work 80-hour work weeks, or was sent overseas to set up new plants in the Czech Republic, he happily did his best and produced top results.
Mr Chan hard at work in Shimano
“The workers we trained in Czech became very high in demand in the market. They are the workers that everyone else wanted for themselves.”
He was great at his job—but maybe not so good at being a retiree. During the early days of retirement, he struggled to find the same meaning and fulfilment he had in his job. Suddenly there was too much time, and too few things to do. Getting through the day was a drag.
It’s a common situation many retirees face. But for Chan, his positive outlook on life didn’t let him stay down for long.
“Whatever you do, you must be happy. The moment I stop being happy, I must think of how to enjoy my life. And look for something to do.”
Mr Chan and family on a hike to Zhang Jia Jie
His newfound hobbies include running, hiking, and baking bread. He approaches them with the same intensity that he did his job. He doesn’t just jog — he runs 42km marathons. And he doesn’t just bake bread — he keeps a battered journal of his bread-making process and makes daily tweaks to the ingredients to achieve a near-scientific level of precision. I’ve tried his bread, and it is divine.
Reconnecting with family?
With his 8am-10pm work week, it wasn’t easy for Chan to find time for his family pre-retirement. He could only spend weekends with his three daughters.
Mrs Chan shares, “He’s fun-loving and humorous, and the kids loved to spend time with him. He doesn’t know this, but they missed him a lot on weekdays. They just got used to it.”
Retirement was supposed to be a way for Mr Chan to reconnect with his family. But his two oldest inherited his work ethic, and spend even more time at work than he used to. Only his youngest was still schooling at 17, and she is fiercely independent. Mrs Chan wistfully tells us:
“I know that sooner or later, she won’t even follow us on our (holiday) trips.”
So, even though Mr Chan finally has time for his family, he still can’t spend much time with them. Except for one person: his wife.
Reconnecting with your spouse after retirement
They’ve been a lot closer since he retired. At the start, they weren’t used to having so much time together. But as Mrs Chan believes,
“You need to know the reasons why you got married and remember it.”
They laugh and admit that it’s not easy when they’re quarrelling, but to them a relationship is all about give and take. Mrs Chan supports what he likes, and he supports what she likes. Sometimes Mr Chan bakes things that he knows she’ll like. Other times, she goes on his favourite hikes with him.
And unlike before, now there’s more time to go on trips together and enjoy each other’s company.
Unlike many others, Mr Chan did not face financial issues in his retirement. The family isn’t rich, but they’re incredibly prudent with their savings and very thrifty too.
Mr Chan started saving when he first met Mrs Chan. Apart from what he gave to his father, 80-90% of his remaining income went to his savings at the start.
“We made sure to save for rainy days, for medical bills, for our kids’ education, everything. Even in case he lost his job.”
They were a single-income family, so the latter would have hit them hard. The one thing they didn’t save for was an inheritance for their children. According to Mr Chan,
“Money is something that you have to earn yourself, so that you can enjoy it.”
It’s only possible because they live very frugally and avoid spending on luxury items. Mrs Chan laughs and says that they’re the worst-dressed couple—we disagreed! Even then, they could still afford low-budget annual trips, and on their most recent two-week trip to China, they only spent about $1,700 each.
They gave us an estimate of their monthly expenses below. With two of his children working, and the last child on a scholarship for school, $2,000 is enough for him and his wife to live happily.
|Expense Item||Cost (SGD)|
For them, they find joy in the company of their family and friends, rather than expensive items. It’s true when they say that you don’t need (that much) money to be happy!
When it came to retirement planning, Mrs Chan was the one who first pushed him to start thinking about it. His first step was to figure out how much he needed.
How much is enough?
Mr Chan made sure to factor in inflation to calculate how much savings he’ll need for retirement. His reasoning is simple: one cup of coffee at Toast Box is about $1.80 now. Ten years ago, it was only $1.10. And he remembers a time when it used to cost only 5 cents. This meant that in future, the things he buys now are going to be more expensive, and he’ll need more money to buy them.
For his retirement, he made sure to have three things: savings from his salary, stock market investments, and insurance.
“I can use my excess money for investments but must keep a minimum in my savings for a buffer. Stocks are very risky, it’s like gambling. No one knows how a stock will perform.”
Mr Chan invests about 10% of his savings in stocks. He also continued the subsidised insurance policies provided by his company, and made sure to get life and health policies for the whole family as well—just in case anything happened.
Advice for pre-retirees
According to Mr Chan, there are 3 things we have in life: time, money, and energy. We have time and energy when we’re younger, money and energy when we’re older, and finally after retirement we’ll have time and money but no more energy to enjoy it. His advice is to plan your retirement early so you can retire younger and get to enjoy what you worked so hard for.
“For our next trip, we wanted to go hiking in Taiwan. But my friend couldn’t, because at his age, his mobility isn’t very good.”
The one thing Mr Chan wishes he could have changed, before he retired, was the amount of time he spent before his family. To him, family time is irreplaceable.
We all have our own retirement hopes and dreams, and for those comfortably in retirement, our own retirement stories. We’ll go through different experiences to get there, and maybe one day we’ll each have a happy story to tell. Mr Chan’s is one such story—hopefully it gave you a helpful glimpse into the future of retirement!
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