Wendy (not her real name) discusses one of the trickiest and most taboo of retirement problems. Many of you will have faced it, too.
My husband and I are well-educated. We’ve been sensible savers all our lives, and by our own definition, we’re able to live comfortably in retirement. However, because we chose more alternative occupations during our working lives (my husband is an organic market gardener, and I’m a visual artist), we’ve never been earners in the same way as our CEO, doctor, engineer, and school principal friends and siblings have been. Although this doesn’t affect us on an intellectual level, it has always been a problem in terms of socialising. As we have entered retirement, this situation has become exacerbated to the point where we knew we had to take action.
Our friends and family’s idea of a get together is 5-star dining where a meal for one well exceeds our weekly grocery bill, where the bottle of wine ordered would cover the cost of our monthly power bill, and where a night’s accommodation would pay for us to fly twice the length of the country and back. Their idea of a holiday is a 3 week trip (flying business class) to Europe. A get-together is to book a weekend at a country boutique Air B & B (where everyone pays their share), and birthday gifts include diamond rings, and garden sculptures by well-known artists.
Not that we hold this against them, or grudge them any of their luxuries (they have worked hard, invested wisely, and they are also very generous to charities), but the problem is, we simply cannot afford to be part of their retirement social life. The result (if we had carried on as we were) was we would simply have lost touch with them. As we didn’t want this to happen, we took action, and so far, it appears to be working. This is what we did:
Birthday meals are the shout of the birthday boy (or girl). When our turn comes round, we eschew the winery restaurants, and host brunch at an affordable cafe, or opt for something completely different (such as a riverside picnic where we supply the eats and drinks). Or we may choose an activity, instead, such as taking a ferry to an island for a day walk (our gift is organising the event, and everyone pays their own boat fare). When it comes to gifts, we give something more about meaning than money (a basket of our own fresh produce or preserves, for instance, a painting I’ve done myself, or a small work created by one of our creative friends).
We try to say ‘yes’ to all the plans we know we can afford (by alternative means) to join in with. This sees us, for example, accept the invitation to go on a 3-day bike trail, but we opt for camping ground accommodation en route, and join the others for after-dinner drinks at their luxury cottage. We have even joined in on family trips to Pacific destinations, but we’ve made it clear we need warning about these well in advance so we can take budget flights to get there. We’ve chosen self-catering accommodation options instead of hotels. But most importantly, we try to ‘get in first’ with destinations we know our friends and family will enjoy (or even relish, because they may not have experienced the option before). This includes shared mountain lodges or moderately up-market tramping huts, inexpensive rental baches, and home exchanges happy to have extras for a night or two.
Road markers at the ready
We make it a point never to hide the fact we can’t afford what our friends and family can. When conveying this, we couch it in terms of ‘we’ll need to budget for this,’ or ‘we won’t be able to manage it, this time.’ It lets everyone know where we stand, and we don’t feel bad when the ‘others’ decide to push ahead with something we know they really want to do, but which we can’t join in with.
What has helped us more than anything through this difference in discretionary spending, is our ability to ‘accept,’ without embarrassment, what our friends and family wish to pay for. The winery dinners or luxury accommodation are an experience we might otherwise not have had, and we enjoy them, and don’t feel we need to ‘compete’ in order to be comfortable taking part in the gathering.
We all make our own choices, throughout life, and retirement is no different. By remaining honest, and with some strategic planning, it is possible to retain close connections with friends and family, regardless of financial circumstances.