Free From Work

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Born free. Live free. Retire free. Die free.

This wouldn’t be a bad way to live our life here on earth whatever comes after.

Born free – that’s the area of politics. Thank God if you are born in a country where there is political freedom.

Live free – this again is the area of politics and your personal responsibility, as well as to stay free from the law. It is also the area of economics in that you want to be free from want. Living free is not necessarily as a hippie, but being able to do the things you like and enjoy the things you find meaningful. If you have a good paying job or a profitable business, you would have the chance to stay free financially.

Retire free. This would be really nice. To retire from work, to have enough savings for a comfortable retirement, to be mentally and physically fit and free from illness, and above all, to be free to do the things you like but perhaps had little time for while working, and to spend time with the one you love – these would be “out of this world”. And in fact, it is out of this world and out of reach for many who do not realize that dreams generally don’t come true by themselves. Retirement years, far from being the best years, can be one’s worst nightmare. For the government, it is also a time bomb.

I was born free, have lived free thus far, and want to retire free, and one day die free.

Like most people on the verge of retirement, I am concerned about many issues, money included. As they say, money is not everything but everything is money. And the prospect of having another 30 years to live in retirement certainly spells money, and often money trouble.

I am more fortunate than many others because I’ve held good paying jobs and have run a profitable business for many years. But even more fortunate, it is my business to plan for my clients’ retirement among other things, and thus I was forced to look into my own retirement planning. It did not come easily or naturally. There is a saying that the 30s think it is too early to plan for their retirement, the 40s think it is too hard to plan for their retirement, and the 50s think it is too late to plan for their retirement. For the majority of people, if statistics is something to go by, retirement planning was never in their screen, until it exploded on them.

For Singaporeans, the CPF which was instituted primarily for retirement, is often the only savings accumulated for retirement. And even then, many will not have more than the minimum sum in their CPF at age 55.

Property bought with CPF money counts as an asset, but since a person has to live somewhere, owner-occupied property is not always cashable for retirement.

Property is a large investment especially for those living in cities where property prices are exorbitant. For example, the majority of Singaporeans would have almost the entire live savings in property. What is left for retirement for these people?

There are several social and demographic factors which make the retirement issue critical in Singapore.

One factor is the ageing population brought about by a declining birth rate and a longer life span.

The typical retiree is looking at 20 years of retirement. A good percentage of retirees would live to 85. It is projected that many in the post war generation can be expected to live beyond 100.

Demographic statistics in the USA show that the retirement age of 65 should now rightly be 75 based on the longer life span.

The second factor is the declining family size and increasing singlehood.

Children used to be the only means of support for their retired parents. With a family of four or more, parents can perhaps be assured of a roof and three square meals each day, and some pocket money to spend at the coffee shop and cinema occasionally.

The typical one-child or two-child family and growing adoption of changing values and ethos of the west no longer assures parents of lifelong support on children’s sponsorship.

Rising cost of living, especially in medical expenses, also makes growing old in Singapore a financial challenge. Yet another factor is that most parents are spending on, or hopefully, “investing” on their children, especially in education.

Many parents fork out thousands and thousands of dollars in overseas education for their children – often late into their working and retirement years as well.

Local education is affordable, but there are limited places in the local universities.

Such is the love of most parents that they are willing to extend their working life for the sake of their children.

To retire free from work is thus a worthy goal. It is not that working is a drudgery, which many make it out to be. As they say, some slog at their work in order to retire and then find they have nothing to do or to live for. It is that one must be financially free to choose whether to work and what work to do.

There are well-adjusted and highly motivated ones who don’t need to retire at all because “they retire every night”, and are fit and fresh the following day.

There are those who only need short breaks or work at their leisure and who retyre rather than retire.

But to retire free from having to work at a job which you dislike would be nice, and to do this you need to plan for your retirement. It will not come naturally or by just hoping for the best.

It will require working out your retirement goals like when to retire and how much you need each month.

It requires a regular savings plan for your nest egg, and to ensure nothing gets in the way, whether it is unexpected events like medical expenses or children’s education.

There are several important things to do which will free you from the financial worry. Good thing financial advice is freely available.

What is Real Success?

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“Success is not a matter of chance. Success is a matter of choice”.

Well said, but what constitutes ‘success’?

Mention the word ‘success’ and financial or material success would quickly spring to mind.

The rich are landed and often lorded by many who seek after money.

Someone aptly described the generation today as people who worship their work, work at their play and play at their religion.

In our “conspicuous consumption” society, many purchase what they don’t need with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like.

Many would agree that riches are highly valued in our capitalistic and materialistic world, and would count for success. But inquire further and there are several provisos.

The first proviso is health.

Many wealthy people who suffer ill health have found out that health is more precious than wealth. Hence, the oft heard advice: “Don’t trade your health for wealth”.

Indeed, pain – physical, emotional and mental – will spoil one’s enjoyment of wealth, even if wealth does pay for health’s bills.

The second proviso is death.

Death is the enemy of wealth in more than the literal sense. Besides the fact that “naked came I from my mother’s womb, naked I return thither”, there are also hefty death taxes in many countries.

There is also the stern Biblical warning that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”, which means that death ushers in the eternal specter of suffering.

In the Biblical parable of the wealthy farmer who became immensely successful and wanted to store up for years to come, God called him “fool” because his soul would be required of him and who then would enjoy his wealth?

But other than sickness and early death, material success has other potential drawbacks also.

Often, the love and pursuit of money is at the expense of other arguably more important things in life – marriage, parenting, family, friends, hobbies, recreation, etc.

One rich doctor said wryly, “Yes I have the money but not the time to enjoy using it”.

How true that the poor have the poor man’s problems and the rich have the rich man’s problems. This is not just the stuff of novels and movies, but art truly reflects life here.

The thing that everyone wants is, “Can I have wealth and also all the other blessings – good health, a love-filled marriage and closely knitted family and time to enjoy my wealth doing the things I love best?”

Well apparently yes, and I know of many who have for the moment (at least until the next surprise which life often brings) achieved this seemingly utopian state.

There is a proverb which says that God can increase your wealth and adds no trouble to it, meaning that if you accumulate wealth in your own way, trouble will come with it.

There are also many stories of people getting rich the legal and perhaps even ethical way, but became proud and arrogant and forgot how they became rich, and they were brought down to earth. Riches are uncertain and deceitful.

Getting rich is considered high risk not only financially, but more so spiritually. So much so that one wise man’s prayer is, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but just enough.”

The plain teaching of the Bible is that being blessed with riches simply means being trusted with more responsibility because we are mere stewards of the wealth and not rightful owners.

God looks to the rich to do “good works” and this includes helping the true poor and relieving suffering whenever possible. Not helping is a sin of omission and such help is to be given not grudgingly, but cheerfully. So it is not a case of forced communism but a voluntary community of brotherly love.

There are thankfully wonderful examples of rich people who have shared their lives and their financial resources with the poor. They are respected as saints by their community, but often labeled as religious nuts by others of a different bent.

These have found the true riches and are said to be rich toward God, seeing the poor as God sees them and delighting in obeying God’s commandment to love their neighbours and even their enemies.

There are non-religious rich who do help the poor for “humanitarian” reasons and perhaps for other motives as well. Philanthropy generally brings respect and admiration, and salves the conscience and gives a good feeling of wellbeing besides reducing one’s tax liability.

Whatever the motive, society benefits from those who share their success.

Many rich give of their largesse and cannot be said to have sacrificed at all, while others truly give sacrificially. Jesus pointed to the widow who gave two small coins (which was all that she had) as having given more than the rich who gave more in quantity but much lesser than percentage.

In fact, it has been pointed out that the true measure of giving is not what is given but what is left.

Just as success is not a matter of chance but a matter of choice, how you use your success is also not a matter of chance but a matter of choice. Real success comes from using your wealth in the “right” way.

But getting rich is not the measure of success as much as finding your life’s true calling, which is service – Serving God and serving men. And unto whom much is given, much is expected of him.