Retirement Is Guaranteed, Happiness Is a Choice

Last week I met older two men at two different meetings. One is 80 years old. He lives comfortably in a house he bought almost 20 years ago. It was a struggle to buy into that part of town, but he and his wife managed. He is in good health and was talking about winding now an investment that he and his partners, most of who were in retirement, now felt they were too old to manage.

The other was about 65 years ago. He lives in a rural area and travels to Nairobi about once a month to see his doctor. He is comfortable and gets assistance from his children who are all working and who take turns supporting their parents by paying for different things.

Both men are comfortable, but they are an anomaly in Kenya. One of them told me that happiness is a choice. And with retirement, you can have the choice to be happy. Health permitting and long life permitting. And the reality is that for many Kenyans in retirement, life is not a pleasant situation.

I’d like to be either of them, at 65 and at 80. But they are an anomaly. We probably all have phone calls that we ignore, and “please call me” messages that we know are requests to send mobile money to relatives in a rural area. Those from older relatives are often to request amounts that are relatively small – Kshs 300/= or Kshs 500/=. We should help those people. What is sad is to get repeated requests from people who used to be “high flyers” who perhaps lived in Nairobi, spent a lot, had top jobs, but who probably all, extended themselves too much, made bad decisions, got into alcohol, but ultimately never thought the good times would end, and did not plan for their retirement years.

Sometimes it is not their fault. They relied on others to make retirement decisions for them. Every few weeks you hear or read of stories of old groups of workers who were teachers, railway workers, postal workers who are waiting for terminal dues and are fighting their payments. Their companies are stuck with illiquid assets like parcels of idle land or old buildings that they want to sell to pay their workers.  But sometimes, this doesn’t solve the problem. One of the retirement stories this month was about former postal workers – a property had been sold, after a long court case but now their lawyers wanted 30% of the award as a a legal fee payment.

boat-captainSome of these situations are unfortunate, and some unavoidable. Underlying it all it the reality that we will all grow old, we will all have needs when we are old, and to have happy retirement days, we need to make savings and investment decisions now. I would like to be either of the two men, at 65 and at 80 when in retirement. But I would rather be a sail boat owner at the Kenya Coast (like this guy in Watamu).

This shows another paradox about retirement. By having better health, and living longer, people have to occupy themselves in their old age. The barbershop I go to is run by an old man. He hires kids who cut the hair of customers. He sits in the corner of the barbershop where he also has an m-pesa booth. He collects money after hair is cut and also does the m-pesa transactions himself. When there are no customers, he steps out and chats with people on the pavement and is known by many. He doesn’t seem very popular, and I suspect he probably owns the building too. He works out of habit, to keep himself occupied, not really to support himself, and he is able to do this because of retirement decisions he made years before. You make retirement decisions in time so they are not out of desperation.

This is part of an ongoing series on retirement, dubbed Kulegalega, with the Retirements Benefits Authority.