In a bit of a departure and to keep Harold on his toes today we are publishing an article from one of our subscribers Vivienne. You might find some empathy in her situation and I’m sure she would love to hear from you if you do.
At 82, I have been a self-funded retiree for over twenty years. There has been a degree of satisfaction in having this status: the financial independence that my late husband and I worked and saved for over the years; a degree of pride on not having to make further demands on the poor beleaguered taxpayer; and the freedom to enjoy the luxury of an annual overseas holiday.
On the other hand, of course, there have been drawbacks. The cost of medications as you get older can add up to quite a sum if you don’t have government subsidies. And procedures like X-rays, mammograms, and MRIs – can each cost hundreds of dollars (they are provided free for pensioners). I sometimes find myself thinking of ants and grasshoppers (I have a friend of the same age who has always led a free-spending “grass-hopper” life and now, apart from the holidays, leads a life no less comfortable than mine. I can fret at the price of coffee; she takes her daily take-away for granted).
Now I am widowed and age has placed certain limitations on my lifestyle. But up until recently, I have been able to depend on the sense that I am largely free from money worries. Then came COVID.
Most of my income comes from investment in companies that pay – or have paid – regular dividends. I had, of course, the choice of an annuity but nothing is as safe, I thought, as blue chip shares. Safe as banks, in fact. My husband when he was alive followed the stock-market closely and did a little trading but I, being lazier, less interested in money matters, and somewhat complacent, decided that ‘set and forget’ was a reasonable policy at this later stage of my life. Wrong!
From March this year until recently the dividends largely stopped. The banks, where most of my money is invested, either reduced their payouts markedly or, like Westpac, chose not to pay them at all. Although I am lucky enough to have savings to see me through, my income, over the months, was reduced to a trickle of just a few hundred dollars here and there. I have been very frugal in my spending lately, which I admit, perversely, has been quite a positive experience. It is salutary to realise how much one doesn’t need. However, the regular bills have arrived with a reliability that is lacking in the dividend announcements. The totals in my savings account have been moving steadily downwards.
Recently, that is from the end of August, I have been able to draw a breath of relief as some meaningful dividends have reappeared. The ebb tide is on the turn it seems, and I can look forward to joining (in very modest measure, I assure you) the spending spree the government is hoping to encourage (coffee and cake!).
But, with many other self-funded retirees, I am tempted to join in the protest that asks: ‘Are we the forgotten ones?’ Yes, most of us should, and do, count ourselves lucky, certainly compared with all the people facing bankruptcy, the multitude of hard-working business owners who have been forced to close up shop.
But many sections of society have received government support throughout this crisis. We have been left to sink or swim. I, personally, am swimming along OK and am not really complaining. But I wonder whether other self-funded retirees, including those who have been dependent on now-reduced income from investments, are now floundering in the financial shallows. Maybe the budget can spare them a thought.
If you would like to email Vivienne please do so here and we will pass it on: firstname.lastname@example.org