I REGRET not having come into contact with Ashwell Thomas’s Planning for Tomorrow until I had completed almost 19 years of my retirement.
I was unable to put his book down for three full days of reading and re-reading since the afternoon in mid-August when he drove up to my home with a complimentary copy of the second edition of his absorbing tour de force.
This book is chock-full of easy-to-digest vignettes of advice for all those who hope to live long enough to reach the age of retirement. The author’s knowledge, skill and experience whet the appetite for his third edition.
Unlike a witty comment I once read about middle age, “The really frightening thing about it is that you know you will grow out of it”, Dr. Thomas extends a reassuring hand to all those who might think they’ve missed the bus and sends a wake-up call to others who think they’re too young to prepare for retirement.
The book is attractively designed—millennials ought not to be scared off; there’re no pompous words and pedantic concepts—and in its eight chapters covers a wide sweep of situations that almost everyone comes up against in one’s lifetime.
It is peppered with memorable observations and snacks of advice, such as:
• Knowing how to pass the time previously taken up by work, is a major task facing retirees today.
• Just as cars need regular servicing and routine checks to function at their optimum, our bodies require a great deal of care and attention.
• Unless there is economic growth and a significant drop in unemployment among the youth, it will be difficult for governments to increase the retirement age significantly beyond 65 to 67 as it presently exists in Barbados.
• It is advisable to make a will as soon as you begin to accumulate assets.
• Life expectancy in the Caribbean has increased from age 50 in the late ‘40s to an average of 70 for men and 73 for women.
• Discussions with close family members about retirement planning can be emotionally stressful and uncomfortable, but are highly recommended.
At a time of great economic uncertainty in Barbados, Planning for Tomorrow should be required reading for all those in the workplace and those who will soon be in search of employment and careers.
The author advises that for the prepared person, retirement is an opportunity to experience a wonderfully fulfilling life and a new beginning. You have complete freedom to do what you want as opposed to feeling compelled into action.
People who are happy and feel a sense of accomplishment in retirement maintain healthy lifestyles through exercise, diet and regular medical check-ups; plan when and how they are going to retire; plan how they wish to spend their retirement and how they intend to fund it; have others they can rely on for emotional support; are engaged in meaningful activities; and are financially independent.
At the mention of financial independence, I returned briefly to re-read a passage from Jon Meacham’s book The Soul of America, where he makes a succinct point about that place called the “middle class”. It’s as relevant to Donald Trump’s America as it is to Mia Mottley’s Barbados.
“To be middle class means that you have enough spending money to provide for yourself and your family without living hand-to-mouth, but not enough to guarantee their future.”
Nothing, in other words, can be taken for granted, for there’s always the risk that your prosperity might fall victim to time and chance.
That is salutary advice for all those who delude themselves that “Government” will always be there to provide a cushion for them in their old age. A cushion, yes, but some cushions can be rather bumpy and uncomfortable and a far cry from what we’ve grown to expect up to that point.
Ashwell Thomas’s Chapter 6, I recommend, as required re-reading:
“We must have an idea of when we want to retire, the desired lifestyle we want to adopt and then determine the cost needed to support it. Budgeting for retirement is crucial to ensuring our living expenses can be met and goals and objectives are achieved based on our life expectancy.”
And he adds this, “Remember that our budget is likely to be impacted by fluctuating inflation rates and should be reviewed regularly to reflect the necessary changes.”
The same Chapter 6 is a graphic compendium of savings methods: Equities, unit trusts, fixed term deposits, insurance policies (whole life, term life, endowment), debentures, treasury bills, mutual funds, real estate and reverse mortgage).
Dr. Thomas does not hesitate to draw attention to the risks and pitfalls that accompany investment and strongly advises throughout the book that retirees not barge in blindly without solid, trustworthy advice.
Apart from my attraction to Chapter 6, I hasten to recommend the other seven: Understanding the effects of retirement; Major influences on retirement planning; What can we learn from the retirement experience?; The importance of education and training in retirement preparation; Retirement goals and objectives; Health in retirement and Estate planning.
This book is a compulsive necessity and should find a place on desks and bookshelves and quickly show the useful wear-and-tear of regular usage and reference.
Not all the wisdom contained in it emanates from the experienced head of the author. Always the consummate researcher, he includes testimony of a number of retirees. The one that will startle the unprepared reads like this:
“I have four children and I worked hard to take care of them and to ensure that they got a good education. They are all successful professionals today with their families. My only source of income is the pension I receive from the N.I.S. Board as the company that employed me did not have a pension plan and the majority of my little savings has been used to pay medical bills. There are many days that I go without a proper meal as I cannot afford it. My standard of living in retirement has been reduced considerably and I am heartbroken.”
Ashwell Thomas is an accomplished and highly respected human resources practitioner who writes persuasively and clearly adheres to William Strunk’s dictum:“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words for the same reason that a machine should have no unnecessary parts.”
As a retired editor and a practising proof-reader who supplements a small pension via the occasional job, I’m sure Dr Thomas won’t mind a small comment—not really a criticism: I think you were a bit too copious with your commas.<z11>
I wouldn’t take offence if you invoke Mark Twain in response: “Yesterday Mr. Hall (substitute Mr. Moore) wrote that the printer’s proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me, & I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray.”
Planning for Tomorrowis an essential and timely book. Get hold of a copy; you might need it.
Carl Moore, a retired journalist, was the first Editor of The Nation newspaper, Public Affairs Officer of the Central Bank of Barbados and is President of The Society for a Quieter Barbados.