Why I’ll Never Retire, and Neither Should You

I read an interesting book on my vacation. It provided an overview of the economic growth and technological development that occurred between 1870 and 1970. Reading it made me realize that had I been born a mere century earlier, I’d have grown up without modern luxuries like “electric lighting, indoor plumbing, home appliances, motor vehicles, air travel, air conditioning, and television”. And given that the average life expectancy for a woman was just 40 in the late 1800s, at the ripe old age of 31, I’d be considered geriatric. My impending demise would be the least of my concerns, however, as I’d likely be too busy sewing mine and my families’ clothes, dragging in buckets of water to heat over a hearth for our monthly bath, and raising my many children (assuming they’d made it past infanthood – a rather large assumption, since infant mortality rates were well above 20% at the time).

Retirement, was another novel innovation that had begun to gain traction by the turn of the century. Previously, men had been required to work until death or face destitution in their final few years. The concept of retirement was initially introduced as a safety net to be drawn upon as failing health limited one’s earning ability late in life. However, as life expectancy rose, the investment industry began to equate retirement with decades of relaxation and leisure activity. Commercials showed older couples golfing, traveling or relaxing¬†on a beach, while real retirement risks like cognitive decline, depression and even early death were conveniently overlooked.

Luckily for millennials, the traditional concept of retirement now seems as antiquated as the horse and carriage. Millennials have heard too many Nortel or Stelco horror stories and know better than to place all of our eggs in corporate baskets. Defined benefit pensions are unicorns in the private sector and even if you are fortunate enough to be enrolled in one, there is no guarantee that you’ll be around long enough to benefit from it. Ridiculously high property values will keep many millennials off the housing ladder for the foreseeable future, so cashing in housing equity to fund retirement may not even be possible for many of us.

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Retirement: among the many things my generation will never do

Given our unique financial prospects, millennials will have to re-imagine the traditional retirement to fit modern times.  By avoiding overpriced real estate, keeping frivolous expenditures to a minimum and establishing multiple streams of income, millennials can enjoy retirement perks like freedom, autonomy, travel and personal growth decades earlier. We are no longer content to simply live for the weekend, putting off personal ambitions for 40 years just to have the rug pulled out from under us. Too many of us have realized that depending on government or a corporation for your livelihood is not only unfeasible, but quite frankly, undesirable. And mediocrity is nothing to aspire to.

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Too Close for Comfort?

I was recently conflicted after coming across an article about a 31 year old pharmacist living with his parents. His story was not the typical failure-to-launch tale of woe, but rather a scathing critique of the Toronto housing market paired with a flagrant flaunting of his alleged rockstar lifestyle. The angry comments on the article led me to reexamine my own circumstances. I mean, the author and I do share a few meaningful commonalities. Namely, being 31 year old pharmacists of Middle Eastern descent who live with their parents whilst earning about 130k/year. Was the vitriol thrown at him also applicable to me? Am I a female Peter Pan who is shirking adult responsibilities like 35 year debt obligations and tedious household busywork?

Toronto-Life-induced-identity-crisis aside, I must say that having little to no living expense is a definite perk. It has allowed me to save up a much larger nest egg than would be otherwise possible at my age. Plus, while I was on sick leave and earning a fraction of my regular income, it was nice to not to struggle to make mortgage payments (my tenants did that for me). Since recovering and returning to work, I’ve made every effort to pay my parents back for the kindness they’ve shown me. Although they flat out refuse to accept rent, I often splurge for indulgences that my very frugal, immigrant parents would not allow themselves. By paying for our biannual family trips, I feel that I’m paying them back while creating lifelong memories with my loved ones. A definite win-win.

I often feel that ours is a symbiotic, rather than a parasitic relationship. While my dad was experiencing a particularly acute bout of vertigo, I was able to drive him to his specialist appointments. As a pharmacist, I oversee their medication regimens, pay for their gym memberships and provide (often unsolicited) dietary advice. I go shopping and for nature walks and see movies with my mom, activities that my dad would rather forego in favor of gardening or solving crossword puzzles. My dad handles the day-to-day management of our rental properties, dealing with tenants and contractors (something I’d be notoriously bad at doing). My mom is an amazing cook and talented seamstress, often tailoring my clothes, altering store-bought pieces so they fit to a T. I’d like to think that my parents and I have a better life because of the close relationship we have.

So if we are happy and we aren’t hurting anyone else, does this still constitute a problem? Up until now, I haven’t had any problems holding down a job, living alone (which I’ve done off and on since my early 20s), or maintaining outside friendships or relationships. I certainly don’t plan to stay at home forever, but it feels right for the time being. Certainly, being extra close is better than being totally estranged, a situation affecting 10% of families. Since all of my avid Googling has not yielded a satisfying answer, I’ll have to discuss this with my shrink at our next appointment. I’ll follow up if I’m on my way to becoming a female Norman Bates =P