I turned 50 last May and it would be fair to say that I have failed to make provision. I blame Time. It seems like only last Tuesday that I was a Teenager in Love, with no thought beyond the next weekend.
Twenty years ago, I formed a vague strategy for the End Game, albeit one that leant quite heavily on the assumption of my parents’ mortality (and the accompanying inheritance), and that seemed good enough.
Now, suddenly, as a father of two nothing-somethings (is that the right word? You know, uni-digits)* I have been financially off-balance for the best part of a decade. I find myself being herded into the autumn of my years stumbling backwards and trying desperately not to trip over my own financial shoelaces.
Of course, “autumn of my years” may be overdoing it a little – though I’m the exact same age Sinatra was when he immortalised that phrase in 1965’s ‘It Was A Very Good Year’.
Many of my generation have barely a shirt to cover our newly silvered backs. We have been caught off-guard
Nowadays, 50 is the new 40, of course, though even that chipper assertion sounds dated now that I say it out loud, and it has probably been replaced with some hexadecimal formulation designed to make us feel more deludedly adolescent than ever.
But either way, and however physically fit many of us may be, however engaged and cutting edge and verbally “on fleek”, the reality is that your fifties are the decade when you first sense a bit of a draught, look around to see where it’s coming from, and spot that previously unnoticed door over there, behind the black curtain…
Do as I say…
Of course, the irony of my plan – trying to put out this engine fire while coming in to land – by writing and presenting a BBC radio comedy series on the workings of the economy is not lost on me.
But as my father always said, as he wound a bandage around his freely bleeding thumb after yet another tool-bench misadventure, do as I say, not as I do.
I am not alone, of course. I don’t mean my wife, whose company is if anything the main worry I have as I tap frantically at the free calculator that came without obligation and with an introductory pack about ‘last chance’ life insurance.
I mean that many of my generation have barely a shirt to cover their newly silvered backs. We have been caught off-guard, not only by the realities of leaving parenthood until you can’t think of anything else to do, but also by a general fantasy that the retirement years were of no real consequence; a sort of optional epilogue. And, indeed, that when it came to it, many of us were likely to leave early to avoid the traffic.
Confronted with the statistical reality that fully one-third of life is now often lived in injury time, we are beginning to wish we’d left a bit more in the tank.
Buy to let: the best investment
Still, I can at least reassure myself that I have not tried to play clever, and failed. Several years ago, I asked a high net worth individual who I met on a stag do what my best bet for financial security might be. Without hesitation, he pointed to property.
Buy the biggest house you can afford, he said, in as solid and safe a location as possible, and then if possible leverage that to enlarge the portfolio with the odd buy to let.
That was the long and the short of it and whether he kept it that simple for fear of confusing me or because it really was that simple, he was bang on the money.
Buy-to-let really has been the outstanding investment of the past 12 years, which is roughly what we’re talking about. Commodities had done well until recently but they’ve collapsed so fast that anyone who decided to try to hold their nerve will now be finding that they are holding it under water.
The stock market, meanwhile, has taken an occasionally picturesque route to pretty much back where it started, if not slightly lower. Factor in costs, panic sells and a few bad hunches and it is quite possible to have lost money overall in that period.
No, it’s location, location, location you want, namely hunkering down with the biggest mortgage you can find.
Not that I actually bought any buy-to-let, of course. That would have been far too clever. But I am at least a Freeholder in Hove, and if they’ve never sung a great pop song about that, it is because they wanted to keep the joy of it to themselves.
*I realise this is not technically true (as my children are 11 and 8) but it makes the joke much neater.
Comedian Simon Evans wrote and presented BBC Radio 4’s Comedonomics show Simon Evans Goes to Market
He is currently on tour with Simon Evans: In The Money from 29 January to 9 June