Roughly once a month Paula and I meet for supper and a glass of wine in the White Horse. We book a small table in the pub window which seats two comfortably and four at a squeeze and spend several hours chatting nonstop until we’ve set the world and our small corner of it to rights. Paula has been widowed for several years more than me, she is also a good number of years older and wiser. In spite of her great age she has a permanent twinkle in her eye, she enjoys her life and has no intention of giving in to old age. In our rural world clothes are of little importance really, but Paula always makes an effort, uses make up and has beautifully kept nails. Compared to her I am scruffy.
Provision for old age is high on the agenda in our talk. Both of us own our homes and both receive an old age state pension. We also have additional occupational pensions; maybe Paula’s is worth more than mine as she has been a teacher for many decades and teachers’ pensions in the old days were generous. What I am actually saying is that, things staying as they are, neither of us needs worry about putting food on the table. And yet, we worry.
The funny thing is that Paula worries about the distant future. Her usually so jolly face turns serious. “But what if house prices fall when things get bad with Brexit?" she asks. It seems she has worked out how many years the value of her house would safely see her through the cost of residential care. “So, if in a few years’ time I have to go into a home and my house is worth less than now I could only afford to have care for five or six years.” Paula sees nothing but penury ahead. Although she spends money on holidays she certainly doesn’t spend freely. Apparently her accountant has asked when she intends to spend a bit more, reminding her that she can’t take it with her. And yet, Paula worries. Paula is in her early 90s and fit mentally and physically so there’s no immediate prospect of her having to go into a care home. (If I could be like her I’d happily live into my early 90s too.) The average lifespan in a care home in the UK is between 1 and 3 years. Therefore, ‘in a few years’ time’ plus several years in residential / nursing care would bring her close to the end 90s. True, none of us knows what lies ahead but I think that her house, pensions and savings will probably see her to her end comfortably. When I tease her and ask how long she plans to go on for she laughs ruefully and admits that she’s both over-ambitious and over-careful.
Here’s a question which exercises me too:
do you splurge or do you hoard ?
do you live every day as if it is your last or do you save your money on the chance you’ll live twenty more years ?
PS: yes, I know this is strictly a first world problem and a very nice one to have. So please don’t remind me of the millions of people who have a hard time putting regular meals on the table and would only be too glad to worry about an old age they may never see. That’s a problem I cannot solve.