Build a family friendly retirement plan

A thoughtful retirement requires purpose

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VANCOUVER, B.C. June 7, 2015/ Troy Media/ – It is interesting how much of the discussion over retirement centres on financial factors, while ignoring the cultural.

Such a frame of reference assumes we will all use economic criteria to measure success. Conveniently ignored are the strengths of social and cultural networks that exist beyond the spreadsheets of our financial advisers.

For example, First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities treasure the role of elders within extended families, where multiple generations live in close proximity, and see one another every day. As people age in these communities, they can advance into new duties as hereditary Chiefs, potlatch leaders, senior artists, captains of whaling parties, mentors and counsellors to governance groups.

Financial model of retirement shallow

Perhaps most importantly, they become cultural teachers of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Many elders speak their aboriginal languages and participate as community teachers in language immersion programs, storytelling and archiving. In such cultures, elders enjoy growing, not diminishing roles in their communities.

The financial model of retirement preparation, so in vogue, ignores these cultural perspectives. It champions the capitalist creed, where early and mid-life toil in the world of work and family is traded upon retirement for a utopian period where all tastes and desires are indulged until death.

Conspicuously absent from financial planners’ retirement plans are the grandchildren

The phrase, “You’ve earned it!” falls from the lips of fee-based financial advisers who counsel preparation by frugality and the payment of healthy MERS (management expense ratios) on advised funds. Typically, the offices of such advisers are decorated with photographs of supremely fit couples, implausibly in their 60s and 70s, cavorting on tropical beaches or drinking Chardonnay on luxe barge cruises.

Conspicuously absent from these pictures are grandchildren and one’s home community.

If community is mentioned in the financial model, it usually refers not to where you were born or raised a family, but rather to yet another aspect of retirement utopia: the purpose-built community. Tasteful small advertisements in magazines that target affluent Boomers describe idyllic retirement communities near Ivy League university towns. They promise “life-long education,” participation in group musical endeavours, and an underpinning of Quaker, Christian or Evangelical values.

All these things are accompanied by a regimen of daily exercise, prepared meals and careful medical oversight, typically provided by people you never knew in life. Of course, it all comes at a price – starting at $10,000 per month.

The sheer cost of such an assisted retirement is daunting to all but the storied “1 per cent,” and perhaps another 5 per cent of people lucky enough to have defined benefit pensions from long careers in government, universities, and Fortune 500 companies. The rest of us are left to our own devices. A long-time friend has created the Smedley Personal Retirement Plan: “I am going to work until I’m 80, take one year off and then shoot myself!”

There must be other options. And there are.

Location of your retirement is a basic first consideration, underpinned of course by one’s financial abilities. For instance, retirement planning should carefully consider lane-way houses, basement suites, and apartments or condos in the same development as other family members.

The potential for day-to-day association with loved ones is important. It is also intriguing to consider new roles for extended families that enable grandparents to provide day care for grandchildren. I live in a condo complex where this is happening because of great architecture and secure and playful inner courtyards. Grandparents do not have to live away from friends and family. Geriatric care physicians have long known the positive relationship between longevity, proximity to family, and living in your own home.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to live together?”

Perhaps most important to a truly thoughtful retirement is purpose. Elders in indigenous societies have always had rooted purpose in the communities where they lived their lives. Why can’t the rest of us embrace similar means as we approach our ends?

These might simply begin with expressions of kindness to other community members, and ideally radiate out from the extended family. As the Beach Boys once advised the Boomers, “Wouldn’t it be nice to live together?”

Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery.

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