{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Lump sum

A colleague of mine retired recently.

Not FIREd.

Not found himself long-term unemployed for so long he simply gave up on work.

Not married his way up the socioeconomic game of snakes and ladders.

Not won the inheritance lottery.

No, he just got old.

One day he was one with the ranks of the corporate wage slaves, selling off their life by the day.

The next day he wasn’t.

A milestone birthday unlocked a treasure trove of private pensions.

Before tax funds slowly and steadily squirrelled away throughout his working life.

Topped up on occasion by benevolent employers.

Boosted in recent years via salary sacrifice of non-recurring performance bonuses and annual pay rises. One of the few remaining legal avenues for permanent employees to game the tax system.

Amidst birthday cake, greeting cards, and gift-wrapped goodies received on the day was a letter from his pension provider.

He could now crack open his pension pot.

Withdraw the lesser amount of 25% the balance, or 25% his lifetime allowance. Tax-free.

Extract that tax-free amount as a single lump sum, or spread it over several payments.

Exceed those limits however, and pension withdrawals are treated as income.

Taxed accordingly. Potentially taxed a lot.






Choose your own adventure. Paying tax is optional.

My colleague dutifully played the good sport on his birthday.

Donned a silly party hat.

Feigned delight with unwanted surprises he hadn’t asked for, or gifts he had bought for himself.

Posed for the obligatory family photo. An image destined for social media. To signal a wholesome yet wholly imaginary happy family illusion to an uncaring audience of doom scrollers and trolls.

Endured a tortured rendition of “happy birthday to you”. A century-old song with a chequered past. Stolen from its composer. Converted into a royalty juggernaut, which continues to generate a seven-figure annual income to this day.

As soon as he was able, my colleague escaped the festivities to run some quick numbers.

The tax-free lump sum pension payment would comfortably clear his mortgage. He silently kicked himself for having spent years contributing to a repayment mortgage, imposing cashflow constraints and lifestyle compromises, when this windfall could have done all the heavy lifting for him.

The ongoing pension income would go a long way towards covering his remaining lifestyle costs. His children were grown and gone. Neither his generosity nor means inclined him to establishing a domestic branch of the bank of Mum and Dad. If they wanted his money, they could wait until he died.

Even after removing housing from his outgoings, his pension income would not quite cover his costs.

However, in another decade or so, the government aged pension should kick in. Twin rivers of retirement income. Combining to provide for himself and his wife, so long as they lived within their means.

So how to bridge the gap?

Continue with the daily grind? Business suits? Commuter trains? Status update meetings? Store-bought sandwiches? Bollocks to that!

Quit, and live off savings until reaching state pension age? Possibly, but the idea made him uneasy. Eating away at the safety cushion he had spent a lifetime assembling. What if the money ran out?

Downshift and coast? Become a consultant. A part-timer. A tutor. Hell, why not a barista?

It would get him out of the house for some externally imposed social interaction.

Probably good for him.

Definitely good for his marriage. That would never survive continuous close contact. Quiet nights in were already strained. Family holidays were torturous, but at least they had an end date.

He realised that he had a great many options and hoped for plenty of time to figure out what to do.

No guarantees of course, as evidenced by the increasing number of funerals he attended for friends, family, and former colleagues in recent years. Accidents and suicides had long since given way to cancers and degenerative diseases as the primary cause. Healthy living might make you feel better, but it was luck and the genetic lottery that determined the outcome.

My colleague had a theory that happiness was found on holidays. Solo holidays in his case. A brief escape from the everyday. Free from expectation. Released from pressure. A chance to just be.

Fulfilment was found in accomplishment. Not calculated in a spreadsheet. Nor hiding in a computer.

None of those things sounded like his current working existence.

Days bookended by commuting alongside grey-faced, grey-suited zombies. Some young. Some old. All looking resigned or stressed on the way in. Defeated and exhausted on the way home.

Long working hours consumed by administrivia and presenteeism. Very busy people filling out their days doing very busy work. Lots of activity. Little value.

One day not long ago, he had looked around and realised he had become the old man on site.

His peers and mentors had been ground up and spat out by the relentless demands of the vast corporate machine. Burned out. Long-term sick. Performance managed. Redundant. Retired. Dead.

Stabbed in the back by smiling assassins.

Manoeuvred out by ambitious underlings.

Done to them as they had done to others. An evolutionary lifecycle. The corporate Game of Thrones.

My friend double-checked his sums, before emailing a quick letter of resignation to HR. He was done.

Returning to his birthday party, he told his unsuspecting family that he had retired.

A stunned silence was heard. Each processing the implications to themselves.

He would be around more.

He would be earning less. Profit centre transforming into cost centre.

His wealth-generating capacity thrown into reverse. Nest egg reducing rather than compounding.

His attention was likely to be more present. Less distracted.

He could focus on things important to him. Not those determined by his employer.

Individually, each of those effects represented major change. Collectively, they were a seismic shift.

His value proposition as a husband altered. Yesterday, primary income earner. His ability to provide offsetting his great many flaws. Today, it was his assets and pension pot that brought the value. Spoils that could be readily divided or won in a divorce. Half the money, none of the hassle.

A thought destined to launch a series of conversations. Raising uncomfortable questions. Was it better to be alone together, that state of being familiar to all too many long-term couples? Or better being together alone, risking ageing without support for the chance of happiness?

The thing that shocked me about my colleague’s sudden retirement wasn’t the fact that he simply vanished from the workplace, refusing to work out his notice period. What could they do, fire him?

Nor was it the troubling notion that he had nothing to retire to. Regularly attending work drinks didn’t magically transform colleagues into friends, it merely provided acquaintances to get drunk with. His lengthy daily commute had left little time for a social life mid-week, and little energy for hobbies on the weekends.

No, what took my by surprise was the fact he was old enough to retire. Logically, I knew he must be in his mid-fifties. But dammit, he didn’t look or sound or act all that different to me! He couldn’t be old enough to enter retirement, because I didn’t feel old enough to think about retirement.

The difference between recognising and accepting proved to be a yawning chasm. In much the same way that my colleague had always intellectually recognised he should one day have access to a tax-free lump sum pension payout. It was something else entirely to have that day arrive. Recognition becoming reality.

My colleague wasn’t the first coworker I’d known who retired. But previously the retirees had always seemed “older”. The elder generation. Members of the old guard. One of them, not one of us.

That illusion had now been shattered.

Reflecting on my peer group, retirement was just beginning to creep in as a topic of conversation. Not the numbers, never the numbers. Just the goals. Ambitions. Hopes. Dreams. Occasionally, in unguarded moments, fears.

Loss of identity.

Loss of meaning.

Loss of relevance.

Gone. Fading away. Forgotten.

Amongst my antipodean friends, retirement causes the siren song of returning “home” to strengthen. A curious notion, given many of them have lived in England for decades, and the British pound is no longer as great as it once was. The nostalgic lives they overfondly remember from their youth no longer existing. Parents in care homes or graves. Siblings and school friends scattered to the wind. Yet still they yearn, and return.

The English seem to follow a different path. Escaping the proximity to the big city. Downsizing and extracting accumulated housing equity to supplement their retirements. Their destinations don’t appear to be “home” in the sense of the returning migrants, but given everywhere in England is within commuting distance of everywhere else, that probably doesn’t matter.

It has taken me a little while to get used to the notion that traditional retirement is no longer so far in the future as not being worth thinking about.

To recognise that any pontificating about “early” retirement I may indulge in starts to sound ironic.

Of course regulatory risk and perpetually broke governments will no doubt continue to shift the goalposts governing pension access. There is also a certain inevitability to means testing eventually being applied to the social security safety net, a practice long implemented in countries richer and more prosperous than the United Kingdom.

This suggests it is probably long past time to dig out my neglected financial plans, dust them off, and apply some newfound perspective to retirement numbers in what could no longer objectively be thought of as the “long term”.

Retirement planning. Who’d have thought it? Definitely a sign of getting old!

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  1. FI-FireFighter 5 August 2023

    This was me a few years ago.
    Stuck in a job I no longer enjoyed (I was best described as out of step with the CEO and his sycophants, but often unable to keep quiet).
    I knew roughly when I could exit stage left, pension changes had hit hard but I was still in a good position to go early.
    So I decided on a plan, didn’t tell anyone and set my countdown app.
    This helped me deal with the daily grind enormously.
    Those 3 years went by surprisingly quickly.
    Helped along by thinking and planning what I would do next.
    It was during this period I found FIRE – MMM, TEA, Monevator etc etc
    Fast forward to today, I have been free from that employer for 2 years and never looked back.
    Some of my plans came to fruition but many didn’t (or not yet at-least)
    But that doesn’t matter, as I regularly tell people still working, its not about making definitive plans you must stick too that is important, its the process of preparing yourself mentally for the change.
    Some colleagues have done this and seem to transition ok, other haven’t and seem to have struggled.
    Not scientific research but a regular pattern I have seen.

    My wife is a teacher and after 2 years of talking and preparing she left her job last month.
    27 years teaching have worn her out, its time to change things for her health and well being.
    She needed 2 years to come to terms with the decision – change, fear, worry, stress!
    What if we can’t afford it? Often repeated.
    My reply- what’s the worst that could happen?
    We both get part time work?
    Thats got to better than the stress and pressure currently in Teaching.
    She will work again but it will be fully on her terms and I have just dipped my toe back in to some well paid ad hoc gigs – 2 ex colleagues made offers difficult to refuse.

    Planning, thinking, preparing to leave work before you leave work is very important IMHO.

    Enjoy the process and look forward not back😁👍

  2. Bob 8 August 2023

    When ‘official’ retirement was six months off, I got the visit from my boss asking about my plans. I would not be staying and although I liked working for her, I knew my mind. I took the opportunity to tell a couple of senior managers three levels up they were a waste of space.

    The commutation, I maxed on the basis that the government can’t be trusted, and I have not regretted it. Most ex colleagues, also starburst from London. Although we did chat when a chap who trained us made the news and was jailed.

    Eight years later I not only don’t miss work, but wish I had left sooner.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 8 August 2023 — Post author

      Thanks Bob, you paint a vivid mental image that has put a smile on my face!

      Great to hear retirement has been to your liking, long may that continue.

  3. David Andrews 15 August 2023

    The removal of the LTA and the increasing to 60K for the Annual Allowance rather put a spanner in the works for my very early retirement.

    Add in the return to “normal” interest rates and the consequent haircut to the CETV of my deferred DB and my plans potential require some modification.

    Had I transferred out a year ago, if I could have found an approving adviser, I would have been very close to the LTA at age 50.

    Of course, who really knows what the next government will do and I’m still 4 years away from the minimum age to access my pension funds.

    Anyway, I think I’ve both had enough and have enough but suffer from an ongoing case of one more year syndrome.

    However, having choices can make working life a little “entertaining”.

    For example, at a recent director level “ask me anything session” I decided to ask the assembled directors what they believed the impact would be on staff morale and retention of the announced pay, bonus and promotion freeze. Crikey, you could have heard a pin drop.

    It was made all the more galling by recent announcements of stellar figures, all time share price highs – which curiously coincided with the billionaire owner have a lot of shares maturing, which they then sold.

    I’d take a similar exit stance to your friend but I’m hoping to be downsized with 6 months severance.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 16 August 2023 — Post author

      Thanks David.

      One suggestion, while you’re making yourself a sufficiently large pain in management’s collective backside to warrant purging, ensure you’ve started constructing the life you wish to lead post-work. “One more year” is often (but not always) the excuse we hide behind when we face the question of what comes next and can see only an abyss rather than a life we’d be comfortable pursuing instead of working. It can be a tough transition, doubly so for those who have the timing forced upon them.

What say you?

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