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Ask a Boomer:

What's Retirement like?

Ask a Boomer: What’s Retirement like?

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For most of our parents’ generation, planning for retirement simply meant picking a cruise line, stocking up on Werther’s Originals, and joining a Zumba group. Employers were responsible for supporting their workers’ retirements, and they provided cushy pensions to keep past staff comfortable well into their golden years.

Oh, how things have changed. According to Statistics Canada, only 38 percent of Canadian workers are covered by any type of workplace pension, down from about 42 percent in the late 1990s.

65 year-old Jacqueline Sutton may be a boomer, but she never got that workplace pension. As a former therapist, she worked with nonprofit organizations and ran her own practice in Vancouver. She and her partner Ben made decent livings, and started saving their money early, but they always knew that their retirement would probably look a lot different from those of their friends.

Jacqueline’s solution? Ease into retirement in the most insanely twee, picturesque way possible. In 2003, she and Ben moved to Salt Spring Island to run a small lavender farm, where they keep horses and offer equine therapy programs. Since they left the city to buy the farm, the pair have also launched an annual lavender festival, made several jaunts to Europe, and even taken the sailboat down to Mexico — all this without a pension.

Dreaming of an island lifestyle? Some advice:

How’s retirement treating you?

It doesn’t feel much like retirement to be honest. It’s hard work. But I’m happy to say that when you retire, you don’t need to think that you won’t be doing anything. If you find an interest, there’s always so much more to keep learning. The farm is incredibly satisfying, however, we don’t make a lot of money out of it.

So was this business something you’d always planned on?

No, not at all. One day, I had this very strong feeling that I wanted to be out of the city in five years. Then Ben felt the same way. It was all very casual, we just ambled around a few rural areas until we settled on Salt Spring. Neither of us knew anyone there, but it just felt like the right place.

Once you made the decision, how’d you save for it?

We’ve been saving and investing as we went along through our lives, and when parents passed away we had some money become available. We also owned a home in Vancouver, so when we seriously thought about moving to the country, we sold that and downscaled to a condo. We also invested in some smaller rental properties around the province as revenue generating sources. Then we sold them, and used the money to support the farm.

Running a farm is notoriously hard work. What was the transition like?

It’s a major lifestyle change. But we bought the property in ’99, and then didn’t fully stop our previous careers until 2003. So we had a gradual winding out of what we’d previously been doing, while starting to wind this up. The former owner hadn’t done much upkeep on the property, and it needed a lot of work. Ben was a plant biochemist though, in addition to working in business, so at least the learning curve around running a lavender farm wasn’t too steep.

How about travel? Do you ever get the chance to get away?

I still have family in the UK, so we go to visit them fairly regularly. And I’ll always try to tack on a visit to somewhere else in Europe while we’re there. We tend to have our off time in the winter. We’ve done quite a lot of sailing with friends down the Pacific coast. We’ve gone down to Mexico, El Salvador, and then another trip to Baha. We can save money, because we don’t go to resorts. If we’re staying in Mexico, for example, we prefer to stay in a village where we can experience Mexican life. Our travelling tends to be more organic, I suppose. Not granola, but certainly not the Four Seasons.

Can you offer any advice to younger people who’d want to replicate some aspect of your lifestyle?

It’s an incredibly complex question. To give financial advice to anyone seems like such a challenging thing to do, especially with what’s going on in the world. We benefitted from investing, though we did weather a few disasters, like in 2008. But we’ve recovered from that now. I’d say, find someone who can really work for you, in terms of supporting your investments. But still listen to yourself, and trust your instincts.

lso, people often say they’re unable to retire because they have so many fixed monthly costs. But then these fixed costs are for things like extra cars. Yes, you want to maintain your lifestyle, but why do you need to? There are endless ways for people to look at their lifestyle and keep their costs to a minimum. My personal vice is books. I don’t like going to library, I like owning my own. So you also need to examine what your weak spots are, where you unconsciously spend money, and make some changes. It’ll be worth it in the end.

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