I have always paid scant attention to that section of any newspaper devoted to matters concerning money. Then, last week, instead of rolling a broadsheet-sized joint from the front page of Personal Finance that would take at least three people to hold and a flamethrower to light, I began reading a feature headlined, “How your retirement plans might fail you.” I took this as a sign that I was growing up and it disturbed me a great deal, but not as much as it did to discover there was a very good chance I’d be destitute and half-eaten by monkeys before I could retire.
Oh, who am I kidding. I’d be thoroughly eaten, digested and shat out long before anyone even noticed I was missing. The alpha monkey of the Westbrook troop – the one with the giant blue balls – would move in and my neighbours would whisper among themselves about how shrunken and hairy I had become. My death would only become apparent when Blue Balls, having found my wallet and car keys, went off to buy bananas from the Seagull Roost café and crashed into the complex’s electric gate because monkey’s don’t understand that they have to press the red button to get back in. Once they work that out, we’re finished as a species.
That’s enough about monkeys.
On the financial front, there is some good news. For me, at least. The rest of you are screwed. Amid the increasingly hysterical requests from the traffic police that I hand myself over, I received a reminder that money was imminent. This wasn’t a reminder from Lagos Larry, either. Apparently I took out a number of policies some years ago. It almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if San Reddy hadn’t brought it up. San and I worked together at e.tv when the channel started. Between the two of us, he was the more sensible one when it came to money. When it came to anything, really.
Having a drink in Bardelis after work one night, San suggested I get in touch with his then financial advisor. I suggested he desist from such depressing talk and buy another round. Being the gentleman that he is, he politely refrained from sketching a picture of me in 20 years’ time living in a cardboard box on the N2, drinking recycled Chardonnay and eating my girlfriend’s toes.
I have never responded well to advice from people who have my best interests at heart, but this time I followed up on it. I worked like a dog in harness at e.tv in those early years and the recurring chest pains went a long way towards encouraging me to make that call.
She suggested we meet at a coffee shop in a mall. This wasn’t a good start. My idea of a financial advisor was someone who’d insist on meeting in an underground parking garage at 2am. I believed then, as I do now, that the deliberate accumulation of wealth is a dark and treacherous affair and negotiations are best conducted out of the public eye. Or, at the very least, in a broken bar where the taxis don’t run and the tequila is cheap.
She was impeccably dressed. Her make-up was perfect. Her shoes matched the colour of her nails. I knew right away that I was either going to spend my retirement in the Bahamas or in a homeless shelter. It was a gamble, possibly the biggest of my life. I asked if everything went pear-shaped, could she at least guarantee me a spot in a homeless shelter in the Bahamas. She laughed and picked up the menu.
“What would you like,” she said. I thought a bit, then said I’d like to retire at 45 with enough money to never again have to sit in rush hour traffic, take guff from mental midgets or have to settle for 21 days leave a year. A small island in the Caribbean might also be nice.
“I meant,” she said, “what would you like to eat?”
Suspecting that this could turn into more of a mugging than a blessing, I opted for a liquid lunch. She wanted a guarantee of my money, not my temperance. One finds drinking often helps to blunt oneself to the trauma of dealing with numbers. However, it also makes one inclined to sign whatever it takes to hasten the end of the horror.
Life insurance, disability, dread disease, retirement, death, funeral. Would you like a will with that, sir? May I validate your parking? Teddy bear for the blind? Hell, yeah. I’ll take it all. Bring me another beer. Where do I sign?
Every month for years after that meeting I would look at my bank statement and say, “What the hell is that?” I didn’t really want to know. Making enquiries would only have confused me more. I assumed somebody out there knew what was going on and that would have to do.
And then, the other day, it happened. All policies fell due. Out of the red and into the black. Ka-ching. Just like that. I rushed to the nearest bottle store and bought it. Then I went for lunch with my father and told him the happy news. He nodded slowly and stroked his long white beard. “That’s very nice,” he said. “I just hope you came out with more than if you had put all that money into the stock market instead.”
I told him I was going for a wee and would be right back, then jumped the fence and ran for my car. I don’t want to know these things. I can’t imagine anything worse than sitting down with a calculator and finding out that I would’ve made far more money buying shares in Shoprite. Or even keeping the money in my current account. I don’t care. What’s done is done. If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
But here’s where it gets weird. Apparently I can’t get my hands on all the money I’ve paid over the years. Apparently I can’t be trusted to sit on my big fat nest egg for fear that I will lose control, smash it open and suck up its gooey goodness and then, when it’s empty, sit back and become a burden on the state.
This isn’t right. It’s about as wrong as Bruce Jenner deciding he’s a woman because he bought the boobies and wig but still wants to hang onto his willy. Genitalia determines gender. Lop off yer goolies, Bruce, and you’ll always be Caitlyn to me.
So this is the deal. I am allowed to take one-third of the value of the policies in Spar plastic bags full of untraceable banknotes. The remaining two-thirds must be invested in something called a living annuity. From this, I have to withdraw no less than 2.5% and no more than 17.5% a year.
My adviser advised me to err on the side of caution. “The safe drawdown rate for a balanced portfolio is four percent.” I don’t know if I have a balanced portfolio. Not because she hasn’t given me the information. She has. But you can only say, “Sorry, would you mind explaining that again?” so many times before you have to nod and smile and walk away.
Never mind the portfolio, I don’t even know for sure that my financial adviser is balanced.
“You don’t want to start digging into your capital too soon,” she said over the phone. It’s a lesson that comes way too late in life. When I was a kid, my pocket money would disappear within the five minutes it took me to run to the corner shop. I didn’t always spend it. Most of the time it would fall out of my pocket and be lost forever. My sister would save hers. She’s probably a multi-millionaire today.
So it’s a gamble and, like all gambles of any consequence, you absolutely must calculate the odds. But this one is trickier than most.
Brain: “Take the 2.5%. You are going to live a long time. Make it last.”
Gut: “Don’t fuck around. You could be dead by Friday. Take the 17.5%.”
Ideally, I suppose, Big Brother’s piggy bank would make its final payout and I would spend it on something that would make me very happy and then kill me. It will be a woman, I expect.