When I was 17, and I’d just got my first job as a cadet reporter with a London newspaper, a bloke came to my house selling life insurance.
He sat me down in the front room and showed me glossy brochures. With charts. All the lines in the charts were heading upwards. He made me look at them, and he nodded his head a lot.
That was 48 years ago, but I think it’s still the same today, except that they use laptop computers instead of glossy brochures; and it’s possible, in today’s climate, that they blush when they point to the charts with all the little lines pointing upwards.
And I think the message is the same: when you retire you can be rich Ñ if you save some money every week now.
So I did.
I earned $10 a week back then, and I forget how much I paid towards a pension, but it couldn’t have been more than about fifty cents.
I chucked it in after about a month. I mean, retirement was at age 65. Forty-eight years ahead of me! There was going to be lots of time to become a millionaire, and I really needed that fifty cents.
Naturally, I was wrong. There must be millions of retiring men and women today who went through the same experience. All we did was make money for insurance salesmen, because we rarely got any of our money back; it all went in “establishment costs” Ñ the front-end costs of setting up our accounts.
But I’m glad, really. I look in the mirror every morning and I’m not too embarrassed at who I am.
Can you imagine looking in the mirror and saying to yourself: “I’m rich today because I have diligently saved a portion of my income every week since I was 17 years old.”
I wouldn’t just be embarrassed; I’d be horrified. What kind of a person does that? I bet John Howard did. He has the look.
As for me Ñ I drank my superannuation. I spent it on girls, and petrol and showing off and generally enjoying my youth, my young adulthood, my older adulthood, my pre-middle age, my middle age and my post-middle age.
And I’m very glad I did. What would I do with it now! Drink hurts my head, the girls have all gone off and got married (as did I) and, frankly, there aren’t too many places I want to go that require much petrol.
My friend Patrick has superannuation oozing from the pores of his bank account. At least, he did until the recession hit, and he discovered his savings had shrunk by 15 per cent.
And he’s not alone! Mine have shrunk by 15 per cent, too, but in my case that means I’ve lost $300. I’ll let you do the maths.
Am I irresponsible? Certainly not! I take great care of my family; I take part in community life like a good citizen. I may not be another Fred Hollows or Mother Teresa, but I help out, where I can, at a community level.
Okay then, was I irresponsible back then, when I was 17 and I couldn’t see any sense in chucking away fifty cents on something I wasn’t going to enjoy for another 48 years?
Of course! I was 17. That’s half the fun, when you’re 17!
Patrick likes to think I’ll regret it later, but if regret doesn’t kick in soon it’s going to run out of time.
He’s the one tearing his hair out because 15 per cent of his superannuation has vanished overnight. He thinks of it as his savings but it’s not. It was just sleight of hand on a piece of paper. Say the magic words and Ñ abracadabra! Ñ your fifty cents a week is really a million dollars.
Meâ€¦ I’m busy practising sleight of hand of my own Ñ a new card trick to try on the grandkids.
They’ll say: “Oh, go on Grandad â€¦ show us how you did it!”
And I won’t. And it won’t cost even fifty cents, and it’ll be every bit as much fun as my youth was.