When you drive your car into your local car wash, you expect to be greeted by a cheerful bunch of wiry young men, braving the cold, and ready to “shine up your car to better than new”. What you don’t expect to see is an old man in his late seventies working there among them. This particular car wash was open-air and on this particular day, it was windy and bitterly cold. As I watched what must once have been a proud man struggling in the cold with a vacuum cleaner, a guy who looked like he run the joint came over and said that Floyd had been harassing them for a job for a while and that they finally caved in out of sheer pity just before Christmas. “He’s good with the vacuum cleaner but sometimes his back plays up so then we get him to clean windows.” I couldn’t understand why someone his age would find himself in such a position so decided to hang around to find out.
I managed to have a word with Floyd during a quiet period, and found out that my initial impression of him being either a compulsive gambler or a long term substance abuser was completely unfounded. Floyd was simply flat broke and couldn’t live on the meagre state pension of £120 per week. This job gave him an additional £20 a day and made a big difference to his life. He simply couldn’t afford not to work.
“Nobody cares,” he said. “Everyone is too busy with their own problems so I just get on with it. My family doesn’t even know I work here and I’m too proud to tell them. What would they do anyway if I told them? Probably just lecture me to take it easy when I can’t afford to.”
Floyd’s problems started when he decided not to join the pension scheme offered by his long standing employer. “I remember on the factory floor one day, one of the managers come round with a notepad asking who wanted to join the pension scheme. I was about 26 at the time and it would have meant my sacrificing a few shillings of my weekly pay to go into the pension scheme. I was too clever back then, and when I was told it wasn’t compulsory, I decided not to join as I felt those few extra shillings would be better served in my pocket. Oh God, how I wish it had been compulsory!”
“Time went by and I forgot about the pension scheme altogether. I kept working at the factory for years and years and I suppose deep inside me, I hoped a manager would come round again with his notepad asking who wanted to join the pension scheme. It never happened because new recruits were now automatically enrolled into the scheme. I only started really thinking about pensions again when one of my colleagues retired; but by now I was in my fifties and it was too late. Where did all that time go? I retired without a pension at age 65 and here I am now.”
I learned that if Floyd had joined the pension scheme at age 26, by now, he would now be living comfortably on about £600 per week, payable for the rest of his life in addition to the £120 a week which he already receives from the state. He couldn’t believe how one stupid decision could have made such a huge difference to his life.
After a long silence between us, Floyd hit me with these words, which filled me with terror: “Don’t be like me, young man. Make sure you plan for your old age because old age lasts a long time. I have been old for almost 15 years and I’m not half way through yet. It is one thing being poor, but being old and poor is quite another. Make sure you plan, son.”
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Article by Akwasi Duodu
Independent Financial Consultant, Sterling & Law Group plc