What I Retirement?
I think MaiTaiTime’s descriptions come nearest to my way of thinking, but I have to say that most, if not all of the other viewpoints written about retirement in Thailand and comparisons with the West are way too rational for me. Granted, we all
need money to survive, and none of us aim to end up penniless in the gutter – but surely planning one’s survival expenditure to the last baht/dollar/pound or whatever is a largely futile gesture given the changes currently taking
place on this planet. These are vast changes, the poles are melting at an alarming rate, there are huge political and social changes, financial meltdowns, wars, and natural disasters which seem to be happening more and more often. With all this
going on, who can plan their own future with any degree of accuracy?
It’s well known that John Lennon once said in a song – ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ I’ve no reason to doubt that this would apply to anyone planning to retire to Thailand or anywhere else for that matter. Anyway, how does one define retirement any more? These days I feel that the ages of 65 for men and 60 for women are entirely artificial and arbitrary selections. Understandably, in times gone by, consumer choices for people were nowhere near what they are today; people generally worked themselves to the bone from age 15 until 65, retired exhausted on a small pension, then if they were lucky lived for another 5 – 7 years. For a relatively short period, and until very recently in the West, someone could retire at 50 if their finances allowed, and given the improvements in healthcare and diet, could reasonably expect 35 more years of life. Now the rules have changed again, minimum age to draw pension has been raised to 55 <Different in every country – Stick>, and governments (even Greece!) are looking to raise retirement age because no government is going to be able to afford paying out livable pensions in populations where tax revenues are falling, and mean mortality age rates are dramatically rising. Indeed, it was reported in the UK media recently that one study predicted that retirement age needs to rise to 72 in future to compensate for all the changes!
So how can one plan with any degree of certainty? I’ve read opinions from people who say that Thailand is not the country it once was, and twenty years from now could be even less so. I guess the same could be said for their countries of origin, nothing stays the same. I look at my own country, England, and see a country unrecognizable from the one I knew 40 years ago, and not all for the better in many ways. But I don’t wish to judge progress by how much money I have made, how big my house is or what the facilities are like at my golf club. Success measured in this way is for the insecure. After all, the moment we depart this earth all these things become irrelevant and futile. So the question I ask is more about how one spends one’s life, not how much wealth one has accrued. Of course I say this from a position of relative poverty and I exclude the very rich from all this anyway; after all, if one wants to see the kind of people God has blessed with fame, riches and power, one doesn’t have to look too far!
The kind of factors that would affect my judgement on whether it would be better to retire to Thailand or whether to stay put in my own country have more to do with people, relationships, children, happiness, freedom and lack of fear. Also, the social environment. But primarily, to feel FREE – something I don’t feel in my own country, but do in Thailand. You can argue until the cows come home about relative values, how much beer 100 baht will buy, barfines, the price of renting/buying a decent condo in Bangkok or Pattaya, or whether your internet connection is fast enough or whether your favourite sport can be seen on Sky or not. Some may disagree, but mongering alone is not reason enough to move, even to escape the altered state of western females. I have to add, though, that sex is very important no matter how old one is, and I would not stay in any relationship without it. And in Thailand there is a greater chance to help out directly with people poorer/less fortunate than oneself, especially where the state is not so geared up to help. There is also the marvellous opportunity to visit, over time, many parts of South East Asia inexpensively, and as a ‘local’ trip! Wonderful.
You think my attitude is reckless? Not so, in my own opinion. I’ve been married to a Thai for four years, the age difference between us is only six years. I recently spent time with her family in Lopburi – primarily to see if I could/would be able to spend my latter years with them. Three years ago we built a small two bed house on land my wife owns within the family plot. Her mum is still alive, looked after by her children and their families, all who still live in separate houses on the same land. Their lifestyle is basic, but no one goes without. They all work hard, and they have all the usual family problems and squabbles; some of these seem extremely childish to me. They sometimes borrow money from each other, and don’t always pay it back. The youngest son (my wife’s brother) is very entrepreneurial and runs a building business and a small transport operation. Sometimes he has three million baht in the bank, sometimes zero. He makes sure their mother eats well, provides her with anything she needs, including medical treatment/medication. I have not seen anything like this in my own country, which is now very fragmented when it comes to family life. I was accepted as a family member without question, and received respect without deference. I have little doubt I could live there, although I would definitely need my own space as the culture I know and grew up in recognises more need for peace, quiet and individualism. We have another plot of building land nearby which could provide a house for my wife and I, the other house will be donated to her grown up daughter and her children in due course.
As I said earlier, who can plan with any degree of accuracy? All of my plans may go out of the window; I may get sick and die, or be killed in an accident. I don’t have a portfolio of investments or a huge pension pot, and even if I did there is no guarantee it would do me any good, not if the last five years is anything to go by. Believe me, there is much more of this on the horizon – I don’t mean to scaremonger, but people, open your eyes! I’m not even sure that if by the time I get to the required age, there will be much of a state pension available in the UK, that is how unpredictable things have become. Right now, the UK government has begun its task of cost cutting right across the board, and this includes welfare and other state benefits. After only two years since the crash, banks are starting to declare multi billions in profits again, and if this doesn’t tell you that the original losses were a planned scam to ensure further enormous sums of money moved upwards, then nothing will. Who, then, has lent our governments these billions to bail out the banks? Who benefits? But who pays? We all know the answers to that last one.
If I was too fearful of living as an impecunious man in an alien culture in Thailand, I would remain in England. If I did remain, what could I look forward to in the years to come? A majority of British people are still generally decent and caring. The system that has been created however, is one being left almost entirely to market forces. As time goes by we will see a health service becoming increasingly privatised and fee paying, in other words more like America. State benefits will reduce, and unemployed people will be working free (to the delight of company profit and loss accounts) in order that they may draw their miserable pittance of a weekly benefit. Those with jobs will be working harder, longer hours for proportionately less money than they would have earned in the 1980s, and they will work in fear because their jobs are all short term contracts with no security since the unions have been all but castrated by laws and managed opinion. The middle classes will be more and more soaked (the poor already have nothing left to give), their properties over-mortgaged from the greed periods during the first seven years of this century. Their children will remain with them into their thirties because they cannot afford to get on to the property ladder, and the level of rents will have gone through the roof. The state will no longer provide housing benefits other than for the poorest families with the lowest rents in run down areas. Food prices will rise, and there may be shortages due to increasing populations and unstable weather conditions in those areas of the world where the majority of staple crops are grown. This will force people to buy the cheapest foods which are generally the least nutritious, creating more and more obese people, along with all the health problems that this entails. Most of all, this has created a society which, even if people do still care, makes it much more difficult for them to actively do anything which makes much difference. This is because all the new laws, regulations and bureaucracy create almost impregnable barriers, to say nothing of the ridiculous rise of political correctness. If anything is ever a barrier to change and improvement, this is it. The paradox is that we humans create all these problems for ourselves and other humans, when with a change in attitude this planet could become the paradise we all wish for, instead of the hell it is becoming. In this respect, Thais are no different, but the environment in which they exist is less unpleasant. For the moment.
As far as retirement in Thailand goes, I think the two major challenges that foreigners will face is the descent into mediocrity of the nightlife industry. Many wish to retire and enjoy unlimited sex with a new partner every day. My feeling is that the authorities will become less tolerant of the industry and prices will go up – so these seeking this sort of lifestyle will find it harder to find. The other challenge is quite simply that long-term the baht is probably going to strengthen a good deal more – to pre-97 levels would be a fair bet. That, along with inflation, will make Thailand much more expensive. That's not to say that Westerners will not be able to retire here, but rather what they will be able to enjoy in their retirement will be much less than they had hoped for.