Selling happiness by the pound


Damian – sharp suit – greying beard



If I was Damian Stancombe, I wouldn’t be talking to me. Damian is a partner at a firm called Barnett Waddingham and I’m forever having a go at his firm. But he’s a tolerant fellow and we still appear to be friendly rivals- which says a lot for him.

I note that he’s taken to wearing a beard and that he’s writing ever more creative blogs. His latest blog challenges us to picture retirement in a rather less rosy way than the photo that he calls “the biggest lie you tell your employees”.


The biggest lie


I guess the clue is in the watermark. This is a stock image produced by Shutterstock to provide comfort to those toiling under the ineluctable modality of the toad work.

Fifty years ago we wouldn’t have been selling a Caribbean beach but the elysian fields. Retirement is all that a temporal society has to look forward to, heaven is a place on earth and Shutterstock is showing us a sanitised  equivalent of the “four and twenty virgins”.

A necessary lie?

That this is a lie for most of us, I have no doubt, but is it a necessary lie. Is retirement not religion the opiate of the people. Is Rob Bryden our new St Peter guiding us towards a deserved reward for a lifetime of abstinence.

Or are we to think of the future, as Damian would have us think

 The beach heavily caveated that it will cost an arm and leg, A food bank maybe as the flat rate pension is only 8K and the living wage is 12k? As for me, the picture of ‘retirement’ is an older person behind the Mickey Mouse mask..

I think Damian is having an imagination failure!

We live with a huge amount of uncertainty, people we know die unexpectedly, we have awful and unexpected injuries and illnesses, we lose our jobs and we lose our spouses. We cope with a lot and most of all we cope with getting old.

Getting old is not something we can do anything about, it happens and we can plan for it by doing our best to be healthy, wealthy and wise, but we cannot plan for getting cancer, or becoming demented and we can’t expect our finances to keep us happy.

I am not sure that many of us really believe that we will be happy in retirement because of money. Most of us think of the future as our children or as an opportunity to do something worthwhile but not as a time when we spend-spend-spend.

The reason why Rob Bryden is on our TVs so much is that there is the wealth in retirement these days to spend, a lot of it from pensions, a lot from our housing wealth and a lot from the prudence of people who chose to spend in the past (on getting old). Cruise companies are selling to those who have wealth and to convert it into shareholder dividends!

rob bryden

The selling power of Pisa


But while Rob Bryden sells “heaven on earth”, we live with elderly people who need care, love and attention, but don’t need a lot of money. There is elderly poverty and there are food banks to which old people go, but there are kids living on the streets too.

We get old slowly, our beards turn grey and our hair falls out and we find it harder to do things we used to find easy. But this happens slowly and we adjust to old age gradually.

For most of us old age is not something we look forward to or fear, it is something we grow into.

Can’t buy me love

Damian and I are in the business of selling happiness by the pound. We like to equate the outcomes of saving along the lines of the Shutterstock image. Damian challenges us to sell it the other way round with an image of an old person at the food bank or as a saver in a mickey mouse mask (presumably on his way to the food bank while dreaming about beaches.

I don’t buy the beach or the food bank, Damian asks me to define retirement and I look at my parents and I my older friends and the people who I talk to in the pub, at church and at the football. What I see are people, not older people.

And this is the very simple but difficult point of this blog, as you get older, the people you hang out with get older. We all get old together and we start doing things that other older people do. How we adjust to this gradual change is more to do with values such as self-worth, fortitude and generosity (or an equal and opposite negative value set) than our financial well-being.

At heart, most of us, do not measure the future by the value of our pension but by our capacity to meet the inevitable challenges of decrepitude – older years bring. Part of the planning around that is the squirrelling of nuts which savers do to keep them from hunger. That is what Damian and I are properly  selling!

But the deeper spiritual stuff that makes for heaven on earth, or even heaven when we’ve gone to earth, that’s more than Damian of I or Rob Bryden can offer.


So the big lie is the idea that we can buy or sell happiness by the pound. The mental state that the Shutterstock image sells does not come from a big bank balance but from what the two people on the beach appear to have for each other.

The word is “love”, you can’t buy me love.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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6 Responses to Selling happiness by the pound

  1. Phil Castle says:

    Live in the moment, not for the moment.

  2. Phil Castle says:

    I took on a client when he was 57 it took about 2years to get to understand him and his finances, within a year of that I’d shown him he could afford to retire and he did and 2 years after that he died. His wife has lived 15 years without him now, but had he and I met earlier, he could have stopped work sooner and they could have had more than 2 years retirement together.
    Another chap I had advised for more than 15 years when we changed from planning discussions to using visualised lifetime cashflow planning resigned and retired within a week of showing him visibaly his lifetime cashflow as he could. He now just works part time for oin money and social needs alone. No senior post pressure.

  3. Phil Castle says:

    Sell clarity.

  4. Tom Kean says:

    I had to look up what ineluctable meant. Reflects my shabby grammar school education.

  5. henry tapper says:

    I learned it at college – nice word – especially in the phrase “ineluctable modality of existence” a favourite with my teacher Geoffrey Hill – (lux in tenebris)

  6. Geoff Sharpe says:

    Retirement is a change of lifestyle that has financial consequences, what I enjoy is empowering clients to take control of money, rather then be controlled by it, and then see the positive impact on their lives. Quite a number have had life changing illnesses and needed help confronting the decision to stop accumulating wealth and enjoy money for what it is.

    From my perspective retirement is working when I want to rather than having to, so in the conventional sense I will not retire unless I am no longer capable of working.

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