Life begins at 60

Spending the inheritance

[July 2008]

Forget knitting and false teeth, the new generation of grandparents are out and about and living it up.

A few years ago, retired American tourists started displaying bumper stickers that declared, "We're spending the kids' inheritance". And what started as a joke has become a reality.

With better health, longer life expectancy, more plans for an active retirement as well as higher living costs than generations before them, retirees in the noughties are increasingly cashing in on their investments early and spending.

Known as 'ski' (spending kids inheritance) or 'ski-ing', this growing trend is prevalent amongst the over-50s who have substantial equity in property. According to a survey carried out by Saga in May 2008, 79 per cent of retirees in the UK who own their own home have paid off their mortgage by the age of 60 with this figure rising to 99 per cent at age 70.

Rather than waiting to pass on the fruits of their labour to their offspring until after they've gone, many of today's informed and healthy retired people are choosing to spend their hard-earned cash on travel, cars and property.

Andrew Goodsell, Chief Executive of Saga Group, says, "We have seen an increasing amount of customers use the equity from their home to fund retirement. We have even had a customer recently who released money from their home to pay for their golf club membership!"

Increasingly retirees are active and adventurous and looking for more than a coach trip every year. Older tourists are stepping off the beaten track and participating in activities usually associated with gap year travellers - scuba diving, white water rafting, trekking and volunteering overseas.

Italy, Spain and France are still the most popular holiday destinations for retired travellers but Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and America are all gaining in popularity.

Retired tourists are often well-organised travellers who take advantage of holiday add-on services including airport parking, airport hotels and airport lounges.

Many retired Brits decide to relocate overseas permanently for the good weather, outdoor lifestyle and lower cost of living. Brits Abroad, a report published in 2006 by the Institute for Public Policy Research, showed that there were more than one million UK state pensioners living abroad at that time. Australia, North America, Ireland and Spain were all top locations for enjoying later life.

At the end of 2006, the government was estimated to be paying over two billion pounds a year in pensions to these expats and transferring several hundred million pounds every year to help other EU countries provide healthcare services to retired British people living in Europe.

And here's where the rose-tinted retirement spectacles have to come off for most of us, especially younger generations. The UK population is ageing all the time, with the proportion of the population aged over 65 rising as the post-Second World War baby boomers move into retirement.

Data collated by the Office for National Statistics demonstrates that, although fertility rates have increased recently, there are still fewer people being born now than in the 1960s. This smaller working population is having to support the ever-growing retired population in public services such as healthcare.

A significant proportion of the current generation of retirees is enjoying a golden age of affluence. This can be attributed largely to the property boom of the last ten years and generous company pension schemes from 'jobs for life'. They may well be the last generation for a long time to enjoy such financial security.

A state pension doesn't go very far, as the millions of pensioners living without any supplementary income will confirm. And how much will it be worth in years to come? Experts today advise people to prepare financially for 25 to 30 years of retirement. But for many this is impossible.

Debts mount from student days onwards and pension provision is often delayed until later in life. A lot of company pension schemes are less generous than they once were. Stay-at-home mothers are commonly unable to contribute to any scheme and private pensions can be inadequate on retirement. In recent years, property has been seen as the lucrative alternative to a pension plan.

Kids today don't expect an inheritance or begrudge their relatives an enjoyable retirement. But a little help from flush parents could go a long way.

With faltering property and financial markets and rising living costs, younger generations may well be hoping mum and dad pass a little their way while they're still alive and don't blow all their cash on cruises and fast cars.

by Maxine Clarke