21 May 1999

Thinking of retirement?

Think about money first…

JUST say no. Thats Chris Lackis advice to people who get the hard sell from financial advisers.

Its a lesson hes learned from personal experience after selling up in 1996. While there was no shortage of people giving advice, good advice proved rather more difficult to find. "Once financial advisers smell a lump of money, they circle like piranhas," says Chris.

Some are just interested in getting you to sign on the dotted line. "Theyre salesmen – they have targets to meet," he says. "Dont accept the blandishments of prestigious name firms."

Some, too, have little knowledge outside their own specialist field. "Particular firms of specialist advisers tend to be specialist in a few financial vehicles. These, then, have to fit everybody. I didnt think I was getting the whole picture.

&#42 When to say no

"Farmers understand certain markets – and are supposed to be the hardest people to sell to. Yet, when they are given the sell by financial advisers – because they are not particularly familiar with that market – they cant say no. And they should."

Become familiar with the options well in advance of retirement, dont be afraid to take a pro-active role yourself and shop around until you get someone good, says Chris.

"Most probably wont damage your wealth – but they may not do it much good either."

The Lackis last harvest at Ditton Farm, Tenterden, Kent was in 1996. They had made their minds up the year before to call it a day. Agriculture was still a prosperous business, but was becoming harder work for smaller returns all the time. Better, they decided, to sell up and invest the money. As it happened the timing could barely have been better, with the big slump just around the corner. "Some people said I must have had a direct line to God getting out when I did," laughs Chris.

Ironically, it was thoughts of expansion that sealed the decision. A nearby block of land was on the market. At first Chris was keen to go for it. But it would have meant delving into the savings and "getting friendly" with the bank manager again. They thought again. The future of farming wasnt rosy. Chris was 55. He and his wife, Lynda, knew they would be retiring in a few years time, anyway. People they spoke to extolled the virtues of life after work. Maybe buying more land wasnt such a good idea after all.

And once they had decided not to expand, it seemed suddenly right to get out altogether. "Had we stayed farming, we would have been standing still – and a business which is standing still invariably begins to drift downwards."

&#42 Right decision

Three years on, it certainly seems the right decision. With the savings they made, the Lackis are making more as an "economically inactive" retired couple than they could working a small family farm. "Perhaps thats a little immoral," says Chris. "But its a fact of life."

Organising and running the money once you are retired can be like a part-time job. "People have to apply the same diligence to running their financial affairs as they did to their business."

Its a myth, he says, that people go into spending overdrive when they retire. Just because youre not earning doesnt automatically mean youre spending. Yes, it requires discipline when you first start working to a fixed income. But you can always supplement your income with part-time work. Chris has been lambing this Easter. "It was nice coming home and knowing I was finished. I could switch off completely."

And that was something didnt happen when he was in the business. "Being a small family farmer, all my time was devoted to the farm. When I woke up in the morning it was the first thought I had. I enjoyed it – but it was just constant. Having that freedom of thought was an enormous relief. The first six months were absolute heaven."

&#42 Paperwork

Besides, a lot of the fun had gone out of farming by the mid-1990s. All the paperwork. The pressure groups. "I felt that my profession was no longer respected. We were as disliked as tax inspectors."

Financial matters, meanwhile, are just one of a host of things that will keep you busy in retirement. "Dont worry about not having a reason to get up in the morning. I did feel a little guilty about gardening in the middle of the afternoon when everyone else was rushing around trying to plant winter corn."

Retirement may have been the right decision – but nothing, of course, is without drawbacks. "I still spend time on the land – but I havent got my own patch of it anymore," says Chris. And sometimes, just sometimes, it prompts a twinge of regret. On a May evening, perhaps, the ewes lying in the pasture, twins at their side, the birds in full song. "But those twinges dont last very long."