I'm 52. I know that some of your reading this can't even begin to imagine being that old. This week has been sobering, I've spent much of it sitting next to a hospital bed with my elderly Dad in ICU as he recovers from a fall and an operation. I've been living with my elderly mother and helping deal with lots of different things from cutting grass, painting rooms and driving her to and from the hospital.
Mum and I went through old photos of me when I was younger, some will be of me about the age you are. In one I'm sitting there in my home studio recording with my Portastudio writing songs and without a care in the world. I used to spend money I had and also the money I didn't have, thanks to the bank of Dad, building my studio. I certainly didn't think about pensions, I rarely thought about the next day.
I saw someone post on a Facebook group this week "I've spent all my spare money on plugins." I sat there for a moment and then thought, I spend all my spare money on a pension. Some thought I was joking and some thought 'don't you encourage people to buy said plugins?" As I reflected, I thought this such a serious issue that it deserved an article rather than an easily misunderstood pithy one-liner on Facebook.
For clarification, the title "Plugins or a pension" makes for nice alliteration, but I'm using the word plugins for buying gear generally, so that's my starting point. Second clarification, I'm not here to tell you to stop buying equipment, for many of us who make a living from this the fantastic hardware and software we use enables us to make money we need to pay for rent, mortgages, and of course pensions.
So, what am I trying to say?
I think what concerned me as I read someone writing "I've spent all my spare money on plugins" was that just like me at that age, I gave little if no thought to my future needs and if any group need to consider it it's those working in the creative arts.
Most of us working as self-employed in the creative arts live a hand-to-mouth existence moving from one job to the next, hoping to have enough money to meet the bills at the end of the month. There is no real middle class, few of us have provision for time off, vacations, sick pay, savings and certainly not retirement. So there's a high likelihood that unless we are the small percentage of people who make such a success of working on the creative sector who have a lot of money put aside for a rainy day, in our older years we may be poor.
You may recall I mentioned at the start of the article I'm 52, and it was only just recently that I started to take the idea of making sure I had enough to live on as I get older seriously. Once I'd done the maths I realised that to make that happen I'd need to start putting a lot of money into a pension every month. That number is higher than my mortgage payments every month, it's painful to do, but necessary if I don't want to spend my later years trying to make ends meet. I certainly don't ever expect to be driving a buggy around a golf course or taking three cruises a year, but even to have a reasonable income as I get older it's going to take a big pot of money.
Remember that comment on social media "I've spent all my spare money on plugins." Here's what I thought, I'm guessing the person making that comment is late teens or early twenties. What if instead of spending $200 on plugins every month they spent $100 and they put the other $100 in a pension plan with the idea of drawing from it at 65, or at best guess by the time that comes around 70? Even with a modest plan that $100 per month for the next 45-50 years is going to be a tidy sum as it builds up, with compound interest of just 2% over 45 years, that's going to be nearly $90,000!
Again, I'm not suggesting you stop spending money on the stuff you need to help you be creative, but I want to say that I'd wish someone had told me to start putting money away for when I get older. Here's my worry, too many creatives are going to live their later years broke or working 2 or 3 shitty jobs just to get by? That's hardly living the dream.
So far I've been writing from a UK perspective, but for those of you living in places like the USA, I want to make an even more sobering observation. My father has spent the last week in hospital and much of it in ICU, a rough calculation having spoken to the medical team is that had we not had the National Health Service we'd have run up a bill of around £80-100K for my father's treatment by the time he leaves the hospital. That figure does not take into account time off work, travel and all other costs to our family. The woman in the bed next to my father has been in ICU for nearly 30 days… do the maths. It's moments like this you are thankful to live in a country with the NHS, my father's sickness would have broken us financially as a family if we didn't have this fantastic service.
I'm not here to argue the merits of national versus private healthcare, but I am here to remind those of you who don't have a national health service that you need to find the money to pay for your health care too.
Let me return to where we started and that quote "I've spent all my spare money on plugins." How about you consider not spending all your spare money on gear but consider putting some of your spare cash in savings or a pension?
I never thought I'd get old and have to think about these things, perhaps people did advise me to spend less and save more, but I lived for today thinking tomorrow would take care of itself. It didn't, and now I'm paying a huge cost to make sure I don't spend my later years in poverty.
Dave Burgess of the Champs once tried to sell his Grammy Award to cover medical bills, after some back and forth with lawyers ensued it is reported he eventually auctioned it for around $30,000 in 2015 to pay those mounting medical costs.
With some careful planning early on in life, we can make provision to meet the costs of growing old without having to consider selling gold discs, awards or even our publishing!
Being the old fart I am, a lot of my early work in the music business was with bands that were once huge but now thirty years later I joke when asked to name drop I say they are either dead or selling insurance to pay the bills
So please consider this, if you do have spare money, consider spending some of it on the things that make you money but also putting some away for your later years.
There's very little glamour in talking about healthcare or pension planning, there's even less living our later years in poverty.