Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Old age is coming, save now

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Twenty-two years from now around 200,000 New Zealanders will be over the age of 85. Photo / Getty Images
Twenty-two years from now around 200,000 New Zealanders will be over the age of 85. Photo / Getty Images

When you're young, you never imagine you're going to grow old. In fact, when you're young, you don't actually want to grow old. Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse - that was the mantra in our 20s and 30s when New Zealand was devolving from the staid conservative culture of the 70s to the hedonistic, anything-goes era of the80s.

Not everyone partied like it was 1999 but thoughts of saving and retirement plans and concerns about health were few and far between.

I always remember Roger Douglas telling me, when I was a very junior reporter at a typical Wellington dinner made up of journos and politicians, that I was a microcosm of the New Zealand economy after I'd explained how I'd juggled funds to buy a new handbag.

Just like me, he said, New Zealand spent about 20 per cent more than it earned and it couldn't go on. He was right - not that I took heed of the lesson at the time.

Once, in an astonishing and hitherto unseen display of discipline and sacrifice, I set aside money for a whole year so I could pay off a pair of stunning boots from Zambesi, the first and last time I managed to be disciplined.

My poor father, a banker, lectured me in vain to save a certain amount of money a week, no matter how small, for my retirement. That was never going to happen. Retirement was light years away. And I'd plant a kiss on his cheek leaving an imprint with my new lipstick, head out the door in my new dress, take a taxi to town to the new restaurant and throw money at the bar.

Now, in the blink of an eye, it's becoming a close-fought race between paying off the mortgage and reaching the age of retirement. It's still some years away, but close enough that I can start doing sums.

If we thought being old was a grim prospect when we were young and silly, being old and poor has to be worse.

And being old, poor and dependent on others is even worse.

I couldn't bring myself to read the story of the elderly woman who had become fused to her couch. For two days, I refused to click on it, assuming that it was one of those headline-grabbing tabloid pieces that had happened overseas.

But when I finally read the story I discovered Maureen Quinn had been living in Hawke's Bay and suffering the most appalling neglect. I won't repeat the horror of her condition - but it was sickening. Even worse was that the neglect was at the hands of one of her daughters. And not one of the other seven children was able to save Maureen.

Her story terrified the hell out of me. Now, along with the actual financial accounting, I have to tot up the emotional investment in my mother and daughter.

Have I seen Mum enough? Living in different cities makes it far too easy to not make the effort to drive to Hamilton for the day. Will the numerous times I've embarrassed my child mean that she will be slow to come if I need a bedpan - if she's even there at all.

I have only one child. I can't spread my bets.

To all of those baby boomers, if you haven't woken up to reality before, this is the time to do it.

Two years ago, there were 76,000 Kiwis aged 85 and older. Twenty-two years from now - not even a Lorde away - there will be around 200,000 New Zealanders over the age of 85. You might have seen a card reading "Jesus is coming. Look busy."

Old age is coming. Start saving.

And be really nice to people, especially your family. If you have health, you have wealth. If you have a loving family, you are rich beyond compare. And if you have actual cold hard dosh in the bank, you can buy the sort of care that means you'll never wind up covered in maggots.

Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB Monday-Thursday, 8pm-midnight.

- Herald on Sunday

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