Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Where your treasure is ..

This morning I visited Ian and Mary who live up in Frigiliana. Ian broke his upper left arm while visiting the Frauenkirche in Dresden a few weeks ago while on holiday, and is for the time being at least somewhat limited in what he can do. Like me, Ian has been writing a retirement blog for the past eight years. His blog is called 'Living the dream - Retirement in Frigiliana', an excellent read about anything and everything that comes his way, social, political, cultural, religious. 

His Spanish is pretty fluent and some of his blog postings are written in Spanish for the sake of local readers, as many people in the village are aware of the interest he takes in life there. He's a Catholic convert from Anglicanism, and remains very open and ecumenically spirited. When we met last year in the church shop one day, we had a good conversation, so I was looking forward to a lively pastoral visit, and certainly had one. 

Their hillside terraced house is a three storey dwelling with spectacular views of this marvellous pueblo blanco. We sat on a shady balcony drinking coffee and we chatted for two hours. A couple from Cardiff arrived at the house the same time I did, inspecting with a view to purchase. Having seen in the lives of others what old age and infirmity can be like for expatriates with family members far away, they are planning for their future long term back in Britain, the sensible option, and as Ian said: "Our hearts will still remain here." While they remain active, longish holiday spells in Spain will still be possible. The dream is still there to be lived, but in a more measured way.

I don't know why, but this prompted me to recall a conversation from our time in Geneva between expatriate International Civil Servants discussing pensions. Apparently at some stage when their appointment ceased to be temporary, they are given the choice of currency in which their pension will eventually be paid. At retirement, many return home, though some with residence rights, stay in Switzerland or France voisine, or choose a different country altogether. So, what are the criteria for choosing your currency of pension remuneration, given it may be linked to the kind of pension fund that holds your money? Swiss Franc? Dollar? Sterling? Yen? Which suits you best? 

It may boil down to which currency you have long term confidence in, or how well your currency does in foreign exchange, if you decide to move around. Or perhaps where your loyalties lie, where you call 'home', even if you don't spend all your time there. What you can afford on a reduced fixed income, or what you wish to afford is also a consideration, as well as the cost of living, which can differ so greatly. Strong currencies go far in third world homelands, but less so in Europe and parts of Asia where the cost of living is high. 

It's a complex decision most of us never need to think about. When we left Switzerland, my small mandatory 'pension pot' in Swiss Francs was turned into Sterling and added to savings, for the sake of simple management, rather than have small sums in foreign currency arriving and regularly losing a portion of its value, adding complexity to the filling in of tax forms. Only rich people can afford account fees and taxes to keep funds in Switzerland and live elsewhere. There's no going back for us except for holidays, and these get less and less frequent, as years pass. Great times, like those I now enjoy in retirement serving expatriate communities in Spain or anywhere else I'm asked to go. 

But nothing lasts forever. To everything its due season. For everything, thanksgiving.

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