My finances, my projects, my life
October 24, 2020

Contemplating a change of life? What you need to consider

Today’s workplace is more intense than it has ever been in the past. Hours are longer, and an ‘always on’ culture means work and leisure have become increasingly blurred. People are expected to answer e-mails on holiday, take conference calls at weekends and drop family commitments to meet client demands. It is no surprise that many reach a point where they need a change of life.

After an intense multi-decade career, it can be tempting to step off the treadmill and pursue a more rewarding path, perhaps as a teacher, an artist or a writer. Equally, being your own boss can have a certain allure after years of answering to others. However, it is best to leaven such dreams with a dose of financial pragmatism.

The first stage in executing your action plan is to work out how much it will cost. If you are retraining, it will be the cost of study, or the initial outlay for a new business, plus the lack of income during that period.

If your intentions are more artistically inclined, the key issue may be paying your household bills in case your artwork doesn’t sell or publishers don’t lap up your novel. It can be worthwhile setting yourself a time limit, just in case your new life doesn’t prove as inspiring as you’d hoped. Most careers can survive a short-term hiatus.

Consider your retirement

Amid all the complexities of pensions, there is one over-riding rule: the older you are when you start to claim, the larger the monthly amount you will receive. This is true whether you choose to buy an annuity, or draw down the financial assets you have accumulated. The same total amount of assets will deliver more in terms of income at 65 than it would at 55.

Meanwhile statutory pension payments will begin only at a certain age, currently 65 in Luxembourg, although individuals that have completed 40 years of pension fund contributions or fulfil other criteria can retire earlier. However, actuaries expect the statutory retirement age in most countries to rise in the future to match the gradual increase in human lifespan.

If you plan to start drawing on your pension savings early, you will need to accept a lower income. Another option is to draw on existing reserves of capital in the intervening period, allowing your pension fund to roll up for a while. If you can manage to wait a couple of years before embarking on a major career change or new lifestyle, it may provide more financial security.

It is easy only to consider salary when working out any financial shortfall, overlooking that pension contributions are also a valuable and sizeable part of your overall income.

Even if there is no need to start drawing on pension savings, it is a good idea to consider how a change in life might affect funding of one’s later years. Sadly ‘living the dream’ doesn’t necessarily come with a pension attached. It is easy only to consider salary when working out any financial shortfall, overlooking that pension contributions are also a valuable and sizeable part of your overall income.

The insurance problem

Corporate life may be dull, but it does provide a significant degree of protection against unforeseen events. In general, you and your family are protected if you become ill, and your dependents will receive a payout if you die. This doesn’t happen automatically when you are self-employed, and you may need to consider critical illness insurance, income protection and life insurance. This all mounts up and should be part of any financial calculations.

Moving into a Central Asian-style yurt is romantic in theory, but after a while you might start to miss home comforts. It is easy to make bold assumptions about how little you can afford to live on, but downsizing may be more painful in practice. In addition, the views of others involved are important. While you may be happy living a simple life, the rest of your family may be less enamoured of the change.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to embrace an alternative lifestyle, but you should assess your commitments carefully. Many people start contemplating a change of lifestyle as their current financial needs start to diminish.

If you have finished paying for your children’s education, have an adequate amount saved for retirement and little in the way of personal or housing debt, you may be able to afford to take some risks. If you haven’t, why not consider a half-way option: taking on some consultancy or other freelance work while you set up a business, for example?

Tax implications

How any change will affect your tax position is important, so it’s vital to work out what the long-term tax implications will be before you take a final decision. You don’t want to give up your salary only to receive a punitive tax bill on historic earnings. Often there will be tax benefits in downsizing your working life – you may move into a lower tax bracket, for example – but there are pitfalls for the unwary.

If you are selling assets to support your change of career, it’s important to ascertain whether this will lead to a capital gains tax liability that would eat into your overall pool of assets. If you are married, it can be worth ‘equalising’ assets – transferring assets to your spouse in order to maximise the benefit of both sets of tax allowances.

Adapting your investment strategy

Your investment strategy will have been based on certain assumptions – that you are earning a substantial salary and are likely to keep receiving it up to retirement. If you need your capital to produce an income, or your goal is no longer capital accumulation but capital preservation, the strategy will need to change. You may need to think about the mix of assets you hold. If you need to buy and sell assets, it is worth thinking about the associated costs, including potential capital gains tax liabilities as well as any transaction charges.

A change of career may be a romantic idea, but it may not be as relaxing as you had hoped if you fail to consider the financial implications carefully. Meticulous planning can ensure that leaving the rat race behind can be carried out with the least possible stress and anxiety.

It is easy to make bold assumptions about how little you can afford to live on, but downsizing may be more painful in practice.