In our ‘Rest Less Real Life Retirement Stories’ series, we talk to people about their lifestyles and what makes up their income in retirement. 

People’s retirement stories are incredibly varied. Many continue working part-time well into their 60s and 70s these days, as well as pursuing hobbies, and other activities. However, some retire early because of an illness or disability that makes it too difficult for them to work. In this case, they may be able to access their pension sooner than normal retirement age.

Here, Rest Less Member Sara Wasem, 60, who lives near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, tells us her retirement story.

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How old were you when you retired and what prompted you to retire then?

“I had to take ill health retirement at age 54 from my job as a learning disability nurse. I’ve got spinal problems and had major surgery on my spine, and I never went back to work after that. It was very hard to take as I was forced to do it which I didn’t like and I loved nursing. It took me a year or so to fully understand that I had no choice and I was still young, but as it was out of my control that made it a bit easier.”

How old were you when you retired and what prompted you to retire then

What is your annual income in retirement and how does this compare to your pre-retirement income?

“Retiring due to ill health meant that I could access my NHS pension early. I got a lump sum from that and my annual income is about £20,000, which includes disability benefits. This compares to around £60,000 a year when I was working. The lump sum helped as that was quite substantial and I paid off my mortgage with some of that, which was a great help.

“Sadly I’ve lost both my parents so I got some money as inheritance too. My dad passed away in 2017 and my mum passed away during the pandemic from old age. So I’ve been able to move to more suitable accommodation that suits my disability, which is a new ground floor flat with its own patio and garden and is just bliss.”

How are you spending your time in retirement?

“I’m loving it. I live on my own with a rescue cat, Lottie, and I get to see lots of people doing different activities. 

“I volunteer at a few hospices and visit patients who are at home with life-limiting conditions. I sit with them or watch telly, or take them out socially for a drink, drive or whatever, so it’s a distraction for them and gives the carers a break. I do that every week for a few hours, and I’m also in the process of setting up a cafe in the local area in a community space for the local hospice. That’s going to start soon and will be a place for carers to go. 

“I joined the National Trust and that’s just great as I can visit so many different places. I also joined a local bus tour company. I go on day trips to Windsor, for example, or to London to the theatre, and longer holidays. I’m also going on a cruise for 10 days to Croatia and Italy with Celebrity Cruises.”

How have your spending patterns changed in retirement?

“I’m not spending so much on petrol to get to work, or clothes as I used to. I spend more on social things and I don’t have a mortgage. You adapt and it has helped getting some money from my parents.

“I took financial advice to plan ahead for retirement. It was really helpful and makes you think about what you want the next five to 10 years to look like, and how to save for it. It’s easier to plan than I thought. I found a local family-run company and they do home visits when I need advice.”

What do you wish you’d known about retirement planning before you retired?

“That I was going to have to come to terms with early retirement, and get used to this. It’s also involved adapting the way I live and what I can and can’t do. Everyone’s different when they take ill health retirement, as it depends what’s wrong with them, but I wish I’d been better prepared. You have to make sure you’re getting the help you’re entitled to, such as disability benefits, by doing your research and going to places that can help such as the Citizens Advice Bureau.”

If you’re considering getting professional financial advice, Aviva is offering Rest Less members a free initial consultation with an expert to chat about your financial situation and goals. There’s no obligation, but if they feel you’d benefit from paid financial advice, they’ll go over how that works and the charges involved.

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