Today I started to think about how I was going to build the greenhouse, but I didn’t get very far. This often seems to happen these days when I sit down with the intention of working out some particular problem; my mind seems to slide off the subject and head off on a mission of its own. I can’t remember the exact chain of wacky reasoning this time – something to do with the cost, durability and expected life span of the finished building – but I ended up wondering how to do the same calculations for my own future … and, in particular, how long that future might turn out to be?
Not for any weird, depressive or morbid reasons, you understand; only to do with finance. Pension planning has been battered into people of my generation for decades now, but once a fellow gets into his forties (OK, in my case fourteen years into his forties) the realisation floats to the surface more and more often that later life will need to be funded somehow. Such thoughts are even more front-and-centre for those of us who have early-retired or semi-retired to Spain. Both the UK and Spanish pension cupboards are looking increasingly Mother-Hubbardish as their respective governments stumble blindly onward running out of courgettes.
However, the thorny question of where the required finances might be found is one for another day. The first thing I want to know is: For how long will those funds need to support me? To find out, I need a way to work out my life expectancy.
Wikipedia, normally one of my closest buddies, is less than usually helpful:
Once upon a time I was pretty good at this sort of stuff. These days, though, the maths would likely kill me, which kind of defeats the object. Let’s move on.
It turns out that life expectancy has increased over the years; no surprises there. What I did find interesting, though, was how big an effect child mortality has had on the figures, especially in earlier epochs. For the Romans, life expectancy at birth was around 28 years; make it to 15, though, and you could add a whopping 37 extra years to that, and expect to make it to 52. By medieval times in Britain, you’d be born with a life expectancy of 30, but survive to 21 and suddenly your life expectancy becomes a much better 64.
It also matters quite a lot where you are in the world. Here in Spain, we’ve done pretty well on that score. In most of Africa I’d already be well into coil-shuffling season.
Of course, nobody can accurately predict exactly when you’re going to check out. However good the mathematical models, they can’t foresee the bizarre gardening accident. The best we can do is work out when Fifty Fifty Day is likely to occur; the future date that we have an evens chance of reaching, starting from here. This would be a well-chosen moment, I figure, by which I should have exhausted my last line of credit and have nothing else left to pawn. Working it out is pretty tricky though, as the older you succeed in becoming, the higher your life expectancy extends (you’re much more likely to reach 90, for instance, if you’re already 89, than if you’re currently 60).
So how to work it out? Insurance companies use so-called actuarial tables, their content coming from decades of client data. Much more fun are the various online questionnaires that seek to hide the arcane mathematics behind a list of lifestyle questions – though these seem to say more about their country of origin than about the mathematical or statistical models they use! (Favourite question so far: “How many times have you had Cosmetic Surgery in the last 10 years?” Only in America! You’d think they’d be more concerned about the likelihood of their illustrious leaders getting us all killed …)
As soon as I can work out my Fifty Fifty Day I can decide how best to fund the intervening years. So far, there’s been a spread of over 10 years in the results from the questionnaires I’ve tried. For those that want to know, here’s a few you can try (for everyone else, try this):
Sue says that if I don’t shift my ass and get on with the greenhouse, they’ll all be wildly optimistic.
Of course, if I’m lucky enough to actually reach my Fifty Fifty Day I’ll be throwing a big party the night before – it would be rude not to. I hope I see you all there.
However, that’s the day the money will run out. So please bring a bottle?