'Be productive until you die,' says author of 'Intellectually-Stimulating Life'
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Financial experts have encouraged people to set aside one billion won ($835,000) to lead livable post-retirement lives, which, depending on the person, continues for three decades after they quit their day job.
The amount is based on Statistics Korea's 2014 survey of salaried workers.
According to the survey, Koreans retire when they are 53 years old on average and the retirees will live another 33 years without income. Considering the average monthly expense for a two-household family living in Seoul is about 2.3 million won, roughly 900 million won is needed for a retiree to live together with his or her spouse without financial stress. Hence the one billion won retirement fund.
Jung Sung-hyun, author of "I Want to Lead an Intellectually-Stimulating Life until Death" published by Mento Press, defies the one billion theory, claiming it is trick by financial experts to take advantage of their clients' resources.
Jung, 64, put forth the primary tip to avoid becoming a miserable retiree ― be productive until you die. He says retirement is not the end point of a working life, rather it should be a start for another fulfilling career in the latter part of life.
"You need to have things to do that you can fully focus on, not a simple retiree who leads a meaningless life on a pension or savings during post-retirement life," Jung told The Korea Times.
He said "having things to do" doesn't necessarily mean that retirees should find paid jobs.
"They can find unpaid voluntary work or things like reading or writing that can make them feel happy. You can find paid jobs, too. But what I meant by being an incumbent doesn't always mean a profession or job that is paid," he said.
|"I Want to Lead an Intellectually-Stimulating Life until Death" by Jung Sung-hyun|
"Intellectually-Stimulating Life" is a guidebook written by an ordinary retiree.
He said he realized the importance of a sense of belonging for retirees after he retired from his banking sector job after four decades of work. Whenever he met retirees his age, he said, they always talked about money. "Money itself cannot make us feel happy. We need something extra that can make us feel rewarded."
The author said his definition of an intellectually-stimulating life is the one that is not dominated by financial issues.
Jung himself is a happy retiree. Following his retirement from the National Agriculture Cooperation Federation (Nonghyup) seven years ago, he was fortunate to have a full-time job as an executive at the bridge deck pavement company Youngchang E&C.
However he quit it a year later because he wanted to lead a more fulfilling life.
He has attended a non-degree program in creative writing at a university, read books and dedicated his time to the community as a volunteer. He found joy in writing and was determined to publish a book.
Jung said his life before retirement was full of frustrating experiences. He said he was promoted to manager 11 years after he joined Nonghyup, much later than his fellow workers.
"For my coworkers, it usually took three to four years to become managers," he said. "Even after that, I continued to fail in promotions afterwards. There were numerous frustrating moments."
Jung said he was not a good father to his children and didn't have much quality time with them when they were growing up. He was a binge drinker, too.
Ironically, he said, his frustrating experiences in the first half of his life encouraged him to lead a life very different in the second half.
The author put forth a set of "dos and don'ts" for those who are to retire from their careers or those who already retired, and repeated trials and errors.
He encouraged them to forgo credit cards. If people pay cash or use check cards, he said they can reduce consumption by roughly 30 percent.
"It's tough to live without credit cards," he said. "But you will see the immediate benefit of a cash-based lifestyle. If you stop using credit cards, you will see your consumption will drastically fall. Interestingly, those who forgo credit cards say they don't feel the pinch."
Jung also encourages retirees to steer their positive energy to produce something constructive.
The author mentioned an interesting phenomenon, dubbed the "Cheonggye School of Thought," created following layoffs of younger workers.
Compared to the older generation, these days people retire from work when they are relatively young and healthy. Some of the early, educated retirees climb mountains to kill time and on their way back, they gather at a certain place downhill and debate politics, and economic and social issues. Mount Cheonggye in southern Seoul is a popular place for early retirees.
Due to their active engagement in debate, these younger retirees are called the Cheonggye School of Thought named after the mountain they go to.
"I wonder what would happen if they produced a book or other printed material based on their debates on the given issues. I think their post-retirement lives would be more fulfilling," the author said.
The author said repaying debt as early as possible will also help people better prepare for their lives after retirement.