[FORUM]Plan ahead for a two-crop life

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[FORUM]Plan ahead for a two-crop life

It was around ten years ago, when I was attending graduate school in Japan. On the first day of class, the professor in charge of the department I enrolled in concluded the lecture with the following remark:
“Find something you like besides your majoring subject. Some kind of hobby is fine. Work on it for at least four hours every Saturday. If you continue to do this for ten years, you will become a specialist; do it for twenty years and you will become a master; and if you do it for thirty years you might become the best in Japan.”
The point was that as people live for a long time even after retirement, especially in an aging society like Japan, it is important to prepare for life after retirement while you are young. The professor, who was just over fifty years of age at that time, was known as a master of growing dwarf trees in pots. Perhaps he succeeded because he invested four hours of every weekend continuously. It made me think that he had a strong will indeed.
There is something unique in the hobbies of Japanese people. They go beyond enjoying them, they devote themselves deeply to them as if it were a matter of life or death. That is why there are so many otaku in Japan. The word refers to people who spend all their time absorbed in their hobbies, such as playing video games or surfing the Internet. One survey asked salaried men in their forties, “Do you think you could make a living from your hobby if you quit your job?” Close to 10 percent of those who answered said, “My income would only be half as much as I am paid now, but I could make a living off my hobby.” That means that well over 1 million Japanese people thought so. These people have hobbies that can produce added value, such as growing potted trees, photography, camera repair, handicraft making, cooking or DIY, rather than leisurely hobbies like reading or traveling.
This can be regarded as something that is not a big deal. However, it is actually something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Just think that you can make money from your hobby ― even after retirement. It is a big deal. But it is hard to do so unless you have reached a skilled stage in your hobby.
Let’s take a look at some businessmen in their forties. On social occasions like a drinking party, they often ask each other how others prepare for retirement. When they ask such a question, they normally ask it with an expression of anxiety. People are afraid they will not be able to maintain their current living standard after retirement, because they have to spend most of the money they currently make. Imagine that you drop down from upper-middle class to being lower class after retirement. Aging is sorrowful in itself, so how much more grievous it would be to have to lower your living standard. It is a great problem for a lot of people.
In the end, people conclude that a retirement plan depends on making money ― the so-called financial technique ― that is how well one manages one’s financial resources. People look into the movements of the stock market and look for areas where real estate prices are likely to leap. They study and compare the profit rates of various financial products and put a lot of effort into their research.
However, “financial technique” is only possible when people have a lot of money to invest. The recommendation that one should save a certain amount of money in a profitable financial package every month is useful for those who have enough money to do so. Telling those who have a deficit in their spending every month to make such investments is like telling them, “Eat food if you’re hungry.” Legendary investment ventures like the plan to make one billion won ($1 million) while still in your forties will only make the average salaried man feel estranged.
If an ordinary person thinks of managing his retirement with the assets and stocks he has right now, it won’t be possible for him to draw up a plan. It is hard to make a fortune with such a limited salary. Ultimately, he has to find a way to secure a stable flow of income after retirement, even if it is not a lot of money. Even a quarter of the amount one earns before retirement would be enough. Since there is no longer any need to shoulder the expense of raising children, one only needs to earn enough for the cost of transportation, lunch and a monthly allowance.
However, even this is easier said than done in this age of underemployment. That is why preparation is needed more than ever, and that preparation should be thorough and made far in advance.
Choe Jae-chun, a professor of bioscience at Seoul National University, warns of an increasingly aging society and stresses that we need to prepare ourselves for a two-crop farming life. He says we must not waste the latter part of our lives by only relying on what we accomplished in the earlier part of our lives. We need to plan our life again from a new starting line.
What kind of seeds are sown and what kind of crops can be harvested are entirely up to an individual’s choice and preparation. In the long run, preparing for a two-crop life is much more productive than spending time studying financial techniques. In a society that is already aging, a two-crop life is bound to be more profitable. I think the key to financial security in old age lies in making such preparations.

* The writer is the head of the family news team at the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Nam Yoon-ho
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