Don't trust in luck alone

No dependants doesn’t mean no planning. Singles need to focus on individual needs, says Sushmita Choudhury.

Sushmita Choudhury | Print Edition: October 30, 2008

What is the one thing that all retirement product-related advertisements have in common? A smiling, elderly couple sipping Chianti in an exotic locale or playing with grandchildren… right? You never see a salt-and-pepper-haired single man or woman enjoying a sunset cruise. This, despite the fact that over 7.5 million Indian households —nearly 4% of the total, as per the 2001 Census—have less than two family members.

Does this mean that singles don’t need to plan for their retirement? Mass perception certainly swings that way. With no spouse or children, siblings or parents, singles have only themselves to support. So a majority believes they can live for the present and, at best, have a nest egg to tide over the emergencies. Take Rohit Bal. The enfant terrible of India’s fashion scene wants to “travel the world in my own yacht” after retirement. But yachts don’t come cheap. So has he built a retirement corpus to finance this dream? “I have never had a financial plan and never will. But like all good things that have happened to me, this too will come true.”

The designer has a business with an annual turnover of Rs 25 crore, but even people without such funds to cushion their lives believe in leaving it to luck. Amitabha Dhar, an art teacher for over 25 years at one of Kolkata’s prestigious schools, decided to retire last year to follow his passion: painting. “I don’t need much money and believe in living for today,” says the 49-year-old bachelor.

Sunny Singh, 39 Varanasi

The author started planning in her 20s in a small way, but with a wide portfolio. This included products like savings, funds, a pension plan and real estate, all of which have grown over the years.

“I want to keep writing till the end and hope my investments cover me well. But there’s no guarantee.”

Rohit Bal, 41 New Delhi

On retiring, the fashion designer wants to travel the world. He’s banking on his business, and luck.

“I have never had a financial plan and never will.”

This is why he has never done any planning by way of insurance policies, pension plans or mutual funds. But he is confident that his paintings will ensure his livelihood. What many like Dhar fail to consider is that while singledom spells freedom and flexibility, there is no safety net. Says Anurag Mehrotra, head, wealth management, Edelweiss Securities: “A single person has to draw up a retirement plan more carefully than a married one because he cannot count on another salary or a care-giver.” There isn’t even a social security system to bail him out if things go wrong. With life expectancy going up, the threat of outliving one’s retirement corpus is becoming increasingly real.

Among the few singles who are taking retirement planning seriously is 39-year-old Sunny Singh. The author of Single in the City says: “Singles should not only plan financially, but also practically—where they will live, what sort of support system they will have, the emotional back-up and emergency measures.” Although she hopes to keep writing, and therefore earning, till the day she dies, Singh has taken steps to safeguard her future. “I have a fairly wide portfolio: savings, funds, a pension plan and real estate. These began in very small ways when I was in my 20s and have grown over the years,” she says.

Regardless of age, sex and circumstances, the rules of the game remain the same for retirement planning. As Naresh Pachisia, managing director, SKP Securities, says: “When you stop working for money, your money should start working for you.” However, unlike couples, a single person only needs to focus on individual needs. So his thinking should differ only in terms of the financial products to fit in with his goals, not the basic road map. For instance, both couples and singles ought to follow Singh’s example and start building a retirement corpus early in life to benefit from the twin powers of time and compounding. But while a life insurance policy won’t help a single person, it’s mandatory for those with financial dependants.

Health insurance, however, is more crucial for singles. This segment needs adequate cover not only for illnesses but also long-term care, should one require assistance with normal activities in later years. So the biggest proportion of the corpus should be built keeping these expenses in mind. The other major factor to consider is cost of living. The lifestyle you want after retirement, whether it includes golf or travelling, will determine this cost. Says Mehrotra: “One way to work out your cost of living is to base your annual retirement income needs on 70% of your current income.”


If you are single when you retire, the size of the corpus will depend on whether or not you have dependants. Consider 45-year-old twins, Sita and Geeta, who have a monthly income of Rs 60,000 each. While Sita is a widow with two children, Geeta is a zero-liability person. Here is how their finances will play out when they retire at 60:
Investible surplusRs 32,000Rs 25,000
Financial goalsHouse: Rs 10,000
Bigger car: Rs 12,000
Retirement: Rs 10,000
House: Rs 12,000
Kids’ education: Rs 8,000
Retirement: Rs 5,000
Retirement corpusAt 60, Geeta can have a retirement corpus of Rs 56,30,434 if she invests her Rs 10,000 in equities and debt in a 70:30 ratioAt 60, Sita can have a retirement corpus of Rs 24,63,673 if she invests Rs 2,500 in equities, the rest in debt instruments
Risks & ReturnsAs a single person, Geeta can take more riskSita can never take the high-risk route
 Higher risk = higher returnsThe only way to increase her corpus is by cutting down on expenses
 As her retirement corpus has to cover her alone, she has the freedom to retire earlyIn 15-20 years, her older child would have started earning, which would give her a safety net

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