The Effect Of Serendipity On Retirement

This is a post from reader Eric as part of our retirement series.

When Robb first broached the idea of submitting a write-up relating to retirement preparation and its post-implementation offshoots, my first reaction was that, if he’s looking for an example, I can probably qualify for the role of ‘bad example’.

While I, (rightly or wrongly), don’t consider myself particularly capricious, ‘planning’, (such as that practiced by those with a more analytical inclination), has never been my forte.

Related: How My Retirement Plans Got Derailed – Big Time!

At 70 years of age I tell people I’m retired; which from the viewpoint that I hope I never again have the need to be subjected to the drudgery of employment, is essentially true.

The fact is though, the longest ‘serious’ job I ever had lasted for thirteen years, over half of which was spent in Saudi Arabia, and when my late wife & I returned to Canada, (having accumulated sufficient funds), I up and quit at age 46.

But perhaps I’ve started the story at the penultimate chapter.

The Beginning

I was born, at the height of World War II, ( I don’t remember any of it, although I’m sure, as a baby, I attempted to drown out the noise of air raid sirens), in London, England.  I qualified, through a nationwide classification examination at age 11, to attend one of the better schools in London.

Not too long thereafter, having been identified as a malcontent, I added truancy to my resume.

End result – expulsion.

Too young to be inflicted upon the world, I was ‘demoted’ to a lower level school; on the first day there I was introduced to another guy, with a similar background, who had also just transferred in.

End result – expulsion.

My ‘schooling’, (if one can call it that), was essentially curtailed at age 12, and I was introduced to menial labor before I was 15.

Not the most auspicious beginning, perhaps.  Ah, but things were different then.

From England to Australia

At age 17 I emigrated from England to Australia sans family, whereupon, due to my relative youth, I was nominally declared to be a Ward of the State, (which was the last contact I had with any State representative until I had to apply for a passport a couple years later).

In the interim I (ineffectively) picked grapes, skinned kangaroos for pet food (lasted half a day at THAT one), worked as a butcher in a plant making a ‘Spam’ like product, and saved money as a laborer on a dam in the middle of nowhere in the north east part of Western Australia.

I went around Australia by car, thence England by ocean liner on a six week voyage across the Pacific.

Related: Escape To The Countryside

I didn’t like England any better upon my return, so after working as a butcher to garner a little cash, I took off overland with a couple of Australians back to OZ.

The Long Journey To Canada

I travelled across Europe, through the Middle East, Pakistan and India.  I stayed in Sri Lanka, (then Ceylon), for a month, celebrated my 21st birthday there, then bought a black market ticket on a small French ship as far as Singapore, with an ongoing flight to Darwin.

I worked in Melbourne driving truck.  I saved some money and caught a Greek liner to Athens……..overland London……applied for Canadian immigrant status in London, and within a couple days was on my way to Montreal.  That was April 1965.

I landed a job with Westinghouse in Hamilton.  A year later, three of us drove around the U.S., down to Mexico, back to the States, and I flew back to OZ.

I stayed there for three weeks before deciding I preferred Canada.  I caught the very same Greek ship back to Athens and on to Toronto.

Circa 1969, after a sojourn in Europe, I went back to Toronto, and back to school where I was ‘awarded’ a piece of paper in Business Administration that enabled me to land a job that I could have done without acquiring it.

Related: What If You’re Not University Material?


A while later I was promoted and offered a position in Saudi Arabia, (serendipity), where I stayed seven years plus, (the first three on single status).  We saved our money; this was at a time of high interest rates, and as a designated ‘non-resident’ I paid no income taxes.

We had R&Rs five times every two years.  My late wife and a friend sold tickets on our compound for Air France, so our travel was free, and generally upgraded to First Class.

When the Saudi contract ended we bought a place on Salt Spring Island, B.C. and I severed my connection with the workaday world.

At the time we returned to Canada, 5-year GICs were paying in the region of 11.75%.  Yes, there was inflation, but as savers rather than spenders we found its impact to be minimal.


I’ve frequently said, (without being asked, oftentimes), that the only reason I worked in the first place was so that I could stop.

We sold our house, (at a profit) and took to full-time RVing after eight years on Salt Spring Island.  But in 2001 my wife was diagnosed with cancer and she died in early 2002.

Related: How This Couple Spends Their Retirement Travelling

A couple years later I was fortunate enough to meet the lady to whom I am now married – my ‘child bride’, (10 years younger than me) – a software developer then, and a retiree now.

We were in Botswana three years ago, (obligatory package trips to Mexico/Costa Rica in between, thank you TD Visa Travel Card), and next month we’re off to the Czech Republic.

Final Thoughts

We live off less than our interest income and CPP/OAS combined, and hope never to touch our principal (if those in our wills get the lot, then good luck to them).

Related: Are You Counting On An Inheritance?

We’re not spenders, we prefer to cook our own meals and almost never eat out unless we’re away from home.  We’re happy and satisfied.

If there IS a point to relating this story it’s just to indicate that you never know how a turn left or a turn right will alter your life.  You’re going full circle regardless, so take the turn – either one.

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  1. Chris on April 26, 2013 at 4:17 am

    Great story! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. Wendi on April 26, 2013 at 8:54 am

    See now, that there, is what I’m talking about.
    Someone who has been there and done that and can share it with us young’uns.
    Great information.
    Can you get more over 60 people to tell us how they handled their finances?
    Those aging baby boomers must have some wisdom to share.

  3. Rosemary Wells on April 26, 2013 at 9:07 am

    Good lessons in the value of taking risks. Serendipity only happens to those who recognize the risk and go for it. Others just let it pass them by.

  4. Gary on April 26, 2013 at 9:08 am

    WOW!!!!!!!!!! That is 3 or 4 lifetimes. I’m speechless.

    • Maureen on April 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm


      I LOVED your story and your writing style. Wish I could sit down and have a pint with ya! However, serendipity took me to Bermuda for a year for work and I have now been here for 13 1/2 years. Serendipity also got me a little Bermuda souvenir in the form of my much loved daughter (in my 40’s). Now trying to save for braces, AND uni, AND retirement all at the same time. Geesh! But seriously, your story was wonderful, thank you.

  5. krantcents on April 26, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    What an interesting life! It sounds very carefree and yet there was a point of living on less that denies it. I love tot ravel although I have not stayed anywhere as long as you have.

  6. Joe on April 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Epic travels, fantastic stories. Looking forward to this series!

  7. Eric on April 26, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Thank you all so much for your kind reviews.

    Although there are many things I would have done differently, overall I’m very happy with the way my life evolved; also I’m highly aware that what I, (and thousands like me), was able to do, especially in the 1960s, has become difficult, dangerous, or downright impossible nowadays.

    I was just reading of a remote-controlled bomb attack today on a political candidate near the city, (a relatively small town when I was there in 1963), of Quetta, Pakistan, up along the Afghan border……….a group of us, (people travelling tended to merge and separate like a small flock of starlings), caught a local train up from Zahedan, Iran, ( where we boarded in the middle of the night as it sat in the station, and were awoken by passengers loading their sheep into the compartment)……….it was approximately 200 miles, and took 28 hours, (give or take, if I recall correctly)…….going through the semi-mountainous areas the train was so slow that we could jump off, walk ahead, wait for the train and jump back on again.

    I also recall two of us being ‘arrested’ at submachine gun point in Basra, Iraq, and detained until late at night on the suspicion that we were attempting to smuggle an Iraq national, (a little, extremely strong, guy who had shown us pics of him participating in weightlifting competitions….perhaps even the Olympics, but I can’t be sure)……….when we were finally discharged he fled away from us…I guess he knew, what we were too naive to recognize, that we could, all three, have simply disappeared.

    Memories abound.

    But….all this reminiscing detracts from the object of the blog…….retirement……I mentioned that we spend less than we generate, (BTW, most of the interest income mentioned in my story comes from stock dividends, both common & preferred……although we do maintain a fixed income allocation, predominately in (low yielding, right now), GICs)………we drive a manual transmission, 2005, Honda Civic, (no bells & whistles, no power ‘anything’), bought used, which we hope to keep for a number of years yet.

    We have zero inclination to keep up with the Jones’………in fact they’d probably have to find a high vantage point and use binoculars just to see us…we’re that far behind……..we own a modest condo townhouse…….buy stuff on sale, on Kijiji, at Value Village, etc……but mainly, there’s not a whole lot that we want, and I think that, in and of itself, is a major factor in the recipe for a happy retirement.

    Oh……and, most importantly, make sure you have the right partner!

    • Gary on April 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      Eric, while i am amazed at your life and experiences i could not agree more that having the right partner is absolutely essential. no matter your age, financial situation or your health; life is what you make of it and your life partner makes everything worthwhile. thanks for the great post and postscript.

  8. Alan on April 27, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Great story. Most anyone can accumulate money, but not the experiences you’ve had! I wondered how you could get by only on interest at today’s abysmal rates, and assumed you must have some stocks. Pretty tough to live on OAS/CPP especially when you spent quite a bit of time away from Canada.

    • Eric on April 27, 2013 at 7:47 pm

      Currently, (not counting money we have with PH&N, a joint account and my wife’s RRSP, neither of which we touch), we bring in just under $19K in CPP/OAS, (my wife isn’t eligible for OAS), plus a little over $32K in divs/interest, for a total of just over $51K.

      Our average annual expenditure, (not including income taxes), for the past 5 years is $32,891, with a low of $27,592 (2008) and a high of $36,019 (2009).

      Our condo townhouse is paid for, as is our vehicle; we have zero debt, charge literally everything, pay it off each month and earn travel points on our c.c.

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