Rise of the middle-aged PENSION HUNTERS: Forget tall, dark and handsome… These women are only after one thing from a chap — his supersized retirement fund!
Salon owner and businesswoman Tracey Woolley can picture the holiday she intends to take when she has retired from her ‘hectic, but successful’ career. Her dream destination is Tulum in Mexico, where after a spot of sunbathing on the private beach at her five-star resort, she’ll take time to explore the ancient civilisation of the Mayans.
‘I’ve always wanted to visit; it looks so picture perfect,’ she says. Alas, such a holiday costs a high, four-figure sum and 52-year-old singleton Tracey has no intention of footing the bill.
Which is why, in her dreams of Tulum, she sees herself sitting on that unspoiled beach alongside a man who will.
‘We’ll turn left on the plane, practise yoga at dawn and be able to leave our phones at the hotel because he will be retired or just about to be. I’ve worked since I was 15 and the plan is to retire at 55. But I can only do that if I am with the right person.’
That person must meet some pretty strict criteria, she says. No, he does not have to share her love of tai-chi, nor be possessed of a George Clooney-esque physique. He need not be especially dextrous in the bedroom, nor even have his own hair and teeth (although that would be ‘a bonus’, says Tracey).
Salon owner and businesswoman Tracey Woolley can picture the holiday she intends to take when she has retired from her ‘hectic, but successful’ career
But he must be well-endowed elsewhere. With a pension pot — a very large one.
As inflation bites and savings fail to keep up, a new breed of middle-aged women have appeared on the dating scene.
Meet the Pension Hunters — single, divorced or widowed forty- or fifty-somethings, like Tracey, unashamedly seeking a man in his 60s or beyond with a more-than-healthy retirement plan.
It is perhaps no surprise — many women entering the latter part of their careers are looking at projected retirement incomes with a sense of dread. The pension savings gender gap is no less real than the pay gap, and often a consequence of it.
New figures this week show that at 55 — the age at which savers can first tap private retirement pots — women have saved 35 per cent less than men, even though they save a higher proportion of their income.
Meanwhile, experts at Loughborough’s Centre for Research in Social Policy warn that the amount required for a ‘comfortable retirement’ is rising fast.
To fund a lifestyle that includes three weeks’ holiday a year in Europe, a decent car, plus a budget of £144 per week for food and £1,500 a year for clothes, you need an income of £37,300 a year as a single person or £54,500 for a couple.
Widow Helen Churchill, from Bedfordshire, is another woman who covets a man who is financially afloat in retirement
However, live in London and the amount goes up to £40,900 and £56,500 respectively.
How big a pot do you need to achieve those incomes? The answer according to Loughborough, and based on buying an annuity, is £530,000 for a single person and £328,000 (per person) for a couple.
Researchers estimate just 8 per cent of female retirees have this size of pension pot, compared with 30 per cent of men. Many women can barely stretch to a weekend in Torquay, let alone the holiday of a lifetime in Tulum.
For Tracey, who has a 36-year-old son, Danny, finding a man with a good pension is less about gold-digging than common sense.
‘Danny forever reminds me I am a really good catch,’ she says. ‘He thinks I need a guy who is comfortably off to look after me, and frankly he’s right. I’ve never thought to ask men I’ve dated in the past what they earn or what financial forecasting they have done for their 60s and 70s. Instead, all my life, I’ve been the one who financially looks after men.
‘It’s not that I want someone to be forking out on jewellery, just someone with the funds to treat me nicely.
‘Now I’m in my 50s, with more years behind me than in front, I assess the eligibility of men I want to date with a very different set of criteria to the ones I used to use.’
Sophie Preston-Hall, a director at a recruitment agency, is another singleton who wants to ‘future proof’ her retirement years by finding a suitably well-endowed man
Financial prudence now beats chiselled good looks every time, says Tracey. That’s not to say she doesn’t also want a nice chap. ‘He’ll be generous, affectionate, spontaneous, and able to travel without a complicated [medical] insurance situation,’ she adds. He will also be free of ‘financial baggage’, like costly ex-wives and still-dependent children.
‘Throughout my adult life I’ve had three serious relationships, and most started because I was physically attracted to them,’ she adds. ‘Danny’s father and I were together as teenagers, but we were so young that was never going to work long-term.
‘I saw four men during my 20s, all for about a year at a time, but I didn’t have a plan or wishlist then. The only thing they had in common was that I was more ambitious than each of them.’
Single for six years, Tracey is now back on the dating scene. So how does she sniff out the size of a pension pot? There is art to it, she reveals.
‘I prefer conversation to unfold quite naturally, but all the while I’ll be judging their suitability. For example, most men my age have been married. If they’re divorced, then they’ve started again and, in many cases, are in a one-bedroom flat or a studio set-up. I swerve those. I realise it’s unfair to judge them for it, but men in that situation won’t work for me.
‘If we’re going to have a relationship, then they have to put the same effort into it as me, and that means financially, too. Being able to buy a special gift on the right occasion or surprise me with a lovely weekend away in a fabulous hotel is something I’d hope he would be able to afford without too much thought.’
Tracey does have nest eggs of her own in the shape of her salon in Leigh, Essex, and a property in Thailand. She has also co-founded a company that makes anti-wrinkle pillows. But these alone will not give her the retirement she wants.
‘I’ve never been married and, because I was a mum at such a young age, pensions and trust funds were never on my agenda. I’m independent, but have got to the stage in life where I’d like to kick back and let someone else pay sometimes. If he has a private jet in the garage even better!’
Sophie Preston-Hall, a director at a recruitment agency, is another singleton who wants to ‘future proof’ her retirement years by finding a suitably well-endowed man. She confesses that she can be ‘intimidating and too outgoing’ on dates — and that she’s now changing tactics in her search for a new relationship.
‘The dream is a financially astute older guy,’ she says. ‘Richard Branson is my hero. I used to like them ‘rough ‘n’ ready’ in my 20s. I joked the poorer the better!’
Tracey does have nest eggs of her own in the shape of her salon in Leigh, Essex, and a property in Thailand. She has also co-founded a company that makes anti-wrinkle pillows. But these alone will not give her the retirement she wants
Hitherto, however, she’s been the entrepreneur in her relationships. ‘I launched a catering recruitment agency in my early 20s, and I met my now ex-husband in 2002 when he started working for me as a chef. We married in 2004 and our son, Logan, arrived the following year. We split up two years later when he walked out [he was having an affair].
‘Since then I’ve been dating. The longest relationship lasted two years and it ended 18 months ago. I was in love with him; I got on with his parents — yet it ended over something silly. I now refuse to settle for second best. What I want is a decent relationship with a man who has thought about his future finances.
‘Men are daunted by my forthrightness, but I won’t hide my light for anyone. I had a dysfunctional childhood — Mum was the ultimate rock chick and best friends with Motorhead singer Lemmy, while Dad used to manage rock bands. My parents were very much the types who lived for the day and died without anything to leave me.
‘It’s why, when I turned 40, I realised I didn’t want to get to my retirement and be living in a precarious financial situation.’
The truth is, one in four women are going into their retirement in just such a vulnerable position, having saved less than £5,000 into a pension pot. That means they’re almost entirely reliant on the state pension, which is currently £10,600 a year.
Sophie built her funds and business back up after her divorce, buying her two-bedroom semi-detached property on Mersea Island, Essex, five years ago.
‘My two significant relationships were with men six years younger than me. Now I’m more interested in older guys, mid-50s, those types who were ambitious in the prime of their careers.’
A veteran of all the dating apps, Sophie also has a check-list of questions she refers to when chatting to men online.
‘I run through them pretty much straight away; there’s no point in wasting time. I want to know if they are financially independent with their own home and car. I won’t date anyone who doesn’t drive. I’ve stopped chatting to guys when they say they don’t. If they’ve got multiple young children, that’s a red flag, too.
‘As for establishing their income and money, my first question is: ‘What do you do for a living?’ I get stick for having this attitude, but I need to be honest. A comfortable salary is £50-60,000 minimum. If we get into a serious relationship, then I’ll need to run through his pension and financial plans for retirement.
‘I have been chatting to older guys and it’s refreshing actually. The ones I’m talking to now do seem to be prudent when it comes to money.’
While Sophie admits pensions and a retirement plan aren’t the sexiest subject in the world, she is determined to make it a serious part of the dating conversation. ‘Women don’t do enough to look after themselves, and we certainly don’t talk enough about financial planning for our future.
Single for six years, Tracey is now back on the dating scene. So how does she sniff out the size of a pension pot? There is art to it, she reveal
‘As for my pension, I pay into a work one, I have a private pot and will have the state pension, too. I want a nice life when I retire, and I need to know he has been sensible, too. My motto in life is fail to plan, then plan to fail.
‘My nightmare man in retirement is someone who’s into gardening or pottery! I’ll still want to go out with friends, and holidays are my thing. I’m going to Rhodes in July and thinking about Mexico or the Caribbean at Christmas.
‘Wouldn’t it be fantastic to be with a generous male version of me who can afford and wants to do these things too?’
Widow Helen Churchill, from Bedfordshire, is another woman who covets a man who is financially afloat in retirement. Her husband, Iain, died eight years ago, aged 49, as a result of a rare form of leukaemia.
‘I was married for 21 years and I’d already known Iain for nine years before that, so that’s 30 years with one person. Since his death, I’ve been on a few dates and I’ve had one brief relationship which lasted a couple of months. It was great fun getting dressed for dinner and planning outfits for the theatre.’
Mum to Harry, 26, Charlotte, 25, and Tom, 21, she’s now convinced she’d like to find a male companion for her later years. ‘When I met Iain we were both 19. He was nice looking and a good soul. I picked up on that and we got on.
‘My criteria now? My ideal catch is someone taller than me, and fit-ish because I enjoy Latin and ballroom dancing twice a week.
Sophie built her funds and business back up after her divorce, buying her two-bedroom semi-detached property on Mersea Island, Essex, five years ago
Helen knows inquiring about pension plans and retirement funds is deeply unsexy on a first date, but it definitely comes up not long after
‘As for his income bracket, I’d like him to be financially buoyant. I’m not a gold digger, but I do love being wined and dined. It’s only now that I’m heading towards 60 that I’m thinking about things like retirement and pensions. When Iain was alive, we were never well off. I gave up my career to raise the kids. I worked around them, but even with forward planning we couldn’t put a lot of money aside.
‘In your 50s, there are only so many years you can work full-time, and I’d like to be in a position to go part time in my 60s. But how do I fund that?’
Helen knows inquiring about pension plans and retirement funds is deeply unsexy on a first date, but it definitely comes up not long after.
‘I’d only be sitting there and spending time with him, considering that person as a serious bet, if he seemed to be financially OK.
‘I do talk about this with my girlfriends, especially because the cost of living has gone through the roof. I’ve got friends who are widowed like me and, of course, money comes into the dating landscape.’
As for what Helen would like to do with a ‘financially buoyant’ chap in their twilight years, she has this to say: ‘It’s not a cheery thought, but because Iain died at 49, there is no guarantee any of us will get to any age.
‘Even so, if I were to have a wishlist it would definitely include a trip to South America, and to see more of Europe. I’m quite adventurous and nothing is off limits.
‘If a senior chap is happy to pay for me in our retirement to live such a wonderful lifestyle, then what woman in her right mind would turn it down?’
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