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Pensions challenge

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 19:32 UK time, Monday, 9 November 2009

X-Ray investigated: how are you intending to fund your retirement?

We're always being told that a pension is the best way to save for life after work but it seems more and more of us are delaying starting a plan or even stopping contributions due to the current financial climate.

There are currently 600,000 pensioners in Wales and experts predict that by 2050 pensioners will outnumber workers 2 to 1. With life expectancy rising all the time it's highly likely that people could spend anywhere up to 40 years in retirement.

This obviously needs to be funded and whilst the government offer a state pension, for the majority of people this, on its own, is unlikely to be sufficient to fully support them.

We wanted to challenge a young professional to experience a week living solely on the state pension. The idea was to show them what life might be like if they fail to make provision for their retirement.

Matt Williams is a 30 year old Senior Chartered Building Surveyor. He's successful in his job and lives a busy life with lots of weekly outgoings and socialising that ultimately cost a lot of money. He's not currently paying into a pension plan even though his employer does offer a scheme.

The basic state pension is just over £95 per week for a single person. The Government top this amount up to £130 for the poorest pensioners.

Before we handed Matt's cash over to him we had to take some money out of it. We assumed that Matt would be mortgage-free by the time he retires but he'd still have a host of other household bills that would need to be paid.

We averaged out Matt's essential weekly outgoings (council tax, gas and electricity, phone, TV licence, etc) and subtracted the total from the state pension of £130.

Matt was left with the princely sum of £43.70 to survive for a week. We left him with a video camera to record how he got on.

On his first day Matt visited Cardiff's new St David's 2 shopping centre. He saw a shirt that he'd normally have bought without a second thought. However, the £79.99 price tag was well outside his budget. He had to make do with a £3 shirt that he bought from a charity shop.

Later that night he went for a game of bingo but even that turned out to be more expensive than he'd expected. By 10pm on his first day Matt realised that he'd already blown over half his budget for the week.

Things didn't get much better the following day when Matt visited the supermarket. Even though he was buying food economically he still managed to spend over £20 and faced surviving the rest of the week on just £7!

One week later and Matt told Rachel how he felt the experiment had gone.

He said that it would be possible to make the £43.70 last by living hand-to-mouth but your standard of living would suffer. There would also be no provision for emergency purchases - eg. if the boiler needed replacing. He said the whole thing had seriously made him want to do something about his pension provision immediately.

We put him in touch with Malcolm McClean, chief executive of the Pensions Advisory Service.

Malcolm had done some calculations to project the sort of pension Matt might be able to earn if he started paying into a plan immediately. His calculations were based on Matt contributing £100 per month and his employer matching that figure.

With tax relief Malcolm said Matt could achieve a pension pot of around £150,000 by the time he retires which would equate to an annual pension of around £6,000.

This figure would be a big drop from Matt's current salary and Malcolm suggested that Matt may want to think about contributing more money each month.

Malcolm also said that if Matt delayed by another five years before starting a plan then his annual pension (with the same £100 monthly contribution) would fall to around £4000. If he'd started five years ago his pension upon retiring would have been closer to £8000 a year.

A good rule of thumb when starting pension contributions would be half your age as a percentage of your salary. Ie. If you're 20 years of age then you should be paying 10% of your salary into a pension plan. If you're 30 then the figure would rise to 15%.

It really does pay to start a pension plan as early as you can. In the first instance, seek advice from an Independent Financial Advisor who will be able to help you decide on the best plan for you.

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