Reinventing from corporate to self-employed in your 50s
with Nikki and Geoff
Nikki was faced with a choice in midlife – doing the same thing for another 10 years, or starting something new altogether. “My biggest fear was stepping away from my not insignificant corporate salary and annual meaty bonuses and share allocations…” says Nikki.
Have you ever felt that you are simply settling for more of the same?
Reinventing yourself in midlife is a courageous act, – as Nikki says: “I can’t describe how terrifying it is that first month when your salary is no longer deposited into your banking account. But it means allowing yourself to dream and imagine your best possible future – and then exploring how to create that.”
Introducing Geoff and Nikki
When Geoff felt unsure of the direction of his career as a freelancer, he used an executive coach to help him explore possibilities. He found the experience so rewarding that he trained as a life coach. Three years later, Nikki left her high-powered corporate job to pursue something new and completely different. They both took the plunge to reinvent in midlife, started a coaching business together and love that they followed their hearts and found their purpose in living true to their values.
It is certainly not easy leaving the corporate sector with a steady salary in exchange for becoming an entrepreneur. In fact, not many people are brave enough to follow their hearts in midlife. But Geoff and Nikki have found their true calling and say it’s the most stimulating and rewarding thing they’ve ever done.
Geoff and Nikki’s money and life lessons
Reinventing your work-life in your 50s is a bold move. What prompted the change of career?
I loved and was proud of my job as Chief Marketing Officer for an international financial services corporation, but in the end, my job was more about people management and less about marketing.
Having defined myself by my job title and role for decades, it was a nasty shock to think about who I am now without all of that. The brilliant part is that it contributed hugely to my personal growth. But there were those days when I wandered into Woolies on a Tuesday morning feeling lost and confused about what I should be doing with my life! Shouldn’t I be sitting in a boring corporate meeting to be relevant?
Now I love my new business – helping people become ‘unstuck’ within their careers and getting them to see new possibilities for themselves!
How did financial planning fit into this decision?
It was a critical aspect. Geoff had already started a coaching and consulting business, but losing my ‘reliable’ salary felt risky, and it took more than a few years to make the move. Ultimately the final decision was based more on changes within the organisation that felt unaligned with my personal values and acted as a push for me.
My CEO was supportive and allowed me to depart on ‘good leaver status,’ meaning I retained some of the incentives I was due in the next 3-year period. This gave me a sense of comfort. Also, as my bank shares had vested, I had been investing in dollar or sterling-based stocks and it made me feel less trapped by the vagaries of the Rand.
How did you structure your finances during the transition period of giving up your job and not earning?
Not earning a salary was terrifying. My financial planner kept reiterating that I was more than able to fully retire, but I kept thinking of scenarios such as becoming severely ill (my medical aid never seems to cover anything useful!) or if we ever did decide to leave the country – managing our lifestyle on Rand-based savings.
The first thing that Geoff and I did was analyse what we spent each month. It wasn’t as much a budgeting exercise as knowing the answer to the question – How much do you need to live well each month. The beauty of this exercise is that the unnecessary expenses are highlighted very quickly. I’m talking about those random policies (that some broker convinced me were critical) and appallingly performing unit trusts (that seemed like a good idea when I was 28!) We noticed which categories were surprisingly high – in our case, groceries and pet expenses and then we looked at where we could cut costs without impacting our lifestyle too much (clothing and DStv.)
You run a company together – how is this working out for you? Are there any challenges with spending so much time with your spouse?
Geoff and I share the same values and have fabulously complementary skills. He’s brilliant at the things I’m useless at and interested in what I find boring (and vice versa.) So it’s pretty easy to divide up tasks. We share a passion for our work, and I rely heavily on his good judgement and rational thinking approach to be the best I can be. Our business is growing steadily every month, and it’s so exciting to be building it together.
How do you see your life panning out in future? Are there any more changes on the horizon? A possible new venture? A move? What are your dreams and goals for your next chapter?
I can’t imagine ever “retiring,” which is why the Chartered idea of Retiremeant™ has inspired me. Purpose and meaning are non-negotiable. I love the balanced life that I have now. Some travel, some work, plenty of time with my husband, family and pets, and only doing what I love. It feels selfishly satisfying.
Let’s talk about money
Who takes charge of the money in your relationship? Is it a shared responsibility?
Our financial decisions are a shared responsibility, but our portfolio performance is definitely something Geoff is more interested in monitoring and tracking. Chartered’s approach of meeting regularly to review our plans and readjust accordingly makes me feel in control and relaxed.
How have your money memories from your youth impacted what you do – and how you behave – with money now?
My mother is obsessed with saving and paying cash for everything. She taught me the value of compound interest, and due to her advice, I saved aggressively throughout my career. Even as an executive, I put aside my entire yearly bonus and invested a large portion of my salary – my peers were buying sports cars and fancy homes. I believe this is why I am financially secure at a relatively young age. Our house was paid off quickly, and our cars and holiday home were paid in cash. We pay for overseas trips and special purchases from my salary, not savings.
In hindsight…what advice would you give your younger self…
Thinking back there are things that Geoff and Nikki would have done differently, knowing what they know now. This is their advice to their younger selves:
- I wish I hadn’t bought so much ‘stuff’. I struggle with the burden of owning too many things and find it hard to give items of value away.
- It’s never too early to start saving.
- Don’t wait for a turning point to understand your financial expenditure and habits.
- Try to have a more minimalist than a consumerist lifestyle.
- Find a proper financial planner early in life – not a broker incentivised to sell you policies and random investments with no follow through.
The way forward …
There is not a lot that Geoff and Nikki would change about their lives together. Both took the opportunity to pause in midlife, reassess their lives going forward and design the life they really want to live – in line with their values. And they are reaping the rewards of compound interest with their diligent saving and investing habits.
Always remember, when it comes to your money, be inspired, be brave and be on purpose,