Clever pension investments and retirement activities that will surprise you

3 minutes

We meet three people who have made use of their pension funds to realise a long-held dream – and made a clever investment for the future.

  • The cyclist who turned a lifetime hobby into a small business
  • The walker who achieved his ambition to see the Great Wall of China
  • The amateur chef who invested in an innovative food business

Martin fulfilled a long-held ambition to walk the Great Wall of China

What will you do when you shed the nine-to-five? That’s the question everyone is asked, or asks themselves, in the run up to retirement. The fact is, we all have very different dreams, and having the finances in place to make those dreams come true can be a critical factor.

Tony Watts (@tonywattswriter) talked to three retirees who decided to use their pension pots to fund something special.

On the road again

Phil Williams has had road cycling in his blood since the age of 10. 

‘An annual race would start and finish on the High Street of our Cotswold village,’ he recalls. ‘The whole spectacle fascinated me – the bikes in particular. The spectrum of colours, the makers’ names, the glittering chrome spokes – I was hooked.

‘I joined the local cycling club at 13 and immersed myself in the ritual of training and taking part in time trials. But maintaining my bike was a big part of the pleasure and I was always a keen mechanic, which came in handy when doing up the motorbikes and classic cars that became my later passions.’

But road bikes never left Phil’s bloodstream, and he returned to time trialling in his 40s.

‘I also started building bikes for myself, family and friends, discovering the joys of bike jumbles where you can get parts at a reasonable price and restore them. 

‘I was always yearning for a high-end racing bike. One thing led to another and soon there were a few bikes in my garage… and then quite a few.

‘Taking early retirement gave me a lump sum which I invested in professional bike servicing equipment, and my collection and ‘mini-business’ took off. Some bikes I sell for a profit, others I keep – like ‘Faberge eggs’ for the future. I also have the amazing pleasure of entering classic bike events around the country. 

‘There’s a saying in the bike world that the right number to own is ‘N plus one’. In my case ‘N’ is around 30: top quality Italian and British classic racing bikes that are far better than money in the bank, especially bearing in mind current interest rates.’

Phil invested in professional bike servicing equipment for his collection and ‘mini-business’

Walking the walk

Taking a small lump sum from his pension pot gave Martin Taylor the chance to fulfil a long-held ambition: to walk the Great Wall of China.

‘I’ve always loved long-distance walking, and I’ve done some great ones in the UK and further afield, but China has always been top of my to-do list. 

‘Fortunately, I was able to negotiate the two and a half weeks from work that I needed to undertake an extended 10-day version of the walk and a further week visiting other once-in-a-lifetime sights in China, including the Terracotta Warriors. 

‘It’s very easy to bandy around superlatives, but my trip was something I will never forget. We went as a large group of over 40 and met up at Heathrow, all excited and wondering what we had in store. We didn’t have long to wait (well, ten hours’ flight to Hong Kong, then a further three to Beijing!).

For the most part we trekked on parts of the wall where few tourists venture, and it felt like it belonged to us. Parts were only a few feet wide with long drops on either side. The views were fantastic, and just when you thought you’d witnessed the most beautiful scenery imaginable, two miles later it was even more breathtaking. Our Chinese guides were fabulous, and we learned so much about the history and culture of this fascinating country along the way. While there were some hairy moments, stiff calves and sleepless nights, every second was worth it.’

The trip proved an emotional one as well, as Martin used the opportunity to raise sponsorship for a charity that was personally very important to him: Alzheimer’s Research.

‘I was able to share my journey with all those who helped me raise money,’ he says, ‘and make every step count towards a good cause.’

Jennie took the opportunity to invest in a catering business

A recipe for returns

Jennie James has always taken cooking seriously, so when an opportunity came along to invest in a catering business, as well as help her family, she put her money where her mouth is.

‘The culinary arts have always figured large in our family,’ says Jenny. ‘My mother was a professional cook and passed on everything she knew to me – and I’ve done the same to my three children who are all mad keen at cooking. 

‘So perhaps it was no surprise that my eldest daughter married a very accomplished Spanish chef!

‘He comes from the Basque country, which has its own distinct cuisine and he’s long held an ambition to specialise in local delicacies. He came up with the idea of creating a food truck business – specialising in attending the many festivals they have in Spain, as well as special events.’

But first Jennie’s son-in-law needed capital to get the show on the road.

‘Before I retired I was in the finance sector, so I worked out a way to invest £5,000 of my retirement finances in the business that would allow him to pay me back at a given rate of return after two years – or keep it invested for longer. I went in with my eyes open, knowing that there was a chance of it not succeeding, but I knew I could afford the risk.

‘The first six months were slow while he built his reputation, but he invested everything he made back into marketing and this second year the business has taken off like a rocket. Now he’s thinking of buying a second van! 

‘I’ll keep my money in the business as it will help him grow without borrowing more money and I can see it will be a handsome investment for the future. And the best thing is, I’m able to sample the food for free every time I go to see them!’