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'Green Banana' Dilemma: Should Seniors Curtail Purchases?

01/12/2016 03:27 EST | Updated 01/12/2017 05:12 EST

Recently I needed to renew my Canadian passport. To my surprise, I was given a choice: Renew for five years (Canada's customary period) for $120, or for ten years for $160.

Canada, I realized, had decided to follow the U.S. practice of granting ten-year passports. But, being Canada and trying to please everyone, it also still offered the five-year edition (albeit at a higher per-year rate).

This created what I like to refer to as the "Green Banana Dilemma".

The Green Banana Dilemma can be traced to a quote in a 1983 Erma Bombeck column - "At my age, I don't even buy green bananas" (a line later appropriated by individuals like Sen. Claude Pepper and comedian George Burns).

At 66, I had to decide if I wanted a yellow banana (the five-year option) or a green banana (the ten-year version).

Like many North American males, I was already surprised I'd made it to 66. In the immortal (well, not quite immortal) words of Mickey Mantle, "If I had known I'd live this long, I would have taken better care of myself". Maybe I should just get the five year version -- and use the extra $40 to buy myself a decent single malt at my next passage through a duty free shop?

I realised some research was in order. I knew already that the average life expectancy for Canadian males was 80 years (compared to 84 for our female counterparts). But what about a 66-year-old? How much longer could I be expected to hang around?

Turns out that there is a site, run by Sun Life, that can tell you, statistically at least, when you are likely to expire.

It even takes into account things like your height and weight (not to mention your single malt intake).

Turns out, I can expect to live to 85.

Thus it all seem settled -- I should buy the ten-year passport. My real dilemma might come in 2026, when, at 76, my prospects might have diminished.

But then I just happened to tune into CBC radio one Sunday morning to hear a fellow named Frederick Vettese being interviewed. Vettese, the Chief Actuary for Morneau Shepell, has just written a book called "The Essential Retirement Guide".

In the book, which he describes as a "contrarian's guide", he argues that some of us are actually over-saving for retirement. He told the interviewer, "You might be fifty now; retire at 62, but by 70 be in such poor health that you can't travel or even drive".

Yikes!

In addition to needing a new passport, our family car is 11 years old and clearly in need of replacement. Canadians on average keep vehicles eight to nine years; we like to keep ours ten or so.

But again, there's the Green Banana Dilemma. Do I want to buy a vehicle that will be running just fine in 2026 - with a chance that I won't be? Maybe I should wait for the Google Self-Driving Car? Or chuck cars altogether and get an Uber Ap.

My Dad (who made it to just a few months short of his 85th birthday) was repeatedly buying his "last car" from the age of 60 on. Of course he was eventually right (and, sadly, had to be "helped" out of his actual last one before he hurt himself - or someone else).

The list goes on. What about buying a winter residence in Florida or Mexico? Or a dog with a 14-year life expectancy? Even extended warranties become suspect.

This whole getting older thing can drive anyone bananas!