There are so many differing circumstances and scenarios surrounding all of us baby boomers as we hit our retirement years, that it would be impossible for me to cover them all. So, this is the prospects from the perspective of a 65-year-old, divorced woman. Mine is not a unique story and will resonate with many other single women.
An increasing number of senior couples are divorcing and find themselves in complex financial situations. I didn’t anticipate my retirement years from what I envisaged ten years ago, because soon after I was 50, I was divorced. I was thrilled that I had enough money to at least buy an apartment. That would have been my security, but instead of playing safe, I elected to live in Edinburgh for a year to research and write a novel. My divorce settlement was invested and off I flew. How I loved it. In the bowels of museums and libraries, translating 15th-century parliament records. Edinburgh is my most favourite city on the planet. And I just absorbed the history.
But I digress. I’m sure you all remember September 2008. The great GFC!!! Well, I lost the lot. I cried for a day, picked myself up and considered all the solutions. Being fit and healthy, my only option was a return to the workforce. There were so many Australians robbed of their investment funds. Mine was not a lone case at all.
Motherhood, real estate agent and travel consultant were my successful careers. One panics a bit at age 50, believing I was bordering on the unemployable bracket. But it wasn’t difficult to find a job and I secured contracts managing apartment buildings until I was offered a job managing a mining camp, in the back of beyond, way outback. The pay packet was twice what I was earning, so I dived into the opportunity. My roster meant working 10-12 hour days, for 2 weeks, then one week off on R&R. My bonus was my daughter having a spare room, so I had somewhere to lay my head on my week off.
My earning heydays were well past and opportunities to rebuild substantive wealth were now severely limited. Over the past 10 years, I managed to squirrel away some savings and in September I turn 65. God forbid! Have I really made it to senior citizenship? I didn’t even contemplate such a thing when I was 20.
As the contract period terminates, my employment ends on 31 December 2020. Time to hang up the hi-viz shirt and kick off my steel cap boots. I could elect to work for the new company taking over the camp, but I have no motivation to learn a new accounting system, a new reservations system, etc. I’m done! It is definitely getting harder to work 12-hour days for 14 days straight. ‘I’m not as young as I used to be’ as the saying goes, and I absolutely feel the fatigue kick in about day 11 into the swing. My knees give me a bit of bother, but I treat the inflammation and joint pain with turmeric capsules – 2 per day. Do try it. I try other health supplements depending on recommendations, but I do swear by turmeric. When cooking with turmeric, I use the organic turmeric powder. Sprinkled over roasted cauliflower is just delicious.
BUT – pension collecting age for me is 66 ½, which translates to me funding myself for 15 months. With redundancy and long service leave pay, this is doable if I live frugally. I’ve stopped dying my hair and let the grey grow out to cut back on hairdresser costs. I eat less meat and more vegetables. I will have to forgo Gold Class at the movies for a cheap $10 seat, or better still hint to the kids for Gold Class movie passes for Xmas and birthdays. I don’t smoke or drink. I read ever such a lot and am at my happiest curled up on the couch with my Kindle. This means I can keep my entertainment expenses to a minimum.
The COVID crisis has halted my 2021 plans of a gap year. You know – the year between finishing work and actually retiring. There was no such thing when I finished year 12, so I’m starting a new modern trend. My plans were 2 months in New Zealand, (quality time with my 82-year-old mum), then Canada for a month to see my son, then to my cousin in Nebraska for a month, down to Hawaii for a couple of weeks with a friend and back to NZ for another 2 months. Well – that isn’t going to happen is it? No international travel for a couple of years I reckon.
It might have to be a year of Netflix and sleeping to recuperate from the last 10 years of long, long working hours.
I have heard of a new craze, which is tie-dying with turmeric. I may even give that a go and teach the grandkids some old tricks.
Then what happens? I’m told there is a 44 page Centrelink form to fill in to apply for the pension, and hoops to jump through. I don’t own a vehicle. I don’t own a house. I stay with my daughter every 3rd week and – bless her heart – she is going to continue having me to live with her. “I’ll look after you mum” she vowed.
Is this the future picture for modern households? Not only children living at home into their thirties, but the tables reversing and the children being responsible for providing retirees with a roof over our heads? Could be!
Retirement will be an exciting prospect as, hopefully, 15-20 years are left to me, but doubts spin around in my head. Will I be bored? Do I have a reason to get out of bed in the morning? Is there enough money to last 20 years? Women have an average life expectancy of 86.6 years. There is a lot to think about, with mental and emotional adjustments. But then to be fair, isn’t our whole life about adjustment and rolling with the punches?
While all women face substantial obstacles to achieving a financially strong retirement, it is single women that are profoundly affected financially, being solely responsible for their own financial well-being. And I fall into that category. Financial challenges are magnified. Issues affecting women are different to men. During our lifetimes we have spent less time in the workforce and we will be on the pension longer than men. A high proportion of women spend time caring for their children, parents, or disabled family members, thereby putting less money into superannuation. Ultimately women who were separated, divorced or never married have lower levels of poverty and greater homelessness.
There are no set rules for retiring, as everyone’s monetary circumstances are different. The retirement age in Australia is not set in stone. If you have the funds to sustain your lifestyle, you can retire whenever you like or until the pension payments can be applied for, after age 65.
Statistical data suggests a single person needs a minimum annual income of about $27,000.00 to live a comfortable lifestyle, assuming they own your home. This equates to self-funding the difference between pension payments and $27,000.00.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the majority of the 9.4 million Australian households are family households, with about 25% being single-person households. Due to the ageing baby boomer population, people living on their own is projected to increase dramatically over the next 20 years. Most older Australians live on their own.
I think staying connected to family is mentally and emotionally important, involving myself with a community project, keeping informed with what is happening in the world and supplying my brain and body with activity. It is a transition from working long hours to …….. well, whatever I plan. For some, it is a life of golf and knitting. Others re-invent their careers and study. Grey nomad caravanning is extremely popular. Depends on the budget, doesn’t it? I do know it is crucial to adopt a positive attitude because most of us will have complex financial decisions to make. An AMP-NATSEM report found nearly four in five people aged 50 to 65 still had household debt. Fortuitously, I have no debt and no credit card.
I’ll be honest and admit with the China virus turning the world upside down that I worry about my financial stability. Stocks and shares are not stable and likely to crash at any time. What if the whole world economy collapses and the banks implode? That means the banks will bail-in and potentially take my savings. New legislation was passed in February 2018 to cover such an instance. There are various reasons not to buy a retirement apartment now. It is the top end of the market bubble and house prices are expected to fall by 30%. Plus, the body corporate fees are a killer. Add in power, rates, insurances and the internet – the mind boggles as to how pensioners manage to survive.
Living with my daughter means I pay a small portion towards electricity and the internet and my expenses can be minimal. The downside is that my ‘nest’ is just a bedroom. Everything I own is in that room. It is a dream to live in a studio flat of my own, but given the current financial climate, I have to be so very grateful for a safe haven. Having lived in a ‘donga’ for 10 years, one proper bedroom is actually a slice of heaven.
But what else to do with my brain? I would like to get involved with euthanasia issues and join Dying with Dignity QLD to petition the government for broader euthanasia laws. I want the choice of death with dignity.
It is a case of finding the things I love to do and do it. Up until I divorced, I was always knitting. I shall take that up again and knit cardigans for premature babies, to donate to the hospital. Giving back to the community with causes close to the heart really sits well with me. That novel that I penned, way back in 2008 – it needs editing and rewriting.
In the future, my daughter may downsize, in which case I have enough funds to build a wee granny flat on the side of her house. In the meantime, she loves it that I do her ironing, makes biscuits for morning tea, cook dinners, garden and general household pottering.
Overall, seniors polled said they should have put more money aside for their retirement years. That is all well and good if you make the retirement years. It’s like the scales of justice trying to balance having a good life against saving for old age. You would be mightily hosed off if you saved all your life, with a desire to travel the world when you retire – only to drop dead. I made sure all my travelling was when I was young and fit. I didn’t want to get to 80 and say “I wish I had done that.”
Being a few months away from retirement is a bit daunting. The good news is that I have made it this far. Now I need to get a few ducks in a row.
Review my superannuation statements and construct an overall budget.
Review how I can control my cost of living to last the expected years.
Have a thorough check-up with the Dr., could be difficult with internet-based consultations.
Revise my will.
Give my eldest daughter an enduring Power of Attorney.
Give my 3 kids my financial statement; should something happen to me.
Discuss funeral arrangements. I don’t want the kids to waste any money.
Start enquiries with Centrelink.
Apply for senior’s free bus pass.
Update my passport and drivers licence.
So, while I expected to be living in a nice home surrounded by my grandkids – just sometimes it overwhelms me as to where the twists and turns of my life have entwined. And when those thoughts jump into my sub-conscious, I put my life into context by imagining a life for a starving child in Rwanda. “Start each day with a grateful heart”. I acknowledge that when I pass over to the other side, I won’t be judged by the mansions I own. Material possessions pale when compared against the love, health and well-being of my children and grandchildren. Wrapped in their love is how I will spend the winter years of my life. Contented that fate and destiny have brought me to this moment of happiness.