The goal of early retirement is one many Australians aspire too. And certainly, when thinking about achieving Financial Autonomy, retiring early is very often baked into those goals.
But what is the best way to bring that goal to reality, given the uniqueness of our system – superannuation, franking credits, negative gearing, and means tested Aged Pensions, just to get you started.
The approach I’m going to take you through today is a multi-phase approach that I’ve built specifically for the Australian early retirement landscape. Its aim is to use the opportunities we have, such as franking credits and superannuation, to get you to early retirement as quickly as possible.
We’ve actually built a special PDF just for this post. I’ve put all of the diagrams in there for you. You know what they say – a picture tells a thousand words. And I certainly think visualising this approach is helpful. So ideally have that in front of you as you consume this episode, but if that’s not practical, then at least download it latter.
Early retirement in Australia – an overview
To survive in our modern world, you need income. Long gone are the days where we grew all our own food, hunted for our meat, and lived a subsistence life. So retiring early necessitates solving the problem of how will you generate the income you need to meet your expenses, if you cease being in your current paid employment role.
Let’s start with the helicopter high up in the air.
We all know that in Australia we have the superannuation system to assist in funding our retirement. Considerable tax concessions are provided to encourage us to build up saving within superannuation. And then when we retire, we are able to convert our superannuation savings into an income stream, and receive even more generous tax concessions.
Income drawn from superannuation is tax free from age 60 for the majority of people. Given the tax favoured status superannuation receives, you’d likely be wise to utilise this system to the maximum extent possible to generate your retirement income after you reach age 60.
But what do you do before age 60? Well if early retirement is your goal, you need to have built up other investments, likely shares and property. In this pre-60 early retirement phase, you can rely on the income these investments produce, and you perhaps also sell them down progressively to live of the gains and proceeds of the investments, remembering that when you hit 60, you gain access to a new pool of savings – your superannuation.
Okay, so that’s the overview – pre 60 you’re living off investment income, and perhaps also some employment income, and I use that term loosely – it could mean as an employee, but it’s just as likely to be some freelancing work, a short term contract, or as an advisor or consultant. Even if you’ve left your normal job, there’s a good chance that whatever you find to do with your time, you’ll pick up some income along the way.
Then after age 60, superannuation is the primary solution for your income needs.
The sub phases
Let’s bring the helicopter down a bit lower now. Within these pre and post 60 phases, I believe you can break things down further. In the pre-60 phase, I’ve termed these two sub phases the Transition phase and the Investment Income phase. And in the post 60 phase, that can be split into the Active Retirement phase, and the Feet-up phase.
Imagine that perhaps in your 30’s you’ve decided that early retirement is something that you aspire to. You crunch your numbers and determine the amount of income that you’d need to afford the early retirement lifestyle that you want. You could wait until you have enough investments and superannuation that you can live a total life of luxury. But most people I work with prefer instead to retire earlier, but still earn some income. I call this the transition phase. Maybe you back off from 5 days per week to 3. Remember episode 20 where I interviewed Adam Murray. He’d cut back to 3 days per week as a paid employee, and actually spread those hours across 4 days. Then he had time to pursue other projects, and be the father that he wanted to be for his 2 boys.
So during the transition phase, you’re still earning some income, just less than pre-early retirement, and perhaps you’re also earning some investment income.
As you get closer to 60, your investments have grown. In particular it’s highly likely that you’ve used some borrowings to build the wealth, for example borrowing to buy an investment property, and hopefully somewhere in this pre-60 phase, the debt gets repaid, meaning the rent which was going to loan repayments is now freed up for you to live off.
So the second sub-phase in the pre-age 60 segment is the Investment Income phase.
In the Investment income phase you’ve scaled any paid employment right back, possibly given it away altogether. You’re primarily living off your dividend and rental income, and perhaps even selling down investments in the knowledge you’ll be turning on the superannuation tap come age 60.
Franking credits will keep your tax down here, and you can plan any capital gains tax events to get you the best possible outcome. Not anti tax
Now let’s look at the post age 60 sub phases – Active Retirement and Feet-up. The Active Retirement phase is likely to be from 60 to 70 or 75. During this phase you’ve slowed down a little but still remain active – traveling and participating fully in your recreation activities like golf or yoga. As a result your income needs are likely the same as pre 60.
Because you’ve turned age 60 and are retired from the work force, you can now access your super. And it’s likely that you will turn on an income stream from these savings, given this is the most tax advantageous element of the entire superannuation system.
Thus the bulk of your income in the Active Retirement phase will come from superannuation. But it’s likely you will still have some investment income coming in as a bit of a top-up. Perhaps this can pay for the annual overseas trip.
This Active Retirement phase could be an excellent time to realise any significant capital gains liabilities, for example selling a rental property, as your superannuation is a tax free income source so your total taxable income is likely negligible.
The final post age 6o phase is the feet-up phase. At some point later in life you’re going to have done all of your traveling, and the realities of getting older mean that you slow down. Expenses tend to reduce, and medical appointments rise.
During this phase the bulk of your investment have been used up, and you’re now living on your superannuation. Depending on your circumstances, an Age Pension may also come into the frame at some point, which will help in prolonging the life of your superannuation savings.
An early retirement example
So let’s play an early retirement scenario out, so that you can see the how your income need might be meet in each phase.
Imagine we first sit down and develop an early retirement plan for you when you are 34. We work to that plan, refining as we go along, and by age 45, you’ve built up enough assets to be able to quit the high pressure career that has got you to the position you are now in.
The first phase is the Transition phase. You’ve still got great contacts in your profession, and so whilst you want to step back from all the stress and travel of your corporate career, you’ve got an opportunity to do some consulting work for one client for a day a week, and another long-time professional friend has asked if you could do some overflow work for them as it comes up.
Your income in the transition phase is therefore generated perhaps 2/3rds from these employment type earnings, and 1/3rd from the dividends from your share portfolio, which until now had been reinvesting all its income.
You have an investment property too, but at the moment there is still debt on this, so the rental income goes entirely towards paying down this debt, and meeting the other bills like council rates and maintenance.
Further on into your early retirement now and you enter the Investment Income phase. The rental property has been paid off, freeing up the rental income to further meet your expenses. The 1 day per week consulting gig has finished, but you’re still getting occasional overflow work from your friend. Your income split perhaps now flips, to be 1/3rd or perhaps even less from employment type income, and the bulk of your income comes from investments – share dividends, rental property income, and the occasional share sale when a lump sum expense comes up.
You reach 60. You’re in the Active Retirement phase. You’ve told your friend you don’t wish to do any more overflow work – you don’t have the time! What with golf 2 days a week, volunteering as the treasurer of the local Rotary club, keeping up with the family, and regular holidays, you’ve got more than enough on your plate.
So now you turn on the superannuation income stream. You’ve sold down most of your share portfolio by now but you still have the rental property so you have income from that in addition to your super.
You have a great time during this phase, but by age 74, you’ve had a few health issues and are starting to slow down. You’re still playing seniors golf on a Friday, but you don’t fancy overseas travel any more and are happy to live a bit quieter life. You’re in the Feet-up phase.
Maybe you sell the investment property around now. The maintenance is getting a bit of a bother and it’d be nice to have the cash available.
Between the proceeds from the sale of the rental property, and your super, you see out your days without a financial worry in the world.
So what do you think? A plan you could work towards. Early Retirement in Australia is possible and I think many people could imagine living out a scenario something like what I’ve just gone through.
The reason most people don’t live that life though is because they never TAKE ACTION. Don’t let that be you.
Don’t forget to download the guide because the glide path diagrams I’ve put together I think will be super useful to you in seeing how you might be able to retire early in Australia.
This information is of a general nature only and has been prepared without taking into account your particular financial needs, circumstances and objectives. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, it is not guaranteed. You should obtain professional advice before acting on the information contained in this publication.