Am I too old to achieve Financial Autonomy?

Financial Autonomy - Blog
Am I too old to achieve Financial Autonomy?

It’s not uncommon I find, for people to arrive at the desire to achieve Financial Autonomy in their 40s or 50s. Particularly for those with kids, until this point in life it’s largely just been survival mode. Money in equals money out. First it’s saving a deposit for a home, then it’s getting the mortgage under control. Usually either the first home isn’t the forever home, or else renovations and improvements are required. Then you’ve got the costs of raising children.

Layer on top this is the potential for divorce, and it’s not uncommon for me to have people reach out wanting to achieve financial security but worried that it’s too late for them.

If you’re worried that it might be too late for you build wealth and achieve financial security, this episode is for you.

 

I recently had someone reach out to me, a single mum aged 54. She had a good job and a reasonable amount of super, but still had a substantial amount owing on her mortgage. She wondered how she’d ever afford anything like a comfortable retirement.

It was great to be able to go through the level of income that her superannuation would ultimately produce, and consider what sort of retirement would be within her reach. We found that retirement at her preferred retirement age was doable, however in playing with the modelling she decided that she’d rather work an extra couple of years and have a higher quality of retirement life. A great result.

So much is about mindset and being clear, and perhaps realistic also, as to what you want your retirement years to look like. As always, goals and their prioritization are the starting point. For some people the objective might be to have as many good years in retirement as possible and therefore they are prepared to compromise on how much they have available to spend during this phase. More commonly though, I find people have a desired lifestyle that they want in retirement, and the flexibility comes from the age at which they will retire.

For those looking to maximise the number of retirement years the solution is frequently some combination of superannuation and Age Pension. The age pension kicks in at 67, so someone with this priority might aim to retire in their early 60s, live off their superannuation and other savings until the age pension commences, and then look to layer some income from super on top of their age pension entitlement and have a comfortable, though not extravagant retirement. Particularly if you live in a regional centre, this is a very feasible plan. It would typically assume that you have paid off a mortgage and own your home, though it could be that you receive rent assistance once on the pension.

The more common scenario I see is where someone has in mind a certain quality of life in retirement, and we therefore try and quantify this in terms of the income required to make this possible. With this as our goal we can explore at what age retirement would be feasible.

The good news is working a few extra years can move the dial quite significantly. Because at this point of life your superannuation balance is somewhere near its maximum, giving it a few extra years to compound can really kick the balance along meaningfully. Of course by working a few extra years you also have extra years of contributions going into your super, and perhaps by this point your mortgage has been paid off so you have the ability to save even more, either inside or outside of super. Then the final icing on the cake is that by working a few extra years, there’s fewer years that your superannuation needs to provide for. So for instance if you retired at 60, perhaps your superannuation savings need to provide you with income for 30 years. But if instead you worked through until 65, super only needs to support you for 25 years perhaps, which means you can afford or draw a bit more out each year.

When we work through these sort of plans with clients, we sometimes discuss whether their initial retirement income goal need necessarily continue throughout their entire retirement. Frequently people will have travel goals and other ambitions that they want to tick off in the early years of retirement, but perhaps once into their 70s and certainly 80s, it’s likely that there’s spending will slow down. Recognising this can greatly help in arriving at an affordable retirement plan. As an example your starting point might have been that you wanted to retire on an income of $100,000 per year. If that looked like it was going to be unaffordable, a solution might be that the $100,000 per year is only required for the first five years of retirement, and you’re spending then drops to say $70,000 a year from that point forward. This type of change in thinking can have a huge impact on whether retirement is achievable.

 

Frequently the people that come to me worried that it’s too late for them to be financially secure have come out of a divorce. With the assets split across two households instead of one, there’s a sense of having taken a step down the wealth ladder.

I think people in this situation actually have a great advantage. At last they can focus on their own goals without compromise. They are in complete control of their destiny. If you find yourself in this position, rejoice in the fact that you can now spend on only the things you value, saving what’s appropriate for you, holidaying only to the places you want to visit. Even retirement timing can sometimes be a compromise within a couple. I frequently see the younger member of a couple feel under pressure to retire once the older member of the couple has ceased working, even though they would have been quite happy to work on.

 

If you are worried that you are behind where you should be for your stage of life, realise that you’re not alone in having this concern, and that the very fact you are worrying about this probably suggests you’re ahead of a great many. Here are the primary levers you have available to pull:

  • Work longer. This is by far the most impactful option available to you.
  • Adjust how much income you require in retirement, especially after the first 5 to 10 years.
  • Downsize your home. The primary residence is capital gains tax free and the downsizer of provisions are an excellent way to boost your super.
  • The government’s home equity release scheme is an excellent way to stay in your home but free up capital to give you living money.
  • Ensure your superannuation is working as hard as possible. Sometimes people concerned about having left things too late to build wealth, feel that they need to be very conservative in their investment allocations as they can’t afford to suffer a loss. Whilst more growth oriented investment options are more volatile, higher returns greatly increase the life of your savings. Being too conservative is counterproductive to your goal.
  • Put any surplus income to work. That could be salary sacrificing to super, paying off your mortgage, or investing elsewhere. Just don’t leave it sitting in the bank earning next to nothing.
  • Finally, don’t forget the Age Pension. Perhaps initially when you retire you don’t qualify, but as you use up your retirement savings, at some point you will almost certainly get under the threshold. Once you do, you can slow down the drawings from your own savings and replace them with the government pension, causing your savings to last considerably longer. It may be therefore that your retirement savings will last longer than you think.

 

Building wealth and achieving financial autonomy is done in your income producing years. Provided you still have working years ahead of you, it’s never too late to strengthen your financial position and increase the choice and flexibility you have in life.

Back to All News