Retirement certainly ain’t what it used to be

Oct 30, 2023
Our Starts at 60 blogger reflects on how retirement has changed over the years and the key to "creating a good post-retirement life". Source: Getty Images.

My wife and I went to one of the Gold Coast’s trendiest breakfast haunts last week. We were coming back from an anniversary overnight out at Kingscliff on the northern NSW Coast.

Driving back she googled “Best Places to Have breakfast on the Gold Coast” and after much debate, we headed to Elk Espresso in Broadbeach. It was about 11am when we arrived and Elk was busy, very busy.

By my count, there must have been 20, perhaps even 30, staff hurrying about the place at break-neck speed. Elk Espresso staff have a look – and the place has a certain vibe. The wait staff were all women (on the day I was there). I was going to say young women, but when you are 61 everyone seems young.

Most were tattooed. Some are heavily tattooed. Others had the odd piece of artwork showing – possibly meaning that they were at the start of their tattoo journeys. Lots had jewellery in their noses.

All were friendly, helpful, and happy to chat. Elk Espresso works hard at being “hip”. It looks and feels like it should be filled with young people being outrageously young. But it wasn’t. As I glanced around the room, I noticed that probably 70 percent of the customers were my age, if not older.

I wondered if the owner must be a little disappointed that his or her on-trend establishment is filled with retirees. I don’t think that that would have been the plan when this place was first opened. And then I got the bill, and things became a little clearer.

Even though the menu was smallish, the food was amazing – probably the best breakfast I’ve had in the three years that I’ve been back living in Australia. I had spinach scrambled eggs with a milkshake, and Ali had a potato with poached eggs and juice. It cost $72.22. Despite breakfast being absolutely brilliant, I think that’s steep. In reality, it’s probably only self-funded retirees, without mortgages, who can afford to pay $72.22 for breakfast on a regular basis. I can’t imagine that $72.22 breakfasts are a priority for thirty-year-olds trying to pay off a $ 1 million mortgage, especially with interest rates climbing. Retirement certainly ain’t what it used to be.

Now that we are living longer, and thankfully remaining healthier, retirees have cast off the cardigans and comfortable slippers and are out and about having a damn good time. Retirees today are looking to immerse themselves in culture, try new hobbies, and importantly – be seen. And that’s why they frequent places like Elk Espresso. There’s no better place to be seen, than at the hippest place on the Coast. That makes us cool by association, doesn’t it?

Today’s retirees don’t look old either. They look like Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Axl Rose, Sheryl Crowe, Joan Cusack and George Clooney. They dress well, buy designer clothes, visit spas and genuinely try to indulge themselves at every opportunity. They are the force that is keeping the country going through these tough economic times. They are tech-savvy, buy $1000 golf clubs and $6000 guitars as treats for themselves, and think nothing of spending $20,000 on an overseas holiday.

According to most economists, Baby Boomers have finally started to spend their substantial nest eggs, no longer worried about if the money will last, or not. The boom in house prices means that most retirees are now sitting on an asset that can sustain them financially for decades. Most people know that if things ever did get financially tight, they could easily sell their houses or apartments, buy something smaller and cheaper, and use the excess money to keep funding their retirement lifestyle.

I believe there are certain ingredients that go into creating a good post-retirement life. Firstly you need good health, then financial security, good friends, and a sense of purpose. You need to know, and articulate, what it is that you want to do with the last 20, or 30, years of your life. You can’t just drift along. That’s dangerous. Even in retirement, you need to set goals, and tick boxes, continually make plans, and re-evaluate old plans.

If you stop to smell too many roses, you’ll end up like your parents. Things have changed dramatically in the past 20 to 30 years. When my mum and dad retired they lived like paupers, even though they had plenty of money in the bank – and buried in the back yard. But that’s a story for another time. Dad had a verdant veggie patch. Mum, resplendent in her white uniform, won trays of meat nearly every week at the bowls club. Apart from toilet paper, toothpaste, and deodorant, they were almost self sufficient.

The only time they would eat out was when we came to visit, and that usually meant a trip 200 metres down the road to the Chinese restaurant where a meal for six would cost less than $72.22. Back in 2014, the Sydney Morning Herald wrote a news story about one Redfern restaurant that dared to charge $19 for Eggs Benedict. There was outrage. Now, $19 would be considered an absolute bargain for Eggs Benedict. Most places are charging $27. And if you are lucky enough to be able to afford them at that price, stop and take a look around the restaurant because it will be filled with people just like you.

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