Don’t you love the advertisements on what to look forward to in retirement? Couples laughing staring into each other’s eyes, sharing fun times on the golf course, walking the dog, the hubbie popping up the caravan awning while the wife sets up the camping chairs, the clink of the wine glasses as the sun sets, and their partner turning the prawns on the barbie. Well-earned decades of work and sacrifice to reach their ultimate lifestyle before they pass away. It all seems so glamourous, sharing the rest of your years with your best mate. Except, in reality, it doesn’t always turn out that way and millions of men and women are doing it alone, and I am one of them.
I had visions of dropping anchor offshore or setting up camp near a dried-up billabong with my best mate. But sadly, or not, life didn’t work out that way and I had to let go of the socially promoted retirement dream and create my own.
It is a tough challenge and for women who have hit the retirement age in the last few years like myself, we are placed in an extremely financially vulnerable position. Let alone the emotional stress.
There are several reasons for this; older women are more likely to survive their partner, women have been disadvantaged even before they started with minimal income due to the gender pay gap, the likelihood that a woman’s career would be put on hold for many working years sacrificed raising children. Most of our paid working years were exclusive of superannuation before the compulsory Superannuation Guarantee was introduced into Australia in 1992.
Added to all this, discrimination against divorced women was rife if you had children. Companies were reluctant to employ women as they believed women could not balance their work and family life.
Fortunately, things have improved for the better but in the course of a lifetime, women earn less on average and with lower lifetime earnings it makes it harder for women to save for retirement.
Yet, despite the obstacles in maintaining living standards as a retired female it is possible to create and sustain a comfortable, independent, and fun lifestyle if you have the right tools and plans.
So now, I try to pass on my experiences particularly to women, as research has proven that women are the most vulnerable when it comes to retirement and there are things we can do to lessen the burden.
Tools that helped me do it alone:
The earlier the better as those years creep up quicker than expected.
I have been working with a financial advisor for at least twenty years, I wish I began earlier. We meet annually, discuss my present situation, talk about my plans short and long-term.
I found I needed to mentally begin to let go of my working life and consider my options post-work life, before retiring. I thought about the things I had put on hold and my neglected passions.
Understanding the money
Before retirement, it is essential to understand where all your money goes otherwise you have no idea of what money is needed to survive on to pay the bills. I am a spreadsheet queen and set up all my expenses under categories. I was shocked to see how much money I spent annually on takeaway cappuccinos. Manual records with columns work too. Be brutally honest with yourself, no cheating, but the truth can hurt.
Leaving the workplace means leaving your daily social networks but you can still keep in touch. I found a whole new world of intelligent fun people that have enhanced my life.
Can you continue to remain where you live and afford the costs to maintain it. Will you still have a loan? Discuss with your advisor.
Consider activities you have never had the opportunity to pursue and ones that make you feel good. Dancing is one example that worked for me.
Travelling alone is not as daunting as it sounds. I have made new lifelong friends by sharing accommodation on tours and cruises. Many travel options are available for older singles.
Living alone does not mean you are alone. Focus on your emotional strength and feelings. The fear of facing change can be daunting and needs to be confronted not avoided.
I love to travel and dog sitting for a friend works perfectly for me.
Single retired women may not have the backup support of a loving partner, but doing it yourself has endless positives including the freedom of making your own choices. The world can be your oyster if you want it.