‘The financial struggles we faced after going into retirement’

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At age 65, I retired from my job and thought my wife and I were financially prepared. I had a feeling my company was on a path of axing employees, so I left. Turns out I was right, as within one month of me leaving, my position no longer existed.

My wife and I thought we were prepared for my job loss and that our savings were sound as we were receiving benefits from Centrelink. However, due to having money in our bank account from a recent house sale, we were denied a pension. This led to our financial hardship and struggles. Despite the money from the sale being committed to building a new home, we weren’t able to receive any government assistance, so we were left having to live off our savings.

During this period, we had a strict budget because we were unsure about how things would go with getting our house built. One of the biggest issues we faced was living in a rental house costing us $795 a week — on a fixed contract — for which we had to pay 10 months’ rent up front! We also had two dogs and this was the only property we could get that would let us keep them.

The 10 months’ rent was required as our builder said he would have our new home finished within that time. The house had to be finished within 12 months (and lived in), otherwise we would have to pay capital gains tax to the Australian Tax Office. This was a lot of pressure for us as so many things can delay a build such as weather events, having certain supplies ordered for the build, time schedules of the builder etc.

We experienced a lot of frustration on a daily basis during this period, from dealing with the house build to not being able to use our money to enjoy ourselves and the limitations of Centrelink. Being denied a pension meant the only income we had was the interest on the money we had in the bank, but that dwindled quickly thanks to the number of interim payments we needed to make to the builders.

When we purchased the block to build our new home there was already a house standing on it. It had been built in 1972. The original quote to knock it down to build our new place was $18,000. However, when they pulled the old house down they found asbestos, which was an additional $15,000 cost before work could even begin.

This added to the financial pressure we were already facing plus the delay in building our house. The money being transferred into the bank was also subject to tax, so we had to account for this too. If we had been granted our pension, we would have been able to claim $123 per week in rent allowance.

Since then, I have returned to work and was lucky to have my old company come to the rescue. They offered me five months’ work on a fixed contract. The only difficulty was the commute from the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane every morning. I’d leave home at 3:30am and leave Brisbane at 2pm, usually only arriving home at around 4pm, depending on traffic. Travel aside, the work opportunity was a godsend and relieved some of our financial pressure.

We’ve now moved into our home, which has been a game changer for our financial wellbeing and has improved our financial habits. We moved in with four weeks to spare, so we were able to avoid the capital gains tax. Once we paid the builder and the money in our bank had reduced, Centrelink approved us for a part pension. Thankfully this helped alleviate the financial pressure we’d been experiencing.

Further, our mistrust of financial institutions has also impacted our financial behaviours. I recently discovered my superannuation fund was going backwards and I was being hit with more than $3,000 a year in fees and charges. I’ve taken my money out. I didn’t have all that much in the fund, but of course when that money reached our bank account, Centrelink reduced my pension.

I don’t have a lot of trust in anyone to do our finances anymore. I now receive $598 every two weeks in government payments and we just live off our savings to keep us going.

I’m feeling more hopeful for our future now than I was even six months ago. My circumstances are changing for the better as a result of getting work again and the pension we’re receiving. It may not be much, but we feel like we’re in a much better place.

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