Retirement. It’s up there with buying your first home and having a child when it comes to life’s big moments.
And mandatory superannuation contributions can make it feel like we have the financial planning aspect of retirement somewhat under control – just as we did when saving up our first deposit or counting the cost of another mouth to feed.
But while we might have had heartfelt discussions with our spouse, partner or loved ones over that first piece of real estate or expanding the family, the importance of talking about retirement appears to get much less attention.
To have the type of lifestyle you would like in retirement requires just as many honest discussions with your spouse or partner as other big moments in life, not just to ensure you share the same vision but that you build up the funds to make it happen.
Bryan Ashenden, the head of financial literacy and advocacy at BT Financial Advice, has one simple piece of advice when it comes to talking about and planning for retirement: the earlier, the better.
“Because the earlier you start, the longer you give yourself to prepare so you can achieve the retirement you want,” he says.
Ashenden advises anyone who hasn’t talked about retirement to sit down and tackle a few key questions with their loved one or turning the questions over and jotting down thoughts and goals is equally effective for planning purposes.
What does retirement mean to you?
“For some people, retirement means leaving the workforce entirely and having an opportunity to follow other interests, while others want to stay involved in some way, perhaps as a part-time worker or by starting some other income-producing endeavour,” Ashenden says.
Understanding what the word ‘retirement’ means to you and your partner or loved one – whether it’s a hard stop to working life, something you ease into or an opportunity to pursue other money-making or passion projects – may sound simplistic but the conversation will help you address the big question on how to fund retirement, including whether the Age Pension will play a part in your retirement income.
It’ll also bring to light any potential issues around age gaps that result in one person retiring earlier than the other, which can have serious implications for pension eligibility and thus the way you structure your financial affairs.
And perhaps most importantly, it will ensure you understand each other’s broad retirement goals, which naturally leads in to the next question.
What do I want to do in retirement?
This is the conversation that can uncover your ideas about what constitutes a dream retirement, which are better raised well before retirement.
“You may find some moments when sitting down with a financial adviser it’s the first time a couple realises they may have very different plans, different dreams,” Ashenden says.
“Again, it comes back to the earlier the discussion about retirement planning, the better.”
The amount and type of travel you hope to do in retirement, whether you fancy a sea or tree-change, have plans to pursue a time-consuming or costly hobby or venture, wish to assist your adult children financially or otherwise, or anticipate caring in your home for an elderly parent, are just some of the issues that will have an impact on your retirement funding as well as the type of lifestyle you lead.
The same talk can uncover dreams that don’t necessarily have a financial impact but will require adjustment nonetheless.
“When you move into retirement, your lifestyle changes,” Ashenden says, explaining that many couples move from the routine of daily work to a situation to one in which they’re both in the home full-time. “It can be challenging that all of a sudden, things are different.”
Such a conversation helpfully leads into the third question.
When will I be ready for retirement?
While many people enjoy the immediate freedom of moving from full-time employment into retirement, others find an abrupt change unsettling.
“A lot of people say ‘I’ve always said I’ll retire at 55’, for example, but they get to 55 and ask, can I afford it, and number two, even if I could afford it, do I want to?’,” Ashenden says.
‘Can I afford it?’ May be answered by a detailed look at your current financial position and expected future income and spending, while answers to ‘do I want to?’ can be drawn from your discussions about the meaning and nature of your retirement.
Ashenden notes that health considerations are also likely to have an impact on your approach to retirement, including the knowledge that regardless of whether they retire at 55 or 65, Baby Boomers are likely to spend much longer in retirement than their parents. This not only means a longer period in which to pursue your later-life dreams, but also a longer period in which to incur healthcare and other costs that may impact your retirement funding.
He points out, though, that even if you haven’t given these issues much thought previously and may feel under-prepared for retirement, it’s never too late to start talking about it.
“It doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily going to change anything immediately,” Ashenden says. “It might be that you prioritise something now, knowing that it will give you less time to prepare to fund your retirement down the track, but at least you’re making choices with the knowledge that it’s a conscious decision.”
Have you and your partner or spouse discussed retirement plans? Were you on the same page? How did you settle any differences?