Optimise your golden years: The ultimate retirement checklist

Buckling down to plan for your retirement may feel like a chore, but it could lead to some hidden financial treasures. Source: Getty

Retirement … the land of dreams for most workers, in which every day is yours to do as you please.

But part of getting the most out of retirement is ensuring you have sufficient means to enjoy it – whether your dreams involve splashing the cash or just not having to worry about a little treat every now and again – so squeezing every little penny out of your assets is key.

You no doubt have a rough idea of what you’ve got socked away in super and perhaps how much the family home is worth, but tracking down and calculating the current value of all your assets is a way of ensuring you don’t miss any small item that might help your retirement budget.

On the flip side, it also gives you a clearer picture of what income you may need in the future should you have to replace those assets. So, get your pen and paper, or your spreadsheet, ready and start jotting them down – you might be richer than you think but even if not, you’ll know better where you stand when it comes to your retirement aspirations.

How to create a retirement plan

According to Australian Retirement Trusts‘ Head of Advice Anne Fuchs, everyone has different retirement goals and dreams for the future so ultimately “any planning is good planning”. 

She says the amount of super a person may require will depend on retirement expenses and the sort of lifestyle they’d like to enjoy.

For example, do you want to travel overseas at least once a year and lead a socially active lifestyle dining out every week etc, or are you looking to travel somewhere within Australia every few years and have a more low-key lifestyle with an occasional trip to the movies or coffee with friends? 

Once this lifestyle has been determined, it’s important to compare this to the lifestyle they are currently on track for. 

Australian Retirement Trust has a retirement planner and calculator available online to help estimate how long superannuation balances might last in retirement based on a desired annual income. From there, they can start to plan the process of bridging the gap between their current projection and their dream lifestyle. 

Source: Getty

Can your home help fund your retirement?

Whatever your vision for retirement is will affect whether or not you choose to continue living in your current home. Some choose to downsize and move into a retirement village, while others prefer to stay where they live. Both have major financial significance, so if it’s a while since you’ve looked in the local real estate agent’s window to check out sales prices in your neighbourhood, now’s the time to start.

To save time, search your suburb on Australia’s two big property sales platforms – realestate.com.au and domain.com.au – for comparable properties to see what they’ve got on them.

If you prefer to see sold prices for comparable properties, try Property Value, a site run by CoreLogic, a big real estate data provider. Or search Rate My Agent for well-regarded local real estate agents who’ll likely be happy to give you an estimate of your property’s value in the current market.

Your home contents

The contents of your home can add up to a surprising sum, especially if you’ve got a large house or like to hoard! To know if any of the unwanted items in your home are of value, search eBay and Gumtree to see what similar items are going for, and don’t assume that because an item was pretty ordinary when you or your parents bought it, it’s not worth anything now. What was once just called “old” is now “retro” and thus attractive to plenty of buyers.

For example, rotary-dial telephones and vintage cameras are popular with enthusiasts, as are old-school toys including Legos and some rare mini-figurines.  Even 1970s issues of glossy fashion magazine Vogue are listed on eBay for $25 each, while mid-century G-Plan furniture, which was once a staple of every lounge room, sells for hundreds of dollars on the auction site.

To work out what the contents you’d like to keep are worth, do the same searches for second-hand items comparable to your own items.

Don’t forget the contents of your garage. Not only are some garage staples costly to replace but certain old engine parts are sought-after by restoration fans, as are retro oil cans and garage-related signs. Even the beaten-up Arnott’s biscuit tin you’re storing nuts and bolts in might be more valuable than you think, some sell for well over $100 on eBay.

Your vehicle

Go through the same process with your car, commercial sites such as Carsales and Carsguide, as well as the RACQ, offer free online valuations but don’t have figures for all car makes and ages. Red Book, which is used by auto traders, insurers and financiers, offers a valuation tailored to your specific vehicle (on vehicles as far back as 1960) for $29.

Source: Getty

Get the most out of your superannuation

Your super fund will send you a statement at the end of every financial year that sets out your account balance, the amount you and your employer have contributed during the year, how your fund has performed, any fees levied on the account and any insurance cover you have through the fund.

If you’re part of a couple, don’t forget to include your partner’s or spouse’s super balance in the calculation of your joint assets.

And while you’re looking at it, there are a few things to check for to make sure you’re getting the best outcome from your superannuation.

  • Is your employer meeting their obligation to pay 9.5 per cent of your wage into super? If you’re concerned the sums being contributed may not be correct, you can check by using the Australian Taxation Office’s (ATO) ‘estimate my super’ tool that will tell you how much the contributions should be, based on your earnings.
  • Is my super fund insurance cover doubling up on cover I’ve already taken out personally? The premiums for cover via your super fund are subtracted from your balance, which reduces the amount of money being invested on your behalf, so it’s worth checking you’re not spending money on the same life or income protection cover twice.
  • Are the fees on my super fund being rewarded with strong investment performance? Super funds can come with many different types of fees, including administration, investment, switching and exit fees. Several comparison sites allow you to compare funds based on the fund’s performance and fees. The Australian Securities and Investment Commission’s (ASIC) unbiased MoneySmart site explains how to understand these comparisons.

Now’s also the time to hunt out any super you may’ve forgotten about. You can search for lost super by creating a MyGov account, that will link all of your Australian government services such as Centrelink, the ATO and Medicare. That in turn will take you back to the ATO, where you can search for any superannuation accounts in your name.

Take inventory of your financial assets

Financial advice can come in handy when it comes to taking action in bridging the gap between your projected retirement and your dream lifestyle. 

This part of your list of assets should include not just what’s in any savings accounts, but also term deposits, shares and other traded or unlisted financial instruments you own outside the super system, as well as any investments in property.

If you have an ongoing relationship with a financial adviser, their most recent report on your investment portfolio will contain such valuations. Although the value of some of your assets will be more volatile than others, having a snapshot of their current value at least helps you get a better idea of where you stand financially.

And since you’ve already dug around for lost super treasure, you should also make sure you haven’t also missed out on any other money owing to you. MoneySmart explains the various searches you can make for unclaimed funds left in old bank accounts, lost share dividends, insurance payouts, unpaid wages and sales proceeds and even unexpected bequests from deceased estates.

Source: Getty

Get rid of all your debts

Bite the bullet and write down everything you owe: what, if anything, is left on your mortgage on the family home and any mortgages on rental properties, right down to how much is currently owed on your credit card.

Although you might not be able to clear some of these debts immediately or even in the near future, it’s a good time to think about how you might manage them, from considering whether you’ll take a lump sum from your super at retirement to pay off some debts to using a comparison site such as Finder or Canstar to check whether you can transfer your credit card balance to a card with a better rate.

Minus these debts from the balance of your assets to find out your net worth, MoneySmart has a helpful online calculator you could use, and you’re done with your pre-retirement stocktake and can move on to working out where that leaves you with regard to your post-retirement expenses.

It’s important to remember that it’s never too early to get your retirement on track. The more time you give yourself to plan ahead, the less stressed you’ll be in the future and the more you can look forward to your well-earned time off. 

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