I can still remember the day I retired. I was over the moon and the happiest I had felt in years. Like most people, I had been waiting for this day for many years and had amazing plans for how I would spend the rest of my work-free life.
My husband and I were both 62 and had decided I would retire first. I was a nurse and was increasingly tired out after work every day. Being on my feet all day was exhausting and having to lift patients and heavy equipment was getting harder and harder.
My husband, Bill, was the one who suggested I retire sooner than we had planned and that he work a few years longer. Bill had an office job, which he loved, and he was happy to stay in the workforce and save extra money for our future.
We discussed how we would handle our finances as we headed towards retirement, but to be honest I was never that interested in money. Bill took care of most of our fiancees, organising bills, savings and the mortgage.
Once I’d retired, I drew down a large portion of my super and a week after my 62nd birthday and Bill and I set off on a 6-week holiday around Europe.
We had planned for that trip for nearly two years, carefully detailing every destination and every activity along the way. It was like a dream come true for both of us and we often talked about how happy we were.
A few years passed and I thought everything was swimming along fine. We made trips to other cities to visit our grandchildren and renovated our bathroom. Without over-indulging too much, we enjoyed lunches out and dinners with friends. We cut back a little knowing we didn’t have the same income we used to when I was getting a pay check every week, but for the most part our lifestyle didn’t change too much.
A year later, everything changed. Bill came home one day and told me he had been made redundant. It was 2008 and with the GFC in full effect, the company was downsizing. Despite the fact he had worked there for 20 years, Bill was one of the first to go.
Suddenly our financial state was thrown into the spotlight. Our combined super, which had only been big enough for us to live a modest retirement suddenly plummeted as the stock market collapsed. The capital from our super that we had planned to live off was now a lot less than we had anticipated. Coupled with the fact that Bill was out of the workforce sooner than we’d expected, things were suddenly very different to what we had planned.
It quickly became apparent I would have to go back to work, even on a part-time basis. At 63 though, getting back into nursing wasn’t an option. I had spent my whole life training and working as a nurse and now I was going to have to find a job doing something else. I searched the job pages in the papers and looked online for something I could put my skills to that wouldn’t be too physically draining.
After months of searching things were becoming harder and harder. Bill got knocked back at every interview he went to. I don’t know for sure but I’m guessing it had something to do with his age. He was an expert in his field and was over-qualified for nearly every job he went for, but still – no luck.
At 63, neither of us qualified for the pension and as we tried to preserve what little super we had left, we had to tighten the purse strings more and more every week. Finally Bill had to step outside his field and he found a job as bus driver on the local council bus route. The hours are gruelling and require him to wake up as early as 3am some days and get home well after 11pm on others.
I found a casual job as an office assistant where I work three days at week. The work is easy and the people are nice, but sometimes I still can’t believe I’m back in the workforce so soon. Looking back, Bill and I both agree we made mistakes along the way and a bit more planning could have meant things would be totally different for us now.
In retrospect, I never should have drawn down on my super as much as I did. We should have saved the money for our holiday and renovation before I retired instead of relying on my retirement fund. We also should have paid closer attention to our super fund and where our money was being invested. Some of our friends were also caught out by the GFC and lost a significant amount of the super, but others, who had taken care and been involved with their super and where it was being invested, had sailed through it with barely a scratch.
Now, I’m the most money-focused I have ever been. I count every dollar and keep a close eye on my super and our bank account. Bill and I both have to focus on our finances now if we ever want to have a chance at retiring before we turn 75. It’s going to be a hard road for the next few years as we try to get back on track, but I hope it will be worth it.
The more I read about money and finances, the more I realise Bill and I are not alone. There are thousands of other Australians who are in a similar situation to us and who had to head back into the workforce after thinking they had retired for good. I just hope my story is enough to warn anyone heading towards retirement to take another look at their savings plan and prepare properly for their future.