Guest contributor: retirement denial, underfunded women, baby boomers

In early 2013, SuperGuide published two articles which triggered a lot of emails from readers, especially from women, about the financial demands placed on older women, and the financial denial many women and men experience when thinking about the lifestyle they are expecting in retirement.

A SuperGuide reader, Wendy Donald, has shared her experiences on these two issues, and I am certain her story and comments will strike a chord with many readers. Wendy Donald is a business woman, (former) artist, property investor and author. Wendy is also actively involved in the lives of her son and two grandchildren, including running a business with her son. Just before she turned 40, Wendy was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease and was unable to work for 10 years. She also worked during the era when women were paid half of what men received, and was not given access to super for most of her working life.

Continue reading to find out what Wendy has to say. You can find the links for the two SuperGuide articles Wendy refers to, Retirement: Baby boomers in denial say survey and Why women have to save more super at the end of the article. 

I could not agree more with all you have to say (referring to Trish Power’s column on the social and economic circumstances confronting women trying to save for retirement – see article link at end of this guest post).

In the past few days I was having a conversation with a friend, where we raised these very same issues.  We both have known we had to do our best to get together enough superannuation to give us some sort of reasonable life in retirement.

Women take on burden of children and parents

What we were discussing was that we (as women) were accepting the bulk of the burden on partly supporting adult children, and in my friend’s case helping out a very elderly parent who lives on the basic pension plus her two disabled siblings. These things have played havoc with our efforts to work towards our own old age.

In my case I have retired from work, and having thought I had it all worked out, have now found with the extra calls on my meagre income, that the only way to be able to live is to draw down on super in lump sums or to run up debt. I have had to radically re think my super and cannot see how I can change things enough to be in the position I had thought I would be in at this point.

Over 65, I have started up my own business to try to find a way to support myself and help out my son and grandsons. I have been affected by the world financial crisis and just have not been able to claw back.

No access to super, and half the pay of men

Unlike many of my workmates, in the 1970s and 1980s I was aware that I needed to think about being in pension schemes, whereas most said they had a husband and he had the pension. Of course, as you mention, it was impossible for a married woman to be in the ‘proper’ pension schemes (in my case) and when it was possible we started from a very low position. Once we left work (before maternity leave was possible) everything was cashed in and you receive your contributions plus interest only. Starting and stopping was the story of a woman’s effort to look toward retirement.

Divorce has further eroded things for women. After working from the age of 19, managing to hold onto my job for birth of a child (granted 2 months leave without pay), then having to retire on ill health in my late 40s, with a husband who never really worked (another story) I still managed to put together enough in and out of super to feel I would be OK. A divorce changed that – suddenly there is only half of what there was, and yet my costs to live where the same. Regardless of health concerns it was back to work in my early 50s, and into my 60s. Just as I got myself back into a comfortable position the world economic downturn once again took care of that.

I have heard stories where adult children tell their mothers they should have planned better and made sure they had enough for their old age. This to women who spent most of their life in the work force, but were paid less than men, often on short contracts and seldom offered superannuation until compulsory super came into effect. These older women were sacked from their teaching jobs in the early days once they married (taken back on as ‘temporary’ for the rest of their career).

It is impossible for another generation to understand how impossible it was for women to put together enough for retirement.

I endorse your views and wish it was talked about more. When I speak to accountants and advisors they are clueless about how it is for women.

The enormous frustration I feel trying to find advice that is pertinent to me and to my situation is never ending. In the end I go back and look at my own game plan (see next section below), because it DOES take into account the things in my life that simply don’t fit into the male accountant/adviser mindset.

Baby boomers in denial

I have moved in and out of retirement over the past 12 years. I am close to 66 now, and am working full time in my own retail business, and looking at taking up one day a week part time professional work again.

Your article (referring to SuperGuide article reporting on survey that says baby boomers in retirement denial – see link at end of this post) mentions baby boomers being responsible for family members, and this is my case as well – a single parent son and grandchildren that I must partly provide for (including housing). I have a SMSF I am about to close down, partly due to GFC but also because in 3 years of actual retirement I had to draw down so much to fund our life that the assets left don’t justify the staggering charges. Another reason is the ever-changing rules related to SMSF and finding myself ‘not complying’ when I have tried hard to do the correct thing. The worry of this has been too much. I have planned and planned and yet find myself in a poor position.

I have now developed a new strategy, and about to implement this. This involves me having direct investments in small rental flats in London (something I have always been involved with), paying whatever tax is due. With a high dollar I am just about to acquire a 3rd flat that will cost me under $200,000 with a return of 8% gross. Eventually the dollar will fall and the sterling pound will rise again and I will benefit in two ways, the first is that the value of my assets in dollars will increase and the value of my rental income will also rise again. For the present I subsidise my life with earned money.

I can say in the years I have planned for retirement I have sought advice but have found little to none of it of any benefit to me at all. Reading up myself probably gave me the only useful information I have found. Your news letters have been major source for me.

What has amazed me is the almost total lack of planning, ‘head in the sand’ that some of my friends have toward a retirement that is now with them. They have left work without ever putting in any more than compulsory super, and because they have lined up some part time work for retirement seem to think that they can suddenly adjust from a salary of $85,000 to the Centrelink Aged pension and a bit of part time work. Their expectations are still they will maintain a similar lifestyle to that they had while working.

Wendy Donald

The links for the SuperGuide articles that Wendy refers to in this post are set out below:


  1. Beverley says:

    I’m about to turn 55 and I won’t to get my small amount of super out, and spend it on a new car and bills and its all gone in one day, Can I still go back to work straight away.
    Thanks Bev

  2. agree with the baby boomers in denial – typically whenever I have asked anyone of my peers about their retirement plans they say ‘win lotto’ or something equally edifying – when I asked a close friend carefully she said it was ‘too boring’ to bother thinking about – she said ‘the pension’ as if that was her final answer.

    I suspect Australia’s good wellfare system has led many to believe they can just stop work and go on the pension – no thought required – until they realise the downshift in lifestyle from $80k salary to $19k pension (or if a couple, say from $80+30=$110kpa down to $29k) – from easy living, travel and restaurants to struggling to pay for food and the electricity bill – gee, how did that happen !

    If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

  3. tracey jones says:

    Dear Wendy Donald, I am so saddened to read your situation. Thank goodness you are articulate and can express the circumstances succinctly; whereas, I fear, most other women your age (and a decade younger) are not so able. As a public accountant I am so disappointed that the accountants and advisors have disappointed you with their “clueless”ness.

    Dear Trish Power, thank you for publicising this matter. My situation is not the same as Wendy Donald’s but it is not too different. I wonder if “super industry” could lobby strenuously for differential legislation – such as women (born before ?1966) have raised concessional caps up to $150k per annum. (I picked 1966 because my youngest sister was born in 1965!).

    I’m not sure if the following is of interest to you but sooooo many of my sole-trader business clients (ALL age groups) don’t contribute to super or won’t exercise financial discipline to contribute to super. This group of our nation is a problem in the making. I would encourage you and all others in the “super industry” to lobby strenuously on this matter. On the other hand, is that why government has made the definitions so wide for super purposes?

    Sorry, I rambled so much.
    Best regards

  4. Just submitted to Treasury our thoughts about super in the review. No work for over 65 is our gripe. If they are raising the retirement age, then age discrimination better stop. We do our own investing, research and write the software to do it all. But getting information from anyone, just forget it.

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