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Once upon a time, you worked until you could go on the pension and then shuffled off into the sunset. These days, there’s no such thing as a typical retirement.
Whether it’s down to baby boomers reinventing retirement, older Australians being forced to work longer, or a bit of both, is a moot point. While our retirement income system is stuck in a 20th century straight-jacket, 21st century retirees are busting out all over.
Some have retirement thrust upon them via redundancy or illness. Others enjoy the freedom to ease into retirement gradually, swapping the daily grind for part-time work, early retirement, starting a business, volunteering, a senior gap year or passion projects.
Not only are we living longer than previous generations, but our expectations of retirement living are also higher. There comes a time for many when the body may be saying “give me a break” but the head is saying “just a few dollars more”.
Whatever the reason, the number of people working well into their 60s and 70s is increasing. According to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 36% of 65-69-year-olds were still working in 2017 along with 18% of those aged over 70.
While some people are continuing to work well into their 60s and 70s because they enjoy it, in many cases necessity is the mother of invention. With the age of eligibility for the Age Pension gradually increasing from 66 today to 67 by 2024, the trend is likely to continue. SuperGuide spoke to three people whose retirement didn’t go as planned…
The second career
National Seniors chief advocate, Ian Henschke, a former teacher and journalist, explains why his ‘retirement’ is typically atypical.
Around three years ago, at age 61, Ian Henschke retired from the ABC on a good defined benefits pension. Then almost immediately he was offered the job at National Seniors.
“I didn’t have to work but I was lucky to be offered a job and my wife said go for it.” So he did.
Around the same time his wife was made redundant and despite professional qualifications had trouble finding full-time work. With children now aged 13 and 15, a joint retirement heading off in a camper van wasn’t an option.
“I wanted (the children) to see a role model of a Dad who is working.”
Henschke says over the past 25 years late life fathers have become more common. And men and women are more likely to have older children still living at home at an age when their own parents had already retired.
Life is often complex and rarely goes completely to plan.
The new part-time business
The lives of today’s 50-plus Australian women are also complex in ways their mother’s lives were not.
When Perrie Croshaw sold her online holiday accommodation business on the NSW South Coast in 2017 at age 61, the aim was to set herself up for retirement and slow down a little.
Like many women of her generation, she entered her 50s with very little in superannuation. “I had time out to raise my children and I worked overseas before that.” Divorce also hammered home the point that a man was not a financial plan.
With the sale proceeds from her business, she bought an investment apartment in Kiama outright which she plans to live in eventually. When that happens, she’ll sell her current home to fund her retirement.
“It was the perfect time for me. Mum’s in a nursing home nearby so I can visit during the week without feeling I’m taking my eyes off the ball at work.”
Building her business over 10 years, beginning from her living room, became her retirement plan. Although she didn’t need to keep working after selling up, she wasn’t ready for retirement.
“I’m a knitter, but I would have gone mad just knitting. The thing you miss when you sell a business is the loss of society – it was like family. We had people in their 20s, 30s and 70s and we would bring in cakes to the office to share.
“I’m single and haven’t got a partner to buy a Winnebago and travel the country, so I got back on the horse.”
Rather than wind down, she’s busier than ever with a mix of work and passion projects.
She and a friend “in a similar space” started a small property sales business on a part-time basis. “We can pick and choose properties to list, enjoy what we do and have fun working with clients without having to build a business to sell.”
She’s also on the board of Destination Kiama, a member of the Berry Chamber of Commerce and co-founder and organiser of the Bird Haven festival now in its second year.
For the time being at least, the traditional notion of retirement isn’t even on the horizon.
The senior gap year
Chris Herrmann was 62 when his wife of 40 years suddenly passed away three years ago.
“The suddenness of it brought home that we’re not here forever,” he says. That got him thinking about a break from his normal routine as a transition to another life stage.
What came next was a surprise even to himself.
“I used to joke about kids going off on a gap year and that they should get a job like the rest of us.” Not anymore.
“As we get older, we get stuck in our comfort zone. One person was stopping me from doing a trip and that was me. I kept thinking I’m too old, I’d be travelling alone, what would happen if I got sick or had a heart attack.”
At the time, he had a small online business that he could operate from anywhere. So, he sold or stored his possessions and bought a round-the-world ticket with three stop-offs on three continents. First stop was Spain and he played it by ear from there, eventually travelling to Central America and Southeast Asia, staying mostly in hostels alongside young backpackers.
“Even though I was travelling alone I was never lonely.” In Spain he tapped into the local expat community until he learned some Spanish then branched out to meet locals. With three kids and 7 grandkids back in Australia, he says he spoke to them more regularly while he was away than he did when home in Perth.
Towards the end of his gap year he sold his business as the seeds of a new life emerged. “It’s never been my intention to retire,” he says.
His book My senior gap year is a record of his travels and a call to others his own age to set off on their own adventure. He’s working to set up online courses and create programs for people to go for 1-3 months, to explore local culture with a network of people to connect with.
He’s also looking to develop volunteering for people who have reached a point in their life where they want to give back.
While it took a crisis for Herrmann to make a radical life change, he urges even comfortably married couples not to get stuck in routine.
“Sometimes you need to create a crisis so one is not thrust on you,” he says.
The takeaway is, there’s literally no end to the possibilities for retirement – it can be whatever you want it to be.
Do you have an unusual or exciting retirement plan that you would like to share? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the details.