In the past few years, we’ve come through a global pandemic, seen weather records broken across the world, endured devastating bushfires and floods, and now we are facing a cost-of-living crisis against a backdrop of rising inflation and interest rates.
Between June 2020 and June 2022, we saw an exodus from Australian capital cities. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows 85,000 Melbournians and 27,000 Sydneysiders packed up and headed for regional postcodes hoping to escape COVID-19.
The cost of essential goods like housing, utilities, petrol and groceries have all increased substantially in recent months as central banks around the world aggressively hike interest rates.
Many retirees are also worried about the world they are leaving to their children and grandchildren. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, the global average temperature this July was the highest on record.
We asked people how these world-shifting events have impacted their retirement plans and what they plan to do differently. Here’s what they said.
Graeme, 76, academic, retired 2013
“I regret not having a detailed retirement plan but who could have predicted these times? We worked out a retirement budget, but prices have gone through the roof. You need to figure out what you want to achieve in retirement before you get there. Think about what your passion is and what kind of future you want, then take the time to create a comprehensive financial plan based on your own unique needs.”
Marguerite, 66, graphic artist, semi-retired
“My husband and I are both semi-retired. We have what we need – or think we do, but who knows? During this economic uncertainty, we have wanted to future-proof our retirement plans. A good financial adviser was recommended to us, and we found there are things we can do now that could pay off down the road, such as having a good retirement saving strategy and investing in precious metals that tend to maintain their value during inflation.”
Laura, 56, high school teacher, semi-retired
“We know women usually retire with less super than men due to the gender pay gap and because women are more likely to take time out from the workforce to care for children. I am divorced and live with my 89-year-old mum and 19-year-old daughter. I wish I’d taken control of my finances earlier in my career. I didn’t do well when I divorced and didn’t put any financial strategies in place that might have made a difference, such as maximising my contributions and investing wisely.”
Robin, 68, property investor, retired 2015
“I’ve been able to sell off my investment properties since retiring and move to the NSW Central Coast. I always put in long hours when I was working, and I regret not spending more with my family over those years. Happily, I am rectifying this now and planning overseas trips with my two sons and their young families.”
Fiona, 60, small business owner
“Many retailers recovering from the COVID lockdowns are now suffering again with this latest cost-of-living crisis. People are on tight budgets and reluctant to spend. Holding on to staff has also been tough. These are challenging times, but what do you do? I can’t see myself selling up and retiring any time soon.”
Courtney, 55, tourist operator, retired 2020
“I’m in tourism, so the pandemic put me out of work. A few of us took early retirement during COVID but I couldn’t say it was a lifestyle choice. I got a lower-than-anticipated payout and now I’m looking at long-term financial insecurity. Tourism is making a comeback now but it’s hard for women my age to get a job.”
Graham, 65, public servant, retired 2016
“We had retirement dreams like everybody else – road trips, skiing holidays and what have you. But you don’t realise how important your health is until you start to lose it. I was counting on long-term employment to max out as much as I could before retiring, but my diabetic nephropathy and nerve damage in both feet made me realise that wasn’t a viable option. My wife is 63 and works two days a week in a dental clinic. We’re feeling the pinch.”
Vicki, 68, social worker, retired 2019
“We all worry about losing our physical health as we age, but for me the emphasis has been on my mental health. I worry about the future of the planet with so many endangered species, dead zones in the oceans, bulldozers in the rainforests. I worry about how climate change will impact my children’s and grandchildren’s lives.”
Mike, 79, marketing executive, retired 1999
“My wife is six years my senior, and I always thought I’d be looking after her when we got old and decrepit, but it’s turned out to be the other way around. Apart from her hearing loss, she’s doing well, but I needed two major surgeries in the past three years. I’m left with mobility issues now. I can’t do the things I used to. Not everything goes to plan.”
John, 70, photographer, retired 2011
“My sense of happiness is tied to my relationships and the volunteer work I do in my community, rather than the amount of money I have accumulated in my lifetime. My investments have always been in people, family, friends and colleagues and I have reaped plenty of dividends. I do feel very grateful for my health these days. I’ve seen many people my age and younger struggling with illnesses that have a huge impact on their quality of life and on the lives of their partners who often end up caring for them in their retirement.”
Thomas, 48, consultant, and Becca, 44, interior designer
“We had planned to live in Sydney indefinitely but when COVID hit, we re-evaluated and moved to Brisbane. In Sydney we could only afford a tiny two-bedroom apartment with maybe an hour’s commute to the city. Here we were able to buy a three-bedroom home with a big garden that’s just 20 minutes from the CBD. Everything we need is close by. We are hoping the longer we can work now the better our retirement will look later.”
Geri, 64, therapist, semi-retired
“The cost of living is crippling for young homeowners. My daughter and her hubby moved from Sydney to Mudgee after the pandemic. They wanted a tree change and were able to buy their first home there. Both parents need to travel for work, so I moved into a little granny flat on the property to take care of my three-year-old grandson while they’re away. I wasn’t expecting to be keeping up with a busy toddler in my sixties. This is not the retirement I’d imagined, but you do what you can to help your kids, don’t you?”
Jose, 69, house painter, semi-retired
“Managing money, health and helping your grown-up kids with their life pursuits are all important, but it’s now clear to me that the most important thing in retirement is to cultivate a deep sense of spiritual meaning. If you practice kindness and gratefulness, if you care for the planet and everything in it, then your retirement years will empower you to tend to everything that really matters in life. I think it was David Bowie who said ageing is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been. I find this very true.”