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Results from our retirement experiences survey

Our Reader Survey on retirement experiences drew about 700 responses, an excellent sample given it was limited to retirees. 

We also received thousands of comments, and we are honoured that so many readers allowed a glimpse into their personal experiences. The comments are collected into this document. (Please note, this is a large document but we wanted to include all comments since people went to the effort to write them).

Of course, we must have a favourite comment, thanks for this:

"Reading and keeping informed is very crucial to good management. eg Firstlinks takes 30min~1hr per week. Thank you Firstlinks for a great, and free, informative, professional newsletter :)"

Here are the survey results. We include a chart for multiple response questions, and a word cloud for open questions. 

Q1. How does retirement compare with what you expected?

In an encouraging note, only 6% responded that retirement is worse than expected, while an optimistic 40% think it is better and 34% about as expected. Another 20% were more mixed, with some aspects better and some worse. See the full document for hundreds of explanatory comments.

Q2. What were the circumstances of your retirement?

It was good to see that 42% planned their move from paid employment and 34% enjoyed a gradual transition. Only 12% said it was unplanned due to loss of a paid job, while another 6% retired for health reasons. Another 6% had 'other' reasons for retirement, perhaps such as: "Fed up with neighbours, noise and inconsiderate people and opted for 44 acres in the bush!".

Q3. How do you spend the time previously occupied in paid employment?

An open-ended question, with a common reponse that there is now time for activities that were missed when working:

"Renovating, caring, animals, growing vegetables, relaxing dealing with day to day tasks."

"Live on small lifestyle property with large lawn/trees/garden. Reading books and articles non profession related. Manage SMSF funds and bookkeeping of such for accountant/auditor. Genealogical research and writing account of same."

"Working! But in different ways. We run an Air BNB inc doing maintenance and cleaning. Help with care of grandchildren , run two houses, do charity work and am doing a book of family history. No shortage of things to do."

Q4. What are the best aspects of retirement?

Another open-ended question, many of you find retirement liberating:

"No tax, no pressure, no being told what to do or what not to do and a said above freedom to make your own choices."

"Sleeping in in winter, playing golf 2 or 3 times a week, swimming in the pool in summer every day. Cameraderie of the golf club."

"Last minute decisions to see shows or travel etc."

"Introspection that is not employment focussed. Feels like I had an imagination budget, and the large part of that used to be spent on work thinking. Now that’s so broad!"

Q5. What are the worst aspects of retirement?

Although most people said there are no downsides to retiring (and many said there are not enough hours in the day), others report that it's not all 'smelling the roses', with some warnings, especially around health. Enjoy it while you can:

"Our golden years were cut short by health issues. Boredom is now my major problem."

"Dealing with doctors and all the time spent in waiting rooms."

"Some friends still work and not available. Also being single, I need to factor in friend's partners as well."

"Sometimes I feel a lack of mental stimulation."

"Knowing that this is it! When working it didn’t matter if you were ill, thanks to sick pay it didn’t feel like a dead loss. Likewise if the weather was foul you could still go to work and feel purposeful. When retired these days feel like lost opportunities."

Q6. Do you have any tips for people approaching retirement?

This question is covered fully in its own article.

Q7. How much annual income do you need to retire from work (assume for a couple who are homeowners)?

Firstlinks readers hold above-average wealth, and it is not surprising to see about 20% need over $100,000 a year in retirement, and another 42% are $75,000 to $100,000. That's almost two-thirds needing more than the ASFA Comfortable Standard which is sufficient for 33% of respondents. Only 6% accept the age pension level. All amounts assume home ownership.

There is a strong preference to self fund retirement, even if it means working longer or saving more, and seeing the retirement years as an opportunity rather than a post-work drag.

Q8. In your retirement investing, what future rate of return do you expect to achieve?

Most people expect a return on retirement savings of over 5%, with almost 20% aiming for a more optimistic 7.6% or more. Perhaps this question should have been asked in real terms, because if inflation hits 7%, strong returns may be flat in real terms, at least for the next year or so. High inflation is not expected to last forever, even if the days of ultra-low interest rates are gone.

Q9. How many hours a week do you spend managing your investments?

Managing investments occupies a decent chunk of the lives of many retirees, with 30% spending six or more hours a week on their portfolio. For a small minority at over 30 hours a week, it's a main activity. Some of the comments are:

"I enjoy economics and finance. I read and listen a lot but leave my investments alone. Inflation has eroded less of my cash position (30%) than the fall in my equities. Waiting for equities to approach fair value before buying selectively."

"Went to a financial adviser and got things sorted out just the way we like them. Doesn’t require too much managing now."

"This includes reading the Australian Financial Review, Firstlinks, Morningstar."

"My partner loves doing this for our SMSF so I just keep up with my reading on financial affairs and attend monthly investment meetings."

Thanks again to everyone who participated.


July 09, 2022

There are a few interesting aspects and comments in this result.

With - according to ATO - a median taxable income of $47,492 in 2018/2019 (the latest available figures) and an average taxable income of $62,549 in the same time frame it is interesting to see what people think they need in retirement. Especially considering that this income is then tax free and medicare free. May be this is more driven by wants than by needs.

I also agree with Mr Pope albeit my knowledge and experience is more linked to other European countries. I lived, loved, worked and paid taxes and pension contributions in two of them for half of my working live. In one of them the pension has increased by 10.4% since 2019, in the other 8.4% since 2020 and they will flow until I am not able anymore to produce a proof of life certificate. What amount of superannuation would this equate to?

As for the website Dudley pointed us to (pension watch) they have a list of 45 countries which have means tested pensions and I can say, this list is flawed because at least one of the countries listed there does not have a means tested pension - you paid into the system you are entitled to the pension - simple.

Regarding boredom just keep your local MP on his/her feet there is a lot to do and this also provides a lot of mental stimulus. Even if physical activity is not possible anymore. Take a leaf out of Stephen Hawking’s book “focus on the things you can do” and don’t let yourself be dragged down by the things you can’t do anymore.

July 09, 2022

Well, those word clouds are revealing. "Wife" features in how people spend their time, and "wife" also features in best and worst aspects of retirement. "Friends", "grandchildren", "children" also in the word clouds, but where is "husband'? Or did only blokes fill in this survey?

July 07, 2022

Home maintenance costs can be a problem with the increasing costs of labour and materials.
This needs to be factored in. Also health can be a problem as I have witnessed first hand via retired friends. It is not much good being retired and being sick as this is also boring.
Best way to offset this is to stay as healthy as possible by losing weight etc and regular daily exercise and looking after yourself. Seek your doctors advice on how to do this.

Mr pope
July 06, 2022

The pension scheme in England makes it a far better place to live in retirement.

July 07, 2022

Interesting comment. I am wondering what ways makes it better ??

July 08, 2022

I don't know about living there but UK pension isn't means tested.Contribute to the national insurance system ( NICs) for 35 years and you get the full pension £185 a week.Low income earners need not contribute and they are credited with the full contribution by the govt so still get a pension when they retire.The low income credit is roughly the tax free allowance.
The employee contributes 12.5% and the employer contributes 15%.
From having the hassle of jumping through hoops to get mine I struck lucky.While working around Europe I was employed by UK companies.This enabled me to get enough years in to qualify for a % age of the UK pension.I think it is 10 years.You can also make up missing years within certain limits.Class 2 contributions at approx £3 a week if you are working,if you are not working then £15 a week,strange but something to do with long forgotten social security agreements.If I hadn't been employed by UK companies then I may have entered into the Dutch,German and Norwegian systems,and qualified for nothing.
You start work and get a national insurance number,the same as a tax file number here.Health care was taken care of by what was an E101 form.The employer sorted that out for you and any health care costs in Europe with their universal systems was just charged back to the NHS if I used Dutch,German or Norwegian health care.Young and fit and having an adventure so I never needed any health care.
Pensions health care etc were just back charged to whichever system you paid into with free movement of labour around the EEC.There are probably huge problems after Brexit as that no longer occurs as far as I know.France Spain and Portugal were popular places to retire to for Brits but I don't know if they can still do that after Brexit.From what I can gather Brits didn't understand what fiscal equalisation is/was.Pay to join the club,much as fiscal equalisation here between states,they had fiscal equalisation between countries.
To further complicate it when UK pensioners get a pay rise people in certain countries don't,Canada,South Africa and Australia and more.The day you retire and start drawing that pension is all you get for the rest of your life,eg get £100 per week and £400 is paid into my bank account here at whatever the exchange rate is every 4 weeks. Live in the USA and other countries and you get a pay rise when UK pensioners get a pay rise.Some countries have frozen pensions ( Australia),some don't ( USA).
I don't know how good the ATO data matching systems are with the UK HMRC but I pay tax on the UK pension just as I pay tax on investment income here.There is an 8% undeducted purchase price on the UK pension for my contributions I suppose, so in the supplementary section of the tax form here I put in the gross amount at question 20 and claim 8% of that in the deductions bit on the next page.
To further add if we go to the UK on holiday then I notify HMRC and for the number of weeks we are in the UK the pension is increased to what it would be if we were living in the UK. For example the £100 frozen would be increased to £120 if pensioners in the UK had had rises over the years.On return to Australia it would drop back to £100. Basically 30 million workers in the UK pay NICs every week on their wages,15 million pensioners get paid every fortnight.They collect in say £100 billion a year and pay out £ 95 billion ,winner winner chicken dinner,a surplus.When it goes into deficit with not enough workers to support the old people then it goes into deficit.Any surplus goes into govt coffers and saves them borrowing say £5 billion.Any deficit and the govt is paying money into the national insurance fund from taxation revenue .They will have to raise NICs contributions over the years as there are not enough young people to pay for the old people.Thus in the 1980s countries began to move from DB govt pensions to DC pensions,pay for yourself. USA has 401K plans,Australia has superannuation,UK has ISAs ,SIPPS etc to save up to be old .I think the UK and the USA pensions are taxed at normal earned income rates but with better tax concessions while building retirement savings.Australia has lower tax concessions and tax free on withdrawal,and as far as I am aware the only country with means tested pensions.They all have the same problem,where are all the young people.So I would expect a lot of changes in coming years in all countries.

July 08, 2022

You could view pensions as a Ponzi scheme,the Ponzi scheme is running out.You operate within the rules,it isn't a case of I've now decided I like the Ponzi scheme in a different country.The Australian govt should change to that scheme.
For people that emigrate to Australia from the UK now they can contribute to the UK system for the rest of their lives. Say they are 30 years old and have paid NICs for 10 years.They need to organise it with HMRC to pay the £ 3 a week every year for the next 25 years to get the 35 years contributions.That £3 will rise with inflation over the years.So 3x52x25 to get the full UK pension.Adjust it for inflation by whatever you think is reasonable,suppose £10 ( an average over the years x52x25,that is all you will pay into that system. Compound the £185 for say 40 years at whatever you think is a reasonable rate .
Retirement age may be 70 or more in 2062.
The knowns today are 40 years in the Australian superannuation system.The full 35 years paying into the UK system to qualify for full UK pension.Would it be possible to live on super and a full UK pension that will be frozen at say £350 - £400 a week. Two sources of income there.Will you get a part Australian pension? Three sources of income.Salary sacrifice into super or start investing outside of super.A Vanguard S + P 500 fund,or individual shares in Australia.That produces 4 sources of income
The Ponzi scheme is ending,you've been told since the 1980s that birth rates are falling,you need to start looking after yourself and start planning for retirement.What you don't know is,growth rates,rule changes,taxation changes etc,you need to keep up with and change how you think at each stage following rule changes.
When I have explained to poms that I have worked with that it looks great it falls back to,will I pay more tax,I don't like that idea.How much of my Australian pension will I lose?.I want a full pension.

July 08, 2022

"Australia has lower tax concessions and tax free on withdrawal,and as far as I am aware the only country with means tested pensions.":

July 08, 2022

Checking Voluntary contributions with the HMRC web site for this year the weekly payment is £3.15 for class 2 ( you are working in Australia) and £ 15.85 for class 3 ( you are not working in Australia ). You can go back six years or longer depending on conditions that they will tell you. If you have 10 years then your pension is £185/35 X 10. Make up the six years at a cost of say £900 and your pension rises to £185/35 X 16.You get an extra £1647 per year for the rest of your life if you can sort it all out before your retirement age. Your NI number ( tax file number) ends in 2 numbers and a letter. 1 to 20 you are paid on Monday. 21 to 40 you are paid on Tuesday 81 to 00 you are paid on Friday. You can elect to have it paid into your bank account here every 4 weeks,or 13 weeks or 6 monthly or annually. 13 payments,4 payments,2 payments or 1 payment.Comes up on my bank statement as Citibank Europe international transfer followed by your NI number

July 12, 2022

Can you elaborate on this comment given the max pension rate £129.20 per week is very low in comparison to full age pension is Aust is ~$500 per week? You may also pay take in the UK

I'd always assumed this was the reasons it was difficult to get them to shout a round of drinks when it was there turn

July 06, 2022

"No tax, no pressure, no being told what to do or what not to do and a said above freedom to make your own choices."

True to a point... my wife has replaced my customers and finds things for me to do everyday around the house

July 07, 2022

Patrick, it's a never ending list. Knock off one item and two more are added.

July 07, 2022

You have got that right, Peter

July 10, 2022

Patrick, has it ever occurred to you that your wife is just ensuring that you a: keep and grow your skills b: don't get bored and c: at least keep the lines of communication open so that you both talk? My husband and I share many tasks, whether in or out of the home, but yes, we do have "lists" for jobs, and well as fun stuff. Sometimes the jobs give him challenges that he would not have taken on when he was working, but would have "paid the man", like rebuilding our daughter's self-propelled mower from scratch. I mainly take care of our SMSF stuff, which can sometimes be many hours a week, but that's my forte. Be glad you still have the capacity to do things -- we sure are!


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