How do you know if a comfortable retirement is within reach?

comfortable retirement

When you picture your retirement, are you anxiously tracking your expenses or are you engaging in all the activities that you wanted to, confident that your money won’t run out? Ideally, it’s the former — but there’s no guarantee things will pan out that way.

Soaring inflation, a volatile share market, and even changing preferences can all spark worry about not having enough to last you in your post-work years. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to lay the groundwork for the retirement you want.

Start by figuring out how much you’ll need

What makes a comfortable retirement will differ from person to person. Some might be planning a retirement full of travel and adventure, while others might be content simply pottering about, cultivating the garden of their dreams.

One useful resource can be the Association of Super Funds Australia (ASFA) Retirement Standard. It defines a comfortable retirement as one with enough money to cover your day-to-day needs, access private health insurance, participate in a range of leisure activities, and travel every so often.

The most recent edition of the Retirement Standard says a couple will need an annual income of about $70,806 to ensure a comfortable lifestyle in retirement, while a single person will need about $50,207.1

While figures like these can serve as a good starting point, they often have a few assumptions built in — for example, that people will retire debt-free at 67, own their home, and receive a part Age Pension. At the end of the day, your situation might look very different.

You might still be paying off your mortgage or helping your children by chipping in for a home deposit of their own. And if home ownership has eluded you, you’ll have to factor in ongoing rental costs. Medical expenses might be another source of budgetary strain, especially if you have an existing health condition.

How long will you be retired?

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the average life expectancy in Australia is 81.2 for men and 85.3 for Australian women.2 Assuming you’ll retire at age 67, that’s almost 20 years you’ll need to fund.

If your super isn’t on track to give you the retirement you want, there are a few things you can do. One option is to delay retirement. Not only will this give you more time to save, it also means you’ll have a shorter retirement period to finance.

On the other hand, anyone planning to retire early will need to factor in a longer withdrawal horizon compared to the average person. Some people might be in a better position to manage this than others — think those who have high salaries, receive passive investment income, or are particularly frugal.

Will you take up part-time work?

Whether it’s out of necessity, boredom or some other reason, many people choose to re-enter the workforce after retiring. While there are no rules against doing this, you’ll have to be mindful of the potential tax implications, as well as how it might affect your Age Pension (if you receive one).

Under the Work Bonus rules, you can earn up to $300 from work each fortnight without it impacting your Age Pension.3 Anything more will be included in the income test, which along with the assets test, may reduce your entitlements. 

As for your super, superannuation guarantee payments from your employer will resume, and you’ll also be able to make voluntary contributions of your own.

You can keep contributing to your super until you turn 75. From the ages of 67 to 75, however, you’ll need to satisfy the work test if you intend to claim a tax deduction on any personal contributions. This involves showing that you were gainfully employed for at least 40 hours in a consecutive 30-day period within a given financial year.