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How to reduce stress in retirement

Living your best senior years involves planning for a healthy financial, housing and social future.

Health Agenda magazine
April 2019

Be bold, not old – that’s how one leading expert on ageing thinks you should tackle life as a retiree. Whether it’s joining a local bushwalking group, signing up for pottery classes or starting your own coffee club or a group meet-up in the park, much of the adventure (and benefits) in older age comes from stepping outside your comfort zone and enjoying friendship and your community.

It’s this kind of proactivity that’s essential for reducing stress and ageing strong and well, says Professor Julie Byles, who is director of the Priority Research Centre for Generational Health and Ageing at the University of Newcastle.

“It’s about being a bit bold and not being retiring,” she says. “Organise yourself socially. Put yourself out there. Think ‘How can I maintain my strength?’ rather than thinking ‘I’m old, and therefore I should be doing less and less’. That doesn’t have to be the case.”

Prof Byles says it’s never too late to think about the life you want, and it’s never too early to start preparing for it. In fact, your retirement years can be some of your most rewarding.

Downsizing or moving neighbourhood

One consideration for many as they age is whether to sell up the family home. What was once perfect for a family or when you were younger might now feel empty and spacious. Perhaps a sea change or tree change is drawing your interest, or the opportunity to move to a suburb that better reflects your needs and wants today.

“People do tend to put down roots because community is important,” Prof Byles says. But her research group has found that while people have been in their familiar homes and communities for 40 or so years, the environment around them has changed.

For example, a new shopping centre might have increased traffic flow or the development of high-density apartments has made a once quieter neighbourhood a bustling hive of activity.

“Sometimes people don’t want to move but in fact they find they’ve moved by standing still,” Prof Byles explains.

If moving is on the horizon, she recommends you think about the type of life you want to live.

“It’s never too early to think about what you want your house to look like in the future and it’s never too late to ask yourself, ‘What do I need around me?’”

What to look for in a new home

These are some questions worth asking to reduce stress in the future, says Prof Byles.

  • Who do I want to see when I walk out my front door? An intergenerational community or other seniors? Cafés or greenspace?
  • What kind of interactions will I have? Having a front yard, a garden, a porch or a welcoming apartment foyer gives you a place to connect with neighbours. This is a key way to maintain interaction and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation in older age.
  • Is transport convenient now and for the future?
  • Are important services close by if needed? Medical services should be easy enough to travel to.
  • Is the bathroom in my prospective house spacious enough to manoeuvre?
  • Shall I install grab rails now, to help prevent a fall later in life? Get a jump on preventive steps before you need them. “You have to think about getting these supports to stay strong, rather than to rescue you,” Prof Byles suggests.
  • Will I need assistance maintaining the home or garden? This is a common reason for moving as you get older, so looking into community service options early can help.

Money matters

Alison Fischer is a certified financial planner and private client adviser with DFK Crosbie. She says it’s never too early to start financial planning for your retirement years.

“There are 2 reasons for that,” she says. “To be able to use the tax-effective superannuation environment effectively it’s better to do it early; and [to benefit from] compounding interest. Even if you can put little bits away, the younger you are the more time you’ve got for compounding interest to work.”

She says clients typically start their planning 10 years before retirement, and at about 5 years before retirement, things get very serious.

“At 5 years, though, you have a lot less options than at 10 years or earlier,” Fischer cautions, so seeking early advice is important.

Poor-planning pitfalls

These are some of the traps Fischer sees seniors falling into that cause undue financial stress and anxiety.

Having no savings to enjoy retirement

 “A lot of people think they will go on the pension but when you look at the lifestyle that the aged pension affords you, it’s not what most people are used to,” Fischer says. “Be clear on what your lifestyle expectations are for the income you are going to get.” For more information, visit ASIC’s Superannuation & Retirement fact sheets.

Not paying off the family home

“When going into retirement, it’s not ideal to still be servicing debt because it takes away cash flow that you have and that’s funding your lifestyle.”

Retiring too early; spending too quickly

If you’re currently 65 and plan to retire this year, you may need enough money to last around 20 years.

“What I’ve seen that has had the biggest implications on people’s retirement is that they retire too early, and they start drawing down heavily on their assets,” Fischer explains. “They go for holidays and spend money on their lifestyle without keeping an eye on the future.”

Knee-jerk reactions with investments

“When a big market event happens, like the global financial crisis, they [panic] and sell at the bottom of the market. That just crystalises their losses and there is no opportunity for those funds to recover. The take-out: invest prudently in the first place. Have some assets that you can hold onto longer term and stick to your plan.”

Failing to get advice

“A lot of decisions around principle residences are made based on emotions,” Fischer says. “[Planners] can help paint the picture of what will happen once you downsize and to thoroughly think through the implications.”

Not using superannuation effectively

Generally, the minimum employers have to pay is 9.5% “but I’ve seen research saying we have to be saving 15% to fund the lifestyle we would want, so that’s at least an extra 5% that, in an ideal world, you’d be putting away and getting that compounding interest happening,” Fischer says.

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