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When did you last think about retiring?

Our new (or latest) Prime Minister has announced a review of the Government’s previous decision to extend the retirement age to 70.  This brings the issue of when to retire back into focus.

When did you last think about when you should retire? When the alarm went off this morning, signalling the inevitable start of yet another working week? When you last bought a lotto ticket, hoping for that life-changing yet incredibly elusive big win?

We all have those moments when the thought of instant retirement sounds infinitely more exciting than our current reality.

Would it surprise you to know then, that only one third of retirees in Australia feel comfortable with their decision to retire? The remaining two thirds consider their retirement came too soon, was involuntary or forced, due to circumstances beyond their control.

Too soon? Surely those figures are not correct, I hear you say. Why would so many people feel they retired too soon?

Well, according to the Live Well; Retire Well report released late last year, Australians want to retire on their own terms – but unfortunately not everyone gets that chance.

Being able to work provides more than just financial security for Australians. After money, the top three reasons we cite for working are mental stimulation, social contact and a sense of purpose. Think about your own reasons for working… I would be surprised if you didn’t include at least one reason from that list.

Now think about your own plans or ideas for retirement. The real plans, not the “living the lotto life” plans. What do you need in place to feel comfortable about permanently leaving the workforce? Financial security? Being able to access super or a pension?

In considering when to retire, many people report that being financially secure and being able to access super or a pension are the most important factors leading them to make that decision.  In reality, however, other factors often come into play and drive the decision.

Perhaps you have spent your working life in a physically demanding role, and recently noticed how much of a toll it’s taking on your wellbeing as you age. Perhaps you feel undervalued because of a perceived lack of skills in this tech-driven world. At our age, finding another job can be really difficult.

Health can also play a role. If you had a family member who required in-home care, would you leave work to take on that role? Many people do. Alternatively, what if your health became so compromised it prevented you from being able to continue working?

All these scenarios may lead a person to retire earlier than anticipated.

For these reasons and more, many Australians report leaving the workforce well before they were ready to. Still don’t think it could happen to you? Let me tell you about Jane Parkin.

Jane was in the prime of her early childhood teaching career when she was forced to retire due to symptoms caused by early onset Alzheimer’s disease. At an age when many working men and women are enjoying the peak of their careers, at 62 Jane was suddenly unemployed.

The hardest part, according to Jane, was the sudden and overwhelming lack of regular connection with others. Compounding this was her concern about how she would be treated by others in the close-knit regional town she and husband Laurie call home. So, she stopped going out.

Jane went from spending her days teaching boisterous four-year-olds to being stuck at home. Alone. All day. Wondering what to do with herself.

I’ll write about what has happened to Jane since those early days at another time, but like Jane, work forms a large part of our financial security and social network. When that network and security is taken away abruptly, it can leave a person feeling lost and uncertain about their future. And, retired long before they expected to be.

For Jane, the decision to retire was taken out of her hands. For the rest of us, despite what plans you have to retire on your own terms, keep in mind it doesn’t always work out that way.

Enjoy what you have while you still have it – whether that be your career, your family or your health.  Ensure your life, finances and health have resilience built in.  Who knows what surprises life has waiting just around the corner.


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